Up Close With Carl Bunch, Part 2
Buddy Holly’s Drummer During The Tragic Winter Dance Party Tour
We are continuing Dick Stewart’s interview with Carl Bunch, Buddy Holly’s drummer on the fateful “Winter Dance Party” tour.
[Lance Monthly] How well did you know Maria Elena at that time? Did you have an amicable relationship with her and were you under the impression that she wanted to become Buddy’s sole manager?
Carl Bunch I met Maria Elena when we landed in New York at Buddy’s apartment [on] 11 Fifth Ave. She was gracious, allowing Tommy and Waylon and me to sleep on her couch and floor until we left to go on that fateful tour. Waylon kidded about her cooking and Buddy told him to eat and shut up. I didn't get to know her very well because I was always either working on Buddy’s material at the rehearsal studio or going around with Buddy taking care of business. What I did see of her was a woman dedicated to making the very most of Buddy’s career. She ran the Buddy Holly fan club from their dining room table, answering mail, and sending out autographed pictures. She had Buddy sign one for my younger sister, Kathy, and mailed it out herself. She believed then as she does now, that she and Buddy could do just fine without Norman. Buddy was making a deal with Irving Feld to be his new manager. Irving ended up managing the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. I fear that's what would have become of Buddy’s career if he had lived and stayed with Irving. Irving wasn't the most honest man I have ever known.
[Lance Monthly] Did you have a girl back in Texas when you were on The Winter Dance Party tour that you missed intensely?
Carl Bunch I had a girl friend I missed very much and wrote to just about every day. Her name was Glenda, and I got to be her bragging rights until we broke up when I got home. I got into music for the same reason most guys do, so I could get the girls to take an interest in me. I used to tell people I was so ugly [that] I couldn't buy a date up ‘till then, but Richard Porter will tell you different. He says I always had the prettiest girls in school and he's right. The problem was that they all thought of me as either a good dancing partner or older brother, not a sweetheart, except for a couple of girls (grin).
[Lance Monthly] In an interview I conducted with leading Buddy Holly historian Bill Griggs, he said this of Waylon Jennings: “Yes, Waylon was very forthright, an attitude I admired. You never tried to bullshit Waylon, and he wouldn’t do that to you. If he found out you were lying to him about something, the relationship was over.” Your thoughts on this statement, Carl?
Carl Bunch That would be a good picture of Waylon. He didn't put on airs or put up with them. He was a good old boy as long as you were straight with him. Waylon was responsible for getting me my job with Hank Williams Jr. He was the most charismatic man I ever had anything to do with. Elvis put on a show with his hips and stuff and the girls all went bonkers; Waylon just stood there with his feet planted a couple of feet apart and drove them absolutely crazy. I've never met another man quite like him. I wish I could say we were close, but that would be an exaggeration. I left Hank Williams Jr.’s band, the Cheatin' Hearts, without notice. His booking agent made me really angry after cheating me out of some money and I just quit. I called everyone in the band but Hank Jr. and told [each one] why I was quitting, but I couldn't call Jr. himself and tell him. I loved him too much and I knew he would talk me out of it. I had made up my mind not to put up with the booking agent’s abuse any longer and I knew I couldn't say no to Hank. Waylon had a problem with that and we never talked again. It was a decision I've regretted ever since—not quitting, but not facing Jr. when I did. I wanted very badly to share my faith with Waylon before he died, but couldn't get through to him to do so. I love Bill Griggs. He kept me alive. When I had been declared dead on some websites, he resurrected me. There's not a better man I know than Bill.
[Lance Monthly] The physical abuse that you and the rest of The Crickets had to endure, traveling in those substandard buses with little or no heat, is so incomprehensible! Can you recall some of the conversations among you, The Crickets, and the other artists during those agonizing bus rides? The four-letter words must have been profuse! Who would you say yelled the loudest and promised to kick the butts of those who were responsible for this misery? In addition, how serious was your frostbite and did anyone else suffer the same fate?
Carl Bunch Buddy didn't cuss a lot until the subject of Norman or the bus came up. We went through at least four vehicles before his death and each one had its own profane name. Dion and the Bellmonts made a lot of racket about the conditions, [and] Waylon complained sparingly. I tried never to complain, until I got the frostbite. At that point I became delirious and God knows what I said. We all tried to stay as positive as we could because complaining only made things worse. Everyone but Ritchie and me gambled almost constantly with dice and cards. Buddy wouldn't let me play. He said he wasn't paying me enough to let everyone else take my money. I wasn't much at cards or dice back then. Truth is I'm still not, though nowadays I have no desire for it anyway.
The time we spent on the bus was miserable. We tried humor to take the edge off. Dion called us Bloody Holly and the Rickets and we called them Moron and the Bellhops. We played a game called skunk in which I became the target of Dion and his boys. I was always getting skunked. Buddy nicknamed me Goose and I think getting skunked repeatedly had something to do with that. You skunk someone by getting them to do or say something so obvious that it's lame. For instance, we stopped at a mom-and-pops place to get gas for the bus and while we were there, Dion spent a good fifteen minutes skunking the fellow pumping gas. He bought a coke out of the machine and stood there trying to open it in the change return until the guy pumping gas couldn't stand watching him any more and went over, took the bottle from his hand, opened it in the opener, and handed it back to him. Everyone watching just roared and the guy pumping gas had no idea what it was all about.
On the bus, Dion would say, "Hey Carl" and I'd say "What?" Then there would be no reply. A few minutes later he'd do the same thing. He would continue doing that until I caught on and then [he’d] yell skunk, which, of course, made me feel like a fool. I got skunked so often that it embarrassed Waylon and Buddy. Tommy was too old to play and didn't care much. Ritchie would tell me not to let them get to me and cheered me up by talking about how much fun it was to be headliners.
J.P. had the flu and Ritchie was coming down with it, but I don't think anyone else suffered frostbite. I got an e-mail from a fellow who wanted to apologize for posting a lie on several Buddy Holly websites. He was saying that he was wearing one of my toes on a chain around his neck and that he had bought it on Ebay. A newspaper interview I did several years ago also reported that I had to have several of my toes amputated as a result of that injury. For everyone’s information, they aren't pretty [but] I still have all my toes. Don't know where in the world these rumors come from, but it certainly isn't me.
[Lance Monthly] Getting back to my interview with Griggs, I asked him if there were still some Holly mysteries that he was still trying to solve. He gave me twelve and assuming that he has already interviewed you, he may have put some or all of these questions to you. Nevertheless, here are two on which you may have an opinion: 1. Was there a payoff for the name “Crickets” by Buddy Holly to Dean Barlow? 2. Did Buddy have more money with him the morning of February 3, 1959, than what was reported?
Carl Bunch There was never any kind of payoff for the name of the “Crickets” by Buddy to anyone that I know of. The idea that there was is incredulous to me. [And] Tommy Allsup took care of the money on that tour. I don't know what was reported, but I'd trust what Tommy says with my life.
[Lance Monthly] Since you spent most of your time with Valens on The Winter Dance Party tour, you, no doubt, got to know him fairly well. How would you describe Ritchie’s demeanor, and did he ever talk to you about his producer, Bob Keane of Del Fi Records, who reportedly had stiffed Valens monetarily just like he was accused of doing to the late Bobby Fuller? In addition, since America in the ‘50s was still wrought with prejudice against non-whiles, especially those of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic descent, did you ever witness an act of prejudice against Valens on the tour?
Carl Bunch Ritchie didn't talk much about his recording deal or management. He talked a lot about his future and the new music he was writing. He talked about Donna a lot and got ribbed quite a bit about not going with the groupie girls after the gig. Ritchie, Bopper, and Buddy were all one-woman men. No matter what the temptation, they went to their rooms, when we had one, and not to the parties like Freddie, Frankie, Carlo, and me. Ritchie was very quiet until he walked out on the stage where he simply exploded. It was like he was two different people on and off stage. I wouldn't call him shy, but rather private. I never saw a single prejudicial act happen because of his being Hispanic. I'm glad, too, because I was raised to be colorblind and I believe all music should be.
[Lance Monthly] Carl, when you said that Tommy Allsup stayed pretty much to himself during the horseplay on the substandard buses that was induced by the miserable conditions, was he pretty much that way throughout the tour? And because he had about ten years of age on everyone, was he ever jokingly referred to as “old man” or something like that? How would you describe Tommy Allsup?
Carl Bunch I would describe Tommy Allsup as the best musician I've ever been privileged to work with and truly a man of honor. If Tommy says so, you can take it to the bank. Generous, quiet, creative, funny, and always ready to jam, Tommy is the best friend I've ever had in the music business. Not only did he get me my job with Buddy Holly, but he’s [also] offered [me] many opportunities to play with other artists by introducing me to them. My favorite example of that would be Roger Miller. I met him at Tommy’s house when Tommy was chief A & R man for Liberty Records. Not only did he introduce me to Roger, but suggested that if he needed a drummer, he need not look any further. Roger hired me for a gig in a bowling-alley lounge that night. Can't remember ever playing with anyone more fun than with Roger. Tommy spent most of his time with Buddy and J.P. and took care of the money when it was time to get paid. Buddy couldn't have put that job in better hands. If you want to know about Buddy’s mood on the tour, ask Tommy. Buddy shared more with him than anyone.
[Lance Monthly] Did everyone get along on the buses, or was there some verbal or physical confrontations for some reason or another?
Carl Bunch The only real confrontation on the bus came after the tragedy and was directed at Freddy of the Bellmonts. Freddy had bought a pistol, and though it was unloaded, kept aiming it and clicking the trigger. Waylon and Tommy both told him to stop and when he didn't stop right away, Waylon went after him. Tommy intervened before there was any bloodshed and put Freddie in his place. Later that night there was a disturbance in the hotel with Freddie and Carlo making too much noise, chasing one another through the hall with the fire hose. Someone came out to complain and Freddie pointed his pistol at him. The management was called and the road manager confined them to their rooms. The next day Tommy took the gun away.
[Lance Monthly] You say that Irving Feld would not have been a good manager for Buddy if the airplane tragedy had not occurred, and since he was directly responsible for the miserable traveling conditions of The Winter Dance Party tour, why was Holly interested in him as his new manager? In addition, what is your overall take on Feld?
Carl Bunch [At first] I was impressed with Irving Feld because he was the head of G.A.C., the biggest booking agency in the business at the time; but what did I know. Buddy needed new management and Feld’s reputation looked good from where we were standing. [But] no good manager would put an artist like Buddy in such dangerous and sorry conditions. Buddy was nothing more than a temporary financial windfall for Feld. If he had really cared about us he would have made things right with our transportation and paid us as he promised Tommy. He decided to beat us out of our money instead. Tommy went to get our bonus and Feld said there was no money. Maria Elena had supposedly picked it up, but it wasn't her money to pick up. It was ours and I left New York City dead broke because of that. Tommy never even got the money he had laid out for my hospital bill and airfare to Sioux City. I should have sued, but I feared getting labeled “sue happy” and let it go instead. I didn't want to get blackballed out of the big time. Wish I'd have had Pre-Paid Legal back then.
[Lance Monthly] Could you elaborate a little more for our readers on the aftermath of Buddy’s demise in reference to The Crickets being talked into continuing with the tour? In general, what was said that convinced the members of the band to stay on?
Carl Bunch Tommy spoke with Irving Feld on the phone and brought us the offer of a big bonus and the favor he would owe us if we'd finish the tour with Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton, and Fabian joining us. Waylon didn't want to do it, but we all needed the money so bad that he agreed to stay on. None of his promises was worth the air he breathed to deliver them. Ronnie Smith was called to join the Crickets and I was glad to see him get the break. Waylon, however, did the majority of our vocals. It was difficult beyond belief. I have a line in one of my songs:
“ I was there when they said the music died, and I stood by and I watched Waylon cry, when we sang ‘It Don't Matter Anymore.’ And I remember just like yesterday, all the music that we used to play, and it makes my heart beat just like it did before."
From there I would go into a medley of Buddy’s music starting of course with “Heartbeat.” Those were the hardest days of my musical career. I still had trouble playing, and sometimes Carlo would have to fill in on drums because my feet would just give up from the frostbite. Still I can't tell you how good it felt to be there making history we never thought about. The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd (LOL)—days that changed my life forever.
[Lance Monthly] In the summer months of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, I fought fires for the U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest to pay for my tuition at the University of New Mexico. As college students from around the Country were heavily recruited for this type of hazardous work, one would think that this would have created a hostile relationship among the firefighters because of the wide range of accents, lingo, backgrounds, and mannerisms, and because those were the days in which one was at a disadvantage if one differed a little from what mainstream America had considered preferred citizenry. Nevertheless, it became apparent to me that if the focal point of the gathering of individuals is to face an important task—in our case, to fight fires—none of the aforesaid seems to matter, and the result is a strong comradeship and an intense interest in each other’s background. In the case of the musicians that were part of The Winter Dance Party tour who hailed from nearly all quadrants of the U.S., each had one very important goal in mind, and that was to collectively put on the best show as possible at each of the venues. Would you say, Carl, that this is a fair comparison?
Carl Bunch This is a really good comparison because we, as you did, faced very hard conditions together and, as is human nature would have it, grew close as a result. I doubt that Frankie Avalon or Fabian would remember me, but Jimmy Clanton will and the last words Dion ever spoke to me were: "Goose, I'll never forget you." You couldn't be more divergent culturally than Dion and me. Waylon and I were estranged by the way I left Hank Jr., but before that, he recommended me for the job, and that speaks a ton to me. By that time he was a superstar and I was working with an unknown trio in a small bar in Nebraska where nobody knew who I was or really cared. Waylon brought me back into the spotlight again. He didn't have to do that, but he chose to.
[Lance Monthly] If Maria Elena picked up the bonus money at the conclusion of The Winter Dance Party tour, that, of course, would mean that Feld came through somewhat with his promise, at least, monetarily. Has it ever been proven that Maria did, indeed, pick up the bonus money? In addition, were their complaints by any of the other stars about been stiffed?
Carl Bunch There has never been any proof offered that Maria Elena picked up the money owed us. It was just Feld’s word to Tommy and we were in no shape to do anything about it at the time. I don't know if Tommy confronted Maria Elena back then or not. I was kept in a hotel room, not allowed to even take part in the negotiations with Maria Elena, Coral Records, or with Norman for that matter. I had no say or input into any of it. Tommy spoke for me and Ronnie dealt for himself. I'm sure Tommy got whatever he could out of the deal for me and him. Waylon left town and dropped the whole thing. If anyone else had any problems with Irving, they didn't share them with me.
[Lance Monthly] Even though The Winter Dance Party ended on a negative note, was it the intention of you, Tommy, and Waylon to continue as the Crickets, but were immediately stopped in your tracks by Norman Petty?
Carl Bunch Tommy and I would have continued using the name of the Crickets had J.I, Joe B., and Norman not sued us. Waylon wanted out on his own, anyway. Buddy produced Waylon’s first single and would have continued producing him had he lived. Maria Elena was on Joe B. and J. I.’s side, so we took what was offered and left it at that. There was really nothing else we could do at the time.
[Lance Monthly] How did Waylon and Tommy deal with being cheated out of the bonus money? Were they also contemplating suit but stopped short of the idea for the same reason as you?
Carl Bunch Waylon may have wanted to sue, I don't know. I didn't see him after we got back to New York. I'm sure he didn't take lightly being stiffed out of his money, but he didn't discuss it with me. I felt really bad for Tommy, because he had lost more than Waylon or me. He was out all the money it cost for my hospital stay and my airfare from Michigan to Sioux City, on top of that. Still, all he could do was apologize to me, like it was his fault. Tommy has never been sue-minded that I can recall. More people in the music business have stiffed him than you can count, but, to my knowledge, [he] has never sued anyone. Tommy's not afraid of anything that I know of, much less how someone who stiffed him would feel about being sued. He just figures that what goes around, comes around.
[Lance Monthly] After your departure from The Crickets, what immediately followed musically for you, Tommy, and Waylon?
Carl Bunch We returned from New York to Odessa, Texas, with a new group named, Ronnie Smith and the Jitters, opened a new theatre in Odessa, and that was about it. The Jitters never had a record that did squat and Tommy and I joined Roy Orbison’s new band and went back out on the road with him. Uncle Sam caught up with me and I ended up in the Army a few weeks later. Tommy went on to become one of the most prolific producers in the recording business. Waylon became a superstar in his own right and I faded into obscurity, until Waylon got me my job with Hank Jr.
I've lived three lifetimes since then and I'm working on a book about it with a really good writer named Derryl Hicks. He's the author of “God Comes to Nashville,” which has a bit of my testimony in it. It's one of the 100 most important books to ever come out of Nashville, but is now out of print. My name is right there on the front of the book—many others (LOL).
It's been a great ride, Dick, and it's an inspiring story to look back on. "Roller Coasters and Bulls," a lot of ups and downs, (another song I'm working on), but those who endure to the end shall be saved and I have endured to that end. It's been prophesized over me that the end shall be greater than the beginning and I believe it. There was less than three pounds of me in the beginning and there's sixty two times that now, and every pound is believing God for the prayer of Jabez to continue coming true in my life, day after day.
[Lance Monthly] I’ve always found Roger Miller as being an interesting composer and performer who was disadvantaged as an orphan at age three and a victim of the depression. Although you indicated that you drummed for him for one particular venue, did you have a chance to chat with Miller long enough to draw a reasonable conclusion on his demeanor?
Carl Bunch Roger Miller was one of the most interesting men I ever got to know in this business. It was an unusual circumstance that caused us to bond. We were talking about his music on the way over to James Best Acting Studio and I asked him why everyone else thought of his music as funny, when I saw it as tragic. He got a strange look on his face and asked my why I saw it that way. "The lyrics," I said and gulped. "Out all night and running wild, with a woman sitting home with an eight-month-old child. That sounds very sad to me." He almost started crying as he said, "You're looking beneath the surface and into my soul." I made similar remarks about several other lyrics being snappy on the outside but sad on the inside, and he just took me as a friend.
By the time we parted ways, his wife had left him and he ended up giving me his baby’s playpen she left behind for my baby girl. He and I had several things in common, including his respect for Tommy, Buddy, and Roy that made us bond instantly, but I couldn't keep up with him. During that early period of his career he used a good deal of speed and was on stage almost twenty-four hours a day, every day. If he wasn't on stage he was headed to one. I've never met a funnier man, but I've never met a sadder man either. I'm so glad that the latter part of his career brought him the lifestyle and satisfaction he so richly deserved.
[Lance Monthly] How long did you and Allsup work with Orbison, and describe Roy’s mannerisms and some of the venues the two of you had with him for our readers. Was it an enjoyable time without any negatives? Why did you and Allsup leave Orbison?
Carl Bunch I'm as proud of my association with Roy Orbison as I am of that with Tommy, Buddy, and Roger. Tommy and I were with him about two months before the Navy shore patrol showed up on my front porch in Odessa, ready to escort me to the brig. I sort of shined on my Naval Reserve meetings to go on the road with whomever I was playing because I found out that they couldn't take me into active duty in the Navy because I was colorblind. They changed the rule without me knowing.
I loved playing with Roy, but his bass player and I didn't get along at all. Roy actually stopped the car once to let us out and fight. It's funny because I can't remember the name of the bass player or what it was that caused us to be at odds with each other. Roy was getting tired of it though and so we buried the hatchet to keep him happy. One thing that stands out in my memory about those days is that when we got into the town where we were playing that night, Roy would try to find a Chinese restaurant even before he looked for the venue. Sometimes the venue was a National Guard armory, or a county auditorium, or a bar or even a high school auditorium, but it made no difference to Roy as long as he had a venue. He once played in Ruidoso, New Mexico, booked with Ronnie Smith on the bill, and they played the entire gig for the only two couples that showed up.
Roy was very quiet and very serious. He was easy going, but just like Buddy, he knew exactly what he wanted his music to sound like. He could hear it in his head. He told me once that the reason he liked my work was that I didn't play too much. Far too many drummers think that drums should be the lead instrument. I always thought that the singer was supposed to be the lead instrument and played to make him sound the way he wanted to sound. That might be one key to my success in the field.
I left to go into the Army rather than serve on active duty in the Navy Reserve. I found out at Navy boot that the reserve sailor always got the lousy duty. The Army promised me the moon and delivered absolutely none of their promises. Thank God I got their malarkey in writing. Tommy was still with Roy when I left to go into the Army.
[Lance Monthly] In an interview that I conducted with high-profile L.A. sessionist, Larry Knechtel (January 2004 issue), he said that Hank Williams, Jr. hired him as the bassist for a Christmas album called Family Traditions. While Hank was laying down the vocal tracks to “Little Drummer Boy,” he messed up by singing “rump a bump bum,” which caused Larry to give out a loud audible laugh. Hank then left the room and had his producer, Jimmy Bowen, fire Larry. Sounds to me like Hank didn’t have much of a sense of humor. How did he treat you and the rest of his sidemen when you were his drummer? Was it an impersonal, all-business, no-nonsense relationship? In addition, did he ever talk to you about his dad and how difficult it was to be in his shadow before his breakout success?
Carl Bunch Hank Jr. was seventeen when I joined his band, The Cheatin' Hearts. He turned eighteen shortly after that and began his quest to get away from his mother and be declared "emancipated." It was actually Audrey Williams that hired me. Jr. just went along with what ever she said at the time. It wasn't long though before Hank Jr. and I started to get closer. I was the only single guy in the band so we hung together on the road. He was rebelling against his mother and wanted to sing rock and roll and was impressed with my background. He did a few sessions under the name of Bocephus on Verve records, but nobody seemed to pay any attention. He wrote a song called "Standing in the Shadows of a Very Famous Man," which pretty well told how he felt. It was his first big hit.
I believe Hank Jr. is his own worst enemy. I think he really believes his own publicity and is reckless in his lifestyle simply because he can be and believes that's what is expected of him. There is a line in a song I wrote called "Outlaws and Lawmen" that says: "If I could just turn old Waylon around, or help show Hank Jr. the light, or lead Willie back to his old family Bible, I'd know I'd won my fight." Unfortunately, he's far too impressed with himself to give me the time of day. Part of that is because of the way I left the group, but 99% of it is just pure ego.
[Lance Monthly] One of the Holly biographers said that Dion was addicted to heroin while growing up in the Bronx. In your opinion, is there any truth to this and was alcohol the only drug of choice by some or all of the musicians that were a part of The Winter Dance Party tour?
Carl Bunch Dion was addicted to heroin as he stated in several interviews in the past. I didn't know it until I read it years later. I'm proud that he is my brother in the Lord and no longer a slave to anything. As far as alcohol goes, it was probably the most often used back then, though Buddy didn't approve of any accesses at all. I bought a fifth of bourbon in New York where it was legal for me and took it on the bus. I broke it out just before getting frostbite, thinking that it would prevent any such thing from happening. I found out later that all it does is keep you from feeling the pain as much. I would say that in my career I spilled more than most people drink and I have been delivered from myself. It's easy to get addicted to alcohol and drugs when someone else is buying, and it's funny how few Christians offer to buy.
[Lance Monthly] How long were you in the U.S. Army, where were you stationed, and what did you do musically while in the service?
Carl Bunch I was in the Army for a year and a half before I finally made them account for all the broken promises, and got an early discharge. They had me stationed in Atlanta for the majority of my enlistment. I won the instrumentalist division of the All Army Talent Show at Ft. McPherson late in 1959, playing piano, drums, guitar, and bongos. I spent most of the rest of my duty TDY competing for the national title and entertaining the troops.
[Lance Monthly] Carl, I’ve asked this question a number of times of my interviewees who’ve had a strong relationship with Buddy, both directly or indirectly: In one of the Buddy Holly biographies it was theorized that Buddy fathered a child out of wedlock, which has prompted a lot of talk and speculation. Do you have any information in reference to this that you can offer to our readers?
Carl Bunch As far as there having been a lot of talk about Buddy fathering a child out of wedlock goes, I've never before heard a single word about it [and] I don't believe it. It's totally out of character for Buddy to have been sexually involved with anyone but Maria Elena. That's one of the things that stood out so much to me on the tour. Buddy could have had any of hundreds of beautiful girls or women, but chose not to cheat on his wife, period. I can't imagine why anyone would spread such a vicious rumor about such a nice guy. Buddy was a Christian. He did not believe in adultery.
[Lance Monthly] You mentioned your wife, Dorothy. How long have you been married and how many children and grandchildren do you have?
Carl Bunch I met Dorothy while I was a member of the Cheatin' Hearts and in spite of Ralph Emmery saying on his show on WSM Radio [that] it would never last, we have been married 36 years. More about us in a minute.
I have two children by former marriages and two grandsons by one. I married while I was in the Army and had a son named James Matthew (Matt). I let his stepfather adopt him during a really down part of my life and lost contact with him for many years. I'm proud to say that he and his lovely wife Ginger made contact with me late last year, and we are developing a wonderful new relationship today. God is so good.
I was married to my second wife for three years, also, and have a wonderful daughter named Susan Elizabeth, who has given me two great grandsons, Colton and Ashton. I have a song about our reconciliation after some thirteen years of being separated. It's called "Susan, You Called Me Daddy Again." It will be part of a new album Dorothy and I are working on and it's the single most effective alter-call song I've ever witnessed in my life. When Dorothy and I minister and use this song, we never fail to see the alter fill to overflowing because of the powerful testimony that goes with the song. Unfortunately, we live too far apart to see Colton and Ashton as often as we would like. Susan is in Bryan, Texas, and we are in Palmdale, California. We hope to get together in Lubbock this coming September at the Buddy Holly Center where I'll be performing along with Tommy Allsup, Larry and Travis Holly, Richard Porter, Robert Reynolds of the Mavericks, Emmy winning guitarist Al Perkins, and many others as we launch a new recording project called Roots of Country Music.
Dorothy has given me two precious children: Corrina Lee and James Scott. James is currently the project manager for Country Wide in Lancaster and will be accompanying us to Lubbock this September. Corrina is working on her California State teacher’s credentials and we are watching her twin six-year-old, redheaded boys while she is in school. They are more fun than anything else I do. I am blessed beyond belief.
[Lance Monthly] Did you jump right back into music immediately after you were discharged from the Army?
Carl Bunch When I was discharged from the Army I tried to keep my marriage together by living in Reidsville, Georgia, for a while. My in-laws convinced my wife that I would do better by her if I were to settle down and get a regular job rather than travel all around the country playing music. I worked as a guard at Georgia State Prison for eight months after Matt was born, but the marriage didn't work and I went home to Odessa to help my ailing father run his record shop.
After my father died, I went back to playing music and met my second wife. Marrying on the rebound seldom works, and this relationship only lasted three years. I played for a while and worked at the El Paso Gas refinery for a while until we split up. I was on the road again with the Bobby Osborne Trio when Waylon called my mom about me playing with Hank Jr. Mom thought Waylon was asking me to play drums for him and I would have gladly taken the gig, but it was Hank Jr. that needed the drummer. Waylon did offer me a job some years later when his drummer got busted for the umpteenth time for pot. But he beat the rap and I lost the gig. Dorothy and I had moved across the country to take the job, but God had other plans.
[Lance Monthly] It was a common practice in the ‘50s for many of the promoters and producers to take a portion of the writer’s credits from their artists. Did that ever happen to you?
Carl Bunch Norman put his name on “Lookie Lookie Lookie,” which was my only release on a major label in the ‘50s. Music is a cutthroat business, but I've been able to keep all my music free from poachers since then.
[Lance Monthly] At what studios did you record and which were the ones that impressed you the most?
Carl Bunch I've recorded at Ben Hall’s Studios in Big Spring, Texas, at Norman Petty’s Studios in Clovis New Mexico, [at] a very good studio in Orlando, Florida (can't remember the name of it now), Tommy Allsup’s Studio in Odessa, and another of Tommy’s Studios in Azel, Texas. [Also] at a studio in Ft. Worth and in several studios in Nashville. I would have been smart to become a studio player early on. That's where the money is. Nashville’s studios are the best I've recorded in, but the memories in Clovis and Azel are the greatest.
[Lance Monthly] I, too, will be attending the Buddy Holly Symposium with my wife, Judi, in early September as a member of the press, and I look forward to meeting you and your family. My guitar roots with my traditional guitar-instrumental group, The Knights (formed in 1961 and still active), was inspired by George Tomsco of the Fireballs and Nokie Edwards of The Ventures, and my preferred guitar has always been the Fender Jazzmaster. Are you fond of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s instrumental efforts by these artists?
Carl Bunch I'm so glad you and Judi will be in Lubbock in September. Dorothy and I look forward to meeting you there. I can't say I ever met Nokie Edwards, though I was also a fan, but I'm proud to list George Tomsco as a friend. I'm sending you a picture of him and me on stage together along with several others that might be of interest to you for this article. As far as guitars go, I own a wonderful 1988 collectors-series Ovation that has a great story to go with it, just not for this interview.
[Lance Monthly] At what point in time did you and your wife develop a profound relationship with God and why?
Carl Bunch [On] February 8, 1971, just before midnight [in Southern California], Dorothy laid our copy of “The Late Great Planet Earth” on the table by the bed and we went to sleep. At 6:00 A.M. the earth began to shake violently, knocking me from the bed to the floor. Dorothy ran into the baby’s room and grabbed Corrina. She was baptizing her with spit as I ran out the front door with my shotgun to see if paratroopers were accompanying what I thought for sure was a bombing. The young lady next door told me it was an earthquake and said I was cute in my jockey shorts. I ran back inside, made sure Dorothy and Corrina weren't injured, put on my pants and shirt, and ran back out to survey the destruction. There was a big aftershock that literally knocked me to my knees. When it subsided, I ran back inside to turn on our brand new color TV, only to find it had fallen and been destroyed. Dorothy was in tears and sat on the couch holding Corrina while I looked for a radio. The only thing I could think to do was sit with her and hold her while she prayed. Her faith touched me deeply and when we were able to get ourselves together, we walked to a local bookstore and bought two Bibles. I bought her a Catholic edition and a Scofield-reference Bible for myself.
We spent the next few weeks looking up all the references in “The Late Great Planet Earth” and, by the time we had finished, I was convinced that what it said was true. I began having personal encounters with God over the next few weeks, in which He would speak to my heart with that still small voice, yet so clearly, there was no mistaking it was Him. Every time He would drop a thought in my heart I would look it up in the Bible and ask Dorothy what she thought. I was driving a limousine for Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Limousine service at the time and using the contact I made to try and advance my career as an actor. We moved from the apartment in North Hollywood to Santa Monica to be closer to the garage, and Dorothy kept nagging me about my work not being pleasing to God.
One night I was watching Sonny and Cher when their guest David Clayton Thomas sang a song called “Magnificent Sanctuary Band.” The Lord spoke to my heart and said, "That's what you should be doing with your music." 6:00 A.M. the next morning I was watching a preacher on TV. I had a joint in one hand and a glass of wine in the other when that preacher stuck his hand out of the TV and into my face saying, "I don't care if you're a deacon in My church, [but] if you don't have a personal relationship with My son Jesus Christ, you are on your way to hell.” God spoke to me so profoundly I thought anyone there could have heard his voice as clearly as I had. He said, "That's you Carl. You have no such relationship and you are on your way to hell.” I woke up every time in the apartment complex screaming, "God don't let me die lost. Jesus save me, please." Scared Dorothy half out of her wits and made the baby cry, but it was the beginning of the most incredible adventure in faith I could possibly [have].
[Lance Monthly] What is your take on the manufactured mainstream music of today and do you see it ever getting back to a clearly defined rock-and-roll expression?
Carl Bunch I'm one the young would call old when it comes to today’s pop music. I listen mostly to country and gospel now due to my inability to enjoy 95% of what is called music in today’s market. I wish I could say that I held out hope that we could ever get back to a clearly defined rock-and-roll expression, but I don't. I'm proud to see the hundreds of young people coming to the venues [at which] I still play. Our music will never die, but I left rock and roll to go into country when I felt it was not going to get any better and that was in 1967. From what I've seen since then, I'm convinced I was right to make the move.
[Lance Monthly] If you had to do it over again, what would you have done differently and what advise do you have for the aspiring rock-and-roll musician of today?
Carl Bunch If I had it to do over again I'd practice longer and harder, live in the studios as much as possible, and take thousands of pictures. I have been blessed far above most of my peers to have met and worked with the incredible people who make up my musical past. One thing I would definitely change is the timing of my salvation experience: Lord that I could have shared my faith with many who are now gone. I don't believe in preaching at people, in spite of the fact that I am an ordained minister and do preach when the opportunity presents itself—even then, though I'm much more comfortable with sharing my personal experience in Him than just presenting a sermon.
My advice to aspiring musicians is to love what you do so much that no one can miss it. Don't ever buy your own publicity. You are blessed beyond description just by having the talent to play. Develop that talent as far as you can take it, but don't ever think it makes you special and that the rules of decency don't apply to you. Be thankful and tell God you are. He is the giver of the gift. He can help you to take it to the next level and the ones after that.
[Lance Monthly] Carl, thank you very much for your visit with me. Your replies to my questions have been both fascinating and riveting, to say the least. You da man! What are your final thoughts?
Carl Bunch I am again blessed with the opportunity to say whatever I believe needs saying, without constraint. Thank you, Dick for letting me share my heart with your readers. I've lived at least three lifetimes in almost sixty-five years and the last is prophesied over me to be better than the first. If the prophecy is true, and I believe every word of it, you'll be hearing a great deal more of me in the future. I want to close with a challenge to your readers by sharing the lyrics to a song I'll be recording in the near future. The song goes like this:
Stand up while you can, every woman, child, and man. Your pledge of allegiance renew.
Sing God bless America. Stand up for the Red, White and Blue.
If you think it's corny to be proud of Old Glory, mister, I've got news for you.
The blood that was shed for your right to that opinion calls out for the Red, White and Blue.
Stand up while you can, every woman, child, and man. Your pledge of allegiance renew.
Sing God bless America. Stand up for the Red, White and Blue.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, still under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
God Bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her with a light that will shine from above. From the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.
Now if you still think it's corny to be proud of Old Glory, mister, I've got more news for you.
The blood that was shed for your right to be that way will live on no matter what you say or do.
There are many in this land [that] still salute old glory and daily pay the price to keep us free.
United we stand, indivisible under God, and we will not lay down our liberty.
Stand up while you can, every woman, child and man. Your pledge of allegiance renew.
Sing God bless America. Stand up for the red white and blue.
Thanks again for the privilege of sharing and all who would like to join me in making the words "liberty and justice for all" a reality. Please e-mail me soon.
God’s best, Carl Bunch – “The Frostbitten Cricket”