10 years in the making 'Dance Halls and Last Calls'
Sunday, January 13th, 2002
Sometimes, the best ideas come to you in the simplest of ways. Take the case of country singer and historian Geronimo Treviño III. After hanging out and playing in several historic dance halls in Texas, he was struck with what a great subject matter these old buildings are. He has just written an amazing book titled "Dance Halls and Last Calls: The History of Texas Country Music," with the help of his lovely wife, Judy.
He started this labor of love in 1989, shortly after having the opportunity to perform at the old Texas Star Inn in San Antonio. Treviño was playing in a cover band called Country Express when he had a chance for a regular gig fronting his own band. He auditioned at the Texas Star Inn on a Thursday and was hired on Friday. In awe of previous performers on the old stage such as Hank Williams, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb and Willie Nelson, Treviño began taking his music career very seriously.
Fascinated by the history of these old buildings, he started compiling information and photographs to satisfy his own interest in the roots of Texas music. As his music career began to flourish, so did his offers to play in more dance halls, which in turn inspired him to seek out more information about these historic venues.
With Judy documenting each show with her trusty camera and Treviño interviewing the owners and musicians, a massive amount of facts was being compiled.
At a special show in Helotes, opening for his hero Willie Nelson at Floores Country Store, another inspiration appeared. While talking with Nelson, Treviño mentioned that he was thinking of doing a book about historic Texas dance halls. Nelson immediately expressed his support of such a project and offered his help if needed.
The conversation with Nelson was just one of many Treviño had with legendary musicians and dance hall owners around the Lone Star state, all giving him their complete support of the project.
Many of these old halls are well over a century old and have a massive amount of history to be told.
By 1998 Treviño and his wife had accumulated all the necessary photographs; many were taken by them while others were donated by area historians. They started writing the text that would explain the story behind each venue.
Treviño contacted several Texas book publishers to see if they would be interested in the project once it was completed. Much to his satisfaction, they all gave him favorable feedback. A few wanted to sign him to a contract and publish it right away, but Treviño wasn't ready.
He felt that there were more stories waiting to be told. He and his wife continued their quest, taking more photos and documenting this important part of Texas history.
Using interviews conducted with many artists like Ray Price, Cliff Bruner, and Junior Mitchan, a member of the Texas Playboys, as well as Adolph Hofner, he compiled an extremely comprehensive account of the importance these halls played in Texas music.
"Adolph was a huge help to me," recalls Treviño. "I miss him a lot. He played these old halls when he was a musician. People like Adolph, Bob Wills and Willie Nelson probably played more Texas dance halls than anyone in history."
After talking to dance hall owners, Treviño realized just how important these people were to the history of Texas music.
It was men like Adolph Hoff of Schroeder Hall and Pat Molak of Gruene Hall who had the vision it took to operate these halls for as many years as they have. Though Schroeder Hall is under new management, it still maintains the high quality of talent that it has had since the beginning.
Pat Molak purchased Gruene Hall in November 1974 and has kept the oldest dance hall in Texas open ever since. Built in 1878 by New Braunfels resident H.D. Gruene, it is recognized as the shrine of all Texas dance halls.
When the time was right to locate a publisher for his book, Treviño looked at his alma mater first. When he contacted Texas A&M University Press, they were very enthusiastic. Unfortunately he was about to encounter his first setback.
As Treviño explains, "I submitted my first draft of the book to the publisher, who then gives it to a reader, who is someone who is supposed to be an expert on the subject. Once the reader finishes the manuscript, they give it back to the publisher with their recommendation, which is either positive or negative. My book received a favorable review with only a few suggestions for changes, which I made right away. Then the waiting began."
The days turned to weeks, then to months with no word from the publisher. Finally they contacted Treviño with some disturbing news. They liked the book but were disputing some of his facts, such as the claim that the famous Carter Family lived in San Antonio. This was upsetting to Treviño since he had taken great care to check and recheck his facts.
What's even more upsetting is that any country music fan worth his salt knows that many country music pioneers have very strong ties to Texas. Not only the Carter Family, but Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash all spent time in Texas. In fact, a documentary on Mother Maybelle Carter was filmed in New Braunfels at the famous Gruene Hall.
Discouraged by this setback, Treviño started seeking other publishers. Talks with Republic of Texas Press went well and he was impressed with their enthusiasm and promptness. "I took the manuscript to them," says Treviño, "and within a week they called back and said, 'We want to do this!' "
One positive thing that came from shopping his book around to various publishers was the amount of good advice he received. One suggestion was to make the introduction to the book longer so he could include more history about Texas music in general. Treviño agreed with this idea and proceeded to make this important change.
"The book starts with stories on the cowboy singers," explains Treviño. "Then I talk about Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family, Milton Brown, Bob Wills and all the early Western swing bands.
"After that I cover the 1930s, then the honky-tonk movement with stars like Ernest Tubb, Pappy Selph and Cliff Bruner. I actually interviewed Bruner and he was simply amazing. Junior Mitchan, Bob Wills' last bass player, gave me Bruner's phone number. This guy was incredible.
"Once I finished my introduction, I spent the next few years just checking and rechecking my facts. If I'm going to put my name on something, it has to be done right.
"So many people helped with this project," says Treviño. "People like Milton Brown's brother, who gave me permission to use many rare photos. They all like the fact that I'm trying to get my facts right. I'm just trying to do everything right. It's been exciting. I'm using photos my wife and I took, plus a lot of photos came from a guy named Hank Harrison. He's a historian on country music and a tremendous musician as well. He had gone to the home of J.R. Chadwell, a star musician in the Western swing era, and made copies of his personal collection.
"The photos in this book are extremely rare; many have never been seen before. There are photos of Buck Owens, George Jones, Jim Reeves and Ray Price all playing at Shady Acres in New Braunfels. No one has ever seen these; they were locked away in a vault this whole time."
The book is ready to go and according to the Republic of Texas Press, it will be published in April. This 10-year labor of love by Geronimo Treviño will finally see the light of day.
Ray Benson, leader of Asleep At The Wheel, wrote the forward for the book and there are quotes by Adolph Hofner, Floyd Tillman and Willie Nelson, among others.
Many of the photos will be on display soon in the New Braunfels Museum of Arts and Music. The January issue of the Journal of Country Music will feature an article about the book and will have highlights on Floores Country Store, Gruene Hall, the Broken Spoke, Anhalt Hall and McDonna Hall.
So be sure you pick up a copy of the magazine and in April be sure to buy the book. This book will be a huge asset to the history of Texas music and one that should be in every Texan's collection.
Fans of Texas music can visit Treviño's Web site at geronimotrevino.com.