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Music plucks heartstrings for 50 years

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“While I was there, Miss Dollie came in and put a screeching halt to my activities. We were love before first sight,” said Jack, who was enraptured by Dollie’s beauty that long-ago evening at The Cellar in Fort Worth. “We had one date and got an apartment and have been together ever since.”

“I’ve never been bored,” Dollie chimes in. “We are the original odd couple. Jack grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and I grew up on the steps of a palace.”

The half-a-century trail the two have blazed since has seen them through good times and bad and transported the pair from the Lone Star State to such locations as the Big Apple, the Far East, Los Angeles and Nashville. They made the acquaintance of such entertainers and newsmakers as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Peter Tork of the Monkees and Charles Manson.

Along the way, they wrote for 1970s pop duet Seals & Crofts (“Diamond Girl, “Summer Breeze”), raised three children and laid one of them to rest. With all the roadblocks that life has set before them, Dollie and Jack have yet to allow their indomitable spirits to be quenched.  

“We’re in our 70s. Most people our age are wanting to settle down, and here we are out chasing the music business,” Jack said. “The way we look at it, we just never grew up. We’ve got a case of arrested development. We’ve been chasing this booger for 50 years and are just not going to quit.”

Not only are Dollie and Jack not quitting, they’re accelerating.  “We are starting ‘An Evening of Americana’ on Wednesday nights at Dingbat’s. I’ve invited all the oddball musicians who sing traditional country, bluegrass and folk. We want to have a place for us maverick musicians who don’t fit the current Nashville mold,” Jack said.

He and Dollie will host the Wednesday music night, open to singer-songwriters, as well as perform. “We don’t do the songs that other people do,” he said. “We like to do songs they don’t do.”

Meanwhile, on Fridays, Dingbats presents King George and the Reconstruction with a night of rock ’n’ roll tunes, and on Saturday nights, Billy Darnell prepares a menu of classic country and oldies music.  

Dingbat’s, which has a reputation for great burgers and being “neighborhood friendly,” has been run by Jean Baker for the past 2½ years. She describes Dollie and Jack’s music as “Americana roots with a country and folk blend. Jack’s a storyteller and Dollie harmonizes very well. They’re a unique couple with a lot of showmanship.”

Diminutive Dollie often wears a beret. A streak of gray hair that showed up when she was 10 races through the midst of her mane. Long, tall Jack owns a full head of gray that touches just below his shirt collar. A gray beard and moustache surround his face.

Born Jacqueline Estes in El Paso, Texas, Dollie grew up in Fort Worth. Her nickname came from her great-grandmother Dollie.

“My first time on stage I was 2½, but I wasn’t singing. I recited a poem,” Dollie said. “I was in all kinds of amateur shows in Fort Worth. I won the Yellow Rose of Texas Pageant when I was 16. I had been singing show tunes and opera when I met Jack.”

Born and raised in Waco, Texas, Jack was a shy boy who sang to keep himself company. At age 9 he won a contest warbling Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.” While serving as an Army paratrooper in the mid-1950s, he learned to play guitar. By 1958 he was studying acting at the University of Texas in Austin. Then he tagged along with a buddy to a coffeehouse.

“A guy there was playing guitar badly. When he took a break, I asked if I could use his guitar and started playing for my friend. Other people listening said, ‘Sing louder,’ and the owner offered me a job. When I found out girls liked musicians, my career path was set. I found college and staying up all night singing and partying were not mutually compatible. I picked music,” Jack said.

Two years later Dollie walked into his life. 

“When Dollie came in, I broke up with my partner and began to train Miss Dollie to sing my tunes,” Jack recalled. “I went off to New York to play what we call Americana in Greenwich Village coffeehouses. Miss Dollie followed me up there. We kind of developed in the coffeehouses, or the basket houses where you passed the basket after the show. Since then we have played everything from embassies to high-end country clubs to down-home Texas knife-and-gun honky-tonks.”

The two performed at the State of Texas pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, made a USO tour during the Vietnam War to the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Okinawa and wound up in Los Angeles where they lived for 10 years and worked in the early 1970s as staff songwriters for Dawnbreaker, Seals & Crofts’ music publishing company.

“We had four of our songs recorded, all by people you would have never heard of it,” Jack said. “In 1975 we came to Nashville. They were going to give us a recording contract and just then the vinyl shortage hit, and if you weren’t a big name, you were dropped like a hot rock. They didn’t know what to do with us. We were too country for folk and too folk for country—somewhere in between.

“Then my voice was crashing because of too many cigarettes and too many loud clubs and too much looking down gun barrels and dodging beer bottles in the Texas honky-tonks. We went back to Texas, and I did home repair and remodeling for 30 years,” said Jack, who has a finger nibbled on by a power tool to prove it.

“I worked as an employment consultant: I placed everybody from file clerks to doctors and attorneys,” Dollie said. “We got out of music, except for singing at church.”

They also raised three children: Kim, Jazanne and Jack Jr. (Scooter).  “He took me on with two babies on my lap and never batted an eye,” said Dollie, referring to her daughters. “They got the best daddy in the world.” Kim died two years ago of pancreatic cancer.

After retiring, Dollie and Jack moved to Lebanon in 2005 to be near their daughters and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“Then my voice started coming back. We were on Social Security, so we could start performing again,” Jack said. “We just started singing wherever we could find an open mike. One of those places was Krooner’s (now closed) here in Lebanon.

“The owner offered to help us produce a CD, ‘Chameleon,’ in 2007. It was cut with pick-up musicians.

They had about four hours total of rehearsal. We cut it in Krooner’s with a four-track digital recorder and did it in four hours.” As for their abilities as tunesmiths, Jack said, “I do most of the writing. She does most of the polishing.”

“I come up with a good line ever now and then,” Dollie said. “I’m putting in my two cents’ worth.”Jack is also beginning to collaborate with local songwriters, such as Roy August, who co-wrote the Oak Ridge Boys’ No. 1 hit “Fancy Free.” Jack has written 25 to 30 songs that he considers keepers. Recently, he co-wrote a song titled “Living Outside the Herd.” He would die a happy man should somebody like Willie Nelson record it.

If Dollie could have her dream come true, she said, “We’d be out on the road touring, selling records and making money. We are not quitters.”

“For 50 years we’ve been chasing the music business,” Jack said, “which goes to show we don’t have much sense.”

“But we’re having a heck of a lot of fun,” Dollie said. “If I could find a better man than him, his initials would be J.C. I got me a good one this time.”

Feature Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com

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