In the first part of this series, I wrote that I received an invitation to join the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship in Arizona. I had finished one year of architectural school in Alabama. In 1961 I left my home state to accept that invitation and to work as a draftsman at Taliesin West.
I helped complete drawings and details on several Frank Lloyd Wright projects, including Grady Gammage auditorium in Tempe, Ariz. As workmen were installing the seats in this auditorium, I took the stage to play guitar and to check the acoustics of the space. Thus I became the first person to perform before a live “audience” in the famous facility!
While at Taliesin West, I began performing with Dolan Ellis. (Dolan became and remains the Official State Balladeer appointed by a continuous succession of Arizona governors.) At Dolan’s club in Scottsdale, I was the house bass player for performers including John Denver and Linda Ronstadt. We all were young folk musicians beginning our careers.
During this time I traveled back and forth from Arizona to Alabama. I carried Western swing and mariachi music to my home state and returned with new songs and techniques learned as I played with many of the elders of early jazz traditions in New Orleans.
It seemed wise to complete my college degree. I considered several options and chose to accept a scholarship awarded by Arizona State University. I served as principal bassist in the ASU Symphony Orchestra and thus returned to the stage of Grady Gammage Auditorium for three years.
While performing at a folk music venue in Scottsdale, I met a young social worker who’d recently returned from the Peace Corps and relocated to Arizona. Barbara and I married in 1968.
Entertaining as a member of the band at “Crazy Ed’s Place” in North Phoenix provided an opportunity to work with several well-known musicians, including Phil Gomez of the Kid Ory band, Rick Nelson from “Red Nichols and the Five Pennies,” and George Rock. George had been a member of the Spike Jones band and had the hit “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” I still meet people who remember that part of my career.
I continued performing even as I began studying for a graduate degree at the Arizona State University College of Law. The founding dean of the law school, Willard “Ped” Pedrick, encouraged students to show off their musical talents. The school featured “skit nights” where both students and faculty performed. For one such performance, I recruited one of the few female law students to accompany my small group on tambourine. Ruth did a great job, and now that she has retired as the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, I often encourage her to resume her musical career! (Ruth McGregor, ASU Law 1974, retired as Chief Justice, June 30, 2009.)
Midway through law school, music again came to the forefront: I was offered an opportunity to tour worldwide as a member of the famous folk music group the “New Christy Minstrels.” I kissed my wife goodbye at Sky Harbor Airport and embarked on a new musical adventure.