Stylin' with a 'fro, wearing a Jackson Browne T-shirt and holding a Vivitar 110 film camera. Yup, I was pretty groovy back in 1978.

I marked two milestones last week: It's been 16 years since I retired from the Air Force and one year since I started writing as The Groovy Gringa.

Since those two events fell in the same week, it got me thinking about all the music I enjoyed during my nearly 21 years on active duty. Each of my assignments had their own defining musical moments:

Clark Air Base, the Philippines (1976-77): Three words – Frampton Comes Alive. The most powerful memory-evoking album of my life, it defined my life and my friends of this very formative time of my life. Nothing will ever come close to toppling this from the top of the record heap.

The Doobie Brothers at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio, 1977. I guess this counts as
my first attempt at concert photography. 

Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (1977-78): I went to more arena concerts during my one year in Dayton, Ohio, than anywhere else I’ve been. Styx, Robin Trower, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, the Doobie Brothers, Alice Cooper, Emerson, Lake and Palmer … life was good in the days when tickets were $5, $6 and $7. But even with all those big names in huge arenas, my favorite show was set in the humble field house at Wright State University – Harry Chapin.

Wearing my Rod Stewart: The Concert, North American Tour 1977 T-shirt at
my 22nd birthday party in Anchorage, Alaska. Hard to believe this was
nearly 33 years ago.

Elmendorf AFB, Alaska (1978-80): I can't think about Alaska without Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick coming to mind. And over 30 years later, I’m still rockin’ out to their music. That's some staying power.

Scott AFB, Illinois (1980-83): There were plenty of big arena concerts across the Mississippi in St. Louis – Santana, Yes, ELO, Billy Joel. But just like Ohio, it was a small venue that was the most memorable. The place: Mississippi Nights. The artist: Dave Mason.

U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado (1983-87): Billy Idol at Red Rocks was amazing, but my favorite musical memory involves a long-shuttered club on Academy Boulevard called The Institution of Rock and Roll. I was in a somewhat inebriated state playing pool at the club next door when I found out that Head East (“Never Been Any Reason”) was playing at the Institution. Were it not for the bouncer who wouldn’t let me backstage because he didn’t care about my story of how I was from the same town (well, fairly close), who knows where I would be right now. Such is the life of a groupie wannabe.

Plattsburgh AFB, N.Y. (1987-91): Strange as it sounds, I wasn’t even present for my musical memory in upstate New York. It took place years before I ever lived there. In 1975, Peter Frampton recorded “Do You Feel Like I Do?” for his “Frampton Comes Alive” album at Memorial Hall on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. Sadly for me, I never knew this until years later. Good for Memorial Hall, otherwise it would be missing some sort of architectural element that Frampton may have touched/walked on/looked at.

Ankara Air Station, Turkey (1991-93): OK, let me tell you right off the bat that I’m not exactly proud of this memory. As much as I loved living in the Turkish capital, it wasn’t a hotbed for concerts.  I ended up listening to Top 40 stuff, and try as I might to shake it from my brain cells, the one image that persists to this day is of people line-dancing to that oh-so-charming Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “Achy Breaky Heart.” I’m sorry. Really, I am. Welcome to my hell.

Brooks AFB and Randolph AFB, Texas (1993-96): I met Jimmy Spacek in 1994 when I arrived at Randolph. He was a civil servant by day, but most music fans around town knew him as a blues guitarist. I’ll never forget the look on a co-worker’s face when he told me: 

“He opened up for B.B. King! B.B. King!!”

After I retired in 1996, Jimmy and I kept in touch sporadically and as luck would have it, I returned to Randolph in 2009 and worked in the office right next door to him. About two years ago, I told him of my grand plan to start getting serious with photography again. I asked if he could possibly introduce me to someone at Sam’s Burger Joint and Music Hall because I really wanted to shoot photos of some of their shows.

He followed through and I got my wish. And then the San Antonio Blues Society asked if I would shoot photos for them. And then I got requests from other musicians to shoot their shows. One of my photos of Ruben V ended up being on his T-shirts.

Just a few days ago, the Blues Society arranged for me to take photos at the beautiful Majestic Theatre when blues musicians came to town. Tuesday it was Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy. To say that was a thrill would be quite an understatement.

And if that wasn’t cool enough, wait until August 19 when B.B. King comes to the Majestic.

To all of you who have read The Groovy Gringa this past year (nearly 7,000 page views!), thank you and please share this blog with your friends. And to my friend Jimmy, who really started this all, thanks for keeping things groovy all these years.


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