So Long to Leo Teel

Leo Teel, the great Texas musician, club owner and recording pioneer died last week. Last few years of his life, Leo would write me an email from time to time and the print font kept getting bigger and bigger but in his day he had a sharp eye for a good opportunity and good talent. The wall of fame in his little Grand Prairie studio ran the length of the narrow shot-gun recording room. It wasn’t a typical wall of fame with rows of publicity shots in matching frames like you see in many modern recording studios. This one was built up like plaque in an artery from thirty years of partying and work. The Kodaks were on the bottom layer covered by the Polaroids and postcards. Everyone who was anyone in Texas music was there. Willie and Waylon et al and Tanya Tucker and LeeAnn Rymes and dozens of other Brenda Lee little bubble-headed country girls with big voices next to Boxcar Willie and Ray Price.

In the past few years I would drop in on Leo from time to time just to see how he was doing. His idea of a good time was going down to the Denny’s for a slice of apple pie. At this stage of my life I’m starting to be able to relate to that attitude of joy in small pleasures that only the lucky among us can attain.

Leo was already in the music business when Elvis was still playing a cigar box in Tupelo. He had seen crazes, fads and whole genres come and go and a thousand bright young faces hoping to make their voices audible in the wistfully accessible royal panoply of music stardom. For every trailer park in Texas there is a young girl with a dream playing Tammy Wynette or Janis Joplin records. She dreams like generations of American girls have dreamed of singing her way to the big city and fame and admiration but she will never forget where she came from in her heart, yada yada. Leo had seen them all.

I only did one recording project at Leo’s studio. It was when Ross Perot was running for president. It was also Lrod’s only stylistic foray into hip-hop. Leo had officially retired from the recording business but I convinced him to turn the lights on again in the dingy little studio with the ceiling so low that all the cowboys had to remove their hats. He warmed up the tubes in those old Ampex analog recorders and Lrod set out to prove that he was an even whiter rapper than Vanilla Ice. So we made this record called Ross for Boss. It was a parody rap song. Think Alan Sherman meets Emminem.

Leo sat behind his board and laughed the whole time we were recording it. As I was in the little vocal booth trying to find my inner Fresh Prince I could see him smile and give me signals through the window. I thought at the time how strange it was for this revered relic of country music to be recording a mad poet trying to do rap music. But he didn’t blink an eye. He had seen it all. Leo and I laughed for years about the fate of this project.

I had written this joke rap tune about Ross Perot because I knew what a sawed-off little Nazi that he was and I couldn’t stand the thought of him being president. The refrain went, “Ross for Boss. The poor get the Bill and the rich get the Rights.” It was a purely opportunistic little tune with the thought of pandering to the moment and getting some air-play. Tom Henvey, of Club Dada and Victor Dada fame, saw the paradoxical humor in the idea and put up the dough to produce a demo. We recorded it and had the dubs made to scatter around to the local stations. The day before we released it, Perot dropped out of the race. Leo always chuckled about that and said that it was a lesson in the importance of timing in music and the music business both. I think Henvey still has a couple of hundred copies of Ross for Boss sitting in his basement.

The tear in The Poet’s Eye for Leo Teel is a sweet tear. He was a humble legend and I’ll miss his friendship. I can’t say goodbye, so I’ll just say So Long, Leo.

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2 Responses to So Long to Leo Teel

  1. Barbara says:

    i’ll have a slice of apple pie in his honor.

    • As a kid Leo Teel Plowed the Fields, of young cotton on an East Texas Cotton Farm;
      He told me that he walked many a mile, behind a Plow & the Ass End of a lop eared MULE.
      He said, Frank; How were you raised as a kid? I said , ” the very same as you Leo “.
      While you were in East Texas, I was over by the Mississippi River in East Arkansas;
      Of course I came a little than, I was born in the year of forty two;
      He said, did you’ll own land where you worked the cotton? I said, NO, not one darn Acre;
      We were just plain Sharecroppers, scratching out a living like many other families, black & white.
      We would talk for hours about how we both were raised in similar ways.
      Not only did we have common interest in Music, but gained respect for each other, knowing how we both learned early how to work hard;
      He said, You know that ELVIS was over there east of you in Mississippi, also a Sharecropper’s Son;
      I said Yes, I never did know him, but my family was originally from their area near Tupelo;
      Also, in talking one time with Charlie Pride, he told me he too, was a Sharecroppers Son, in Sledge;
      Leo said, I didn’t know that, but I did know ELVIS, as he would come to my nightclub in Dallas, when he would get through performing at the BIG D Jamboree;
      I slapped my Knee, and said , “YOU ARE KIDDING”
      He said NO, He came there several times, and always wanted to play my S Hole Hollow Body, Guitar;
      Then he pointed up on the wall, saying “There It is” I felt chills, I guess because I was such a huge ELVIS Fan;
      I said Leo, Did you know that the first 45 RPM Rec ord I put out, of only 2 I did, was a Tribute to Elvis, two weeks after he died;
      He said, Really; What was the Title of it? I said, “Speaking To Elvis In Heaven”
      He said, Why did you name it by that title? I said, it was a recitation, Written the night after he died, a very personal poem to him;
      I said, I’ll bring a copy sometimes & let you hear it Leo; I would like that Frank, he said;
      Leo, I said; I had stayed up almost all night listening and recording many comments from all over the world; I tried to go to sleep about 4 Am , but could not keep from thinking about him dyeing and all the good things many were saying in his honor;
      (Leo, just let me keep talking;)
      I told him how I was laying there with tears in my eyes, and words began coming out of my mouth, and I found myself LIKE, Speaking in Spirit to Elvis.
      Leo, said then; You felt like you were really talking to him?
      I said, YES, I truly did; I was speaking to him about how much Great things were being said about him, and how much he didn’t realized ( How the World Loved Him So Much ) Don’t blame us ELVIS I said; (You just don’t realize HOW MANY HEART’S YOU TOUCHED )
      Leo, I said, It was boiling out of me in a Poetic Form; I couldn’t believe this was happoning to me, with emotions and all;
      I decided to turn the light and get a scratch pad, to write down the things I was saying;
      A couple days later , my brother MARVIN called me from Arkansas, and asked if I had written anything lately; I said ,Oh , not much, but I did write a poem about Elvis;
      Marvin , like me was also a big fan; He said , Can you read it to me over the phone, so I did;
      When I finished, there was a long hesitation, by him; I had say, Are You Still There, Marvin; Did You Hear It?
      He said finally, YES I DID, with a litle sniffle, and said ; Frank Jr., I want you to go find a studio, and put that on RECORD; Have maby a 1000 copies pressed, and I will go in HALF of the money , if you will Put It Out;
      He said, PEOPLE Need to hear that; I said, OK, I will try to find a little studio;
      Leo said then, Where did you go to Record it in Ft. Worth?
      I said, A little studio Myself and some others in a band, had gone one time, trying to lay down some tracks, but didn’t finish them, cause we were not the Great, but I remembered the name of the studio, and called the man. His name was Charles DeFrance;
      Leo said, YES , I know him as he was one of my competitors.
      Soon we said our goodbyes, cause I had been there talking to him, so long that he needed to go eat his supper;
      In the 28 years I knew Leo, I would either call him or go visit him, every month or so. So, in 28 years, you can Imagen how many conversations we had, and many things we talked about as I loved History so much, and he was full of so many stories about him knowing So Many Stars, we all loved;

      Maby another time I can tell of some of the interesting many things, Leo Teel, a legend of Country Music, shared with me; Frank Lee Smith
      (817)793-6400 Arlington, Texas

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