Frankie Camaro

 My family is from Cuba. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a pharmacist but she's also a piano teacher. I am the youngest. They left during the revolution. I was born in Virginia. It's part of the mainland across Chesapeake Bay. It’s the very tip of the peninsula. They call it Del Marva. It's Maryland, Delaware and a little tip of Virginia. That’s actually part of the Jamestown settlement area so pretty interesting place where I was born. And then we moved to St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) and Miami for a few years and then Fort Line, Colorado where Kit Carson was from and we lived on the Santa Fe Trail and had rodeos and that’s when I started wearing cowboy boots and stuff like that. Then we moved to Kenton, Ohio. Over in the corner, the northwest quadrant, close to Lima, Ohio and then moved to Marion, Indiana. My dad worked for the Veterans Hospitals. So the first few years we just like kinda moved around a lot so I guess I got to see a lot of different places and different people and everything.

A cool thing about Marion where I grew up here in Indiana, James Dean was born in Marion and he grew up in Fairmont which is about 10 miles from where I lived. One of my best friends in high school, his dad was best friends with James Dean. He showed me all kinds of pictures of James Dean and everything. I had some really rare James Dean pictures.

I went to high school in Marion and I went to Indiana University and studied recording engineering and acoustics. So basically I got into music like everybody. My oldest brother really turned everybody on, he was a big Elvis fan and we had a lot of like Chubby Checker and a lot of Elvis, and I still remember, we were living in Florida when we all watched the Beatles. I was pretty young but I still remember it and I remember going into the bathroom and George, my brother, we all combed our hair, we had a Beatle haircut and stuff like that. But that’s when I was about 3 or 4 around then my mom was giving piano lessons to my older sister and then I started taking piano lessons and so I started pretty young. And I think that always kinda  helps.

My dad had a big collection of Cuban music and I still have it. Really big like from the east end. He had a lot of musician friends. We used to play like at dinner parties. I would play percussion or piano, I'd play bongos, my dad would sing and my mom would play piano when they would have friends over and stuff. And then I had a drum set and a toy guitar and I was really into The Beatles and The Stones and The Monkeys. Really we grew up listening to Detroit radio a lot that was the main radio station, CKLW. So I grew up listening to a lot of Garage, Electric Prunes and all that kind of stuff, and also a lot of Soul music. But I was definitely very much, even in grade school, Beatles and Stones were my favorite bands. We also got a thing really early on even before they were real big for James Brown and B.B. King and so I guess that even as a young kid I had a thing for Rhythm and Blues and Soul music as well as Rock 'n' Roll. When I was about 13 I was into sports for a little bit from the time when I was 9 to about 12 and  I worked very hard to become a kicker. For some reason when I was in about the 6th grade I would go practice kicking field goals and stuff cause nobody at that age like nobody had a kicker in the other teams. They never tried to kick extra points or anything but I got really good at it and the first game they made me the kicker. I broke my leg and broke it real bad so I missed about half of my seventh grade because I had a really big cast that covered my whole leg and I couldn’t even walk or anything with the cast for a few months. So I think kinda that point in my life is where I changed and I definitely refocused on music 'cause I started really wanting to be a musician and I would play my electric guitar and drums along with The Monkeys, The Beatles. We watched all those shows then, we were into like Hullabaloo and stuff like that. I kinda followed my older brothers and sisters and whenever my brother left for college I still listened to all his records. My favorite when I was super young, when I was like 5 years old, I used to play Joey Dee and the Starlighters. He had this little 45 of PEPPERMINT TWIST and I used to just play it over and over and my brother left his stereo. I remember my sister having parties and stuff during the British Invasion music, so I kinda soaked in a lot of that stuff even at a young age.  

At that point none of my friends were really into music 'cause I’m talking like 2nd and 3rd grade but for me I have just always been into music so it has always been part of our family, part of our lives and then when I started buying records I was more in middle school I still liked Hendrix and Cream. The way I started playing guitar I got a drum set 'cause my plan was to be a drummer and I was pretty good.  I got a Slingerland kit with the Zildjian cymbal and everything and it was pretty nice and then I had all these song ideas floating around in my head and I got a record that taught you how to play Blues and it had a record and tablature and it had Freddie King and people like that, B.B. King. My first song was HIDEAWAY by Freddie King.  I learned how to play that and I had another book on Blues scales and stuff like that. When I was about 15 or 16 I started recording. I had two cassette recorders and I would lay down a drum track on one recorder and I would play along with that on the other recorder and I did my own little overdubs, so by the time I was 15 I wanted to be a recording engineer. Just for my own music not like thinking, "Oh I want to be a producer for everybody else." That would have been nice but mainly it was to learn how to do well in the studio. I wanted to go to the University of Miami in Florida but it was really expensive and then I went to IU and while I was there they had a brand new audio program which was through the school of music which I didn’t know 'cause it wasn’t in any of their books 'cause I was talking to councilors. I was getting ready to transfer my freshman year.  I didn’t want to start off as an Art major.  I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do and then I found the audio program and that’s what I ended up getting my degree in. So in college I worked for the college radio station WQAX. That’s the first band we had, a bunch of guys from the radio station. We used to play at street dances and parties and things like that. I was still planning on being a drummer. After a few shows people thought I was a pretty good guitar player. This was about when the punk thing was going on really big in the late 70's and early 80's. So when I quit school instead of going for a regular career by that time I really had the bug to play music. While I was at WQAX I would play The Clash and things like that or Jimi Hendrix. I always had a thing for, like I said even though it was the late 70's I still liked playing my favorite stuff from the 60's like MC5, Jimi Hendrix, Cream things like that. But then I’d also play The Clash, Ramones. And then one night I found this record called The Fabulous Thunderbirds and I thought it was the coolest thing. I got really hooked on the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Back then it was still all cover bands. If you wanted to make money all the clubs had cover bands. They didn’t expect you to have bands playing original music. That’s when I was starting to get into Dick Dale and Link Wray a lot so I started playing a lot of that kind of stuff. We would play at Punk shows but our angle was like we would play Surf music like real fast or Link Wray and that was out angle. The other guys were really hard core punkers but I just really was never good at that. I wanted to do like a Rock 'n' Roll Revival, that’s what I was interested in because of the excitement. In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I saw the Leroi Brothers it seemed like there was a few bands along that line. There was a surf band, John and the Night Riders. So there we were in Indiana and we’re trying to do this but we had this club called Second Story that had a lot of touring bands and this guy came through a couple of times called Dino Lee and the Whirlybirds and they played Rockabilly. I was kinda into Rockabilly too during that time, but the second time he came through one of my pals went with him and he said, “Oh yea, Dino told my friend that he was moving to Austin, Texas and that he needed a road manager."  So my friend decides to go to Austin, this is like '83, and I remembered the Leroi Brothers and had little hints of what was going on in Austin and nothing was going on around here and he needed a ride so I was like, "Well, I’ll give you a ride. I’m not doing anything." I turned down a couple of jobs like I said out of college, this was when unemployment was really bad. It wasn’t like when I graduated I had a lot of jobs. The only job I remember in audio was you can go to Six Flags and run sound you know for minimum wage. That’s not really what I wanted. I didn’t really want to learn how to record music I didn’t like. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to work in audio, I wanted to work in music I liked. But so anyway Dino needed a road manager and I told my friend I would take him to Austin and hang out for a week and while he’s talking to Dino on the phone Dino says “Hey do you know any guitar players?” and he goes, "Yeah, the dude Frankie that you played with at Second Story that’s taking me down, he plays guitar." So the next thing I know we’re gonna play a show. So we had this incredible road trip, we go to Austin, we meet Dino, and I learned the songs in like two or three days and then we played at the Continental Club and just blew everybody away. I mean we had Jimmy Carl Black, Frank Zappa’s drummer, we had like an all star band. It was packed, people just loved it, we did a bunch of encores.

It was just an eye opener going from such a not-much-going-on-here and then Austin was just starting to take off right at that time. So I came back and I had some crappy minimum wage job and Dino kept calling me saying, "Hey, move down here. Stay at my house until you get money rolling in, we’ll do shows and stuff." I had my band Moto X and I was kinda torn, I was like I don’t want to leave my friends but man that’s such a great opportunity and I was late for work for about the third time and I just went back to bed. I go, "Well, I guess I’m moving to Austin." I moved to Austin and we just took off. Dino would put out like 2000 fliers, my friend would walk up and down the drag in Austin where the university is wearing a sandwich sign "Come to the Contental Club!" He got to be friends with Margaret Moser who was one of the big writers at the Chronicle and within six months we were sold out anywhere we played, it was just amazing. And then the rest of my band moved down. That was about ’84 or so. And one time we were playing, we opened up for, oh I got to play for Screaming Jay Hawkins with the Fleshtones and Peter Zaremba, the guy from the Fleshtones. MTV was coming down, my band almost got on MTV, the picked 10 bands and we were the eleventh and they did a story on the growing scene of music in Austin.

I don’t know in order what happened but one time I was at a party, you know, go see the Leroi Brothers all the time, introduce myself, sat in a couple of times, got to be friends with them. I got to know everybody real quick and one time they needed a guitar player and I sat in and could’t believe it! Playing with Mike Buck and those guys after I’d seen them for, since the Thunderbirds and stuff. I knew most of the material already and then one time I was at a party and they said they needed a guitar player, they said they’re going to Europe and they were leaving tomorrow. I think it was in between when Don and Evan. I didn’t know what to do. I had my own band and I was playing with Dino Lee and the Leroi Brothers asked me to go to Europe. I wanted to go but I thought my band would quit on me for leaving. So I was torn. It was hard to balance. If I would have known today I probably would have done it because during that whole month nothing really happened. We rehearsed a couple of times. It was like 'whooptie doo'. I wouldn’t have missed much. I didn’t want to quit my band but it was like I shouldn’t have turned that down. It was just a sudden thing and I didn’t know whether I could do it. I didn’t want to piss my friends off so...

Going back to the Screaming Jay Hawkins gig, that’s when I really started to get to know Mike and he was one of my favorite guys to talk to 'cause he liked the same kind of stuff, we liked the Chesterfield Kings and these 60’s kinda garage bands. I asked him about anything and he would, like he had such a great record collection I started going over to his house so we studied up for the Screaming Jay Show. And we were like, "OK, what song do you think he’s gonna do?" Obviously he was going to do I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. So me and Mike spent  a day or two just like anticipating what songs Screaming Jay was going to do.  That was a really weird gig. The only rehearsal we had, we had to meet at the Liberty Lounge at 4:00 in the afternoon and then Screaming Jay and me and Mike, and I forget right now who was on bass, but Screaming Jay was kinda of a nutty case to tell you the truth.  All he gave me was a scribbled piece of paper with the names of the songs and by the name of the songs it had G, E whatever key it was in. That was it. And he was going over these songs and I remember he started getting down on Mike about the songs. He kept going “No man, on the down beat!”  And then Mike would start again and he would stop, “No, no! On the down beat! You know what a down beat is?” And oh my God, me and Mike just started looking at each other going “What the hell is going on?” There was some song that had a blues scale but it was like I-III-V instead of I-III-IV-V or something like that. And I kept hitting the IV in there and he started getting down on me. “No man leave it out, it’s all in the charts, man. It’s all in the charts." And there were no charts. We were just looking at each other like, "Oh My God this is crazy." That was a fun gig playing with him. But during the show, it was like in the middle of August like I was totally drenched in sweat, hot up on stage, and we were doing I PUT A SPELL ON YOU and he lit off one of those flash powder things like a foot from my face and just totally blinded me for five minutes.  Seriously, like I couldn’t see anything. So for the rest of I PUT A SPELL ON YOU I was totally blinded and I don’t know how I made it through the song. I thought I was going to pass out or something, had to walk off stage or whatever. But I remember people really loved it and people said that we were one of his better backing bands he had. Some people had seen him with other people, 'cause me and Mike had to work on it. We really did. We studied what songs he was gonna do and everything like that.

During that time Dino fired me twice and he hired me and rehired me three times. But I guess it should be told when I first moved down there Dino had the best musicians in town and then it just turned into this theatrical thing. Like I wanted to wear cool suits and stuff and he would have us wear trash bags and stupid crap on our heads. So he would look cool and the rest of us would look like a bunch of idiots and little by little everybody quit and he fired my road manager that worked his butt off for him and that was it. I don’t think he really did much after that. We were friends and stuff but it was definitely not the direction I wanted to go. I just was into the music. I think putting on a good show and theatrics is great but the bottom line with me is I really love good music and try to write the best songs I can, so that’s my angle. It’s not always like the most flamboyant thing or anything like that. I’m serious about my songwriting and playing and stuff. That’s me and that’s what I’m trying to do.

A little after that, with Dino, we played Liberty Lunch again, the same place where I played with Screaming Jay, and it was just wall to wall people. I mean that place could hold like a thousand people. I think that was our peak. This guy came up to me afterwards, he was like the friend kinda manager of the Leroi Brothers, and he goes, "Hey, would you be interested in doing this album we're working on?" 'Cause I would start the show with this big surf number, I think it was KAMAKAZI or something like that. I had this big Silvertone hollowbody guitar and I would start the show and then Dino would come out after that and then everyone would go crazy. He’s like 6’5” and he’d spend an hour teasing his hair up so that it was straight up in the air and people would go nuts. When he teased up his hair he looked like he was 8 feet tall. He was kinda like a cross between Rockabilly and James Brown. So I talked to Gary after the show. It just sounded like a little project; we're gonna get together, he's gonna pick some different guys. He goes, "That’s exactly what I want. I want twangy, Surf and like instrumental Spaghetti Western," and I was going, "Man, I’m all about that." That’s exactly what I love. Not just surf. I love like The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. I had that soundtrack since I was a kid and I always, Duane Eddy, I had a thing for twangy, that sound and so that’s how I got involved with Trash, Twang & Thunder. We had a meeting at, I forget the name of the record store, it was just a couple of blocks from the Continental Club. We had a meeting and Evan Johns was there and I had just gotten to know Evan. Evan was the brand new guy with the Leroi Brothers and I remember Don, he used to be with the Leroi Brothers but then he started the Tailgators. I didn’t know Jimmy but I knew the other guy. Gary asked, "OK, lets see what you got," and we went around the room and when he got to me I had tons of songs ready to go, like I had SHANGHAI COBRA. He goes, "OK, what else you got?" I did THE BREAKERS, GUITAR ARMY a little bit. That one wasn’t all the way done. And then I had CHAINSAW, which was just partially done. But THE BREAKERS and SHANGHAI COBRA I had been playing for like two years already with my own band.

Don played on almost all my songs. He did a really good job on The Breakers. He kinda did the second melody line. You can hear me going "bow dow da duh duh" and then he would go "wow wow wa wuh wuh". So he really like put a lot of time and effort and thought into it, you know. I had this song GUITAR ARMY and it was just basically a Blues jam. It had a cool beat. It wouldn’t have been nominated without those guys. I mean if I would have just done it by myself it wouldn’t have been Grammy nominated. We were nominated for Rock Instrumental Performance. I think that 'performance' is key in there 'cause we did this thing in like one or two takes on every song. Vince McGerry was the producer and he was awesome. He was good at trying to get that older kinda vibe, like from the 60's; we all played in the same room, we didn’t do a lot of takes, we didn’t have a million microphones, we just went in there one day. We didn't even know it was gonna do anything. We were just like, "Oh, this is kind of like a cool little side thing." I was working at this Texas Commerce Bank, it was temp agency, and all of a sudden a girl comes up to me and goes, "Hey, you know you’re nominated for a Grammy?" And I was like, "What?!?"  I looked on the cover of the Austin American Statesmen and there we were. It had a picture of Stevie Ray Vaughan and it had a picture of us and we were going head to head with Stevie Ray Vaughan and people kinda joked, "What did you do? Why did your song get nominated?" "I don’t know!" But like I said I have to owe it to those guys too. I think I did my job well but without them it wouldn’t have been... the whole album wouldn’t have been what it was. We were all nominated for a Grammy. It wasn’t just my song or anything.

The Grammies was fun. Stevie Ray Vaughan sat right behind us. He walked in and it was like 3:00 in the afternoon and oh man, we were up all night the night before. I didn’t realize that we had to leave at like noon. 'Cause I’m thinking aren’t the Grammys like at 8:00 at night? But it’s filmed like at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon out there. So basically we were sitting there and they were telling who the winners were, at least the categories. Stevie Ray Vaughan sits right behind with his entourage and he goes, "Who won? Who won?" and we go, "Jeff Beck won," and he just got up and left. He was there for about two minutes. But Mike Buck and those guys were going, "Hey, Stevie, how’s it going?" That was the only time I really ever met him. I saw him play like at... sometimes I would go to Antone’s. I would VIP to any club in Austin. I’d go to Antone's, I saw Johnny Winter. I mean this was like they would just go up on stage, they’d be in the audience. Like all of a sudden one night Johnny Winter got up there. It was like on a Wednesday night somebody was playing and Stevie Ray wanted to get up and play. Like wow, man! That was kinda a cool time definitely.

I remember exactly what I wore. This girl lent me this black velvet, like weird jacket and I had this wild rodeo shirt, and this sparkly bolo tie and I had my hair slicked back. Another weird thing about the Grammies, we were the first like, we left the Grammies show and we went to the after party. I get in there and I remember there was a room where I saw Sting and I was gonna walk in there and this guy comes up to me and goes, "Hey you can’t go in there, that’s a private party." I'm like, "Yeah it’s a private party, this is the Grammy party. I’m invited!" Everywhere I would go I would see this guy eyeing me. He was like a security guy. He was like the head of security but he just wore a suit, he just kinda blended in. But he eyeballed me and he had a thing about, maybe it was because of the way I was dressed or something, or the way I looked, but he ruined the Grammy party for me, whoever that guy is. Like, "What do you mean it’s a private party?" I kept showing him my invitation to the Grammy party. "I’m nominated for a Grammy. Here's my invitation." "Sorry, you can’t go in there." Yeah, it was weird. I remember everybody, like Evan had his picture taken with B.B. King. That was fun. But the after party was kinda, it wasn’t any free food. The night before it was like all free food. It was all cash bar only the night of the Grammies party and we knew we lost so it was kinda like "ehh". It was OK. But it was fun.

And another weird thing was Michael Jackson, this was like when Michael Jackson was the king and he just like owned the whole corner of the theater. I don't know what it was but this was like years after Thriller and I just remember him and Phil Collins kinda dominated the whole Grammies. Collins won like four Grammies that night and he was the host, and Jefferson Starship played and that’s all I remember was Phil Collins, Michael Jackson and Jefferson Starship. It was so weird too, because like I could see off to the side of the stage Phil Collins, like he was the host but then he would walk off to the side. It seemed that he knew which all the ones he was going to win and everything. "Phil Collins gets his fifth Grammy of the night" or something. The best one was where Michael Jackson had brought like his monkey or something. It was all this commotion around Michael the whole time. That's all I remember. He had like the whole front isle seat of the theatre.

Ruth from Jungle Records, she’s been posting some pictures. But I was terrible as a self promoter. I never had a camera. I’m not a good promoter of myself. I wish I had somebody like an agent and a promoter and all that. I don’t think I even hardly carried around a camera back then. It just didn’t dawn on me that anybody was interested in it or I would have maybe taken some more pictures myself.

There was kinda a mini backlash 'cause I remember people complaining none of us was from Texas, none of the guitar players were from Texas, 'cause originally the album was just supposed to be called Trash, Twang & Thunder but they thought, "Well, if you put the Texas name on it you’ll sell more records in Europe," that's what I remember somebody saying, or something along that lines maybe. It was kinda like really big in Norway and Finland. I guess they really love that kind of stuff.

There was a TV show like 'something' Diner. It was for a Canadian public television or something. We shot it in Austin. I forget what was the name of it. But it was done for some Canadian television program as far as I remember. It used to be shot in Austin and then it was popular in Canada or something like that. because I don’t remember it being around the United States like Austin City Limits or anything. We did have a reunion like 2 or 3 years after that but it was kinda sloppy. You know, it’s not like we’re a real band. We’re four different guitar players, we had like one rehearsal and we didn’t even play like half my songs. We played like Guitar Army, I think, and Shanghai Cobra but we didn’t do The Breakers, we didn't do Chain Saw, and I had to borrow a bunch of equipment. So the reunion was just like so-so. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It's hard to pull it off and sound as good. One rehearsal didn’t quite... it didn’t sound as good as the record, let's just put it that way. But when we did that TV show that was pretty killer.

So basically things were going pretty good in Austin. I got a record deal for my band, but the guy left. We recorded an album, it was the same label as Don Leady of the Tailgators. We were going to be on Wrestler, the guy really loved my band.  We were going to be like one of his top bands and everything. We recorded an album. I didn’t know him that well. He had a record store right there on the drag. Geoff  Cordner. Toward the end of when I was there, right after we did the Big Guitars, we did that and my own album, and Geoff moved to L.A. and he wouldn’t answer my phone calls and I kept going, "Where’s the record and the contract we were supposed to sign?" From early on I had kept going "Where’s the contract?" He kept saying, "Oh yeah, we’ll get to that, we’ll get to that."  So he moves to L.A., he takes the master tape, doesn’t answer my phone calls and everything just kinda fell apart.

I went to the Grammies, but the truth was I was just totally broke and this guy from Wrestler was giving us the run around. This girl totaled my car. I was living on Riverside, Travis Heights, real close to I-35 on Riverside Drive. We had this huge party. We had Johnny Thunders, Dave Alvin from the Blasters and Jorma from Jefferson Airplane. Like everybody that was at the Continental Club, everybody from Austin that was a musician was at our party. Like tons of kegs of beer, but the truth was like people were congratulating me about the Grammies but I didn’t have any money. At that point it was too far to like walk anywhere. I was like in a bad situation. I was really depressed about the way the Moto X album turned out. My plan was to come back to Indiana and save up enough money and come back. But when I got back to Indiana, it was like I couldn’t make any money. All I could get was like $5-6 an hour.

A couple of years went by and then that was it. People were kind of shocked like "What happened to Frankie? He left in the middle of the night." Nobody really heard my side of the story. "Oh man, he left his band and did this and that." I was just in a really bad situation. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to leave and I didn’t want to leave anybody high and dry, it was just I had no family down there. The other thing was that I went down there with five vintage guitars. Three of them were stolen and I lost two of them in pawn shops. So it was like everything just imploded on me. It was right after the Grammies so it was kind of a weird time. People were like "Hey man, congratulations!” and I was like, "How am I going to hang on until I get some money rolling in?" and I just didn’t quite make it. Came back to Indiana.

It’s just always been hard. Like I tried to get back into South By Southwest a few of years later and didn’t get in. It’s hard getting back in. I always wanted to get back into Austin. I would go down and visit and stuff. You know after three or four years go by and people don’t remember. Like the club owners didn’t, it was just really hard getting back in there. The main problem too was it’s just like coming back here it’s really hard to find people that are committed and really want to go out and tour for that. It’s not like I have a lot pro of musicians, in Austin you can always find a killer drummer. "Oh, I need a killer drummer," or great guitar player or whatever. There were tons of people like that. But once I got back to Indiana, it’s just always been super hard. I had a band called the Truckadelics and we started playing around. We played in Dayton, Cincinnati, Louisville, all that kinda stuff. But every time I get something going it just can’t quite get going.

I did have a little success in Bloomington, Indiana in the mid 90's. I put out Drag Strip on Shredder Records, and it was mainly like a Surf project, kinda hot rod. To tell you the truth there was kind of like a wave of a lot of Surf bands in the 90's like a little resurgence but I was already kinda at the end of that resurgence, so it’s kinda like, well I kinda did it in the 80's but here I am in the 90's trying to do it. But Drag Strip, we were trying to be kinda like Garage, not just Surf, but the guy from Shredder didn’t like my vocals. He goes, "I’ll put the record out if it's all instrumental." So he kinda changed the vibe of what I really wanted to do but I wanted to put a record out so I did it. It’s actually a pretty good record, but it was really our demo tape. He didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. But then my drummer moved to San Francisco and so I pretty much had to disband that and that’s when I started to trying to learn Internet programming. I was just sitting there like, "OK, I gotta really do something with my career," so I taught myself how to be a computer programmer basically.

I made this website called visualguitars.com and I started selling it but man that takes so much time. You know being in a band, my girlfriend, having a day job, it's like I can’t really put as much time into it as I want. If you go to download.com and look up "visualguitars" you can download like the free version of it. So in the late 90's until about in the early 2000's all I was doing was programming and that’s what I’m doing right now. I'm working for an insurance company doing programming. It’s mainly like I said so I can finally fund the projects I want to do. I’ve always had a money problem. It’s not like I didn’t want to put things out, it’s trying to keep the personnel happy and there were just not a lot of good paying jobs around here. So a little bit of success and then start over again a little bit, and start over again. I feel like I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old and I’m still doing it. I still really like it. I’m lucky to be able to do it, I guess.

It’s not like I ever gave up or anything. It’s like I just always try to get another project that’s gonna go and my main thing is I never stop writing music and I really love roots music but I always liked, it’s not like I just want to do old music. I toy around, when I was in college with synthesizers. It’s not like Techno but more like Brian Eno, weird stuff like that. I guess I always wanted like futuristic or in the past. It seems to me that that’s part of my problem people don’t have enough of a focused sound or image. People go “Oh, he’s the Rockabilly guy. Oh, he’s a Surf guy. What is he?” What I have always been trying to do is incorporate all the things I like in to my sound and I’m getting there. I think I’m still writing good songs. So that’s about it.

By the time the Internet started coming around, for some reason I made the mistake of thinking I’m not really trying to worry about trying to get record deals anymore, I’m just gonna really work the Internet. And I don’t know, for better or worse, that’s really not enough. You still have to put out CDs and things like that. But a lot of it is just, I’m making pretty good money right now. I just started a new job but it’s been like feast or famine. It’s usually I just never have enough money to put out a lot of music myself or hire the best musicians or things like that. I have a pretty good band right now and I’m gonna cut a new record with these guys and I’m super excited. I love playing and I feel like my chops are really good. And I just talked to Bruce from Jungle Records and we are going to try to do a Big Guitars reunion and I am really excited about that.

I’ve been going through all my old cassettes. I’ve got old reel to reels and stuff like that and bad tapes and I remember that one of my best friends, Eloid Ruiz, Eloid got to be good friends with Dino. Him and Dino really hit it off and he used to be Dino’s MC. This is right after I moved back, like the late 80's. Anyway, Eloid wanted to help me out and so he helped to fund. I wanted to do like a follow up to Big Guitars and just pay for it ourselves. So in '89 I went down there. Just on the fly I called up Mike Buck, Keith Ferguson came, Evan Johns came over for a couple songs, and we recorded, I think it was at Austin Opry House Studios. I think it’s called Music Lanes. It was like real close to the Continental Club, it was called the Opry House. They had a studio in there. We did like 8 songs. This other guy, Mike Vernon, from 3 Balls of Fire, he did a couple of songs. So I have almost a whole album. That was the last time I saw Keith Ferguson. He was nice enough to come. It was really hard to do roots music, if everybody remembers back then. It seemed like it kind of exploded after we were doing it. When we were doing roots music, who was gonna to put it out? We were doing it but it was either Jungle Records, that guy who put out the Leroi Brothers, there was just a handful of people.  And I remember, it seemed like in the 90's there was a big revival of Surf bands, and Rockabilly and stuff like that. I think that the whole independent records movement was more mature, there was more record labels.

I want to start putting on shows with like four or five bands, like a revival kind of thing where we share a lot of the back end equipment. You know, everybody does like six to eight songs. I love that. That’s the thing, it's like I really would love to start playing little theaters like that, getting three or four bands that wanna do stuff like that. I kinda like that more than clubs sometimes. I love theaters. I was really into acoustics, like I said I studied that. Just the shape of the Fountain Square Theater, just a really cool vibe. Yeah, I definitely would love to do that. I could be happy playing in three or four different bands. 'Cause I can play drums or guitar or bass. Sometimes it's fun not to even be like the main guy. All I got to do is play the drums. I don’t have to worry about anything else.

There was this lady, they had a killer record store in Marion. Man they had everything like and they were like real music fans. So after I moved back from Texas and I was really depressed, kind of like a nervous breakdown after the Moto X thing and all that stuff happened. She had moved her record store to Fairmont so I went over there, I walked in there, I started talking to her and she remembered me from me going to her record store in high school and she opens up her drawer and she has a press clipping of me being nominated for a Grammy. In her drawer! I was like, “Are you kidding me?” That was like right across the street from the James Dean Musem. So I had a real connection to that 50's kind of vibe. I wanted to revive that kind of energy. I wanted to see people dancing. I was totally into, growing up, into 50's movies, especially like science fiction, black and white movies. We always had the all-night theaters on Friday night and they'd show like monster movies. So I grew up with all that and there was the Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow, there was this old movie called The Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow. It was before it was Surf music. It was like '61. They didn’t call it Surf but they totally sounded like Surf music. It’s kinda like a funny horror movie and no one had ever heard of it except for Mike Buck. I mentioned it to him and he had the record! I was like “You got to be kidding! You got the record, the Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow?"  I thought I was the only person who had ever seen that movie. Sometimes it’s a small world. You find little weird connections with things.

Another cool thing about Marion, I just found this out, there was a band called The Jiants. They’re in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. And oh my God, they had this killer song. It’s just amazing. They did this song called TORNADO and these guys were from Marion where James Dean was born. It’s killer. The guy has a Les Paul and he has this killer tremolo pedal, that’s like the hook of the song. He starts off strumming in time with the tremolo. Awesome. But I didn’t even know when I lived there that we have a Rockabilly Hall of Famer right from Marion, The Jiants. Man, I love that song. I want to cover it.

That’s where David Loehr started the Rockabilly Rebel Weekend. I went to the one in Fairmont and it was wild. It was like 10 years after we were doing it in the early 80's. It's like I got lost in the shuffle. By the time that stuff took off people didn’t know who I was. It wasn’t like I could just walk in and go, "Hey, I wanna play!" I love Rockabilly There’s a guy here doing it right now, Art Adams. He’s in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He’s in his 70s. He’s just went to England and played. He lives here in Indy and is playing around a lot.

I’m hoping to put out a really good album that captures the sound I want to get.  I always loved tremolo, too. Just talking briefly about out equipment, I really got into old... like my first amp was like a little Fender Tweed and I always loved tube equipment, even when it wasn’t popular, like in the late 70's early 80's everybody was starting to use transistor amps.  That’s when I would buy every amp I could get. Every Fender amp I could get I would buy them at pawn shops and second hand stores. Man I had like a 1950's blond Bandmaster that was really cool, Super Reverb, Vibralux. Man, I love that kind of reverb. I've always been into really good reverb and tremolo and stuff like that. I think it's a slightly different vibe, cause like I said back in the eary 80's there wasn’t a lot of people doing that kind of stuff. I think that if I did it now it's not like, "Oh look, this guy’s really unique," or anything. I like the ambiance in music. I love the sound of tube amps and I love the sound of a room. I’ve never really been happy with my own demos, like when I go to a studio. It took me awhile to figure out. The modern recording techniques and stuff, it doesn’t sound like the 50's. What is it that they were doing in the 50's and the 60's that sounded so cool? You would think that our equipment would be better and our techniques would be better but people are starting to go back to that. Like John Mellencamp recorded at Sun Studio just using one or two mics with everybody in the room onto a tape machine (No Better Than This, 2010). Yeah, that’s the way to do it, I mean sometimes the modern recording techniques they may be good for Heavy Metal for certain kinds of music but for Rock 'n' Roll, man, you got to have the sound of the room, you don’t need a million microphones, and you want good tube amps and good equipment and it’s that ambience too. I love good lead players. It’s not like I’m trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughan or something. I spend a lot of time trying to develop my techniques and stuff. I built Visual Guitar because I finally wanted to learn scales. Like people would tell me, "Oh do you  know a mixed Lydian scale?" and I had no idea what a Mixolydian scale is. Now I understand it and that’s why I built Visual Guitar, it was so I could figure out what the different kinds of scales really were. My only scale is always like the blues scale, like Pentatonic. I didn’t even know how to do like major Pentatonic, I would just the minor Pentatonic. Now I understand that stuff. I’m pretty intuitive with music. I just did it by ear, "Oh, this is the way I want it to sound." I just let my fingers just kinda fly. I wasn’t really concerned with like playing exactly this scale or that scale and I don’t ever want to be like that. I don’t want to be the kinda guy, "Oh, now I’m doing this scale and that." But I did want to learn just open up my vocabulary a little bit. So I think that’s what I kinda did for the last 10 years or so. Like I did a lot of Internet stuff but I've realized that you've still got to put out records to get reviewed, to get people excited. Especially if you do like rootsy music. A lot of people just don’t want, it’s a little cheap if you just do it over the Internet. A lot of people say don’t send me MP3s, send me a CD or something. They’re not interested in reviewing your digital albulm online. I think that’s changing a little bit because it’s so big now. I wanna put out some vinyl. Another thing that's kinda popular here now is that people are putting out cassettes. I guess cassettes are kinda making a comeback because of the price. There’s a lot of people that still like analog verses digital and it’s cheap, fairly cheap, to make a bunch of cassettes.

There’s a label here called Joyful Noise. They do more modern kind of Indie Rock and stuff and they’ve been putting out cassettes like crazy. You can either order the download, or cassette, or vinyl, or CD.  That's what my goal would be, to put it out in any kind of format. I definitely still love vinyl but I’m looking into maybe cassettes. It’s not like everybody has a cassette player but I bought one. I bought a real nice used Pioneer cassette deck for about 6 bucks. It works great. 'Cause I’ve got just hundreds of old cassettes from practices and stuff. That’s what I’ve been doing is going through my old tapes, been doctoring them, making them sound better; EQing them, remastering them. As I was going through the stuff I found that thing I did in Texas in '89, so I'm gonna try to put that out, gotta get a hold of Mike Buck. I told him I was going to call him, he finally got back with me a couple weeks ago. And I’m excited about going back to you know, a Big Guitars reunion. Working on a new record with my band here.

The main reason that I’m here is for family and things like that. My girlfriend and I are planning on get married and I probably wouldn’t have met her if I wouldn't have stuck around so that's probably the best reason I stuck around I guess. I don’t know, that’s about it. Still trying to do, like I said, I'm trying to incorporate a lot of things and make it like a funky sound. It's not like I want to go from one, "OK, I'm gonna do a Surf song and then I'm gonna do a Blues song." It’s like I’m trying to incorporate Surf, a little bit of Blues, a little bit of Beatles kind of Pop, and incorporate it into kinda my own sound. That’s my goal anyway.

I love Austin. I thought Austin was probably the best place for me that I’d ever found. I love the town and I love the people. I think I was pretty well accepted into the Austin scene there. It wasn’t like you could just waltz in there and everybody was gonna love you. You kinda pay your dues and I think I did. I mean I played with Poison 13 when they needed a guitar player, I played with the Leroi Brothers, I played with Dino, I got to play with Joe King Carasco, he wanted me to join at one point. But over the years, like I said, things changed so much, so many people moved there and it changed a little bit and it’s super expensive to live there now. And the other thing is like my parents were getting pretty old, it just felt like obligation to be around to help take care of them.

That’s another thing, after it was over I felt like I fell off the edge of the world. Like "Where did Frankie go?" I never got much feedback from it. But it’s good to hear that people liked it.

Yeah, I love all those guys. I mean Don was always a real nice guy and I think the best thing he ever told me was we were talking about how you approach lead guitar and stuff and he said that if you can sing it you can play it. And it's true. So sometimes I try to, instead of just playing random notes, "Am I really playing a melody or am I playing random notes?"  Like I was talking about scales. I really like to build a unique melody and I think Don was good at that too. We always wanted to build something that was full and unique. Yeah man, I love playing with those guys totally excited about getting together with them again trying to put out that '89 thing and my new album.

And one of my favorite things was hanging out with Keith Ferguson. We got to be good friends and he would invite me over to his house. He had this thing he called “Sunday Meeting” and we would go over to his house on Sunday and we would just listen to records, drink a few beers and we' BBQ some chicken with Alex Napier, this other bass player friend of mine. I felt really honored cause he didn’t really talk to everybody. I’d see people go up to Keith and start talking to him and he would just look straight ahead. If he didn’t want to talk to you he didn’t want to talk to you. But it really was an eye opener going over to his house, the record collection he had. I couldn’t believe some of the blues records he had I'd never heard of. And I always thought that was kinda like the Punk of the 50’s. I got to meet some of the cats that were like really from the 50’s but it wasn’t like the 50’s that everybody reads about. It was like, "OK, this is really what happened in the 50's." This one guy, I can’t remember his name, but he told me about him and his friends would go to like Rhythm and Blues clubs like in Houston and stuff like that and it was just like they would go to basically all-black clubs, that was their thing in the late 50's. He always told me he was going to take me to show me how to get to Mexico through these back roads and things like that.

Yeah, it was such a good time, you know. I wish I could have stuck around longer for it and really held my career at that point but it didn’t work out quite like that, like I wanted right then but yeah it felt like a lot of people just moved there right about the same time. Like we all had this plan like reenergize Rock 'n' Roll and bring back, you know, some of the good things about the past. It’s like I’ve always been drawn to music from the past. It’s not like I follow current music and stuff. There's so much good music to learn from. From the past, too. Yeah, there was Rockabilly, there was a little Surf, there was a little Garage. Everything I liked. It was like, "Man, this is awesome." Blues. I would just go from one club to the other, like sometimes three clubs a night. I’d go down to the Continental and catch a couple bands and I’d go up to Antone’s and pretty much felt like I knew everybody and everybody just welcomed me. Still trying to do it. Hopefully we’ll hook up with those guys again.

Comments

Hi JJ, Thanks again for the story. Sorry for saying "like" so many times, haha. I guess it's my way of saying "uhh" or "you know" while thinking of what to say. I think towards the end I meant to say, I don't just follow older music, but I think it came out like I don't follow modern music. I do. Hey Mick, Terry, and Todd. Thanks for your comments. Mick I had that synth until the late 90's and tried in vain a few times to find Scott but then when I moved it got left in the basement in Bloomington and when I went back it was gone. I'm really sorry and always planned on getting it back to him. And I also lost an electric piano that a friend had left in my care. I'm so sorry, I tried to hold on for years. Hope to see you all rockin someday soon!
I'm here with a friend of yours, Mick Lee, of Marion, Indiana. He wants to know whatever happened to the synthesizer you borrowed from Scotty. Rock on, says Mick. Signed, Terry the Librarian of Davis Homes Library.
Very cool story. Thanks J.J./Frankie
 

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