Take Me to the Promised Gland

It is always a pleasure to receive comments from readers. This past month I was delighted to hear from an old friend in Sweden, Peter Lundberg. Hopefully readers will recall Peter’s account (in the May 2020 issue of TST) of his jazz and ragtime odyssey across the US as a young man. Peter made many other visits to our far shore and one such experience he generously recounted for me in a recent email. It seems he had an experience with a radio personality in Del Rio, Texas some years back. He was a young tourist and learned of old John Brinkley’s work, about which I wrote last month. He had visited a local bar, found a piano to play, and as Peter is prone to do, he began making friends and learning about local history. (Recall that Peter is an award-winning Swedish media director and producer with a distinguished career in television.) Here is his account…

Your recent in the Syncopated Times column brought back memories, from places where I played, (as a tourist) due to Bob Darch’s suggestions, in the seventies and eighties: Kearney, NE; Laredo, TX; Del Rio, TX. (See: Goat Glands, Border Blasters, and the Carter Family)

[In Del Rio]…was a small bar with an upright piano and a non-committed owner. I don’t recall making any specific fans, but I was tolerated, and it was good experience to play for a stretch, and to talk to customers. Del Rio was not much of a town so I spent my free time watching American television, news, the good morning shows, the game shows, to see if something could be brought over to Sweden. I also spent time by the pool in conversation with a retired national park ranger and a lady in a very skimpy bikini, sunbathing through the day.

Peter Lundberg playing at the Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City NV. (courtesy Peter Lundberg)
Peter Lundberg playing at the Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City NV. (courtesy Peter Lundberg)

At one moment a shadow fell over me. I looked up, into the biggest belt buckle I had seen so far, and further up into a sun shaded face which told me in very direct terms that if I ever so much as looked in the direction of the lady, who happened to be the belt buckle owner’s wife, I would regret it. I never argue with brute force, so I complied. But later I told the proprietor about the incident. He said he knew a couple of guys who would walk over and speak to Mr. Buckle, and I needn’t worry. That was my meeting with America (or was it Texas?) peacekeeping.

I had some pleasant experiences. I drove out to the thousand-year-old cave paintings in the desert. Open caves where you could actually walk around, see rocks where paints had been mixed and processed, and the paintings. On ground level small animals and creatures, following upwards along the walls and finally, in the ceiling, becoming larger geometric images, like the constellations. I tried to image this in the desert light, merging with the stars outside.

The local drunk, there is always one, turned out to be the son of the undertaker who once exhumed the remains of Judge Roy Bean, and he was there as a kid, and told me about it. It drove to Langtry one day and saw Judge Bean’s little opera house that he hoped in vain that Lillie Langtry would honor with her presence. A cute story.

I also befriended a local radio journalist who told me about John Brinkley, his hospital, and his radio station. He stressed Brinkley’s status as a formidable con man, “he could sell autographed photos of Jesus and get away with it.” Brinkley had a house still standing, a kind of twenties Hollywood bungalow. I went there and remember Dutch glazed porcelain tiles and a built-in organ in one room. My friend the journalist also told me of a living link, Brinkley’s bodyguard who was still around.

I got his phone number, rang, and his wife answered. She was courteous and said she didn’t know about her husband, but they always had breakfast at the same hour at the local McDonalds and I might try there. So next day I went to McDonalds and there as a couple, an elderly man built like a rock, and a pleasant Latin looking woman. I introduced myself and the rock motioned me to sit down” as long as you don’t drop your tie in my coffee,” and he talked a bit about his former employer. As with other former bodyguards I have met, he was loyal to his former master. He was a good man, overall. No sensations, so I took it as a pleasant, fleeting meeting with history and did not ask for a tape interview.

And that concludes my account of my short stay in Del Rio, TX

I enjoyed reading about Peter’s brief experience in Del Rio in the 1970s and 1980s. Hopefully, someday he will gather all the memories from his ragtime and jazz pursuits and produce a documentary on his own life in ragtime. Peter’s stories help illustrate what life has been like for inquisitive, itinerant piano players (and for Swedish tourists).

Lundberg shares another memory of Texas in this issue: The Streets of Laredo

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at lcmelton67@gmail.com.

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