Don Caldwell, ‘once-in-100-year man’ for Lubbock, passes away at 79

Don Caldwell, image by L. Scott Mann

At 2:22 Friday morning, Terri Caldwell posted online, “It is with a shattered heart I announce the passing of the love of my life, my hero Don Caldwell. Play on my darling.”

Don had been hospitalized with cancer but everyone around him was optimistic.

His daughter, Cami Caldwell, told Lubbock Lights one week before his passing, “He’s a fighter!”

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

The news hit a lot of folks hard, including Lubbock musician Dustin Garrett.

“He called me son. I called him dad No. 2,” Garrett told Lubbock Lights in the hours after the news broke.

Garrett was six years old when he met Don at the Cactus Theater during an audition of “Bye, Bye Love,” a musical about the Everly Brothers. Garrett performed in Lubbock at the premier.

“The Grand Ole Opry manager at the time was in the audience,” Garrett recalled.

By age 10, Garrett was performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

“It was pretty amazing,” Garrett told Lubbock Lights. “I was too young to realize the magnitude of what was happening.”

  • Mac Davis, Toby, Todd and Don Caldwell

Slideshow: Images by L. Scott Mann


“It just doesn’t seem like a superhero can die,” Garrett said.

The list is too long to publish, but Don promoted and influenced a lot of Texas music and even some music nationwide – names like, the Maines Brothers, the Dixie Chicks, and Terry Allen.

“Terry Allen’s album is still revered as a cult classic recorded at Don’s Studio in the ‘70s and the album was called ‘Lubbock on Everything.’ That album was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 most important albums of the 20th century,” Garrett said.

It made No. 58 on the Rolling Stone list.

Don also had relationships with many people, including Lubbock native Mac Davis and Bobby Keys. Keys, like Don, was a saxophone player from Slaton before he went on to play with the Rolling Stones.

“Don not only was known as a great musician,” Garrett said, adding he was also a profound recording engineer.

“He also was, for the ones that knew him, one of the most caring people and one of the biggest motivators that you could have in your corner,” Garrett added.

On Facebook, Garrett wrote, “The man who shaped my life, my work, my process, and my heart, has gone home.”

‘I love you, Benji’

Benji Snead wrote a song more than 20 years ago and asked Don what he thought of it.

Snead recalled the conversation going something like, “‘Benji, this is a cool song, man. But you need to cut two verses out of it.’ … I was excited about that. I started asking his opinion about where to cut, and he said, ‘You don’t understand. I don’t care what you cut. It needs to be shorter.’”

Benji and Strickland Snead with Don Caldwell, courtesy image

Don produced it and made it better, Snead said. It was used as a theme song one year for the Cattle Baron’s Ball.

“A guy named Billy McClaran – who went on to be Sara Evans’ fiddle player – was the singer for it,” Snead said. Snead wrote some commercial jingles too with Don’s help.

His last text exchange with Don was about another song Snead was writing.

Don wrote, “I love you, Benji! Unbelievable.”

Snead responded, “I love you too, man!”

“He even got my son involved. He’s also a musician. He was a mentor to both of us,” Snead said.

“He was the glue for so many positive things,” Snead said.

Once-in-a-100-year man

Sometimes you might see a once-in-a-hundred-year storm, Snead said, adding he thought Don was a one-in-a hundred-year man.

Darryl Holland, who in 2016 purchased the Cactus Theater from Don, agreed.

“Don was a visionary and a very civic-minded guy,” Holland said.

Caldwell organized Lubbock’s Centennial Celebration, a number of Walk of Fame induction ceremonies and city-funded music festivals. He was a 1998 inductee on the Walk of Fame.

He was chairman of Entertainment Lubbock, a board member of Civic Lubbock, Inc. and co-founder of 4th on Broadway. He was the founder of Caldwell Studio, the West Texas Opry, the Cactus Theater, Raider Alley concerts and the Buddy Holly Music Festival. That’s not even the full list.

  • Toby, Don and Todd Caldwell

Slideshow: images by L. Scott Mann

Caldwell mentored young musicians, recorded them and staged festivals, Holland said. He was also a driving force in Lubbock’s downtown redevelopment.

“I’m standing in two of the little properties I bought from him just two years ago that we’re trying to redevelop right now,” Holland said.

“But now it’s up to the rest of us. Pick it up and move it forward. And as they say, the show must go on,” Holland said.

Garrett said, “It’s just hard to believe … But we are still going to perform the show at the Cactus tomorrow night. Now the show is going to go on.”

“There are many people that he mentored and nurtured through their lives, and they have very similar beliefs to him that Lubbock music is alive and well and it needs to be showcased,” Garrett said.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Don Caldwells left in this world, and we’re lucky that we had him as long as we had him. It would take an army to recreate some of the things that he did single-handedly,” he said,

Don Caldwell was 79 years old. His survivors include his wife Terri, daughter Cami, and sons Todd and Toby.

Editor’s note: Benji Snead is a member of the Lubbock Stories Inc. Board of Directors, the parent company of Lubbock Lights. We usually avoid using our own people as sources in stories, but in this case, Benji’s relationship with Don Caldwell made him an excellent source for this story. Terry Greenberg, editor.

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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.