The Odyssey of T. Gozney Thornton
It all started back in 1982: I had been on the road for about 12 years, hitting the honky tonks all over the West and Northwest, a real road warrior…going out for two or three months at a time, back to Austin to decompress for a few weeks and then back out there again. About that time, a wild man by the name of Billy Callery came into my world.
Billy had written some great songs (Hands On The Wheel, Pot Don’t Call The Kettle Black, etc.), and had a deal with Willie Nelson on his Lone Star Record Label. Billy decided that he couldn’t take the road anymore, so he took me out to Willie World on the Pedernales and introduced me. Billy told Willie that he wanted to give me his deal because he knew I would go out on the road and promote it. “Boy was he wrong!”
Time passed and I kept waiting for Willie to call. I was about to give up on the idea……when my girl friend Pam, tired of my complaining, loaded me into her Toyota and drove me out to Willie’s house. I knocked on the door and was relieved to find out from his daughter that he wasn’t home. Just as I got back down the drive, here came Willie. I mustered my courage and nervously blurted out, “Willie, you said you were going to get me in the studio, I just wonder if that was for real or what?” Willie smiled at me, shook my hand and said, “can you come in the first of next week?”
Sure enough, just a few days later we were recording at Willie’s Studio. Around that time, producer/musician, Steve Mendell, had moved down from Nashville and was working with people like Stevie Ray Vaughn and playing with all kinds of musicians from Neil Young to B.B. King to James Brown…you name it, he’s played with ‘em. I had met Steve at several gatherings around Austin and we quickly became friends and when I asked for his help, he didn’t hesitate. He brought in a lot of people to spice it up…like The Cain Sisters, then Fred and Julie Minter who wanted to help by investing in a trip to Nashville to put the “A” Strings from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on it. Legendary steel player, Pete Drake laid down some tracks and Johnny Christopher, “Always On My Mind”, played guitar.
We even got the guy that played Cello on the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” on this thing. ‘The sixth Beatle,’ man, I thought I was on my way to the big time!
When we got back from Nashville, we still needed a few more songs to finish the album. I had a few more up my sleeve, and one night, a bunch of us were hanging out downtown and decided to go to Freddie Joe Fletchers studio in the Austin Opry House and lay down some tracks. We recorded, The Best Part of Lovin’ with Stephen Bruton and Sammy Creason from Kris Kristoffersons band, Chris “Easter” Ethridge (Flying Burrito Brothers) and Reese Wynan (Stevie Ray Vaughn, Los Lonely Boys) on the keys.
What a trip!
It was about this time that I was introduced to my future wife’s grandmother, Ms. Kathleen Yellot. “Mom”, as everyone called her, lived on the edge of the Bayou at the entrance to the “Big Thicket” around Lumberton, Texas. “Mom” was a seer and a Curandera. When we first met she said, “you’re a musician aren’t you? I asked how she knew and she said, “Sit down, I’m going to read your cards.” I did…and she did… and then she gave me some news I didn’t want to hear. She told me that I was going to make it in the music business…but not until a quarter of a century had passed. Well, here I was, getting all these great gigs and playing with some of the finest musicians in the world. I had the world by the tail … and I just thought she was full of it!
Well in the past twenty-five years, I’ve thought about that conversation a lot.
I’ll never know why, but Pam agreed to marry me in May of ’82. Soon my blushing 24 year old bride was blessed with a 12 year old son, when our son Eric from my first marriage, came to live with us. I was still on the road a lot and my little family missed me. By ’85, our daughter Tiana was on the way and my recording tapes still lay in the can. The record companies insisting that my sound was “just not right for the times.”
I was still getting some great gigs though. I sang the state song at Mark White’s Governor’s Ball and had a cut on the 1986 Texas Sesquecentenniel Album. But…, with a teenage son in need of his dad and a newborn baby girl in tow, I decided is was time to leave the crazy life on the road and head home to West Texas to help my wife raise our children.
I’d made pretty good money playing, and all of a sudden I found myself with no job, no skills – other than musical and no prospects.
At first, I hocked my instruments to buy food and pay the rent on the house Pam had rented in the Barrio. But soon, an old high school buddy and fellow musician, Richard Ramirez, gave me my first “real” job—as a plumber’s helper. Let me tell you, digging a 60 foot trench with a pick and shovel seemed a long, long way from playing before 40,000 screaming fans at Willie’s Picnic! God had plans for me however and before long some other high school friends, the Andersons, hired me to work at their communications company.
They taught me the Tower trade. They “taught me to fish” – as the saying goes. The business was very successful after I went on my own and I sold it. My future and my family’s future was secured.
A couple of years ago I started wondering what had happened to the tapes we’d done “back in the day”. I got in touch with Steve Mendell and he set out on a quest to find them. When he did, at Arlyn Studio in the old Austin Opry House, they were in pretty bad shape; covered with a quarter-century of dust with the emulsion coming off the backing. Steve got in touch with the 3M company and they sent him a machine to bake the tape. We went into Loma Studio in Fredericksburg (one of the only places left in the country that still had an old Studer tape machine) and we started downloading to digital. Lo and behold, the quality was still there!!!! Then we got to work! Richard, Manuel and our bass player, Joe Dianda went down and added some new parts. I called my old guitar player from the original sessions, Joe Forlini, and he came in and put some new guitar work on the project. Joe has learned a trick or two in the last 25 years.
Steve then suggested we get Johnny Gimble to lay down some fiddle. He came in and did a great job. I’d met Pauline Reese (the Mother of the Alamo) while working on Crockett’s Fiddle, recorded inside the Alamo with my friend K.R. Wood. I asked her if she would come in and sing my lovers part on a couple of songs. She agreed to…but promptly reminded me that when I first started this record, she was only two years old. Thanks, Pauline!” With the help of Augie Myers, Flaco Jimenez and Al Gomez of Texas Tornados fame, we went back in the studio and recorded a couple of new songs that tells the story of our “journey through time”!
The finished product, 26 years in the making, is called “Legends Before the Fall.” It is the original 1982 album, with many of the original tracks that were laid in the 1982 recording sessions. Thornton added some new songs and calls it his musical odyssey. It is his way of letting the world know he is back.
And back he is. The album earned a Grammy nomination this year.
“Getting back into the music business is a lot easier when you have money,” Thornton says. But it also takes talent. Thornton has a great voice. “I guess I got it singing with my grandmother since I was three years old,” he says. “She was a voice teacher. I actually have some recordings of me singing with her.”
On “Legends Before the Fall,” there are recurring themes about Thornton’s life and love. Thornton explains some of his songs:
“Es Tu Vida”—“It’s your life. And it’s a story of my life. It’s been a roller coaster ride. It’s been real high. Thought I had it made in the music business. I signed with Willie Nelson. [It was] every kid’s dream! And then got the rug pulled out from under me because they weren’t going to release my album. And I came here to San Angelo, started working as a plumber’s helper first, started from the ground up, and had to hock all my stuff. I’ve [since] built my life back up where I have something to be proud of. It could end in a moment’s notice; with droughts, the tower business could crumble into another 9/11. It’s a roller coaster ride.”
“It’s Too Late”—“It’s about a girl I had been living with for several years, and I called her up from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from an old cowboy bar we had been playing up there, and she told me she had moved everything out of the house and moved in with another man. ‘It’s too late, the magic is all gone,’ she said. The song was written before I met Pam. I wrote it a long time ago.”
“True Loving Ladies”—“Just my concept of women, I guess. True loving ladies don’t come free. You have to pay for them one way or the other.”
“Legends before the Fall”—“Another story about people out on the road trying to make it after 20 years. [They’re] banging their heads up against the wall in those bars, and just chasing that big brass ring. But it’s just out of reach. And they’ve made it, and they were legends, and then the rug was pulled out from under them. In Legends, the guy is talking to a curandera, and she says, ‘When you get older, you’re going to make it.’ And that’s what I believe about my own life.”
“Strawberry Stallion”—“This is a song about a rodeo cowboy who was in love with this girl, and she followed him all over the country while he was rodeoing. She had her own strawberry-colored stallion. And then he woke up one morning and the strawberry stallion was gone, [and] so was the girl. And the cowboy surmises the stallion and the girl are somewhere in Louisiana now, by an antebellum home, with the stallion standing out in the pasture. She got tired of chasing after him. And that’s happened to so many musicians: The girl falls in love with him, but then he’s on the road all the time . . . so it means something to me, too. I lost several girlfriends that way.”
“Dream”—“Guy Mason (my drummer for 4 years when I was out on the road) and I wrote that song on a ranch in South Texas. We wrote it about a girl leaving… Well, it’s another love song.”
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T. Gozney Thornton