Who Will Step Up to Continue Tradition?
Polkadate: December 2018. While researching, this editorial came up in a 1950 issue of Vestník, the superb newspaper of the SPJST organization. SPJST is an acronym for “Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas” which roughly translates to a Slovakian Brotherhood Support Group of Texas. The SPJST exists to assist Czech citizens by providing insurance, youth programs, and the bringing together of like-minded people by establishing and maintaining social halls. Reading the editorial, I realized that its message was as timely now as it was written 68 years ago. Being a member of many organizations over my lifetime, the plight of many of them were similar to this one. While many vocally support their chosen organizations, few step up to the plate to help them continue. Lifestyles have change dramatically over the decades, yet if a person has a particular passion they should take steps to perpetuate this interest. Disclaimer: This editor is in no way casting any negative light on the SPJST and its members or ethnic group, as almost any organization that depends on volunteers to achieve its goal could be substituted. Several organizations come to mind.
The editor of the Vestník in 1950 attended a quarterly district meeting of SPJST lodges, and was being a good journalist and inquiring about the state of the organization from its members. When the editor asked about the membership at his lodge a member/friend replied: “To tell the truth, it looks like we are not growing,” was his answer. “We just don’t get any new members. And we are losing the support of those members that we have. It makes me sore. My own sons never did come to our meeting halls, except to a dance. And do you know what the boys did to us? They put up a hall of their own within a throw of our hall. That kills our lodge.”
“You mean you have another lodge in your community?,” the editor asked.
“Heck no, it’s an American organization.” He names a well-known patriotic group. “What gets me is that most of the members of the new groups are our Czech boys. Instead of working with us, they go their own way, and now they work against us.”
The editor related that they talked in Czech and the whole story was news to him.
“You say it is an American organization. Don’t you consider our SPJST also an American organization?, ” the editor asked.
The editor's friend replied fast and with special impressiveness. “Ah, you know what I mean. We old farmers don’t fit into their own group. They think differently, they work differently, and they are running their organization diff erently.”
The editor replied, “Probably you feel sore about the whole thing because you see the difference. Your boys had the spunk to drift away from your old barn, and now you feel that they should have worked with you instead of building something new.” There was another angle to it which interested the editor. “But tell me, how did they raise enough money to build a hall?" the editor asked.
His question must have touched a sensitive place, for his friend almost exploded. “That is what gets me. We never thought of having enough money in our lodge to even put two coats of paint on our hall. They go ahead and from what I was told they borrowed ten or twenty thousand dollars from the Supreme Lodge [the main SPJST organization].”
Anybody could see that the editor's friend was not pleased with the part his local lodge was playing in this community. Maybe, it was their own fault, the editor thought, and suggested, “Have you ever discussed the needs of your boys and girls?”
“Well, they never did come to the meetings. You know how it is. We have about fifteen or twenty present, we talk about this and that, and you can’t expect a fellow who is always tied to his everyday work to do very much planning for somebody else.”
The editor said, “But if eight or ten of your boys came to the meeting with a plan of their own, you would listen to them, wouldn’t you?”
“Sure we would, but they don’t come. They don’t think like we do. They don’t see that our SPJST was about the only thing we had for years and years that kept us from getting crabby with ourselves. They don’t see those things which are important to us. No, they don’t. They are our children, but they are different.”
The editor said he could have told his friend many things about the changing world in which our Order is working on. He could have explained the gradual shift of aims and purposed of our brotherhood.
“My friend’s local lodge was standing still while the world was moving right along," the editor said. "The members of my friend's local lodge stayed at home, while their own sons went to England, North Africa, Italy, India, Iwo Jima, and to the far corners of the earth. My friend’s local lodge left its hall to go unpainted, the grass to grow almost waist-deep, while their sons bought the adjacent tract of land, leveled the ground the same way they did the airfields in the Burma jungle or in the Chinese wasteland, and put up a structure of their own dream.”
The editor continued, “This serious problem of standing still is not only in one or two communities. This stagnation is evident in many more places, and it should be given every consideration." He gave as an example a case he discussed with another SPJST member at Sweet Home.
“A certain local lodge has been totally inactive for quite a long time. The only member who was active and kept in contact with the Supreme Lodge and with the outside world had moved away. In spite of the fact that the lodge is located in a fertile territory, that is in a large city with plenty of potential members, there has been no attempt made to gain new and younger members who would rejuvenate the lodge, show some activity, and put the lodge back on the list of active SPJST lodges. Yet that lodge, with the right program of fraternal activities, could easily be counted among the strongest lodges. But it started to go down, it started to abandon its fraternal activities, and no one, not even the neighboring [lodge members] appeared to take notice of a dying limb on the SPJST tree.”
As pointed out in the preamble, this condition is symbolic of many organizations that bridge a gap in the local community and perform really needed and good work. One of the groups has a policy of telling the members you are going to do this or that, and not waiting for “volunteers” to make a commitment, if you want to belong, you have to be active. If that drives off members, so be it, and the organization will have to shut down and the community as a whole will suffer. Apathy won’t cut it. I now step down off this soapbox. states. When the tour was over, the group went straight into the studio to record. Welcome to the big leagues of music, ala the late 1940s.
After Herb left the Playboys he made Houston his home, doing a lot of studio work for Starday Records and possibly played on George Jones’ first recordings and cut some instrumental 45s. He continued to tour with various bands including Hank Penny (having another hit record with Remington Ride) and playing on albums by Merle Haggard, Floyd Tillman, Merle Travis and Willie Nelson’s recording of Rainy Day Blues in 1959.
Herb was also exploring the roots of steel guitar music by traveling to Hawaii and playing with many of their musicians. Melba, his wife, was his manager, and together they had a band called Th e Beachcombers which toured around the mainland and Hawaii. He was well accepted on the Islands, which reflects the quality of music, an Indiana boy playing and giving Hawaiian steel guitar lessons in the instrument's homeland.
Herb kept busy around Houston by playing with The River Road Boys, a group composed of veteran musicians dedicated to keeping Western Swing alive. He played swing music with Lonnie Pettit’s Swingfield Playboys for five years at popular clubs in Houston. Herb also played in the Wild River Band with Mike Stroup and on three of their CDs. Both Lonnie and Mike said that Herb had a fine sense of humor and would regale them with stories of the hijinks committed while traveling with famous bands. Mike said that Herb was a “real music man” and could talk endlessly on the subject. He did have one hobby and that was fishing, anytime, anywhere, he would not pass up an offer to go fishing.
Herb described the difficulty of playing a pedal steel guitar, as “You have to be a monkey or an octopus, as some models have as many as eight foot pedals, two or more knee pedals, and all the controls on the top as you are playing with your slide bar and fingerpicks.”
Later in life he scaled back his touring and focused more on building and selling non-pedal steel guitars in 1978; work that carried him into the 21st century. Next time you see a steel guitar, there is a good chance it will have the name Remington on the front.
He also mentored younger players like Cindy Cashdollar, who is approaching superstardom on the steel. “Herb’s playing had a style that I think is interesting for a listener, because it really makes you notice the steel guitar,” Cindy said. “It’s friendly to the ear, but as a musician when you sit down and pick apart actually what he’s doing, it’s really phenomenal.” A young aspiring steel player approached Herb for lessons; his fee was simple, buy a $1,200 Remington lap steel guitar and you get one free lesson.
Three years ago Herb's wife of 63 years passed away. Herb just kept playing. The concept of retirement didn't register with him. "Everything he did was in a Herb Remington way," said Will Van Horn, a young Houston pedal steel guitarist. "You can hear something, just a couple of notes, and you know it's Herb. He took the Hawaiian music and the western swing and made something of his own. If you want to learn the instrument, you have to know the vocabulary he created." Herb created a dictionary of music.
Herb went on to rejoin his wife on October 27, 2018.