“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
“The Old Man and the Sea” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Blog by Don Wall
Dawg is a slang word for man, buddy or dude and a Wild Dawg is a dawg that has gone native, or is at least temporarily unhinged and untamed. So when I sing, “The fishin’ trip was choppy and us Wild Dawgs were cocky,” you know the seas were unseasonably rough and everybody expected to catch lots of fish. Nobody expected to get seasick. Turns out the justifiably cocky ones had followed Bobby Montgomery’s advice and gotten the prescription to put a patch of Scopolamine behind their ear. Try putting that in a song. We, who had prepared, did not get seasick as the 3-4 foot waves bounced the King Fisher from crest to trough to soaring crest to thudding trough for 12 continuous hours. A few of our group spent some of the trip sprawled out and curled up on the benches below deck or just kept fishing the rail while adding their own chum to the restless sea.
The Dallas Songwriters Association (DSA) Wild Dawg Fishing Adventure was what Luke Combs might call ‘a four day three night beach vacation deep sea fishing down in…’ not Panama City, Florida but Port Aransas, Texas, the tiny outpost on the northern tip of Mustang Island, with fine beaches, seaside resorts, shack bars, and fish filled waters. It’s one of my favorite places, one of those end of the earth outposts, like Key West or Provincetown, where you can avoid tourists, get lost and stay drunk for a long time, if that’s what you feel like doing.
I’ve done lots of good TV stories down there, from the return of the Brown Pelican, to Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles releases, to the Tides of Trash, the ocean dumping of plastics and petroleum products that get washed up along our not so pristine beaches, like the beach of San Jose island just north of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Port Aransas is on the south side of the channel and the town keeps the beaches beautifully clean for the tourists.
Harry Hewlett caught the first fish, an Atlantic sharpnose shark, nearly 3 feet long, weighing 8-10 pounds. It put up a good fight and Harry muscled it onto the boat. One of our crewmen hauled it off to the ice chest, as Harry stabbed another shrimp on the hook and went back for more. The prized red snapper we were after were a little further out in the Gulf of Mexico, up to 75 miles out.
So I later wrote this song and called it “Fishin’ on the Guff,” as I explain in the song: “My girlfriend lived in Nederland and she sounds like Janis Joplin. When she says, “Guff” that’s good enough for me, you know.” Kimberly is from Hendersonville, North Carolina, but for five formative years, her family had moved to Nederland on the Texas gulf coast, to take advantage of the work provided by the oil refineries in Port Arthur, where Janis Joplin was from.
Kimberly doesn’t sing like Janis, nobody does, but when she talks, she has a cute, scratchy twang that is somewhere between the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina and the coastal bayous and piney woods of East Texas. Her life, like everybody’s in Nederland, was defined by the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, which everyone called “The Guff,” which is probably why Janis and Kimberly and many others seeking a different life outside the refineries left as soon as they could.
We caught our limit of 2 red Snapper per fisherman which came to 56 fish. We also caught 8 Atlantic sharpnose sharks. Red Snappers are a luminescent, vermilion color, somewhere between metallic red and orange almost scarlet in salt water. I caught four once I allowed my baited hook to sit on the bottom, about 150 feet down where the fish could find it. You’d feel a little tug and then pull up on the rod and start reeling them in. Most of the fish were in the range of 5 to 7 pounds, about 2-3 feet long. Anything under 5 pounds was tossed back. Billy Jurek caught the biggest one, 14 pounds, and won $100 from DSA for catching the biggest fish. They looked pretty and shiny laid out on the dock when we got off the boat with wobbly legs.
Fishing on Friday was just the beginning of our weekend in paradise. Bobby had the fish cleaned and packaged so everybody could take an equal share home, and the fish had to be kept frozen, so he put it in the two freezers in the conference room at our hotel, which he had secured as our DSA banquet/kitchen/party/music/showcase headquarters for the weekend.
When Bobby saw Joe Milton, Joe said he was using the conference room freezer to store the brisket and hot links he had brought from home to serve at our banquet Saturday night. Joe had grilled and smoked up enough meat to feed at least 50 people. Bobby told Joe the brisket wasn’t there.
“What do you mean it’s not there?”
“Joe, I just put the fish in the freezer and there is no brisket in there.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, I am not.”
“Bobby, where the hell is it?”
So Joe went to the office at the Beachgate Condos and Hotel, which is a lovely compound, tucked right behind the dunes that go out onto the beach at Port Aransas. He asked the desk manager what might have happened to the massive amount of barbecue that he had put in the freezer.
After a panicked inquisition, it was determined that Joe’s nicely frozen and packaged brisket had been tossed in the dumpster, the freezer cleaned out by a well-meaning employee, who thought she was making room for the DSA, which was moving in for the weekend.
Joe and the manager ran to the dumpster and there it was, a large cache of wrapped and still frozen brisket. The food was saved. After that, it was determined that one of the freezers wasn’t working, so all the meat had to be stuffed into one, and the fish had to be moved to the freezers in our room refrigerators, which added a slight fishy smell. But it was all right. We slept good Friday night knowing, we’d gone fishing, we were worn out, and we were going to have a barbecue, play music, and take a bunch of fish home with us.
Next morning, Saturday, the Mexican/American contingency of our crew put together an amazing breakfast on the beach. Areola Clemente has been Bobby’s auto mechanic and good friend for years. The very first fishing trips were put together by Bobby and Clemente, so Clemente’s boys, largely from Oak Cliff, broke out a big camp stove and set up a large tent next to their RV on the beach and cooked bacon, and Huevos Mexicanos with onions, tomatoes and cilantro served with grilled corn tortillas. We had coffee and some of us moved to beer for breakfast.
We took a long walk on the beach full of kids and families, all the way to the jetty at the edge of the ship channel and watched the fishermen and the gigantic oil tankers getting escorted by tug boats through the ship channel, to get loaded up with crude oil, diesel, gasoline, fuel oil, LNG, naphtha, and jet fuel for destinations global.
We drank beer under the shade of our big tent and listened to Tejano or Tex-Mex music, which combines rock and roll and country with Mexican corridos and mariachi and adds the polkas and waltzes played on accordion by German, Polish, and Czech immigrants. My favorites include the original Texas Tornados “(Hey Baby) Que Paso.” Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender are all Texas music legends, playing in bands like the Sir Douglas Quintet and Los Super Seven. Flaco is known as the ”Father of Conjunto Music.” Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” became a number one hit on the Billboard Country and Pop charts. His remake of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” became his second million-selling single and reached number one on the Billboard Country chart.
That night the conference room was jamming. Everybody loved Joe’s barbecue. Barbe McMillen, DSA Founder and president emeritus, set up her electric piano and played the “Wild Dawg Adventure Theme Song: Aransas Bay,” a fishing parody she, Bobby and Harry had written to the tune of Margaritaville. “Sailing away in Aransas Bay, searching for the catch of the day…” Chef Joe sat up there on the bandstand, sipped Irish, and played hot licks to go with his hot links, with any DSA member who wanted to come up and sing their songs. Bobby sang, as did DSA president Michael Brandenberger, Buck Morgan, me, Joe, and Harry all played our original songs. Harry put the show on Zoom as he’s been doing for more than a year. The pandemic has really changed the way we get together to share music and Zoom has been a big part of it.
The DSA has been among the national Zoom to Facebook Live pioneers thanks to Harry Hewlett. Here we were all together in one room on the gulf coast, most of us vaccinated, having a party and a jam session, broadcasting to the world. Then we went down to the beach and had a farewell bonfire party and drank whiskey and beer and I for one stumbled home, happy and loving it.
“Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad so I had one more for dessert.” You can always count on Kris Kristofferson, who wrote those great lyrics in “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” which became a number one hit for Johnny Cash in 1970. Kristofferson, who is from Brownsville, also wrote Janis Joplin’s greatest hit, Me and Bobby McGee, along with Fred Foster. Bobby McGee was released after Janis’s death and reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. Kris worked as a helicopter pilot for oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico when he was writing and pitching his songs on Music Row. I was so impressed with Kris’ spare recordings of his own songs that I wrote a poem in college called “Sunday” “… missed church…felt like Kristofferson, thought of last summer, thought of thinking, wrote a letter…”
Writers write, songwriters write songs, and the waves keep rolling in and out like the music in our brains that we better catch and write down before the next wave erases it and the melody or the words vanish into the mighty Guff.
The fishin’ trip was choppy
And us Wild Dawgs were cocky
We gone fishin’ on the Guff of Mexico
‘Fishin on the Guff’
Be more fun
To just stay here stoned
But I know
I gotta go home
“Wild Dawg Adventure Theme Song”
Here’s a link to Barbe’s song: “Wild Dawg Adventure Theme Song”. And here’s a link to my song: “Fishin’ on the Guff”. Here is a link to the DSA YouTube Channel where you can get lost for hours “DallasSongwriters_Official” And here is a link to the Playlist for all the performances from the “Wild Dawg trip Wild Dawg Playlist” Bobby’s already accepting reservations for the 2022 DSA Wild Dawg Fishing Adventure and space is limited. Feel the pull.