Looking Back On a Year Without Tom Skinner

A lot can change in 365 days.  As the earth makes a complete revolution around that fiery, flaming accuser that flickers at the center of our existence, we toil and tarry, preen and posture, and sometimes act as if our own individual story were the only one worth telling.

It isn’t.

In fact, individual stories without the influence of the people that come and go throughout the course of our lives wouldn't be stories that anyone in their right mind would give a shit about reading.  Each unique life is a thread that weaves itself in and around the others it comes into contact with. They intersect to form the great tapestry of the collected works of human existence.  Some of those threads are more substantial, more vibrant in appearance than the rest. They have more girth and consistency and fortitude with which to contribute to the bigger picture.  These lives weave themselves into the others more deeply than the rest, and leave a more noticeable mark on the overall fabric of the time in which they exist.  “Tiny” Tom Skinner and the life he led was one of these most fabled and special of strands. His path was so full of stories and unique situations that a single thread seems far too weak a metaphor to describe the influence he had on the people he knew and loved.  Tom’s life was more like a family quilt: a little tattered at the edges, older than the hills, and kind of funny smelling.  However, it still manages to tell the cantankerous tale of a unique man that meant and continues to mean a whole helluva lot to the many of us left behind that call him a friend.

One year ago today, Tom Skinner left this plane of existence.  He broke the bonds of mortal coil and transcended the barrier between this world and the next one, no longer shackled to the weak and winded carcass that once ferried his rambling spirit whichever direction it deemed desirable.  That body was just a vessel, an old beater car that Tiny drove until the wheels fell off.  A part of us wishes he would have saved a little fuel for the bottom of the tank, fuel which might have been able to propel him through a few more years of bumming around on this big blue ball with the rest of us mere mortals. That part of us wishes he’d have squirreled away just enough go-juice to pen a few more tunes, tell a few more dirty jokes, and spend a bit more time as the crotchety old bastard that he never quite became. Can you imagine Skinner at 70?  80???  He’d have made the most hilarious old fart to ever reside in McClure’s back yard.  But the part of us that wants that really only wants it for ourselves. It is a selfish slice of the soul, the piece that just wants to share another few laughs over a mediocre continental breakfast buffet at a hotel we aren’t registered at with an old friend.  As for the remaining part? The part that feels the constant pull of the pavement and hears the same siren song of the stage?  That part raises a clenched fist to the sky and salutes him for his service, commends him on a life lived hard and without regret, and bids him good journey on his final flight out of the cosmos.  It sends good vibes for to carry with him on the last great ride of this life, the one that heads upward and away from this world, then outward and into the void of the great and unknowable unknown. 

John Fullbright, Myself, Eric Hansen, Mike McClure (in Elvis jumper) Jake Akins, and Cody Canada at Tom's memorial.

And so, with one final punchline hanging on the air just as naturally as a punctuation mark placed at the end of a sentence, our hero and mentor and highway compatriot was gone from us. Whether in his hospital room (which I was not, due to my own personal problems and overall short sighted nature) or sitting around at the house or watching some favorite musicians play songs on a favorite stage, the general reaction to the news of Skinner’s death was similar.  We shuffled our feet, excused ourselves in an effort to move quickly out of sight, and cried our red dirt goddamn eyes out.

Those first months after he passed were wretchedly downhearted, especially the first ungraceful weeks during which those random, traitorous thoughts that come to all who have lost a loved one were most prone to come to mind.  Those lamentable remembrances that hit so quickly, it's only natural to forget the person at the heart of them is far more than a simple phone call away. These recollections first brightened the day like flash bulbs, created brief moments of cumulative illumination that brought on undulations of melancholy upon the realization that placing a phone call or emailing a stupid meme to a dead guy was a fruitless endeavor. This happened frequently at first, but over time, the shocking mental souvenirs became less and less shocking. After the passage of a few prolonged weeks, those mutinous memories gave way at first to unwilling recognition, and eventually to a begrudging acceptance of the undeniable facts of life and death.

The hurt never actually went away, but it did lessen.  Once that fog began to lift and clarity began to reassert a small measure of control over perception, we began to realize a most peculiar but wonderful phenomenon. 

We were actually we.  Instead of a meandering multitude of individual I’s, the collective group of the folks that loved and mourned and missed Tom Skinner became a unified force.  “I” didn’t miss Tiny.  We missed him.  We began to look to either side and see someone that was going through the same things over the same loss, and it was in each other that we found our way back to the light. It still pained us, but it was a great blessing to know that we were not alone in our grief.  Instead of sitting around in solitude and brooding on the negativity of not having Tom to make us laugh, we started telling his stories and making each other laugh.  Maybe we didn’t tell the jokes with the same flare for the dramatic that Tom had told them, and maybe we left out a few red dirt details in some of his red dirt tall tales, but those tales were still being told.  Not only were they being told, they actually started to get around a bit. If there were a few Skinnerites at the same gathering, one would inevitably recall the missing piece or punchline that the other neglected to remember.  Gaps began to fill in, details were ironed out, and a complete picture started to form from the rough sketches in our minds.  Before long, people that had never met Tom Skinner were overheard telling Tom Skinner's jokes. Joke's that were probably Larry Spears’ or someone elses jokes to begin with, but Tom always had a way of making things his own. Tom Skinner songs came drifting out from random barrooms, filtered through overhead outdoor stereo speakers, sometimes in voices and styles that were foreign to our eardrums in a most extraordinary way.  The sheer fact of Tom’s mortality began to give way to the only tangible form of true immortality…the perpetuation of legend through the telling of tales that grew from a need to feel close to someone that was no longer close at hand When we got to missing Tom, we called up someone else that knew him and got together, whether we actually knew that person or not. The elemental fact that we shared a connection was enough to ignore the advice we got in school and go right on out and talk to a stranger. Folks that may have been casual acquaintances before Tom's passing became fast friends based solely on a shared love for a man who was so damn big, we could only call him Tiny.  

Giant Tiny at Eskimo Joe's

Nothing would ever fill the gaping hole that Tom Skinner’s absence left inside all of us, but the new connections and friendships that came about from that hole he left behind went a long way towards leveling out the ground on which we stood. I got much closer to my good friend Dylan Stewart, and he invited me over to Larry Spear's place, and now we're as thick as proverbial (and, let's be honest, literal) thieves.  I met people like Mark Ambler and Jeff Haynes, got to know Gene Williams and Don Morris and a whole host of others.  I hung out with Mike McClure even more than I had been.  The emotional pitfalls became less steep and more manageable with new compatriots at our sides, and the disparaging feelings turned once more into laughter and good times.  Full circle, it seemed, wasn’t just some bullshit eastern religious mumbo jumbo after all.  It was just life, and unlike Tom, we were still around to live it. 

Myself, Dylan Stewart, and Buffalo Rogers at Tom's memorial

So here I sit, one year later, doing my damndest to see the good in something…anything…when every single part of me is screaming out that there is no good left to look for, no reprieve from the endless onslaught of personal assaults and keepsakes of a life lost in pursuit of a fictitious goal I can never attain. 

They hit me like lightning strikes.

I wish things were simpler, like they were in the year before this last year came along and exponentially complicated matters that, for my two cents, were complicated enough already.  My situation ran the gamut from somewhat rocky to mostly decent to utterly amazing to royally fucked, all faster than you can say “I hate to up and die on you guys like this. I’m real sorry about that.”

But such is life. And such is death. 

I only wish there would be some break in the clouds to remind me of the good that I’m certain must still exist.  Somewhere. Until there is, I think about Tom Skinner and Bob Childers and Kent Finlay, and the friends made at the expense of friends lost.  I think about songs and love and the ceaseless erosion of my innocence.  I think about two dogs and the woman that owns them. I think about a home that isn’t there anymore and likely never will be.  I think. I curse. And somehow…

I keep going.

Bryon White 07-12-2016


Red Dirt Nation Article

So it's been a while...again...yada yada...but I have an ok excuse this time.  I wrote this thing for RedDirtNation.com that you can read by clicking that little link right there.

Or THIS ONE.  Go on. Read it. Then check out the other articles by the fantastic stable of RedDirtNation writers.   Such as this one about my new Monday night residency, affectionately and sentimentally and quite aptly dubbed "Bryon White presents Monday Night Mayhem" on Monday's at 10:30pm(ish) and my sister's Thursday night shenanigans and hooliganigans on Thursday nights from at 7pm. Or 8 possibly.  Both at the Deli on 309 White Street in Norman, Oklahoma  . Or this one about my friend Charlie Stout's pretty picture takin', written by my other friend Brad Rice. Lots of red dirty info in one place...go check it out.  Come on. It's fun. I'll go with you...


Bryon White/The Damn Quails


In the Beginning...the Deli Days Part 1.

...there were two guys that wrote good songs and sang pretty well together. What follows is a less-than-brief beginning to the continually unfolding story of how those two barely-bearded fellows in the photograph below managed to become surrounded by some of the finest musicians in the Sooner state and ended up making music for a living in a touring rock and roll band. It's one of the longer posts I've ever electronically penned, so pour a cup of coffee, open a fresh pack of smokes, and twist up a fatty if you're so inclined.  Welcome to 309 White Street, otherwise known as the goddamn Deli.

Deli Duo Gig taken June 2010. Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.
I promised you more tales of yesteryear, and that's a promise I intend to keep.  We get a lot of questions from a slew of different people about the old smelly Deli, so I thought I'd take some time and to set the record straight about the place that spawned and nurtured this ragged, rag-tag group of music making maniacs we affectionately refer to as the Damn Quails Philharmonic.  Enjoy, bubba.

There is no place on the planet like The Deli.  I know that's a rather bold and cliche'd statement with which to kick this thing off, but in this case, its also a fucking true statement.  Norman, Oklahoma has been lucky enough to exist around the Deli since the 1960's, back when they still served food and the rest of campus corner wasn't being bought up and decked out like every other trendy near-campus downtown area in a thousand college towns across this great, if a tad misguided, nation.  The Deli is one of the few venues that still exists to present live music EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF THE YEAR.  That's right folks and folkettes, no matter which holiday happens to be happening, no matter how shitty the weather outside may be, even if the world around it is engulfed in flame and misbegotten merchants of mayhem run amok and openly riot in the streets, you would still be able to catch a show at the old smelly Deli. It is a microcosm of maniacal music making, a haven for bands and songwriters to showcase their own (primarily original) material for whomever happens to be around and whomever they happen bring into the bar on their own merits.  Acts from all over the world come to Norman to play a bar that only holds 90 or so people at a time to play on the stage that Bob Moore built.  That's no colloquialism either.  Bob Moore re-built the Deli stage with his bare hands sometime back in the late 80's, and it has since borne the weight of thousands of bands and songwriters from damn near every genre of music you can possible imagine...except bro-country...there's no place for that shit in the Deli.  No place.  For we Damn Quails, however, the Deli stage holds a very special place in our hearts and is DIRECTLY responsible for our very existence as a musical entity. It's also one of the only reasons we've become popular enough that folks like yourself actually WANT to read this blog.

(Left to Right) Jon Knudson, Bryon White, Gabriel Marshall, and the man himself, Biggie at the Deli, early August 2010.
Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.
Part of the Deli's modus operandi are recurring weekly shows by local artists from the Norman scene. These weekly gigs are tough as roofing nails to procure, but once you land one, you have a solid golden opportunity to cultivate and grow a fan base from the roots all the way to the leaves and branches, provided you can keep people coming back week after week. The coveted Monday night spot at the Deli was offered to Gabe Marshall around the end of 2009, a spot that had recently been vacated by Stoney LaRue after his own solo career skyrocketed its way to the heavens with his version of Mike Hosty's Oklahoma Breakdown. Hosty has been playing every Sunday night at the Deli in Norman for something like 13 years or more.  I'm not sure of the exact figure, but it's been a fucking long time and Hosty still has an extremely strong following of college kids and regular attendees from all other walks of life that show up consistently, week to week,  WITHOUT FAIL. When TDQ Monday Night Madness became a consistently well-attended weekly show, the Bizarro Deli Weekend was born, and for the next few years, Hosty Sundays/TDQ Mondays were the most consistently happenin' events in central Oklahoma. Bob Moore has asserted (on more than one occasion) that our Monday night shows were the best night of music you could attend in Oklahoma, and for the low low price of five dollars, you got a substantial amount of bang for your buck.  Parlay that with the insanely cheap Big Red Cup of draft beer and five dollar jager-bombs that would knock your teeth out, and you had a cheap and highly entertaining evening that even the brokest of the broke could attend and still have plenty of cash left over to make the rent.

Reservoir Quails performing at Tiny Tom Skinner's Magical Mystery Tent at the Grape Ranch in Okemah OK
July 2010. Photo by Gemma Harris.
I once saw a snippet of an interview with Mike Cooley from the Drive By Truckers in which he declared that the fastest way to break up a good band is to practice.  That's a bold statement, but after six years or so of being a part of this band, it's a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. Now, don't start hissing and spitting at me just yet, ye people in bands that actually, routinely practice together.  Practicing is essential in your early years of musicianship, and I most definitely spent a good chunk of time jamming and rehearsing (quite loudly) in various garages, bedrooms, and unfinished houses in the woods with several different bands before we started this whole Quail fiasco. I also spent a lot of time in my bedroom trying to figure out how to sing, write, and actually become a performer.  However, all of that practice with other people was less about refining and molding a sound and more about discovering the ebb and flow of making music with other people.  It's like an invisible hurdle that you don't even really know you're jumping over until you've already cleared it, but once it's behind you, the change in personal approach to performance is palpable.  The idea of practicing songs the same way over and over and over in some futile effort to achieve perfection starts to seem more like what it really is: boring and monotonous. Trust me, if playing a song seems boring and monotonous to the group of people performing that song, it's going to come across to the audience as...you guessed it...BORING AND MONOTONOUS.   Instead of practicing, we just started playing shows together, which does infinitely more for each individual as a player AND the band as a whole than sitting around playing for each other and whoever's parents happen to be home at whatever place where said practicing happens.  When you have an audience, especially an audience that has paid to attend your performance, there is only one chance to get that show right.  It isn't about performing each song perfectly, it isn't about desperately attempting not to miss any notes or flub any guitar solos, it's about making sure you put on a damn good show for the people that came AND paid to see that show.  It hones your abilities as a performer which makes you a better player/singer, which makes you want to play/sing more often, which makes you sound better, which makes you more confident, which makes you want to write better songs to bring to the table each week so you have something with which to dazzle and wow the regular attendees in hopes that they remain regular attendees.  It's a cycle, and I just explained the hell out of it.

So, it started with Gabe and I.  Two singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars and a reasonably impressive catalog of songs between them, taking turns like we learned in kindergarten.  I would play one of my tunes and Gabriel would back me up on harmonies and lead guitar, and then Gabriel would play one of his songs and I would back him up on harmonies and lead guitar, and so on and so forth until the end of the night when we were both hammered thanks to the strength of the Jagerbombs, the three and a half to four hours worth of stage time, and a stupid little game we came up with one evening...the Fuck game. Ready for the aside???  Of course you are...

So.  The fuck game.

Did he really say fuck game?  Yes.  Yes he fucking did.  The fuck game, for those of you that weren't around for the early years or don't remember enough from those days to recall it, was something we stupidly made up on stage at the Deli one night in an effort to keep the small (but intensely dedicated) group of regulars that attended to buy us and themselves as many shots as humanly possible in a four hour set.  The rules of the game were fairly simple...

1.  If Gabriel or I happened to use the word "fuck" over the microphone, either intentionally or unintentionally, the entire crowd had to take a shot.

2.  If someone in the crowd yelled "fuck" at the stage, Gabriel and I had to take a shot.

A simple game, but wildly effective if you're trying to boost bar sales AND get royally schnockered by the end of the evening.  We had to stop playing the fuck game just a few short months subsequent to it's initial creation because, in short, it got us waaaaay too wasted.  I'm talking an apocalyptic level of wasted. How many months, you ask?  I honestly can't remember.  There's far too much bong resin built up and far too many piles of dead and discarded brain cells mucking up the place from so many gallons of hard liquor and deliciously cheap beer to accurately recall exactly when we killed the fuck game, but doing so saved us at least half of a decade of our already shortened life spans.  Anywho...

Adam "Biggie" Rittenberry doing what he does best at the Deli in Summer 2011.
Norman, OK.  Photo by Kimberly Brian.
My first time actually performing at the Deli was towards the end of 2009 when I began playing the Monday night spot with Gabriel.  Attendance on a Monday night was pretty thin as far as a crowd goes, but we kept showing up every Monday night and played songs on acoustic guitars from 10pm(ish) until last call at quarter til 2.  The musical chemistry between Gabe and I was becoming more apparent with every show we played and we had an energy that nobody listening and experiencing it could deny, but it was on the Deli stage that we smoothed all the rough edges off of our performance and became truly, musically in tune with one another.  Our vocal ranges were naturally harmonically complimentary, meaning that Gabe's usual melodic range was suited perfectly for me to sing harmony lines with and vice versa.  Personally, I've always found vocal harmony to be one of the most aurally appealing parts of music, a fact that you can confirm by listening to any of the songs I've ever recorded and half-ass released, going all the way back to my punk rock days as co-frontman for The Mr. Shannons.  It was there at the Deli, on that stage covered with old, ratty carpet swiss-cheesed with cigarette burns, that Gabe and I began to solidify the foundation of the Damn Quails groove. We mainly played what original tunes we'd written to that point, many of which you're now intimately familiar with from "Down The Hatch", not to mention the beginnings of a few songs that ended up on "Out of the Bird Cage".  We also dug deep into our own individual archives of cover songs which we interpreted in our own weird-ass Oklahoma manner, which went a long way towards keeping the show fresh  week to week.  It was during these shows that we developed a good many of our ideas about the way our show would work, including the song-swap style of taking turns singing lead and singing harmony, the abolition of encores, and damn near never playing off of a pre-determined set list.  Playing songs week to week in the same order and the same basic style is a good way to lose your weekly crowd and, eventually, your weekly gig.  NO ONE wants to pay five bucks to see a show they've already seen once, let alone a dozen times, and the fact that Gabriel and I just played whatever we felt like playing whenever it was our respective turn to play a song kept the show lively and malleable. Even though our crowd was noticeably sparse during those first few months, the ten or twelve people that showed up to Monday Night Madness in its infancy were still showing up by the time we played our last regular Monday night gig in early 2014.  They started bringing friends with them and talking about it around the proverbial water cooler, and slowly but surely, we began to accrue an intensely loyal group of weekly concert goers that remain some of our most die hard fans to this very day.  It's because of those people that the rest of the local scene in Norman started paying attention to what was going on at the Deli on Monday nights again, and consequently what caught the ears of the other local Norman musicians playing regularly throughout the scene.

Now, before I start name dropping all of the badass mofo's that would eventually come to comprise the Damn Quails Philharmonic, I feel I should mention the man that first recognized the Quails' potential for rock and roll excellence before said potential was even close to beingachieved.  If you ever find yourself in Norman and decide to swing by the Deli for an infamous Big Red Cup and a few dozen cigarettes, you'll likely find yourself across the bar from one of the largest, most kindhearted people that will ever serve up your beverage of choice. Big Doug Millikin is a mountain of a man that's been tending bar at the Deli since long before my first performance at 309 White Street.   Doug has been making drinks and slinging red cups since time out of mind, and, during the time of our birth and subsequent formative years, Monday nights were one of his usual shifts.  My taste in cover songs ranged all the way from some wonky Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie tunes all the way up to Gram Parsons, Uncle Tupelo, and one of my personal favorites, the iconic and immortal Buck Owens. During one of our first Bryon/Gabriel duo sets, I picked and grinned my way through "Act Naturally", a cover that hung around in our repertoire for at least the first year or two that we were The Damn Quails.  Four or five shows into the duo days, Doug pulled me aside as I was breaking down my gear post-gig.  He put an arm around my shoulder, gave me a smile every bit as big as the man he is, and told me that what we were doing was had real potential and not to forget who called it the very first time.  I still haven't forgotten, Doug, and one of the main reasons we've gone as far as we have is because of yourself, Tic Tac, Lori, Angela, Bill, Bob, Chris Davis, Laura, Satchel, Nooch, Tobias, Big John, Chris, and everyone else that once did or currently still has anything to do with the Deli.  Doug Millikin called it, and I'll always remember that he was the first person to express the fact that Monday Night Madness was far more special than we realized at the time.  Thanks to the entire Deli crew for always believing in us, even before it made a whole lot of sense to do so.

From the tiny stage at the Deli to toasting the crowd on the big stage at LJT 2012.
Stephenville, TX. Photo by Kimberly Brian.
The doorman during the early days at the Deli was a guy that you've probably seen more times than you currently realize. The cover for the Monday night shows was $5 after 9:30pm, and the man that took the money at the door was none other than the tall, dark, grinnin' Italian himself, Giovanni "Nooch" Carnuccio III.  At the time, Nooch was the drummer for Mama Sweet, a band that was far and away the most popular band in the Norman (and essentially the entire OKC metro area) music scene, as well as playing fill in gigs for damn near every other band around.  During those days, if you were in a central Okie band and you needed a fill in percussion player, your first call was either Nooch or Thomas Young.  I met Nooch and the rest of the Mama Sweet crew a few years before they eventually became my friends. I opened for them at a solo gig I played at the Harn Homestead in Oklahoma City, but I wouldn't remember said encounter until a few years down the road.  Nooch has always been a helluva drummer and also one of those people that just can't sit still without doing something his hands, much like EVERY OTHER DRUMMER EVER. After a few weeks of hearing Gabe and I sing our stuff, Nooch decided that, since he was hanging out and taking money at the door anyway, he might as well strap on a marching snare and play along from his post at the front door. During his tenure as door man, you would walk in the front door of the Deli, wait patiently for Nooch to finish playing the current tune being played onstage, then pay your five bucks before we kicked off the next song.  We used Nooch for several gigs outside of the Monday night shows, including a performance at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (or the Western Heritage Museum if you prefer, though I feel the Cowboy Hall of Fame is a much better name for the place) for an engineering conference dinner/reception and a few random bar gigs in the metro area.  It's fairly likely that Nooch would have become our permanent drummer if not for the fact that he landed a spot with our buddies the Turnpike Troubadours and headed out with them during early 2010.  When he left the Troubadours, Nooch went on to play drums for such badassses as John Fullbright, Whitey Morgan and the 78's, and currently tours with Jason Eady.  Nooch has played several shows with us in the years since he whacked the marching snare at the front door, and he remains our first call when situations occasionally arise that preclude Tom from playing.

Giovanni "Nooch" Carnuccio III showcasing his marching snare talents AND penchant for hilarious t-shirts.
Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.
After a few months of myself and Gabriel swapping songs on Monday nights, everyone's favorite harmonica playing badass Adam "Biggie" Rittenberry started popping up in the crowd. I had seen Biggie play with a few different groups around town, not to mention hobnobbing around with Bob Moore, and when he approached us with the idea of pulling up a third chair and adding his insane level of talent to our humble weekly show, our response was "Why the hell not?".  Biggie and his furiously fierce harmonica playing not only brought the inherent excitement of an added melody to the mix, it also gave us an underlying rhythmic drive that quickly became an intergral part of the sounds we were slowly but surely turning into bona fide musical entity.  He drank more liquor and draft beer on a daily basis than anyone I've ever known...by a damn sight.  He loved two things: rolling hard and playing the ever-lovin' hell out of his instrument, and he quickly became one of my closest and most steadfast of friends.  That friendship was born and solidified on the Deli stage.  Little did we know, we were starting down a path that would eventually take us from one end of the country to the other as close compatriots, brothers in arms, and partners in crime. We bought prescription pills in Casino parking lots off of some sad-luck dames, attempted to bribe front desk clerks at shady hotels to let us in the lobby at 4am to buy a bag of Funyuns,  and had a few guns pulled on us for one reason or another.  To this day, a show without Biggie on the harp at my left side feels a tad off kilter, but the music that happens when we're on stage together is still positively fucking magical.

Bryon White, Adam "Biggie" Rittenberry, and Rita Ballou bringing us on at LJT 2012.
Stephenville, TX. Photo by Kimberly Brian.
Around that same time, our former multi-instrumentalist Jon Knudson started bringing out whatever particular instrument he happened to be learning that week and sitting in on the night.  He started out on fiddle ,and would eventually add keys, mandolin, and dobro to his arsenal.  Attendance was slowly but steadily increasing, and we started kicking around the idea of making a real, honest to Jesus album of our original works.  However, we were as broke as the last cracker in the box, and the only way we could figure to raise enough money to record a REAL record was to make a cheap, self-produced live record and sling it at our weekly shows.  I had an old Mac-book my mom bought me for my birthday paired with a miniature pro-tools rig my dad bought me for Christmas and I started packing it all up in a shoulder bag and toting it around to every show we played. By this point, we were getting decently salty with our live performances (or so we thought...in truth, we were barely even brined)  and we figured a live recording would be the truest interpretation of the band we'd assembled to that point.  Also, it was cheap as hell since my parents had already bought me all the equipment needed to make the most basic of board recording and cheap as hell was exactly what we were going for.  My multi-talented sister Kierston White created Quail caricatures of myself and Gabe and she hand painted the cover art for free.  All that was left was managing to record a night in which four instruments and two voices were all reasonably balanced from the sound board AND we weren't too intoxicated to notice our intoxication in our performance.  No small feat.  Most of those recordings ended up with either the vocals drowning out the guitars, the guitars drowning out the fiddle, the fiddle drowning out the harp, or some alien-sounding buzz drowning out everything else.  I had no control over the mix after it was recorded as the only audio feed was a stereo signal that came directly out of the sound board, so it was a trial and error and error and error type of process.  For those of you unfamiliar with live sound terminology and recording mumbo jumbo, all that stuff I just said basically meant it was a damn miracle that we came up with any useful recordings whatsoever.  But wouldn't you know it, with the help of the rock and roll gods and a dose of good old fashioned Okie luck, we were able to pull off a little magic in spite of all of those nasty little hurdles.

On the magical night at the Deli when the stars aligned and the mix happened to be just perfect for my recording purposes, Biggie's harmonica work in particular was absolutely and undeniably inspired.  I was unaware of  exactly HOW inspired until after the show, when he informed me that he had inadvertently consumed at least a baker's dozen worth of sweet tarts that were double dosed with some high-potency LSD earlier that afternoon. Someone living at whatever house he was crashing at neglected to inform him of the dosing of said sweet tarts until it was far too late to get off the rollercoaster.  Regardless of the intense amount of hallucinogenic drugs that were raging through his system like magical mental blues juice, his playing was impeccable and highly entertaining to behold.  How he made it through the set without freaking out is anyone's guess, but to play the show AND slaughter it with rock and roll excellence was a feat requiring a herculean force of will and a solidarity of mind that I'm eternally envious of.  It takes a true warrior of unbending intent to even grasp the concept of the Plains of Infinity, let alone to quest upon them in a battle of power. That's one tough nut to crack, regardless of how in tune you are to the other side of your own consciousness, but the effects of the LSD didn't hinder his harmonica abilities in the slightest.  In fact, it seemed entrench him firmly within the groove of the show and imbued him with super-human harmonica abilitiesabilities a display of magic that truly earned him the second title of "Goddamn Magic Man" in certain circles of particular people.  This recording sits and hovers around the genesis of this entire world, a virtually undiscovered gem containing some of the most inspired and raw cuts of our songs that exist. It's impossible to find nowadays, and if you do happen to find it under some ridiculous name with an even more ridiculous excuse for an album cover, do us a favor and don't.  You know why.  I can't say it, but you know.

Cover art to our first live record.  Artwork by Kierston White.

Around the time the Troubadours were really starting to hit hard, Nooch was replaced by our current drummer (and resident BMF) Thomas Young.  Before he started playing with us full time, Tom was the go to drummer for any and every band in the Norman scene that needed one and played with groups like Resident Funk, Pidgin, Mama Sweet (after Nooch left) and many, many others.  Tom was snapped up by Chuck Allen Floyd, a former lawyer and Nashville songwriter that had just moved to town and had a string of hits with some of his tunes on the Texas Music Charts.  His touring band was impeccable and contained three guys that would eventually become part of the Quail lineup in one way or another: Thomas Young, Justin Morris on bass, and Jon Knudson on keyboards, lap steel, and fiddle.  Tom was playing for Chuck Allen Floyd when he started bringing his snare drum and brushes to the Deli to sit in with Gabe, Biggie, and myself, and to this day I've never met another drummer that can fill up such an insane amount of sonic space with nothing more than a snare drum and a couple of ragged brushes. We played acoustic guitars for at least the first year and a half of the weekly Deli show, and when Luke Mullenix started bringing his stand up bass to the party, we were sitting on a full band acoustic setup that was nothing short of magical.

Thomas Young behind the kit at the Deli, summer of 2011.  Norman, OK.  Photo by Kimberly Brian.

I've decided to stop here and give your weary eyes and my weary fingers a much deserved rest.  I'll continue this story and post it as soon as I get it done.  There's still a whole lot of people to meet, including Steve Baker, Blake Lennon, and more folks you've seen playing with us on ranom youtube videos.  I'll also get into some more of the special guests that used to grace the Deli stage with us back in proverbial day, guys like Parker Milsap and Mike Rose, John Calvin Abney, Kyle Reid, Derek Paul, and the list goes on and on and on and on.  Thanks for reading my words and I hope I continue to do justice to the story.  As always, take care and I'll catch you on down the road.

Bryon White/TDQ


A month and change worth of ramble...

Before we get to this long awaited post, here's a brief opening note about it...

Much of this post was written upwards of a month ago or more.  To be honest, I can't remember when I started it.  It's pretty obvious that I was in a bad place when I hammered out most of these words, but since I left my laptop down at the Boohatcha while back, it's been quite some time since I worked on it.  There's not a lot of news in it, but there are some interesting stories and quips sandwiched between some sad sack bitching and moaning.  Ordinarily, I would start all over and leave it to an eternal and unfinished fate in the bowels of my drafts folder, but I'm sick of doing that.  I spend a lot of time coming up with some of this stuff only to throw it away like so many wads of notebook paper, but I don't throw it away because it isn't good...I throw it away because it's not always easy to confront the way I feel, and reading and re-reading and editing and re-reading my feelings often makes me sick of them.  Then I convince myself it isn't good so I can avoid said confrontation.  It's the very same thing that I feel adds to the strength of my songwriting.  Fullbright once told me that songwriting is a painful occupation for the sole fact that we experience our emotions and then force ourselves to re-experience and examine them to a point just shy of total insanity...and then we have to figure out an interesting and clever way to get those particular emotions across to another individual in 3 or 4 minutes worth of song. Anyway, self psychoanalysis session over.  Enjoy the post. -bw

If I were feeling more like myself as of late, I'd probably begin this post with some form of watered down half-apology in regards to my usual neglect of this randomly posted smattering of words. Then, I'd make some half-hearted promise that things will be different from now on in regards to my upkeep of this particular plot in the vast digital landscape that presently surrounds us. I would proceed to jump right on in to whatever thing or event might be going on or forthcoming, and I'd probably include some funny quips and descriptors about the way those things or events effect the trajectory and steer the course of my daily (nightly, really) life.  That's what I would do if I felt like myself. As it stands, I do not.  As a matter of cold, hard, undeniable fact, I can't remember the last time I even felt remotely akin to the person I used to think I might have been.  An uncomfortably foreign face stares back at me from any and every reflective surface I manage to walk by on any given day.  There are brief moments of clarity, moments when my visage seems ever so slightly more recognizable, but those moments are fleeting and fragile, few and far between. Most nights, I end up tottering around whatever venue or two-bit Texas town I happen to be frequenting with a big, dumb question mark hovering above my haggard head that tells the world around me that yes, in fact, I am as perpetually lost as I appear to be, and yes, I've almost come to terms with that fact. I've come as close as a man can without having the slightest insight as to his own tumultuous state of affairs.

Fuck this.

If I was an Emo kid, I'd be shedding tears in a graveyard and whining over pointless, poorly written lyrics about how pointless it is to try and find a point that was all moot to begin with.  So far, though, I'm not wearing makeup, sobbing along to some Sunny Day Real Estate, or trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans that are painfully and quite obviously too skinny for me, so I think it's safe to assume, dear reader, I remain (thankfully) no fucking Emo kid. Therefore, without further adieu (or bitchy rambling) we shall get this here hotdog wagon a-fuckin as my friend Adam Rittenberry would say.

Literally, that's the exact phrase he would most likely use, damn near down to the letter. I mention my friend and favorite harmonica player because I got to spend a substantial amount of time with him during the first week of this past October. Allow me to slowly and gently move you back through the  years, dear reader. Roughly three years if you want to get technical about it. This adventure will take us back to a time rife with excitement and awash in waves of optimistic uncertainty. The future was a wide open road that could have taken us absolutely anywhere, but actually only led us to this exact moment in time in which we currently reside.  It's a swath of the past that I find myself combing over and through more and more frequently as of late, partially in an effort to recapture the happiness and excitement that seemed to permeate those mythical years, and partially in an effort to learn from the missteps and mistakes that were made so as not to repeat them. I could spout off a few dozen different (and very adult-sounding) reasons that I'm sitting behind this desk, chain smoking Camel's in front of a flat panel monitor, and basking in the bitter-sweet limelight of yesteryear, but none of them would be wholly truthful.  The actual reason I'm digging through our first few raucous and rowdy years of being an honest-to-God full time touring rock and roll band is so I can remember what it feels like to look out on your future with unabashed, untarnished hope.  It's probably just me being a grumpy and slightly bitter human being, but hope has been in drastically short supply as of late.

 "What a whiny bitch!" he exclaimed to himself after a haphazard re-reading of the previous paragraphs.  I've also just taken about thirty minutes to start digging through ye olde social media sites in an effort to refresh my memory for what is most definitely going to be a far more expansive undertaking than i thought it would be.  However, just the random pics alone I've been pulling off of our facebook page from 2010/2011 have been enough to make me tear up a bit already. Througth those tears, I'm also laughing my ass off at the random Skinner Quotes, pictures, and bits of wisdom that Tiny bestowed upon me in those early years of being on the road.  Things like the following...
  • "I was hunkered down in the back of the van...you're always safe in the back of the van..." -from an audio file Mac sent me years ago of Tom recounting a tale about overindulgence in the eighties.
  • "It's a well oiled machine, aint it?" -following a forty-five minute adventure in which McClure was driving the MMB van haphazardly around the back roads of Missouri whilst we tried (and mostly failed) to follow his lead in a safe and basically legal manner.
  • "Well boys, time to take it on the road and root us up some ghosts!!" -during a conversation about our as-yet-unrealized dream of filming the pilot episode of Red Dirt Rockin' Ghost Hunters, a show in which various Red Dirt type artists go huntin' up ghosts, starring Tom Skinner as our resident spirit guide, medium, and expert consumer of fine fried eats. Unfortunately, time is an unrepentant and frigid mistress, and we're all her favorite whipping mice when it comes to our best laid plans.
A few horsemen of the Red Dirt Apocalypse. Chuck Dunlap, Randy Crouch, and Tiny Tom Skinner

Found a lot of fantastic stuff from our old Tweets about Tom.  I'm embedding them because they're incredible.  You're gonna like that!

That's not to mention the incredible gold on Tom's old Twitter account @nusofshu

Gloves are handy. Brief, true, and undeniably hilarious.

There we go.  Now I feel better. Sometimes, all it takes is a little time spent in reflection to calm the waters of the present enough to sail out into the vast and uncertain sea of the future. So off we sail...only, instead of into the future, we're going back to the past.  Eff you, future. And now, a brief interlude from the future.

I started this post quite some time ago, so if the tone seems a bit...two-toned, that's probably because it is.  Keep in mind, I have no control over where the movie begins or ends.  These blog's take substantial amounts of time and dedication, and sometimes I have to set them aside and let them breathe before I can muster the words with which to finish them.  Before I got all Twitter crazy (mainly because I finally figured out how to search through all of my old tweets and it distracted the shit out of me) I was attempting to get back around to some Biggie stories from the old days.  If my ramshackle idea of turning blog posts into pieces of book ever pans out, something tells me it's the Biggie chapters that will end up being the most popular.  I know they're going to be my favorites.

Looking back for the first time and trying to pinpoint the exact moment I met Adam Rittenberry, I'm honestly drawing a blank. I assume it was probably at the Deli, but chances are we had run into each other beforehand at some open mic type jam or other in or around the OKC metro area. I recall that he was under the employ of this Guy who, at that time, had a sponsorship with a local western outfitter. During those days, Biggie would wear these intensely western shirts with the snaps on 'em, a nice pair of boots, and occasionally a completely out-of-character-for-Biggie cowboy hat.  There are some pretty fantastic stories from that time in Biggie's life, most notably the last grouping of shows he played with said Guy (who I'm referring to as ambiguously as possible so nobody's feelings get hurt) before the entire band quit and had to make their way home in a most uncomfortable manner...but that's Biggie's tale to tell and I could hardly do it justice.  Let's just say there was a U-Haul, saran wrap, Vodka shortage, and a terribly long and bitter cold trip across half of the country before they made it back to yon Sooner State.  I can, however, tell this one...

Spacedog himself, aka Bob Moore

One of the first nights I can recall hanging out with Biggie was at that musty old house of ill repute known as the Porthole at 39th and Portland in Oklahoma City.  Our galactic guide to the rock and roll cosmultiverse Mr. Bob Moore used to host an open mic/jam at that smoke-hazed shack on Tuesday or Wednesday nights.  At the time, I was working a day job as an Autocad Technician for a fairly reputable engineering firm and spending my nights playing music with the Nefarious Double Clutchers, a trio that consisted of myself, Buffalo Rogers, and my high school homie and former roommate Joel Tiberius Mosman, By day, I worked my 9 to 5 in a pair of slacks and walked on a cane, pointing and clicking for better pay than I'll likely ever make again, and by night I played with Buff and J-Bear at any jam or open mic that happened to be happening around town so as to hone our folky-type chops and maybe catch a paying gig or three while we were at it.

We three Double Clutchers met up with Biggie and Guy at the Porthole for Bob Moore's jam, drank a few beers, smoked a few left handed cigarettes out back on the smoking porch, and Double Clutched our way through a decent little set around about the midnight hour.  While we were jamming, swapping stories, and having the proverbial time, a short but stocky dude in his forties was at the bar getting shit-hammered on whatever poison he was picking that fateful eve.  After the set was over, we cased our instruments and walked out front in a group of both substantial number AND substantial median weight.  While we were shooting the shit with Bob in the parking lot out front of the bar, this short but stocky gentleman erupted through the front door, muttering obscenities to the night air and paying absolutely no attention to the huge group of huge dudes standing around and yakking about songs and folk music. This asshole stumbled past Buffalo's Town Car to his own vehicle parked in the next spot over, opened his rear driver's side door, produced a metal baseball bat from the back seat, and shattered Buffalo's passenger side windows...for absolutely no reason. When the initial shock wore off and we all realized the insanity of what had just happened in front of us, Buffalo just yelled "Hey, that's my fuckin' Town Car!!" and we all turned to rush this guy in hopes of tuning him up a bit and detaining him until the cops arrived.  In spite of his herculean level of intoxication, the sight of all six of us (minus Guy, who fled into the night like a frightened baby deer at the first sign of trouble) bearing down on him sobered him up enough to realize that he had made a pretty grave , grievous mistake and was about to receive a serious ass kicking if he didn't get in his car and speed away.  Biggie managed to both kick his car as he pulled off AND throw a flip flop at it, neither of which did a whole lot of good but certainly made him feel better.  After stashing an unregistered handgun, we called the cops, made the report, and went back to my old place on 37th and Penn for more left handed cigarettes and music. It was a single night among a few years worth of noteworthy nights, nights spent under the influence and over the top.  We were young and certain that our best years lay somewhere out in front of us, when we were smack dab in the middle of some of the best times I can recall.

Nefarious Double Clutchers at Sauced OKC c. 2009
I realize this post is all over the damn place, but I've been working on it in pieces for over a month and I'm getting a little sick of hammering out a few thousand words only to let them lie dormant in a dead draft on my Blogger dashboard, so I'm just going to leave it be and let you decide whether or not its worth the read.  Look forward to more stories from the old days, I promise I'll get to all of them eventually.  Until then, folks and folkettes, I'll see you on down the road.

Bryon White/TDQ


Blah Blah Blog...

I know it's been a bit. Much longer than I would have preferred to wait to type out another one of these little monsters, but life has a way of throwing you curve balls when you least expect to have to hit one of the tricky little bastards. Sometimes, you think you might be ABOUT to get thrown a curve ball, but then the spirit of old Dizzy Dean himself descends from on high, temporarily switches spirits with the man on the mound, and cooks up a good old fashioned Spaulding, Oklahoma-style Knuckle ball, right down the old chute and strange as crawfish flavored potato chips.  Instead of even ATTEMPTING a swing at the warbling ball, stumbling through the air like a vagabond on the tail end of a college-level bender, all you can do is fall to the ground and hope it doesn't drop down from the air and bean you hard enough to put you in some crazy Dead Zone type coma situation. In addition to damn near getting the shit knocked out of your face with a baseball (which truly has happened to me before and is most certainly NOT a pleasant experience) you now have lost ten years of your life, all of your friends have forgotten about you, and you've obtained the ability to see the future based on tactile response, but it's also driving you slowly but surely out of your goddamn mind.


It's fine.  I do so love our little hypothetical jags off into nonsense land from time to time.  I apologize for using that particular device so soon, but I'm still getting used to putting words in proper order while trying to maintain a cohesive line of thought. Every since Skinner shed his old monkey suit and the world as I knew it blew all of it's gaskets at the same time, I just haven't been able to hear the word machine like I usually do.  It tunes in from time to time, fades in and out like a weak radio station being slowly but surely swallowed up by a stronger signal.  I try and reach out for the bits that have been bobbing their way to the surface, but it isn't pretty.  As soon as I grab hold of an idea, my brain turns it loose in favor of worrying about things that are completely out of my control, which throws me off track, which results in shitty lines, which results in a most bitter and gut wrenching sense of frustration and apathetic melancholy.

 Apathetoly? Melanchetic? Fuck man...you see what I mean?  Stupid.  Senseless. Pointless.  There's so much happening that there's no narrowing down the important things.  They all just wash out with the bath water, one big wad of shitty self expression bound for a gravity fed sewer drain buried far beneath the streets of whatever city I happen to be flushing all-too-real lyrics down the crapper in.  So, since I can't write songs, I'm going to blather on and on and on about  how shitty things are and how lame everything is and Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, when will he shut the hell up??  

This is exactly what I'm trying to avoid.  So I'm going to talk about the Skinner show a bit.  Then probably something else.  Then I'll probably get frustrated and trash this whole damn thing just like I did the last three I wrote.  Fear not.  They weren't good.  At all. You didn't miss anything.

Skinner's memorial was an extremely fitting tribute to a an amazing human being and an even more amazing songwriter.  I scooped up Biggie from his most recent crash pad in OKC and we proceeded to drive a considerable distance out past Drumright into essentially the middle of nowhere.  There was virtually no light pollution, the stars were as bright as I can ever recall seeing them.  Skinner was EVERYWHERE.  It was exceptionally Law.  The Skinner face is on track to become one of the most easily recognized symbols among independent country-ish type Red Dirt & Texas country, and I think that's fine and damn dandy.  I hope the Skinner's decide to keep making and selling shirts and koozies and records and anything else they want with Tom's gloriously happy face all over every last bit of it.  It's so great to see those stickers pop up when we're out and about.  My favorites are the ones Mac used to stick over the baby koala's face on the Koala baby changing stations in a few random truck stops now and again. It's the same way with hearing his songs in random places at random times, a phenomenon which has occurred far more frequently over the past few months than it ever has before. I was in the Black Whale Pub for Scott Morgan's open mic Tuesday night show and heard a guy covering Blind Man.  Apparently his grandma was a huge Skinner fan, which I thought was an incredible vehicle by which to be introduced to Tom's music. I always seem to hear it right when I need it, which I'm damn grateful for, as it's sometimes the only thing that can bring me out of the recent mess of lows and instill within me that inner glory that comes from remembering a really great Tom Skinner joke and his own subsequent follow up laugh at whatever wise he'd just cracked.  King of the Jungle indeed...

I played Nickel's Worth of Difference with a pretty rockin' little put together group that included Bob Livingston on bass (legendary) Fullbright tickling the ivory's,  Biggie on harp, and Roger Ray on pedal steel.  I was emotional. It was thick. It was palpable. It was comforting.  It was a lot of things.  Our second tune was the Return of the Grievous Angel, a Tom Skinner favorite from the catalog of his hero Gram Parsons.  Back when we toured the Midwest with MMB on a fairly regular basis, this tune was in our setlist and usually got played damn near every night.  If he was feeling good, Tom would always be around to catch us play that good old song which we share a mutual inclination towards, and he always told us we "did a damn fine job with that one, boys!" in that rising crescendo and signature fall that only Tom Skinner's voice sounds like.  It's one of Biggie's favorite GP songs as well, and it was good to have him at my right. It was fantastic. I can't do it justice with words right now.  Maybe later.

We're on the road, in the van as I type and my body gets magically transported through space and time to the magical realm of Tupelo, Mississippi. Actually, Tupelo was yesterday.  Today is Athens, Georgia.  This little lapse in time brought to you by me getting frustrated at working on this for many hours off and on during the drive and only being this far into the blog...and skip ahead again to the end of the run, as I simply couldn't write anything that I felt was even close to entertaining enough to publish. So let me try and get back on some form of track with this smoldering catastrophe of a blog entry.

We had a blowout somewhere in NC.

The show at the Blue Canoe in Tupelo was well attended, and the crowd was in exceptionally high spirits by the time we kicked off the set.  By the end of the show, there were more than a few folks that probably should have taken cabs home but everyone seemed to have a good time.  We loaded up and headed out that night with Haystack at the wheel who proceeded to drive us all the way through his favorite football team's home state of Alabama (Roll Tide I believe he'd say) until we finally ended up in Athens, GA at the Lumpkin Street Station.


It was my first time in Athens, so I spent a good part of the day with my headphones on, alternating between the "Cell" audiobook by Stephen King and every single John Moreland song available on Google Play...the mention of which should be accompanied with an aside...

Streaming Digital Music services are essentially slaughtering the concept of making money off of selling your music.  Last I checked, each time someone plays a song from our album on any one of these digital streaming sights, the financial compensation that we are awarded usually amounts to somewhere around an eight or a tenth of a penny.  Yes, that's correct.  If you could physically slice a penny into eight or ten different pieces, we would get one of said slivers for each song streamed. Since it's barely even possible to physically slice a penny into so many pieces without some extremely complicated machinery, I think that's bullshit. However, it's the way of the world and there's absolutely nothing that you or I or Taylor Swift can do to stop it.  Being a band that's reasonably low down on the national totem pole, if we tell these streaming sites to kiss our asses, their give-a-shit meter doesn't even register a slight twitch.  They don't care.  Why?  Because we aren't worth diddly compared to the mega stars and the giants with their platinum records and platinum visa cards.  So yes, I do subscribe to a streaming music service.  I can listen to damn near anything I want at any given time of the day or night, and since me musical interests are quite varied, it's a really good deal for me. I'm resolved to the fact that we'll make our money on our records by selling them at shows and that's simply how it's going to be.  Even since the release of Down the Hatch nearly four years ago, the industry has undergone substantial changes that have dramatically effected where our revenue stream comes from and how fast it's flowing, but the one thing that's not going to change is our performances.  We've always been a band that survived on touring, and that's how we're always going to survive. So do I feel guilty about being a member of a streaming subscription music site?  Fuck no, I don't.  It's awesome. Anyway...

NOW.  I'm sitting in Ira Cavendar's trailer at Big Steve's Lost and Found campground on the Guadalupe river.  We finsihed the show in Athens, drove on  to Valdosta, Georgia, (where we rocked hard and drank free whiskey) then to our three dates in North Carolina.  The guys at Lucky's Burger and Tap in Ashboro were fantastic as always and we had a nearly full house for most of the evening.  In spite of their self-deprecating decor (the place is plastered with "celebrity" quotes about how terrible the burgers are) the food is great and we always get properly taken care of.  Had a nice hotel and ended up playing songs with Haystack and Chief in the van until the wee hours of the morning. From there it was on to Belmont for the "Between Two Rivers" Music Festival.  There were a whole slew of North Carolina fans that made it out to this show.  It was a very relaxed vibe, lots of folks in lawn chairs with stiff drinks and enjoying the show.  There was a VIP tent with an open bar, a decent bbq trailer, and some really kind people that took great care of us.  It was in said VIP tent that I experienced a true first in my reasonably well-lived 32 years on this earth...

I finally met another B-r-y-o-n in real life.  Other than my dad, I've never met another person with the same rare spelling of my first name.  Oddly enough, his last name was Collier, my grandmother's maiden name on my dad's side, also spelled the same.  We're currently looking into any and all possibilities that we're related somewhere down the line, but so far it looks like one giant coincidence.  We jawed about people calling us Byron, the pitfalls of being in the media, and the strangly unique personalities and characteristics shared amongst Bryons/Bryans/and Brians.It was enlightening and an odd stroke of coincidence that someone who shares the spelling of my first name also ended up being a huge Quails fan.  Whodathunkit? Finally, we headed on to the last stop of the run, Uncle Buck's All American Pub and Grub in Salisbury, NC

Buck Salutes

If you haven't kept up with any of our previous east coast/southern runs, allow me to introduce you to Uncle Buck.  Uncle Buck is a one eyed, bad ass former combat veteran that is the owner and proprietor of Uncle Buck's All American Pub and Grub, a venue which currently sits way up at the top of the list of places I truly enjoy performing.  The first time we ever played in North Carolina, we got a call a few days into the run from our booking agent who informed us that this random bar owner (Uncle Buck) had sent a message to our Damn Quails facebook page offering food, moonshine, some gas money, and a place to crash in his "Man Cave" for the evening if we could see fit to work his bar into our already tightly packed tour schedule.  As we have a taste for adventure AND moonshine, we decided we'd give it a shot, regardless of the possibility that "Uncle Buck" could be some kind of mass-band-murderer attempting to lure another seven victims into some kind of underground torture cave.  Luckily, he and his wife Judy turned out to be two of the coolest and most hospitable souls on God's green earth.  This is our third time playing Uncle Buck's and we'll be playing there for as long as we're still playing music.  We drove in Saturday night after the Between Two River's Music Festival and stayed at Buck and Judy's new place on High Rock Lake.  We spent the next day eating breakfast burritos, sampling some of Buck's new moonshine flavors (Strawberry and Plum being personal favorites) swimming, fishing, and enjoying Buck and Judy's company.  It was a much needed lull in the hectic seven days straight of touring, and the show that night was attended by a select group of true fans that truly and honestly cared about the music we were making.  It was a perfect show to finish out the run and we left in the same state we always do...bellies full and smiles on our faces.  Thanks Buck and Judy, you guys do so much for the bands that you host and your bar is a shining example of a truly fantastic place to perform.

Roots and Branches with Ray Wylie Hubbard

After riding in the van from Salisbury, NC all the way to my place in Shawnee, I proceeded to unpack, repack, shower, change, and head towards New Braunfels for a radio spot on Roots and Branches with Ray Wylie Hubbard.  It was a phenomenal night of music and talking about songwriting and I had a blast getting to hang with an Okie icon of his stature and good taste. Tomorrow I'll head to Plano for Matt Hillyer's live radio broadcast, then I'm taking a night and hanging with McClure down in the old Boohatch.  We've got some songs to hash out and knives to wield and I'm looking forward to checking out for a day.  After that, its our record release show in OKC at Wormy Dog on Saturday August 29th, followed by the release at Gruene Hall Sept 4th, Eagle Mountain Lake at Boondocks on Sept 5th, hosting unhappy hour at Cheatham Street Warehouse (sans a Canadian-bound Charlie Stout) and then leaving for a few weeks to head up North and back East.  Be sure and call your local stations and request "Just a Little While".  It all helps.  Thanks for suffering through this post.  More to come


Tom Skinner...

There are times when it feels like my good fortune will spring everlasting.  It's usually about that time that everything goes absolutely and terribly awry, like someone ripped the rug right out from under my feet, rolled it up good and tight, and beat my heavy heart to death with it.  Murphy's Law picked last week to set a rusted out example of just how little control I have over the circumstances that unfold around me and the personal and emotional havoc that those circumstances can (and eventually will) wreak. That being said, every single thing that went horribly wrong in my life over the last week all pale in comparison to the exclamation point of the passing on of one of my heroes.

Tom Skinner is the reason you're reading these words I'm writing.  When Mike McClure first started tossing around the idea of starting his own record label, he turned to his friend Tiny Tom for advice and suggestions for the group that would be the first to make their mark upon his roster.  The Damn Quails was the first name out of his magnificently mustachioed mouth, and Mike respected Tom's opinion enough to turn a serious ear on the music we were making at the time, music that would eventually become Down The Hatch.  It was in that moment that this entire whirlwind began, and without Tom Skinner, you would most likely never have heard any of the songs on that album. Gabriel and I would probably still be playing three guaranteed weekly gigs in the OKC/Norman area, supplemented by the occasional weekend wedding or tractor pull, and you faithful fan types would be left with a musical landscape entirely devoid of we Damn Quails. What follows is a rough (and likely rambling) account of how I came to know Tom Skinner and some of the batshit insanity that we would eventually get each other into along the twisting highways of America and inside the bars that dot the whiskey soaked landscape that we inhabit.

Although I know I had seen him several times at various shows at the infamous Blue Door in Oklahoma City, the first time I met Tom Skinner in the flesh was in Okemah, Oklahoma at The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival some eight or ten years ago, back when I was still an awkward solo somekinda folk artist that was really bad at telling stories and mediocre at best at writing songs.  I say we met at Woodyfest, but anyone familiar with the situation knows that the only place to see Tom perform during the mid to latter years of the festival was among the vines and the peacocks at the now-defunct Grape Ranch south of Okemah. I never have been quite sure of the actual reason that Tom was blacklisted from the festival in the first place, but I do know that, whatever the reason, it was fucking bullshit. The owners of the Grape Ranch apparently knew that too, so they saw fit to give Tom a stage, a PA system, a large canvas tent, and free reign over who could and would perform there during the week of the festival.  It was my very favorite part of Woodyfest as it gave guys like Gabriel and I the chance to play our songs for a good sized crowd of festival goers in spite of NOT being included in the actual festival lineup. Until the very recent past, it was incredibly difficult for any up and coming Oklahoman artists to get booked on to the festival proper, but Skinner's tent was a songwriter's haven where all who performed were welcomed and personally encouraged by a man who's lyrical prowess puts mine to shame and who's ego was absolutely non-existent.  Tiny always had a kind word when you got off the stage, and not just a "great job, man!" slap on the back type of kind word. He made it a point to remember a particular line that grabbed him just right, or a chord change that was catchy and out of the normal 1-4-5 box, and tell you how much he dug what you had done and, most importantly,  why he dug it.  Those little motivational Skinner-isms guided my songwriting in the direction that it's still heading in today.  Not only was I on cloud nine from the compliment, but I had a new and intensely valuable piece of information through which I was able to extrapolate several of my little tricks and mannerisms that I still use today.  Whether he believed it or not, Tom was as much a songwriting teacher as he was a songwriter, I never saw him stand in front of a podium and give a lecture on the benefits of proper metaphorical technique or poetic devices, but the parts of my writing that he picked out and fed back to me were absolutely essential to my growth and transition form amateur dabbler to semi-professional songwriter. He taught all of us songwriters to eat our vegetables so we could grow up to be almost as big and strong as he was.  Tiny was his nickname, but his spirit and his gumption were as big as life and twice as beautiful. 

When I said Tom Skinner was the reason you're reading these words I'm currently cobbling together, I was absolutely not fucking with you. Try not to get dizzy when the edges of the screen do that bleary transition indicative of an impending flashback and follow me to the wild and wonderful final evening of the year of our Lord, 2010.  

Circumstances had led me to an old roadside bar in my hometown of Shawnee, Oklahoma wherein I planned to ring in the fancy New Year and simultaneously take in my first Mike McClure Band show.  I hadn't even met old Wacky Mac at that point and was completely unaware of his future aspirations of starting a record label. I was just a songwriter that showed up to shake hands with Skinner, swap a few stories, and watch him play the hell out of some bass lines with his mouth open. We spent twenty minutes shooting the shit about which group of bar patrons were most likely to fight one another, the stuff we got for Christmas, and the most discreet locations on the premises to safely burn one without getting busted.  

(I so could have used you last Thursday, Tom)

After said burning, we talked about the Quails and how excited Tiny was about our prospects for the future.  He told me I was a great writer.  I'm pretty sure I turned as red as a new stop sign while and began hovering a few inches off the floor at hearing such kind words from a man whose opinion on that most revered and sacred subject of songwriting I held (and hold still) in the highest regard.  Tom said he liked my sense of meter and lyrical phrasing.  Actually, what he REALLY said was, "You're good at fitting them long words into some short spots!" which is far and away better than my watered down and technical interpretation.  I'm not sure I ever flat out told him how much his kindness meant to me and how deeply I took to heart each word of wisdom that he ever spoke while I was within earshot.  Looking back on last night and this morning, I desperately wish that I would have.

Tom was the kind of guy to give praise freely when praise was deserved, but when it came to receiving his own well deserved praise, he reverted to his usual "aw shucks, it ain't really nothing" attitude, which we all know was borne of his natural, humble nature.  He never considered himself a legend, just a man that was lucky enough to do something he loved for a living and to roll hard as hell whilst he did so.  But we all knew what he was, how much certainty and confidence he had when it came to his words, and we all envied his ability to pull songs out of the thin, blue air like he was pulling fish out of the Illinois River with Jesus Christ himself  holding the net and baiting the lines.

During the first few years that the 598 Recordings label was in existence, the Quails played all kinds of shows at venues of various levels of ill repute with (yep, you guessed it) The Mike McClure band. We all got used to having Tom Skinner as the hilarious, racy grandpa character in our little road family while we were out and about. Out on the road we most certainly were. One of my very favorite Skinner stories happened on our first runout to the Midwest after a gig in Joplin, Missouri.

The first time we played Joplin, Biggie and I had the realization that our hotel was a reasonably short and easily driveable distance from the Devil's Promenade, a lonely and desolate stretch of gravel and some blacktop that runs along the Oklhaoma/Missouri border and is most notably known for playing host to The Hornet Spook Light.  "What the hell is a Spook Light?" you're probably asking yourselves.  The answer is "an inexplicable light of unknown origin" that's been seen bobbing and floating along the Devil's Promenade since way back in the 1800's. As we're no slouches when it comes to high quality documentary film entertainment, Biggie and I had seen a few tidbits about the Spook Light before on various cable shows, so we decided to ask the desk clerk at our hotel if he could point us in the proper direction of said spooky light.  The poor kid behind the desk was being a really good sport considering the two sweaty, weird-question-asking-asses in his lobby at 3 a.m, and he was kind enough to write down directions for us, including a rudimentary map because we were definitely rocking the "big time stoner that can barely read anything, especially your handwriting" vibe.  

After making a fortuitous stop at the gas station across the street, Biggie procured a half gallon of blues juice (That's 100 Proof Tvarski Vodka decanted into a clear plastic water bottle to those of you unfamiliar with the man himself and his tactics) and we headed off into the night in a ridiculously inappropriate Hummer H2 (worst touring vehicle EVER) following the bellboy's directions to the squiggly line and letter.  After making the last of nearly a dozen dark turns onto roads in various states of decay and repair, we found ourselves alone on one of the most desolate four or  five mile stretches of road I've ever seen, which is really saying something coming from a born and bred central Okie.  For a half mile (give or take) we drove through an uncannily dark forest,, thick with Elm and Black Jack trees before we finally emerged from the trees in a clearing at the top of the first hill.  From that hill, Biggie and I sat in astounded wonder at the small, flickering ball of yellowish light that was roaming through the ditches of the road a little less than a mile ahead of  us. We questioned our understandably bleary eyeballs at first, but the light was most defynytly real (and quyte Fyst, I might add) and, as we would soon find out, possessed of some sort of intelligence and/or ingrained sense of self preservation.  We gunned the Hummer and took off down that first major hill on the Devil's Promenade and headed directly towards the Hornet Spook light.  When we got within a quarter mile, though, the Hornet Spooklight vanished.  Upon topping the second hill and putting the car in park, the light reappeared at the crest of the next hill and continued to bob and weave around until we tried to approach it again, with the exact same result.  Finally, at the top of the third hill, we parked the car and waited, but the light was nowhere to be seen.  Biggie exited the vehicle to make his penis cry into the dirt while I waited in the driver's seat, and as soon as the little light re-appeared down the road, the engine died without warning or indication.  I started to get a tit bit freaked out at the possibility of being stranded on the Devil's Promenade at 4 a.m. with naught but most of a fifth of vodka, my favorite harmonica player, and that freaky ass bouncy ghost light.  I tried the ignition a few times to no avail, but after a few seconds of warding off the bad juju, the Hummer started right up as if it hadn't just died in the fuck middle of nowhere for no apparent good reason.  It was at this point I believed I had enough of the Hornet Spooklight, but that was not exactly the case. On the drive back to the hotel, Biggie and I discussed the fact that NOBODY was going to believe us and that we should gather a witness or two and force them to come and check out this freaky ass Hornet Spooklight. We wanted to have plenty of folks in a position to back up our encounter in the years to come when the tale would be told and re-told due to its insanity and greatness.  We pulled up to the loading area out front of the hotel, and who should be sitting at the computer in the lobby, drinking a cup of coffee and fumbling around on his Facebook, but Tiny Tom Skinner himself.  He was wide awake at 4 a.m. with some sort of vending machine Cinnabon knock off in one hand, clicking and clacking away at the keyboards in between taking large bites of pastry with the other.  We gathered Tom Skinner and collected Gabriel Marshall and headed back out to the Devil's Promenade.  Tom and Gabriel were admittedly skeptical right up to the point when the light showed itself a mile or so down the road at the crest of the next hill.  When we finally accepted what we were seeing as real,  we were four guys in awe of  a thing that none of us (or the Army Corps of Engineers) had any logical explanation or frame of reference for.  I parked the Hummer in the middle of the Devil's Promenade and we lined up on the pavement and watched the Spook Light do its dance across the street, occasionally blinking out only to show up on the other side of the road or off in the distance in one of the nearby fields.  Tiny said it was most assuredly the strangest thing he had ever witnessed in his life, and I remember feeling warm and fuzzy inside that I could show Tom Skinner, the man who's seen it all twice and got both T-shirts, something he had ever seen before. Something tells me if he had seen something stranger in the years between our spooky adventures outside of Joplin and his passing away last night, Skinner would have already called me up, given, me directions to the whereabouts of said creepy thing, and insisted I take a gander for myself.  

I want to take a second and thank each and every one of you for having the patience and constitution to make it this far into this particularly special blog post, not to mention the outpouring of memories, pictures, videos, and songs that were posted to the various social media sites during the night.  I love looking through my news feed and seeing a few dozen tiny Skinner faces looking back at mine.  I love the sense of camaraderie among the younger generations of songwriters rising through the ranks, something Tom talked about a few times in interviews over the years.   I love how that sense of togetherness didn't have to be taught to us, merely led by the brightly shining example of those badass guys that came before us. 

We followed the example of guys like Tom Skinner, Randy Crouch, Greg Jacobs, Bob Childers, Rick Reiley, Bob Moore, Steve Ripley, and all of the others that walked down Woody's road when we were barely twinkles in our father's eyes.  We soaked up the way they moved when they were on stage, how they cued whatever group of musicians that happened to be playing with them using nothing more than a high foot stomp or a nearly imperceptible nod of the head.  We listened to the words they sang and how they sang them, borrowed from their inflections, and did our best to incorporate the really special elements of their collective styles into an amalgamation all our own rather than blatantly trying to rip them off.  I love that Tom Skinner was proud enough of us to remind the naysayers and bitching brayers, those close minded asses that are convinced of the younger generation's ineptitude while being blind to their actual work and achievements, that there are still good people making good music in the world. They just have to have to take the time to go out to a bar, catch a show, shut their collective mouths for a few minutes, and listen for it.  We all let Skinner carry that bright, burning torch in his mighty hand until around 9pm last night, when he finally let himself slow down and entrusted that flame to all of us that do our damndest to carry on his good work.  We are a haggard bunch, still rough around the edges and just rebellious enough to do our own thing in the present while still holding tight to the lessons of the past. It's a history taught to us via a thousand stories that we'll never tire of telling and never allow to die, so long as there's still someone around to listen to us tell them.  We'll tell them over and over, until time takes our youth, our voices, and eventually our bodies away from us, and all we have left are the words and melodies and marks they left on the people of this world.  It is in our own songs that we must place our faith, and through that faith, we become the stoned immaculate architects of our own immortality.  Tom was not the first man ever to write a song, but God damned if he didn't make us believe that he could have been.  He was our mentor and our friend, our father and our brother, and the yard stick against which we will measure the quality of our work until all our work is one day done. 


We'll do our best to always try and measure up to your stellar example, and eventually we will all die trying.  We are better human beings for having known you, and that's a gift that can be neither bought nor sold, only given freely from one friend to another.  Thank you for that.  And everything else. You will be missed.  You already are.