This is the second of my LeRoy Van Dyke stories. Maybe start with the first one a couple of posts down: I said I was going to write. Actually, to be honest, I wrote this not too ago and forgot about it and just found it in my story files. I really am a bit nervous publishing this kind of stuff, but it’s all true. I mean, really, how would you make this shit up? I’m not even sure if anyone is still reading this blog. I know ol’ LeRoy isn’t, so here’s one of my favorite stories about a truly great night.

I had been working for Leroy for about eight months or so. We had settled into “I don’t like you, you don’t like me, play the music and leave me be.” He had tried to bond with me that first night on the bus when I was smoking hash-oil laden Kools. He had no idea that all I could hear sounded like blahblahblahblooey. We didn’t bond. It’s a funny story and right underneath this one. I’m not 100% sure I want to put this one here. I hope he’s not watching the stories. The last thing I need is an old, wrinkly, crazy redneck on my trail. 

Anyway, we had just played an afternoon gig in Raton, New Mexico and had to be in Fargo the next night. That’s a thousand miles. Leroy had a GMC4501 bus. This was the old Greyhound ScenicCruiser, the double decker if you remember those. He loved that bus and had a Detroit 300 engine with a blower, whatever the heck that means, installed in it. I know it meant that it was fast. That thing could easily do 120 and cruising at 100 was like a walk in the park. It had cozy bunks for the band, a lounge area, and a stately state room in the back for Leroy. It looked like a trailer park whorehouse back there. I don’t remember being in it more than once or twice. 

We’re leaving Raton and hit a nasty rush-hour traffic jam on the cloverleaf getting onto I25 going North toward Denver. Leroy was driving. It was his bus and he loved to drive it. We were all supposed to take our turns. I tried once or twice and was exonerated from that duty for gross incompetence and complete distrust. Leroy also loved to talk on his CB radio. The bus sat up really high and next to us on the left and right next to, but way down, was a brown Datsun 240Z. These cars were tiny, with some kind of rocket engine in them. They were fast. Really fast. Like reallyreally fast. Here’s where it gets a little out of the ordinary. Leroy looks down at the 240Z and there’s a good looking blond-haired woman wearing tight jeans. He gets her attention and signals “6” with his fingers to get her to tune her radio the band 6 on her CB. No one listened to band 6 so it was kind of private. She gets her handset, tunes her radio, and I swear, as sure as I’m sitting here, and please understand these are not my words, he says, “Hidy cunt.” That’s right. You heard me. That’s what he said. It came out phonetically like this – High-dee cunt.” I think I coughed and gagged a little and thought she was going to say something nasty to him and that would be that, but she said, “Hi! Who are you?” “I’m Leroy Van Dyke, darlin’, the Auctioneer.” You have to understand that he was still a pretty big star at this point in the Western states. He was a cattleman and wore polyester cowboy attire and they thought he was one of them. He wasn’t. They engaged in conversation and agreed to meet at the next truckstop on the Interstate after the traffic cleared. I didn’t get it, but there was a lot of shit I didn’t get with these people. And vice versa just to be fair. Leroy turns to the band, all four of us sitting in the lounge area, and asks for someone to drive her car while he does whatever in the trailer park whorehouse room in the back of the bus. My hand shot up like a rocket to the moon. I wanted so badly to be alone. I had a pocket full of joints and hadn’t had more than a couple of minutes to myself in days or maybe even weeks. On the rare occasions we stopped at a motel, we had to share rooms. You have no idea what I endured. Here’s a chance to be alone, really alone. The sun had gone down and we were on that long, straight stretch of interstate going up to Denver and then on to the Northern Hinterlands. Leroy said NO and asked for someone else. Anyone else. There really was a pretty justified trust issue on his part. I have to be honest. But everyone else wanted to sleep and Gary, the card-carrying Nazi bass player was the only one who could drive the bus through the night without killing everyone on board. Skip the piano player and Mike the drummer wanted to sleep and had no intentions of driving a rocket ship car through the Western night. That left only yours truly. He had no choice if he wanted to pursue his baser instincts while shooting through the desolate night at 100mph. No choice. Me or nothing. We stopped at the truck stop for one last meal and to fill up the bus and the Datsun. I didn’t have to do anything but eat and wait for my time to come. When it did come, I get a stern warning to stay in sight and radio distance of the bus. Leroy warned me, Gary the Nazi Who Wanted to Kill Me Anyway warned me. Don’t lose sight of the bus and stay in radio distance. Uhhh. Okay. I will. No problem. We get on the cloverleaf entrance to the interstate going North. The bus and me close behind in the 240Z. We get on the interstate and the bus starts accelerating to 100 where it’s going to cruise all night long. If a cop ever stopped the bus out there it was just to see what it looked like inside. The only time I remember him getting into trouble was the time he tried to smuggle a shit load of cans of salmon into the US from Canada at the Windsor crossing. I was sure some nice little doggy was going to come aboard and find my pot, but I think I got saved by the salmon. Once they found that, they were pleased and Leroy got a big fine and lost his salmon. Except one can. They let him keep one can. Go figure. Anyway, it was going to be 100mph all night long. And me close behind. But…I didn’t want to be close behind or in radio contact for at least a few minutes. There was no one else on the road which was nothing but a four-lane straightaway for a few hundred miles.  I wanted to be truly alone. And I was. It was so quiet – – Until I tuned the radio to WBAP, all-night trucker radio out of Ft. Worth. Bob Wills was on. I turned it up and I was so happy. I heard Randy the Nazi on the CB as his voice crackled and finally faded. He was yelling and cursing at me for stopping. He was doing 100. Just before going out of range, I said, I have to pee. Sorry. No choice. I sat there with the radio blasting Western Swing music, pulled a joint out my pack of Kools that was stuffed with joints, lit it, took a few hits, and said to myself, “I wonder what this baby will do.” I knew it could do better than 100 and I had lat least a few hundred miles to catch up. So let’s see what she’ll do. It had six gears which I didn’t realize for a little bit. I went into first and floored it. Real quick into second and third. It was going fast. Fourth and fifth and I look to my left and there was a solid line on the highway where it should have been a dotted line to separate two lanes going in the same direction. Why was it solid? Good question. I looked at the speedometer and thought it said 150. Hahaha. Wait! It did say 150. What the fuck? No wonder the line looks solid. I though to myself that if I sneeze and my hands jerk a little, I’m gonna die. I looked at the tachometer and it wasn’t close to red lining but I realized there must be another gear because the engine was a little whiny. I found gear six and the damn thing accelerated. I got really scared and slowed to 125 or so. I had to catch the bus. I think we were the only two on the road and in a bit, I don’t remember how long, I saw the unmistakable rear lights of the ol’ GMC4501. Gary’s voice started to fade in with crackling and curses and yelling. The “Leroy’s gonna kill you” got clearer and clearer. I told him I was there, the car was okay, and that’s all he should worry about. I didn’t tell him I was wasted and had just gone godknowshow fast in the little thing. I was happy. It was a long night alone in the 240Z. Gary shut his big Nazi mouth and drove. I had WBAP, clear channel radio, on. Bobbby Bare was singing some trucker’s lament, I pulled out another joint and wondered what the hell was down the road.

I think I’m getting ready to write again. I’m basically incredibly lazy and usually need a little push. I just finished a story about some rather radical surgery I had last year. A special friend, who is a real writer, is editing it for me now and I’ll post when I feel like it. Hahahaha. I’m hoping it will be included in a planned book of transgender stories. Say What? Transgender?? Hahahaha…Suck it up, y’all. I’m Lauren now which puts all these stories in a kind of different and perhaps even weirder perspective. It can get a little confusing. But I was Larry then – and a boy – so no need to change or obscure the truth in any way. One of my goals with my stories is for them to be 100% honest and true. I don’t think I really have to embellish anything anyway.

In the meantime here’s a little clip of me playing in an Island-wide band that was put together by a good friend, Dan Brauer, here on Hawaii Island. We wound up doing four sold out or nearly sold out shows including New Years Eve, 2019, at the Palace Theater in Hilo, Hawaii. I loved playing with these folks, like really loved it. Great players and awesome people. We are getting back together for a Woodstock tribute, Shakafest, on October 26, 2019 in Waimea, Hawaii Island.

These stories start with “Moving” below. But one can start here as well if one pleases. And don’t forget Acoustic Roots stories way way at the bottom. Leroy Van Dyke – Introduction

Leroy was an asshole. He probably still is but now he’s an old, funny looking asshole. As much as I didn’t like Leroy, he liked me even less. I’m actually friends with him on Facebook and I sent him a message saying that I was going to write some of these stories and if I don’t hear back from him, I’ll take it as tacit approval. But you can’t really sue anyone for telling the truth anyway and I’m light years and thousands of miles away. So, the beginning of some of my favorite stories.

I was sitting at home in my tiny apartment on 18th Ave. S. My girlfriend at the time, Sully,   had moved out rather than stay there alone for weeks and weeks at a time. She never liked that apartment anyway.  She moved in with her good friend, Kris Wilkinson, an awesome violist and string arranger, on the East Side. The good thing was that I could bring my cat, Hickory, over there whenever I left town. It was perfect. Kris’ cat, Clarence, a huge Maine Coon was Hickory’s only friend. They were both twenty pounders and loved each other’s company. And Sully loved Hickory so I knew he was well taken care of.

The phone rang. It was Walter Bulle, Leroy Van Dyke’s manager. Leroy lost another guitar player and needed someone pretty quick which is how I got a lot of work. Quick study. I said I would be interested and Walter asked if I could meet him at the Bob’s Big Boy on I65. Pretty far from the West End but not too bad. But a Bob’s Big Boy. I didn’t go in those too often and this might have been the first or second time ever. Before I could meet Leroy and rehearse with the band I had to pass the personality test. My guess is that pretty much everyone who played for him at one time or another was a personality mismatch and they were trying their best. They were willing to pay my per day price so I was willing to lie right through my little teeth to get the job. Leroy didn’t have the best reputation in the Nashville Hippy Musician community. I hate to use the word redneck but I’m going to use the word, Redneck. He was a cultural Redneck. A real piece of work for a New York Jew. Walter gave me a gauntlet of questions which I was able to easily bullshit my way through. Yes, my hair is kinda long but I hate those hippies. No, I’m having a salad because I’m trying to lose weight. Otherwise I’d have me one of those Big Boys. Are you kidding? Do I know about geology? It was my minor in college. Lies lies lies and more lies. It was like Robert Morse and Rudy Valle in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Just one lie after another. He bought the whole thing and I got to audition with the band at the keyboard player’s house. Skip Browner was already selling real estate and always had a nice house to live in. Like 60s kind of Southern houses. He had two Alaskan Malamutes who one day ate the neighbor’s poodle. For real. Ate the poodle. It was kind of a big stink at the time. He put up a fence and the dogs jumped it and ate another dog, or maybe it was a cat. Skip was a fine keyboard player and a fellow yankee – but from New Jersey so it kind of doesn’t count.

I had gotten two records from Walter of Leroy’s shows. This wasn’t rocket science and I had no problem learning the stuff in a day or so, went to the audition and was hired. One full week of rehearsals at Skip’s and then off to resume Leroy’s way too busy schedule. It was something like 275 or 300 days a year back then. And the jobs crisscrossed the country. Booking agents never had to travel and just wanted their commissions so jobs could be 700 or a thousand miles apart with maybe a day or less to get there. Before I had to leave, i had a bit of a panic. What to do about pot? What to do? Leroy had a reputation for hating anything hippy and pot was at the top of the list. There was no way I could work for him without it. Or anyone else for that matter. I called my fellow guitar player, Jerry McCuen (sp?), and explained my predicament. Jerry was about as  hip as they came in Music City and knew just what to do. The first thing he said was, Why did you take that gig? He’s an asshole. I know, but the Byrdland. In 1955 or so,  Gibson made two prototype Byrdland guitars. They were made for the iconic player, Billy Byrd, who came up with Ernest Tubb’s signature guitar lick. I’m pretty sure one of them wound up with Hank Garland who was a good friend of Billy Byrd’s (you can hear Ernest – Ahhhh, Billy Byrd now) and somehow Leroy had the other. His big enticement to get guitar players to work for him was the guitar. You got to keep it and take it home and everything as long as you were working for him. Many times the thought of giving up that guitar made me bite my tongue. I loved that guitar. The neck was too thin and a very short scale, but the history. And I’m pretty sure Hank Garland used this guitar to play on Leroy’s 1950s hit record, Walk On By. Supposedly the first time the new Fender Amp effect, tremolo, was ever used on a recording. The history was too overwhelming for me and I wound up at Jerry’s apartment looking for a pot solution. And Jerry had the perfect solution. Hash Oil. Something new so of course he not only knew about it, but also had a bunch. It was a tar-like liquid that came in a small glass vial. I smoked cigarettes at the time, Kools, and Jerry told me to “paint” a carton worth of individual cigarettes and I’d be good to go. I went home, painted my carton of Kools, and packed my stuff. My funny little suitcase I had since I was about five or so, my black Tele Deluxe with the two staggered pole Fender Humbuckers and controls like a Gibson, and my 1970 Vibrolux I bought brand new at Medley Music in Bryn Mawr. I still have that amp and it still sounds  amazing the few times I get to use it now. I packed my carton of black Kools and kept one pack out in my shirt pocket.

I met the bus at it’s parking spot somewhere near Franklin. Leroy had a ranch near there where he illegally raised charlarois (or something like that) cattle. He would smuggle sperm in from France. Really. He’d smuggle sperm. I have no idea why it was illegal but it was and he was proud as punch of his huge, meaty charges. I was a committed vegetarian then and no one even noticed until about a year later when I got fired for not eating animals. And other stuff like telling Leroy that he was an idiot. But that’s later. Anyway, I loaded my stuff and chose a bunk on the bus. The bus was a GMC 4501. The largest bus ever made. It was the Greyhound ScenicCruiser with the two levels and big windows in front. The lower level was the lounge area. A full kitchen and comfy chairs and a small bathroom. Up the four steps or so to the bunk area. The bunks were cozy and curtained. I enjoyed reading through the night and looking out the window as America went flying by. In the back of the bus was Leroy’s stateroom. A king-size bed and all. Leroy loved to drive the bus so I hardly ever had to drive it. Not that I could. But I did a few times anyway.

The first night with the new person, the “lucky” new person, me, got to ride shotgun through the night while Leroy drove the bus. It was his way of getting to know you.  I pretty much repeated my earlier lies. Unfortunately I had told Walter, the manager, that I had minored in geology in college. I really never went to college let alone minored in geology. Leroy majored in geology in college. Oooopsy. I got caught that first night when he started talking about the alluvial mountains we were passing. “Oh yeah, that kind of alluvial. Mountains. Oh yeah. Alluvial.” Luckily the conversation turned towards music. Leroy loved the Merle Haggard song, Okie from Muskogee. The song was tongue in cheek for Merle. He was actually making fun of Southern rednecks but Leroy wasn’t quite bright enough to figure that out. I agreed. Totally. I hate those damn hippies with all my heart. I took out a black Kool. It was night time and dark in the bus. Perfect. I went to open the window but it wouldn’t budge. Leroy had had them sealed shut for some reason I never understood. But, uh oh. No ventilation and the smoke from a hash oil laden Kool started filling the bus. Everybody else was asleep in the back. I kind of worried. Leroy started talking about pot, And hippies and pot and everything he hated. Everything he hated was riding shotgun with him that night.

I smoked that puppy down to the nub without realizing how strong hash oil was or how it’s effect was magnified by tobacco. I wuz stoned. STONED. Dizzy and likely incoherent. But the conversation kept up. What the hell we were talking about is anybody’s guess. Somehow I held up my end of the conversation. Don’t ask me how – or what I said – or anything. I don’t remember much after finishing that first black Kool. Eventually the sun rose on a new day. I was toast.  But guess what? Only 100 miles or so away from the show. It was a cattle auction. Leroy was a real auctioneer and we used to play a lot of those kinds of gigs, mostly in the Western states. They loved him in the Western states. Lots of time in Vegas and Reno. At some point in the show, Leroy would actually auction off some cattle. He had no idea that a vegetarian hippy was standing behind him playing guitar. A stoned vegetarian hippy.. It might have killed him if he knew. Anyway, that first gig was a disaster for me. Pomp and circumstance has always made me nervous as hell when I’m supposed to be either the pomp or the circumstance or, God forbid, both.

We set up our stuff on a the bed of a flatbed truck. No one told me what was going to happen. They should have. I had never played out with this band and this was the first time Leroy heard me play. The rehearsals went well and Skip told Leroy all was okay. It wasn’t. I mean, it would have been if the band wasn’t pulled into the arena by a Mack cab  pulling the flatbed way to fast for me. I got scared. Like really, really scared. This had never happened to me. My knees started to shake and almost buckled. I was concentrating on staying alive. Sounds like a full-blown panic attack with about a thousand people watching. I have no idea what I played that day. I usually remember every note but not this time. All I know is that it was wrong. Really wrong. Like “too much hash oil in the wrong situation”  wrong. It was bad. I found out months later that I almost git fired that first gig with Leroy. He wanted to fire me but Skip talked him into keeping me. Probably reminding him how hard it was for him to find a guitar player. I gave myself one of those persuasive talkings to and musically all went well with the subsequent gigs.

More to come –





Volcano, Hawaii. This is downtown Volcano Village where I live now. A visual interlude while I’m kind of trying to write. I took these at about 2AM on a super clear morning. The Volcano was beautiful that night as were the stars. Click ’em on – And guess what? Prints are available for sale!!


Down the Holler

These stories are in reverse order. Please start with the story, Moving

Shit started to get a little strange and out of hand. Everything I had known as normal was gone. I was getting work as a guitar player and spending time with some people I didn’t much care for and often vice versa. I was as bizarre to them as they were to me. Time in retrospect began to lose continuity and so will these stories. But no worries. They kind of stand on their own and I’m not writing a book or anything.

The recent gun violence and the call for more people having more guns as the cure kind of got me thinking. I hate guns and definitely do not subscribe to the Good Guy with a Gun bullshit. But WDLD (What Did L Do) when faced with serious violence:

The winter of 1976 was a phenomenon. I had previously seen people in Nashville abandon their cars on the Interstate for a dusting of snow. It didn’t snow there a whole lot. But 1976 was different. God was trying to tell me things were getting out of hand but He can’t just come out and say so. No. . .He has to make life so weird that you realize you might be doing something wrong.

My girlfriend, Sully, and I had just moved back to Nashville from Dallas where Neil and I  had a gig playing in a band called the Nashville All Stars (me and Neil, Jimmy Stuart on drums and Buck Evans on bass). The band was put together by Bill Starnes, Jr. Bill’s father had been Lefty Frizell’s manager and was the Star in Starday Studio and record label. Jr. was a trip right down to the Caddy convertible with the bull horns out front and silver dollars studding the interior. Finished off with a big hat, snakeskin boots, and a cigar, he was the perfect personification the Bigger than life Texas Shuckster. Bill put the band together to play election primary events and speeches throughout the South for Jimmy Carter. I’m not sure how to honestly tell that particular story without knowing exactly what the statute of limitations are for various kinds of things. (Please. nothing like that. I mean like maybe smoking pot in public school hallways with a member of the Carter family. Stuff like that. Silly.) When the Carter job ended, I tried to make a go of it in Texas. I almost had a great sit down gig six nights a week at Dewey Groom’s Longhorn Ballroom. I played there for a couple of weeks with the Junior Knight band and loved it. Junior was a great steel player and we played nice together. But Dewey wanted a band with three-part harmony and I sing kind of like the donkey next door. He was so nice when he told me he was going to look for someone who could sing. He sat me down and told me the history of  the Longhorn and bought me a Long Neck and told me he liked my playing but not without vocals. He hired someone even younger than me. He played his Tele kind of okay but had a great voice and could do any harmony part. That’s life. So Sully and I packed the car and my cat, Hickory, and moved back to Nashville.

A couple of days on the road with a very unhappy and very large Siamese. We were travelling in two cars. Sully had gotten one of those tiny Chevys and I had my Plymouth Duster. We stopped in Arkansas to sleep and take Hickory to the vet. He was acting terrible and I was worried. The vet said he was acting strange because I had given him cat tranquilizers and not to worry. We checked into a country motel nearby and Hickory freaked until I let him outside. He was that kind of cat. Back in the morning demanding breakfast. We rolled into Nashville in the early afternoon with no place to live and owning only what was in our cars. We went to the ASCAP offices on Music Row to see if anyone knew of a place to live in a hurry. The songwriter, Alex Harvey (Delta Dawn) , came out of some office or other and said he had a place for us to live. He had a 150 acre farm in Cottontown, TN only minutes from the border of Kentucky. This was pretty far out of town but gas was cheap and the rent was only $100.00/mo if we took care of the dogs, Isis, Boris, and Betty Lou. I loved those dogs and vice versa. And I loved it there. Only a portion of the farm was leased out for tobacco and much of it was woods with streams and stuff. The farm was down in a holler just outside of town. Cottontown back then had a general store and nothing else. There were about 30 people living there and I think they were all related in that particular way that happens in a limited gene pool. Lots of high foreheads and Coke-bottle glasses. We kind of stood out. The road out of town to Alex’s farm went past a huge soybean farm and then down a fairly steep hill and into the Holler. One other family lived down there, the Gambrells. The Gambrells hated anyone who wasn’t from Cottontown let alone a Jew from Yankee Land.

We had plenty of barbed wire separating us and things would have likely been fine if the winter of ’76 had been a tad more reasonable. It never snowed there but all of a sudden there were sub zero temperatures and one huge snowfall after another. I mean like ten inches and twelve inches. They had no idea what to do with snow there other than panic. The dirt road past the soybean farm became impassable. It was steep and the sun during the day turned into a wet, snowy bog and it refroze in the evening. Our water was artesian water pumped out of the ground. The pump house was a simple, uninsulated hut. The pump would freeze up in the evening and I had to constantly go out with an oil lamp to heat the junction of copper pipes where it froze. If the pipe burst, the house would be unlivable and Alex was home in Dallas. The winter just kind of happened to us and we tried to adapt. Sully was way unhappy and a bit angry at me. She threw a knife at me one night while she was cooking. It stuck in the floor right next to my foot. Things were getting strange.

Alex’s farm was at the end of a county dirt road that originally was supposed to go through to the next town but currently ended at the farm. The neighbors had  barbed wire strung up between posts blocking and thus ending the road at the end of their farm. No worries as long as we could take the road past the soybean farm. The soybean farmers were very nice and let us pick all the soybeans we wanted. But that road was no longer an option and the legal route went right past the Gambrell’s house and collection of trailers for various family members. We had no choice but to take the county road and unhook and re-hook the barbed wire. All this while driving through mud and snow and ice and wet and cold. I would have left except for the dogs. They were outside farm dogs but it was way too cold and I had to let them in the house at night. They would have died if we abandoned them. And I truly loved them. In the nicer weather we would walk all over the farm together and we got very close. My favorite was Isis. She was a beautiful German Shepherd. So smart. We were bonded. Boris was a smallish black collie who saved my life once and Betty Lou was a tiny mutt who couldn’t do anything but smile and laugh along with whatever was happening.

The Gambrell’s hated having us driving past their house twice a day. They tried to tell me I was coming home too late at night and bothering them. I told them they lived on a county road with public right of way. But people made their own law in places like Cottontown and according to them I was breaking the law by keeping late hours. They began to get threatening and I had previously had no experience with very real violence so I basically told them I was going to use the road and at all hours and didn’t worry about it. We had other neighbors on the top of the hill on the North side of the farm. Claude and Bobbie Harden. Claude had been a Tennessee State Trooper and was giving someone a ticket on the Interstate one day and got sideswiped by a passing car. He walked kind of funny and was retired on disability. Real nice folks. I would go to their house and cook dinner for them on occasion. I make a pretty good marinara sauce. It was ethnic food to them and previously only available in a bottle from the grocery. Claude loved it but thought I was a bit light in the loafers if you know what I mean.

Sully and I were walking up to the Hardin’s for dinner one Sunday afternoon and the dogs were walking with us. We had to go through a fenced pasture with their cows. Who knew cows were territorial? One of the cows took great offense to us and started to run after us. Cows run fast. Really, really fast. She was going to catch up and there was nothing I could do. Sully made it over. Isis leaped and Betty Lou went under. Just me and Boris. I started climbing the fence but the cow was too close. She was going to crush me against the wire. But Boris got between us and got very mean sounding and the look where they pull their lips back and leave nothing but tooth and gum. Intimidating enough to a cow to give me time to scurry over and Boris time to jump. Good Boris. Good dog. We had fun that day. Claude and Bobbie had one of those huge farmhouse living rooms. Lots of brick, a big fireplace, and the walls lined with gun racks full of every kind of rifle you could think of. I had shot a .22 at summer camp and was forced to join the NRA. But I never liked it and hadn’t been around one since. But Claude loved his guns and he was determined to make me more manly. He liked me all right and ate my food, but I was pretty foreign and probably even smelled weird to him. Somehow we were kind of friends. Anyway, Claude had been a cop so his gun of choice was a .45 Police Special. We went outside to shoot it at cans against a tree. No warning about the kick or anything. It almost took my arm off. I don’t think I hit anything with it but air and gave it back. After dinner we went to the rifle racks and he took one out, a Savage with a .22 barrel on top and a twelve gauge on the bottom. Double barrel trouble. He was lending me the rifle. He gave me loads of ammo. Bullets and shotgun shells and told me to go in the woods and get used to shooting it.  The Gambrells were getting nasty and he told me that if one of them came on our property with a gun that I should shoot him first with the .22 and if he kept coming  give him the 12 gauge which likely would have been fatal. There were those who sympathized with us but if they interfered directly it would upset a very delicate web of relationships. Oh Joy.

This was my life now? Out all night with the lantern to keep the pump from freezing and spending the days protecting our stuff. I only went into Nashville when I had to for music stuff and for Sully to go to her job doing art at Waylon’s office. We came home one evening and the Gambrells had shoveled a very large mound of snow right in the middle of the road. If we wanted to go home we would have to remove it. We took out the shovels and started to clear the road when one of the sons, a young man with very high cheekbones and forehead and glasses so thick his eyes looked like two huge black holes,  came out of his trailer and started yelling at us something about his Daddy. He was holding a shotgun. We kept shoveling and then he shot at us. Twice. Branches right over out heads were falling on us. I’d never been shot at. Not before and not since. I didn’t like it. I got way scared and Sully got angry and started yelling. I convinced her to get back in the car and I started talking real calm to the boy with the gun. I told him they won, we would move and they’d never have to see us again. He let me clear the snow and undo the barbed wire gate and go home to pack our stuff and leave. I had given the gun back to Claude but I went to his house that evening and explained what had happened and got it back with lots of ammo. Claude told me again to shoot any one of them that came on the property. He said to get him after and he would take care of it. Sully moved into town with her friend, Kris Wilkinson who was just staring what has been an amazing career as a viola player and string arranger. I stayed in the house alone and tried to figure out what to do. The Gambrells wanted me gone. That’s all. Just gone. I woke up one morning a couple of weeks later and Isis was missing. I found her  body nearby with blood coming out of her mouth. It’s even hard to write this now. I went into some kind of shock and had to dig her grave in the frozen ground. I got Claude who said she had been poisoned with meat and glass, something they liked to do there to make a point. I loved that dog so much. It was time to leave. A couple of days later I was sitting on the back porch which faced the Gambrell’s. The father came to the border of our property. He had a rifle and a large wire cutter and started to climb the power pole. The heat in the house was coils recessed into the wall. No power, no heat. With temps below zero at night I would freeze. I got up and walked down the steps and pointed the rifle. I was ready to shoot if he had tried to cut the wire. They killed my dog and I was in shock for months after. Still. I was going to kill him and be happy about it. I would have killed the son too if he were there. But Dad Gambrell looked at me and the gun and slowly climbed down the pole and walked away. It was definitely time for me to leave. I had called the police about the son shooting us but as I said, they are all related. We had gone to go to the county seat and filled out a complaint. There was a local lawyer who heard the story and offered to help for $50.00. The police went all the way into Davidson County to purposely arrest the wrong Gambrell. We went to court but it was obviously going to be futile. The judge actually said we would never get anywhere trying to stay at the farm. He suggested we move. Sully came from town to help. We filled the cars with our stuff and one of the cops came to make sure we left and  insure there was no trouble during our exit. He kind of snickered the whole time.

I called Alex and told him what had happened and that he had to come form Texas NOW and get his dogs. He was pissed and so was I. I brought Boris and Betty Lou to his room at the Hall of Fame Motor Inn. I was crying waiting to say goodbye to my dogs forever. Alex was a huge fucking asshole and blamed me for everything including Isis being killed. He told me I had mistreated his dogs. I lost it on him and he tried to call his dogs but they clung to me. Boris growled when he tried to take him away from me. I wanted to release all my tension on him and beat him to a pulp. But I didn’t. Betty Lou was crying and Boris obviously didn’t want to leave me. Alex gave some kind of lame apology and I told the dogs to stay with him. I’m crying now remembering this. I’m still pissed at Alex and wrote him a few years ago on his website just to remind him what an asshole he had been. He never wrote back.

Several months after we moved, Bonnie called me on the phone. We kept in touch for a short while. She told me that the youngest son had nailed spikes into a club and killed their cow and then whacked his father in the head. Who knows what went on in that house. When I first thought of writing this, I did a search and found some Gambrells in Cottontown. I looked at Google maps and found the farm but everything is way different. Their crazy way of life was dying when Sully and I lived there. They had to get rid of us.


Orange Blossom Special Pt. 2

This a continuation of my Nashville Stories. Please start at the beginning with the post titled Moving. This is the fourth chapter.

The night ended and I think poor Satch was forgotten. I actually tracked him down on the Internet a few years ago. He was living in England and apparently wasn’t doing well at all. I emailed with the person taking care of him and he said he didn’t remember me but he didn’t remember much. Maybe too hard lives are best forgotten. Anyway, no more stink eye and I had graduated from Who The Fuck Are You? to just Larry. I didn’t really know what happened and don’t remember much detail, but I do know that I had fun fun fun. More musical fun than I had ever had or hoped for. They started asking me questions about myself. Do i have another gig, how long have I lived here,  how old are you? They thought I was like seventeen or something and were worried I wouldn’t be allowed in some bars. My youthful glow has never abandoned me. Jon took my number and told me he would call the next day. He did and he and Neil and Jim came over to my little ungilded palace of very little sin. Jim and Tammy Faye were always watching from their living room on my tiny TV and keeping me in line. It was a lot of  people at once for me. They said they wanted me to play guitar for the band. There wasn’t much money but a very steady six days a week at the Sam Davis. What a great way to gel as a band. A totally relaxed atmosphere six nights a week. They said they could only pay $50.00 a week. My rent was $150.00 so that left about $50.00 a month for food and phone bill. Plenty enough. For once I made a smart decision and agreed to the pay. It was quickly raised to $100.00/week, the same as everyone else. The hotel kicked in the extra as more and more people were coming to hear us. I’m not going to say I had much to do with it, but the music was really great. Spontaneous and controlled. Like a junkie I’ve been searching my whole life to make music with people that musically compatible again. So hard to find. You can never get that initial high back no matter how hard you try.  The last steady gig I had, with Robert Hazard, came close.

I was a pig in shit. I had money again and was having more fun playing music every night than I thought would be possible. Each night more and more people were coming. The Nashville hippies, 70s Southern kind, were coming out of the woodwork to come and hear us. The place would get packed but only after the first set. So we asked some of the hippies why they never come for the first set and they said, Y’all get high on the first break and sound so much better after. I don’t know if this is always true, but it sure was for this band. When I was a teenager taking lessons from Jerry Ricks in Philly he told me I was too uptight and we would smoke a joint together before every lesson. This is how I learned to play guitar. High on pot. It kind of became habitual. Like alcohol for some musicians. It’s always been a little hard for me to play without it. No problem with these folks. They liked it as much as I did. And they had plenty. So on the first break we would go into they alley out the back door and smoke ’em cause we had ’em. One night headlights came on in the parking lot across the street and a police cruiser came up the alley. I was holding the joint and held it hidden in my hand to side in that pose that says, I have a joint in my hand I’m trying to hide from the police. They asked what was in my hand and I shrugged my shoulders and said, A joint. “Let me see that” one of the cops said. He took it, looked at it and took a hit. Then he passed it to his partner and said, “I think it’s marijuana, what do you think?” Second cop took the joint, sniffed the smoke and said, “Yup. Marijuana.” Uh oh. He handed the joint back to me and asked us if we were the band who played at the Sam Davis. That’s us! They said they liked to listen to us through the back door and pretty much checked on us every night. Whoa! What? Fans?

There were plenty of fans. The cute girl in the sub shop wold give me my cheese subs for free. She loved our music. And people would stop me on the street to say hello. My fist blush with very vey minor celebrity. I kind of liked it without really understanding it one little bit. I was still the scared little person, not someone to give free sandwiches to. If sandwich girl was coming on to me, I was too naive to know it. I jsut appreciated the free food. And if I went to the very hip Exit/In on Elliston Place,  I could always get in for free and usually a free beer or two. The New Riders were playing there once and the manager called me and said David Nelson didn’t want to hang at the club for that evening’s show and asked if he could come over. Sure. We spent the afternoon playing guitar and talking. They come here to Hawaii Island every year but he has no recollection of the day. I could have gone on like this forever. But Jon had ambitions. Everyone in Nashville had ambitions. Jon had the talent also.

But Jon was a raging alcoholic. The Christian kind. Lots and lots of guilt. Guilt makes you crazy and Jon was crazy. Not good crazy. I tried to find him a few years ago but couldn’t contact him. Why did I even want to? Anyway, he’s been sober for some time and is playing music in South Florida. All the best, Jon. Things start to get a little crazy here and with crazy comes hazy. I wouldn’t testify to any time sequences at this point but I think I’m close.

I don’t know how any of the business stuff happened. I only played guitar and didn’t care about anything else. Jon had gotten some kind of booking agent and the band went on the road. We went all over the place in Jon’s station wagon pulling the equipment trailer. The car sometimes leaked oil onto the hot manifold and if the heat was on the exhaust would come in the car. Time to open the windows. There was another person I worked for a few years later where the exact same thing happened. What are the odds? Probably not too bad considering. We were practicing in Jon’s house in East Nashville. This was way, way before any kind of gentrification of those old Southern houses that were falling down at the time. Jon bought his house for something like $5,000.00 and even that didn’t seem like a good idea at the time. But it was big and we could play as loud as we wanted. I remember going over to rehearsal once and Jon was in the old claw-foot tub in the large, eerily lighted bathroom, tripping on acid. Okay. I stopped doing acid after the city of Syracuse spent an entire evening saying my name as the city din rose up to the hilltop I was hopelessly stuck on. Well, there was the MDA at Woodstock but that was different. And the mescaline in Kapoho in 1980. But that was different too. I can’t remember if we had rehearsal after all but I don’t think it really mattered. Jim had left the band to go to work for Tracy Nelson if my memory is correct and we got another bass player, Gene Watson. Excellent musician. So we got ready to embark on our first tour. I think it might have been the only one and  I can only remember parts of it.

We gathered in the front yard of Jon’s house and waited for Gene. Wouldn’t be good if he didn’t show. He did show up after a bit and it still wasn’t great. He had his wife, Debby, and their dog, Buster, in tow. They were all coming or they were going home. Not a good way to start. Buster was one of the little pug nosey things who snorts snot with every breath. A very nice little doggy from a good enough distance. No distance in a cramped station wagon. And then there’s the things that stick in my little mind. Gene and Debby started talking about their sex life. As I think back, they were telling everyone that they were not going to share a room with any of us. I certainly didn’t want to. You know this couldn’t have been our only embarkation into America. We did travel some without Debbie and the little snot face dog. I think I might have forgotten most of this one due to shock. As I said, Gene and Debbie started talking about their sex life. I’ve always enjoyed sex enough and was somewhat driven at the appropriate age, but always pretty conservative and very naive. Gene and Debbie enjoyed sex but they loved talking about their own personal joys of anal sex. Ooooooppppsss!! Not for my ears to hear or brain to think about. They kind of went on and on and I wanted to go home. I think I remember going up to Bowling Green and then on to Ohio playing in dirty bars and honky tonks. Fitting. Once in a while we would stay in a motel and share rooms. i do remember one place where the owner was braggin about his pizza. He heard I was from New York and had me try a slice. This might have been Indiana or Missouri for all I can remember. His pizza sucked and I was without guile or diplomacy at the time and told him so and why. Not such a good idea. My amp blew up that night and I had to borrow one of Jon’s without reverb. Sucky. We would often be given “accommodations” upstairs from the bar. One time in Kentucky we were upstairs waiting out the day and heard gun shots. There was an actual gun battle going on in the parking lot of a BBQ pit, the kind you used to see all through the South. There were guys in suits crouching behind cars actually shooting at each other.We were crouched down at the window enjoying the show.

We must have come home and gone back out again because Buster and Debby weren’t with us. It was an unsustainable idea. I do remember playing at the great little club, Misissippi Whiskers while we were back in Nashville. MW  will always be remembered as the place Lenny Breau would play every Sunday with a trio when he lived in town. The place was packed and Jon had real artowrk for an album cover. It was four Color overlays of an approaching train and a giant orange. He was getting some kind of deal from Columbia or one of those to record an album of his songs. Gram was nearing legendary status at this point and both Jon and Neil were part of that. But as I said, Jon was a raging alcoholic at the time.

It was early winter and we went all over the place without the wife or dog. Mid West and West. The tour culminated at Reed Air Force Base near Rapid City, North Dakota. We played at the usual county music bars. Seen one, seen ’em all. Smelled one, smelled ’em all. Always plenty of pot and alcohol. We were in Missouri one night and Jon got one of his drunken cravings for food at 3AM on the Interstate. Bob’s Big Boy ahead. No one wanted to stop but it was Jon’s car and Jon’s band. Jon was DrunkJovial. This is a condition that always turns into DrunkAbsolutelyFuckingNuts. He ordered a large stack of p’cakes, a half dozen eggs, four pieces of toast, lots of pork product and, unfortunately, milk. The food came and we were all shaking our heads along with the waitress. Jon had a huge ear to ear smile. His eyes were wrinkled with delight and he started to dig in. I think we all had nothing but coffee. The gross amount of food was beyond the capability of normal eating utensils so Jon resorted to his hands. Egg yolk, maple syrup, and what not all over his hands, face and body as he went for a big gulp of milk. I remember the milk coming out of every place possible. the usual mouth and nose, but also ear and eyes. Anyplace there was a way for it to escape. Funny in retrospect but kind a scary in the moment. The waitress came over with the manager and told us to get the hell out. I think Jon’s breakfast was free.

It was very difficult traveling with someone who might have had alcohol-induced psychosis at the time. He was unpredictable and could be both cruel and scary without warning. We were sick and tired of it. Jon even had a song called Sick and Tired. “God knows I’m sick and tired, of waking up sick and tired.” I imagine he was. He was very hard to like at the time and I for one didn’t much care for him at all. We headed for North Dakota and the worst blizzard anyone could remember. Probably 1975.

More stuff is coming back to me as I write this. Like the Florida tour. The Admiral Benbow Inn in Ocala and the crazy BBQ places. But that’s enough for now.



Orange Blossom Special

This is a continuation of my Nashville Stories. Please read parts one and two first. Scroll down to find them:

This is where the real crazy begins. I had been in town a couple of years and it was time that something needed to happen. It happened:

With freedom comes responsibility. Not my strong suit. But without money there’s  no rent and no food. My stockpile of dollars was diminishing and I might not be able to pay the rent in two months. Then what? Back to Philly? Please, God, NO. I was having so much fun. It  was like living on a different planet and somehow being able to breathe the air and talk to the inhabitants. Moby, the radio DJ in the basement apartment was supplying the whole building with Red Bud and everyone was happy. The neighborhood was buzzing with incredibly bizarre activity and just leaving the front door of the house could be a great adventure. I remember one day there was a lot of commotion a block or two down 18th. Near the laundromat. Lots of police cars. I asked a passerby what had happened and he said, “They killed my aint.” His “Aint?” He said this with absolutely no emotion or affect whatsoever. Just dull eyes staring back at me. I asked him again and he said the same. I realized that someone had killed his aunt. That’s all. He walked on. And there was the poor woman who would walk the neighborhood and men who were slimy beyond beyond belief – savants of slime – would drive by and ask, “Wanna fuck?” No shit! Really. Me staring with dropped jaw and her answering, “Uh huh” in a long, dull drawl. This was the adventure. Reality TV in real life. I love to watch the flow human interaction. My preference is not to interact myself unless I absolutely have to. I pretty much never want to unless it’s with one or two people. But give me a bunch of aliens to watch and I can be busy all day. And no intermission. It just keeps going. Day and night. But I had to do something. So I prayed. I don’t believe in anything other than the life we have. It’s ours and belongs only in our time. I don’t believe in spirits. But i prayed. I’d been watching Jim and Tammy Faye as though they were Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They were the only thing on TV during those horrible wee hours of the morning when there can be way too much brain activity without distraction. Kind of like right now. They seemed to be so convinced about all their mumbo jumbo that I thought, What could it hurt? So I prayed a little. And God heard me and answered my prayer.. But I still don’t believe. I still pray and complain to God pretty regular. And I prayed back then and He heard me and picked me out of the infinite number of souls He must have to work with to bestow His benevolence upon.

I went to the Merchant’s Lunch on Lower Broad. I wanted to hear my friend Satch sing those sad songs and play that funky old Jaguar with all the switches and knobs. He was really good. Maybe not the best guitar player but it didn’t matter. I think he was a tad early on the timeline of musical evolution. Like a few years ahead of his time. just a few years. But enough to be discouraging, especially since he had a compulsion to shoot up heroin. He didn’t look good that day and when he finished playing he asked me to come up to his apartment. This is what I remember: We went up about five flights of stairs in the Merchant’s building and then there was an open window with a wood plank going across the alley below and into a window in the next building.Uh. . .is how he got home? Home was the typical junkie’s apartment. Mattress on a bare floor and not much else but dirt. He told me was strung out and needed some company for a bit. I stayed for maybe an hour or so and said I had to go. I didn’t want to walk back on the plank but there was no choice. So Satch told me he was supposed to go play with a new band that night at the Sam Davis Hotel but he was too strung out and asked me to go in his place. I said I would. I went home, took a shower, and got my stuff ready.
Parking in downtown Nashville was easy back then. I parked in front of the hotel and got my stuff out of the trunk. I think the hotel had once been pretty fancy but was maybe a little on the decline now. Or maybe more than a little. They had a bar/club in the back that could have been a roadhouse anywhere. Cheap green and dirty carpet, a bar to left, tables and chairs and a stage on the right. I walked in carrying my Vibrolux and Tele (I could do that then – carry both of them at the same time) and looked around. The band was at a table on the far side of the stage. They were waiting for Satch. I had no idea he hadn’t told then he had sent me in his place. I should have known. I didn’t know then that a junkie, especially one who is strung out, isn’t going to go to the payphone downstairs and make a call to let someone know he’s not coming. I likely had a very uncomfortable look on my face and the leader looked at me and said, “Who the fuck are you?” Just what I like to hear. Who the fuck are you? It dawned on me that Satch didn’t tell them and they were upset to say the least. My very, very strong impulse was to leave and not say a word. I’m uncomfortable in plenty of situations where people actually want me there, let alone this. Who the fuck are you? I probably put my stuff down and put out my hand and said, “My name’s Larry and Satch sent me in his place. He’s pretty strung out and couldn’t make it.” Who the fuck are you? Again with the Who the fuck are you? Stop with that already. “My name is Larry and I play guitar and Satch sent me.” I don’t much like talking around strangers. I stuttered pretty badly as a child and there are still remnants that can come out in uncomfortable situations. This was uncomfortable. Like really uncomfortable and I was afraid if I opened my mouth nothing would come out. So I stood there and finally the steel player said, “ Well, as long a you’re here, you might as well set up.”  As I write this, I’m  99% sure that was the exact conversation.
This was like late ’73 or early ’74 and Gram Parsons had recently passed away. I loved Gram. Those albums were so good. Grievous Angel is always somewhere in my consciousness. It turns out the steel player in this band was Neil Flanz. Neil was a truly great player and somewhat of a legend in the making as he was the steel player in the Fallen Angels, Gram’s last band that made the legendary last tour with Gram and Emmylou. Recordings survive and even a video or two. The leader of the band, Jon Corneal, had grown up with Gram and was the drummer on The International Submarine Band, Gram’s first record. The first time I heard this kind of music was on WMMR, free-form radio at the time. The DJ, Michael Tearson, had superb taste in music and an eclectic and great record collection. One night he played the International Submarine Band record. Jay Dee Mannes was the steel player. I had never heard the instrument and freaked out with delight. Here I was about to play with the drummer on that very same record. He also has a credit on the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo as well as a couple of other iconic records. Jon was a living, walking, breathing metronome. Incredible time. He was the songwriter, drummer, and believe it or not played rhythm on old Martin D41 at the same time. His feet did the usual drum pedals and the guitar became the snare drum. It was pretty remarkable. And Jim Althouse on bass. Jim was quiet and actually a very nice person and a great bass player. He went on to play for some pretty well known people. This was the band, Orange Blossom Special. Jon and Gram had grown up in Winter Haven Florida and oranges are central to life there.
So i set up my stuff all the while suffering pretty bad stink eye from Jon and Neil. Hey, not my fault. Just trying to help out a friend. Okay? Jim was on the left side, next Jon and then Neil. I was told to set up kind of in back of Neil. Apparently this was a very new band Jon had put together to play his material which was quite good. He also did some Gram stuff and some old Country. A great mix of music. So, 9PM. Time to start. No one knows what to expect, least of all me. I was kind of frozen. They start playing and it’s good. Really, really good. Neil is blowing me away. He played with such energy then. He had come from Montreal in 1964 to play for Charlie Louvin. Charlie and Ira had broken up and Charlie was traveling with his own band. He actually got Neil a green card so he could come to the US to work. He said he was the only steel player he wanted. Neil had grown up listening to the grand Ol Opry on Clear Channel WSM out of Nashville. He taped every Saturday night show. We would often sit in his room and listen to those tapes. What a treat it was for me to listen to that stuff with someone who knew the music so well. So Neil was blowing me away. The songs were great and the unique rhythm section kicked butt. It was so easy to find a groove and pocket to crawl into. i had never experienced something like this. Very free but very much in control. So I started playing. I was listening to the steel  wth every part of my brain and tried to play along with it while staying out of its way. I think I got more and more confidence and really started playing some. It felt really great. I was always pretty good at picking up these kind of songs instantly. It’s not rocket science. Maybe tying to play with Coltrane would be rocket science but this wasn’t. Jon did Hot Burrito number one and then did Number two. If you know these songs of Grams, Hot Burrito Number One is a beautiful and haunting love song that still makes me misty if I try to sing it. Hot Burrito Number Two is pure Country Rock, a new genre at the time pretty much started by Gram Parsons. I really don’t know what happened, but I somehow crawled up into Neil’s brain and knew what he was going to play. We started playing this shit together that was like nothing I had ever heard. Enough energy to run downtown for the night. I was playing things that were new to me and I had no idea where they were coming from. The song ended and people were quiet, just staring a me and Neil. Neil turned around and smiled at me. Big smile. I probably had my mouth open wider than anyone’s. Who the fuck are you?

Nashville Stories Part 2

These go in backwards order so please read “Moving” first:

As then next days went on, life started to settle in a little. No matter that my wallet was running on fumes and no filling station in sight. In the back of my mind I could always go home, swallow what dignity I had left, and start what I think would have a horrible life in a cubicle somewhere in Philly selling life insurance on the phone. What else does someone do whose only qualification is that he can sorta play guitar a little. But I always knew it was an option to keep a roof over my head. I spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood. it was foreign and exotic to me. On the far side of alley was JJ’s Market, a smallish convenience store specializing in Vienna Sausages and four pinball poker machines. They were the kind where you’d spring you ball into action and there were holes for each of the 52 cards. You would get four balls and try to make a winning hand. Winning was nearly impossible. Not being a gambler at all, I looked at those machines with a little mystery. Many nights I could walk in for a snack at three in the morning and there would be Waylon with his feet buried in a large pile of spent orange quarter bank wrappers. “Hey man, how you doing?” “Not so good tonight.” Either he had been doing sessions and needed to relax or more likely was fighting with Jesse.. It was just a normal part of a landscape that was like some kind of synapse-twisted Disneyland to me. Vanderbilt students used to drive around in their fancy cars on Saturday night drinking and smoking weed. They would throw large half-joint roaches out of their cars as residents of the neighborhood would stand by waiting to make the grab. Okay, I’m not proud of it, but I might have grabbed a choice fatty or two. I mean i had no money and there it was. We would take the roaches apart and accumulate a credible amount of half-smoked pot in a coffee can. We called them second-round joints and they were prized for their free economic status.
I’m having a good time doing nothing and meeting some strange and bizarre people. I was loving my little neighborhood and didn’t really want to leave. But I was down to a couple of dollars and I had no idea how to get a job. I can’t say that i’ve ever had much of a Calvinist-type work ethic and I might have been happy going along like this for a while but rent and food seem to be necessities. So I made my first call home from a payphone at the laundromat. My Mom was concerned and my Dad was stern and trying to tell me I shouldn’t be there. I told them that I had a pace to live but was just about out of money. I wasn’t asking for money from them, but my Dad was well-known in the music publishing industry. He was president of Theodore Presser Company, an old and venerable music Publisher in Philadelphia specializing in “serious” music with an emphasis on twentieth-centruy American composers, and a huge catalogue of church choral music. Because of his lifelong efforts at trying to save music education and his life’s work of being at the forefront of the protection of intellectual property, he was asked to serve on the boards of many organizations. He was the treasurer on the ASCAP board and for many years signed the checks for all the writers. He was also likely the only Jew past, present, or future who ever served on the board of the GMPA, the Gospel Music Publishers Association. They loved him and my Mom. I think they thought they were  cute little Jews who could possibly help if Armageddon were to make an untimely appearance. Some kind of insurance maybe. But they loved them. They played tennis with Bill and Gloria Gaither and chummed it up with all the Charismatic Christian publishers. My Dad told me to wait a day and to call Doug Benson at Benson House Publishing in the morning. Benson House was a very successful publisher and record label for contemporary Christian music in the 1970s. The big act I remember them having was the Oak Ridge boys but there were dozens of others. I called in the Morning and Mr. Benson asked me to come see him that morning. They were a large six-story building on Broadway just past where Broadway and West End split. There was a car dealer and later a laundromat at the “V” where the road divided. Benson house was on the left. This part of Broadway was more like a quiet neighborhood road rather than the boulevard it was before the split. I walked into a very impressive and large lobby (everything in Nashville was about impressions more so than reality) with a softly-lit reception desk in the back. I told the woman my name and she told me to go right up. I was met by Mr. Benson’s son who showed me into his dad’s office. I was intimidated beyond belief. It wasn’t particularly large, but very well appointed. There was a large portrait of Doug Benson himself on the wall behind his chair, lush carpet, and nice things all around. Not at all what I was becoming accustomed to. He could have been four feet tall, but I remember a large and imposing man who made me feel like Don Knotts in the Incredible Mr. Limpet. If he had told me to jump out the window I probably would have. He told me he would be happy to have me working there (silly man) and I could start in the morning. They operated on a four-day, twelve-hour work day schedule. Work started at 7AM and ended at 7PM Monday thru Thursday. It was brutal on those days but afforded a three-day weekend so it was perfect for me.
Honestly, i didn’t know what Christians were. i don’t mean that in any kind of bad way. It’s kind of like the person who grew up in Idaho in the 50s and had never seen anyone more ethnic than a Iowan. I had grown up in a half Jewish, half Protestant, and half Catholic town on Long Island. The Catholic kids all went to St Agnes parochial school and the Protestants half wasn’t that large. My high school was 95% Jewish. I didn’t know this kind of Christian existed. Seriously, I had no context for it whatsoever. I was doing various jobs in the warehouse like wrapping packages of music and records for shipping, sweeping, working in the dusty old pipe racks on the sixth floor rearranging boxes of music to make room for more boxes. This was brutal, heavy work that was time consuming and in the summer hotter than a bubba on a bar-b-que. I hated working up there and oame up with a simple system of filling orders so that the box locations could stay more uniform. Management loved the idea but the person in charge of the sixth floor hated me from that day on. He had a bottle of whiskey in his desk that he would start sipping at seven in the morning. He tried to get me to join him and didn’t trust me when I declined. After management changed his system he really hated me. Like i would want his job or something? So there was strike one. He used to enjoy bossing me around sarcastically when i was assigned to his domain. Whatever. he drooled a lot so it was easy to ignore him.
I actually worked there for a while and thought they had gotten used to me somehow.
I was playing a lot of guitar during this time but not much for money. A Rosecrucian Catholic coffee house opened up on the far side of the alley and across the street. It might have been Division Street. I looked for the neighborhood a few years ago but everything is gone. Even the streets are different. The coffeehouse, run by Rose and Steve was open all night and right there at the apex of Music Row. I had my Guild 25 sunburst acoustic and I started bringing it with me.The coffeehouse was in an old house and had a warm and homey atmosphere. And the best coffee I had ever tasted. They gave me my lifelong quest for the perfect coffee (which I think I have found only a few miles from my house). I would finish my Job at Benson House, walk a couple of blocks home, take a shower and eat something. I had graduated to mac and cheese. No more TSP. I would go over the the coffeehouse at about nine or ten. Always a little hang at the house in the evening with neighbors and some red bud first. I started playing my acoustic there every night. There was a juggler who would only juggle if I was playing and countless balls would circulate and change like a large flock of birds with any rhythm or meter change. I loved it. I felt like I was controlling the movement of the balls while still not feeling in control of anything else around me. But then later in the evening writers used to come in. We were right at teh head of Music Row where all the publishers were. A lot of writers had small offices where they would write songs on contract for two hundred a week. I wish I could remember who some of them were, but I was really new and didn’t know any of the names anyway. They were just the writers.One or the other would come in at any time during the night or early morning and bring a new song to try with me playing guitar. Some of them would wait just to try their new songs with me playing guitar. I do remember once playing Seven Bridges Road with Steve Young. I had no idea who he was and thought it was someone doing a cover. He had to tell me he wrote the song. He thought my playing was exceptional for a teenager. I was like twenty three at the time. There was also a guy who said he was the white guy form teh Dell Vikings and sang on Come and Go With Me. I think he was from Belgium. I played for him quite a bit for about a month and then he disappeared. He had said he was wanted for murder and was on the run. Whatever. He did have a great voice and was crazy enough to fit in. Rose and Steve loved me. I was the entertainment and I was free.
I was allowed to go in the back and make all the coffee I wanted for free. They used French Presses and brought in the best exotic coffees from around the world. They had Kona, Kenya, Brazilian and much more. But my absolute favorite was the Jamaican Blue Mountain. I had never tasted anything close to this. When properly brewed, it had a chocolate undertone and something kind of woody and very coffee like on top. I loved it. It was expensive. I think back then they were charging a dollar a cup which is what I think the Plaza Hotel in New York was charging for a cup of coffee at the time. I was allowed to have as much as I wanted. And. . .we were allowed to smoke pot right there. No problem. I think it was a Rosacrucian thing maybe but it was perfectly okay. When I die and I’m in purgatory waiting, this is going to be the local coffee house. I really, really loved it. And I was learning how to play with a writer which is still my very favorite thing to do. I’ve been lucky enough to never have been in a cover band. Even when I was doing “covers” it was with the original artist and often the writer. Honestly, it’s too much work for me to sound like someone else.
I would stay at the coffeehouse till just before dawn or even later sometimes and then maybe a few hours sleep and off to the Bensons four days a week. My energy level and desire at work were waning. Upper management started asking me to solve some specific problems while still treating me like pond scum. I think it was a “Jews are clever” thing. They sold a lot of LPs and would also have to send out Promo copies to radio stations and reviewers. The promo copies had a small hole punched in the upper right corner so that they couldn’t be sold and compete with existing product. You probably bought LPs at K Mart in the 70s for twenty five cents with a hole punched in it. They wre racking their brains as to how they could repackage the LP so that it could be sold. It had to be done for much much cheaper than the original packaging. They told me to thing about it for a while and I did and came up with a solution. Think about it. Not so easy. Jew magic. Some polite thank you’s and maybe a handshake and get back to work in the pipe racks. I was being barely tolerated by these people. I honestly think I was exotic to them and not in a good way. Not at all. I was damned to hell or going to be turned into air when Jesus comes back. Not good to get too close. I’d really about had it. i had about two months worth of money saved up and was pretty ready to say goodbye. Thye were at least as ready as I was. They didn’t want to piss of my father so they were kind of stuck. Sort of, but not really. One morning I got there after about an hours sleep and a wild night of music and fun. So so so so so so much better than Benson House. i got to work at 6:50AM. I was never late. Why 6:50? They had a prayer meeting every morning from 6:50 to 7:00. I used to hang out in the racks where they couldn’t see me and I would hear strange words that might as well have been Biblical Tongue. That.t morning they asked me to join their prayer meeting. Yeah, right. I had no idea that upper management hadn’t told anyone I worked with that I was Jewish. They probably thought it was best and they were right. So I said something like,” Duh, I’m Jewish.” a collective gasp and then silence. I was the first for a lot of them. Their gaze immediately went to the top of my head I think looking for horns. i think we were still Christ killers back then and I was pretty damned uncomfortable. Nothing but silence until I was told to report to the sixth floor. It was early but it was still as hot as Satan’s underwear.and just as dirty. Whiskey boy told me to start moving 100lb boxes from the lower level to the upper level. I had never exercised at that point in my life and I wasn’t exactly Charles Atlas. I told him it wasn’t going to happen without my killing myself but that I would unpack the boxes, move the music in piles and repack it at the top. He asked me if I was ever in the service and I told him I was a 4F who worked hard at being a 4F.. That’s waht the Army uses for “Don’t call us and we won’t call you.” There’s strike two, three, and four. Un American Commie Jew bastard and probably a whole hell of a lot more. I was starting to feel a little scared and knew the ball was in motion. I was told to immediately go to the manager for the whole warehouse. I sat in his nice office with the brick on the wall while he stared at me across his desk. Then he brought up the Army and Viet Nam. Really, as God is my witness. I had struck a nerve I suspected existed. I started to get a pretty good lecture about Veet Nam and how I was a traitor and whatever. I stopped him after a couple of minutes and gave him my  opinion of that little peccadillo.  I called him a fucking idiot, gave him the finger,  and got up and out before he had a chance to react. He was stunned. I was Free Free Free.

Nashville Stories Part 1 – Moving!

Turns out I like to write all kinds of stuff but only sometimes. I have a bunch of Acoustic Roots Stories done but people seem to be taking offense. Memories get clouded and bad feeling come up. I will publish them but not yet. In the meantime, I’ve been asked a few times to write down the story of my early years in music. So far it’s been pretty well received so I thought I’d share it. This is just the beginning of a crazy, ridiculous life with guitar and music. I don’t think it’s anything that anyone would expect but maybe that makes it interesting. To me it was just day to day life and somehow seemed normal in the context of the place and time. So here you go. Let me know if you want more. The stories get bizarre and very funny, at least I think so:

It was somewhere around 1971 or 72. I was working at a music store in Bryn Mawr, PA selling guitars. The owner, Harry Rosenbloom and I didn’t exactly get along, but i iwas learning lots and lots about guitars as well as being able to acquire a couple of guitars and an amp at dealer cost. I had started there in 1969 and through a fellow employee found my guitar teacher, Jerry Ricks. Jerry was a blues guy, not only delta blues, but the much sweeter Piedmont style as well. He owned John Hurt’s old f30 Guild with the light burst and used to let me take my lesson on it. Before he passed away, John Hurt asked that the guitar go to Jerry. Priceless. He was also a great teacher with a legion of young white teens learning authentic blues. John Hall (Hall and Oates) had the time after me and used to wait on the steps. After two years of lessons, Jerry told me that he had nothing left to teach me and that if I wanted to be a guitar player I should move to Nashville. He thought it would be manageable and knew my interest in roots American music. What better place to be a guitar player in the earliest 1970s?
I went home that night and told my parents that I was going to move to Nashville. I can’t imagine what must have gone through their heads. A lot of Huh??? and I’m sure some relief. My father immediately told me that I was a fool. “Who the HELL do you think you are?” “You can’t be a musician” “There are a million great guitar players there” “You can’t do this” This is what I remember but it was a long time ago so I’d say it was along those lines. They asked when I was leaving and I said, Tomorrow, but in reality I think it was a couple of days later. I packed my little suicase, my Telecaster and 1970 Vibrolux I bought while working at Medley Music. Thanks to my father’s words of encouragement, I was kind of backed into a corner and couldn’t change my mind even if I wanted to. And I wanted to. I was getting pretty scared. But i packed up my ’71 Gold Duster and left.
I had a grand total of $200.00 in cash. That was all the money I had. Gas was about twenty five cents a gallon and food for a day was about a dollar.
I was in no hurry whatsoever. I had been picturing billboards in Nashville advertising work for guitar players. Once I actually left the house that fantasy disappeared and was replaced with pure fear. I was a pretty scared little person anyway. That’s really how I saw myself, a scared little person, and a classic introvert. How was I going to do even something simple like walk into a diner for breakfast? And How the Hell was I going to move to Nashville and be a guitar player? I mean fear doesn’t really cover it. Much closer to an ongoing series of panic attacks that kept telling me to go home. But the thought of even one “I told you so,” kept me going although admittedly at a snail’s pace. I could have taken the PA Turnpike to 81, 81 to 40 and into Nashville in about 14 hours total. I took what was then the very rural Rt 30 which was pretty much all farms ten minutes from Bryn Mawr. Then at the crossroads of Carlisle a decision. 81 would have been a smooth trip but way too fast. I took the old Lee Highway, Rt 11, all the way through Virginia. It was a beautiful and rural road back then. it went through a lot of towns and took a long time to get through Virginia. I had to stay in a motel. I wanted to stay in a motel and give myself a chance to think. There goes six dollars. Next morning it was off to Bristol and I40 into Nashville. I had never been in the South and didn’t realize how quickly the world could change. Everything was different in Southern Virginia. But Tennessee. I wasn’t really ready. I was stopping as much as I could and went to a Morrison’s Cafeteria in Knoxville. I went through the line and found some stuff i could eat. Mac and cheese, jalapeno bread, iced tea, and pecan pie. I paid at the counter and there was a “gentleman of color” in a tidy uniform waiting to carry my tray. I had NEVER, ever seen anything like this. He called me “Suh” but had about forty years on me. I told him I’m happy to carry my own tray and he said, “Please Suh, don’t make a problem for me.” Holy Shit!! What??? I really had no idea.
I finally got to Nashville and took the long way into town, past the old airport on Airport Rd. Very depressing part of town which kind of fit. It was hot. Hot and humid like I didn’t know existed. It was late afternoon and I had no idea what to do. I saw a depressing Scottish Inn and got a room for $6.00. I had bread, cheese, and mustard and hunkered down for a night of the cold sweats of panic. I took out the Gideon’s at one point which was no help at all. I didn’t leave the room except to get a newspaper. I knew I had to do something. I looked at Rooms for Rent and found an ad for a furnished apartment for $150.00 a month. I had $160.00 left so it sounded reasonable. A month would be plenty of time to find a job playing guitar. Nevermind that I really didn’t know how to play, didn’t know the repertoire or styles of country music. The only thing I could play with even a tiny bit of confidence was the more rootsy acoustic blues stuff. I had been playing in country bands in New Jersey starting in about 1969. I would drive to the crazy redneck Pinelands country bars for fifteen dollars. I played mostly with a trio. A drummer who was some kind of diagnosably challenged person and a great singer and rhythm guitarist who I in no way was ready to appreciate at the time. I do remember that he loved Hawkshaw Hawkins and played awesome chunky rhythm on an old Gibson 150. I would have been smart to learn from him but I wan’t smart.
I called about the room and was given directions to Mrs. Anderson’s office on the West Side. Turns out there couldn’t have been a better neighborhood for me back then. I walked into Mrs. Anderson’s office in a beautiful old Nashville craftsman on 21st, a block or so off of West End and the old Anchor Motel. There was a young man at a desk in a dark outer office and Mrs. Anderson, a stately elder Southern woman, was in the brightly-lit back office. I told the nice young man that I was the one who had called about the room. i might have been shaking a little. Okay, I was shaking a little and really, physically looked like a scared sixteen-yaer-old. Mrs. Anderson called out from the back and told me the room was $150.00, first and last and $150.00 deposit. Uh Oh. Here’s a touch of reality. I had no idea that if an apartment was $150.00 that I would need more. So I told her I only had $160.00. She tsk tsk’d and asked what I did. i told her I was a guitar player. Again, I had no idea. And I was kind of even lying a little. But I was trying to think of myself as a musician. The Henry Hill method. Mrs. Anderson said, “Oh, Ah don’t re-ant ta mahsishuns.” More reality. The young man at the front desk (I wish I could remember his name. He was slight and had a small limp and wrote songs. I think He had a hit some years later with Crystal Gayle during the Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue era) spoke up very quietly and said, “I have a good feeling about this boy, Mrs. Anderson, why don’t you give him a chance.” “Weull, Ah don’t know. No, ah Don’t think sew. Ah don’t rent to musicians anyway.” But the awesome young man continued quietly and persistently telling her to give me a chance. She did. Amazing. I received a stern warning about her dead husband’s favorite chair which was in that room . A bright orange naugahyde chair you couldn’t sit on in the Southern heat without sticking to it like glue. There was a bed, the chair, a desk, a filthy old, horrible couch, a kitchen in an old closet and a bathroom that had been a closet.
Mrs. Anderson’s was on 21at Avenue South right next to the Anchor Motel. I don’t think that neighborhood is there anymore. It really should have been preserved in a museum. The whole house smelled like an indian restaurant. Vanderbilt University wasn’t too far away and there were two medical students from India upstairs from me. They would never say one word to me let alone show me how to cook their food. It was torture. Ethnic food in Nashville was limited to a Chinese restaurant across West End. The only thing I could eat was the eggplant. But it was good. And they had rice without fatback in it. Next door was Bart, a way, way off but absolute genius from Dothan Alabama. Bart used to walk the streets at night looking for student’s textbooks in unlocked cars. He would rifle through the cars looking for books on specific subjects. Seriously. One early morning i got a call from the police at about 1AM. Bart got caught stealing advanced trigonometry books from a woman student’s unlocked car. Apparently she was a little freaked out. He never broke in, just opened doors, but he did have a large library of textbooks. I went down to the police station and poor Bart was sitting at the detective’s desk obviously very scared. I started. I told the detective that Bart was a genius with an insatiable desire for knowledge. But his genius had left him unable to deal with society, etc. etc. Some of my earliest and best bullshit. They let me take him home. He was peeved that I told the police he was mentally “off” and couldn’t deal with society. I think I just stared at him.
The first night in Mrs. Anderson’s was hot and more humid than I had a vocabulary for. I was scared and uncomfortable. There were huge windows, on the only wall with windows, facing the alley in the back. After I settled in, which was putting my suitcase on the floor, I went out looking for food. Amazingly, one of the first hippy food stores ever was right across the alley. The Sunshine Market:


I couldn’t believe it There was nothing like it in Philly. I bought a box of textured soy protein and a potato. Eight dollars left. I would mix the TVP with water and “fry” it in a hot pan. And a baked potato with salt. I really can’t imagine what i was thinking. I had just finished my meal and it was dark and I was scared and anxious. I was always anxious but now even more so. All of a sudden I heard some amazing bluegrass music. The song ended and I could hear everything in my room. “Little Jenny is gonna pass the pitch pot now. Y’all be generous.” I didn’t know what a pitch pot was and thought they said Piss pot. It was starting to get strange. I walked the ten or so steps to the one story brick building just across the back lot and alley between 21st and 20th. There was a bus parked out back. Flatt and Scruugs on the destination banner over the windshield. What??? I went in. No cover, no tickets, just the pitch pot and no obligation for someone with eight dollars to his name. I was astounded. The Sunshine Market, the famous (long gone) Bluegrass Inn, The store with the quarter poker machines that Waylon would play all night and leave a mound of orange bank wrappers behind. And best of all, the Christian Coffeehouse. I swear I was in heaven. This was the last thing I was expecting. Only thing missing was pot. That didn’t last long. I had resigned myself to no pot in the South. I really thought everyone would be all religious and family and stuff and no drugs. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. When I got back to my room that first night I really, really wanted a hit or two and was trying not to get desperate. I really thought there was none there. I was so innocent. What was that smell coming from next door? Huh? I knocked and met my neighbor, Bart, for the first time. Turns out the local rock DJ, Moby, lived in the basement apartment and knew the people who were bringing Red Bud from Columbia via low flying WW2 cargo aircraft into a landing strip on a farm in North Carolina. Things were getting interesting. OH yeah, I found the right neighborhood.
The second night in Mrs. Anderson’s was looking nasty and depressing. There were gaps at the tops of the windows and huge moths were flying in to bask in the overhead light ten feet above the floor. I never had an easy time killing anything, so I got a paper bag, stood on the orange naugahyde chair and would trap the moths one by one and put them out the front door of the house. They must have thought I was playing some kind of crazy game with them because they kept flying back in. Lots and lots of them. And big, Southern type moths. It was horrifying. I didn’t know what to do so I put my Tele in the trunk of my car and drove downtown. It was just a block to West End Ave and a right turn, across the bridge over the train tracks and downtown. It was different then. There was the Wheel, Demon’s Den, Tootsies, and the Merchant’s Lunch. No porno bars then and Roberts was really a Western wear store with a counter for Buds and burgers. Second Ave was old warehouses and Sho-Bud offices and factory and Randy Wood’s Picking Parlor where I once went in to drop off my Tele for an overnight re-fret and there was Norman Blake at the potbelly stove playing an old Martin. Not even a hint of the hubbub that’s there now. Not even a whisper of it. Merchant’s included an incredibly interesting array of characters. If you ever heard that song by The Red Clay Ramblers,

it was right on.Buds at 9AM with your eggs. A long counter on the right, booths on the left and a small stage in the back where Satch Wright used to sing Hank Williams songs sadder than Hank did. There was heroin there then although I was pretty unaware of anything like that. And parking was easy. No traffic or meters or the need for lots. But every night amazingly incredible music and musicians and tourists all over the place. Hard to imagine the music that was being made in those clubs then, especially Demon’s Den where Buddy Emmons used to like to hang out and play after a long day of sessions. It was all a surprise to me. I was only in town two days and knew nothing about the culture or geography.
The Wheel looked like the least intimidating club to so I went in and sat in a booth. I got a Bud. i had learned how to make one can of beer last four or five hours if I needed it to. I think a can of beer was like twenty five or fifty cents. The booths were on the left wallt, the bar in the back and a fairly high stage on the right wall. There was a great band playing with a great guitar player. Just watching him added to my panic. More reality. Maybe my father was right. Well, he was right of course. Really, who did i think I was? I must have looked like a scared teenager with a can of Bud sitting alone in a booth. Bartenders always made big eyes when they saw my ID saying I really was old enough for a beer. The band took a break and the guitar player came over and sat down for some reason. He said hi and asked if I was new in town and if I was a guitar player. Huh? I said yes to both and that I had just gotten there yesterday. He told me his name was Richard Bass and I told him my name. We talked for a bit and I said that he looked like a rabbi to me and what was his real name. He asked me quietly, looking around to see if anyone was listening, if I was Jewish and I said Yes. He told me his real name was Barish. I used to play little league on Barish Field where I grew up on Long Island. Richard was from Connecticut but the field was named after his family. Crazy. Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to sit in with the band on the next set. I was kind of flabbergasted but stayed calm. This was the last thing I would have expected but it was very common on lower Broadway at the time for musicians to sit in all over the place. I didn’t even know the practice existed. I had thrown my Tele in the trunk of my car before I left and told him i had my guitar in my car. He said to go get it and I declined. He told me I might as well go back home now. Something snapped and I got my Tele and played with the band. They were the house band at the Wheel when they weren’t on the road with Faron Young. The legendary Deputies in one of their best incarnations. Ernie Reed on fiddle. I’d never heard fiddle, let alone amazing fiddle playing, let alone ever played with one. Or a perfect rhythm section. None of it. this was brand spanking new for me and it was happening right there at the core of country music. I’m still blown away by the sets of circumstances and really by the fact that I was able to do this. Not even the playing, just the fact that a really scared little introverted person was so backed into a corner that he was able to completely overcome his true nature to just be left alone. People have always projected some kind of hip, partying, sex-crazed guitar player onto me. Nothing could be further from the truth and most eventually figure that out. I’m really just a total nerd. The quiet kid in school who never says a word and many don’t even remember as I found out at our 30 reunion of South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York. I would sit at home after school and listen to records. It started with the Beatles in 1964 which is when I first started with guitar. No parties, no girls, no sports, no beer, no prom, no beach with groups of friends. Not hip or cool at all. So how the hell was I able to get on stage with an iconic band like the the Deputies? If that night hadn’t happened, I probably would have gone home in a few weeks. (Just looking now, i see that Richard Bass Barish passed away about a month ago.) Richard told me sternly to plug in my guitar and play. I had no pedals, just straight into the Vibrolux. I was so scared I really don’t remember anything at all about the music.I played the whole set. Richard and I talked after. He advised me not to tell anyone in Nashville that I am Jewish. He said I would never get any work and would likely have to take a bunch of shit. So much to think about when I got home at about 3AM exhausted, confused, and pretty happy. I had a very tiny black and white TV. There was only one channel at that time of the morning and just two more during the day. The only thing on TV was Jim and Tammy Bakker crying and asking people to send in their wedding ring diamonds so they could properly worship God with an amusement park and little town venerating the Almighty. Stranger still. I was starting to feel a little like Dorothy must have felt when she woke up in OZ. Or like Alice after falling through the rabbit hole.