SHARE
BOOMER CASTLEMAN, GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. (courtesy of Boomer's Facebook page)

Oh, them Georgia prisons don’t have such a beautiful view
And Fort Worth’s such a wonderful town to disappear into
On the muscle of my arm there’s a red and blue tattoo
Says, Fort Worth I love you

Cancer has taken another guitar man.

Owens Boomer Castleman grew up in Farmer’s Branch and North Texas before heading for California in the 1960s and hitting Music Row in the 1970s. In recent years, he’d been returning to his old stomping grounds to play gigs, often at Pop’s Safari Room.

roccos-pizza-300x250

The guy who always seemed to be sporting Elvis sunglasses loved Fort Worth so much he co-wrote a song about it with Michael Murphey. “Fort Worth, I Love You” (1973) wasn’t a hit for Murphey along the lines of “Wildfire,” but the song enjoyed much regional success. (Castleman played guitar on Murphey’s recording of “Wildfire.”)

Castleman’s only solo hit song was “Judy Mae,” which climbed to No. 33 on the Billboard country chart in 1975.

While Castleman never stopped performing, he is probably most widely known in music circles for inventing the Palm Pedal in the 1960s. The device allowed guitar pickers to make sounds like a pedal steel. It’s now sold as the Bigsby Palm Pedal. He also started BNA Records in Nashville. Artists who signed with the label at some point in their careers included Kenny Chesney, John Anderson, and Fort Worth’s own Pat Green. Castleman sold the company in 1993.

I first met Castleman a few years ago at the White Elephant Saloon. He and his longtime partner (and drummer) Lois Hess were hanging out and listening to music.

Murphey was one of my musical heroes in the 1970s, and I was thrilled to meet the man who’d co-written two of Murphey’s best songs from his Geronimo’s Cadillac album, “Boy From the Country” and “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?”

I had no idea that Castleman had also co-written one of the most gorgeous songs to come out of the progressive country or “Outlaw” movement. (Murphey was more associated with the Cosmic Cowboy branch of Outlaw. It’s complicated.) Anyway, “Texas Morning” was one of those perfect songs that everyone felt compelled to play live and on vinyl.

My favorite version was the one recorded by B.W. Stevenson, but I also liked Rusty Wier’s take on it. (Castleman, Stevenson, and Wier are all dead now; the music bidness can be tough on a body).

Murphey seems to be going stronger than ever. Here’s his great version of “Texas Morning.”

That night at White Elephant, the Nashville veteran was in full Boomer mode. Sunglasses. Flashy clothes. Eager to talk. Quick to laugh. You couldn’t see his eyes well due to the shades, but you just knew they were twinkling like mad.

The guy could tell stories for days, and within a couple of minutes of meeting him I’d already been regaled with several. The one that stands out described how Castleman and Murphey attended a folk show in 1963 when they were both teenagers. Murphey had been booked at the Lewisville Folk Festival and was scheduled to follow one of the city’s best gospel bands. That band brought down the house.

Murphey paced backstage, a nervous wreck.

“ ‘How am I going to follow that?’ Murphey said.

Castleman was rarely without sunglasses, even back then, and he came up with a plan. Murphey donned the sunglasses, and Castleman led him out to the stage as if he were blind. The crowd instantly hushed out of respect, and Murphey won them over with a heartfelt performance. Afterward, Murphey was so excited that he sprinted off stage, forgetting about his “blindness” (completely confusing the crowd).

A severe injury to the tendons in his left arm prompted Castleman to take up guitar at age 12 as a therapeutic tool in the 1950s. At 17 he played with a kid named John Deutschendorf from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. Deutschendorf would later become John Denver, and Castleman could say he was there when the famous name change occurred. They were playing at a club in California, Castleman told Fort Worth Weekly writer Eric Griffey in 2008.

The club owner said “Deutschendorf” reminded him of a disease you might get in a third-world brothel. He suggested changing it to “Denver.”

“Everyone thinks it’s because of some Rocky Mountain high, but that’s not true,” Castleman said. “That’s the single most unique event in my musical career.”

Another band known as The Survivors paired Castleman with Michael Nesmith before the guy with the toboggan would became famous as a Monkee.

Afterward, Castleman started a band with Murphey. They performed as The Lewis and Clark Expedition in the 1960s and co-wrote several songs. Their song about loving Fort Worth spurred the marketing of coffee cups, T-shirts, hats, and any number of items with “Foat Wuth, Ah Luv You” printed on them.

CASTLEMAN (LEFT) PLAYING GUITAR WITH TOM JONES BACK IN THE DAY (courtesy of Boomer’s Facebook page)

Along the way Castleman played guitar in recording sessions with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and David Allan Coe.

Castleman, always looking for a laugh, said he liked being referred to as a one-hit wonder: “I think I’m in good company, because look at Francis Scott Key.”

In fact, when I began hearing through Facebook that Castleman had died yesterday, my first thought was: “That effing Boomer is trying to pull a fast one.” I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. He’ll be missed by many. He was a true Texas character, and that’s high praise.

4 COMMENTS

  1. another legend gone..way to many this year…Mr Castleman will be dearly missed….Bob luhman said in his song If we keep on losing our singers like this I’ll be the only one you can buy…

  2. Well written and made me laugh in this time of sorrow. I loved Boomer! I met him about 8 years ago and tried to see him and Lois every time they came to Austin. I myself live in Benavides, TX (4 hours south of Austin but that’s nothing in Texas time, right?). From the first time I met him, I felt like we had been friends forever. But that was the thing about Boomer….he looked at everybody as unique and special and he wasn’t being two faced about it.

    Last time I saw him was on August 1, He played at Ross’s Cafe on July 31 and then the Edge of Town the next night. We thought he was going to die on us at Ross’s. He was a real trooper though! We all stayed at Lynn Taylor’s that night like they always did when in Austin and same for me (I’ve known Lynn for almost 30 years). The next night when he performed in Pflugerville, it turned out to be the best show I’d seen him and Lois do in the last 7 or 8 years. As Lois put it, “it was magical”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camcorder rolling. A big regret! I didn’t thing he was going to change the playlist and he sang songs that I’d never seen him perform on stage before although I’d heard him sing most of them at Lynn’s. He was pumped up!

    They left for Ft Worth the next afternoon and although I had faith that he would survive the cancer, there was a sadness that came over me as I stood out there until they had disappeared from my sight. We had left it that he was going to try and come back on the 17th or the 24th of September and I told them I would be there, God willing and the creeks didn’t rise! (You never know in Texas, right?…creeks with a small “c”).

    When I asked Lynn if he’d talked to Boomer lately, he said he had talked to him Sunday and had been taken to the hospital with heart problems. Evidently Boomer played it down because Lynn figured he was out of the hospital when I went up Tuesday. Little did we know that Boomer was taking his last breaths on earth as Lynn and I spoke. Lois messaged us around 8 to let us know he had died in her arms! It was a shock to say the least!!! I read the words but I couldn’t believe them!! Like a dream!!! It hit me this morning when I woke up thinking about him. I broke down and the dam broke!!! Rest in peace, dear Boomer! Until we meet again!

Leave a Reply to dan berger Cancel reply