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FLASHBACK: Play it again, Cadillac Jack - Odessa American: Opinions

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FLASHBACK: Play it again, Cadillac Jack

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Posted: Sunday, September 7, 2014 6:30 am

A few Saturdays ago, my family was in on a real treat – we all traveled to Dallas to see what was billed as the final show of the Forever Fabulous Chickenhawks Showband & All Star Revue. The band is and always has been headed up by my beloved uncle “Cadillac” Jack Calmes, who put this massive group together some 20 years ago.

They’ve been billed as the “Ultimate Geezer Band,” because the guys have been around for a while. The Hawks feature a staggering lineup of Texas musicians and between them, the members have 10 Grammys, 14 Gold or Platinum albums and possess a combined cumulative musical experience of over 250 years on the bandstand. And, the folks in Dallas know this, it was a packed house at Poor David’s Pub on that recent Saturday night.

Jack started playing guitar at the Dallas Sportatorium at the young age of 15 backing guys like Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry and hanging out with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. Meanwhile, his high school buddies at the time, were Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs and while he and his band “The Jades,” were playing all over town, their rival bands were also picking up gigs. Finally, the three joined forces and in 1961 they formed a coalition band that played just about every prom in the Dallas area.

The memories come flooding back when I think of Uncle Jack, my mother’s only sibling. He doted on me, because I was the first kid in the family. And I reciprocate with a wee bit of hero worship.

In those early years, many nights, Jack and his band, would set up in the living room of my grandmother’s house on Shenandoah in Dallas. And they would all laugh and cheer me on as I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

A few years later, fresh out of SMU, Jack would partner with Angus Wynne III in Dallas and the two would open Soul City, a nightclub on Greenville Avenue. I was only seven or eight, and remember him taking my sister and me up to the club. It was something no one got to do or see in the light of day. He would make us each a Shirley Temple or a Roy Rogers, top it with a cherry, turn on the lights and go sit at the set of whoever was playing there at the time.

“Do you know who’s set this is?” I remember him asking me.

“Who?” I said, wide eyed.

“Little Stevie Wonder,” and he would strum the guitar, play a few riffs on the drums or pluck the bass because he had to check the set.

A few years later when I was about 12, we were visiting his office at the Quadrangle in Dallas. I remember sitting there in awe as I watched a young Mark Farner and the boys from Grand Funk Railroad walk out of his office. At the time, he was working with them on a tour, his guy Freddie King was opening for them. Years later, I would interview the drummer Don Brewer, who told me to ask Jack if he remembered the “time the plane ran out of gas…”

The brushes with greatness would be many for him in the coming years as the company grew and more and more bands would sign on with Showco known for their sound and lighting for arena style concerts. When we visited him in Dallas, whilst taking a break from the headphones, regaling me with stories of trips to Mexico with James Taylor and Carly Simon, being the best man in one of Jackson Browne’s weddings and how Paul Rogers and Bad Company stopped by to hang out.

For graduation in 1978 Jack gave me the ultimate gift – six tickets to the first Texxas Jam, a giant arena rock concert that was at the Cotton Bowl. A few weeks before the concert I went to Dallas and toured his warehouse, where the sets of bands like Led Zepplin, Journey and Lynyrd Skynyrd were just sitting. For a teenager in the 1970s, well this was, as the young’uns say now, “awesome.”

He would leave Showco in the 1980s and went on to found Syncrolite – a lighting company based in Dallas. But the big boys did not stop knocking at the door. The company has trademarks on theatrical lighting and has done shows for bands like the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Andre Boticelli and Paul McCartney just to name a few. Chances are, in the last few years if you’ve watched the Super Bowl half time show, you’ve seen their work.

But with all of that, for Jack, it has always been about the music.

The last time saw the band play at the House of Blues in Dallas was back in 2010 and as usual, they were great. That night there was Blue Lou Marini, who was in the Blues Brothers (remember the scene in the café when Aretha told her hubby to “Think” and he jumped up on the counter?). It was standing room only in the House and the guys were in rare form.

And on that night, a few weeks ago, the guys played the old favorites “Flip, Flop, Fly,” “When Something is Wrong With My Baby” and “Blues of the Month Club,” with singer “Big” Luther Kent lending his beautiful, gritty, New Orleans voice to the mix.

Maybe it was just me, but that night there was one stage light over Jack, and as he sat and played his heart out, he glowed. I know his loving wife Susie saw it. That glow was ethereal for sure.

I just hope the Hawks get together again and fly like they did that night…

Play it again, Cadillac Jack…

Odessa, TX

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