Sources and Networking for Writers, Investigators and Sales People

“Where do you get your ideas for articles? How do you develop and retain dependable sources? How do you sell more? Increase business? Obtain information?”

These are common questions I have received over the years as a “Jack of All Trades” being an investigative reporter, insurance salesman, business executive, trade organization president, writer, detective and corporate facilities manager. The simple answer is to be a good networker.

Personal Connections

After making any connection, I always tried to build on it. Sometimes it takes creativity and thoughtfulness, but those are wonderful traits for life anyway. At HEB Food/Drugs, my division had thousands of employees (Partners), service providers, vendors and other resources to keep our stores, offices, warehouses, manufacturing plants and other real estate safe, lawful and in welcoming conditions.

H-E-B calls employees ‘Partners’

Early on, I would use Rolodex files (labeled: “Sources,” “Engineers,” “Partners,” “Designers,” Electricians,” and others) for individual information on people in each category.

For example, when I visited Austin, Houston, Dallas, the Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend and other regions of Texas, the file for that area would include more than just names, phone numbers, and emails. It was critical to have personal notes to connect and care with individuals I may come in contact with. Examples might be:

Birthplace, Birthday, Anniversaries, Spouse, Children, Other Family, Connections, Hobbies, Interests, Education, and Accomplishments.

Others items to note might include Affiliations, Career and Work History, Goals, Prides, and other interests.

“Is Bobby, Jr. still playing baseball this year? How’s Nancy doing in track? Here’s an autograph of Tim Duncan for your brother. I know he’s big on Spurs basketball,” were some ways to build rapport.

The key was to capture the bits and pieces of hot, vital information
about people I met. These appear as phrases such as “Texas State alum,” “loves to fish,” “never eats lunch,” and so on.

Many times I kept a pocket recorder to help remember for when I jotted it down in the hotel room or plane ride later. As technology developed, I kept computer files and spreadsheets instead of manual Rolodexes.

Note: Even today, I do not include confidential information and confidential names on a computer or internet file. My reputation and ability to gather data and news depends on sources trusting me.

Resources You Can Count On

It’s all a lot of work, but worth every minute of it. What does all this
have to do with resolving an emergency, mitigating a problem, gathering resources, or closing the sale? Just about everything when it’s
used at the moment it’s needed.

Who can you depend on for help when your dealing with a hurricane, a sales proposal or news article?

I don’t subscribe to the saying “Networking is a numbers game.” The success doesn’t come from how many people you can meet. What you actually need is to have a list of people and resources you can count on.

One of my greatest mentors was a senior vice president of Facility Alliance at H-E-B, Ralph G. Mehringer. I watched and learned. When he met someone for the first time–a food server, janitor, visitor, new partner, whoever— Ralph was consistent about making them feel like the most important person in the room.

When I lived in an apartment above the Majestic Theater in downtown San Antonio, a neighbor, Walter Stovell, known as the “Godfather of Houston Street,” totally made eye contact with others–and he kept it. He smiled. He listened.

Majestic Theater

During conversations, Walter made comments and asked questions that showed he was hearing and listening. One day the current and two ex-mayors of the Alamo City walked by and Walter amazed me with his abilities to engage each one opportunities to express themselves without interruption.

What If You Need a Large List to Increase Sales or Potential Sales?

A sales person may mention to someone for whom has been a good customer, “I was just going through my checks, and I realized I spent over $2000 with you last year. I guess we’re really getting to depend on each other more than I knew.”

A typical question I receive is “where do you get your articles and story ideas?” They are all over, if you network properly.


You can expand networking by simply trading networks with someone else.
How big is your network? If you answered infinite, you’re
right. You’re only limited by the number of people on earth. Your network is potentially the size
of all your contacts, plus all your relatives’ contacts, your
friends’ contacts, your business associates’ contacts, and so on.

Suppose you want to introduce a new service you offer. Are you going to limit the list to the names you’ve been able to scrape together? Of course not. You’ll ask me for my list, and if I like the offer I might even ask a few other people for their lists. Instead of a few hundred names, you now have a few thousand.

Always treat anyone’s contacts with the utmost respect. Like tightrope walking, this is a system based on trust. A fall from grace, like a fall from the high wire, can be very hard to recover from.

3 Tips on Selling

🔹 Be Knowledgeable. If you want people to listen to you, you need to be an expert about the product you’re selling, about the market it exists in, and about the way it addresses the needs of your customer.

🔹Establish Rapport. Your primary responsibility is to establish a connection between the needs of the customer and the solutions that your product/service provides. It’s about them, not you. If you’re not paying attention to the customers’ needs, how could you ever accomplish that? Listen to what they’re saying. Ask questions to gain deeper understanding. Seek to build and demonstrate empathy.

🔹Build Relationships. Many people will go to online reviews to learn about your product or service. It’s amazing how much stronger leads are that come from customer referrals. Cultivating customer relationships will give you more leads, and when you listen to compliments and complaints about your offering, it will help you improve for future customers.

One final thought is to use the forever faith 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of your network likely provides 80 percent of the value. What have you done for them lately?

Jack Dennis

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HEB FOOD DRUGS

Kenny Rogers, His Best Lyrics Ever

Kenny Rogers, 81, died of natural causes on March 20, 2020.

Photo by Jack Dennis at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas.

One of the best-selling artists of all time, Kenny Rogers encompassed many music genres with over 120 hit singles. In the U.S., he charted country, pop, and contemporary charts more than 200 separate weeks. Worldwide, he sold more than 112 million records over a span of seven decades.

The recipient of numerous awards, Rogers was honored with Grammys, American Music Association, Association of Country Music, and Country Music Association accolades. He was voted the “Favorite All-Time Singer of 1986.” In 2013, Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association.

Rogers evolved with the music of his times, beginning with a rockabilly group dubbed The Scholars, progressing through stints with The Bobby Doyle Three, The New Christy Minstrels, The First Edition, all before he became a solo artist with mega-hits like “Lucille,” “Lady,” “Love Lifted Me,” “Coward of the Country,” and “The Gambler.”

He teamed up with Dottie West and Dolly Parton for such hits as “Every Time Two Fools Collide,”  “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight,” “What Are We Doin’ in Love,” “All I Ever Need Is You,” and “Islands in the Stream.”

Following are the top five all-time best lyrics from Kenny Rogers:

5. ‘DECORATED MY LIFE’

Like a rhyme with no reason in an unfinished song
There was no harmony life meant nothin’ to me, until you cam along
And you brought out the colors, what a gentle surprise
Now I’m able to see all the things life can be shinin’ soft in your eyes

And you decorated my life, created a world where dreams are a part
And you decorated my life by paintin’ your love all over my heart

4. ‘SHE BELIEVES IN ME’

And she believes in me, I’ll never know just what she sees in me
I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world
With my little songs, I was wrong
But she has faith in me, and so I go on trying faithfully
And who knows maybe on some special night, if my song is right
I will find a way, while she waits… while she waits for me!

3. ‘COWARD OF THE COUNTRY’

“I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you done.
I walk away from trouble when I can.
Now please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek,
and Papa, I sure hope you understand:
Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.”

2. LUCILLE

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field.
I’ve had some bad times,
I’ve lived through some sad times,
But this time the hurtin’ won’t heal.
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.

1 ‘THE GAMBLER’

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

The Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton hit, Islands in the Stream, was written by The BeeGees

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Murder at Gunter Hotel Room 636

In February of 1965, San Antonio’s largest unsolved mystery would take place at The Gunter Hotel in downtown in East Houston Street. Each evening, when my father returned home from his shift as a city police officer, he would brief our family on the day’s investigation status.

Albert Knox checked into the historical Gunter on February 6th. He was a blond man, said to be quite handsome. A charmer, really.

According to some, Knox was coming off a drinking binge. According to others, Knox was still in the thick of that partying run, content to thrive on the chaos until he sobered up and went back home to his parent’s house.

For two days, guests of The Gunter saw Knox come and go with a tall woman. The inquisitive gazes that followed the couple labeled the woman as a call girl–a prostitute– though no one will ever know for certain that she was. And so the party raged on.

On February 8th, one of the hotel’s housekeepers was bringing some items to Knox’s hotel room: Room 636.

Maria Luisa Guerra noted the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, but paid it no attention. Most people tended to forget to take it down, even just before they were ready to be checked out of the hotel.

Guerra pushed open the door, only to stop dead in her tracks.

Standing at the foot of the bed, Knox stood with a bloody bundle in his arms. Blood splattered practically every inch of the guest room, like a mosaic of death that needed no explanation.

In the face of Guerra’s horrified expression, Knox lifted one finger up to his mouth. “Shhh.”

The housekeeper’s mouth parted on a scream, and Knox used that moment to dash past her and out of the room. It took forty minutes for Maria Luisa Guerra’s report to make it to management. By that time, Albert Knox had disappeared.

The evidence remaining in Room 636 was clear: somebody had died…and it was brutal.

In a 1976 interview about the crime, I interviewed my father for an article about the murder. I was writing for the University Star as student reporter at Texas State University (in the 1970’s, it was known as Southwest Texas University).

Dad, or Detective Walter “Corky” Dennis, passed away in 2011, but I will never forget his words.

“It was the bloodiest place I had ever seen up until then. The bathroom was especially bad and just sticky with blood all over the place. We [he and the other detectives] noticed the bathtub had a red ring around it like it had been drained of blood.”

(Some wonder if, after murdering the woman with his .22 caliber-weapon, Knox then butchered the body and flushed her down the toilet and bathtub).

The San Antonio police suspected dismemberment, and one of the witnesses description only further pushed this idea.

The day before the murder, Knox had visited the local Sears Department Store on Romaine Plaza in search of a meat grinder. When the Sears employee informed him that they didn’t have the larger size that Knox wanted, the employee offered to order one from the warehouse. For Knox, however, that would take much too long. He stormed off in a huff.

Little evidence was found inside the room. A lipstick-smeared cigarette, brown paper bags, and luggage from the San Antonio Trunk & Gift Company. The purchase for the suitcase had been made by a check from John J. McCarthy . . . who happened to be the stepfather of thirty-seven-year old Walter Emerick.

Emerick had disappeared on one of his “drinking bents” at the end of January and had stolen his parent’s checks and some of their items.

Police scoured the city for the woman’s body, so sure were they that someone had been murdered. They checked construction sites, and even sections of streets where cement was being laid down.

On February 9th, a blond man walked into The St. Anthony Hotel, just one block away from The Gunter. He came with no luggage. And when he requested to book a room, he made it known that he wanted Room 636. That particular room was not available, and after some arguing, he settled for Room 536. He checked in under the name Roger Ashley.

But the man had aroused the suspicions of the front desk attendants, and after tipping the San Antonio Police that the murderer might have just checked in to their hotel, the detectives rushed over.

They hurried up to Room 536. Banging on the door, the police tried to apprehend Emerick for the crimes. But as they struggled to open the door, they heard the single, hollow sound of a gun shot.

Walter Emerick had killed himself, and taken whatever information he had with him to the grave.

It’s now over fifty-five years that have passed since those fateful nights.  The woman’s identity has never been discovered and no missing reports have ever surfaced. About 20 years ago, however, the formal general manager of The Gunter received an envelope with no return address. It was directed to “The Gunter” (not the Sheraton Gunter as it is identified now) and the zip code dated to 1965. Inside the envelope was an old room key, the one for Room 636, and was the kind used during that period.

A bit of folklore to add to an already strange story? No one is quite certain, but many people have witnessed the murder replay in the years since then, as though the imprint of that devastating death has no choice but to reenact the scene over and over again.

Staff and guests both have reported such paranormal phenomena–one guest even witnessed seeing a ghostly woman who held her hands out and stared at the guest with a gaze that appeared almost soulless.

When I lived across the street above the Majestic Theater from 2007-2011, I would take guests to the hotel for sightseeing. In one case a clairvoyant from Florida wanted to explore the murder room. What she didn’t know was that room 636 today is not the same one it was in 1965. The original room has been remodeled and is now two separate suits. Current 636 is around the corner at the end of the hallway.

As we passed the murder location, she suddenly said “STOP!”

The lady placed her hand on the wall exactly where the doorway was in 1965.

Over the years, I have interviewed police officers, detectives, witnesses and hotel staff who were involved during the murder. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met were actual guests (that had no clue there was ever a murder there) who have experienced strange occurrences: screaming, crying, furniture movement, loud walking on the carpet floor and even ghostly images.

Today, the Gunter is a must see stop during guided downtown ghost tours that begin at the nearby Alamo.

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Happy 81st Birthday Sir Tom Jones, From My Mom in Heaven

Knowing I’m an advid autograph collector, my mother, Geraldine Dennis was always on the lookout and obtained several signatures for me.

In April 1969, she took me to a Tom Jones concert with my cousins Carolyn Sanders Gerland and James Johnson at the Hemisfair Arena in San Antonio, Texas. Gladys Knight and the Pips and comedian Norm Crosby also appeared.

They performed on a center stage the of the arena, with an amazing orchestra on one side. I was only 13 and the entire show was incredible. Tom Jones sang such hits as “It’s Not Unusual,” “Delilah,” and “Help Yourself.”

I was mesmerized by the strength in his voice and boldness of his showmanship. (It would three years later, in April 1972, when I would see Elvis Presley for the first time at that same arena…and up until that concert, never did I believe Tom Jones could be beat. LOL.)

Elvis & Tom, 1969

For years Mom would laugh and say, “When I die I want to come back reincarnated as a gospel backup singer so I can stand behind Tom Jones and watch him work on stage.”

She meant it.

On her 50th birthday we took her to the Magic Time Machine restaurant. It first opened in 1973, the year I graduated from high school, and continues to be a fun favorite in San Antonio.

 The Time Machine is like no other restaurant I’ve ever seen, with no two seating areas alike. In San Antonio, you can sit at the Sweethearts Table, in The Attic, a Thatched Hut or even an old Refrigerator. Mom loved the salad bar, a shiny red 1952 MG-TD Roadster modified to serve as a soup and salad vegetables.

“The thing that sets The Magic Time Machine apart is our zany cast of characters who transport our guests into another point in time,” their website bills themselves. “Our servers dress in costumes representing popular pop culture icons from the past, present, and future. The entertainment comes from the humorous interaction with your server in a family friendly environment. Pirate or Princess? Hero or Villain? We have characters for every occasion and group. At The Magic Time Machine, ‘Laughing Aloud is Allowed’!”

It was a fun night that January 17, 1988. Elvis was in the house and Mom told her friends Wayne and Betty Lewis, “I wished Tom Jones would make an appearance too” and explained her reincarnation wish.

We had great laughs but it was especially joyful to see her open my present to her—an 8×10″ glossy personally autographed picture of Tom Jones. The smile and happy tears on her face endure in my thoughts even today.

I took mom to see Tom Jones two more times (she had even seen him in Las Vegas) both in San Antonio’s Majestic Theater and the Laurie Auditorium. Each time she repeated her reincarnation wish–“gospel singer behind Tom Jones.”

When Mom died in September 2006, the funeral at First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas was full. My sister Bobbi Shipman and I both addressed our dear family and friends, some we hadn’t seen in decades. Of course, there was great emotion and sadness.

To end it all, a gospel group from a Black San Antonio church led by Janet Givens (she has sang to royalty and backed up Michael Bolton) practically blew the stained glass windows out of the church with their songs. They concluded with “Oh Happy Day!”

Mom’s funeral was appropriately uplifting…just like her.

Happy Birthday Sir Tom Jones

I imagine that as Sir Tom Jones celebrates his 81st birthday here on Earth June 7th, Mom will be wishing him good will and happiness from Heaven–and looking at his behind.

Phantom of the Opera Garlic Penne Pasta Chicken

For almost five years, 2007-2011, I lived above the beautiful Majestic Theater in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

While I enjoyed having the restaurants and River Walk in my “backyard,” my favorite place to dine was just a couple of doors down at E. Houston Street Bistro.

Razmik Boghozian, proprietor of the restaurant, lived a few floors above me at The Majestic Towers. We became good friends and at one point before his death in 2016, he estimated I had dined there over 925 times.

I had Spurs basketball season tickets and Razmik would occasionally pull himself away from his bistro to join me at a game. It was a sure thing he wouldn’t go if there was a concert, Broadway play or some other popular event at the Majestic, Empire or Aztec theaters.

Although most of my meals were lunch, several nights a week I would entertain friends at the Bistro. Razmik’s attention to detail was immaculate.

One of my favorite dishes was his “Phantom of the Opera Garlic Penne Pasta Chicken.” He was kind enough to share his recipe when I moved away. RIP Dear friend.

Ingredients

  • 1(1 lb) box penne or (1 lb) box penne rigate, cooked as directed, drained and kept hot
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 3/4 cup of chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 4 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish

DIRECTIONS

  • In a deep skillet, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain, then chop.
  • In the same skillet, add the chicken and season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and paprika. Cook until no longer pink inside.
  • Add the garlic and cook until softened.
  • Add spinach and tomatoes and cook until the spinach is wilted.
  • Melt butter and add garlic in a medium sauce pan.
  • Cook over medium for 1 minute.
  • Add flour and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in broth and milk and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce boils and thickens.
  • Add parsley, salt, pepper and cheese.
  • Stir until cheese is melted.
  • Add bacon and chicken.
  • Toss hot pasta with sauce and serve immediately.

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Down and Out in the Heart of Texas With B.B. King and H-E-B

Recently meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in over eight years brought back some old memories.

Jack Dennis and Greg Weaver.

In the early 2000’s, as the Director of Facilities Management for H-E-B Foods/Drugs, one of my employees, Greg Weaver asked me to accompany him to some acreage on Babcock Road in northwest San Antonio. The land would later become the location where a store is now.

Greg had been locking the front gate to our property, but someone had been repeatedly cutting the locks and chains.

When we drove in, there was a village of homeless residents, hidden from the street by trees and brush. They had created makeshift huts and tents. Old car seats were used as couches. There were empty wine, liquor, beer bottles, cans, trash and needles scattered throughout.

Particularly alarming were the innocent children playing in their back yards, oblivious to the 30 or so homeless neighbors separated from them by a six foot long cedar border fence.

From Weaver’s experience with them, they weren’t interested in leaving the property and had no use for rules or laws. This community had their own rules, hierarchies and a faux mini-government.

We ended up cleaning the acreage by clearing brush, thinning trees and eventually building a store.

Since 2017, New York’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program has relocated over 5,000 of their families to other cities across the nation.

This has scattered their homeless to other cities to take on the associated burdens. Texas is discovering a new wave of homeless being bused into many cities with little to no notice for preparation.

With winter approaching, many southern cities are already overburdened with their resources.

San Antonio.

City Ordinances

In San Antonio, some citizen groups are sharing city ordinances as a guide to use when reporting violations to the police. These include:

1. Article 1, Sec 21-28: Makes it illegal to camp in a public place. (tent cities)

2. Article 1, Sec 21-27: Makes it illegal to urinate/defecate in a public place. Homeless camp sites have no toilet facilities.

3. Article 1, Sec 21-29: Aggressive solicitation (panhandling).

4. Article 1, Sec 21-26 Sitting or laying down in public right of way. Sleeping or hanging out on sidewalks, building entrances, public access areas. Soliciting on public streets.

5. Article 1, Sec 21-19: Washing windshield of motor vehicle on public street.

6. Article 1, Sec 29-03: Depositing litter, trash, or waste material on public land. (garbage at tent cities)

“If we intend to follow in the path of Austin, Houston, and other notorious cities with homeless camp sites, we only have to turn a blind eye,” said Unite San Antonio administrator David Moore. “We have a beautiful city; we need to keep it that way.”

“I use to volunteer for an organization that would help homeless people get themselves off the ground,” replied Gilbert Carrizales. “The unfortunate truth is that a vast majority of these people are drug addicts, have mental health issues or just don’t want to be helped. They have lost the ability to comprehend what it means to have a work ethic or motivation. It’s truly saddening, but that’s just what it is.”

For over four years, I lived above the Majestic Theater in the heart of San Antonio a block from the River Walk. I wrote extensively about the homeless for Examiner and other internet news outlets.

One interesting man I met playing saxophone for tips outside the Majestic was Conrad Joseph. He fell on hard times, had a minor stroke, but kept his positive spirit.

Joseph had played for such musical greats as B.B. King, Wilson Pickett and for a while was one of the touring Drells of Archie Bell and The Drells of “Tighten Up” fame.

When I had the opportunity to interview King in his tour bus before a concert at the Majestic, I mentioned Joseph.

Conrad Joseph and friend Don Ward. Both were residents of Haven for Hope.

Not only did B.B. King arrange to have Joseph be his guest at the performance (they hadn’t seen each other in over 25 years), but helped him get on his feet with some lodging.

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I interviewed many homeless, citizens, police, park rangers and visitors. A bold attempt, called the Haven for Hope program began at sheltered facilities just west of downtown.

Homeless individuals and families have to earn their way with chores, good citizenship and following their rules. I saw some good things happened, but I also witnessed much sadness.

Haven for Hope.

I was accosted with a knife by a homeless man on St. Mary’s Street just blocks from my home. Fortunately, I was able to manhandle the knife out of his hand and knock him down. Some city utility workers saw what was happening and gave chase as he ran away.

We flagged down a police officer on bike patrol and they found him later. Servers at the nearby Blanco Cafe, washed my scrapes and said he had been in their earlier acting strange and talking to himself.

Residents downtown came to realize it was better not to give the homeless money as usually they bought liquor, drugs or cigarettes with it.

Occasionally I would buy a couple loaves of bread and peanut butter to pass out sandwiches. A good 60 percent would thank me, 20 percent lashed out or acted angry and the remainder were basically silent.

Meeting Willie Nelson

1976 was the Bicentennial of America and it was a big year for me.

A journalism major at Southwest Texas State University (SWT), I won statewide in reporting and columnist writing awards for news, entertainment, fine arts and humor.

My confidence was high, but being honored as Investigative Reporter of the Year Award at the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association in Tucson that April, made me feel unstoppable.

By early May, I interviewed the one and only Elvis Presley in Memphis–an incredible feat at the time. That summer I scored an interview with Clint Eastwood at the McNay Art Institute in San Antonio.

How could I follow those up?

‘Cousin’ Jerry King and George Strait

A friend of my family, Country Music DJ legend Jerry King, was able to arrange a sit down with Willie Nelson for me. I’ve known King since the days he was part of “Jerry & Ray” with Ray Smith in the early 1960s.

Smith lived on the Southside of San Antonio, around the corner on Commercial Avenue, from my childhood home on West Ansley Blvd.

Jerry and Ray would perform on our front porch, along with my Uncle Sherman Sanders, for family and neighbors. Smith passed away in 1973, I believe and King carried on with his fabled career at KKYX.

It was Jerry King who played the first song of George Strait ever aired on radio.

Nelson was at his peak.

I did my research. King was kind and helpful. I went to the now legendary Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, where a fellow classmate and wanna-be country singer named George Strait would sometimes appear.

Strait, tired from the weekend gigs, would sit next to me in the hall outside our business class in the BAM (Business-Agriculture-Math) building.

George Strait at Cheatham Street during our SWT days in San Marcos.

Most of our conversations were small talk as we crammed for class, but I do remember him as a sincere and conscientious guy. Plus, he was the student who turned me on to the Cheatham Street scene.

From King and the staff at Cheatham Street, I learned two things about Nelson that might have helped me.

1. He had a sister named Bobbie. My sister is Bobbi.

2. He liked Manske Rolls, a local treat–a better and larger version of a cinnamon roll.

The Interview and Lone Star Beer

“All I can say is thank goodness for our grandparents,” Willie Nelson told me. “If it weren’t for them, I’m not too sure where Bobbie and I would be, or if even we would be.”

It was the fall of 1976. Nelson was in San Marcos, Texas for a show in conjunction with the Chilympiad, a festival and cookoff to determine winning contestants who would be graduating up to compete in the World Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, near Big Bend National Park.

I had seen Nelson play a few times, the first being at a touring Grand Ole Opry show at age seven, in 1963. It was in the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. Roy Orbison, Minnie Pearl, Claude King, and Don Gibson were also there.

In 1972, Nelson joined other music and radio personalities at a Country and Western Stars versus Your Favorite DJ’s Basketball Tournament for charity at San Antonio’s McCollum High School’s gymnasium. It was there future Country and Western DJ Hall of Famer, “Cousin” Jerry King was able to help me in for my first significant high school reporting interviews.

Jana Gower, the editor for the University Star, Southwest Texas State University’s student newspaper, would interview him later that evening. Although her interview would be much longer, as managing editor it was okay by me, because I had scored (with Jerry King’s help) some quality time with him that early afternoon at Gil’s Broiler on LBJ Drive.

We sat in the far back booth of the narrow restaurant, him with his back to the front counter and door. It’s hard to fathom that at this point in life, Nelson was already 43, a year more than what Elvis Presley would be just 11 months later, the year of his death.

Nelson wiped the crumbs of a Manske Roll from his famous mouth and began talking about his paternal grandparents. Not long after his birth on April 29, 1933, Nelson’s mother, Myrle Marie Greenhaw-Nelson, died. His father, Ira Doyle Nelson, a mechanic, remarried and moved away. Nelson and his sister Bobbie moved in with their grandparents.

Willie and Bobbie were taught music and sang gospel songs in their local church in Abbott, Texas.

Willie picking at Cheatham Street Warehouse.

“My Grandpa, William, was a blacksmith, and he bought me this guitar, you see, and showed me a few chords,” Nelson grinned. “I was six.”

By the next year, he wrote his first song and by age ten, Willie was playing guitar with a local band called Bohemian Polka. He became their lead vocalist by high school and enjoyed singing the music of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and Lefty Frizzell.

He joined the Air Force in 1950 but was discharged because of back problems. Nelson went to Waco and studied at Baylor University for a couple of years but continued to be drawn to country music.

“Yeah, I knew I needed to be in the music business by then,” Nelson said. “I cut my teeth deejayin’ here and there (in Texas), but started out with Dr. (Ben) Parker, there at KBOP down in Pleasanton, and moved out to Vancouver (Washington) for a spell. That’s when my writing started to take off.”

“In the late 50s, while Elvis was joining the Army, I moved back to (Houston) Texas to join D Records,” Nelson explained. “That was pretty much a worthwhile time for writing songs and then I decided to go up to Nashville.”

During this period in Houston, Nelson penned classic country hits like “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Night Life,” “Mr. Record Man,” and “The Party’s Over” which were recorded by artists such as Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

Nelson with Ray Price.

He joined Price’s band as a bass player in 1960 while living in Nashville and by 1962, Nelson recorded his first album.

“Well, that album helped me out and I have to say I was proud to get a contract with the same label as Elvis, with RCA (Victor in 1964), and was asked to join the Grand Ole Opry,” Nelson recalled. “I eventually came back here (to central Texas), we started this July 4th Picnics (in 1973), and the rest is history.”

That history includes 1973’s Shotgun Willie, 1975’s Red Headed Stranger, 1978’s Stardust and 1980’s Honeysuckle Rose. He evolved into one of the founders of what was called “Outlaw Country,” to buck the Nashville system, with friends like Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. Along the way he recorded mega-hits such as “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and “Pancho & Lefty.” Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson and Nelson became The Highwaymen.  

When I asked what plans he had “going on now,” he grinned.

“I’m kind of doing what Lone Star Beer is doing. I’m marketing myself to the college crowds, people like you.”

“We call it the ‘Youth Market,’ so I’m informally sort of teaming up with them (Lone Star) and they make sure I have plenty of beer.”

I thought he was joking with me, but later noticed during his show, he raised a can of what would eventually be known as “The National Beer of Texas.”

Willie at Cheatham Street swigging Lone Star.

“Cheers,” he winked, and took a big swallow. His entire band had Lone Stars lined up.

On the Road Again

Jennings and Nelson ended the 1970s with giants hits “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Good Hearted Woman,” and began the 1980s with “On the Road Again,” and “You Were Always On My Mind.”

Willie Nelson became a bona fide movie star in 1979 with the success of The Electric Horseman, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. He starred in Honeysuckle Rose with Dyan Cannon and Amy Irving in 1980. This led to roles in Thief, Barbarosa, Wag the Dog, and Stagecoach.

I took this photo of Nelson, Dyan Canon and Amy Irving during the filming of Honeysuckle Rose, 1979.

In 1993, Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and he received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998.

On April 9, 2015, Nelson twittered that he “just completed filming Waiting For The Miracle to Come with Sophie Lowe. She’s an amazing talent.” On May 5, 2015, Willie Nelson’s autobiographical book, “It’s a Long Story,” was released.

Today, he has been restless like most of the world dealing with the pandemic and anxious to be on the road again. His album, “First Rose of Spring,” was released during the peak of summer but he was unable to tour and promote it as usual. Concerts in Alabama, Kansas, New Jersey, Indiana and Oklahoma were postponed.

In September, he took his Farm Aid 2020 to SiriusXM on “Willie’s Roadhouse” for a virtual concert. John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and others joined in.

The Orpheum Theater in Memphis is set to host him on November 22, 2020. Other dates on the schedule include Abilene, Texas-March 19, 2021; New Buffalo, Mississippi-April 23, 2021; Lexington, Kentucky-April 21,2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 26, 2021; Nashville, Indiana-April 28,2021; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-August 5,2021; Brookings, South Dakota-August 11,2021; and back to Texas in Arlington-August 21 and New Braunfels-October 8 & 9, 2021.

Willie and George.

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Is an E-Bike Right For You?

Are you looking to go farther, faster and longer on two wheels? If you currently use a traditional bicycle to commute to work or for leisurely riding, for off-road adventures or for long-distance cycling, you might be intrigued by the electric bike, also known as an e-bike.

If you’re an older rider, recovering from injury, or simply returning to exercising after an extended “brake,” an eBike could be a great solution to ease into the active life you want.

Dodie and I recently rented e-bikes to ride along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River just south of the King William area and downtown. We loved them.

When I lived above the Majestic Theater for about five years, San Antonio introduced “B-cycles” throughout Downtown. I became a charter member and would often ride them to Hemisfair Park, the Alamo, Alamodome, San Antonio Art Museum and the Spanish Missions south.

I discovered these e-Bikes saved me a good of money. Of course, my first year was only $25, but it still paid off when regular rental costs kicked in the following years.

I’ll post current San Antonio rates at the end of this article.

If purchasing one, there might be a slightly higher-than-normal purchase cost compared to traditional bicycles, but even that’s not a sure thing. Beyond the initial purchase, e-Bikes are also relatively inexpensive to maintain, especially compared to automobiles and motorcycles. Plus, I saved money on gas and parking.

It has been about 12 years since I rode one and have to admit I took a tumble right off the bat at the Blue Star Art Complex. Now, Dodie? Well, she took off like a champ.

In the simplest terms, an electric bike is just like a traditional bicycle but equipped with an electric motor that either helps while the rider pedals or handles all the throttling duties.

It consists of a rechargeable battery, motor, controller, drivetrain and, in some cases, pedaling sensor. The battery powers the motor, which in turn applies kinetic energy to the drivetrain. The drivetrain then applies torque and manual power to the wheels of the bike.

Wheels turn, you go

How do electric bikes work?

How is an e-bike different from regular bikes? Think of it like a typical bike but with the added assist of a motor to help you with speed or hilly terrain. E-bikes are both practical and entertaining without taking the physical fun out of the ride — you will pedal but get an assist. And if you’re not familiar with e-bikes, you will be soon. Domestic demand for e-bikes is growing, with 130 million of them expected to be sold in just three more years. 

Compared to cars and motorcycles, eBikes consume very small amounts of energy and use absolutely no oil or gas. This makes them an eco-friendly option for those who are concerned about their environmental impact.

What are some e-bike riding tips?

Before you hop on an e-bike, there are some must knows on e-bike safety. Here’s some information from State Farm Insurance with ideas on how to use an electric bike and an overview of the different classes, motor types and safety precautions of e-bikes.

Is it Time to Downsize?


Dodie and I moved farther away from civilization in May and have no regrets. We love it!

Before Dodie and I married in December 2019, we talked often about ridding ourselves of “things” and living a more simple life. The pandemic hit and changed everything. It was lemonade made out of lemons time.

After a 40 year career as a RN nurse in Phoenix, Dodie is now retired and back home in Texas living her lifelong dream in the Hill Country.

My home northwest of Boerne, Texas for years was where I raised my four children. It was a large home with five bedrooms, two kitchens, two living rooms, three and a half bathrooms and three fireplaces on a 1,865 foot hill overlooking a spectacular hill country.

After a divorce 14 years ago, I found myself living in an apartment for the first time since college days. It was a small efficiency, a few floors above the historic Majestic Theater in downtown San Antonio.

The beautiful River Walk was my backyard, with dining, entertainment and shopping just steps away. The adjustment was easy and benefits many.

I lived above the theater in downtown.

Years later, I retired back to the Boerne area and lived in the wonderful Fair Oaks Ranch until May of this year. Several of my friends there mentioned over the years they had a desire to downsize after they became empty nesters. Some did and indicated relief with less burdens.

We moved about an hour from San Antonio and an hour further northwest of Boerne. Our home and yard is small. We’re surrounded by the tranquility of stunning picture postcard views of rolling and rugged hills, wildlife and a winding pristine river just a short walk away.

If we want, we can even kayak to my high school friend Randy Potts’ property and he can drive us back home a mile and a half away.

It was hardly news that downsizing our home could save money, but we didn’t realize we would cut all expenses in half!

We rent a small and simple house that my son Brady calls a cabin. In addition to no mortgage or tax burdens we spend far less on utilities and maintenance. Plus, our dog, Mr. Beefy is ecstatic. We’re happy!

But living in a smaller house wasn’t just a smart financial decision, it has
also improved our quality of life.

Here are some ways that living in a small house has made my our lives better:

1. We Have Less to Clean

A large home is time consuming and can be quite the burden. It’s refreshing to feel like we’re not slaves to our home with housekeeping and maintenance burdens.

It’s all simple. Today I even did something I haven’t done since I was 12 years old. Using clothes pins to hang our pillowcases and sheets on the line brought back childhood memories with my mother.

2. We Can Improve Our Health

If we have less to clean, we are more likely to do the kind of dust-eliminating deep cleaning that only happens in larger houses if you employ an army of maids. Less dust (and pet hair and dander) means cleaner air and fewer allergic reactions.

In addition, our small house really encourages us to get outside more often. Why stay inside a small space on a beautiful summer day when we could go for a walk?

Dodie and I have noticed that with each passing mile away from cities, our relaxation factor goes up. We have far less tension driving on highways, especially those under constant construction.

3. We Become Less Focused on Stuff

Just as a goldfish will grow to fill the size of a bowl it lives in, a regular family’s need for stuff will grow to fit the space it has to fill.

Living in a large house meant more rooms to furnish and decorate. But it’s more than that. In our little “cabin,” it’s easy to browse in stores without buying because we don’t have room for new stuff.

Small living changes how we view making new purchases. In a large house, there’s always room for more, so you might as well indulge.

4. We Have More Free Time

Along with buying less stuff because we have no room for it, we also avoid the time costs of maintaining all that stuff, as well as the time cost of keeping a larger home clean and in good repair.

Living in a small house means that the needs for our home take a smaller bite out of your free time, allowing us to pursue the things in life that we are really passionate about. In fact, we spent most of June and July roadtripping the country and checking off our bucketlist.

5. We Have More Family Time

One of the selling points for big houses is that everyone gets to have their own space. And while I would never want to give up my me-time, I don’t think I need an enormous separate room to have it.

Families in very large houses don’t have to spend time together, because each person has a space to retreat to. When everyone is all thrown together into a small living area, that allows for more fun family time.

6. We Optimize Our Space

People will often want a big house for reasons that seem perfectly logical: they need space for overnight guests, or a large dining room for the annual Christmas party, or a restaurant-sized kitchen for when the whole family comes for Grandma’s birthday dinner.

But these kinds of reasons ignore how families actually use their space on a day-to-day basis. We found we’re much happier using all of our available space the 360 days of the year we don’t have overnight guests, parties, or dinner for 8, rather than having unused space for the majority of the year.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

7. We Can More Easily Afford the In-Demand Neighborhoods

While every real estate market is different, I found that when I lived in the suburbs of the city years ago, we could generally count on small houses being more affordable than their big-blueprinted neighbors. It can often translate into living in a great neighborhood with good schools.

9. We’re Reducing Our Environmental Footprint

Small houses consume less energy and use fewer materials in the building process.

But in addition to these environmental benefits, small houses are also generally built in more walkable areas, which means we don’t have to jump in the car just to get a loaf of bread. And since buying a small house will often mean buying an older home, it will be preserving the environment by not building new—which is the ultimate in recycling.

The Bottom Line

Downsizing isn’t just for empty-nesters or those who bought more house than they can afford. If you live in a big house, think about how downsizing to a small one could improve your life, your relationships, and your bottom line.

Downsizing your home may be a way to save both money and time. Consider these 5 questions:

  1. Do you want more free time? Downsizing can free up time spent on home upkeep and give you more time to pursue other things you enjoy, such as hobbies, traveling or family bonding.
  2. Do you want to cut expenses? A smaller place may help trim costs, such as mortgage and insurance payments and utilities. But remember to consider the costs associated with selling a home, including realtor fees, closing costs and moving expenses.
  3. Does your home meet your needs? You may look for a home with living spaces on one floor, a smaller yard, or a closer proximity to city life. While you may be able to adapt your current home, moving to a smaller home may be more convenient.
  4. Do you want to improve cash flow? Selling your home may give you extra cash to put toward retirement savings or free up a portion of your monthly expenses. Downsizing from a $250,000 home to a $150,000 home could save about $6,250 a year.
  5. Do you need room to host? The right-size home for your family may depend on if you anticipate adult children or other relatives moving in with you or frequently hosting visitors.

B.B. King, Others Knew and Defended Elvis Presley Against All Racist Assertions

Elvis & B.B. King and racism-Interview with Jack Dennis, 2010

B.B. King knew “the definitive truth about Elvis Presley and racism.” ‘.

‘Let me tell you the definitive truth about Elvis Presley and racism’, The King of the Blues, B.B. King said in 2010. ‘With Elvis, there was not a single drop of racism in that man. And when I say that, believe me I should know’.

A few years before Presley walked into Sam Phillip’s Recording Service at Sun Studios in Memphis, Riley B. King was beginning his recording career there in 1951.

King remembered when he first met the young Presley, it was obvious how respectful and comfortable he was around bluesmen. King, in his 1996 autobiography, said Presley ‘was different. He was friendly. I remember Elvis distinctly because he was handsome, quiet and polite to a fault. Spoke with this thick molasses southern accent, and always called me ‘sir’. I liked that’.

There has been some debate and speculation in the political world recently about Presley’s impact on music as it relates to race.

About 10 years ago, controversial lyrics from a then new Macklemore song called ‘White Privilege II suggested Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea and Elvis Presley were ‘so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic’ from the black culture.

Some suggest ‘race baiters’ or those with politically socialist agendas for America have been promoting and growing division between races.

In an Oct. 10, 2010 interview with this writer in his tour bus behind the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas, King was particularly open in his comments.

(Perhaps it was because present was Hilton Conrad Joseph, a saxophone player for King in the 1970’s and 80’s that the writer helped arrange the two to see each other after more than 20 years).

B.B. King in San Antonio, 2010.
Photo: Jack Dennis

King enthusiastically shared his thoughts about happiness, his famous guitar (‘Lucille’), musical influences and Elvis, ‘the other King’.

‘All of our (Presley’s and King’s) influences had something in common’, King explained. ‘We were born poor in Mississippi, went through poor childhoods and we learned and earned our way through music. You see, I talked with Elvis about music early on, and I know one of the big things in heart was this: Music is owned by the whole universe. It isn’t exclusive to the black man or the white man or any other color. It shared in and by our souls’.

‘I told Elvis once, and he told me he remembered I told him this, is that music is like water’, King pointed out. ‘Water is for every living person and every living thing’.

King raised his finger up as if Elvis was still in front of him, and profoundly declared, ‘Water from the white fountain don’t taste any better than from the black fountain. We just need to share it, that’s all. You see, Elvis knew this and I know this’.

‘Many people make the mistake of being wrong about all of this’, King continued. ‘If you ask anyone, I’m talking about people from all kinds of music – Blues, Soul, Country, Gospel, whatever – and if they are honest with you and have been around long enough to know—they’ll thank Elvis for his contributions. He opened many doors and by all his actions, not just his words, he showed his love for all people’.

‘People don’t realize that when ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ was first played (by Dewey Phillips in July 1954) no one had ever heard anything like that record’, King stressed. ‘It wasn’t just country. It was Rhythm and Blues. It was Pop music. It was music for everybody. This is important’.

King spelled out that there were two very specific music influences that he had in common with Presley.

‘I was barely 11 years old, when one of the greatest influences of my life, Robert Johnson, was recording just across the street from this (Majestic) theater recording his first ever songs’, he revealed.

King was talking about how, on the corner of Houston and St. Mary’s streets in San Antonio, at the Gunter Hotel, Johnson changed the music world forever. King grew up listening to the 16 songs Johnson recorded in the Gunter and ‘that had a lot to do with where I am today’.

‘Johnson came from the same dirt Elvis and so many of us did’, King submitted. ‘It was the world of sharecropping, and to survive that hard work bending over all day long, there would be plenty of singing. Elvis’ momma and daddy did their share of it – both the picking and the singing. It was called survival. It was called life. It was just as important to us as water. It was as important to those of us who had it in our souls as the water’.

‘The other big influence was Jimmy Rodgers’, King said. ‘Some people want to say he was the Father of Country Music, but like Elvis, he was more than that. He was a big influence on not just me. I used to listen to my aunt’s records of Jimmy Rodgers and that was a real treat. I liked that ‘Mississippi Delta Blues’ and to listen to him yodel’.

‘I never did yodel’, King laughed. ‘But Jimmy Rodgers could sure yodel. He was very good at it. But yes, he influenced more than country music, he influenced Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as much as he did Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. See, Elvis did that too, but only much wider. Elvis influenced everybody’s music and it was for the good of all of us’.

‘Now, where did Jimmy Rodgers learn his music from’, King asked, before he gave the answer. ‘He learned it working alongside the black railroad workers and hobos. Elvis lived and played with black children back in (Tupelo) Mississippi. He told me that when he was just a baby and his mama had to work, he was cared for sometimes by his grandmamma, but mostly by a neighbor black lady’.

Rodgers turned out to be the first superstar in the country music field. Born in 1897, his mother died when he was barely seven years old. He spent his childhood residing with several relatives in southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi. His father found him a job working for the railroad as a water boy for the railroad and Rodgers soon fit in among the rail workers and hobos. He enjoyed listening to gandy dancers, African American workers, who would sing hymns and work songs daily. He learned to pick a guitar from some of them.

‘People today will say things about Elvis they just don’t know about’, King commented. ‘They want to say this is black music, this is white music, this is country music. But when Elvis came along all that was suddenly washed down the drain’.

Elvis Presley and B.B. King backstage at the WDIA Goodwill Revue at Ellis Auditorium on December 7, 1956.
Elvis supported African-American
functions in Memphis despite local ordinances against it.


Elvis Presley & B.B. King backstage at the WDIA Goodwill Revue.

“Before Elvis we had Little Black Sambo, separate black restrooms and water fountains, and colored events that kept us away from the whites,” King noted as he mention that Presley would attend events especially designated just for African-Americans.

In June 1956, Presley ignored Memphis’s segregation ordinances by attending ‘colored night’ at the local fairgrounds amusement park.

The following December, King was there as Presley opened up almost unbreakable racial barriers by attending and supporting the segregated WDIA black radio station’s annual fund-raising event for ‘needy Negro children’ at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium.

King wrote in his autobiography that he ‘liked Elvis. I saw him as a fellow Mississippian. I was impressed by his sincerity. When he came to the Goodwill Review (the event WDIA fund raisers of 1956 and 1957), he did himself proud’.

‘The Goodwill Revues were important’, he wrote. ‘The entire black community turned out. All the DJs carried on, putting on skits and presenting good music’.

‘When Elvis appeared (in 1956) he was already a big, big star’, King continued. ‘Remember this was the fifties so for a young white boy to show up in an all-black function took guts’.

‘I believe he was showing his roots and he seemed proud of those roots. After the show he made a pint of posing for pictures with metreating me like royalty’, King recalled. ‘He’d tell people I was one of his influences. I doubt whether that’s true but I like hearing Elvis give Memphis credit for his musical upbringing’.

In 1957, Elvis was being accused of singing “Devil’s Music and Rock n’ Roll should not be allowed in” Jersey City, New Jersey. A local minister, Rev. Milton Perry, counseled with the African American community and city officials. He did the research.

Perry solicited the opinions of African Americans and Caucasian (from) Memphis, on the subject of Elvis Presley.

“I found,” he concluded, “than an overwhelming majority of people who know him speak of this boy as a boy who practices humility and a love for racial harmony.

I learned that he is not too proud or important to speak to anyone and to spend time with his fans of whatever color, whenever and wherever they approach him.”

‘Back in ’72, Elvis helped me get a good gig at the Hilton Hotel while he was playing in the big theater’, King acknowledged in 2010. ‘He put in a call for me and I worked in the lounge to standing room only. Elvis fans came in different colors but their love of good music was all the same. They were always a good audience’.

‘Many nights I’d go upstairs after we finished our sets and go up to his suite’, King confessed. ‘I’d play Lucille (his guitar) and sing with Elvis, or we’d take turns. It was his way of relaxing’.

‘I’ll tell you a secret’, King winked and laughed. ‘We were the original Blues Brothers because that man knew more blues songs that most in the business – and after some nights it felt like we sang everyone one of them. But my point is, that when we were hanging out in the Hilton in the 70s, Elvis had not lost his respect, his ‘yes sir,’ his love for all fields of music. And I liked that’.

At the same time ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was climbing the charts in March 1956, Billboard magazine featured an article called, ‘Barriers Being Swept Away in C&W, Pop and R&B Fields. ‘Hard and fast cleavages between the country and western, pop, and rhythm and blues fields are rapidly breaking down’, writer Paul Ackerman penned. ‘Perhaps the most interesting example of the breakdown of categories, however, is the current overlapping of the country, rhythm and blues fields … The outstanding example of this type of performer today is Elvis Presley, recently with Sun Records and now on the Victor label’.

When Sam Philips, as Sun Records, released a Presley record, he made sure each bop/rock/pop song had a country tune on the flip side to appeal to both type of listeners. RCA took this innovation even further by marketing Presley in Country, Rhythm and Blues, and Pop fields. By May of 1956, Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ became the first ‘Double-Triple Crown’ in Billboard history.

In his autobiography, King said he held no grudges because ‘Elvis didn’t steal any music from anyone. He just had his own interpretation of the music he’d grown up on, same is true for everyone. I think Elvis had integrity’.

“If anyone says Elvis Presley was a racist’, charged B.B. King in the 2010 interview. ‘Then they don’t know a thing about Elvis Presley or music history.”

Famous Celebrity Tour Buses Through the Years

The first celebrity tour bus I ever saw was outside the Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio. Virginia Grimmett, a dear family friend, pointed it out:

“Look Jackie, it’s Claude Kings and Don Gibson’s bus,” she gestured. “I think Minnie Pearl might be in there too.”

As a 7 year old, in 1963, it was incredible to see real Country and Western stars from the Grande Ole Opry stepping out of their own bus.

I remember Pearl greeting us from the stage with her signature, “Howwdy! So glad to be here” and Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely” and “In Dreams.” (“Pretty Woman” would not be out until the following year).

But I distinctly recall, after the Opry, standing out in the shivering cold with Mrs. Grimmett, her husband Jimmy, and my parents watching some of the entertainers returning back onto the bus.

What an exciting memory. Little did I know, as an adult I’d actually step inside (or just at the doorway) to meet such stars as B.B. King, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Freddy Mercury, Kenny Loggins Jim Messina, Randy Bachman (Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Jackson Browne, and Chubby Checker.

Others I interviewed in their buses included Whiskey Meyers more recently to Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids in the 1970s.

With this fascination and interest in mind, here are some of the most famous celebrity tour buses through the years.

Remembering B.B. King and Robert Johnson

May 14th marked the anniversary of the day B.B. King died during his sleep in Las Vegas in 2015.

On May 27, 2015 his body was flown to Memphis where a bass band marched in front of his hearse for the funeral procession down Beale Street. They played “When the Saints Go Marching In.

He lays in rest at the B.B. King Museum down Route 61 in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.

B.B. King, October 10, 2015, Majestic Theater, San Antonio, Texas (Photo: Jack Dennis)

I had the honor of interviewing King in his office/bedroom at the back of his $1.4 million tour bus behind the Majestic Theater in San Antonio.

Typically I interviewed stars in their dressing rooms or a separate room downstairs at the Majestic. When invited to come aboard his 45′ Provost Coach, I was delighted. It definitely added to the personal excitement of meeting King.

Before the greatest bluesman walked walked on stage that Sunday night, October 10, 2010, a gracious audience was already standing.

The B.B. King Blues Band warmed up the crowd to an immediate standing ovation and no one sat down until the King of Blues finally commanded it.

“Thank you San Antonio, please set down,” he grinned and hand motioned everyone down.

The 85-year-old performer remained seated throughout the concert but his voice boomed as strong as ever, even after over 10,000 concerts and 62 years of live shows.

Awarded his 15th Grammy in 2009 in the traditional Blues Album category for “One Small Favor,” King would weave in and out of various classics, like “The Thrill Is Gone,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and “You Are My Sunshine” with a generous slower groove and back to an occasional take-charge seriousness.

“Come on man,” King turned around to his drummer who battled the beats to his licks on the beloved Gibson guitar, Lucille. “You know, I’m from Mississippi…and…I carry a blade!”

King was telling the appreciative audience about the ways of ladies when a woman from the audience seductively walked up towards the stage.

“I’m not saying a word,” King graveled in a half smiling tone. He pulled his head to the side and back–and just watched with intrigue. Fiercely, he blasted Lucille into another roaring blues lick.

Just an hour before, in his bus parked on College Street behind the theater, King told me about the time– a few years before Elvis Presley walked into Sam Phillips’ Recording Service at Sun Studios in Memphis– that he walked in as Riley B. King to begin his recording career in 1951.

When he was barely 11 years old, one of King’s greatest influences was working across the street from the Majestic Theater recording his first songs.

In 1937, a seed of Rhythm and Blues was historically planted on the corner of Houston and St. Mary’s streets in what some call the “Magical Corner” of San Antonio.

Far from the Mississippi Delta, were an unhappy Robert Johnson was unwilling to stay trapped in the sharecropper’s world of backbreaking work with such little return, the young man recorded sixteen songs in the Gunter Hotel.

Robert Johnson invented the Blues at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, 1937.

It changed the music world forever. Even today, artists like Eric Clapton and John Cougar Mellencamp pay homage to Robert Johnson’s contribution at that building. Some even come to record in the same room their inspiration did.

Young Riley King would listen to Johnson regularly.

“It gives me good feelings, just knowing I’m right across the street tonight from where he recorded way back then,” he smiled.

B.B. King, the most popular bluesman the universe has ever known, engraved the Blues in the solid rock of our American culture. His fifty-plus albums produced 15 Grammy Awards and earned him inductions in the Blues Foundation and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Note: I was so intrigued with B.B. Kings touring coach, I later did more research.

The plush motorcoach had over $200,000 worth of electronics inside. Superior Interiors of Nashville customized the inside and Digital Home Lifestyles of Phoenix installed electronics.

The bus too over 100 hours of design time and 300 hours of installation. He had over 20,000 CDs and 6,000 DVDs to access and enjoy at his whim.