Music, Mullets, and a Journey of Three Decades

I’ve promised many people over the years that I’d post a picture of myself in my days as a folk rock singer. Well, here you go: the ultimate blackmail shot. No, that’s not Tony Orlando. That’s me, circa 1983. That’s my real hair, and that’s my fine mustache.
What prompted me to post it now? Last night Becky and I went to a Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt concert at the Majestic Theater here in San Antonio, which brought back a lot of memories. In the 1980s, when I was in college, I briefly set aside my dream of being a novelist to concentrate on music. Two of my high school friends and I formed a folk rock trio and started playing around South Texas. I wrote some original songs, but mostly we did covers of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Beatles . . . well, you can probably tell what kind of music we played just by looking at my hair.
Anyway, one of our very first steady gigs was at Grins Restaurant in San Marcos. The owner Johnny had also given a break to then-unknown artists Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. At the concert last night, Lyle Lovett mentioned his days at Grins, and it made me smile. Fortunately for the world, Lyle Lovett went on to great things in the music industry. Just as fortunately for the world, my band did not. However, we started in the same place. In fact, our audition at Grins happened on a night Lyle’s friend Robert Earl Keen was playing. We packed the place with our friends. During one of the band’s breaks, Robert Earl let us use his sound system. We played a few songs, our friends applauded wildly, and then we left, along with most of the people in the restaurant. I’m sure Robert Earl was not pleased. Then again, he went on to a very successful career like Lyle, unlike our band!
Our band played for several years, and while we weren’t wildly popular, we had some good times. I made enough money to avoid getting a day job in college. When I became a teacher, I quickly realized that late night gigs and early mornings in the classroom did not mix well. I gave up performing, though music remained important to me. I turned my attention back to my other dream – writing novels – but even now, as I’m writing this, my Martin D-45 is sitting next to me, and I’ll often pick it up and play a tune from the old days.
Since the 1980s, Lyle Lovett has been one of the musicians who provided a soundtrack for our lives. Becky and I saw him at Gruene Hall very early in his career, when he first launched his Large Band. We saw him in the 1990s while we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his music soothed some of our homesickness for Texas. Now that we’ve moved back home to San Antonio, seeing him last night felt like coming full circle. My favorite quote from him at the concert, paraphrased: “When I was growing up in Houston, I wanted to be a musician, but ‘making stuff up’ wasn’t a real job where I came from. Thanks to you all (the audience) it became one.” I can relate to that! I’m grateful to have made a career telling stories – and it’s thanks to my readers.
So it seemed the right time to look back at my folk rock publicity photo from the 1980s. That guy with the weird hair . . . he has no idea what crazy turns his life will take. He will not become a rock star – thank goodness – but he will get to do two other things he’s always dreamed of: become a successful teacher, and become a published author. He wouldn’t believe me if I told him just how well his books will be received. So thanks, Lyle Lovett, for reminding me just how great a journey the last three decades have been, and how lucky I am to be making up stuff for a living!

Rick Riordan