Friday, September 23, 2016

Chicken Ranch: Signing in San Marcos!

A quick reminder that tonight, September 23, I will be in San Marcos for a reading, signing and Q&A session for Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at Bad Boy Books/Dahlia Woods Gallery. The event runs 7-9 p.m., so everyone in the area who's wanted to talk about the infamous Chicken Ranch or get a book signed, this is your opportunity to shop local and support downtown San Marcos businesses.

In other interesting news, Houston Matters aired my interview with Michael Hagerty about Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch yesterday. I've already had a few people mention they heard it while listening to NPR, but you don't even need a radio to listen, as the entire conversation has been conveniently posted online. Listen in here.

Finally, if you're curious how my Reddit Ask Me Anything adventure went, you can read for yourself at this link. I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively few number of trolls. Yes, some popped up asking juvenile questions in a misguided attempt to be funny, but that didn't derail the discussion. So, yay!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Chicken Ranch: The Reddit Experience

So, this Ask Me Anything for Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch is happening. Join the party at https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/.

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Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy Birthday Sheriff Jim Flournoy!

On this date in 1902, Thomas James Flournoy was born to Tom and Etta Flournoy on a ranch near Rock Island. He would grow up to work as a ranch hand on the famous King Ranch, a Texas Ranger patrolling the Big Bend region during World War II and--most famously--as the long-serving sheriff of Fayette County. Sheriff Jim famously defied political and media pressure to close down the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel outside of La Grange in 1973 before acquiescing to a direct order from Governor Dolph Briscoe. A year later, Sheriff Flournoy confronted Marvin Zindler on the town square, ripping off the reporter's hairpiece and throwing it in the street. The resulting lawsuits and counter suits were eventually settled out of court with a large donation to the Shriner's Children's Hospital.

Sheriff Flournoy died on October 27, 1982, from heart problems. He would've been 114 years old today.

This Friday, September 23, I will be in San Marcos for a reading, signing and Q&A session for Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at Bad Boy Books/Dahlia Woods Gallery. The event runs 7-9 p.m., so everyone in the area who's wanted to talk about the infamous Chicken Ranch, get a book signed or corner me about that $20 I owe you, here's your chance to scratch that particular item off your bucket list.

If, for some unfathomable reason you are not able to make the San Marcos signing on Friday, you can still help me observe Sheriff Jim's birthday this evening by joining me for my Reddit Ask Me Anything starting at 8 p.m. Central Time (that's 9 Eastern). My username is "JaymeBlaschke." It should be an interesting couple of hours. See you there!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Reddit vs. the Chicken Ranch

Well, now. This should prove to be interesting. I have been approved for a Reddit Ask Me Anything with--what else?--the Chicken Ranch as the primary topic! Can you tell I'm excited? Nervous? All of the above?

My AMA will be 9 p.m. EST (that's 8 p.m. for us normal, Central Time folks) on September 22, a date which just coincidentally happens to coincide with Fayette County Sheriff J.T. "Big Jim" Flournoy's 114th birthday. See what I did there? The Reddit AMA will happen at this link and it should appear on the sidebar calendar before long. My username is "JaymeBlaschke."

I suspect most Reddit users will be more familiar with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas than they are with the historical Chicken Ranch itself. I wonder how many people are going to ask if the madam really looked like Dolly Parton? See you there!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Friday, September 02, 2016

On the road again, Chicken Ranch edition

Last night saw me and The Wife pay a visit to Inferno's Pizza in Gruene for the Comal County A&M Club's happy hour. I'd never been to Inferno's before, but I was impressed. Upscale, gourmet pizza and stromboli (along with other interesting menu items) at prices that weren't unreasonable. Recommended. Apart from the pizza, I had a lot of good conversations with the Former Students there about the Chicken Ranch and the real history behind "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Believe it or not, we ran into one recent graduate who had never so much as heard of the Chicken Ranch, much less A&M's relatively close ties to the notorious brothel. As Good Aggies, The Wife and I rectified this gross oversight in his education, and he came away with a new perspective on his university. I gave away a bunch of koozies and sold a few books. Everyone had a pretty good time.

That was just the warm-up. Tonight (actually, in just a few hours) I'll be heading back to La Grange for the Fayette County Fair, where I'll be signing copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at the Fayette County Record booth from 6-10 p.m. So for any of you folks in the La Grange, Schulenburg, Weimar, Smithville or Columbus area, come on out and say hello.

After getting home and grabbing a few hours' sleep, I'm back on the road again, this time heading to College Station, where I'll be signing books at the MSC Bookstore at Texas A&M University from noon until 2:30 p.m. That's right before some little football game going on between the Aggie and the UCLA Bruins. I hope I don't siphon too many fans away from them. Again, stop by my table and say "Howdy!" if you're in the area.

Finally, the piece below was in yesterday's edition of the Austin American-Statesman. It's nice to be appreciated, and every little bit of press helps spread awareness for my book. Thanks to everyone who's helped to make this ride a fun one!

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

Office build-along, pt. 5

When last I wrote about my office build-along, way back in June, as it turns out, I'd just stained a bunch of lauan plywood for the backing of my book shelves. Since then, a lot of other things have coopted my time, including major yard work involving mulching much brush and branches, a book launch and signing tour (such as it is), as well as the construction of a tiki bar. I'll do a post of that one soon--I didn't think to do it as a build-along, so that's on me.

The long and short of all this is that my office remodeling project and construction of the built-in book cases has lain semi-dormant most of the summer. Not entirely so, however. I removed several sections of crown molding and baseboards from my office walls that will host said cases, and ripped up some of the cheap laminate flooring to get better access to the far wall. The "far wall" was once a wide open walkway into the dining room, which is what my office was prior to my closing it in with 2x4 studs and a bunch of drywall. I took a few photos of that process when I started it back in 2015, but I can't seem to find them. You can see part of the drywall peeking out from behind the already-installed lauan paneling in the photo below.

Know what else you can see? All the boxes of books and other assorted office detritus I'm storing here in the aftermath of last October's garage flooding. That doesn't make the task at hand any easier, but it's manageable for now. Also visible in the photo below is the "bump" in the corner that is giving me consternation. It's a big load-bearing pillar in the center of the house that utilities are piped up through. The bulk of it is in the kitchen, but there's just enough of it protruding into the former dining room to make the installation of book shelves a tad more challenging.

Here's a closeup of the lauan panel at the edge of the bump. A vertical book shelf support will go here, so I won't panel over this exposed section of drywall.

On the back wall, next to the closed-up walkway is a switch for the light/fan. It's a three-way switch, meaning there's one on either side of the room to control the light. I suppose I could've paneled over it, but I'm reluctant to do that, so instead there will be a switch built into the book case, most likely never used. This necessitates cutting a hole through the paneling for the switch. This is an area I've got quite a bit of failed experience at. I've tried making precise measurements and cutting from that. Never works. While working on The Wife's photography studio, I read of a trick where one rubs down switches/plugs with colored chalk and then press the drywall against said switches. Afterward, use the chalk outlines transferred to the drywall as a cutting guide. Unfortunately, the chalk didn't always transfer very clearly and errors crept in. This time I cast about, hoping to find something more effective. Alas, I didn't think to take any photos until I'd finished. But this is what I did--I got some mouse bait, a type of greenish gel in a squeeze bottle slightly larger than a bottle of eye drops, and applied a thin line of the stuff around the edge of the switch. If you look carefully, you can still see the greenish remnants in the grooves of the white switch I'm holding in the image below. I pressed the paneling against the switch, and I've got to say, the gooey transfer was about as perfect as one could hope for. I marked a rectangle a half inch out from the gooey lines, and drilled out four holes in the corners. Then I used a jig saw to slice the lines between the pilot holes. Placing the panel up against the wall, I was rewarded with a perfect fit. After nailing it into place, I replace the white switch with a brown switch to better blend in with the dark-stained paneling. It almost looks like I know what I'm doing.

Next, I had to clean out the far corner. I'd already removed the baseboard from the far wall, but the baseboard on the adjoining wall was a problem. Lots of stuff stacked against that outside wall could not be readily moved, yet the baseboard couldn't stay there. I ended up prying the end of the baseboard from the wall, and after marking a vertical line at the 12" mark, used the jig saw to make the straight(ish) cut. Not what I'd normally recommend, but I made it work, using a pair of pliers to snap off a few shards of wood that didn't quite get cut. Then I vacuumed up all the sawdust and splinters and drywall debris and other crap that always seems to build up in corners. Judging from the yellowed water stains on the drywall and under floor, the previous owners kept a potted plant in this corner of the dining room and over-watered it on occasion. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to have been a chronic condition and I'm finding no damage beyond the cosmetic.

I just realized I left out one important step--use a stud finder to locate all the 2x4s in the wall behind the drywall, and mark their locations on the ceiling right above where the paneling will cover. Since I have 9' ceilings and the panels are 8', I mark the wall below where the paneling will go. I can get away with covering only 8' of a 9' wall because those cabinets I spent all that time staining will cover the gap. Now comes the tedious detail work. The heads of the finish nails I used to secure the paneling to the wall do not blend well. I suppose I could simply say "They'll be hidden by books. No big deal." But I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive. I'd know the job was only done half-assed. So I take a nail set and tap each nail maybe 1/16th below the surface of the plywood.

Next, I take wood putty--the common Elmer's brand seems easiest to work with--and fill in each hole. The putty's moist, so I mound it slightly to compensate for shrinkage while drying. It's such a small amount of putty that it dries fairly quickly, and I can rub the excess away from the surrounding area with my fingers after about 10 minutes.

The next day--I let it dry thoroughly overnight--I sand all the now-puttied nail holes with super-fine, 400-grit sandpaper. I don't use a sanding block or anything. The areas are so small this goes really quickly. Nice and smooth.

Next, I grab a can of the stain I originally used on the paneling and use the corner of a folded-down paper towel to apply the stain to the putty. I get a little sloppy with it, but there's no worry, as any excess will blend in with the existing stain. Right?

Wong. Remember back when I stained the paneling using Minwax Special Walnut and decided the wood came out dark enough to forego a second, topcoat of Dark Walnut? Well, Dark Walnut and Special Walnut come in cans that look exactly the same except for the actual words on the label, and if one does something foolish, like, maybe, not actually read which stain he may or may not be using, the two could easily get mixed up.

So yeah, I screwed up. I got about halfway through staining the putty holes before thinking those stains looked a little too dark. Then I discovered the excess wouldn't wipe away. The Dark Walnut stain formed irregular donut rings around the putty holes that kinda betray my efforts to make my shelves look all professional-like. From a distance, they look a lot like the dark knotholes that dot the plywood. Up close they look like screw-ups. It still blends better than the naked nail heads or the light putty, but I'm annoyed at myself. Fortunately, this will all be covered up by books, so nobody will ever notice. :-)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Ballad of the La Grange Chicken Ranch

Quick: Name the first song ever written about the famous La Grange Chicken Ranch. Did you answer "La Grange" by ZZ Top? You're not alone--but you're also wrong. If you answered any of the songs from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack, you're also wrong. No, the first song (to my knowledge, at any rate) written about that brothel of yore was "The Ballad of the La Grange Chicken Ranch," penned by a 16-year-old guitarist named Ron Rose circa 1968-69. Being a youngster at the time, Rose didn't share it too widely, but in the 1970s the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters teamed with Rose's band at the time, Man Mountain and the Green Slime Boys, to release it as a 45 single. Rose went on to enjoy top 40 success with the group Toby Beau.

I discovered "The Ballad of the La Grange Chicken Ranch" during research for Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, but there wasn't much opportunity to discuss it in the book beyond a passing reference. Fortunately, Rose, who currently lives in San Antonio where he plays regular gigs with the BFR Band, agreed to an interview with me to discuss the origins of this song and an interesting period of the Texas music scene. For those curious to listen to this song, a portion of it can be heard as the soundtrack to my book trailer posted at the end of the interview.

Blaschke: You were a part of Man Mountain and the Green Slime Boys. Can you tell me how that band came together?

Rose: Basically, I had sung a little bit with a guy in high school my senior year. We got together with acoustic guitars just sitting around, playing and singing songs. Then I met a guy at San Antonio College, which is a junior college here in San Antonio. He was interested in acoustic instruments. The first guy, David, had a higher voice and this guy had a lower voice, so immediately I thought, “Three part harmony.” I introduced them to each other and we started as a trio in 1972.

Then we were working a night club a few months later and the steel player, dobro player—that’s the dobro featured on the single—he showed up at this club we were playing one night and sat in. We just went through the roof with this guy, so we added him to the band after a few rehearsals. By the time we did the live performance at Victoria, Texas, on the town square—that is the recording—we had added a drummer. That was a period of about two years, from inception to fruition, if you will. In fact, that performance was what they called the “Third First Armadillo Confab and Exposition,” which I guess is the equivalent of a county fair. But it was done in Victoria on the town square. Willie Nelson was the big headliner on the show. Greasy Wheels was on the show. There were some other notables whose names escape me.

By that time of the recording, it was that version of the band’s last performance. Over the next few months, I developed a new band using the same name but different musicians. Anyway, that was what we affectionately refer to as the original incarnation: David Hill was the guitar player, high voice. Don Cass started out when we were a trio on acoustic guitar, but went to bass. He’s actually a very good bass player. Low harmony voice. Jimmy Fuller, dobro and pedal steel electric guitar. And Jimmy Rose—no relation—was the drummer.

Blaschke: So you guys were a Central Texas band through-and-through?

Rose: We were based out of San Antonio. I had a brother living in Austin. His name was Dub. He got me names and phone numbers of the guys at Armadillo World Headquarters. He said, “Man, you ought to get a gig there! It’s right up your alley. It’s your kind of music and they book nationally-known acts, yadda yadda.” So that came to pass. And that’s how we wound up doing the Victoria show. It was one of many, many shows that we did either at or for the Armadillo World Headquarters produced the show that that recording was of.

Blaschke: What’s the story behind the band name?

Rose: My dad bought 80 acres near Fayetteville in 1959, as a weekend place. We spent a lot of time out there, growing up. We had a two-acre, spring-fed stock tank. It was pretty deep, had good bass and perch fishing with slimy green moss covering the bottom. On a hot summer day, one form of refreshment would be swimming in that tank. My brothers and I, and quite often our tagalong friends from the big city, would traipse back up to the house after swimming, with a fair share of that green slime attached. My mother met us at the back door, denying entry to the "green slime boys" until they rinsed off with the hose.

Popular bluegrass bands of the day were Ralph & Carter Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, etc. My band dabbled in bluegrass—not strictly a bluegrass band, but we played some. Being in Central Texas with no mountains, but wanting to pay homage, I decided to switch it around a bit. Man Mountain (a big guy) and the Green Slime Boys. You get the idea. It was all tongue-in-cheek, but the name stuck (like dried slime). There was a popular restaurant/bar in Austin that wouldn't book us unless we dropped the "slime" part of the name. We never played there.

Blaschke: “The Ballad of the La Grange Chicken Ranch” has a distinct sound. There are bluegrass elements but a lot of other stuff is going on. I can honestly say I have not heard another song quite like it!

Rose: (Laughing) I’m going to take that as a compliment whether it’s meant to be or not!

Blaschke: Oh it is! It’s great!

Rose: It was probably one of, if not the first song I ever wrote. My daddy bought 80 acres outside of La Grange, between La Grange and Fayetteville, in Park, Texas. We were living in Houston when my daddy bought those 80 acres place in 1959, so I spent a lot of weekends out there burning brush and clearing pastures and doing things that city kids don’t normally get to do, unless their daddy’s brave enough to risk the G.I. Bill—not that it was a bad thing. Turned out to be a great thing. I had three brothers, so he had four boys to try to wear out every weekend so they’d stay in line during the week. Anyway, that’s sort of how Ron Rose came to know about Fayette County at all, much less Fayetteville, La Grange, Round Top, Columbus, Schulenburg, all those little burgs around there.

By the time I was a teenager I began learning about the Chicken Ranch. The worst kept secret in the county was the Chicken Ranch and my brothers and I would drive by on the sly to have a look and wonder about what might be going on inside. I never had the nerve to spend any money there, but I had friends who did. “The Ballad of the La Grange Chicken Ranch” was probably the first song I ever wrote, at about 16. Afraid I'd get in trouble, I never played it for anyone until I was 19. That was the musings of a teenager with a little bit of talent for the five-string. And that’s about the beginning and end of it.

That was a fun song and once I played it for the guys, it became a regular part of the repertoire. As I like to say from the stage, it sold under a million. I think we printed maybe a thousand copies of that single, or pressed a thousand copies, as the terminology would go. The artwork was done by Michael Priest out of Austin. He did a lot of the poster artwork for the Armadillo World Headquarters. The band broke up after the Victoria gig, I was able to get my hands on the tape and press the record. It was August 1973 that [Texas Governor] Dolph Briscoe shut down the Chicken Ranch, and that’s how the cover art was inspired. That’s Dolph holding the keys. All of these things kind of came together in a timely fashion.

Blaschke: What was the audience reaction to the song?

Rose: Well, we got a good response always. It was at the beginning of what Steve Fromholz used to call the great progressive country scare that descended upon Austin and parts there ’round. It fit right into that genre, you know, talking about things Texas. There’s a resurgence of that kind of stuff now, they call it Americana or Texas music, but it’s really kind of—to my mind—a continuation of that sort of feel. Probably Willie Nelson was responsible for it as much as anything, but it became okay to sing about things that you really knew about, or that were locally generated. You know from your experience writing this book, you do your research about things you’re already interested in, or already know something about, or that you already have a clue about. It makes it easier to create the whatever it is—in your case, the book, in my case, the songs—so that was the idea.

To answer your question, it was well-received, particularly as it got to be more and more known. It got some airplay in Houston, on radio stations in Austin, you know, the progressive country stations, the country rock stations in San Antonio. It was never a chart buster, but it was a door opener. I was able to book dates out of the area and for that matter out of state, somewhat. Never the tour dream you always want to shoot for, but we played Lubbock several times. We played Corpus Christi some, we played Houston, we played Tucson, Arizona. We played Evergreen, Colorado, once. You know, just hit and miss, pretty much working a 100-mile radius of San Antonio. Most often around San Antonio, second most around Austin. It was more subsistence than living. Any musician who’s dreaming of driving a new Porche is dreaming!

Blaschke: You’re in San Antonio now—do you play regular gigs?

Rose: Yeah. I have a band called the BFR Band, and the BFR stands for the three vocalists’ last names: (Phil) Bepko, (Chuck) Fletcher and Rose. We’ve worked together since like ’81. So, a long time. And yes, we do play. Not real often, but pretty regularly, three-to-four times a month. We sing a lot of harmony and still do that song. Certainly, it’s a novelty tune, but a lot of our fans recognize it from over the years.

Blaschke: Is any of your old music available anywhere? MP3 downloads or CD Baby?

Rose: Not at this point. I have a world of editing to do with old tape, and the thing about old tape is just that—it’s old tape and needs to be preserved for one more recording dumped onto digital so you don’t lose any more quality. I’d love to do that with a lot of the stuff I’ve got recorded from those times, and of course later, but time and money are always the defining factors. At this point no, it’s not available any way, shape or form, but that’s subject to change and I sincerely hope it does. I listen to some of these things and think “You know, that’s no half bad.” It’s amazing what you can do with a Teac four-track in your living room, even back in those days!

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