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 –