As Don Caldwell fights to rally from critical illness, friends staging concert to help with medical bills

Don Caldwell in Lubbock, Texas

Don Caldwell, courtesy image.

Editorial note: It is with great sadness, we learned the news on Friday morning (5/24/2024) that Don Caldwell passed away. Our prayers go out for his family.

Cary Banks, a professional musician from Lubbock, started out in the 1970s in the Don Caldwell studio on Avenue Q.

The place had paper egg cartons on the walls to absorb echoes, but no carpet.

“The first demo I started recording in there, about halfway through the verse, Don stopped and said, ‘Hey man, you can’t pat your foot.’ I said, ‘Wait, what?’” Banks said.

“‘Yeah, it’s thumping through like an old shoe in a dryer. Just don’t.’ So that was my first experience,” Banks recalled.

Banks went on to record many songs there with Don – the sax man from Slaton who launched 4th on Broadway and saved the Cactus Theater – now struggling with a health issue.

A concert to benefit Don and his family is scheduled for May 18 at the Cactus Theater.

Leader of the Band: A Love Concert for Don Caldwell

May 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Cactus Theater, 1812 Buddy Holly Ave.
Reserved seats are $25.
Box seats are $50.
For tickets, call (806) 762-3233 or go online at

Performers and other participants to date include:

Jay Boy Adams – singer
Grady Alberts – trumpet
Julie Arriaga – singer
Butch Avery – singer
Blackwater Draw: Garrett Nelson, Tiffany Nelson, Berklee Louise
Addie Bleu – singer
Mike Carraway – guitar
Devin Collins – keys
Avery Emanuel – singer
Sheena Fadeyi – singer

Jason Fellers – singer
Brian Felty – saxophone
Bleep Garnett – drums
Steve Garry – singer
Brandon Gwinn – singer
Jay Inman – sound
Hannah Jackson – singer
Jane Prince Jones –speaker
Kurt Kiser – emcee
Kassidy King – singer
Michael Lefkowitz – drums
Cathy Lince – singer

Ken Lince – singer
Kenny Maines – singer
Mike McCreight – singer
Jeff McCreight – singer
Steve Meador – drums
Amber Pennington – singer
Ross Raedeke – bass
John Sprott – guitar
Mickie Vazquez – keys/vocals

Health update

Don was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2014.

“It was manageable,” his daughter, Cami Caldwell, posted on social media. That was until February when Cami said the tumors grew.

In May, Don was in critical condition. He was taken to Houston to St. Lukes Medical Center.

Jeff McCreight, another recording artist in Lubbock, said Wednesday in a TV interview, “He is doing a lot better.”

Cami gave Lubbock Lights an update Thursday.

“Dad is still in critical condition,” Cami said. “But he’s healing and we’re hopeful he’ll have a complete recovery. He’s a fighter!”

McCreight said, “I just believe that the spirit of what we’re doing is going to touch his heart. And I think it’s going to encourage him to fight on.”

“When you can’t work for three months, your life can get a little gray. So, we want to put some color back on him. … The color of choice is green,” McCreight said.

  • Don Caldwell, Lubbock, Texas
    Don Caldwell

Slideshow: Images all courtesy of Cami Caldwell

The big names in local music

The Maines Brothers, Natalie Maines, The Dixie Chicks, Blackwater Draw, Terry Allen, Joe Ely and many more had deep ties to the Caldwell Studio. Don’s wife, Terri, (also known as Terri Sue Newman) recorded Gypsie Eyes which made it to 43 on the Billboard charts.

When asked how many artists in Lubbock got their start because of Don, Banks answered, “Beginning in the ‘70s, probably, I’m going to say 85 to 90 percent – and that was everything from gospel singers to country singers to Tejano singers, spoken word comedians.”

Mac Davis got his start before Don set up a studio. But Don played a big role in keeping Davis connected to Lubbock over the years, Banks said.

And Don was an artist in his own right.

Don and Terri Caldwell in Lubbock, Texas
Don and Terri Caldwell, courtesy image.

Longtime friend Danny Koch said, “In his prime, that boy could play the saxophone and even maybe past his prime.”

In 1993, Don and some investors purchased the Cactus Theater (which had closed in 1958) and re-opened the historic venue in 1995.

“Seeing Don Caldwell come on stage and play that saxophone. That was the highlight of the night,” Koch said.

Raider Alley and finding talent

In the early 1990s attendance at Texas Tech football games was stagnant. Koch said Don and then-athletic director Bob Bockrath shook hands on an agreement for a concert after one of the football games.

Don and Cami Caldwell in Lubbock, Texas
Don and Cami Caldwell, courtesy image

Most of the music in Raider Alley was before the games. Not this one.

About a month or so before the concert, Don was still looking for an artist – maybe Diamond Rio or someone like that, Koch said.

“One night he calls me. I think he’s in a payphone somewhere in Colorado. He called me. He says, ‘Koch, I found the guy.’”

Bryan White.

“Who?” Koch asked.

Don found a singer just weeks before one of his songs hit the charts.

Now White is known for several hits including “Rebeca Lynn” and “Someone Else’s Star.”

That concert never happened because of weather. For Koch, that wasn’t the point. Don knew how to find talent.

Banks said, “In the late ‘70s, Don and Lloyd Maines started producing a country music show. We did probably about four times a year, called The West Texas Opry.”

“We sold out the Municipal Auditorium every single time. It was one of the most sought-after live music shows in West Texas, and it’s probably one of the best musical events I’ve ever been part of,” Banks said.

Koch added, “Where would we have been without Don Caldwell? I think that’s the question.”

The only mountain in Lubbock

The studio at 1214 Avenue Q – started in 1971 – is gone.

Banks said, “That was like a shrine in Lubbock, Texas. That’s where all the music happened.”

“I have a book that I’ve written, and one of the chapters is called ‘The Only Mountain in Lubbock.’ And it was about my time in the original Don Caldwell studio,” Banks said.

A line from the book went like this: “That little recording studio on Avenue Q was a sanctuary of creativity for musicians, songwriters, artists, and bands from literally all over the world.”

He called it a place for good ideas, bad ideas, new ideas, hit songs and crappy songs. The studio hosted professionals, amateurs, legends has-beens and wannabes, he said.

“It was a holy shrine brimming with the daily doses of truth, wisdom, tall tales and good old fashioned West Texas BS,” Banks wrote.

Banks first heard that name – “the only mountain in Lubbock” – from another artist.

Don Caldwell, Lubbock, Texas
Don Caldwell, courtesy image.

The studio had a two-track recorder. Think of it like a crank telephone compared to a modern smartphone. Or think of an old biplane compared to a modern jet.

It was littered with coffee-stained lyrics, empty beer cans, fast food boxes, whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays, and the occasional giant cockroach.

“We held it in great reverence,” Banks said.

It had a national impact, for example a Jerry Clower comedy album.

“Performance rights organizations like BMI and ASCAP didn’t pay any radio or television royalties for spoken-word records,” Banks said.

So, he and another artist played background music in the Caldwell Studio which was added ever-so-faintly to a recording of Clower’s performance. It sold more than $1 million worth of copies and led to more albums.

Don moved to another studio a few blocks away in 1991. But some regional hits like “Amarillo Highway” and some well-known jingles came from that studio like “Boot City, Boot City 2.”

4th on Broadway

Fun little story – how that jingle for Boot City came about.

In the early 1990s, Don had a vision the first-ever 4th on Broadway.

“His biggest challenge was getting local business to underwrite the cost,” Banks said.

Boot City agreed to put up “some pretty hefty coin,” Banks said. But it would cost Don a jingle.

“That commercial still runs to this day,” Banks said.

And 4th on Broadway remains the largest free festival in Texas, having attracted nationally known artists over the years. It features a parade in downtown Lubbock and (most years) a big fireworks show.

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Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and for nearly 10 years.