Rock and Reprise.net
Lost in space
The Epic Saga of Fort Worth's Space Opera
CHAPTER SEVEN: I Ain't Going to Swim Here Anymore...
While the band members basically went their own directions, they were never far apart. They kept in touch, if only by phone for certain periods. They had been together for too long and had been through too much together to not feel that thread of brotherhood.
“The decade from 1985 to 1995 seemed to go by really fast,” said Bullock. “Three of the four Space Opera members were raising families and working---- myself in video, Scott as a music instructor, and Brett as an accountant and business manager. Phil, of course, was still out there, pounding away in the clubs.
“The four of us somehow managed to get together now and again in our favorite haunt, the recording studio. Whenever and however we could get free time, we continued to record our songs. Then, in '94, Scott and I revived the chamber folk concept and started playing coffeehouses and the like around North Texas.”
“Grand Saline was what they called this coffeehouse acoustic act they had for a short while,” according to Scott's wife, Mary. “It was Scott, David and a few other players, including the cellist Mary Maneikis, who later taught my daughter to play the cello.”
“That was the final incarnation of our chamber folk concept,” Bullock said. “We reformed Space Opera in '95 and began rehearsing on weekends at Eagle Audio, a 24-Track studio in Fort Worth. That eventually led to a concert at The Caravan of Dreams, a really fantastic and, sadly, now defunct concert club.”
That concert created a buzz in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Dave Ferman of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram got wind of it as rehearsals kicked into high gear. Citing the TV presentation of the Beatles' Anthology as incentive, Fraser gave Ferman a preview interview.
“Fraser and Bullock don't want this to be a one-off gig.” Ferman wrote after talking with Fraser, “or to be seen as a time machine for aging hippies and HOP patrons. Space Opera, they say, is going to be a working, living band.”
The band had plans--- to restructure their lives around the working band, to record the show and possibly release it, if only to create interest in further shows.
“'To re-form for one show is a waste of time,' Fraser went on. 'It would be a nostalgia event. We see more to it. We want to get a product out internationally and play regularly, and once we get to rehearsing on a regular basis, it won't take long.'”
“We want to play,” Fraser said in the interview. “We've got a year's worth of working on this material and we need this show to work to give us a strong anchor to do other things. If anybody really liked the band, it was because we always did new things. We're sprinkling the set with older material, five cuts from the (Epic) album, but most of the set is entirely new, or if you have heard it before, it was in a different format.”
To complement the band at The Caravan, they added Jeff Ward, owner and engineer of Eagle Audio (where Space Opera was to record their second album), on keyboards. William Jackson rounded out the lineup, playing multiple instruments including clarinet, oboe, accordion, English horn and Viola de Gamba, an instrument popular during the Renaissance.
One of the odder tracks played that night was a complete surprise to the audience. They recreated the idea which gave The Mods instant credibility when they covered Lennon and McCartney's It's For You back in the sixties. This time, they covered another obscure Beatles track titled L.S. Bumblebee, or so the guys thought. They found out later that it wasn't The Beatles at all.
“We found this song on a Beatles bootleg tape,” Bullock explained, “but it turned out to be not by the Beatles at all but a really great 'parody' song by Dudley Moore. It was one of the coolest songs The Beatles never wrote.”
The response to the show was enthusiastic and the guys were somewhat elated, but Claudia Wilson saw the other side. Even at the Caravan, decades after the Epic album, the band put enormous pressure on themselves.
“I think Brett was just happy that they'd gotten through it,” she said. “They wanted to be perfect. They didn't want anything screwed up. I don't know that it was obsessive or to that point, but they had very high standards for themselves and when you have those standards and you want to do it live, it takes a lot of work. They always recorded their live gigs and went back and listened and said, okay, what do we need to change. What do we need to do to make it better. When they played Caravan of Dreams, it was like, wow, they still have the chops. Their live sound was as close to studio as they could get it.”
“It's the closest thing to time travel I can imagine,” Phil White told Ferman. “We started in Scott's garage and I remember every nook and cranny and the smell of it. The word 'reunion' is really thrown around these days, but our fans bring their grandchildren. That's a reunion.”
In '98, Space Opera played Dallas at the Sons of Hermann Hall. Before the show, Fraser let the cat out of the bag regarding the playlist.
“This time around,” he told the Star-Telegram, “it's a leaner and edgier sound, just for this gig. We have different material--- a song we played years ago by Tracy Nelson, and one of our favorite Bob Dylan songs, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.”
Bullock compared the two shows.
“About 600 audience members was the main difference,” he said. “We were a cult item in Fort Worth, but forty miles away in Dallas, no one remembered us and the audience was depressingly sparse.
“As far as presentation, it was less formally structured than the show at The Caravan, more like a straight-ahead club gig, even though many of the songs were the same.”
The various rehearsals for the gigs convinced the guys they needed to give it another go. Not only was it fun, the music was still growing. And, as important as anything, the pressure was off. It made a world of difference.
“You reach a point where you're not seeking fame and fortune,” said Bullock, “and when that's gone, you go back to what you began doing it for, which is to play with these guys. You have a sense of freedom when you realize the big things aren't going to happen.”
The idea of doing another studio album had been tossed around over the years, but the stars never aligned. This time, the four got together and talked it over seriously. Schedules were rearranged and arrangements made. Of course, this was to be no marathon Manta session like it was in '72. The world was different and so were the guys.
“It wasn't like they all could just go spend a week in the studio,” Claudia explained. “They had to do it on weekends when everybody could get loose. Everybody had lives and families, except Phil, and it took time to get to where it could all happen. It was a struggle to co-ordinate four lives. And when you don't have a roadie...”
Five lives, actually, for Space Opera had never really taken a step toward recording without Cass Edwards, who was essentially the band's executive producer. And six, if you include 'added band member' Jeff Ward, who in addition to playing on the album owns and operates Eagle Audio where the album was eventually recorded.
Brett Owen Wilson was chosen to be producer, an honor extended to him by the band, and specifically Scott Fraser.
“Brett appreciated the quality of the music,” Claudia Wilson explained. “ The other guys were just so good and he didn't have all of the ego invested in it because he was just there to play drums and be part of the group. He really appreciated the guys' musicianship in the way they composed and how they put a song together. I mean, some of their poetry blows me away even today.
“Plus I think they needed to have someone in charge. There were always things going on and they said, well, let's make Brett the producer. Brett was a very modest person. He would always get angry when the mix didn't have the guitars loud enough because he said this is a guitar band. He knew he was part of the foundation upon which it was laid, but their creativity and the music they'd written--- I think they knew it was partly due to Brett's ability to play drums differently.”
MY FATHER'S BONGOS.....
The working title of the project was “My Father's Bongos”.
“The recording engineer, Jeff Ward, had a box of percussion instruments that we would rummage through and use for recording,” explained Bullock, “tambourines, shakers and whatnot. Several times when the bongos would come out, Jeff would say, 'you know, those were my father's bongos.' I think it was Scott who latched onto that reference as an album title, and it seemed suitably random.”
Dave Ferman, once again, was privy to the album talk.
“The band went into the studio in 1999,” he wrote, “and finally, just a few weeks ago, signed off on a new 12 track CD. In November 1970, the band astounded a hometown audience by playing an opening set for the Airplane that featured no breaks between songs--- instrumental themes and Bullock's vocals provided the links as band members switched instruments. One of the linking themes, an old Scottish ballad called Awake, resurfaces on the new CD.”
Gene Triplett of the Oklahoman wrote in a review, “What I'm hearing on the new CD, self-released by the band, is a 2002 technology version of the same group, with denser production and much more accomplished musicianship (which is something to say since they were already amazing in their early twenties) and remarkably original (and intelligent) songwriting.”
The critics may have loved it, but marketing was nonexistent. A Space Opera website promoted the CD and a few copies made their way into a couple of Dallas/Fort Worth music stores, but outside of that, even finding out about the CD was a crap shoot.
“I don't know if anybody had a clue as to where to put word,” said Claudia. “I mean, when you bring out a second album after 30 years, try to find those fans. A whole lot of it was that back in the day, the world of music was a different universe. When they started playing here locally, it was the dawn of FM radio and airplay was how you got known. It's not the same anymore.”
“We haven't tried to market that second album widely because we are totally clueless at that sort of thing,” agreed Bullock. “I was pretty happy with a lot of the album. It was recorded at a time after we had pretty much given up on our thousandth reunion and the thought was that we should create a representation of the music we had been performing during that period (1996-99). We were busy with other things and just came together on weekends to record, and there was never a concept that everyone agreed on.”
An agreement has since been reached with Dean Sciarra of itsaboutmusic.com. The two Space Opera CDs plus the Whistler, Chaucer CD are now available there.
THE EPIC ALBUM.....
The re-emergence of Space Opera was not lost on John Reagan, who had lived on the Epic album for three decades. A fan in every sense of the word, Reagan considered the album a lost classic and took every opportunity to promote it as such. It is, therefore, no surprise that he was a key player in its reissue as a CD.
“I heard Space Opera early in '73,” Reagan explained, “when Holy River came on my car radio one evening while driving from Austin to San Antonio. That was back in the good ol' days when FM radio played nothing but album cuts from many different bands, known and unknown. I was utterly blown away by the instrumental intro to Holy River. I thought that The Byrds were back together and better than ever. I bought the album the next day and have not been the same since.
“(When CDs became the new format) and many old records began to be reissued on CD, I thought about it and wondered why Space Opera had not yet been issued. Early in 2000, my frustration took over and I resolved to see what could be done about it.
“At the time, I only knew that it was an Epic release and knew nothing regarding ownership or control of the master. I located Scott in Fort Worth by way of the Space Opera website and he pointed me to David in Dallas. I soon learned that Epic, now Sony, owned the master and that the band would love to see a reissue. They confirmed that it had not yet been reissued as a CD.
“When I first contacted Sony regarding possible reissue, I had no success (of course, as they themselves only reissue titles they believe will succeed, according to their own economics). I next approached Sundazed. They indicated they would do it, then dragged their feet. I gave up on them after about a year. Next, I tried One Way, who agreed to reissue but wanted us to buy a certain number of CDs to help cover their minimum order under their Sony licensing deal, more copies than we could afford.
“I finally settled on Collector's Choice Music, having been impressed with their esissue titles, great catalog and website. Since I was interested in getting not only the reissue but also maximum exposure and distribution, CCM seemed ideal. After several conversations with Gordon Anderson of CCM, he agreed to the reissue and to list it in the CCM catalog and on their website. On our part, we agreed to purchase a certain number of copies to help cover their minimum, this time at an affordable price. We were lucky to get backers in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City to help.
“Other things made the CCM deal advantageous. Instead of a plain four-page booklet, Gordon put together an eight-pager and reproduced all of the original album graphics (I personally believe that he did that because he, too, was a fan).
“Upon receiving the master from Sony, the band was not really satisfied. Gordon allowed us to tweak it to the band's liking, using the same studio in which Space Opera had recorded their recent second album. In a way, we remastered Sony's remaster.
“The CD booklet lists me as manager, but that was only the band's nod to me for the help.”
“The CD provided by Sony Music,” elaborated Bullock, “was a digital copy of the stereo master. In other words, the original mix of the album. We were each given copies of the disc for review. I didn't need an A/B comparison with the vinyl to know that I could hear detail buried in the record; i.e., guitar parts that I remembered playing that couldn't really be heard on the LP.
“All four members of Space Opera were involved in the remastering process, discussing and ultimately approving changes made to the original master. Since we didn't have the multi-track tapes, we were basically altering the mixes to emphasize different aspects of the music. We had to go song by song and decide which changes were appropriate. In the end, I think we improved the bass response and overall crispness of the album.
“You see, the pressing somehow took some of the punch out of the album and in remastering, we sought to restore the crispness and clarity. A definitive remaster would have involved going back to the multi-track master tapes, but it is doubtful that that will ever happen. Overall, though, I am much happier with the digital version, and delighted that the album is once again available.”
So is Reagan. The experience was one he would not trade for anything.
“It's still my favorite record,” he said. “After all, for me, Space Opera was the American Beatles.”
LIFE CATCHING UP.....
Space Opera may have taken a few chops on the chin on the music side, but real life had a way of evening things out. While the band considered themselves such the entire run, there were long periods of group stagnation. While it didn't stop music on an individual level, the band gatherings were fewer and farther between outside the few years which produced the second album and the reunion gigs.
BRETT OWEN WILSON
Brett Owen Wilson passed away on Jan. 26th of 2005 of cardiac arrest, leaving behind wife Claudia and son Colin Alexander Trout Wilson and other family members as well as his extended Space Opera family, although leaving behind seems hardly the proper term. His death, sudden and totally unexpected, was a blow to the hearts and very souls of the people who knew him best.
Life after New York was good to Wilson. Upon returning to Fort Worth after Space Opera's last major label attempt, Brett took a back door journey into accounting and made it his business, though he always kept one eye toward the band.
“He worked at the HOP as the daytime bartender for quite some time,” said Claudia, “and then started as a waiter at a French restaurant, Le Chardonnay. At the time, it was an extremely popular restaurant here in Fort Worth and Brett knew all of the wait staff, so when they went (from the HOP) over to Le Chardonnay, they took Brett with them. It was a white cloth restaurant opened by a dashing young French guy, Michel Baudouin, who had been very popular in his previous venues, so Brett waited tables and became a close friend of Michel's. He had been doing a little bookkeeping for Craig at the HOP, so Michel thought that was something he should do for him so that he, Michel, could be out front greeting people with his little Texas French accent. So Brett started keeping the books. That is how he got into accounting.”
Accounting treated him well, allowing him a certain amount of freedom in his personal life as well as providing for the family. According to Claudia, he was very content in his life and comfortable with his situation. For Brett, having the family and friends close was essential, and he had that.
In talking with the various people interviewed for this project, you get a feeling that Brett is still with us, ready to pick up the sticks at the drop of a hat. For a long time after Brett's death, Claudia kept his voice message on the answering machine. Phil White jokingly swore that Brett wasn't gone. “I swear, I talk to him all the time. One of these days, he's going to walk through a door and be back.”
“Phil would leave messages for Brett to tell me,” Claudia explained. “And he's not the only one. Another friend who lives out of town leaves messages with Brett to pass on to me, also. I got a new answering machine and our son came down to help me bury a very old cat and I said, okay, you make the recording. Just do a normal answering machine recording and he inadvertently probably said what was on it when Dad's voice was on it.
“Brett was the primary caregiver,” she continued. “He brought our son up. I think a lot of women thought he was a single parent. I had my business when Colin was born and Brett was keeping books for only one restaurant, so he adjusted his schedule so I could work full time at the ad agency I worked for at the time. He took care of Colin all day long and I think, quite literally, Colin lost his best friend when his dad died.
“Brett had the most wonderful father there ever was. I think so much of the man. He was a great example of a gentle soul... and strong. I think that was the model Brett had put on him (by his own father). Of course, I think he had the Ward Cleaver model put on him too, so that was the kind of parent he was. He had a marvelous capacity to love his kid. I think, looking back, what an advantage that kid had to be around his father so much growing up. Because that is all he had. It was over when he was 22. That is an experience some people never have with their fathers.”
As stated by Bullock, Scott Fraser never gave up his music. Through the return to Fort Worth from New York until the end, Scott was a respected music instructor. He passed away at home on the 19th of September of 2006.
Sometimes in writing, timing is everything, and I came too late for Brett and almost too late for Scott. He was reluctant, but allowed himself to be persuaded by the others to communicate.
“Scott may have not been as forthcoming as he could have been,” explained Mary, “considering all of the other times he had been approached about the band's history or the their history as Fort Worth musicians. Some (writers) didn't even ask and published so much misinformation that he couldn't, or wouldn't, or didn't want to try to set it straight anymore.
“Scott lived a very private life,” she continued, “but his life was rich with friends. It is funny to hear people talk about the guys at this late date and say that Space Opera thought they were better than everyone else. Clannish, true, but there was never anything but admiration and credit given where due to other musicians in Fort Worth and Texas from Scott's lips. Scott and Brett were not gregarious (the exact opposite of our Phil-anderer White). Scott got a bad rap on that. He played not as an excuse for a party, but to play his music--- sober.”
Unbeknownst to many, Fraser designed two buildings, but he was mostly about the music. Even during Space Opera's major label run, he was composing. Numerous pieces came from his pen, many of which made it to fruition. “The Angelic Suite”, for instance.
“The Angelic Suite is a short piece for chamber orchestra which Scott composed in '77 or '78. Rex Farr had a connection with the Falco Dance Company and Scott wrote the piece with that in mind. It was a spec piece never used by Falco.”
And there was The Mystery of St. Anthony.
“That was commissioned by a member of the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra,” Mary remembered, “but they never performed it. It actually scared the heck out of me, and I told Scott so, and that I really didn't like it when he played it for me. That was the only time I said that about anything Scott did. He thought my being frightened was funny. It is on Arcadia. The Rubaiyat, Omar Kayyam's poetry that Scott had set to music, is on Tree Tales.
“Scott recorded Still Life With Cheese in memory of Brett Wilson, who always appreciated the 'cheese' Scott would come up with for Brett to hear during his weekly visits. I can still hear them giggling--- or outright belly-laughing—- at some of the stuff Scott came up with. Scott and Brett were the best of friends and Brett was like a brother to me. For all of her young life, Brett was our daughter Maggie's very favorite adult person..”
Scott Fraser was a musician and composer, true, but probably as well known to the people he came into contact with as a teacher.
“Scott taught many people, both old fans or those who had never heard of him. They all came to love and respect him and thought he was a great teacher. They let Maggie and I know just how much after Scott died.
“Sometimes I would not hear music coming out of his office during lessons and would later learn that the lesson had turned into conversation. Scott would let them talk and would assign homework (to make up for lost time). Because he was self-educated and retained so much, he was conversant on many subjects and people respected his opinions.
“He became a mentor to some kids who were from broken families or who were dealing with loss--- even to some who were dealing with mental illness. Those children's parents were amazed that Scott could get them to willingly work with him and could keep their attention when no one else could.
“He wanted to start a music school for underprivileged children, a place where they would be provided instruments and given proper instruction.”
It was the one dream Scott Fraser could not make happen. There were so many he did.
“The day Scott died, I was playing CDs of the music that he loved,” wrote Mary. “His favorite was Firebird by Stravinsky. I later told David that Scott stopped breathing on the last note of Firebird. He told me that that last, magnificent passage of that piece was French for 'lullaby'. I am so glad it happened that way. It was so right and just for him.”
To help you gain a better understanding of Phil White, let me share a segment of an interview I did with Phil and friend Noel Ice a few years ago:
NOEL: I'm trying to make a CD (of Phil's demos) so we can hand out a few of them. We thought we'd send you one, if that's something you're interested in.
ME: I have absolutely no interest in it. What? Are you nuts? I'd give my left testicle for something like that! You want my address?
PHIL: No. I want a testicle.
Such was the wit that John Carrick said could have given White a second and lucrative career, that of a standup comic.
White himself was a self-professed black sheep. While the other members of Space Opera were making families and struggling to survive, White spent his time in the dives and honky tonks. He wanted to play and play, he did. He played around Texas when Space Opera awaited their equipment. He played his way to Los Angeles before the New York phase of that band. He played whenever and wherever he could, especially when there were friends or money involved.
He blazed through life, motors churning. He described his life in various ways in the interviews conducted for this article, but no description could make you understand. This gives you a little insight, though:
“I loved being on the road,” he told me. “I loved the motels and the traveling. I loved the moving. I liked room service and colored TV and trashing out the rooms--- just the whole thing. It was the whole thing for me. When we signed the contract at Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, everybody got front money. It was right around Christmas and the other guys were so homesick it wasn't funny and they flew home to have their Christmases with their families. I just said give me the cash and I stayed in New York City and I won't even begin to tell you what I did. Times Square and 42nd Street, that was my kind of place. It stayed open all night and you could buy anything you wanted there. I stayed there until the money was gone.”
Phil White, though, was more complicated than he would ever admit. While promoting the black sheep aspect, he was wildly loyal to friends and family and was both supporter and protector to a fault. The people who really knew him understood this and returned in kind.
“Phil's a rogue and he's proud of it,” Bullock said. “Two of his best songs are autobiographical: You're No Good and Love Brings Out the Worst in Me. He set out to live a life without responsibilities and he's done a good job of it. He wasn't above borrowing someone's guitar amp, using it for a gig, and then making a little extra money by pawning it. Many times he did not have his own place and probably overstayed his welcome on more than one couch. Phil has survived on his charm, wit and talent.
“Then there was the time, back when we first got Space Opera going. Phil had a nice MGB. He loved that car but decided he should sell it and use the money to buy a truck for the band. That was a mistake because the truck he bought was a lemon and ended up abandoned on the road, but the point is that he gave all he had for the rest of us. When we were teenagers, he once used his lifeguard skills to help me out of a strong undertow in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm pretty sure he saved me from drowning. These are things you don't forget.”
The years of hard living and breathing second-hand smoke in the myriad of bars took its toll. His health began to fail and he headed to Colorado in his later years to cope with breathing-related problems. It finally got so bad that he visited a doctor. The news was not good.
“I visited a doctor when I was in Colorado,” he said. “As a matter of fact, some people finally dragged me to a doctor. I got some news that was less than encouraging, so I decided it was time for me to return to Fort Worth and gather my stuff together because I'd lost it all over the years. The people who care about me and love me and in fact admire my music have kept it and when I came back to town, they started coming out of the woodworks saying here, here's this cassette tape you left over at my house, you know, sixteen years ago or something. And the numbers started piling up. None of these were songs that were in the catalogue that I carry along with me. I write them. I record them, They're unforgettable in my mind and I can play them anytime, so I wasn't careful about making sure they were recorded and copyrighted and all.”
The months left were spent gathering and collating those songs. They helped make his last days tolerable. Besides the songs and his good friends, White was desolate--- no money, no strength. He made a deal with friends Michael Mann and Rex Farr for future publishing rights and relied on others to help him make it through.
His run came to an end on September 6, 2008. It was a very good run. A very good run.
David Bullock, like Scott, was reluctant at first to talk. We traded many emails before he decided to give it a try and I am sure that his participation was what convinced Scott to communicate as well. Of the four, Bullock and Fraser held Space Opera closest to the vest. There were moments neither wanted to revisit for fear that they would be misrepresented or misunderstood. There were things that happened, though public, they considered more private. You can give lip service to such an attitude, but unless you understand that to these four guys, and especially to Bullock and Fraser, Space Opera was a living thing, you won't understand at all.
Without Bullock, this history would not have been written. He, in fact, wrote most of it. He edited, set and reset timelines, made corrections and, in the places he remembered things differently, refused to make corrections. Every written word passed through his hands before it was posted. In a way, this is the story of Space Opera as told to... In a very big way. So rather than try to fill in the blanks as regards to him, I will print what he sent to me to fill holes and update his situation verbatim:
“While my wife and I were living in New York, I studied film and video production. I needed the proverbial day job and I'd always been interested in the visual arts. The parallels to music production were there: television studios, recording studios, editing/sound mixing, and both are basically electronic media. Over the years, I have found many musicians who have found their ways into this field.
“The best part of my life has been my marriage and the joy of raising two wonderful daughters. All three of my girls are music lovers. My family has always been very supportive of the musical side of my life--- they are my most enthusiastic fans and they always enjoy coming to hear me play. So in this phase of my life, I've had the best of both worlds.
“Once the band members were all back in North Texas, I thought we would have played together more often, but it just seemed hard to get everyone on the same page at the same time. But I am truly grateful for the opportunities to make music with those three men. We often found ourselves in a zone of floating interconnected consciousness. And on a good night, we were actually a much better band in 'retirement' than we had been in our 'prime.'
“With Brett's passing, Scott, Phil and I were back as a trio. We played together one last time at Brett's memorial service--- the three of us and one empty chair.
“I began playing solo acoustic gigs several years ago. It is not the same as being onstage with Space Opera--- nothing will ever match that--- but I find myself back where I started as a teenager, standing onstage armed only with my voice and an acoustic guitar, and it is enjoyable. To this date, I am still writing and recording songs and instrumental music.
“Cass Edwards and I have begun the process of transferring Space Opera tape archives to digital files. The music goes all the way back to our beginnings and includes studio and live recordings, most of which have never been heard by our audience. I hope we will be able to release the first batch this year. I want people to hear what the band sounded like in all its phases, even in its most raw form. When this project is finished, the book on Space Opera will be closed.”
While fans await the fruits of Bullock and Edwards' labors, there is music available.
Scott Fraser's music is available through his own website, now operated by his wife, Mary. Four CDs are available:
SS-433 (Copyright 1983, Remastered 2005)
Still-Life with Cheese (2006)
Tree Tales (2006)
The Space Opera CDs, as stated before, are available from itsaboutmusic.com.
IF I THOUGHT I COULD TELL YOU A STORY...
Over the years, a handful of people have supported Space Opera through thick and thin, but noone outside the extended family more than Don Swancy, a KFAD disc jockey who promoted the band in the early years. After reading what had been posted, Don sent an email and after reading it I asked if I could use parts of it. He graciously said yes and after reading it a few more times, I decided that parts weren't enough. Don caught the essence of what it was to be young and in love with the music scene at the beginning of Space Opera's run and how much it means to look back. Here is what he wrote:
“I was directed to your Space Opera piece and as I told David the last time we talked, it has been nothing but a joy and pleasure carrying their banner in whatever small way I could. I remember them from their weeklys at the HOP. I remember one of their nights there the only two people in the audience were my date and I. They played two and a half hours directly to us.
“After leaving KFAD, I moved to Las Vegas and worked overnight weekends for the #1 FM rocker, then moved to Lubbock TX as the music director of the #1 FM KSEL. At that point, the first Space Opera album was out and I told my DJs to listen to it and play anything they wanted from it. Of course, I hammered it every night on my shift. At one point I called my Epic rep and had him send me 25 of the LPs. I reported to the old Walrus Radio Newsletter and hyped Space Opera to them all the time. At one time, Country Max was our most requested song and I wrote an article about the band for Walrus. That resulted in them getting airplay in different markets all over the country. I left radio in the early eighties and in 1988 moved back to Las Vegas.
“When I heard that they were to do a reunion show at the Caravan of Dreams, I contacted Scott and Cass and offered my services as emcee. I flew in from Las Vegas and considered it a great honor to take the stage with them and, although it had been many years since I had been on the air in DFW, many of the hometown Space Opera fans realized the significance.
“In 1996, through a crazy chain of events, I was recruited to teach a course for the University of Nevada Las Vegas. It was their moneymaker course, History of Rock & Roll. I also taught the same course for the Community College District of Southern Nevada, CCSN. I taught fifteen semesters and in the last week of each semester, after covering 50 years of history and nearing present day, I would play tracks from the Space Opera album. I told my students, 'If you are highly skilled, live and breathe music and happen to be incredibly gifted, you produce music like this. This is as good as the art form gets.' I would usually end my semesters with the Byrds' live version of Lover of the Bayou and Space Opera's Country Max. The last ringing chord of Country Max closed the course. Scott was aware that I was using their music in my classes and was never anything but supportive and gracious. A true gentleman.
“I remember the Beard Brothers. My brother and I had a band and we played for them too. We were all part of that scene. I remember the first night Linda Waring replaced Doyle Breshears at the Cellar. I saw Space Opera at the Lewisville Pop Festival, on both the free and the main stages. I saw the Scott Theater show in those swell suits. I saw their two song, 55-minute set warming up for the Airplane at Daniel-Meyer. I saw them at Panther Hall the night of Richard Nixon's State of the Union address when David changed the lyrics (of Country Max) from 'if my friends say I'm stoned it's because' to 'if my friends say I'm doomed it's because.' Nice touch, David.
“I saw them in a little bar out on Camp Bowie one night. It may sat 75 people. Phil in the middle, and they started that swaying thing they did and before we knew it, the audience was swaying in sync with the band. Singers and Sailors never sounded better. And of course, I was there at Trinity Park for their shows as well.
“The phrase 'the Beatles of Fort Worth' has been used many times for those boys, but I think they were rather the Space Opera of Fort Worth.”
That pretty much says it, Don. And very nicely.
Rock & Reprise thanks Kipp Baker for the use of the pictures of Space Opera in this chapter. The pictures were taken during rehearsals in 1997. Kipp is a professional photographer and has his own website at www.pixure.com.
ONE: The Beginning...
Supporting the Indies Since 1969