Here’s one of the best things about being retired. Unexpected encounters with a Texas treasure. Being retired means mid-week trips to see one of our favorite musicians play live.
It also means to get to the venue, we drove down a two-lane highway in the Hill Country in no particular hurry. When we passed the roadside sign for Luckenbach, my wife looked at me and said, “Luckenbach like Waylon, Willie and the boys?” Yep, that Luckenbach. She wanted to stop. I agreed knowing it wouldn’t take long. I had been there about 25 years earlier and after all it was just before 3:00 in the afternoon on a Thursday. Ten minutes tops.
We went into the Post Office of Luckenbach, TX population 3, to discover it has been turned into a gift shop. Music wafted its way into the gift shop from the back room which turned out to be a tiny bar with live music.
When we poked our heads around the corner to see what was going on where the music came from, a booming, gruff voice said, ”Come in.” After some non-commital remark, the voice boomed again. “Come in here. Right now!” So we did. And met a Texas treasure.
A seventy something looking man with a big white beard and hair pulled back in a ponytail was playing guitar and singing. He was left-handed playing a beat up acoustic guitar strung for a right handed player. A la Jimi Hendrix. His name is Jimmy Lee Jones and our ten-minute stop turned into an hour. Jimmy took requests and played them all. In addition to being an excellent musician and
crooner, the man was an absolute riot. Did I mention he had a live rooster on the table next to him that when Jimmy said, “That’s your part, Rusty,” the elegant looking bird would cock-a-doodle-doo with all his might.
One of the small group of listeners asked Jimmy where he was from and he said, “Crane, TX, just outside Odessa. My parents are both buried there.” The person said, “Oh are your folks are buried there?” Straight-faced, Jimmy responded “Yep. And unless somebody’s dug ‘em up, they’re still there.”
A man came in between songs and went straight to Jimmy and they embraced and talked about a friend of theirs who had died earlier in the morning after a seven-year battle with cancer. It was a nice moment. Near the end of Jimmy’s set his cell phone rang and he answered. It was someone calling to check on the friend who had passed away. Jimmy wasn’t shy about the fact that the ten or so
people present were listening to his conversation. Several times he told the caller that he loved him and he called him brother. He said that their friend had quit taking any medication because it didn’t help with the pain. That’s when Jimmy said he told their friend he should start taking mud baths instead. When the dying friend asked if it would help him with the pain, Jimmy said ,”No, but it’ll help get you ready for the dirt.” They had a good laugh.
Jimmy quit playing at 3:50 because at 4:00 he had to go meet the daughter of his friend who died. He was going to let her in her dad’s house and help her with funeral arrangements.
After a little research, we learned Jimmy served in the Marine Corps during the Viet Nam era and after his discharge he worked in the oil fields while going to night school to get his degree in petroleum engineering. But music was his real passion. He’s toured with Willie Nelson and several other big name acts and he still plays Willie’s 4th of July picnics. Turns out, he’s one of “the boys” my wife asked about when she saw the sign for Luckenbach.
As we drove away, it occurred to me that quite by accident on a Thursday afternoon, we had encountered a true Texas treasure. A man who even if he couldn’t play a note or sing every country song known to man, I would be proud to call friend.