News From The Woods - November, 1992


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published November, 1992

"The Land Of Opportunity"

Before Arkansas was the Natural State, it was known as the Land of Opportunity. Remember when all the state's license plates had that motto emblazoned with that message? Well, I guess in the late '50's there was more natural beauty than opportunity, so our official motto was changed.

I remember back when it was still the Land of Opportunity and it was that for my family. Dad was the macho sportsman wheeler-dealer from St. Louis, Mom was a professional entertainer in Kansas City. When I was a year old (1947) Dad decided he wanted to raise his son in better surroundings and he moved us here to the Ozarks. Just a year after the Norfolk Dam was built, Dad opened Blackberry Hill Resort, right on the lake. I remember business being very good in the '50's; resorts were quite popular then.

Remember, this was before cable TV, Motel 8, and fast food. Guests would come from all around. Almost every state in the union was represented at one time or another. Dad would take the men-folk out during the day for whatever sport was in season at the time. It was either fishing or hunting and he was very good. As a matter of fact, he was the world skeet shooting champion in 1936. Years later he would build the gunnery range for the Navy at Martha's Vineyard. He won the St. Louis Post Dispatch, fishing derby for several years straight; our den was filled with trophies, plaques, and awards.

As a team Mom and Dad were unbeatable. With all the men gone during the day, Mom was in charge of the lodge and the women. She would oversee all the food preparation. Blackberry Hill was American plan, which meant we served three meals a day. Dinner of course was the big meal - all the guests would be sitting in the dining room at any of four big tables. During dinner, tales of the day's adventures would be bantered about the room. Fish got bigger and bigger. A covey of small quail would grow from five to twenty birds and a three point buck would have grown several more points by dessert.

After dinner was my favorite time. Chairs would be pushed back to accommodate the loosening of the belt. Dad would be behind the bar fixing drinks for everyone. The women sported cigarettes and the men would bring out their stogies to puff on. The chit-chat would mellow out as Mom sat at her six-foot Steinway grand piano and entertain the guests. She knew all the standards. No matter what song was requested, she would know it all by ear - no sheet music. She would captivate the entire room within minutes, playing everything from show tunes to boogie-woogie and when she would sing a blues number there would hardly be a dry eye in the house.

Not that it was all fun and games. Mom would sweat in the kitchen most of the day; cabins had to be cleaned every day. We had livestock to feed and care for schedules to keep food and utility bills to pay new clients to find through advertisements and attending sport shows. It was a tough but honest living and, best of all, guests were here on vacation so the mood was always festive. I realize now just how fortunate I was to grow up in that atmosphere and that's one of the reasons I have stayed right here in the Ozarks. It is such a beautiful place to live and work in.

It hasn't been exactly the Land of Opportunity as far as the music business or recording business is concerned, but we have been able to make ends meet somehow and things are getting better. What's more important is that I feel that I have given a little something back to Arkansas. Maybe some band got a better gig with a good demo tape; maybe some information picked up in one of these articles was put to good use.

There exists a certain camaraderie among musicians, a certain mindset. Our lifestyles reflect that mindset. Sometimes it runs parallel to the "normal" world and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's hard for others to understand that playing music is a career, not a hobby. This is usually hard for banker-types to evaluate, which in turn makes it difficult for a musician to surround himself with the tools of his trade. We found this out the hard way a few years ago when we needed to expand the business or fall by the wayside. Fortunately this is a relatively small town and our bankers knew us well enough to take a chance with us. There were more lean months than I care to recall, but they stuck with us and we paid them whenever and whatever we could. Now that we see light at the end of the tunnel, we're already looking ahead to the next step upgrading the video system and going 24-track. Maybe we have earned enough trust that our bankers will take another chance with us.

We have attracted a lot of audio/video business to this area in the past ten years, bands from all over the country. They need places to stay while they are here and they always eat out. Based on the number of video jobs we have produced here in Mountain Home alone, I would say that we have raised the video awareness factor by a substantial percentage. Hey, none of this counts much for the BIG PICTURE, but that's really not relevant - it's what you do with your life that's relevant. There are lots of easier careers than the music business, but when it's in your blood there's not much you can do about it, is there? Once I realized that about myself it was a little easier because I made my commitment and I have not deviated from that path. I have missed a few shots, but I have learned from those mistakes. It may take me a little longer, but I think that I shall eventually get what I've set after right here in Arkansas. Imagine that.

So now it's the Natural State and of that I am very proud. But it's still the Land of Opportunity.

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