Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Garth Brooks

There are some exceptions, but normally speaking most Oklahomans are known for their down-to-earth, genuine, home-spun personalities.  That's why it's no surprise to us that Garth Brooks has won hearts worldwide with his Oklahoma charm.  

On the day of our interview, Garth was dressed in a sleeveless gray t-shirt, camouflaged pants, tennis shoes and a ball cap.  I would say that is typical Oklahoma laid back style.  I've been to an energy-charged Garth Brooks concert and seen him many times on television but no appearance did him justice as did an up close and personal view of this gentle man.  He always looks adorable. He's a very wise businessman, but he is still very much the boy next door, the guy who helps the little old lady across the street and the man whose heart melts at the sound of a child's voice.

A friend of mine remembers working at Baker's Shoe store in Tulsa when Garth came in to purchase a pair of shoes.  He was rather excited and preparing to leave town for his first attempt in Nashville.  I bet my friend wishes now he would have bought the shoes for Garth or at least had him sign his name somewhere with indelible ink.  Of course how many times have many of us seen or heard young people talking about making their way to the bright lights just to find out their beam was focused in the wrong direction?

Garth made that first trip to Nashville at the age of 24, but soon returned home feeling somewhat like a fish out of water.  After observing numerous other wannabe country stars roaming the streets of Music Row in Nashville, he felt somewhat over-whelmed. However he knew what he wanted and knew he had the talent, but the key was how to convince Nashville.  Forgetting about his dream really wasn't an option, nor was revisiting Nashville.

A year or so later he returned to Nashville and for 10 months worked at a boot store while struggling to make contacts to get his songs heard.  One night while performing at a charity benefit his talents were finally recognized by an executive at Capitol Records, and he was signed to a recording contract.  

If you listen to his music it would be impossible to walk away without finding at least a few songs that touch your heart and remind you of some unique situation. The number of record sales he has accrued must be staggering and he has received every honor the recording industry can present to an artist and yet he still remains a humble individual that set out over several years ago to follow his dream.  

Space keeps me from revealing in detail everything this man has accomplished. He certainly makes the statement ring true, "good things come to good people." I'm of the belief that good people don't just happen.  Their lives are in some way guided by individuals who care a great deal about them and to some extent instill values that are a pathway to success.

Oklahoma is certainly proud of Garth, not only for his many talents as a performer, but as a man with warmth, charm and a sincere love for mankind.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Troy Aikman - Dallas Cowboy Quarterback


Troy Aikman was featured in my Distinguished Oklahoman's book and he truly has had a distinguished career.  He was born in West Covina, California, but moved to Henryetta, Oklahoma when he was twelve years old.

As an infant Troy had a mild case of club feet. When he was 8 months old casts were put on both legs to straighten them and every two weeks for 6 months the casts had to be changed.  Then until he was 3 years old he was forced to wear special shoes so his feet would continue to grow normally.  Well as we can all attest to, a shaky start certainly didn't hamper one of the nation's best football players.

Moving to Henryetta, a small town in Oklahoma of only 6,000 people was quite a cultural shock for Troy.  Not only did they leave behind suburban life in California, but they traded it for farm life on a 172 acre plot of land which included chores that Troy was not accustomed to.  

Of course once he enrolled in the eighth grade that fall and immediately made friends, country living didn't seem quite as bad after all.  He signed up for junior high football and quickly realized that people in Oklahoma are crazy about football.

His first varsity game he was a sophomore for the Henryetta High School Fighting Hens.  The school had been tagged as being a losing team and was ridiculed quite a bit for their Fighting Hens nickname.  Even though they didn't win a title Troy did throw a touchdown pass for the victory against Checotah in his first varsity game.

His junior year the team lost their first eight games, yet they still made the state playoffs.  It was the school's first playoff team in 25 years.

In Troy's senior year the team didn't make the playoffs, but they did finish 6-4, which caused Troy to be sought after by college football coaches.

Coach Barry Switzer finally won out and Troy signed up for the Sooners at the University of Oklahoma.  Of course from there he went to play for  UCLA and then onto play as an NFL Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys where he spent 12 years.

He became one of the only 3 players to lead a team to three Super Bowl victories.  He's accrued many awards and recognition over the years.  What I thought was pretty cool was when I drove into the town of Henryetta and saw a sign that read The Home of rodeo legend Jim Shoulders and Pro-Football Player Troy Aikman.

Later, when I interviewed Jim Shoulders he said Troy would only agree to accepting recognition on the sign, if Jim Shoulders received top billing.  That's what you call a "Distinguished Oklahoman!"   
Thanks for reading, Victoria

Grammy Winner B.J. Thomas

I had the opportunity to see B.J. in concert for the first time at the Brady Theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I had conducted a phone interview the day before so I could include him in my book – Distinguished Oklahomans.  but I was glad to get a chance to see him perform.  He was dressed in a black pair of leather pants and a casual looking shirt.  A gold chain hung around his neck and a gold wedding band often flashed as he brought his hand to his chest in a heart felt gesture.

B.J.’s voice is unmistakable.  The quality and melodious sound still remains his trademark.  His smile was contagious and for those of us who have heard his songs for years felt an incredible sense of kinship with him.  It was refreshing to hear a song that left you with a warm feeling inside.

As I sat there and watched his performance inside the historic Brady Theatre, the glare of bright lights beat down on him and perspiration eventually began to cover his entire face.  Occasionally he took the towel provided for him and lightly patted his face, but really to no avail.  He was a real trooper.

After an incredible performance in which he sang songs like: Feeling, Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, Hooked On A Feelin’, I Just Can’t Help Believin’, and What Ever Happened To Old Fashioned Love, he quickly changed his clothes and came out to the lobby to sign autographs until every last person was satisfied.  I was impressed to say the least.

I will remember B.J.’s concert for a long time to come.  Not because it was a flashy concert, because it wasn’t.  He didn’t run across the stage or do any antics to keep you spellbound.  He very simply sang with ease, poise, sincerity and caring of heart with that smile that made you feel right at home.

B.J. has sold more than 50 million records and earned two platinum and eleven gold records.  He’s won five Grammy and two Dove awards.  In 1981 he became the 60th member of the Grand Ole Opry.  He feels very blessed to be in a profession he loves so much and you can tell it every time he sings.  He never plans to retire as long as he can continue to make music that people enjoy listening to.

If you ever have a chance to watch him perform it will be time well spent and you’ll feel energized when you leave.profession he loves so much and you can tell it every time he sings.  He never plans to retire as long as he can continue to make music that people enjoy listening to.  If you ever have a chance to watch him perform it will be time well spent and you’ll feel energized when you leave.

Country Music Star Vince Gill

They don't come any nicer or more talented than Vince Gill originally from Oklahoma.

Let me share some words from my interview with Vince that was included in my book Distinguished Oklahomans.

Vince epitomizes what it means to be from the heartland of America.  When he talks and sings you feel the spirit of a man who truly has love in his heart for others.  

Vince was indoctrinated into the music styles of all his family members.  Even though his father Stan was an attorney he was also a great lover of country music along with Vince's mother Jerene.  On many occasions their home would be the meeting place for family and friends to congregate and hear the sounds of Merle Haggard, Jim Reeves or Bob Wills.  His brother Bob, on the other hand, loved the sound of blues while his sister Gina was drawn more to folk music.  

By the time Vince was in junior high school he had made up his mind he was going to become a professional musician.  To get his feet wet he played in some garage bands.  They had a few performances for school dances but nothing of any great magnitude.  Then he aligned himself with a band of musicians called the Bluegrass Review.  The band performed at various bluegrass festivals and for the first time Vince got paid for something he loved to do.

He progressed from there to joining the Mountain Smoke group and then as part of the Bluegrass Alliance in Kentucky.  His next move was when he joined with Ricky Skaggs' band Boone Creek in Louisville, Kentucky.  But his biggest break up to that point was in 1976 when he was hired by fiddler Byron Berline and moved to Los Angeles, California.  That is when Vince first began writing songs.

A move to Nashville in 1984 coincided with his first country recording contract. He really started making a splash when he joined with MCA Nashville in 1989 and started putting out hits like When I Call Your Name, Liza Jane, Don't Let Our Love Start Slippin' Away, Never Knew Lonely and I Still Believe In You.

I asked Vince what his favorite recording is of songs he's written and he said it would be hard to beat "Go Rest High On That Mountain."  He said it so reflects his own personal feelings about the loss of his brother, Bob.

With the passing of his father in 1997 his reflections went back to his childhood days when great country songs bellowed out through the walls of their home. Remembering his father's words "Your success is all for nothing if you don't stay the same" have become nuggets of wisdom that obviously took root inside Vince.  His charm and ever endearing graciousness has remained his undeniable trademark.  Vince is a wonderful person and indeed worthy of being titled a "Distinguished Oklahoman."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Country Music Star Ronnie Dunn

Ronnie Dunn's interview was included in two of my books, because I was so impressed with his talent and his journey.  

He was born in Coleman, Texas to a musical family, but eventually moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It was natural for him to begin performing in his dad's band. His dad had always aspired to make it big in the music business, but it was through the influence of his father that the dream finally became a reality for Ronnie.   

But before fame, there were decisions and challenges he had to work through.  Even though he desperately wanted to be in the music business he was a little fearful to pursue it since his dad wasn't able to break through in Nashville. 

So Ronnie enrolled in college pursuing a bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Bible.  But the burning desire to sing just wouldn't go away - he knew he had to make a decision.   For years he played in nightclubs all over Texas and Oklahoma hoping to get a big break.   For a while his band became the house band for a local dance club in Tulsa called "Duke's Country" where all the two-steppers hung out in their spare time. Ronnie was beginning to think that he was getting too old for a recording contract, so he moved to a small town not far from Tulsa and began working in a liquor store just letting life happen. 

However, one year later in 1988 a friend signed him up for the Marlboro Cigarette Talent Search, which Ronnie and his band won. That one split decision his friend made to sign a form in a convenience store when Ronnie wasn't even around - changed Ronnie's life.  Winning the competition led to recording sessions with Nashville Producer Scott Hendricks. That relationship resulted in his first three demo songs - Boot Scootin' Boogie, You Don't Know Me and The Dean Dillion Song.  Scott Hendricks began to brag about Ronnie to another Nashville Producer Tim DuBois who at the time was head of the Arista label. Tim flew to Tulsa to meet Ronnie and listen to him perform.  He was so impressed that he encouraged him to move to Nashville, but since he didn't offer him a contract Ronnie was hesitant to make the move for fear he wouldn't be successful.  Two years passed when he finally decided to take a chance and move to Nashville with the encouragement of his wife Janine.  

It just so happened that Kix Brooks was working on forming a duo under the leadership of Tim DuBois.  Ronnie was asked to try out for the position and the rest is "Country Music" history.  Ronnie's song Boot Scootin' Boogie went number one.  Quickly they produced four number one hits in a row, which in 1992 garnered them the Duo of the Year category for the Country Music Awards.

Ronnie told me his success didn't just come by chance - he believes it was God's plan for his life.  I guess the old saying "the proof is in the pudding" sure played out for Ronnie.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Remember the Legendary Paul Harvey who always said,
"That's the Rest of the Story."

I had the privilege of interviewing him in 1997 for my Tulsa book titled "Movers and Shakers."  He was 79 years old at the time and what a gentleman he was.  I was so intimidated as the interview began.  I was praying that my questions would have some intelligence backing them up and if not I was hoping he would like me any way. 

He told the story about how he got started in radio when he was only 14 years old.  His English teacher Mrs. Ronan marched him down to Tulsa's KVOO station and said to the program director, "This young man has the talent and ability to be on this radio station."  That of course was the beginning of his long career.

Then he told the story about meeting his wife Lynne Cooper who he effectionately called "Angel."  He had just stepped on an elevator at a radio station in St. Louis and found himself staring into the eyes of a very beautiful and dainty blonde-haired young lady.  His first words to her were, "Is that your pretty white car that is parked out front?" "Yes," she said.  "Well, you are taking me to the airport tonight," He confidently remarked.  He said thankfully she accepted - they had dinner together and he proposed to her that very night, of course she didn't say yes until three years later.  That's what you call love at first sight.

Of course he bragged about his son Paul Harvey Jr. who stood right alongside him in their everyday endeavors.  Both of their voices were so much alike it was hard to tell them apart. 

One story he told that stands out in my mind was when he was in a hotel with the well-loved Rev Billy Graham. 

Paul had said to Billy, "I don't want to be a leader."  Billy said, "Paul it doesn't make any difference what you want, you are a leader and we are going to stay in this hotel on our knees until daylight if necessary, to determine if you're going to be a good one or a bad one." 

Paul realized that night that it would be dreadful if anyone in their position of "helping others," was himself leaderless.

One comment that Paul Harvey made to me that day that I've used several times in my speaking engagements was this - "We all fall from time to time but those who deserve even a modicum of what the world calls success, gets up again and sometimes again and again and dusts themselves off."  That made me think - with the numerous times I've stumbled my modicum of success must be on its way.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

I know as parents we all have special memories of times our children have done or said something we wished had been caught on video or at least a sound recorder.  Even if that wasn't possible, some of the incidents were so memorable that they've stayed vivid in our mind.  Here's one memory that will be forever cataloged as "precious" to me.

I'll never forget that warm summer day several years ago, when I was driving down the street with my young son.  He was only about 4 years old.  He is the youngest of my four children and the only boy.  He was the center of attention the majority of the time and he loved it.  He was a spunky, blonde-headed little guy that seemed to be fired up from morning til night.  Even at a young age he was meticulous about the clothes he wore and whether or not his hair was combed.  His little spirit was extremely sensitive, so it didn't take much correction to keep him in line if he strayed too much in his behavior.

I'd always been very diligent in teaching my children the importance of prayer and a daily walk with God.  It was just like part of breathing, when I'd say to them it's time to pray or what do you think God would want us to do right now?

On this particular day we were just cruising down the road headed for the grocery store.  My son knew that if he behaved properly he'd receive some sort of prize at the store.  So you can imagine that he was pretty excited about getting there as quickly as we could.

All of a sudden we heard an ambulance with its siren loudly blasting.

It had become a habit when we heard a siren to start praying.  I was trying to teach him to become sensitive to other people's needs and lend a helping hand by means of a heartfelt prayer.  We would very quickly pray that God would protect the person in the accident or whatever may have occurred and heal their bodies.

On this day, as in times past, we grabbed hold of each other's hand and began praying.  I wanted him with his innocent, compassionate heart to lead the prayer. As I grasped that tiny little hand in mine, expecting the same type of prayer that was always voiced during the blare of sirens, I heard words I wasn't expecting.  In the midst of the prayer, he added his own little twist.  "Jesus", he said.  "Please take them on to heaven."  I was so shocked that at first I didn't know what to say.  "Son, why did you say that? I thought we were praying for God's healing and protection."  "Mama" his tiny voice rang out.  "Somebody has to go to heaven or Jesus will be all alone."

As you can imagine my eyes filled up with tears and my heart was overflowing. I couldn't dispute his little words and I didn't even want to.  Who knows, he may have had an inside track to that particular situation that neither one of us really understood.  I do know this - out of the mouth of babes comes a measure of purity that often we adults have lost along the way.  If I had those years to do over again.  I think I'd listen a little more intently and take better notes.  without a doubt I'd measure my own thoughts and words against the innocence of a child.