Robin Hood Studios nears half-century legacy among musicians

Comfortably slouched facing a nine-and-a-half-foot Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano, Robin Hood Brians Jr. lifts a black lid covering nine extra keys on the bass end and performs a Ray Charles classic, “Georgia on my Mind.”

The 97-key piano is merely one element among the $10,000 tube microphones and instrument cases in Brians’ nearly 50-year-old recording studio, Robin Hood Studios in Tyler.

Musicians came to him in the 1960s because he was “the only (person) cutting hits in Texas,” he said.

Platinum records and celebrity photos lining the studio walls attest to a half-century of Brians’ success.

ZZ Top, John Fred & His Playboy Band, The Five Americans, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Tony Douglas, Bill Mack and Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan all cut hits at his studio

“We liked the idea of doing it tucked away so we could get a handle on how to nail things down without too much outside pressure,” Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top said in an e-mail interview.

Today, musicians of all ages come for different reasons. Continue reading Robin Hood Studios nears half-century legacy among musicians

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Canton resident’s dream becomes million-dollar business

Photo by Herb Nygren for Tyler Morning Telegraph

*State AP Wire

CANTON — He reclines in his chair, inside a cramped office surrounded by wall-to-wall framed magazine clippings and 40-year-old photographs of his drag-racing days.

By most measures, Gary Hatfield is a modest man, wearing white tennis shoes with crew-cut socks, denim shorts and a mauve work shirt for his business, Hatfield Restorations, located on his family’s more than half-century-old farm.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to own a filling station,” Hatfield said.

Now 60, his dream has transformed into more than that — it is a million-dollar business of restoring and customizing icons of America’s past: Antique cars. Continue reading Canton resident’s dream becomes million-dollar business

Cicadas season nears end later this month

*State AP Wire, USA Today

A summer without the spastic flight, echoing song and discarded shells of cicadas is unthinkable for Sherry Jimerson Price.

She was raised with a love of the ancient insects and remembers collecting their abandoned husks to wear as broaches at her grandmother’s house, not far from where she and her husband live in Henderson.

Mrs. Price, 45, said this year, she has seen more cicadas and remnants of their shells than in the past.

“I think it’s because of the heat,” she said. “I can see them flying around in our trees, and there are a bunch of dead ones around here, too.”

She said the songs even sound louder this year. Continue reading Cicadas season nears end later this month

Mineola Honors Black Barnstorming Baseball Team

Photo by Melissa Crowe for Tyler Morning Telegraph

MINEOLA – In a time when racial prejudices divided businesses, water fountains and even the nation’s greatest pastime, The Mineola Black Spiders kept swinging.

“They weren’t the greatest, they didn’t make it to the majors … but it is something noteworthy,” said Lou Mallory of the Wood County Historical Commission.

The Black Spiders began playing in the late 1920s at Epperson Field in Mineola, toured the country, changed names, swapped players and gained success up until 1938.

Despite all this, the team’s story has gone unnoticed locally. Because the newspaper rarely published stories or photographs about the black community, researching the team was near impossible, Mrs. Mallory said.

“But every time I got on the Internet, I looked to see what I could find,” she said. “I kept researching …We needed to preserve that part of our black history.”

Now, more than eight decades after their last season ended, The Spiders finally receive the local fame they deserve. Continue reading Mineola Honors Black Barnstorming Baseball Team

Highway 80’s Long-Lost Predecessor Remembered

*State AP Wire

CANTON – The history of Van Zandt County, from ancient times to the 20th century, rolls along the Old Dallas- Shreveport Road.

Before barbed wire fences and paved highways cut up the historic road, it was a seamless stretch of prehistoric trade routes from Dallas to Shreveport established by the Caddo.

“Their trails were just like today’s highways with lots of places and villages in between,” said Elvis Allen, a historian with the Van Zandt County Historical Commission. “It meandered the way of the land: village to village, watering hole to watering hole.”

Today, the road has evolved to meet the needs of a new generation.

U.S. Highway 80, which runs parallel to the historic road, “straightened out a lot of the crooks and turns” when the highway was built in 1924, Allen said.

However, through the wooded countryside, deep furrows and scars alongside highways and county roads in northern Van Zandt County give way to the original route the Caddo established.

Continue reading Highway 80’s Long-Lost Predecessor Remembered

Water Needs Threaten Family Ranch

Photo by Melissa Crowe for Tyler Morning Telegraph
photo by Melissa Crowe for Tyler Morning Telegraph

Lawrence Greer’s old black truck rattles across the cattle guard into Twin Mills Ranch.

It is an overcast day, filled with emotion, fear, uncertainties and suspicions.

“There’s no need to create such a division between residents,” Greer said.

Though he does not own the ranch, its existence is invaluable to him. His great-grandparents settled north of Canton along Grand Saline Creek in 1876. Eventually, the ranch sold to a man who neglected the acreage. In 1994, Doug Beaty purchased and restored it.

In mid-February, Beaty and Greer attended the first meeting of the Concerned Citizens against the Proposed Grand Saline Creek Lake. The proposed lake, estimated to cost about $50 million, could require condemning more than 4,000 acres, forcing at least 75 landowners off their property.

City officials said the lake is crucial to address a water demand they think will quadruple in the next 50 years, based on growth in Forney and Terrell, about 40 miles northwest. They ask what is worse: Losing your land or running out of water?

Continue reading Water Needs Threaten Family Ranch

Mineola’s Mayor Takes Pride In Nature Preserve

Photo Courtesy of Jaime Carrero for Tyler Morning Telegraph

MINEOLA — Mindlessly wandering through trails of the Sabine bottomlands, one could easily lose his or her way among the deep hardwood forest spanning nearly 3,000 acres of the Mineola Nature preserve.

Mayor Bo Whitus, a cheerleader of sorts for the preserve, admits it happened to him a few times.

“Just keep going east, and you’ll run into the road; go south, and you’ll run into the river,” Whitus said, steering an open-air, utility vehicle through a maze of birch trees and creek beds.

For the majority of the tour, Whitus traveled under the canopy of trees along the abandoned rail-bed trail and a dirt pathway known as the Old Tyler Highway.

There is Bigfoot Bridge, and sarcastic rumors that Sasquatch lives at the preserve, and Whitus’ pride: a 28,000-pound, 90-year-old steel bridge the city relocated with two back hoes to the preserve.

Continue reading Mineola’s Mayor Takes Pride In Nature Preserve