Podcast: David Vaught on Pitcher Gaylord Perry

A professor at Texas A & M since the late-90s, David Vaught is a longtime baseball fan. A native of the Bay Area, he visited ever-chilly Candlestick Park as a kid and remembered seeing Perry pitch. But while he has loved the Giants, Spitter: Baseball’s Notorious Gaylord Perry, grew out of a previous book on baseball. 

San Francisco was just one of many teams Perry played for, including the Indians, Rangers, Yankees, Braves, Royals, and Mariners. As David shows in his terrific biography, Gaylord Perry wasn’t just notorious for his use of the spitter, he was also a fierce competitor and often difficult. Perry was a terror to batters as well as the men in the field behind him, management, and owners. Much of his competitive fire was rooted in his hard upbringing in rural eastern North Carolina, where he was the son of tobacco sharecroppers. He was also the younger brother of Jim Perry, who excelled as a major league pitcher.

What are we to make of Perry? Did he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? A known cheater who lied about his cheating, Perry nevertheless compiled impressive career stats, including more than 300 wins, two Cy Youngs (one in each league), and more than 3,500 strikeouts. He was admired for hiding his “hard slider” from the prying eyes of umpires for many years. But how do we evaluate him in the context of baseball ethics, where rules are often abused and ever changing? Perry was controversial, but should we condemn him? Whatever we make of Perry, David Vaught has written a compelling and well researched book.

Listen here:https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/season-7-episode-3-david-vaught-on-pitcher-gaylord-perry

Buy David’s book here: https://www.amazon.com/Spitter-Baseballs-Notorious-Swaim-Paup-sponsored/dp/1648430643/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3100EF75O41XU&keywords=david+vaught&qid=1674659757&sprefix=david+vaught%2Caps%2C74&sr=8-1

Ten Reasons Americans Love Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous literary characters of all time. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, he is as British as the royal family or taking high tea. But Holmes wouldn’t be as popular as he is without a devoted American following.

It took over a hundred years, but in 2009, an American—Robert Downey, Jr.— played Holmes on the big screen. In a movie critic Roger Ebert called “cheerfully revisionist,” Downey played Holmes as an action star. The Holmes stories have plenty of thrills—the boat chase in The Sign of the Four comes to mind—but they never had the kind of over-the-top action one finds in a 21st century popcorn movie. Still, the Downey movies showed how enduring Holmes is, especially for Americans.

Here are ten reasons why Americans have always loved Sherlock.

He’s a loner

Americans love rugged individuals, whether it’s Jake Gittes taking on corruption in Chinatown or Indiana Jones battling the Nazis almost single-handedly. Holmes liked to say he was the only world’s “unofficial consulting detective.” That meant he was his own man. He was self-employed, operating a one-man detective agency. His office was his comfy rooms at 221B Baker Street.

While he often had his trusted Watson by his side, Holmes was at his best working the streets of London by himself. If Holmes were interested in case, he’d soon dash out the door, collecting evidence and following leads. He was the ultimate bachelor—never married, certainly no kids, and he had a disdain for matters of the flesh. “I have never loved,” Homes tells Watson in “The Devils’ Foot.” While Americans love a good romance, Holmes took his individualism to an extreme: other people got in the way, especially women.

He has the perfect sidekick

When he wasn’t working alone, his trusted Watson was often with him. Dr. John H. Watson is the original sidekick. The Robin to Holmes’s Batman. The two are the original crime-fighting duo. Later, there’d be the Green Hornet and Cato, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han and Chewey. It can all be traced back to Victorian London.

Watson was not only a good friend and sometime bodyguard, he was Holmes’s biographer and chronicler. Holmes himself only narrated one of his stories (“The Lion’s Mane”), but almost every other time, it was Watson who told the tale. Holmes complained that Watson tinged his stories with “romanticism.” Sherlock preferred a cold, analytical approach to detection. But Watson defended his work by saying he had made Homes a household word.

Depicted unfairly as a goofy bumbler and comic relief in early films, the original stories show Watson was no dummy (he was a doctor after all). He also was a lady’s man who could hold his own in a fight. Watson had served in the military in Afghanistan before he met Holmes and was wounded during his service. Like Holmes, he was tough and loved a good adventure. And Holmes knew it. “I am lost without my Boswell,” Holmes tells Watson in one of the earliest stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

He’s self-taught

Americans love a DIY hero. Holmes was a brilliant detective, but he didn’t graduate college. Instead, he dropped out after two miserable years. This was Victorian England, when most people didn’t go to college. Holmes likely was bored by the students and faculty alike. We don’t know much about Holmes’ early life. He was never on the police force. Did he have a mentor? We don’t know. It seems doubtful. Holmes seemed to emerge from the womb ready to solve mysteries.

In the original Sidney Paget illustrations, Holmes looks like a slightly annoyed college professor with a high forehead and thinning hair. One can imagine—as depicted in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes—Holmes causing trouble in school. We can only assume he learned everything—from chemistry to playing the violin—on his own. It made him a brilliant detective, but also left him with a chip on his shoulder.   

He has problems with authority

Holmes’s (deservedly) high opinion of himself made him contemptuous of authority—for him, that meant the local police. He knew he was smarter than anyone in Scotland Yard, especially the incompetent Inspector Lestrade. And what was more—he was far more energetic. Holmes could go without sleep or food for long periods. Occasionally, he would get a big payday, but usually the thrill of the hunt was his real reward.

He was so contemptuous of authority that he didn’t even seem to care whether he or the police got the credit for solving a case. It didn’t matter, though, because he knew he was the real brains behind the investigation. And regardless of whomever came into his study, Holmes treated clients with the same aloof condescension.

In one story, Holmes declines a knighthood from the queen. He was a patriot to be sure, doing whatever he could to rid the world of crime and murderous monsters. But he had no use for titles and badges. Like a Wild West gunslinger, he was the law unto himself.     

He’s not afraid to use a gun

Americans love their guns, and Holmes wasn’t above using one. While the English are far less obsessed with firearms than we are, Holmes sometimes packed heat. To be sure, Holmes preferred a game of wits to a shootout. But he was a crack shot, even going so far as to take target practice in his rooms at Baker Street. Holmes might have been a terrible flatmate at times, but Watson put up with his eccentricities.

In one of the earlier novels The Sign of the Four, Watson and Holmes shoot a villain dead after a thrilling boat chase. Usually in the stories, though, the threat of violence was enough. Sherlock often made Watson carry a pistol rather than use one himself. Regardless, Holmes dealt with violent criminals all the time. The Holmes stories are bloody, dark, and disturbing. People are murdered with everything from poisonous snakes, darts, and powders to silent long range “air guns” and harpoons. It was the era of Jack the Ripper, and the foggy (re: smoggy) streets of London, where all sorts of degenerates lurked about. Holmes had no illusions about how dangerous his job was. And he had no qualms about putting a gun to someone else’s head if need be.        

He’s a workaholic

Americans put in long hours, and Holmes would fit right in with our strong coffee and staying late work culture. He didn’t keep regular working days, but that didn’t stop him for clocking longer hours than most people. He might be on a case for days without sleep, and he hated being bored. While his intelligence was without parallel, Holmes was also far more energetic than anyone around him. He was a hustler. Holmes acknowledged that his older brother (by seven years) Mycroft had even better powers of observation and deduction than he did, but Mycroft lacked the energy that kept Holmes on a case until it was solved.

Watson was amazed by Holmes’s commitment to his work. In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” he tells us that Holmes was a man “who when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind would go for days, and even for a week, without rest.” And Holmes solves the mystery in that story after pulling an all-nighter. In a later story, “The Dying Detective,” Holmes fasts for three days and applies ghastly makeup to his face to trick a criminal into thinking he was on his death bed. Holmes wasn’t just a great detective, he was something of a method actor.

The adrenaline rush from an interesting case could give Holmes a long-lasting high. But the crash could be ugly. “I get in the dumps,” Holmes tells Watson at their first meeting,” and don’t open my mouth for days on end.” And he wasn’t kidding. Like the workaholics of Mad Men, there’s a price to be paid for toiling long hours.     

He has “issues”

As a workaholic, Holmes needed to decompress. To alleviate his ennui, he would use cocaine—a 7 ½ percent solution, in fact. The injections stimulated his mind for a while as he hoped to crack a case. As a medical man, Dr. Watson disapproved. Early on in the stories, we see Sherlock shooting up. While cocaine wasn’t nearly as well-known as it would be later, Watson feared Holmes’s dependence would ruin his health. Holmes was flawed man to be sure, and Conan Doyle established a trope we’d see in countless detective movies later. Hardboiled L.A. detectives would have trouble with booze and women. In The French Connection II, Popeye Doyle starts taking heroin. The brilliant advertising executive Don Draper of Mad Men can’t put down the bottle. Genius carries a price, and we see that in Sherlock Holmes.    

He’s authentic

Holmes might’ve been arrogant and condescending at times, but he was the real deal. The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot. Everything from Mexican food to Johnny Cash might be labeled “authentic.” And while it is not easy to talk about authenticity in a fictional character, what is clear is that Holmes shunned artifice. He could deflate pomposity through snide comments and sarcasm. He didn’t want riches and fame. He made enough money to maintain his London lifestyle. He was a purist, living for the thrill of the case. You could call him an artist, really.

Holmes lived in a no BS zone. He had no patience for the police or others who might waste his time. He was blunt, always ready to tell someone where they stood. Whether he was playing his violin or shooting cocaine, whatever he did was out in the open. His honesty made him a popular detective. People could trust him. Whether it was a governess with no money or the highest-ranking people in British society, Holmes treated them the same way.     

He has style

Just about anyone could spot a caricature of Sherlock Holmes: the tall man with the curled pipe (technically a Calabash Meerschaum), deer stalker cap, and plaid cloak. His outfit is as iconic as those of Dracula or Santa Claus. In lesser film adaptations of the stories, you might see Holmes in his full get-up for much of the movie. In fact, original Holmes illustrator Sidney Paget only drew Homes with the iconic cap a few times. Holmes rarely wears it in the Jeremy Brett BBC Holmes series (still the most faithful to the original stories).

Rather than wearing the same outfit over and over, Holmes was a chameleon, who could match the aristocratic dress of high London society one day, then don the rags of the London poor the next. Whatever he was up to, though, Holmes had style. Sam Spade had his trench coat and fedora. Poirot had his waxed mustache. Magnum PI solved cases in a Hawaiian shirt and Tigers cap. The more colorful detectives clearly owe a debt to Sherlock Holmes.    

He’s the first superhero

The Holmes “look” is a costume. And really, Holmes is the first superhero. He’s most like Batman, a man with no actual superpowers (he can’t fly, time travel, or lift trucks), but who nevertheless uses his intelligence and resources for the greater good. He solves problems with ease. He doesn’t need to worry about money. His life in enviable in many ways, but he carries the burden of his own genius. Like Batman, he’s a dark character. And what is his famous cloak but a type of cape? Holmes is really just a Victorian version of the Dark Knight.

Like any great superhero, Holmes seems indestructible. He has an arch enemy, the wolf-like Professor Moriarty, whom he kills after a literal cliffhanger. In “The Final Problem” (December 1893) Holmes and Moriarty fight to the death at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Conan Doyle tried to kill off Holmes, but people wanted him back. After more than decade, Holmes returned. The character was too popular to die. In 1927, Conan Doyle published the last of the Holmes stories. But Holmes’s legacy—and Americans’ love for him—lives on.       

How I Got Out of Credit Card Debt

The End of an Era

Earlier this fall, I realized that for the first time in 20 years, I had eliminated my credit card debt. I had been carrying CC debt for so long, it seemed unreal that it would ever end. It felt great to kill it off.

I’m not sure when exactly my credit card debt became burdensome, but it was certainly in graduate school. While the student debt crisis in this country is real and oppressive, you don’t often hear about all the other debts people accrue while getting a degree.

I was in college for twelve years, and I couldn’t have done it without student loans. As an undergraduate, I accumulated about $20,000 in debt over four years. Not too bad, considering how expensive my school was. After eight years of graduate school, I added another $20,000 to my burden. And that had nothing to do with my credit card debt.

To obtain a Ph.D., I ran up $40,000 in student loan debt, and I am still paying that off. But, credit card debt has been far more of a burden and hassle. Thus, it had to go first.

Here is some advice on how to get out of your credit card debt. Unlike many articles on the internet that claim not buying avocado toast or $4 lattes will put you on the road to financial freedom, this is non bullshit advice.

The Situation: Grad School

Despite what the Mitch McConnells of the world believe, my debt did not come from “living it up.” Sure, I put a lot of plane tickets on my credit cards, but they were almost always for trips home to see my family. I lived in Baton Rouge for grad school. My family was in Massachusetts. Flying was cheaper twenty years ago, but it still cost $250-$300 per ticket. That adds up if you are flying home 2 or 3 times a year.

Baton Rouge wasn’t exactly an expensive place to live, but when you get paid very little for your work (teaching assistants received $8,500 per academic year when I was at LSU, with about half of that going to fees), it was easy to fall into debt.

I entered grad school with no real savings. I paid for almost everything myself over those eight years and worked as a librarian ($4.50/hr., I think, was the minimum wage then), teaching assistant, and as a bookseller at the campus Barnes and Noble. I always had a job and sometimes two. I lived pretty simply. I almost never left Baton Rouge. I didn’t even have a car in grad school.  

Debt happens with $30 here, $50 there. Groceries. Dinner or drinks with friends. Christmas presents. And before you know it, you have $3,000 on a credit card. At least one of my $8,000 loans in grad school was not for school, per se, but to pay down credit card debt.

The Reality: A Bill Stack of Bills

By the time I graduated, I had several credit cards with thousands of dollars on them with 20% interest rates. The problem became worse once I started working. I’ve never been able to land a good paying job as an archivist/historian. The debt kept piling up. How bad did it get?

Long after grad school ended for me, the CC debt was high. I was shocked recently to see in my files a debt spreadsheet from 2016 that had my (and my wife’s) credit card debt at $34,2325.

How did I get out of this hole?   

For years, I played the balance transfer game. Get a new card and transfer your balance and you will get a 0% APR for a year or two. Problem is, these transfers come with fees usually adding up to at least $100 per transaction. And if you are only able to pay off the monthly minimum on your CC bills , you will never get ahead.

Some Tips

Okay. So, what helped? Tell me!

Number 1. Get married. My wife and I didn’t make a lot of money when we got married, but being a two-income household definitely helped with paying bills. You can only get so far with austerity, especially once you have kids. Conservatives love to talk about belt tightening. But that’s usually just a rationale for punishing certain people. The truth is: you have to bring in more cash to pay your mounting debts. Getting married helped, though not much at first. Eventually, though, my wife got a huge raise and bonuses that eased our financial burden.

Number 2. Divide and conquer. Rather than worry about what card has the highest interest rate, I attacked the cards with smaller balances first. Maybe it’s a card with $500 or $1,000 balance. Once that is paid off, you can focus on the ones with bigger balances. Kill them off, one by one. Don’t worry about the one that will take five years to pay off. In the meantime, you need to make some progress, if only for your own sanity: get rid of those small balances.

Number 3. Make big payments when you can. Got a big tax rebate? Got a small inheritance? Wife got a bonus from work? Use that money to pay down debt. Luckily, during the first year or so of Covid, my wife and I were fully employed, and my job had good benefits. I used our government stimulus checks (at times, $5,000 each) to pay off credit cards.

Number 4. Stay on top of your bills. PAY THEM EVERY MONTH AND ON TIME. Late fees can pile up and increase your interest rate. Sign up for automatic payments, so you will never miss one. If you can, always pay (way) more than the monthly minimum. Do the math. A $1,000 credit card bill with 20% interest and a $20 bill per month will take you ten years to pay off if you only pay the monthly minimum.

Number 5. Keep good records. Make a list of all your cards, the interest rates, and what you are paying each month. Sometimes, I had so many credit cards, it was difficult to keep track of them. But if you know how big a problem each is, you can deal with it calmly. Look at your bills, go online and check your balances. Stay on top of it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t be scared.

Number 6. Dig into your savings. Having savings is great, but the money isn’t really yours if you have debt. Use whatever you have to pay down the credit cards. One of the best things my wife and I did was use our 401Ks (which are an unconscionable scam) to pay off a huge chunk of credit card debt. And by that, I mean an entire high balance credit card of around $5,000 for each of us. It made a huge difference. Yes, the 401Ks took a major hit. But they weren’t really going to do much for us in retirement anyway. Unfortunately, the government taxes the hell out of early 401K draws (to the tune of 50%), but it was worth it.

Number 7. Call your credit card company if you screw up. One piece of garbage advice you will hear is that you should call your credit card company to “negotiate” a lower interest rate. I have never had luck doing this. What I have done, however, is call my CC company and ask that they waive a late fee if I honestly screwed up. They have usually been willing to do this as a one-time courtesy, provided I could pay them over the phone that day. Legally, a CC company is not obligated to lower an interest rate, ever. But I have threatened to take my business elsewhere if they don’t forgive a fee. This tactic will work, believe me.

Number 8. Consolidate. Try to get your payments down to as few as possible. Eliminate balances on a few cards by paying them off with another when they offer you a low APR rate for a year or two (by the way, always sign up for the APR with the longer low-interest terms). Eventually, however, you will have to stop transferring balances. Once you don’t feel you need to do this, you have made great progress.

Number 9. Go with a credit union. One of the best things I ever did was put all my banking in the hands of a credit union. Unfortunately, rural areas don’t have them as much. But when I was in Little Rock, I banked with a local credit union. Once I moved back to Richmond, I opened an account with Virginia Credit Union. It’s been great. They don’t have the punitive fees schedule of commercial banks. They gave me low-interest loans, using my car as collateral. They also extended me a line of credit of $2,500 and a whopping $14,000 credit card limit (good for consolidating with manageable interest rates). The monthly payments have sometimes been high ($150-$175 minimum for the CC), but that’s actually helped me pay down the debt more quickly.                      

Number 10. Get rid of cards you aren’t using. Eventually, a CC company will close your account due to no activity. It’s a good feeling when they do this. I’ve heard that it’s bad for your credit rating to have a CC closed due to inactivity, but even if it’s true, I don’t care. After a while, I’d start cutting up all the credit cards I was not using that had a zero balance. Now, I only have a couple active credit cards in my wallet. I keep them in case of an emergency or if my debit card gets declined for some reason at a store or online.

Number 10. Pay it all off every month. If you can afford to pay off your balance every month, do it. Don’t let the debt cycle repeat itself.

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to freeing yourself of credit card debt. It will likely take years and a good amount of discipline and organization on your part. But with luck you can do it, and without really changing your lifestyle that much. And feel free to get the occasional $4 latte or avocado toast.  

Why I’m Off Twitter

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

I always had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I was on, then I was off. Then I was on again. Now I’m off again. It’s never been an easy place to exist, and I’m sick of it. Now, it’s run by an egomaniac who is one part Bond villain, one part Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley. Twitter has once again shown how some people need to be taxed back to the stone age so as to prevent this kind of impulsive recklessness from happening.

Twitter has always been a minefield. Step wrong, and you could be blown to smithereens. I can say I was “cancelled” at least once, and it was not fun. Talk to me sometime about the perils of “woke” culture.

Over time, though, I learned to navigate the site better. Blocking obnoxious celebrities or otherwise verified accounts became more of a habit. Even people who I followed were often muted. Rich or poor, white or black, male or female or non-binary, Twitter is a magnet for assholes. You have to protect yourself from the unrelenting assault of bad takes.

Once Elon Musk took over, things became worse. I was not convinced he would destroy Twitter, though he is doing a good job of that so far. Nor was I worried a bunch of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would soon find their way onto my feed.

But reading posts by those in a constant state of fear became exhausting. I was losing followers, too. I only ever had about 1,500-1,600 of them. Most of them were people with whom I never interacted on the site. Nevertheless, as Elon Musk stumbled around and smashed things up, I saw a slow bleed of my followers. What was the point of staying if I couldn’t raise my profile on this hellsite?

For a while I had a code: Trumps’ return meant I would depart. Not long after Musk took over, he let Trump back on, not to mention other Republican scum and high priests of disinformation.

Trump had been banned since the January 6 insurrection. Apparently, he has not Tweeted since his ban was lifted. For me, though, it was the principle of the thing: Trump is a traitor and mass murder. He needs to be in jail, not back on Twitter. With the announcement of Trumps’ return, it was time for me to go.

Actor Matt Ross, aka Gavin Belson of HBO’s Silicon Valley

I had reached a point where I was rooting for Twitter’s demise anyway. Really, Trump should’ve been banned long before January 6, 2021. Yet I stayed on, pleased that Twitter stood up to the most dangerous man in America. Twitter’s problems, however, aren’t just a result of Elon Musk’s narcissism, mismanagement, and incompetence. Twitter has always been a dumpster fire. But it can be informative, funny, and entertaining. At times, addictive. I connected with people I would never otherwise have encountered. Some have been really cool.

On the whole, though, what annoys me about Twitter is the compulsion not just to see what is going on in the world and comment on it endlessly. No, it’s the fact that we’ve been led into the delusion of the efficacy of self-promotion.

Why are we on Twitter, really, other than to be a bunch of mini-Trumps, typing whatever brilliant (or more likely) banal thought comes into our head? Don’t we ever get sick of listening to ourselves whine, scold, and act superior?

Unfortunately, like so many things in America–whether the justice system, our government, or education and business structures–Twitter gives the illusion of democracy. Really, there are two groups in America: the rich and famous and everyone else. If you are a nobody, Twitter isn’t going to raise your profile much.

I’m the author of two books, so I felt I at least needed to be on Twitter to promote my work. I certainly made connections and hyped myself in ways impossible without social media. But how much of a difference does it make? Not much. For every person with a significant Twitter following there are equally famous counterparts who avoid social media altogether.

If you are famous, Twitter will keep you famous. If you aren’t, forget about making much of an impact. Even Instagram seems a better place to become famous for doing nothing (yes, I’m talking about all the influencers out there). America is not a meritocracy and neither is Twitter. Dumb Tweets go viral while funny and insightful posts get ignored. Complete idiots have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. And unlike you, they are not accessible.

Twitter’s demise might signal the demise of social media generally. How many platforms are left? I haven’t been on Facebook for years. Instagram is okay, but it’s kind of dull. I have no interest in Tick Tock or any of the other platforms that some people are fleeing to.         

Even if you have learned how to navigate Twitter without injuring yourself, you will find yourself spending way too much time on it. Since leaving, I’ve done more on Instagram, but I’ve also had more energies for other things, like reading or this blog post.

Let’s face it, Twitter is not good for your brain. We weren’t made to take in so much information from so many sources in such a short span of time. What’s real, what’s not? Does this person know what he/she is talking about? What’s really happening? On Twitter, nothing ever really gets resolved.

Everyone has a voice now, and often those voices are bitter and insane. The anger of Americans—living in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in history—is visceral, constant, and unpleasant. If you are thinking of leaving Twitter, maybe you should. On Twitter, not mention social media generally, there are no real answers.

When will we learn? You were on MySpace, then you went to Facebook. Then you left FB for Twitter, Instargam, or Tick Tock. Maybe you started a blog, then stopped doing that so you could do a podcast. Then that became a part-time job and a hassle. But Twitter was always there for you, right? But like all relationships, it one day comes to an end.

Yes, you can flee to another site. But there will be people there. And people are the problem. Social media may change, but human nature is a constant.   

American Rambler Podcast, Season 7 Episode 2: Bob Beatty

Play All Night!: Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East is Bob Beatty’s most recent book. Bob, however, has been an Allman Brothers fan for a long time. Like the Allmans, Bob has Florida roots. He now lives and works in Tennessee, where he got his Ph.D. and is a history and museum consultant.

Bob’s fast-reading book looks at the breakout album for the Allmans. Released in 1971, Live at Fillmore East is one of the best live albums ever, and it brought the band to a mass audience. It features the classic Allmans lineup, with Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on guitar, Gregg Allman on vocals and organ, Berry Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson on drums.

Unfortunately, though Duane started the Allman Brothers Band, his time with the group was relatively brief. He died in a motorcycle accident only a few months after At Fillmore East came out. Duane was just 24, and there seemed no limit to what he could do as a guitarist.

As Bob makes clear, with Duane at the helm, the Allmans were closer to blues and acid rock than the more laid back band they became later. The radio friendly mid-70s sound of the ABB was the result of Dickey Betts writing more country-flavored tunes. Nothing wrong with that. But the Duane period has a tougher quality. 

Bob and Colin talk about how the Allmans formed, why the Fillmore album took off with listeners, and how the band continued to evolve amid lineup changes and inner-tensions.

Listen here for free:

https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/season-7-episode-2-bob-beatty-and-the-allman-brothers-band

American Rambler Podcast Season 7, Episode 1: John A. Kirk

John Kirk is English, but he has lived in Arkansas for more than ten years. Raised in the Manchester area, his fascination with the US began as a graduate student, where he studied the civil rights movement. He is the author and editor of ten books, and his newest is on soldier, philanthropist, and governor Winthrop Rockefeller (yes, that Rockefeller family). It is the first ful-lscale scholarly treatment of WR’s early life.

In Arkansas, the legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller is a palpable one. Elected in 1966, WR was the first Republican Arkansas governor since Reconstruction. The fact that it took 90 years for that to happen says a lot about the political culture in which he lived. His journey from New York City to Little Rock may seem odd for someone of his stature, but in many ways it was an old American story of someone starting fresh by going west.

WR was a reformer, but as John shows, the governor was always progressive when it came to civil rights. A flawed man, to be sure, WR nevertheless used his money and family name for good. While he struggled as a student at Yale, he felt comfortable in the oil fields of the 1930s and as an officer during World War II, where he was wounded in the Pacific during a kamikaze attack.

John’s book stops in 1956 when WR arrives in Arkansas. The book provides a detailed and penetrating look at Rockefeller, and it sets the stage for what will no doubt be an engaging and well-researched second volume.

Listen here for free:

https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/season-7-episode-1-john-kirk

Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash

My second book is out! The product of ten years of researching and writing, it’s available for less than $25 on Amazon and at the University of Arkansas Press site. I hope you will buy it and enjoy it.

The book began in Little Rock back in 2012. At the time, I was an archivist at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture. I hadn’t been in Arkansas long, but I know I wanted to start work on another book. I was in the home stretch of completing my first book, Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The book wasn’t out yet, but I had passed the peer-review and was cutting it down to size for final publication. I wanted to get started on something else.

Not long after working at UALR, I discovered interesting material in the archives. One was a picture of Johnny Cash. Just a head shot (below). It didn’t have any information on the back about where it was taken or when. I assumed it had something to do with Arkansas, but what?

Cash at Cummins prison farm, 1969 April

I didn’t now much about Cash. I had seen Walk the Line, read his second autobiography, and had a terrific three-disc collection of his Columbia era music, which also had the best of his Sun Records material. I knew Cash was from Arkansas. Maybe I could write about him?

I had help in the Winthrop Rockefeller Collection. This is the largest collection at UALR. It has tons of personal letters between Rockfeller and others as well as reel to reel audio and video. After spending time working in the Rockefeller papers, I learned about Cash’s concert at Cummins prison in 1969. It was the only time he played for prisoners in his home state. The concert became a centerpiece of Country Boy.

But other stories emerged. The prison farms were fascinating and horrifying in equal measure and should be the subject of its own book one day. Maybe I’ll write it? In any case, at the time I started work on Cash, I was discovering more and more about what he had done in Arkansas. I can’t think of many musical figures who had such a close connection to where they grew up. Certainly not Elvis or the Beatles. Bruce Springsteen, maybe? Dolly and Willie come to mind. But none of their stories in their home state can compare to the Cummins concert or the time in Fayetteville in 1968, when Cash took a guitarist out of the crowd and let him play a set. That guitarist was Bob Wootton, an Arkansan who ended up touring with Cash for 30 years.

Back in 2012, I knew nothing about how Cash’s hometown of Dyess was a creature of the New Deal, a government-sponsored community that provides farmers with a new home and cotton land. While Cash said he grew up under “socialism,” it wasn’t that exactly. Farmers who didn’t work, didn’t eat. Nothing was free. And like the New Deal generally, the cult of rugged individualism was strong. Life in Dyess wasn’t always great, but the Cashes made it through the Great Depression and World War II more easily than many people in the South. Most important, it was in Dyess that Cash learned to love music.

My book combines biography, social history, and music criticism in its examination of Cash and his days in Arkansas. Along the way, I dispel some myths surrounding the Man in Black. Despite Cash’s popularity, there aren’t many scholarly books about him. That has changed in the past fifteen years, especially after his death in 2003. But in many ways, you have to write like you are the first person to ever do research on Cash. You can’t assume what he said about himself was true. Myths are out there, some of his own making. And as is true of any myth, people will want to believe despite the evidence.

Even more important, I wanted to write about Arkansas the way Cash would have. Something of a love letter, but also a realistic assessment of his time and place. We all come from somewhere. We all live in a particular historical context. Cash was no different. By looking at is life, we get the story of a gifted and immensely popular artist, but also one who can tell us about the times he lived in, whether its the Great Depression, Cold War, or the Vietnam era. Cash’s music might be timeless. He often acted like someone from the 19th century. But he was of a generation of musicians that came together–miraculously–at Sun in the mid-1950s to make the music that became rock and roll.

I also wanted to write a book that appeals to any level of Cash fan. Yes, it’s published at a university press. But I wanted to avoid all academic jargon and getting too deep into the historiography. I am not writing for tenure or worried about reviews in academic journals. I am certainly not the first person to write on Cash in a scholarly way, but I wanted all people to enjoy reading the book–not just college students or professors. I hope I have done Cash and his fans proud.

These links will take you to where you can buy the book:

You can also hear my discuss the book here:

https://thehistoryvoyager.podbean.com/e/new-johnny-cash-book/

https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/episode-193-country-the-roots-of-johnny-cash

Podcast 226: Bradley J. Sommer

Bradley J. Sommer is a native of Ohio who received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 2021. In Pittsburgh, he studied under labor historian Joe William Trotter. His dissertation was “Tomorrow Never Came: Race, Class, Reform, Conflict, and the Decline of an Industrial City, Toledo, Ohio, 1930-1980,” which he is now revising into a book.

Ohio is one of the country’s most populous states, a “purple” place that has usually determined the outcome of the presidential elections (though not in 2020, when Ohio went overwhelmingly for Trump). Brad talks about the difference between being a “de-industrial” and “post-industrial” city. And though Ohio has had its problems, none of its cities have been in crisis the way Detroit or Baltimore have.

Brad is also on the vicious and unforgiving job market, so if you’re looking for a good historian, let him know. You can read more about him at https://bradleyjsommer.com. You can also follow him at @DrHistoryBrad on Twitter.

Listen for free here: https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/epsiode-226-bradley-j-sommer

Podcast 225: Edward T. O’Donnell

Edward T. O’Donnell is a professor of history at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. A native of the Bay State, Ed completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University. For years, he was the host of the history podcast In the Past Lane, whose guests included Ken Burns.

Ed has stayed focused throughout his career. At Columbia, he gave history tours around lower Manhattan, while studying the labor movement in America. He also started a family. This type of focus has allowed helped him publish several books: 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about Irish- American History; Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum; Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality; and Visions of America. He is on sabbatical now, where he hopes to finish a new writing project. Unfortunately, he is no longer podcasting. But he has some interesting things to say about the process and the guests he talked with.

Listen here for free: https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/episode-225-ed-odonnell

Podcast 224: Ruth A. Hawkins

Dr. Ruth Hawkins didn’t get her Ph.D. in history, but she has proven one of the most important preservationists in the history of Arkansas. As the head of Heritage Sites Program at Arkansas State University for thirty years, she oversaw the restoration of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, the Pfeiffer-Hemingway House in Piggott, and Lakeport plantation in southeastern Arkansas along the Mississippi River. For her preservation and other work, Ruth was elected to the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Ruth is the author of Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow: The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Marriage, a book that took many years to finish. She says she’s in no hurry to write another book. But for those interested in history, the houses ASU and Ruth helped preserve are treasures. They are as close to a time machine as we can get. 

Listen here for free: https://americanrambler.libsyn.com/episode-224-ruth-a-hawkins