Day Trips

The Texas Musicians Museum in Hillsboro runs the gamut of Texas music history from Gene Autry to ZZ Top

Fromholtz to Tubb
Fromholtz to Tubb (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

The Texas Musicians Museum in Hillsboro takes visitors on a magical tour of musical history. What makes this shrine to Texas melody-makers special is the guided tour led by the man who collected the impressive array of artifacts.

"We just want to show how fantastic Texas music history is," says Thomas Kreason, the museum's executive director and chief procurement officer. He "retired" to a small town after working more than 20 years in the music and promotion business, including decorating Hard Rock Cafes with rock & roll memorabilia.

The little house a couple of blocks north of the county courthouse contains Kreason's personal collection of souvenirs that illustrate the evolution of Texas music. "Over the years he has been a very discriminating collector," Marianne Butler says of her husband. "For instance, he'll buy boxes of records and only keep one or two. I'd want to keep all of them."

A few years ago, Kreason purchased the old record collection of a radio station in the Texas Panhandle. Among the dusty 45 rpm records was an instrumental that Waylon Jennings had used as his intro music while working as a deejay at the Lubbock station. The label was covered with notes written by Jennings to himself.

"[Jennings] was such a great and special musician," Kreason says as he launches into a story about the Buddy Holly band member who took the bus instead of the airplane on that fateful day in 1959.

Another of Kreason's favorite musicians is J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson. As the story goes, Jennings gave up his seat to the Bopper on the flight that ended in a cornfield. A corner of a room is dedicated to the Beaumont deejay who died with Holly. On a stylish Fifties television, a scratchy film shows Richardson singing his signature "Hello Baby" in what might be the first music video.

After the last notes of "Chantilly Lace" fade on the black-and-white video, Kreason opens the door to a small porch to show the visitors Richardson's casket. Now that's a rare piece of rock & roll history. The dented and stained gold metal box resembles the body style of a Sixties Chevy Corvair and definitely looks used. Fortunately, Richardson didn't have any further use for the box, but I'll let Kreason explain why.

Kreason has crammed a lot of musical history into this little house. From Gene Autry to ZZ Top, the displays tell of the progression of Texas music history. At nearly every turn on the tour there are surprises large and small. On the bookshelf under a display of rare Crickets album covers is a copy of the musician's sixth-grade annual open to a bespectacled Buddy Holley (as a performer, he dropped the "e").

Fans of Dale Evans, who was born in Uvalde and grew up in nearby Italy, Texas, will enjoy the sultry publicity photograph of the singing cowgirl taken before she became Roy Roger's partner. Also represented in the glass cases are Jim Reeves, the Dixie Chicks, Tanya Tucker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Wills, and the Light Crust Doughboys.

One of the best parts of the museum is the information on Texas blues singers. Even hardcore blues enthusiasts will learn something new about the lineage of Negro music from the cotton fields to Carnegie Hall. The musical snippets that accompany Kreason's stories feature Alger "Texas" Alexander singing a version of "The House of the Rising Sun" in 1928.

Kreason makes the argument that rock & roll was born in a recording studio in Houston. In 1949, Goree Carter recorded a jazzy blues record with all the musical elements of a sound that became popular a decade later. When Kreason drops the needle on the old 45 record, through the pops and crackles both the driving guitar riffs and the equipment become part of the historical display.

The Texas Musicians Museum is at 212 N. Waco St. in Hillsboro. The gallery is open Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm; Friday and Saturday, noon to 9pm; and closed Sunday through Tuesday. Admission is $10 for adults. For information, call 254/580-9780 or go to www.texasmusiciansmuseum.com.

856th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Musicians Museum, Hillsboro, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly

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