Becky Crouch Patterson’s latest book, Luckenbach, TX – The Center of the Universe, will likely appeal to a wider audience than her others but is no less honest and rich. In it she tells the history of Luckenbach, TX as it was when her father, Hondo Crouch, bought in the 1970s, what it became at it’s peak and it’s influence on country music, and what it is now. In the Forewords John Phillip Santos writes,
“Becky Crouch Patterson, a true literary alchemist, has taken a tall tale and revealed within it a hidden saga of how her family, particularly her dad, Hondo Crouch, a sui generis Texas Classic, tale-spinner extraordinaire, Hill Country trickster mystic, legendary mayor of Luckenbach, came to embody, manifest, and celebrate a new way of being Texan that literally changed the world.”
For Texans, for music lovers, and people who love great stories, this is a book you will enjoy.
The book, like her book The Ranch That Was Us, is essentially a collection of stories and remembrances of events and times past, roughly organized by theme. One of my favorites begins with “Let’s Buy a Town” and tells the origin story of Hondo Crouch and his friend, Guich Kooch, deciding to buy Luckenbach.
“’Well, my family had been coming to Luckenbach since I was just a child’. Guich recalled. ‘We used to meet here for reunions. And Hondo who ranches up the road, had been coming to Luckenbach for a good while, drinking beer. He was telling me one day that Mr. Engel, who had nobody in his family who was interested in running this little town, might want to sell it.
‘So, I started talking with Mr. Engel, I guess about three years before we bought the town, but he wasn’t ready to sell. Then one January morning we saw an ad in the Fredericksburg paper classified section, ‘Town for Sale – Luckenbach, Texas.’ The ad explained that the egg route would pay $60 a month for the town. So, we bought the town from Mr. Engel for $29,000. I don’t know if it was 29, 19, or 12 acres. We never did get a close survey of the land. It included a pickup truck.’”
This story is humorous and perhaps partially or mostly true. It’s a rare origin story that should be taken word for word, but its simplicity masks an important point. So much of our lives, individually and collectively, turn on serendipity and the smallest acts or decisions. In this case, the path of country music was altered by two guys reading a For Sale ad in a local newspaper and deciding to buy a town. We mostly forget that lives are the aggregation of lots of little decisions along the way, both good and bad, that bring us to where we are now.
The rest of the book features the tales of Luckenbach’s impact on Texas culture and country music, beginning with !Viva Terlingua! 1973 and story of Jerry Jeff Walker coming to the town to record his groundbreaking album of the same name.
“Luckenbach was becoming established as a shrine for honkytonk country music. After putting on The Great World’s Fair and chili cook-offs, numerous singers and pickers congregated regularly under the trees on Sunday afternoons. If Luckenbach was the shrine, Hondo was the soul. He was an old-time cowboy who embraced grass roots music and celebrated the ceremony of passing the guitar around, sharing the music. No egos found a pedestal in Luckenbach. Hippie and redneck alike sat side by side on benches, because that was the only place to sit. Music was rich because it was free. At Luckenbach, with Hondo, music was done for the love of the song. It was Hondo’s heart and soul that won Jerry Jeff’s affection.”
From here Crouch Patterson explains the origins of Outlaw Music and Luckenbach’s influence on it.
“‘Outlaw,’ Waylon said, ‘meant standing up for your own rights, your way of doing things, and ‘outlaw’ was as good a description as any.'”
Strap in, because the big names start dropping fast and furiously. It’s hard to imagine what little old Luckenbach must have been like with Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Gary P. Nunn, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle among others, popping in and out on any given night. For them, Luckenbach represented a rejection of the polished, commercial Nashville sound and a return to the reason to play music to begin with; to spend time with friends, to express yourself, drink a little beer, and have fun. It all reminds me of a few verses from Jimmy Buffett’s song, Making Music for Money
My agent he just called me
And told me what I should be
If I would make my music for money
Instead of making music for me
I said I know that this may sound funny
But money don't mean nothin' to me
I won't make my music for money, no
I'm gonna make my music for me
Another important section is titled, “Let’s Go to Luckenbach, Texas – Back to the Basics” and discusses the song, Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love), written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons and sung by Waylon Jennings (and Willie and the boys).
“Although neither Chips nor Bobby ever visited Luckenbach, Emmons said, ‘We had already been talking about this ‘basics’ idea for a song, and the two concepts go together some way. I had been talking about ‘back to basics’ and Chips and I were talking about putting on jeans and let everything drop.’”
Like so many things, the popularity that came from the success of the song was both a blessing and a curse for Luckenbach.
“Though Luckenbach already had a large and loyal cult following, it now additionally had to deal with mega-popularity and a whole new swarm of curious visitor. Some of them were eager to have their own little piece of Luckenbach, so they took it. Boards from the cotton gin, signs off the buildings, pictures in the store, the one parking meter and even Hondo’s revered guitar fell victim to souvenir seekers.”
Other great stories include those about Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnics and visits from Miranda Lambert and Pat Green. My favorites though, are the ones about the Luckenbach locals. Those hearty native and transplanted Texans who are or were fixtures in Luckenbach and have made the town what it is. People like Virgil Hodman, Abbey Road, Jimmy Lee Jones, and “Sherriff” Marge Mueller. Things really get good in the book’s latter half, when Crouch Patterson can’t help herself and tells tales of the history of the area and the people who settled it.
Luckenbach, Texas: The Center of the Universe by Becky Crouch Patterson is another example her direct and honest writing style, putting on paper the histories of the people and area she knows and loves. I encourage you to read and savor it and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, swing by Luckenbach, TX and have a beer or two. Shoot me a note and maybe I’ll join you.
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