The Climb

 My work story starts when I started school.  After about two days in the first grade I was sent home with a note saying that I needed to learn my colors. I remember being embarrassed and that is the way most of my school days were until I finally quit in my junior year.   I did eventually get a GED. When I left school I felt like I was pretty much stupid. I could always start a conversation in class that would derail the teacher's lesson plan.  In math class I could always give the answer to most any problem but couldn’t get there doing it their way so I would get a failing grade.

When I was 9 years old my dad bought me a guitar and taught me how to play a few chords. He was a great musician and music seemed to come easy to me.  When I was 11, I was in my first band and we played at all the school parties and assemblies. I feel that music saved my life, at that time anyway.  About that same time my dad let me start helping him after school and on Saturdays doing tape and bedding, which is finishing the joints and texturing for newly constructed houses. I think I started at 50¢ an hour.

The next six years I worked with him in construction and played music on the weekends.  I could make $200.00 - $300.00 a week, a lot of money in 1969 for a 16-17 year old back then. After about six months in my junior year, I decided I was just wasting time with school.  I got married when I was almost 18 and shortly thereafter was told I needed to quit playing music.  I didn’t own a guitar for 6 years.

During that time I started my own business of taping and bedding houses, painting, and I even  built and sold a few houses.  I was making money, but without the proper education I didn't know how to "manage" the business and went broke. I was soon and unexpectedly audited by the IRS and lost everything else, including a house that I'd built and totally paid for. In hindsight I was too scared of them to even question what they said I owed!  By then I was having a hard time doing construction work because of a back injury and was trying to decide what to do with my life.

In September of 1976 I was driving at lunchtime and I ended up at a fast food joint all the way across town.  When I got in line to order, I happened to be behind an old musician friend of mine, and while we ate together he asked me to bid on a big painting job for him at a church he was building.  After agreeing on a price for the job, he invited me to stop by and see his gospel band rehearse that Friday.  Just for “PR” reasons I stopped by to listen for a while.  While I was there he asked me to get up and play with them but I told him that I didn’t play music anymore.  He kept asking so I finally got up and played guitar on a few songs.  
Long story short, within two weeks I had a new guitar and steel guitar rig!

I started practicing with what little free time I had and eventually got back to where I was before quitting music.  I played in that group for about a year and decided to start playing professionally again.  Having found what was missing from my life I also realized I had to go to the next level in the music business. I decided to move to Nashville. With so many country bands centered in Nashville and not as many steel guitar players, I got on with a nationally popular country act and toured all over the USA and Canada until I just couldn’t take traveling by tour bus all the time because of my back problems. Plus the money ceiling for a sideman even in a famous touring act levels off to just another salary when you count all the travel time---ride the bus for 16 hours, then wait around to play for 2 hours, get back on the bus and ride 16 hours home. After being gone for 3 days to play for 2 hours, you are not making much more than minimum wage!

In 1980 I moved back to Texas and started playing with a great, new 8-piece band. Playing with these guys taught me to strive for excellence. During this time I got to co-produce some songs for the band in the studio with a great sax player friend of mine.  This sparked an interest in recording and producing music. I knew that if I was going to stay closer to home and still stay in music, I needed to do something beside just music.

It came to me that working in a local music store would appease my wife and her family, make it seem like I had a "real" job, and I'd still be around musicians and close to the music biz! 
The first thing on Monday morning I went to apply for a job but they were closed because it was Memorial Day.   When I was with the gospel band I had gotten saved and believed that God was in control and if he wanted me to work at the music store, they would have been open and I'd've been hired.  The next day (Tuesday) I went to the music store to buy some strings, and the owner called me back to the office and offered me a job! I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that I had come by with those intentions the day before. 
God really was in control.

Working in music retail helped me learn a lot about sound, sales, margins, and management.  It was a great learning experience.

About that same time my dad and I started a little 4-track recording studio in my backyard storage house.  I did demos for songwriters and learned a lot about recording. I stayed really busy after store hours, because of the musicians I knew from playing and from the store.  Eventually, another studio in town bought us out and I became partners in a real 
24-track studio.  I was fortunate to work with some talented people that eventually had real success in the record business.  During these years I would play three or four nights a week, work in the store five days a week, and record the rest of the time.  
I was younger then, and the desire to get ahead, plus passion and energy, had me excitedly absorbing not just music and being a better player, but also the stuff of which solid businesses are made.  

At the studio and music store we would get calls all the time from churches that needed help with their sound systems.  The music store would turn them down because of the liability and the work involved. Having a construction background I knew how to build.  Because of my time spent in music in Nashville and on the road, I knew what kind of sound was possible.  Here was a business opportunity right in front of us that no one else was taking on and customers calling (with money in hand) needing our expertise.  I convinced my partners to go for it and we did really well considering we were having to learn as we went along.
I eventually bought the sound business from my partners and everything was going great until I decided to tie the sound company into the music store.  Within two years I was in financial trouble again and after 25 years of marriage (or bondage) I was going through a really bad divorce.
About a year later I had to close the store and the studio, and I was broke again.
In the meantime, after the divorce I found and married the love of my life, a great lady who is also a music lover!

The very day I closed the store, a friend of mine called from Branson and asked what I was up to. I told him about losing everything again and he suggested I come on out to Branson and play some music.  I loaded up my bride of one year and we headed to Branson. I became an actor in a comedy and played dobro and steel guitar at a theater and she work as a cashier at a steak house.  We did this until the end of the season, December.

I got home from the theater one night and my wife said that God told her if we went back to Texas, we would have more opportunities that we could ever imagine.

The Branson scene was an okay place to regroup, but we were ready for home again. 
We went back to no money and lots of debt.  
I still had my recording equipment and converted our garage into a studio.
 We were down to our last $150.00 and needed $1,000.00 just to pay our bills and not lose our house. The first Sunday after New Years we went to church and we put $100.00 of our last $150.00 in the offering plate that morning.  Before the week was over we had a $2,000.00 deposit on a session and we were off and running again. 
This was January 1999.

Soon we were getting calls from churches all over wanting us to install their sound systems, and we got really busy doing that again.  
In 2000 I bought a new computer with a program called iMovie installed on it.  That led me to add video to our studio services.
Four years ago we started a ministry doing one outreach event for the community each month in our airplane hanger.  We also produce a weekly Christian radio and TV show.
We now have offices in Texas and Atlanta, as well as an on-line store, and will do about $6,000,000 in audio/visual sales this year.
We have four full-time studio employees, and we've won Addy Awards for local and national TV ads.

A new dimension has been added to my already full life. My dad always talked about flying, although he didn't fly himself, and that got me dreaming about it too.  Around '83 I bought an ultralight airplane and taught myself to fly (not smart). But I was "lucky" and survived! In 1987 I got my pilot's license, and because of the video business I added a commercial helicopter rating, the biggest challenge of my life. Now I own a helicopter with a professional gyro camera stabilization system. We offer helicopter services like surveys, photo flights, HD video shoots, and are a FAA air tour operator.
Since learning to fly, I have owned 9 planes and 2 helicopters.    

I can’t take much credit for any of this.  I just do things I like to do. I have to credit God for placing great friends in my path and my very positive and loving wife who gave me incentive to strive for what I wanted and had the capacity to do. She makes everything positive in our life together.  
 The one incalculable blessing is our trusting God to control finances. We cannot out-give Him and it still amazes me!

  I thank God that we do live in a country that, for now anyway, gives us the freedom to follow our dreams!