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?