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.