THE INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
INTERVIEW WITH: Bill Brett
PLACE: ITC, Telephone interview
INTERVIEWER: Leslie Lee, Office of News and Information
10 year Folklife Festival interviews.
LL: News and Information ...
BB: Yes ma'am.
LL: ... and we're putting together next year's program already and I'm calling the participants who've been at the Festival for ten years. Just trying to find out their thoughts on ten years of Festival life and how it's changed and what progress they'd like to see made and things like that.
BB: Where? Hold on a minute ma'am and let me move to another phone ....
LL: Okay, that'll be fine.
BB: I don't know of anything that needs changing.
BB: Anything you'll change will be fine with me.
LL: (laughter) You're easy to please. When you first started ten years ago, how did you hear about it?
BB: Oh, I was supposed to went out there and helped them build a log cabin.
BB: .... Abernathany from Stephen F Austin ...Bill Brett
BB: ... got a hold of me and asked em if I'd go out there and do it.
LL: Uh-huh. I see.
BB: And I told him I would so I went out there and I took some horsehair with me ...
BB: ... to show O.T. Baker how you do it.
BB: And when I got out there and he said, "We've been looking for somebody who knows how to make ropes out of horsehair for months. Why don't you do that?"
BB: I done that as long as I ... I didn't take much hair with me and I done that as long as it lasted and then I helped 'em on the log cabin, I think, one day and then the next day I went out there making horsehair ropes ...
LL: I see.
BB: ... and I was type-cast and I've been doing it ever since.
LL: (laughter) Well, I hear you're quite a story-teller, too.
BB: I have been accused of that ...
BB: ... but I never could see where they got the ... where they come up with any evidence ...
LL: (laughter) I can't imagine ...Bill Brett
BB: How's everybody out there doing?
LL: Fine, just fine. Claudia has left us unfortunately.
BB: Good. JoAnn ... JoAnn got the job, didn't she?
BB: That's good.
BB: So I can come back next year.
LL: I think so! We're planning on it. In those ten years did you see that the Festival changed in any way, in spirit or mood?
BB: Not in mood. It seems to be ... people seem to be just as gung-ho about it now as they was then. Now it ... it did change for the better as everybody learned to meet ... See when they started out, what they had was a bunch of us country folks ...
BB: ... and we never'd been around anything like that, didn't know much about it and we learned to meet people and learned what they wanted, well all of it changed.
BB: And I think, hopefully, we changed to do a better job and show more of what we were doing and teach people more what we were doing, you know.
BB: And then it did weed out some of 'em that were maybe a Bill Brett
little in the plastic age ...
BB: ... but I would say that maybe the second or third, third or fourth year, somewhere along in there, it didn't seem to be as much as - what I had in mind is ... well, it was, you know, getting in the plastic age, some of it.
BB: And then they went to culling out and getting more of 'em that ... the way I thought it should be. Now, that may not be right, my opinion don't amount to a whole lot ...
BB: ... I think it got ... I say the third or fourth year, I think it just got better and better.
LL: Uh-huh. What is your personal vision of the Festival?
BB: My personal vision of it?
BB: Oh, to show people to way it used to be.
BB: And keep some of the crafts going and some of the, I suppose you'd call 'em, arts ...
BB: ... and the old-timers used to practice, there was ... the crafts, of course, was more or less necessary then, they wasn't crafts, they were just things you had to have for every day living and then some of the arts was maybe pretty crude Bill Brett
but they were about the only arts that they had and when could take cornshucks and things like that and make art out of it, well, I think you are an artist.
BB: And of course, a lot of 'em did. And just used the crudest things that they had at hand for that. But I think it got better and better.
LL: Yeah. Let me ask you this. Why do you think it's important for people today to know those sort of things?
BB: Oh, hell, I don't think the ... speaking for myself, what I'd do, I don't think the world would end if there never was another horsehair rope made ...
BB: ... and nobody else ever learned how to make one, I don't think the world would end.
BB: But if the world does end, it won't be a craft, it'll be a necessity to know things like this.
BB: And that's the way I look at it.
LL: So you sort of look upon this as survival skills?
BB: Well, of course, everything's a survival skill. Will be sooner or later. I don't think what we've got now is going to last forever.
LL: Uh-huh.Bill Brett
BB: And we'll have to go back to the basics. If they ever dropped a bomb, what few there is left ... the survivors is going to be the ones who know how to do things like this.
BB: But I don't see where the human race surviving is all that great a thing anyway, we ain't ....
END OF SIDE 1, TAPE 1, ABOUT 30 MINUTES.
LL: ... If ... what was I going to ask? (laughter) In ten years do you think that people who've been coming have changed? I mean, do you see a lot of interest in what is going on?
BB: Oh, yes, ma'am.
BB: Yes, ma'am. I sure do and I run in to the people that have been coming there for a good while and ... oh, yeah, that ... when we get together, that's what we talk about.
LL: What's that?
BB: The Festival.
LL: Oh. Uh-huh.
BB: Sure. It's ... for a lot of us, it's just like homecoming.
BB: We've been going there so long ... 8, 9, 10 years ...
BB: ... and, well, like I say, it's a whole lot like a homecoming, it's ... lots of us don't see each other for theBill Brett
whole year ...
BB: ... That's the only time we see each other.
BB: And that's got a whole lot to do with what I think of it, of course, ...
BB: ... But I see people that come there and work at that thing, that ... well, they really don't need the work, they don't do it because they need to or anything ...
BB: ... But because they've been coming there so long and I think everybody's got a feeling that maybe they are contributing something.
BB: I think that's got a whole lot to do with the feeling that we've got for it too that ...
BB: ... that maybe we are contributing something ...
BB: ... and whether we are or not, we like to think we are.
LL: (laughter) I know that you were probably here then during the "great rainy season." Do you have ...
BB: Yes ma'am. Each and every one of 'em.
LL: (laughter) What was that like? Bill Brett
BB: Oh, the ... it was fun. You know, one year we got rained out and we just all gathered up there under that porch and them Frenchmen was there and we just ... we had us a party ... we had us a dance and we did have us a good time.
BB: And of course, that's part of the memories, too.
BB: And I think that maybe we ought to all gather up a day early and have us a party before we start that.
LL: (laughter) Think everybody would make it then? (laughter)
BB: But it was a lot of fun and I think we all got better acquainted at that time, the ones ... you know, the old-timers ...
BB: ... and we got better acquainted ...
BB: ... but it was a fine party, I'm sorry you missed it.
LL: Well, I won't be missing it from here on out.
BB: Well, maybe we'll get rained out and have another one ...
LL: (laughter) I hope not. For our sake. Looking back over the last ten years are there any amusing anecdotes or incidents that happened that you like to think about or relate?
BB: (laughter) Well, yes, ma'am. There's some things that happened. You got time to listen to one of 'em?Bill Brett
LL: Oh, yeah.
BB: The last year Hondo Crouch was there, maybe that was before your time, have you ever heard of Hondo?
LL: Oh, yeah, I've met him.
BB: Well, I generally got a little white whiskey with me ...
BB: ... home-made whiskey I take out there and me and Hondo was walking around and on the last day of the Festival and them Franklins, them "coon-asses" over there, one of their racing crawfish had died and so they had a big funeral for it ...
BB: ... and buried him there under one of them little trees and had a grave and you know, everything there, and so me and Hondo was walking 'round, taking a little nip of that white whiskey every once in awhile, visiting, and we went by to visit with those Frenchmen, and I can say "Frenchman" or "coon-ass," anything I want to because my people got run out of Louisiana.
BB: So we stopped there at that grave and I asked that feller that was there, I said, "Do you mind ..." I said, ... of course them Frenchmen's all from Port Arthur, and I said, "I don't live too far from Port Arthur and I kinda feel like that this ... me and this crawfish was still a Southeast Texan, do you mind if I sprinkle a few drops of this white whiskey on his grave, just in memory?" He said, "Oh, no. ....... oh, hell, Bill Brett
no, go right ahead." I sprinkled a little bit on there and Hondo said, "Say," he said, "Don't put too much on there." he said, "They just went to a lot of trouble to bury that son-of-a-bitch and he's liable to come crawling out of there if you put too much on there."
BB: (laughter) Yeah, you know, things like that. There ain't nothing to it, but Hondo was a feller that always had something like that going on.
LL: (laughter) No doubt.
BB: They still ... me and him drank that, that was his last year there and he died of that heart attack ...
BB: ... some of them still accuse me of that white whiskey of getting Hondo. But I don't think so.
LL: I doubt it.
BB: Hondo thrived on it.
LL: Is there anything you always do, every Festival?
BB: Well, I think ... there's one thing I'd like to see become a tradition ... is throwing JoAnn in the swimming pool ...
BB: We started that last year and I ... we've had two or three applicants for the honor of doing it this year.
LL: I see.
BB: And, frankly, I don't want to do it again, because I was Bill Brett
watching my back the whole time I was there and ........ these people ... they're getting a little emotional about things like that and I was afraid JoAnn, I know damn well she's gonna, sooner or later, me and John Neil are gonna pay for that!
LL: (laughter) Oh, I don't know. She's not that vicious, I don't think.
BB: Naw, it's not vicious, it's just a ... they don't seem to like to have an outstanding debt.
BB: Just want to keep paid up, you know.
LL: Yeah, well, ...
BB: You know, O.T.Baker and Claudia and JoAnn, is really why lots of us went out there year after year after year.
BB: 'Cause of the kind of people they are.
BB: And it ... I don't know how it happened, as much politics as there is in that kind of a thing, but, it's just ... the ones that should have got it after O.T. retired ... well, Claudia should have got it, when Claudia's retired JoAnn should have got it.
BB: I'd heard a good bit of talk that if she didn't well ... heard of good bit of talk ... people, that if JoAnn didn't get it, as hard as she's worked and we figured ... they wouldn't Bill Brett
be back at that other thing. I don't know whether they would have been back or not. I would have thought seriously about it if some politician's nephew had got it or something like that.
LL: (laughter) Yeah. That's true. What other ... are there any things that you do out of superstition or anything every year?
BB: (laughter) Oh, yeah, I do things out of superstition every day.
LL: Oh ....
BB: My grandfather raised me and he was a professional Irishman and I spill a little tobacco on the ground and things like that ....... you know, I know damn well there ain't nothing to superstition, but there ain't no ... nothing like being safe, you know.
LL: (laughter) Right. Well, in the ten years that you've been coming, what was an outstanding event that you really liked? Say, something that happened ...
BB: What was the outstanding event that I really liked?
BB: I believe was throwing JoAnn ...
LL: (laughter) Been waiting for that for a long time, uh?
BB: ........... I've harped on that enough now.Bill Brett
BB: I don't know that there is. There's been so much of it that I've enjoyed ...
BB: ... and everything, but the most outstanding event is seeing the people every year ...
BB: ... and working with the ones that have been coming there so long. Now, that's the most outstanding event in my life.
BB: And you know, we all ... there's always some of the older ones that's dropping out on us and dying off on us and people that we miss, like ole Jethro Holmes and a few more of 'em that ... their names always come up. You know, we first get together and talk about this and that and the other ones. And knowing that they won't be back. I think the most outstanding thing about all of it is ... is seeing the people that work there and everything.
LL: Uh-huh. Well, when you came the first year, what ... did you expect it to last ten years and become as big as it has?
BB: Oh, no, oh, no. I didn't have any idea. And I think ... now it's so many people, the crowds are so large and everything, it just astonishes me that there would be that many people that would have an interest in what we do out there and it's not totally the advertising that brings 'em in ...Bill Brett
LL: Pardon me, I can't hear you.
BB: ... It's not totally the advertising that brings those crowds in either ...
BB: It's people that are really interested in the arts and crafts, the old arts and crafts.
BB: And I don't ... if they wasn't interested, all the advertising in the world wouldn't bring 'em in.
LL: That's true.
BB: But, that's the most astounding thing to me. And something else, the people that you see out there, the customers that you see every year, the people that keep on coming back, every year, every year, every year.
BB: And the children that you show how to do things, make a little ole twisted horsehair switch for 'em, and they come back, and some of 'em has grown up now and they come back and of course, you don't remember 'em from year to year, but they come back and tell you who they are ...
BB: ... and how long they've been coming there ...
BB: ... and you done this for 'em or you said that to 'em ...
LL: Uh-huh.Bill Brett
BB: ... and that's a big thing that's pulled me back.
LL: Yeah. You know you're making an impression on them when they remember.
BB: And a feller like me that just an average feller, don't make too many impressions on people either ...
LL: (laughter) Oh ...
BB: ... You know, bankers when you don't pay a note or something, things like that. On the good side of things ... you know, I don't impress too many people.
LL: (laughter) That's not what I've heard! Not at all. Now you ... you have a booth all by yourself, right?
BB: (laughter) No, ma'am.
BB: (laughter) No, ma'am. We trade back and forth so much (laughter) nobody has a booth by himself.
LL: Oh, I see.
BB: No. It's just Cowboy Williams and his wife, Beth. Brings his dogs there ...
BB: ... the cow-dogs and hog-dogs, ...
BB: He came the second year. And we was right by him and we've been partners with him ever since then, we're side by side.
BB: And right next to each other all the time, so ... and we Bill Brett
trade back and forth ... if somebody wants to go drink a beer or something, well, ... that's something else ... I'm not much of a beer drinker, but there, you'd better be a beer drinker, 'cause there's always somebody a bringing you one!
LL: (laughter) That's true.
BB: Whoever's in the next booth goes and gets one, well, they bring you one.
BB: And I tell you, it's just like old home week, it's just a pleasure to go out there.
LL: Well, that's good.
BB: If you all don't invite me back, well, I'll be out there anyway ...
LL: (laughter) You're invited back. I'm sure JoAnn's contacted you by now.
LL: No? Well, she's slow. (laughter) She just got the invitations ready, I think, to go out.
BB: I'd rather you invited me back though than somebody else, 'cause if JoAnn invites me back, well, I automatically think ... revenge!
BB: JoAnn's after revenge! (laughter)
LL: (laughter) Well, I don't know what she'g got in the back of her mind, but I'm sure ...Bill Brett
BB: You tell her that me and John Neil have already had several applications from people that want to throw her in the pool this year ...
LL: (laughter) Okay.
BB: And you tell her we will be discriminating now, we won't pick anybody but somebody that's friends of hers to do it!
LL: Oh, good. Alright. I'm sure that'll be comforting. (laughter) That's great.
BB: Sure. Somebody's going to do something like that to you, you'd rather have a friend do it to you.
LL: Yeah. Well, you might get angry otherwise. (laughter) Well, is there anything else you want to say about the Festival?
BB: Naw, hope to see you all this year!
LL: Okay! Well, that sounds good enough. I look forward to meeting you.
BB: (laughter) I'll cure that in about five or ten minutes!
BB: I think they tell you all them things, they're setting you up is really what they're doing.
LL: (laughter) Oh, my gosh. Well, I still look forward to it.
BB: Well, you tell JoAnn and all of 'em, hello for us.
BB: And tell 'em if they ... even if they don't invite Ann Lou and I back next year, we'll be there any way.Bill Brett
LL: (laughter) All right, I sure will! Thank you for talking.
BB: Yes, ma'am.
END OF INTERVIEW. TAPE I, SIDE 2, ABOUT .. MINUTES.
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