EARLY — At one point in his 24-year career as a band director, Bill Blackburn felt burned out and took a year off.

But after dabbling in the business and petrochemical world, Blackburn realized he missed band too much. He eased back into the world of band directing — and found out he still had the fire.

Blackburn, a Baytown native, is in his second year as band director at Early High School. The band’s numbers had fallen off when Blackburn arrived at the start of the last school year — the band had just 27 students — and has gained 10 more this year.

A recent “revolving door” of band directors caused the numbers to be down, Blackburn said. “It’s hurt our numbers and we’re starting to build it back up,” he said.

“They already had really good teaching, it’s just the numbers weren’t there. The kids are great, they’re very cooperative. They’re always striving. They have a high sense of excellence so their standards are very high. They really take to good direction.”

As for Blackburn, he’s “just having a blast. I love it here,” Blackburn said, noting that he hopes to retire here.

Blackburn and his wife, Theresa, have three daughters — Kaelin, a seventh-grader at Early Middle School, and Brooke and Kori, who are students at Lee College in Baytown.

Blackburn is from a musical family, and he knew in middle school he wanted to be a band director.

“I had a band director that really inspired me,” Blackburn said. “He just seemed to enjoy every day. It wasn’t like work to him. He was always upbeat. He seemed to be cool at the time. He really inspired kids and myself. He was a great role model.”

After graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in music education, Blackburn went on to work in several school districts and achieved his goal of becoming a head band director.

Blackburn was working as band director in Hamilton when he experienced the burnout. He began taking business classes at a junior college in the Houston area, and worked for his sister in the petrochemical industry.

“And I just missed band, and being with kids, so much,” Blackburn said. “I took a job in Thorndale as assistant band director just to see if I still had the fire to do it.

“The kids were so wonderful and I really enjoyed it. I said ‘I think I just need to settle in. I need to get back to teaching.’”

Blackburn later became band director in Three Rivers, but he wanted to get back to Central Texas. “I loved the climate, I loved the people,” Blackburn said.

When he saw that the Bruceville-Eddy school district was looking for a band director, Blackburn took the job, knowing it was close to where he wanted to be.

“I knew about Early because we played them (in football),” Blackburn said. “I was really impressed with the (Early) band. I thought they were an excellent group.”

When Blackburn saw a job posted for band director in Early, he quickly applied. Then-Early High School principal Robert Weyman interviewed Blackburn. Later, Weyman called Blackburn and asked, “do you want to be a Longhorn?”

“Heck yes,” Blackburn replied.

“It’s just a positive experience for the entire family,” Blackburn said. “So I would love for this to be my last stop.”