"But music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole." - Harry Chapin - chorus of "Mr. Tanner."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I didn't plan on it, but the banjo is back in my life . . .

This story reminds me that I really do not have much control over my life as I think or want to believe that I do.

Maybe it's that way it is for a lot of us.

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you know that my dearest friend, adoptive brother and guitar/vocal teacher, Joe Laughlin, recently passed away.

On our way home from the funeral, his wife Riva (who is our very dear friend, and always will be)  asked us to come back by the house before we hit the road.  While there, she presented me with Joe's 1963 (as best I can tell through looking up the serial number) Gibson RB-175 long necked 5-string folk banjo.

For those scratching their heads and saying "long necked banjo?" . . . just look up a picture of Pete Seeger on the internet.   He is probably holding a Vega long necked banjo.  He invented the concept,  made this type of banjo famous as his main instrument for many years.

I have an old Kasuga 4-string tenor banjo in the closet.   I have it tuned to Chicago style tuning, meaning it is tuned to the bottom 4-strings of a guitar . . . D-G-B-E.   Easy to play for a guitar guy.  I could womp out chords on it pretty good, and it was loud!

I played it a lot in the later 1990's when I served as the Senior Associate Pastor at First United Methodist in Waco.  I used it most every Sunday morning during the children's worship time in the old chapel.  The late Winnie Lawson on piano, and me on banjo.  Too bad there wasn't a Shakey's Pizza Parlor in Waco at the time.  We could have made some money on tips!

When my family and moved to the church in Godley, I stopped playing the tenor banjo for some reason.  Upon pondering it some today, I can't seem to remember why.  But then, I didn't do much music at all during that period as I began to experience some ill health.

Speaking of banjo, back in the early 1990's, my previous efforts at 5-string banjo were all a complete failure.  Of course, my efforts were half-hearted at best.  But that was way, way, way before diving full blast back into folk music several years ago, in in the process, rediscovering how influential and important the banjo is to folk music.  As you listen to Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, the Lamplighters, the Chad Mitchell Trio and others, you know that the banjo played a big part.

I know that I will never be a good bluegrass style banjo picker, because I won't work on it that much . . . but I think I can get into "frailing."

Seriously, it's called "frailing."  Look it up.  It is a recognized banjo strumming method, especially for the long neck banjos, because they are often tuned to an open E chord, where the traditional bluegrass banjo is normally tuned to an open G chord.

This time's it's going to be fun.  And, I will be learning on the banjo that Joe used to play.

In the end . . . I concede that Joe had a keener sense than I did about where music was leading me down the road.  But then, he usually did.

Thank you Joe!  I miss you.  Thank you Riva!   From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

And thank you to God . . . because Your grace on my journey of life still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, September 8, 2014

Some thoughts about a friend and brother named Joe Laughlin . . .

"But music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole." - Harry Chapin - chorus of "Mr. Tanner."

I think the words above from the song, Mr. Tanner, describe very well my dearest friend and "older brother," Joe Laughlin.

Perhaps it's appropriate to begin by getting the "older brother" explanation cleared up.  

In the fall of 1975, I was an entering freshman at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX.   The fall of '75 and spring of '76 was the single best year of my life. Here's why . . .

-I met and fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and life partner, Liz.

-I met her friend from Killeen, TX, Riva Padgett, who has been a friend and family for 39 years.

-And . . . I got "adopted" by one of the seniors at Southwestern, a guy named Joe Laughlin, who was Riva's fiancée.

There was sort of an unwritten "tradition" at Southwestern University in those days, that each senior would adopt one of the incoming freshmen.  Joe said it was for the purpose of "corrupting" them.   That may have been his intention . . . until he found out that I had a 12-string guitar.

I was actually "playing at" guitar more in those days than playing it.  I was more into singing.  So my guitar was more of a prop than a musical instrument.  Back then, girls seem to like guys with guitars!  I liked girls. You do the math.

Joe decided he knew best, a common occurrence which some of us are very familiar with, and he took me under his wing in order to address my "playing at" guitar.  He would call me on the phone, or catch me in the Student Union Building, or knock on my door and order my "skinny butt" to his room with guitar in hand . . . where we would play and sing.  He was into Andres Segovia and Gordon Lightfoot.  I didn't have a clue who Segovia was back then . . . but I knew about Gordon Lightfoot, and I could sing most John Denver's songs.

We got along marvelously.  

We would often meet to sing and play not only Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver songs, but also Waylon and Wille songs, Peter, Paul and Mary songs, Homer and Jethro songs,  old folk songs and gospel songs.  There were times when you would mention Willie Nelson's name, and Joe would close his eyes and hold his hand in the air like he was having a religious experience.  We played a lot together that fall semester.  We both missed a few classes as well. We would get so focused on playing a song that we would both forget what time it was.

One day he stopped calling me "skinny butt" and started calling me "Dr. Mang."  I didn't know why. Perhaps it was his way of helping me not take things so seriously.

Several times he would yell at me from across the campus . . . "Dr. Mang, are we having class today?"  By yelling this, he was really asking if we were going to get together to play guitar.  I'd yell back, "yes we are and I expect you to be there!"  Several time, other students around me would look at me and ask, "Dr. Mang?"   I got ribbed pretty good for that.

Maybe Joe was trying to corrupt me after all?  Or maybe it was his way of letting me know that it was his little term of endearment for a friend.  Dr. Zook, Dr. Langley, Dr. Ratchford and others can testify more about this.

I've only been thrown out of one business in my life, and that was with Joe.  He and I went to the old Pancho's Mexican Buffet in north Austin, in the spring of 1976, back when the all-you-can-eat was only $1.99.  After two hours, and our both setting several new personal best records for the number of enchiladas and tacos consumed in an hour (then beating those records the next hour) . . . the manager asked us to leave.

Actually, he begged us to leave.  Neither of us could blame the guy . . . He was probably loosing money.

So, back to the University we drove, and upon arrival we got into an argument about what we would do next.  We ended up deciding to go eat dinner!    

I think that may have been the time when Joe stopped calling me "skinny butt."

Joe majored in Biology and Chemistry.  Academically, Joe was very smart.  He had a ton of book sense.  How much common sense he had will be debated among family and friends for some time to come.  But no one can deny that he was very knowledgable on many varied subjects, and could hold his own in most conversations and discussions, and convincingly so.

Joe's last semester at school in the spring of 76' was spent student teaching in Hubbard, Texas. That summer he married Riva in a very beautiful service in Killeen.   They scheduled there summer travels so they could come by and see me in Bastrop where I was serving as a summer youth director.  Joe and I, with Riva's help, provided a small July 4th concert at Bastrop State Park for a church picnic.  We had a lot of folks singing with us.  Joe even took some requests.  It was a fun day.

Joe starting teaching school that fall.   Back then, first year teacher starting salaries were low, and he got recruited away from teaching to become a quality control chemist for NL Industries, where the pay was better.  It was a job that almost killed him.  The day of the lab accident still resonates in some of our memories.  Something in a container in the lab was mis-labeled, and caused a dangerous reaction when mixed with something from another container.  After making sure the other lab chemist was out of the lab, Joe made it out the door before being overcome. He was in a real mess, and fearing throat and lung damage, he was transported to the hospital.  He was there for a long time.  I personally think that his being exposed to the chemical reaction was the cause of his cancer what later in his life.

The lab accident at NL became a wake up call for Joe, and with Riva's support and encouragement, he returned to teaching . . . which he always felt was God's calling on his life.  I don't believe he ever loved teaching like some people claim to love their jobs.  He never liked the politics, or people who had never taught in a classroom telling him how to teach, or when students would give up without ever trying to learn.   

But he would tell you . . . he was called by God to be a teacher.  He believed that teaching was a noble and honorable profession.  He went to teach everyday that he could. He never called off unless he was truly to ill to stand or drive.  He was the kind of teacher who could always be counted on to show up.

Teaching was his call, but what Joe honestly loved most in life . . . was music, especially fingerstyle guitar.  He joked that he loved guitars first, and Riva, second.  Riva even included that comment into Joe's obituary.  I don't think she ever really had a problem with it.  Joe took good care of all their musical instruments.  And, in the very end, he did his part to take care of Riva, so that after his death, she would have few worries.

Joe loved his guitars and music.   But Riva . . . Riva was his "beloved."

Joe's love for playing guitars began when he was 5 years old. He played his older brother Mike's "Roy Rogers Guitar", while hiding in the closet.  He had to hide otherwise Mike would have clobbered him good for messing with his stuff.  Joe later got his Gibson ES-335 sunburst pre-dot electric guitar when he was 12 years old.  He mowed a lot of lawns at $5 or less for a long time to get the money to buy it.  I like to believe that the music store owner must have known Joe wanted it, and as a result the guitar was put it back a couple of times to keep it from being sold.  It was a grand day in Joe's life when he brought it home.  He had that guitar for almost 45 years.  Many years ago, I nicknamed that guitar "Butter," because it was butter in Joe's hands when he played it.

In terms of musical skill . . . Joe could play classical guitar as well as Segovia.  He could fingerpick guitar as well as Chet Atkins.  And, he could sing well as he played. He was more than competent. He was good.  Very good.  Real good.  I'm willing to say he was damn good when he was in his 40's. If he hadn't been so shy in crowds and around people he didn't know; and later, if he hadn't lost some of the feeling in his hands and fingers due to the side effects of his cancer treatments, he could have been a noted and in-demand session player.   He could have travelled, an he would have made good money.

But . . . if that had happened, it would have meant that he couldn't teach.  Teaching was his call, and his profession.  A profession he put his best effort into.  He taught for 20 years at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, TX, and then found time to play guitar at church, with family and friends, and at local and regional music gatherings and festivals.  He only retired from teaching school because of his health.  Unfortunately, he never got to enjoy his retirement because of his health.  He did fuss about that . . . (and who wouldn't) but he didn't fuss as much as he could have.  

In my opinion, I think music,and the hope of playing the guitar again like he used to play, helped keep him alive an extra 5 years.  

Yes, music was his life, but not his livelihood.  Music made him happy, and it made him feel good.  His love for music, and his love for Riva and Riva's love for him, made him whole, especially at a time when when he badly longed to feel whole and well.

Riva allowed me the honor of straightening up Joe's music room the day after he died.  Riva, her mom, her sister, Liz and I were gathered at the house, and we were all so very physically and emotionally tired . . . but Joe had left me instructions several years before that, upon the event of his death, I was to check out and wipe down all of his and Riva's instruments and put them into their cases, and see that they were stored properly.

After putting up all the instruments, I sat down on the piano bench and looked at how much space there was in the room . . . a room that I can only explain as being "sacred ground" to me.  That space was the music home of my dearest friend, my guitar and voice teacher . . . my big brothers space.

That's when I lost it . . . I cried tears for my brother and best friend.  Seeing the space in the room helped me realize how much of the space in my life Joe had occupied . . . that I let him occupy . . . that I wanted him to occupy . . . that I needed him to occupy.  It was at that moment that I began to I realize the size of my loss.   It hurt.  Still does . . . for Riva, and for many others.

Joe, in reality, was a pretty simple and decent guy.  He led a pretty simple life compared to others. He was a man of faith, he believed in friendship, and he was a guitar picker.  He wasn't famous in the world's eyes, and probably never will be.  However, he was a huge presence in my life, and I realize now in his passing how much I did appreciate and love him . . even during those times when I could have killed him because he could make me so mad. Riva reminded me, after I shared with her one time that Joe had made me furious, "well Ricky, Joe is really good at being Joe."  Truth is, he got mad a me a time or two, and he had every right to.  In the end, things would work out.  When we saw each other again, we would play guitar and sing, and then apologize to each other.  That's all part of being family, isn't it?  This was a friendship that meant so very much more than our differences, for as we got older, there were some differences indeed.  But the friendship was always bigger, and always what was most important. We were brothers and friends to the "e-n-d."  Joe got to the end first.  Liz and I will always cherish that Riva allowed us to be there with him, and with her, when Joe came to his end.

Since Joe's death, I have begun to wonder . . . if he and I were better together as friends than we would have been if we had grown apart.  This is something that  I will have to figure out later on in life. But I think I already know what the answer will be.

For 39 years, Joe was my big brother, my best friend, my guitar teacher, and my one-and-only true  "guy" confidante.  I am grateful for his presence in my life.  I thank God for him.  Joe was a blessing to me.  I will find it very hard to ever even begin to forget him.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Joe Laughlin . . . I will miss him . . .

Just a quick note that Joe Laughlin, for 39 years my dearest friend in the entire world, my adopted older brother (or did he adopt me?), my guitar teacher . . . and a master guitarist in his own right, passed away in Houston in the early morning hours of Friday, September 5th.  My wife and I had the honor of being with Joe's wife Riva (our dear friend and sister for 39 years) and other family when Joe took his last breath.

I will be writing more on this in the coming days . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . even with this broken heart  . . . ><>


___________


Wilbern Joseph Laughlin, Jr. (guitar fingerpicker, author, philosopher, chemist, raconteur, husband of Riva and daddy to dog-son Buddy) passed away on September 5, 2014 in Houston, Texas after a long illness. He was born on January 18, 1953 in Galena Park, Texas to Wilbern Joseph "Boots" Laughlin and Mary Harbuck "Jane" Laughlin.
Joe graduated from Galena Park High School in 1971. He attended the University of Houston and then transferred to Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. He graduated with a double major in Biology and Chemistry in 1976. He married Riva Denise Padgett on June 12, 1976.
Joe worked in the labs with NL Industries for 10 years and then followed his heart to his true calling - teaching. He taught Advanced Placement Chemistry at Robert E. Lee High School for almost 20 years, retiring in 2005.
Joe had two great loves in his life - his guitars and his wife, in that order. His musical loves spanned the genres. He sang with the Houston Symphony Orchestra Chorale for 10 years, sang in church choirs, belonged to the North Harris County Dulcimer Society and the Bay Area Bluegrass Association, and played his guitar at any and all opportunities.
Joe was preceeded in death by his parents and his older brother, Col. Michael D. Laughlin. He is survived by his wife, Riva, his nephew Mike B. Laughlin, and his niece Amy Laughlin.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Hugworks, a program that provides therapeutic music to children and senior adults. You can make a donation online at http://www.hugworks.org/, or can mail a donation to Hugworks, 752 Mary Dr., Hurst, TX 76053.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Prayers for my friend and brother ... Joe.

I've heard that phrase a lot in my life, and in my years of ministry . . . "a dear friend is gravely ill."

Then I get the call early this morning that my dear friend/adopted older brother was taken to the ER at an area Houston hospital where he had a heart attack.  It was discovered his blood sugar was dangerously low, and if he should survive, the doctors fear that he could be mentally impaired.

"A dear friend is gravely ill."

I've been using the "Jesus Calling" daily devotionals again.   One of the scriptures listed for today is Psalm 32:7 - "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."

I will be soon heading down to Houston to be with my friend and his family.  I may be going down their soon to officiate or attend his funeral.  The situation is serious . . . and in the end, who knows?

In the going and in the coming, in the ups and downs of dealing with personal emotions while caring for others . . . my prayer is that God will be my hiding place.  I pray that God will protect me from all the distractions that can, and will try to get in the way of my being there for a friend.  I pray that God will indeed surround me with songs of deliverance. For you see . . . this special friend taught me how to play the guitar.   Playing the guitar is one of the most important things in my life.   Making music is always a God-thing with me.  My dear friend helped teach me that.  For those of you who know me more personally . . . yes, I am talking about Joe.

And now . . . I go to thank him with the gift of my presence.   May God be our hiding place one and all, through it all.

Through it all.  Through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus. I've learned to trust in God.

God's graces still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, September 1, 2014

Yep, I've got to write a song about this broom !

Even does tricks outside. I thought it might fly away, but it didn't.

God's Grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Time to write a song about my magic broom ...

I knew this broom was special.

God's Grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ok, what are the odds . . .

I recently went to visit a church member who was rehabbing at a nearby rehab center.

When I came back out, I realized that I had parked between two red pick up trucks.

What the odds?

God's Grace still amazes me. . . . ><>

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Singing at a bedside . . .

I was invited to the home of one of our senior saints today . . . a woman near the end of her life.  Her health is declining . . . and I could see and sense that when I saw her . . . I had not seen her in several months.   

She lives with her daughter, who called me yesterday and asked if I could come over and "sing for Mom."  We scheduled it for this afternoon, and I was able to make it without anyone else requesting my time.

I admit that I still find it difficult to sing to children when they are in a hospital bed.  They can sense if you are faking it . . . if you are not genuine or sincere.   Yet, I have no such trouble singing to an older adult in the same situation.  I know why.  I've been around older adults in my life.  I was taught by my family to appreciate them . . . to respect them . . . to be courteous to them . . . and to love them for their advice, counsel and stories.   Older adults have enriched my life. 

Many of the churches I have pastored . . . had more older adults than any other age group.  I guess I am used to older adults in many ways.

This afternoon,  I sat on a bed across from this dear lady, and with her daughter and a cousin sitting nearby. I began with some old hymns about Heaven, followed by some funny songs meant to bring laughter, and then sang some energetic songs that just invite people to join in during the chorus. 

I call it my "Branson" show.  If you've been to a music act in Branson, Missouri, you understand.

I truly believe the music I provided today was very therapeutic to everyone there.  And, it was to me as well. 

I'm a pastor . . . a clergyman . . . an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  I can't begin to remember all the "death" beds I've sat next to over the years.  And I can't remember all the times I've sat next to someone lying in their bed before it became a "death" bed journey.  You just ask questions and listen . . . and listen . . . and listen.

Singing to someone in a similar situation . . . you still listen.  You listen to them sing with you.  You listen to their body language as the song is being sung. 

You also watch . . . the smiles on their faces . . . the gleem in their eye that wasn't there earlier.

Such situations are therapeutic . . . because for the 45 minutes or so I play guitar and sing, they get to forget  . . .  forget that their time here is growing shorter . . . or even coming to a close.  They forget their pain . . . maybe their fear.  They get to a laugh . . . hopefully applaud . . . and make requests for songs they want to hear. 

I was singing once next to someone on their "death bed".   As family gathered around singing and crying soft tears . . . this dear soul took their last breath as I sang the word's "This little light of mine, oh how I have let it shine!"

It was a holy moment.    This afternoon was a holy moment as well.

God's graces till amazes me . . . ><>

Maybe there is still some glimmer of hope . . . but then again . . .

I received word to check out a 13 year old kid on YouTube . . . by the name of Parker Hastings.


Glad I did.  This gives me hope that my fingerpicking practicing will one day pay off . . . before I die!!


God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



A link to a video of a recent sermon . . .

Click on the link below for a video of my recent sermon at the Downtown Campus on grace.

http://www.truthcasting.com/player.aspx#showSermon=100047

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It doesn't even look like he is trying . . .

One of my gifts to myself about every other day is to watch a Tommy Emmanuel YouTube video.  Here is one I've apparently missed.  It's a good one.

Mercy, mercy, mercy!

God's grace still amazed me . . . ><>


Monday, August 25, 2014

Sacred Places & Sacred Spaces sermon . . .

Below is the YouTube video of my sermon "Sacred Places & Sacred Spaces" which I preached at morning services at our Downtown Campus on August 17th. 

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>


Friday, August 22, 2014

Sometimes . . . all you need is a singer and a guitar . . . and that's all!

Sometimes . . . simple is the best way to go.  I will learn that one day . . . I promise.

Michael Martin Murphey is one of the best at keeping it simple, keeping it beautiful, and pulling you into the song as a result.  One of my favorites . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Choosing an Acoustic Guitar . . . Tony Polecastro

This is a very good vide from Tony Polecastro of the Acoustic Letter.   I like Tony's video/ internet guitar lessons as well.  Tony's latest album of guitar music is a keeper!!!!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



Choosing an Acoustic Guitar - Elderly Music

Here is a video from Elderly Music with helpful information about things to consider when buying an acoustic guitar. 

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>