Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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20171208 Palm Shadows Jam Del Puschert GU IMG 0931

Del Puschert played a rousing version of “Yakkety Sax” during a recent jam session at Palm Shadows RV Park in Donna.

Del Puschert, who has been playing saxophone since he was 3, fondly remembers the night he was working in a nightclub in Texarkana back in 1954 when a young man wearing a red mackinaw pushed through the doors of the club and asked for an opportunity to sing with his band. He told Del he had just cut his first record and was on his way to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was to appear on “Louisiana Hayride.”

Since 1953 Del had his own band that played society type music at the Texarkana supper club. Because of the extremely cold weather that night, business was slow, so Del said it was okay with him if his manager approved. The manager agreed so the young man sang the song he had just cut as his first record. The song was “Blue Moon over Kentucky” and of course, the young man was Elvis Presley.

After the performance the band, Elvis and a group of employees from the club went out for biscuits and gravy at a local all-night diner. When Elvis’ car would not start, a local TV newscaster offered to put him up for the night since he had no money.

It was not long before everyone in the music world knew who Elvis Presley was. But Elvis never forgot his friends and was loyal to them. He often stopped at the club where Del worked when he passed through Texarkana. On one visit, Elvis asked Del, whom he called “Daddio,” if he would like to go on tour with him. Del hesitated because he had been on the road touring before and knew how hard it was for musicians to make money. At one time, he and the band had only enough money to buy a sack of beans to eat and he had decided it was time to give up touring and stay in one location. Still, the idea of going on the road with Elvis appealed to him so Del decided to go.

It was an exciting time because Elvis’s popularity was gaining momentum and the crowds of fans were waiting long hours to get in to see him. Del recalls a show in Miami when Elvis had a 1 p.m. matinee show and the girls had started lining up outside at 2 a.m.

Because his dressing room overlooked the street Elvis could see the long line of girls. He opened the window, rolled up his pants and waved his bare leg out the window at his fans who went wild at the sight of Elvis’s leg.

Later that evening, Del was backstage when fans stormed the stage and tried to pull Elvis off the stage and tore his clothes off. A band of policemen had to rescue Elvis from the girls. But safely back in the dressing room, Elvis took a pair of scissors and cut the remainder of his pants and shirt into pieces and threw them out the window to fans. Del still has pieces of the pants and purple sports jacket Elvis was wearing. Later, when he opened a barber shop in Maryland, he had them framed and hung them on the wall as a conversation piece.

As Elvis popularity skyrocketed, some of the notoriety wore off on members of the band. People would come up to him and ask to shake the hand of the hand that shook Elvis’s hand.

“It was an exciting time,” Del said. “Being part of the scene where thousands of girls were yelling and trying to tear the clothes off the stars they considered to be larger than life was fun.”

Del toured a couple of times with Elvis before 1956 when he released “Love Me Tender.” After that no more tours were necessary.

In 1956 Del returned to his home state of Maryland where he began playing with the Van Dykes, a black rock band in the area. He was the only white member of the group. Later he played with The Drifters, The Coasters, Ruth Brown and many other stars traveling on the east coast. In 1960 Del once again formed his own band and worked the hotel circuit in Washington, D.C. He also did a stint with Charlie Daniels.

Del was a born musician, debuting with the Naval Academy Band at age 10, and has been called one of the best rhythm and blues saxophonists to ever perform. Nevertheless, his father insisted he get a skill besides music. Del went to barber school and learned to cut hair at his father’s insistence, but he never gave up music, playing whenever he could.

After retiring, Del began coming to the Rio Grande Valley for winters. He was immediately in demand for many of the jams that are played here. Sometimes he played multiple times in a day. In his mid-80s now, Del has slowed down. He plays in the Saturday Palm Shadows jam and others as his health allows.

Del looks back on his career with mixed feelings. He still remembers those early days when he and his band could only afford a bag of beans to eat.

“There are so many talented musicians out there,” says Del. “And few of them have the level of success I experienced. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time but many of the young musicians today do not know where their next meal is coming from. While the stars make a lot of money, the musicians usually do not get as much. Trying to be a professional musician is a hard way to make a living.”

But Del would not trade anything for his memories of being on tour with Elvis and all the excitement that surrounded Elvis’ rise to fame. It was an experience that few musicians ever get.

Look for Del at Palm Shadows RV Park in Donna and around the Valley and shake the hand that shook the hand of the man named Elvis. Del spends his winters at Paradise Park in McAllen.

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