Looking for Russell Cushman art ?: http://russellcushmanart.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Benefit Concert for Two BIG Benefits to Navasota!

Navasota's most famous artists, Leon and "Molly Bee" Collins. They just lost everything they own in a house fire.

We are planning a benefit concert for Molly Bee and her father Leon on January 24, 2015. Tubie and the Touchtones and Brickyard Kain have offered to play at a benefit concert and auction at The Dizzy Llama. Things will kick off at 6:30.

If you want to donate to the LIVE Auction, let me know!

The Collin's house burned down a couple of weeks ago. Leon lost everything but his Bible. All of his money and paintings and clothes...He's going to need a lot of help. They have moved into a new place on Church Street.

Leon's tragedy reminds us that life, our mission in life, is more important than we might think. There are great things at stake while we indulge ourselves in philosophical questions, often unanswerable. Sometimes life demands that we step up to the challenges at our feet, think of the greater good. And jump in.

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Little Light Of Mine

It was Friday morning and my car was in the shop and so my checkbook was out of reach and I didn’t have a buck for coffee, much less breakfast. 

So I spent the morning in my computer nook and made my own coffee. Never caught without a plan B,  I visited my daughter. Not the way most people would. You see she does not communicate much… except through her music. So I pulled up Soundcloud.

And the tears began to flow...

I had woken up this morning with this crazy idea about a TV talent show where a group of rugged, plain-talk bikers judge college student’s art and either give them bear hugs or ceremoniously throw their stuff in the dumpster. It seemed like genius at the time. Then as I listened to Raegan’s music, it came to me that plain talk would be good for her too. And me. Right now.

Let’s face this thing. Let’s face the music.

You see, I have had this persistent fatherly delusion that she is a great talent and that her music is worthy to be marketed at the next level- you know movie sound track stuff. Of course, we have no idea where that begins... So far she is a bit underwhelmed with her potential and my faith. Being a person who loves talent and has made my living with it, I do not relate to hiding your light under a basket. So please do me a huge favor. Go to her website at soundcloud.com/raegan-cushman

You will find her album called Wildest Dreams and her latest epic, engaging songs, which continue to blow me away.

Give them a listen. Be critical. (of at least one of us!) Then shoot me down, tell me to get over it, I can take it.  But if you feel led, lift her up. Leave a comment on her website. Hell, even buy a song. If she might wrap her head around this, if she felt some support for this pursuit, if she dared to want it, I know the rest would fall into place.

Encourage her. Pray for her, and let her know that her old man is not the only one who thinks her music is awesome.

Either way, you will be of great service to this pathetic wretch slobbering over his coffee… WHICH IS NOW ICE COLD!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Who Let The Dogs Out? We did.

This wily little black cat has survived several attacks on our cats by dangerous dogs in our neighborhood. The dogs have killed four of her pals so far...

Governments at every level and in many locations across the country are struggling with dangerous dog ordinances. This is America and many people think they have a right to own a dangerous dog and even let it run around the neighborhood once in a while. But I am fed up with these irresponsible pet owners who give no thought to the danger their dogs present to cats and small dogs and children.

Just a few weeks ago the whole country was amazed at the You Tube video of an intrepid common housecat who jumped a dangerous dog right as he attacked a little boy, probably saving his life. This was wonderful, and gave us new insight on our feline friends, but unfortunately my cats are not so fearsome.  In fact several of my pet cats have been killed by dangerous dogs as they lounged in my yard. One Sunday morning, we looked out in our yard and saw two of our cats killed where they lay, and another neighbor’s cat across the street was also dead. These killers are wanton and swift and efficient.

Living near downtown Navasota, we have had terrible luck with our animals. One evening a family walking their unleashed dog in front of our house lost control of him and he chased our cat up on our porch and shook him to death…as my wife looked on.

Just last night a chronically loose pit bull dog ran up on our porch and tried to kill the two cats we have left, my wife screaming and the dog’s owners vainly calling it.  My poor wife has been repeatedly traumatized unnecessarily because our society refuses to stand up to reckless pet owners. How often do we read about an innocent small child torn up and scarred for life by someone’s adorable pet, who “had never done anything like that before.” We cannot hope for the best and pray that nothing bad happens, or wait for these dangerous dogs to evolve into kinder, gentler friends of Man.

Many towns have tried to write an ordinance which outlaws certain breeds, or stigmatizes known trouble-making dogs or dog owners. Usually fines or even confiscation are threatened to inspire plain common-sense and compliance.  But most of these dangerous-dog people are risk takers anyway, to have such a vicious dog, and are willing to pay a lot of money to subsidize their pet companion. People are known these days to spend more on veterinarian bills than our parents did on doctors. Pets are cool, and dangerous dogs in the city are status symbols. Fines will not solve the problem.

It is important that communities protect themselves before they suffer tragedy at the hands of these negligent owners and their often neglected animals. Many cities are taking action to protect their citizens from this growing menace. So here is my solution for Navasota.

Most dangerous dog ordinances are written to control and even punish the dogs who offend. Forget this. We have had it all backwards. We need to aim the dangerous dog laws squarely at the true offenders, the dog owners. We need to fine the dogs and PUT THE OWNERS IN THE POUND with their dog! Seriously, a few nights sleeping on a concrete pad, stinking of dog shit, listening as homeless dogs wail and bark incessantly, would get anybody’s attention. This is not cruel punishment, compared to the pain and destruction and suffering these dog owners can cause.

So we don’t fine them, but apply legal pressure to spend their money on a responsible pet facility. This is usually the problem anyway. After they get out of their stay at the pound, you force them to build a fence or whatever to sufficiently secure their dangerous dog, according to a strict code, inspected by a city official. Otherwise you can condemn their home as unsafe and a health hazard. And this will certainly be true. This will get the land owners and renters involved, and they too will apply pressure to keep their property clear of liens or injunctions or whatever. After all of this unpleasantness, these dangerous dog owners will soon be packing out of here. And they can take their dogs with them.

And that is what we want.

Friday, August 22, 2014

More on FAKE Ranger Badges

I get a lot of inquiries from people who find and read my blog, still convinced they are the owner of a REAL Texas Ranger Badge, and wanting further satisfaction. I have to admit some of them own very well-made replicas. Sometimes, rarely, I agree that they have an authentic Texas Ranger badge. Maybe once. Also some owners of these rare relics contact me as well, and they of course do not need or ask for my opinion. But they seem to enjoy the blog and agree with most of it. Anyway, I thought I would post this for all those want-to-be Texas Ranger badge owners who still are not convinced, one way or another. 

IF you have the real thing... there are some telltale signs, on the back of the badge... once again the reverse or Peso side of the badge tells everything. A jeweler in Houston named Nelson Silvia made many of the later Ranger badges from the 1960's on and put his mark on them. It will look something like this... there are variations. IF you have a badge that looks like this, but does not have this cartouche, you are probably holding a clever copy.

real deal
Note at about about 5:00 the stamp...

It says : NEL-SIL 

The better copies of this badge are cast in silver by excellent craftsmen. As far as I know, there have been none made with the Silva name stamped in them, as this would be double forgery. But not all of them are easily discounted. Some of these copiers are very good at casting and replicating the Peso. So good, you cannot tell. BUT, you can tell if it is cast.


Do you see the inconsistencies at the bottom edge?

Inspect the coin's ridge. It should be in tact and have all those little tiny teeth. Here is where you will find the tell-tale evidence of casting. When the Peso badge is replicated, a mold is made from it and then wax copies of the coin are made to be cast in silver using the "lost wax" process. There has to be a tube to funnel the molten silver into the hollow ceramic mold -  which houses the cavity where the wax replica was... (now melted away). That tube will fill full of silver as well and be sawed off after casting. The jeweler will carefully file the edge of the "coin" and then try to replicate the tiny little teeth on the edge of the coin. They hardly ever do a very convincing job- if you look hard...

You will see file marks, but they are never as neat and are rarely done with much precision... like a real Peso... it is just too small for most jewelers to be able to do it.

How about now? This is an especially poor job.

So, does your badge have any maker's mark? If it is a later design, and most are that "Co. A" Peso badge, it should have one, if it was an authorized badge.

Is it really a coin, or a clever forgery? Here is another absolutely gorgeous fake... with tell-tale saw marks on the edge,  to compare with yours...

This one is numbered and signed GW by the jeweler. GW did a great job, but his sprew location is easily detected, on the ridge, again, at the very bottom.

I hope yours passes this last line of scrutiny. If it does... then congratulations! You might well own a real Texas Ranger badge.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2 Bit Palomino- Like an aged wine...

An expectant crowd of music lovers spreads out at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville. 

I had heard Andi and Peter Renfree first as "The Renfrees" at the Corner Cafe several years ago. They came back the next year re-invented as "2 Bit Palomino," with a new guitar picker and keyboardist, and unveiled their new songs... But being in transition, I chose to reserve my judgment and wait for more input before writing about them... Then a mutual friend invited me to see them at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville.

2 Bit Palomino is a veteran threesome of Houston-based singer-songwriters who have found an original sound and written some catchy, solid songs. These are songs that make you remember those things in your sub-conscious that have been pushed aside by the tyranny of the urgent; things we need to hold on to.  

They were named the Vocal Group of the Year in 2011 and 2013 by the Academy of Texas Music. My favorite song is an epic song they sing, made famous by Chris LeDoux, and written by Andrea C. Renfree, Willie McCullough and Clay Canfield, called The Buffalo Grass. I promise, it sounds better than... it sounds... Anyway I'll bet this song had something to do with the fact that Howlin' Dog Records just signed them to a contract. The three are quite pleased with their new situation and looking forward to cutting the new album. Persistence and excellence have paid off.

Andi Renfree strolls among her crowd at Bernhardt Winery before she performs. With casual, down to earth ease, she explains how far her faith was stretched, how far she had to step out on faith, before the band was seemingly "instantly" rewarded with milestones of success in their respective careers.  Now they are going to enjoy the coming journey with appreciation that has been fermented like a fine wine. 

Bill-       Andi-      "Ren"
Bill Ward, the songwriter- guitarist and keyboard player, explains that he just performed in front of the Alamo. Now THAT is a Texas moment. He is doing his second performance in as many days, with a grueling drive in between. And the real work is just beginning. Only talent and commitment and down-right hard-headedness would have gotten them this far. And now, almost running on empty, they generously give us, who sit casually in our lawn chairs, an evening to remember...

Peter Renfree

2-Bit Palomino sings about No cowboys in Dallas, buffalo grass... and even about a whore. Bill sings a protest song. He finds no comfort that everyone agrees with his protest, that there is no more middle class in America. So it must not be a protest song... he explains, if everybody agrees with him... Their sensitive, sincere message strikes a chord with the audience. America is changing right before our eyes. The songs hit us where we sit; regular folks seeking a measure of peace and serenity in the middle of somewhere. And for just a moment,  remembering.

As in the days of yesteryear, songsters are the voice of our social conscience- and our consciousness. And for the moment, there is music, and friends, and Grimes County wine.

It has been a perfect evening. Too perfect. Native Americans would intentionally place a random bead in their bead work, a concession that only God can make perfection, and to keep themselves humble. I looked around and found the Bernhardt's "random bead"... a little light bulb had gone out.

You probably wonder about their name... it is also the name of one of their great songs... about that mechanical rocking horse we all begged to ride for a quarter as children, in front of the grocery store... Meanwhile 2 Bit Palomino has grown and matured into a promising act, and will be away, more than ever, on the road or in Nashville or whatever, and we are fortunate to have had an evening with them. And now they can get rested up for the challenges ahead. Good luck to them, and God Bless! And thanks for refreshing my memories!

Confessions about BERNHARDT WINERY, Plantersville, Texas.

I have prided myself in covering most music venues and anything worth knowing about in my neck of the woods... but I will confess to avoiding the woods. 24 years ago when my little family left Plantersville, after calling it home for around 18 years, it was with the firm conviction that coming there had been the most serious mistake of our young lives. So it will be no surprise that going back... to cover any deserving story, is bitter sweet. Or to be more accurate, choking on crow.

It was a hard pill to swallow, that right across from the Price pasture where I used to hunt and photograph bluebonnets and run my Labrador retriever, is the sign and the road leading to one of Grimes County's prime attractions. Plantersville has enjoyed the upgrade brought by such neighbors as the Bernhardt Winery, as some of us shrugged and shook our heads. "More newcomers... they will never make it..." 

So now you and I can quit ignoring the stunning truth- that Grimes County is now the home of several excellent wineries, and Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville is the flagship of the fleet. Let me demonstrate why...

Natural Beauty.

Bernhardt Winery is situated on county road 204 in far eastern Grimes County, just north of Hwy 105. The surrounding countryside is so pretty that it explains why I moved here... and stayed here in Grimes County over forty years ago. Distant vistas and mammoth trees greet visitors to this oasis, which prides itself on being a site of peace and serenity. And the wine doesn't hurt. Bernhardt offers their award winning wines ice-cold, as you sip and listen to Texas' most celebrated musicians. Shake Russell. Ezra Charles. On this visit we were entertained by the original future hits of 2- Bit Palomino. 

World Class Music. 

A veteran crowd of picnickers congregate on a gentle slope which stops at a gargantuan pecan tree, which protects a small outdoor stage from the sun. It might be Bob Livingston, who has performed in over 30 countries around the world for the State Department, or the best of local talent. This Autumn they plan a series of tribute bands, from the Eagles to Willie to Elvis to the Beatles to Motown. 

And the wine flows. The music fills the valley. The sun goes down... 

And Jerry Bernhardt reads some of his winsome poetry and... all is right with the world. He explains that the place is for getting back in touch with nature... and beauty. If I'm not totally accurate about what he said... I'll blame the wine...And he asks everyone to be quiet and just listen for a moment to the sounds of the country. Cicadas obligingly turn up the volume, and crickets rub their legs with enthusiasm. He makes a toast. I look around. Yes, this is Plantersville. Back when I first moved here, me and my coon hunting, skoal dipping, whiskey sipping buddies would have cracked up at such eloquence.

Delicious Wine.

As I explained to the kind lady offering me a sampling of wine, I'm a beer guy. But the wines I tasted were very rich and refreshing. We bought a blush wine that disappeared quickly. You come. You be the judge. I know music- and they have the best music in Texas, and as our entertainers for the evening joked, the more we drank the better they sounded. And probably the better the whole experience is... or seems. Whatever, Plantersville has more going for it than the Texas Renaissance Festival. Right now it has the two most impressive entertainment venues in Grimes County.

Thanks to the vision of the Bernhardts, time, good taste and financial commitment has rewarded this lovely place with a solid attraction. And hundreds of people are making it a regular part of their lives.  I sure plan to.

But thank goodness, it is still Plantersville.

If you want to more details about Bernhardt Winery, call (936) 894-9829 or go to their website:

ValHALLa! An Awe-inspiring Peek at Navasota River Halls

My friend Michael Havens has begun to rent his fabulous facility west of Navasota as an event center. Navasota River Hall is huge, richly furnished and decorated, and an exciting new asset to the region.

Carved cedar tree trunks hold up a timber framework which shines under the tin ceiling. The cozy lighting makes each area intimate, even though it is a huge (16,392 sq ft!) facility. A large stage will facilitate most bands, who will appreciate the excellent sound system, and there is a spacious serving room for caterers.

Here are a few shots of a beautiful wedding for the Prescotts, held there Saturday...

Bridesmaids wait their turn...

The pastor had a lot to say to the couple...  about being servants to one another...

If you don't like wood... you'll HATE this place! 

There was room for three hundred people to dine afterwards... 

And just as many to dance.... after the wedding chapel was cleared!

This place is sure to become Party Central for the Brazos Valley!

An 80 foot bar... You have to see it to believe it...

And over-the-top ranch decor... a Texan Valhalla!

This Brazos Valley event hall should be called VALHALLA!

Michael Havens can be reached at: (936) 499-8699

Monday, August 11, 2014

Serendipity- and Bob Livingston Returns

If you hung out around Navasota a few years ago, you will remember a little place called Serendipity’s. Later Phil Heibeler, the owner sold the business and then got it back, and re-invented it and renamed it The Corner Café. Phil’s new vision was a café with Live music, and he featured about two years of excellent Friday evening mini-concerts he called a singer-songwriter series. I actually began this blog to try to help him promote the music scene here in Navasota, the “Blues Capital of Texas.” Every Friday night I was there at the Corner Café photographing and staying up very late writing the blogs while they were fresh on my mind.

In the process some of the musicians enjoyed my comments and used them on their websites. My photos went all over the Internet, and Phil had me blow some up and put them on his café walls. They looked good there, and I felt real cool coming in the place and feeling the art and the fun and the live music even when it was not there. Then Phil went out of business again, and left for greener pastures. He sold me the big enlarged photos I had made for his cafe, and suddenly I had these huge cumbersome things all over my studio. I’m talking 30” x 40” canvases of George Ensle, David Lutes, Susan Herndon, Bob Livingston and Brian Ashley Jones.

These folks are not exactly huge stars, but they are in my universe. Still, I was not sure what needed to happen to them, I just did not want them to leave Navasota, like the rest of our music history.
Anyway, all that to say that one of the big plans was to have each of the artists back some day and they could sign their canvases. You know, with one of those big gold pens. Of course other than one of them, that never happened. Now fast-forward a couple of years.

Sunday I was keeping the store at Blues Alley, something I rarely do any more, and had an average day and was about to close when two dudes strolled in. They arrived all smiles and commenting what a great town Navasota seemed to be… one of the prettiest towns in “East Texas” one of them offered. This identified them as Austinites. Everyone around here knows we are in CENTRAL TEXAS.  OK, we are on the edge... of three distinct geographical regions... Still, I had to agree that Navasota is one of the prettiest towns around... I bragged a little and tried to sell them a cheap guitar...

One of them asked about the Corner Café.  I shared the tragic loss of the wonderful little music venue we enjoyed for several years. And then one of them said, almost under his breath that he had performed there. I pondered that, for I had seen most of the shows. 

Bob Livingston

The only one of the performers he could have been was Bob Livingston, but Bob is taller, younger and clean shaven.
Bob Livingston is sort of a living piece of Texas music history, a Texas songwriter, once a member of the Lost Gonzo Band and running the roads with Michael Martin Murphy, Gary P. Nunn and other Texas Music Legends. This guy was no Bob Livingston. “You say you played at the Corner Café? What is your name?”

“Bob Livingston.”

Well you can imagine that, after insulting him mercilessly, I adapted quickly and invited Bob Livingston up to my studio to see my collection of Texas musicians… and he graciously offered to sign my canvas of his former countenance. It was a great mini-moment… One of the long Lost Gonzos had been found, right in my studio! Felt kinda like Neil Armstrong when he first stepped on the Moon. He even posed for a picture.

Songwriter and world traveler Bob Livingston poses with his obsolete portrait. I urged him to keep the beard. I was hoping he would give me the hat. I'm pretty sure he is thinking... "What a moron!"

And I had not been scheduled to keep the store like that, in YEARS. So Phil, that’s two down… three to go. Thanks to... your serendipity. 

This might take a while, but I‘m thinkin’ we gotta GO FOR IT!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The best year ever in my opinion.

The two day festival started on Friday, Aug 8th, with a cigar box guitar workshop at Navasota Blues Alley in downtown Navasota, led by the wizard of such music, Justin Johnson.

Justin Johnson does wonders with the humble diddly bow at Blues Alley.

Then Justin opened the festival out at the Grimes County Expo Center...
Justin Johnson

Afterwards Brad Absher took the stage with a full blown band and lit up the room. He has TWO saxophone players and an ivory tickler who brings his own (quite heavy!) piano. Very solid band called SWAMP ROYALE.
Brad Absher at far right up front with his sax men 

Tony Vega finished off the first night with tight energy for a three piece band. They set the expectation for the weekend... which delivered GREAT BANG FOR THE BUCK!

Tony Vega

Saturday, Aug 9

The Saturday events kicked off with a fun acoustic set done by Back Porch in E Flat, (or something like that!) who graciously replaced Dr. Michael Birnbaum who was unable to attend. These guys each played multiple instruments. The bass player was blowing on a harmonica and tapping a top hat. A small crowd of hard core blues fans sat in chairs up close to the stage to get a better look, and time stood still... and flew by!. 

Back Porch E Flat

Then, FINALLY, one of my favorite musicians ever, Doug Macleod brought his resonator mastery to the Blues Fest. I told him this must be heaven, because I was sure this is what it will feel like, getting to enjoy such fabulous music and sharing it with your friends. Doug is a National Treasure. He writes his own songs.. and they have a very useful message in this day and time. His slide guitar prowess shares few peers.

Doug Macleod

BAD BRAD and the FAT CATS came on and instantly connected with the crowd, quickly gaining the attention of this seasoned blues crowd and getting smiles. Brad is bad, but I mean that in a good way. This guy will go far as long as people want real blues.
Bad Brad and the Fat Cats

Then everything got crazy.  Texas Johnny Boy and his all-star band blew out the cob webs with his typical high energy blues assault. This man is a blues animal. You can tell he lives to play and plays to live. 

Texas Johnny Boy

Annika Chambers came on like gangbusters as they say and showed why is she has left a wake of devoted fans all over the Houston area and beyond. She is a passionate performer, singing and frolicking on stage with a rare combination of power and abandon.
Annika Chambers

And then there was the incomparable Ezra Charles and his fabulous band. In my mind the best act we have ever seen. Charles has found his dream team and nurtured them into a rollicking brass section that sings and struts and mixes it up with the crowd. By the time he got through playing, everyone was EXHAUSTED!

It will be hard to top this year's sterling stream of shows. Some old traditions were broken to create the best line-up they have ever had. I'm one who thinks the sacrifice and the change was worth it, and hope they stick to their new plan... and that is offering up the best blues fest in the country! SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!


OHMYGOD!!!! (Ezra Charles)