I thought about bringing pen and paper to the Radney Foster gig at Gruene Hall last summer. It would be nice to look back on the list and remember which songs this super songwriter chose to play in the set. Nah, forget that. Too much trouble.
Then a delay in getting out of the nearby restaurant put us in a line for the show stretching down the sidewalk. We’ll probably be near the back of the hall, I thought. Too crowded. The rustic venue is small and seeing acts like Raul Malo and Guy Clark is especially enjoyable if you’re sitting near the stage.
Gradually the line moved forward, it was getting dark outside and as we hurried toward the side entrance, our hopes were up that we’d at least get seats maybe halfway back. Surprise! No chairs were set up at all. And only a few people were hanging around at the front near the empty stage. We headed that way and were greeted by five or six women, apparently all friends with one another. Before long, they passed a bucket of longnecks our way and offered us free beers.
Radney Foster, dressed in jeans, boots and a black t-shirt, came onto the stage with the band. They all took up their instruments, the keyboardist settled in near where we stood just a few feet from the stage, and Radney leaned into the microphone. “I’m Radney Foster from Del Rio, Texas.” Whoops and hollers filled the air. All the female friends pushed up closer, as we did. He looked down at us and smiled.
The band started into the first song. Radney sang, “Just call me lonesome, heart broke and then some…” The night had begun. The female bass player grinned at the crowd’s reaction, the tall longhaired lead guitarist concentrated on his fret and fingers, and we were rocking. The women friends passed more beer our way, and everyone was happy. Radney laughed when he looked down at the women. He glanced at us (mostly Cherie) from time to time. Everyone was having a good time.
The set list was at his feet. I could see it from where I stood. As Radney sang his last song, “God Speed,” alone on stage, I wished I had brought the pen and paper to track the songs. He concluded to wild applause and said he’d be back by the bar to meet anyone who wanted to stick around. He tossed a pick into the air and reached down for the set list. I extended my hand and he looked up and smiled. He handed it to me and walked off stage.
We went back to the bar area. Folks were standing patiently in line to get pictures made with him. Cherie had her photo taken. “Now what was your name?” he asked her, obviously remembering her from the crowd. Flash…the camera took the picture. I stepped up and shook hands with him. “Would you sign the set list?” He grinned and took pen in hand. What a night!
Gruene, TX, June 13, 2011 – At Gruene Hall, it can often feel like you’re in somebody’s living room listening to an old friend play some guitar. Sometimes it feels like it could be your own living room. And here tonight, Guy Clark felt like that old friend, just playing guitar and singing songs – songs that he wrote and that have become classics that defy a time period.
It was a sold out show. It was hot – 100+ degrees in early June. We got there early to stand in line with hundreds of others just to get a good seat when the doors opened. I looked over at one point while standing in line on the sidewalk, hot and sweaty and with the people in front of me drinking Dox XX beer to try to keep cool, to see a golf cart scooting down the street and there sat Guy Clark himself. He was being carted around for some reason or another and I just happened to see him – smiling at the sight of so many who came to see him.
A little later, sitting about seven rows from the stage, I watched him walk onto center stage slowly (and his knee was obviously hurting because he had entered Gruene Hall during Amy Speace’s amazing opening act wearing a knee brace and walking with a cane). Verlin Thompson and Sean Kamp came on with him and sat on either side of the songwriting legend. And over the next two hours, the three played some songs – as Guy Clark characterized them in the opening segment: “We’re here to play some songs we wrote…and some we heard…” The audience chuckled…and the three guitarists played them well, seemingly virtuoso…with some mandolin and fiddle thrown in. Effortlessly. And it sounded like pure beauty.
Guy Clark is a master of the American songwriters elite. Early on in tonight’s set, he made you feel the pain behind, “If I could just get off of that LA freeway without getting killed or caught.” It was a classic song and a classic moment. “Like Desperados Waiting for a Train” rang true as well. The audience was relaxed, receptive, almost worshipful – but not so shy that they wouldn’t shout out favorites they wanted to hear. “Rita Ballou” someone shouted out. Clark’s eyes shot stage left and then out into the edges of the audience over by the windows – knowing the song and simply saying, “We’ll get to that one later.” And smiling, knowing they would. And they did.
He laughed too – trying to tune his guitar, trying to sing over the fans that blew onstage to help cool the sweltering heat. He laughed at himself as he got “hung up” as he described it while watching and listening as Kamp banged out a guitar solo later in the show.
“Old Friends” was especially meaningful this night to this crowd. That living room feeling, perhaps you’re sitting somewhere in West Texas at a friend’s house and picking tunes together on guitars…that’s the feeling I’ll remember from this night. “Old friends…shining like diamonds,” Clark sang joyfully. The crowd was with him, shining – each like an old friend.
Allen Mathew Rickman
August 15, 1956 – March 12, 2011
Fighting the disease of Alzheimer’s just like he fought as a Texas Longhorn defensive tackle, the man we knew and loved has finally walked off the field of life. A roar from the crowd can almost be heard for this valiant warrior. We wish he could be here one more day, for one more standing ovation for his efforts. Now gone from this life is Allen Rickman.
Allen Mathew Rickman was born in Brady, Texas, on August 15, 1956, the second son of Dorothy and Bobby Rickman. To Allen, Brady was the perfect playground for him, his brother Robert, and their cousins – a place to run and play, get in and stay out of trouble (including falling through the ceiling into the kitchen floor) and truly enjoy the wonders of nature. Later in life, his parents returned to live in Brady. Allen came to visit often, bringing friends and family to hunt, to fish, and to enjoy the wide open spaces.
Moving to San Antonio at the age of three, Allen grew up in the Alamo City. Many said his calling was baseball. At age 11, he was almost six feet tall. From the pitcher’s mound, he had a sidearm delivery that made his pitches seem to come in from somewhere around third base. Football was to be his sport, however, and he did not disappoint. Graduating from Churchill High in 1974, the 6’4”, 240 pounder was known to everyone as “Big Al.” He earned first team All State honors in football—the first Churchill Charger to earn All State in any sport. Heavily recruited by every major college in the U.S. and selected as one of the “Top 30” high school players in Texas and Arkansas by wire services, he chose to play for the University of Texas, breaking the heart of the Notre Dame recruiter who relentlessly pursued him right up to National Signing Day. True to his nature, Allen immediately went hunting after signing on the dotted line with Texas.
As a Longhorn, he not only joined his brother, who was already on the team. He also followed in his father’s footsteps. Bobby played for Texas in the late 1940s. Allen started as a sophomore, an incredible feat. Slowed by an injury early in the 1975 season, Allen overcame that and later played in the Gator Bowl, the Bluebonnet Bowl, and finally, after the Longhorns’ undefeated 1977 season, the Cotton Bowl. He rejoined his teammates at a reunion at Texas Royal-Memorial Stadium in the fall of 2007.
At UT, Allen lived in Jester, the athletic dormitory, and was said to be connected with one of the wildest things to ever take place there. It seems that a few of the players managed to get a gigantic rattlesnake into Jester (having removed the snake’s fangs beforehand), tied the varmint to a door handle and knocked. Some opened their doors, getting the scare of their lives not knowing that the rattler was without fangs. Others were on top of furniture. The following day, UT Coach Bill Ellington personally directed Allen off the practice field to “go take care of that rattlesnake problem at Jester and don’t come back until it’s taken care of.”
In 1978, Allen married his high school sweetheart, Lee Chetter. He devoted himself to her and would for the rest of their wonderful 33 years together. They were blessed with three children: Kelly, a beautiful red-head with a winning smile; Chris, a natural athlete with a laid-back nature; and Cole, who would grow in stature to match his father’s size. All that Allen did was for Lee and the kids. He was devoted to his family and they looked to him for love and guidance. The children were raised to be hard-working, responsible, and at the same time to put family first, to be fun-loving, to love team sports and, of course, to enjoy the great outdoors.
Family vacations were spent at places Allen loved. Rocky Mountain National Park was a favorite, as was Ruidoso, New Mexico, where the family had a summer home for a time. Durango, Colorado, and the Grand Canyon also were beloved retreats. Allen and Lee were involved in all the children’s school activities: football, basketball (boys and girls), baseball, soccer (again, boys and girls), band, theatre and more. Allen coached Little League baseball, went to countless UIL band competitions, and traveled as a band parent to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Hawaii, always to support the kids’ activities.
In addition to raising the family with Lee, Allen returned to UT to pursue a degree in geology. He also worked in the stone and tile business. Quickly promoted to sales after his boss noticed his potential, his territory at one time or another covered practically the entire Lone Star State, including the Hill Country, West Texas, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston. With his size and a smile as big as Texas, Allen could ramble into any sales office and quickly get the attention of everyone. People realized that he was honest, hard-working, and a family man. He later helped his friends, Steve Hitzfeld and J. D. McDonald, begin Stone Solutions, where he worked until he could no longer participate in the day-to-day activities that he enjoyed so much.
In 2005, with the early onset of Alzheimer’s, Allen was up against an opponent as tough as any he had ever faced. Battling until the end, Allen died at the family home in Kyle, Texas, on Saturday, March 12, 2011.
Left to cherish his memory are his wife, Lee, daughter Kelly, son Chris and his fiancé, Amanda Simon, and son Cole. Also surviving Allen are his father, Bobby Rickman, of Brady; brother, Robert Rickman; sister-in-law, Karen Rickman; nieces Megan and Kaitlin Rickman and nephew Todd Rickman, of San Antonio; father- and mother-in-law Dick and Fran Chetter, of Canyon Lake; brother-in-law Ric Chetter, of Memphis, Tennessee; aunts Melba Hemphill and Patty Rickman, of San Antonio; and cousins Derinda Mundell, of San Antonio, and Dee Rickman, of Austin. His mother, Dorothy (Dot) Rickman, and nephew, Brady Rickman, passed away before him.
The family would like to thank, first and foremost, his mother-in-law, Fran, who spent years as caregiver and companion on a daily basis as he battled the disease. Also, Steve Hitzfeld and J. D. McDonald of Stone Solutions, who contributed so unselfishly as Alzheimer’s eroded opportunities for Allen to contribute to the job he loved. Also, good friends Cherie and Rusty Haggard, for their love, support, and friendship, especially in the final trying months, weeks, and days. Also, John Diaz, Allen’s caregiver in his final days. Finally, to the wonderful staff of Harbor Hospice for their loving care as his life ebbed away. Those interested are encouraged to make a donation to Harbor Hospice or the charity of their choice.