By Calvin Luna Balli
October 19, 2021
This might be a little long but please give a listen. It is a story of the time I lived in Killeen, an arid mid-Texas city halfway between Waco and Austin. I was an army brat who traveled around the world and became a Killeen resident in 1967–1970. This is how I remembered those years.
When I was 15, my family of eight arrived to Killeen from a years long assignment in Quito, Ecuador in September 1967. We lived in Pershing Park on the Fort Hood Army base on Cutler Street. As youngsters do, we would explore our new home by walking through a wonderful little valley of oaks and pecans near our neighborhood. Later, our strolls would include my friends along the way to Rancier Drive (one of the main drags in Killeen). We strolled past the Courtesy Chevrolet dealership and hung out at Burger Chef. I would often visit my buddy Ricky Luper who lived near the base entrance on Green Street. We did not have cell phones back then but had party lines in our houses. You could be having a conversation when someone would slam their phone down saying, “Get Off That Phone!” Crazy times!
Upon arrival to Killeen, I began my painful entrance into the American school system. Sadly, I was enrolled at Rancier Junior High and hated it there. After the exciting Army brat life of world travel, I had what I perceived as a life of drab and mean teachers. I was a hip young modster who was totally into the British Invasion! I wore Beatle boots and the latest line of mod clothes from Sears and Spiegel catalogs. I rebelled by wearing a Beatle haircut and exclaiming words of the day like groovy, far out man, peace man, sock it to me baby. Music of The Byrds, Sunshine Superman, The Beatles' Rubber Soul, and The Animals were in my ears! I was already hooked into that Haight-Ashbury scene. I just did not fit in.
1967 was the year I discovered Jimi Hendrix and the Who. Music consumed my whole 15 year old world. I ate, and slept, and dreamt MUSIC! I met a happening guy named Mike Vasquez whose parents let him have the garage for his bedroom. He painted all the walls black, put up neon and black lights to display his art scene of the sixties. All the lights were grooving to his music machine. My friends met at Mike's house to hear the latest music on vinyl records after school.
A few of us Army brats had the privilege of using or borrowing any kind of musical instrument from a Fort Hood recording studio. I would borrow cool guitars and amps and so did my musical-minded friends. We rented time at the Army base studios to jam to our hearts' content. I used my time there to craft my chops on guitar. Mom couldn't afford instruments and dad was in Vietnam so the music room was a godsend. I would also watch our favorite local band The Scop and gaze onto the hands of the guitarist and try to memorize his chords. I learned quickly and my Killeen friends helped along the way. Gracias amigos! We played our music and lived the fun and exciting times of 1967 Killeen.
The following year, I began attending Fairway Middle School.
I met a wonderful friend in Obe Arevalo, whose dad ran the projectors at the drive in theater. Obe would often borrow his father's Chevy Nova while his dad worked the movies and we would roar loudly through the streets of Killeen. We would listen to the latest music on AM radio and seek out our friends (perhaps some of you). Obe had a drumset and I was beginning playing the guitar, so we would jam in his bedroom and learn the latest songs. He sang with a great powerful voice. Man, we clicked!
At Fairway, I became friends with Henry Irrizari who oozed funk and a had a guitar or two. Alex Gonzales was always in the picture and had style and great musical equipment. He played guitar and always had a outstanding attitude with everyone. Alex had a cool Moped scooter too. My family loved him! Ricky Luper was a wonderful influence on me musically. He drove a Shelby Cobra, had a VOX Amp and cabinet, along with a few guitars. Another friend named Bill (I cannot remember his last name) played bass with us and had funk too.
Then there was Chris Price, a keyboardist who was a self taught student of Mozart and Beethoven. He had an Antebellum home several blocks up from the McDonalds. Greeting you in the enclosed patio was a world famous talking mynah bird. Any of you remember this fella?
Our little group played several teen club parties at places like the Annex and outdoor jams. We would often jam in my living room. Our setlist consisted of popular rock songs from the day such as The Doors (Chris' keyboard was amazing on Light My Fire) and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
At Fairway I became best friends with a cool British American girl who shared similar ideas and attitudes of the day. Janie Dowdle was taller than me and everyone noticed her long, long blonde hair and beautiful green eyes. I know some of you remember her. She always carried a fancy camera and was a hippy, a freak like me. Her mom would let Janie borrow a light lavender Buick convertible and she would pick me up. We would drive around Killeen but mostly out west at the far end park. We both embraced those times of political rebellion and artistic expression.
At her house, I would often watch her develop film in the dark room and watch her pictures appear like magic before my eyes. It was soooo cool. She had that same ambitious love of photography as I had for writing my music. I would not be surprised if she won notoriety in photography. I would love to see her pictures of me and our friends as well today. Wow! What a treasure that would be. I was a silly, immature boy to this Elizabethan English young woman. She felt suffocated by her British mother and her full bird colonel father from the Dallas area. We bonded, of course.
We somehow got into the Oleo Strut art scene drawing posters and listening to the GIs' speeches and views of the war. My father was away in the jungles of Vietnam and I wanted him back alive, so I participated in several Oleo Strut generated peace rallies. Later in 1971, I returned to Killeen to demonstrate and march with Jane Fonda (as seen in the documentary Sir! No Sir!). I was one of the fellas with Ricky Luper and my brother Manfred who walked behind her in a peace rally through several streets in downtown.
My participation in the Oleo Strut scene opened me to a world of media and news. Just like my dad was! I loved to draw psychedelic Peter Max type demonstration posters to hang on the walls. We used watercolor markers of many different colors. The local weed was always bad so I drank the Boone's Farm Wine instead. Bell County was dry back then so we high tailed it to Harker Heights before the liquor stores closed to buy our brew, cigarettes, and rolling papers.
Does anyone in Killeen recall the midget house? There was a family of little people (a mom, dad, and two kids) who built a small house to fit their size. It was cool and stood out on the street. They even had a small picket fence around this most fanciful little house. The family went all out displaying Christmas lights with a Santa sleigh and reindeer. They were friendly elves with a mystic Hobbit like home. Many of their visiting friends were little people too.
I was a gullible guy and some of my friends tried to scare me with superstitious Texas lore. They told me not to get caught alone outside because the infamous Goatman would get me. He stayed mainly on the south end of Killeen proper. I also got chills hearing the Jackalope stories (half jack rabbit and half antelope). I thought I knew everything back then so it really shook me up! The vilest miscreants of a savage race of Texas oddities. And now we hear about recent Sasqwatch sitings in west Texas.
I began my last year at Killeen High School in 1968/69 and lived in the Lake Belton neighborhood north of the Bowlerama. (Afterward, we moved to the Houston area where I reside today.) My friends were scattered around Killeen. We had no Metro so we walked, bicycled, Mopeded, or motorcycled our way around town.
The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the damn Vietnam war was a bummer during my high school years but I lived the history. Some of my Killeen High School friends were with me on my 16th birthday party when the astronauts landed on the moon. We got to see it on dad's brand new color TV.
The bad times in Killeen were with my brother Manfred (Arthur Balli). He was a pistol and created a lot of misery to everyone. He once stole or borrowed (is what he said) a Killeen Cop car. Yep, one afternoon I heard a siren go off in the front of our house. My mom and I walked out the front door and saw Arthur sitting behind the wheel of a police car. He was arrested and given a year probation and a week in jail. I attribute this poor judgement on an incident that happened two years earlier, when he had a brain concusion from a bad motorcycle accident. He was never the same again.
To my fellow Killeen High School classmates, we must have passed each other in the hallways, in the gyms, at the football games, or eating burgers at McDonalds. Alex Gonzales was working there and was a major influence on all our lives. We are all connected. We are family. We are Killeen Fighting Kangaroos!!
These are the names of people I once knew in Killeen: Janie Dowdle, Alex Gonzales, Jerry Perry, Mike Vasquez, Toni Vasquez, Charlotte Maultsby, Obe Arrevalo, Ricky Luper, Tom Sonley, Cole Hallmark, Johnny Williams, Bobby Bereau, Chris Price, Henry Irrizari, Bill (the bass player), Donna Ratliff, Linda Elder, Otto Sanchez, Steve Lee, Nancy Perez, the Pena and the Dunn boys. I recognize most of your faces at least in my mind. Now fifty years later it's great to be alive and to celebrate a monumental achievement. We made it to 2021!!!
It was wonderful seeing all of you at the Killeen High School class of 1971 reunion. It is also sad to know that so many people are not with us anymore. I hope to see many of you again real soon!
Here is an update on what I am doing today.
I have several hobbies as well as working part time as an usher for the Houston Texans games and at many concerts and events. I golf, travel around Texas and the country in our teardrop camper, play with our dogs, visit with our grandkids, garden, and live the best I can with what I have.
I do some original wood work by creating whirlygigs and yard art along with my wife, Eileen. My favorite wood pattern is a war pony since I am a fan of the cowboy painter, Charles Marion Russell, whom I wrote and recorded several songs about. On my website, listen to my song Ghost Horse about the love of Charlie and his favorite horse, Monte. I love reading about western history and expeditions and have discovered many similarities in myself and Charlie Russell.
My creative juices are reactivated after a bout of retirement complacency and health issues. I am finalizing a tribute song about the Lewis And Clark expedition to be entered in the Library of Congress along with other musical ventures. I just hooked up with a gospel singer who reminds me of Louie Armstrong. We are currently writing a song called Get Right With God! Its got a Sly and the Family Stone funk. I will lend a hand on background vocals but he will carry the weight of the main vocals (a la James Brown).
Thanks to all of my friends and acquaintances for being a part of my life's journey. I will walk with you again hand in hand into Heaven someday.
Vaya con dios.
Go to calvinballimusic.com to hear my original music, stories, and video.
My email is email@example.com
I would love to hear more stories about your Killeen memories, so please share. Go Fighting Kangaroos!