Lonn Taylor: a Texas star

Writer and storyteller Lonn Taylor

Lonn Taylor is one of my Texas heroes for many reasons, some of which he’d never guess. For instance, his love of the southern delicacy called chicken fried steak (as opposed to fried chicken steak). In the 1970s, one night in Dallas at my home, he and I gorged on steel-skillet chicken fried steaks covered in thick grease-filled flour gravy. It was a hot summer night, and I don’t remember anything else on the menu except iced tea. I hope we had fresh biscuits, but I don’t recall for sure. I know we had a lot of chicken fried steaks, a big platter full.

Beyond that, Lonn later wrote a column for me called “The Rambling Boy” when I edited a weekly newspaper in Alpine, Texas. It was a great column, the kind designed to boost circulation and attract dedicated readers, because it was written by someone who loved his subject, largely Texas history and people living and dead. Ranging from the past to the present, this collection recalls the color and precision of  Frank Dobie and Roy Bedichek, who would have loved to have had Lonn Taylor sitting with them at the edge of a campfire sharing stories.

Lonn lived in Fort Davis, a short drive over the mountains, having recently retired as a historian and curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History where he worked for 18 years conducting research and directing and curating exhibits. His work as historian for the Smithsonian’s Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project led to his 2000 book, “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem.” He’s also written books on Texas furniture, American cowboys, New Mexican furniture and southwestern history.

When the weekly folded, he took his column to the weekly Big Bend Sentinel and KRTS, the National Public Radio station in Marfa, a nearby former cattle town named after a character in “The Brothers Karamazov” and the location for the filming of the classic modern Western, “Giant.”

Lonn is beloved in the area for his natural charm and for enriching the cultural life of the Big Bend area.

Marfa is anything but a cattle town now. It’s an art town, and with less than 2,000 population, it has a true cast of characters from the art crowd, the literary crowd, the music crowd, the wealthy crowd, the poor crowd, and the born and bred local crowd, along with a steady sprinkling of working cowboys who come in from the sprawling ranches to have a pizza and stock up on whiskey and cases of beer. Get some people from all those crowds together around a turquoise swimming pool at night at a modern mansion out on the lonely desert with Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’,’” Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” playing, and you can have a real Texas party. The ghosts of Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean and Dennis Hopper glide through the Mexican bars and empty streets of Marfa.

But Lonn Taylor is one of Marfa’s living stars today, and his slow, Texas drawl can be heard weekly drifting through the big-cloud sky and across the empty spaces of the desert and mountains north of the Mexico border. Check out the NPR station and tune in to one of his weekly shows by clicking on Marfa Public Radio in “The Gang” listing on the blog’s homepage. Some of the best old-time cowboy and country and modern music is played on the station too. Eventually, you will hear every record Johnny Cash ever made, and he made some very good records.

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