CHARLES ELLIOT NAIL
Charles Elliot Nail, the middle child of three brothers, grew up hearing his parents, aunts and uncles, and others playing country and gospel music for their own enjoyment. Every family gathering had his mom, Vivian, playing piano and his dad, Francis, playing guitar and fiddle; both were musically talented although neither had formal training.
As the oil boom began to move westward through Texas, Charles’ dad took drilling jobs as new oil fields opened across west Texas and southeast New Mexico. By the time he was six months old, Charles had moved from Novice, where he was born in 1941, to Odessa; he was destined to move many more times in his childhood.
The family finally settled for a time in Monahans, Texas and Charles’ early school years were spent there. A third-grade teacher told his mother that Charles might have a coordination or hearing problem, so piano lessons became the order of the day. The hearing problem was never to prove true, but he was moved to the front row of seats in the class, perhaps as much for the teacher to keep a close eye and prevent misbehaving.
The best piano teacher in town was Mrs. Freeman. This wonderful lady laid the groundwork for Charles’ musical future with her insistence on correct rhythms, hand position and plenty of practice. He spent almost three years studying with Mrs. Freeman and regrets that he did not continue to play piano when they moved away. Before moving, Charles was recruited into the Monahans band program. In the fifth grade, beginning band was started on the cornet. Fortunately, his older brother Bill had been the first chair cornet in the high school band and his parents had purchased a Reynolds silver bell cornet for him to play. In Bill’s senior year he got a Selmer trumpet, so Charles used the Reynolds cornet, a great beginning instrument. His first band director was Bobby Jack Lowe, an exceptional beginning teacher.
The next couple of years saw some lean times for the Nail family as they moved from Monahans to Tatum, N.M., to Odessa, to San Angelo, and to Elida, N.M., where there was no band program. The only bright spot during that time was in Odessa. Charles was in the band at Crockett Junior High and his band director during the first half of his seventh-grade year was Gene Smith, a wonderful teacher and member of the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. After spending three woeful months in Elida, the family moved back to Odessa just before his eighth-grade year, and remained there until after Charles graduated from high school.
Memorable things happened in the Bowie Junior High band: Charles experienced legendary band director J. R. McEntyre and met his future wife, Brenda. That first year the Bowie band was invited to attend the southwest MENC convention in Hutchinson, Kan. The boys in the band were housed in the barracks of a state reformatory for boys, and Mr. McEntyre told them they had better behave because there were armed guards around the perimeter.
The next year a new junior high opened in Odessa and J.R. moved to the new school along with Brenda, who was the first drum major at Bonham Junior High. Charles’ band director for his ninth-grade year was another great teacher and director from Bowie, Bill Dean, also a member of the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. At Odessa High School, Charles learned from another Hall of Famer, Robert L. Maddox. While at Odessa High there were also other fine teacher/directors who had an impact on Charles’ musical career and future life: Don Baird and Kyle Crain.
Charles’ college years were spent at West Texas State University under the direction of Dr. Ted Crager. He married his sweetheart from junior high and high school, Brenda Simpson, after his sophomore year. Charles was in ROTC, so following graduation in 1963, he was obligated for a minimum of three years of military service. Receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in May 1963, he reported to Fort Benning, Ga., in July. Following infantry officer basic training, Charles attended flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., graduating as a fixed-wing pilot in 1964. He was promptly assigned to Germany, in the Third Infantry Division, and as the Vietnam War became more intense he was transitioned into helicopters. He was eventually assigned to the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam where he flew missions for 13 months. Now a captain in the U.S. Army, a career-planning officer informed him that after his tour of duty in Vietnam, he would have 18 months of stateside duty. Then he would have another tour in southeast Asia. With a wife and two small children, the decision was easy. He opted to leave the Army and in April received an honorable discharge. Charles was suddenly jobless.
While attending a spring concert contest in Odessa, Charles heard that a position was open in Pecos, Texas. He would have to shave his moustache, but he would have a job. Bill Carrico, also a Hall of Fame member, was the high school director in Pecos, famous for his “singing bands.” After three years in Pecos, Charles moved to Odessa to be band director at Bonham Junior High, a position that his younger brother Ike had just vacated to take the position as band director at Lee High School in Midland. After only one year at Bonham, the position of band and orchestra director at Permian High School in Odessa became available. J.R McEntyre had accepted the director of fine arts position.
In fall 1972 Charles became the band and orchestra director at Permian. Charles and his talented students earned many honors. The band was selected as the Class 4A Honor Band in 1975, Class 5A Honor Orchestra in 1980 and 1985, and Class 5A State Marching Champion in 1982. They received a superior rating or better in every contest and festival they entered.
Charles is past-president of Texas Music Educators Association and Texas Orchestra Directors Association. In 1991 he was elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association. He is a member of Phi Beta Mu and a charter member of the Texas Music Adjudicators Association. Charles currently serves as executive secretary of UIL Music Region VI.
He has been fortunate to have been associated with many of the very finest band directors and teachers, including J. R. McEntyre, Bill Dean, Gene Smith, Robert L. Maddox, Don Baird, Kyle Crain and Dr. Gary Garner. Charles is grateful to excellent teachers such as Carol Jessup, Kathy Fishburn and many more. He gives others special thanks: his wife, Brenda, who he describes as the rock for his family. His children Valerie and Thomas not only had to put up with him as a father, but also as a band director. His brilliant brother, Ike, taught him almost everything he knows about directing and teaching students. Charles offers his heartfelt thanks to all of these amazing people for their constant support and assistance over the years.
Last, but certainly not least, Charles would like to thank the thousands of wonderful, hard-working, talented young men and women who were in the music programs at Permian High, and to whom he gives all credit.