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Was this initial repair work at Charley''s Guitar Shop?
Actually, I started at a place called Frets and Strings in Dallas - it''s no longer there. I wound up leaving there and setting up my own shop at home before getting a call from Charley Wirz, who was starting his own guitar shop. It was 1976 and he offered me a place to do repair work.
How did Charley get a hold of you?
He had heard about me through a friend of mine. He called me and said, "Do you know anything about acoustic 12-strings?" I said I did, so he brought me a guitar to see if I really knew what I was doing. I immediately took it apart and put it back together, and at that point he was impressed. I was only 21 or 22 years old at the time, but I became the head of Charley''s repair department.
What was it like working there during that time? It seems like everyone walked through those doors.
Well, it does now, but at that time nobody was going through those doors. We were a brand new, small, privately owned shop, and there were all of these other big shops around. At that time, if the owner of the shop didn’t have a name, nobody would come to see you. We had to go and shake a lot of trees; we hit a lot of clubs and places where bands were playing and guys slowly started coming over to check us out.
The name started to being circulated throughout Dallas and pretty soon people from out of town started giving us calls, and then big names started to appear at Charley’s Guitar Shop. The first guy to show up whose records I had heard for years was Chuck Mangione. His guitarist was looking for a certain guitar we had, so they both came in. As he was trying out the guitar, Chuck pulled out his flugelhorn and started playing. I remember thinking, “This is a great business to be in.”
Who else did you run into during your time there?
We ran into a lot of people. I remember Thin Lizzy was one of the groups that came through – their guitar player and some of the roadies came in and hung out. Local Dallas guys like Bugs Henderson came in a lot, but then we got some of the big groups coming in – calls from guys like Bill Wyman of the Talking Heads. That was big back then and people started to hear about us – we were the only real, true guitar shop in Dallas at that time. Even though a lot of stores had repair shops, they basically just did setups, while I did all phases of repair.
So we had some big names, but for the most part it was the local guys coming through. That’s how I met Jimmie Vaughan – he was in a local Texas band. From there, Stevie came in and we got to know each other. Around ‘79 or ‘80 I did some repair work for him, a refret. He was still very young at the time – I’m 55 now and he was two or three years younger than me.
I had relationships with a lot of guys at that time, but Stevie was definitely the one who changed my life forever, because I had no idea what he was going to do.
Was it through Stevie that you ended up out on the road?
Yeah, he was starting his band, Double Trouble, and they were traveling the country, playing in bars. That’s how most people got their start at that time; everyone was hitting the market from San Francisco to Florida to New York and back to San Diego. Around ‘83- ‘84, Stevie began getting more popular – record deals, playing with big names. He would come to Dallas and have his guitar worked on and we continued getting to know each other.
When Charley Wirz passed away in 1985, I think Stevie missed not having him around and he started to hang out at Charley’s even more. One night, he showed up at a lounge I was playing guitar at. I was surprised to see him, so I immediately took a break and asked him what he was doing. He said, “Oh, I just wanted to come down and hang out.” He invited me to come to the studio and help with his guitars while he was recording, so I swung down after my gig was over at nine that night.
We were hanging out in the studio and he asked me if I would consider going out on the road with him. My honest-to-God first answer was, “For what?” And he said it was to come out and do his guitars, and I asked him again, “You want me to work for you?” And he said yes. So I said wow, and thought about it and told him I didn’t know if I could do that. He asked me why not and I said I had a job fixing other people’s guitars, and I didn’t know if I could leave that. It was really overwhelming that he’d ask me to do something like that. Stevie said to go home and think about it, and about a week passed before he called me up and I passed again. He asked me to not let the thought go, and about two or three weeks later someone convinced me to just go and try it out.
So I tried it out; our first gig was on a ferryboat that traveled around the water while the band was performing. Afterwards I went home and decided I wanted to do it. I called Stevie and told him, and that was the beginning of my life as a guitar roadie. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
What was the living like?
Well, it was living out of a suitcase and not being familiar with your surroundings. Sleeping in motels and having to get a credit card – I didn’t have one at the time. You know, just figuring how it all worked out. We worked really hard and did lots of gigs.
So what were your duties with Stevie once you were finally on the road?
I asked him what my duties were, and he told me that all he wanted me to do was to tune my guitars, string them up and keep them up – he said he didn’t want me doing anything else. When I asked him why not, he said, “You’re a guitar player and I don’t want you hurting your hands. You’re too valuable.” I looked at him again and said, “Are you serious?” And he said that he was indeed serious. So that was that; they put me in a special place and said I wasn’t to do anything else. I was literally in the background the whole time.