I write this so that people know what it is like to be a professional gamer. I started playing very young. When I was 20 years old, I was playing with professional musicians. People like Cliff Bruner, Murphy McDowell, Deacon Anderson, Troy Passmore, Billy Carter, and Johnny Holland. There were more professional colleagues, but I learned from them. I was a really good singer and that’s what got me into these guys. Then they taught me more about paper. For several years Murphy, Johnny, Bugs Riley, Deacon and I worked together as a band. (a very good band). All but Bugs were at least 10 years older than me. Most of these guys have passed away now. Although I can still hear Cliff telling me “learn to play the melody before trying to improvise”, and Murphy saying “ok go pee and come back, we have a 30 minute break, I’ll show you some more chords,” and Deacon saying learn your scales, all of them, “and Johnny telling me:” Get there on time, I’m going to throw you a drumstick every time you get off. “So you see that they took care of me.
Over the years I have had many experiences that I would like to share with you. Like the time I was invited to be on the show with Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, and Bennie Barnes. I had this new record and I had never been on stage with spotlights. When they announced to me that I entered from the side, the reflector hit me, I looked at it and that was a big mistake. I couldn’t see anything but a big red spot. I knew he was walking towards the microphone, but I didn’t know how far he was from me. So I slowed down in hopes that I could regain my vision. But no, it didn’t happen. I hit the mic and it made a big boom.
They all laughed, they thought he was drunk. So I said to myself, “You better sing well,” and I did, I knocked down the house. I got out on Ernest’s bus and we were talking, he told me not to worry about it, everyone has.
That was the first time I met Willie Nelson. I got to know him through the years. He already knew Bennie, he was on the RCA records, and he was from Beaumont. He lived in Port Arthur. I married a girl from Port Arthur when I was 20 years old. She and I have been married for 51 years. Her name was Mary Grace Brown until I changed her last name to Bridges. Grace became a great bass player and a very good songwriter. A friend of ours told us about Jack Rhodes, writer and promoter. So we went to Wood County to see Jack. He wanted to hear me sing, so I sang. He said he had great potential and that he would work with me. Then he found out that Grace was a writer and then he really liked us. Jack wrote: Satisfied mind, silver threads and gold needles, angels’ waltz, woman’s love, beautiful lies, and much more. Well, we worked on new stuff for months and then a guy came from Nashville and asked me to sign a contract with Capitol Record, a road contract to travel with Ray Price 273 days a year, and a management contract with him. It was really on fire, so Jack said “we’ll let you know tomorrow Al”. I did not know what was happening. So after Al left, Jack sat me down and talked to me until 4am telling me why he didn’t want to do that. He said I would lose my family and my children. Then I would destroy myself. He said that after working with me, he learned to like him a lot and that he didn’t want that to happen. So he offered Grace and me a study and writing job. He said that that way he didn’t have to travel. I didn’t know what to think at the time, but now I’m glad he convinced me not to.
When Jack passed away, I got to work with Bennie Barnes playing guitar and leading the band. And I had a band for years playing locally and backing stars coming out. In these stories that I am writing about, the dates are not in order as they happened. Most of the time they will be in the order that comes to mind as I write.
In one of those stories, Grace and I were playing games and George Jones used to come where we played. I was sitting down and someone wanted me to sing “walk through this world with me.” He sang a line and turned to Grace and said, “Do you know the lyrics to this damn song? Grace looked at him and said,” I’ve never heard that song in my whole life. “Of course. It was number 1 at the time. But George didn’t know what to say after that Grace is smart and quick and honest, don’t ask if you have tender feelings.
Another with George. I was playing with Eddy Stevens and Pearl. George came and sat with us. He had just posted, “blue is the color of blue.” On the back of the disk was the Eskimo cake. Two girls came up and wanted George to sing the Eskimo Pie song. He turned to me and said, “I never liked that damn song, I’m not going to sing it. The two girls looked at each other and walked away. George didn’t really know the words.
ok, here’s a fun one. I was playing with Murphy McDowell. He sang a song, people danced. Suddenly Murphy doubled over with laughter. He could also hear Johnny and Bugs laugh. I thought I had done something wrong. I looked at Murphy, he pointed to the dance floor, I looked and there were a couple of people dancing, the lady’s pants had fallen off her feet. Neither of them knew. Everyone around him was laughing and looking, then the man realized what was happening. Then the lady grabbed his pants, pulled them up, and ran out the back door with the man right behind her. Of course, some wise cracks were made.
Another: Troy Passmore and I were like brothers. Grace and I had known Troy for several years. To say a little about Troy’s talent. Troy had the fastest picking hand in the entire United States and probably the world. Anyone who knew him will tell you. He was a musical genius. He was playing on the road with a band when he was 12 years old. When I was 16, I was playing guitar for America’s best dance band. He had played in 50 states and 5 countries.
Troy showed up one day and we had a long visit, he had been playing in and around Austin. He had tried to get a day job. She was telling Grace and me about applying for this job to change washer and dryer money in Austin. Troy said they gave him a lie detector test and he answered everything honestly. He said they didn’t hire him and he didn’t know why. Grace asked him what they had asked. Troy said, “They asked me my name, then several other things, have you ever smoked marijuana?” Troy said about this crowded room. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Of course, Troy didn’t think it was that funny. Troy passed away in 1979. I am proud to say that he gave his life to Jesus a year before he died.
On another note, we were backing Jimmy Newman. He had several number one songs at the time. He was going to sing “a fallen star.” He turned to me and said to touch him naturally. I had never played in B natural in my life. He did another in natural B, “crocodile man.” That was the first time for me and I still remember it. I worked with Jimmy several times after that. He’s a good boy. The first time I met Johnny Gimble was when he was recording in Nashville. Pete Drake was the producer and Johnny participated in the session. In fact, it was two weeks before my session. Pete had invited me down to hear another session. Either way they took a break and Johnny came out and introduced himself and said, “I heard you’re from Beaumont.”
I told him yes. Then he asked me if I had seen Cliff Brunner lately. I told him that it had probably been a year since I had seen Cliff. He told me that Cliff was his idol, that he loved to play the violin. Anyway, I left Nashville that night and went back to the Beaumont, Port Arthur area. The next day, Cliff stopped by to see me. I told him what Johnny had said and tried to get him back with me. I could see that he really wanted to do it, but he didn’t.
Troy Passmore had been playing in Columbus Georgia and the band had recorded a tape from the band stand. Johnny and he were friends and Troy sent him a copy. Johnny recorded the other side of the tape at home and sent it back. Troy came to the house and asked me if I had a tape recorder, I did. We played both sides and when Troy was leaving I said to him “you forgot your tape. No you can have it, I don’t have a player. After Troy passed away and many years later, I saw Jerry Gimble at a jam session. I told him about the tape. , he told me that Johnny and Johnny called me and said he wanted a copy, so I mailed him one.
Then there was a time when I was helping a friend change his car’s starter. The car was in the garage and there was no light in the garage. So we decided to get the car out. We forgot the hood was up and when it hit the top of the garage door it collapsed in both of my hands. I lost 6 nails for that little mistake. So all I did was sing until my fingers healed. We were playing and I was singing, I stepped back from the mic and someone had nailed a 2-by-4 to the ground to prevent their drum from sliding. My drummer was further back. I hung my heel on the 2-by-4 and fell back right into my drummer’s lap. No, he wasn’t drinking. Of course everyone laughed!
Playing music is a fun and satisfying way to earn a living, but if you’re just a sideman, you don’t earn much. As a colleague said: “I am earning 52.50 a week.” Yes, 52 hamburgers and 50 cents. Well, I was just kidding, of course. But you never got rich playing music. Although you have good memories that will live with you until you die. In addition, music opens many doors for you and always establishes new friendships.
I was telling a friend of mine, I don’t remember the songs we played, but I remember the people and the things that happened while we were playing.
Now, at the age of 71, I only play jam sessions with other players who have retired from playing for the night. I was lucky to find some ex-professionals in this area.
I grew up on the ranch where I live now. But I left home at 18 and moved back at 45. This is a wonderful place to live and enjoy life. I have a ten acre lake behind our house, with lots of bass and catfish. We raise cattle. Guitar shows and recordings are something I wanted to do to help people learn to play. I am also helping some players in this area.
My good friend Veral Vance has moved to the outskirts of Dallas and now we have to talk on the phone. We used to get together and play. Veral is a great guitarist. I really miss playing with him. Maybe we can get back together in no time. Well, I have many more stories to tell. “later”