Houston 101: "Amarillo By Morning," One More Goddamn Time

Houston 101 is taking a bit of a road trip today in honor of George Strait. Our sister blog Rocks Off is counting down the days until Strait returns here for a non-rodeo appearance, and it put us in mind of the first time we'd heard a Strait song -- at the trial over one of the Texas political world's most notorious deaths.

Price Daniel, Jr. was the son of a former Texas governor and U.S. senator. Junior got elected to the legislature and made a name for himself as one of the reformers who tried to clean things up after the Sharpstown scandal (A bit of Houston real-estate bidness that played fast and loose with ethics laws). He became one of the youngest House Speakers in Texas history.

His private life, alas, wasn't that exemplary. After a divorce, he married a Dairy Queen waitress named Vickie from his home town of Liberty.

The marriage lasted until January 19, 1981, when he was shot to death by a .22 rifle held by Vickie.

In an odd twist of events, a child-custody case was held before the murder trial; Vickie was represented by Houston's Racehorse Haynes. He was at his most flamboyant, re-enacting the shooting and playing the media like a violin. Every TV station and paper from Houston and Beaumont covered the trial breathlessly.

The jury awarded Daniel's kids to Vickie, effectively clearing her of murder or manslaughter.

But there was still a murder trial to be held, and that's the one I covered. Taking daily trips to the Liberty County Courthouse in a battered Chevy Nova for the Dallas Morning News, I was the cubbiest of cub reporters and loving the opportunity I'd gotten. Haynes' partner, Jack Zimmermann, was only slightly less flamboyant; the courtroom itself was a classic-looking setting; the town of Liberty seemed very, very Texan to a guy from New Jersey.

At some point in the very entangled hearings, Zimmermann and his colleagues were trying to prove, or at least suggest, that Price had abused the kids sexually. Vickie had hidden a tape recorder in a closet while he and the kids played on the bed. On the day they judged best, her lawyers dramatically produced a tape recorder in the courtroom and hit "play."

And all you could really hear, sitting in the packed courtroom straining to make out the depravity allegedly contained in the recording, was George Strait singing "Amarillo By Morning."

And a few giggles from the kids. But they were apparently ominous giggles, so the tape had to be played again and again. If Zimmermann had an audio telestrator I'm sure he would have used it.

So that's how I was introduced to "Amarillo By Morning" -- through a crappy recording done through a closet door, interrupted by giggles, desperately trying to determine if there was heinous activity taking place. Let's just say I didn't rush out to celebrate the entire Strait catalogue.

Vickie beat the murder rap easily, by the way. The whole thing was made into a TV movie called Bed of Lies in 1992. Susan Dey played Vickie, Chris Cooper was Price, and Fred Thompson played Racehorse.

I haven't seen it, somehow, so I don't know if "Amarillo By Morning" is on the soundtrack.

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