Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues" (1970)

I've got this good lookin' woman back home,
     let me tell you, uh-huh
She cooks good and she looks good 
     and she just can't do no wrong
She cooks me cornbread in the morning, 

     she's my dinner and my midnight snack
She sits up and she begs

     and she even rolls over on her back. . . .

She don't treat me mean

     and she loves my machine
I digs her cause she's funky 

     and she sure keeps it clean
I'm a loafer, she's my chauffeur, 

     and she sure likes to drive me
I lay my life on the line, 

     and she steps right up besides me.

What do you say, ladies?  Which of those lines is the most objectionable?

1.  "She cooks good and she looks good"?

2. "She sits up and she begs, and she even rolls over on her back"?

3.  "I digs her cause she's funky and she sure keeps it clean"?

4.  All of the above?

Part Six -- Day of Infamy: The First Half and the Halftime Show

Trust me, boys and girls, this post absolutely proves that truth is stranger -- and much more entertaining -- than fiction.  Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.  I promise you won't be sorry you did.   It's effing epic.

(Click here if you haven't read Part Five of this series of posts.)

The on-the-field matchup on November 17, 1973 -- Rice vs. Texas A&M -- didn't draw much attention prior to the game.  Rice hadn't had a winning season in a number of years, and while A&M usually fielded a strong team, its '73 squad ended the season below .500. So the game figured to be something of a yawner.

Guess again, folks -- the game turned out to be a nailbiter.  But what made the afternoon truly memorable had nothing to do with the two teams and everything to do with . . . the Rice marching band and the Texas A&M ROTC cadet corps?

Let's set the stage for the non-Texans in the crowd.  Back in the 1970's, there existed something called the Southwest Conference, or SWC -- which was an athletic conference that was every bit the football equal of the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12 (which was the Big Eight before four SWC schools joined it).

The SWC consisted of the University of Arkansas, three Texas public mega-universities (the University of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M), and four private Texas schools (Baylor, TCU, SMU, and -- last and sometimes least, at least when it came to football wins -- Rice).  As you might expect, the big state schools tended to pound the smaller private schools on the gridiron.

Rice was not only the smallest school in the SWC, it was by far the most liberal.  A&M was the most conservative, although most of the other SWC schools were somewhat conservative.

In 1973, the U.S. was trying to extricate itself from the decade-long Vietnam War, while Richard Nixon was deeply embroiled in the Watergate controversy.  (As noted previously, the very day of the Rice-Texas A&M game was the day that President Nixon -- defending the his "Saturday Night Massacre" dismissal of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox -- famously told an audience of newspaper editors "I am not a crook.")  A&M had so many ROTC students in those days that it was essentially a Texas West Point, while Rice students were mostly antiwar. 

There were many other fundamental cultural differences between the two schools.  (There was no doubt much more illegal drug use at Rice, and I have a feeling that Grateful Dead records were relatively rare at A&M.)  The differences between the Rice and A&M student bodies were reasonably representative of the differences between the counterculture and the silent majority.

Rice experienced a great deal of football success in the 1950's.  The '53 Rice squad beat Alabama in the 1954 Cotton Bowl, and the Owls also played in bowl games after the '57, '60, and '61 seasons. 

The 1954 Cotton Bowl victory over Alabama (which was quarterbacked by Bart Starr) featured perhaps the oddest play in college football history.  As Rice's Dicky Maegle broke away from the Alabama defense and crossed midfield en route to what was sure to be a 95-yard touchdown run, an Alabama player came off the bench to tackle him.  The referees awarded Rice a touchdown.

But by the time I matriculated, Rice's football fortunes were at a low ebb.  My freshman year, the team went 5-5.  It was over 20 years before they improved on that record.

Dumb-ass Razorback fan
The '73 season kicked off with a one-sided loss to the University of Houston.  After a win over Montana -- not exactly a football power -- the Owls took it on the chin from LSU, Notre Dame, SMU, Texas and Texas Tech.

Sitting at 1-6, the Owls rebounded to beat Arkansas (much to my delight -- all my mother's family lived in or around Fayetteville, and I grown up loathing those stupid plastic "hog hats" and everything else about Razorback Nation).

(By the way, for those of you who went to college north of the Mason-Dixon line, all I can say is YOU BLEW IT! Suffice it to say that Houston ain't Chicago or Boston or Minneapolis. There was no need for down parkas or ski masks or long underwear at Rice Owl football games -- shorts and T-shirts were the uniform of the day when we went to watch a game.  In fact, Rice played its games at night until November because it was simply too hot in September and October for daytime football.)

Next on the schedule was A&M.  That game was played at Rice, but you can't really say it was a home game.  Rice Stadium was massive, seating some 70,000 fans.  In fact, SuperBowl VIII was played at Rice Stadium less than two months after the A&M game.  (My girlfriend and I saw Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton eating dinner with his family at a local steak restaurant the Friday night before the game.  I don't think that would happen now.)  

Rice Stadium hosted Super Bowl VIII on January 13, 1974
President John F. Kennedy famously promised that the United States would put a man on the moon in a 1962 speech at Rice Stadium.

Rice only had about 2500 undergraduates -- you could seat every single living Rice alumnus in Rice Stadium, and still have seats left over.  So when we hosted the big state schools -- especially Texas and Texas A&M, which not only had many more students than Rice but also many loyal Houston-area alumni who knew that they could usually count on their teams pounding the lowly Owls -- we were greatly outnumbered.

Rice QB Tommy Kramer
In the '73 A&M game, everything went Rice's way in the first half.  As I recall -- and you should take all my recollections of this game (not to mention almost everything else I say) with a large grain of salt -- Rice's entertaining but erratic passing offense clicked on three long completions, each of which resulted in a score, and the Owls led 17-0 at halftime.  (Until I started doing the research for this post, I had forgotten that Rice's quarterback in this game was "Touchdown Tommy" Kramer, who was the first-round draft choice of the Vikings a few years later, and who had a long and very productive career in the NFL.)

The Aggie crowd had reason to be in a foul mood at the intermission -- their team had dominated the line of scrimmage in the first two quarters, but the combination of A&M miscues and Rice's big plays had put the Aggies in a deep hole.

As mentioned previously, the majority of Aggie students in those days were members of the Corps of Cadets.  They sat in a large block, responding as one when their male yell leaders gave them the signal.  

Here's a short video about the Aggie yell leaders:

The Aggie cadets stand up for the entire game, symbolically demonstrating their willingness to come out of the stands and suit up for the team if a "twelfth man" is needed.  This video explains how that custom started:

Another Corps of Cadets custom is that you got to kiss your date whenever the Aggies scored a touchdown.  So there was an additional reason that being shut out in the first half by Rice had put the adets in a grumpy mood. 

The much smaller group of Rice students attending the game sat in an adjacent section.  (The alums and other fans were mostly on the other side of the stadium.)  I was fascinated by the contrast between the cadets and my fellow Rice students -- I spent a lot of the game observing them.

At halftime, the Aggie Band took the field first and did what the Aggie Band always did -- it marched up and down and back and forth to ponderous military march tunes, executing its complicated manuevers flawlessly.  We were not exactly favorably inclined to members of the military in those days, and the spectacle of this 400-man military band -- the seniors (including a few very short and skinny piccolo players) equipped with sabers and wearing their knee-high senior boots -- inspired derisive shouts and gestures.

Fightin' Texas Aggie Band's "ATM" formation
Then it was the Rice band's turn.  From the Rice student newspaper, the Thresher:

The favored Aggies were down 17-0 as their band left the field and the MOB marched on. For three years, the Marching Owl Band has performed humorous halftime shows; this week's offering was a "salute to Texas A&M," parodying the Aggie military band.

Goose-stepping onto the field to the tune of an old German march, distinctively unmilitary in a variety of silly hats and helmets, the MOB was greeted by booing which continued as . . . the rubber-booted drum major, led them down the field. The first formation was a chicken thigh, as guest of honor Marvin Zindler, an ex-baton champion carried out a virtuoso twirling routine. Zindler, the man famous for closing down the Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, was also booed by the A&M sections.

Marvin Zindler
Marvin Zindler requires some explanation.  Zindler had worked for the sheriff's department and local district attorney before becoming an investigative reporter for a Houston TV station in 1973.  He was sort of a combination of Geraldo Rivera and John Stossel -- but with a bad hairpiece.

In July of that year, Zindler and another reporter exposed the "Chicken Ranch," an illegal brothel that had operated openly just outside the small central Texas town of La Grange for decades.

The brothel, which operated quite openly and was tolerated by the local sheriff, got the name "Chicken Ranch" during the depression, when its owner allowed customers to pay for a zesty session with a chicken if they didn't have cash.

From Wikipedia:

The Chicken Ranch was highly successful. In the 1950s the Ranch employed sixteen prostitutes. On weekends there was often a line of men, mostly students or soldiers from nearby military bases, at the door. One base supplied a helicopter for soldiers to use for transportation to the ranch. Students at Texas A&M University also made an unofficial tradition of sending freshmen to the Chicken Ranch for inititation.  The Chicken Ranch was preferred because many of the girls were allegedly University of Texas students.

(Now we know why the Aggies booed Zindler.)

After Zindler blew the whistle on the Chicken Ranch, it quietly went out of business.  The affair was the inspiration for the successful Broadway musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which was later made into a movie starring Dolly Parton (as the madame) and Burt Reynolds (as the local sheriff).

Here's the "Aggie Song" scene from the movie -- as you'll see, it depicts the A&M football team preparing to celebrate a victory with a visit to the Chicken Ranch.

The Chicken Ranch also inspired ZZ Top's first big hit, "La Grange": 

Back to the halftime show. After Zindler did his baton-twirling act -- yes, he really was a former baton champion -- the MOB's chicken leg morphed into an Aggie senior boot.  The MOB's public-address announcer explained thusly:

The MOB has formed a famous Senior Boot, the greatest thing to happen to Aggieland since the manure spreader.  Aggie freshmen will agree that at the base of every Senior Boot is a big heel.

Back to the Thresher article:

[When the band formed the boot,] parts of the audience laughed.  The Aggies didn't.  Ice and paper began to fly onto the field, intensifying as the band formed a fireplug for Reveille, the female collie mascot of A&M, and a twirler paraded with an empty leash, to the tune of "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"

Back to the MOB script:

The MOB now salutes Reveille, the mascot of the Aggies. This is a little dog with a big responsibility. But even Reveille likes to make that pause that refreshes. [pause] So the MOB has formed a fire hydrant and plays "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"

Reveille III
A note about Reveille, the name given to all the dog who have served at mascots for the Aggie football team.  Years after the 1973 game, there was a rumor going around that the MOB had made fun of the passing of Reveille III, the purebred female collie had become the mascot in 1966.  In fact, Reveille III died in 1975, so the '73 halftime show could not have made light of her demise.

The last MOB formation was a weak imitation of the famous Aggie block-T, but instead of marching the "Aggie War Hymn,"the MOB played "March of the Wooden Soldiers" -- a song from the 1930's movie, Babes in Toyland

Here's a brief video of the Radio City Music Hall "Rockettes" doing a "March of the Wooden Soldiers" routine:

The MOB's trumpeters then sounded "Retreat" as the band left the field, booed lustily and pelted with paper cups by the Aggie cadets.  The band was leaving the field just as the Aggie players were returning to their bench, which slowed the MOB's exit from the field, and a minor melee broke out. 

I had always heard that the reaction to the fire hydrant formation and the playing of "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone" had so disturbed the Rice band director that the MOB left the field without performing its final number.  I see nothing about that in any of the printed accounts of the incident, so I'm probably wrong.  (If any readers can shed some light on that question, please do so.)

Here's Grand Funk Railroad's "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

I Don't Have to Sing the Blues - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link to use if your prefer Amazon:

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