Sunday, October 17, 2010
The Great Western Exhibit - Road Time - Pt.2
With three hundred dollars left we gathered around a table in the Omnibus and began charting a destination. The Omnibus was coming under continual scrutiny from the FBI and local authorities who surveyed the place believing it to be a safe haven for draft dodgers and felons. The night before we departed LAPD stormed through the building searching for a suspect wanted for armed robbery. The club owner wasn’t able to scrutinize every freewheeling outlaw passing through the doors. That night the police examine draft cards for inconsistencies. I had in my possession a student deferment card - status unclear. My name hadn’t surfaced on any lists but there were others hiding in the dark corners of the club who quietly slipped out the unguarded exits. Police had photos and composite descriptions along with the identities of young men suspected of evading the military. Everybody became extremely fearful of their persistence. I was the only one in the band with a potential problem the others received medical deferments.
Rick failed to arrive from his parents North Hollywood home the morning of our planned departure, Denny and Rick were California boys who’d never ventured beyond the secure beach communities around Santa Monica. Rick got cold feet. He had a girlfriend and a little league team to coach - major responsibilities. Scratch worked magic on the telephone luring Rick and his young love to the Omnibus. When they finally arrived we found the girl easy going. She jumped at the opportunity, besides a deal was arranged where we’d drop her at her parents home some ninety miles north of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rick finally relented called his family - received their good blessings.
Carol was quite a calming influence. She was blond, blue-eyed, sociable, and temperate. Carol never let hardship rule choosing to always find something positive in consequence. With gear loaded we ventured down highway 10 up through San Bernardino connecting with highway 15 through Barstow, eventually turning on 40 East carrying us beyond the California border into Arizona. It was somewhere between Barstow and Kingman, Arizona when reality struck.
We’d been laughing and speculating about the future when suddenly we realized we knew nothing of booking a band. Scratch had a confident air about him convinced he could sell us anywhere in America. We had no reason to doubt his proclamation so he was assigned the responsibility.
We arrived in Fort Williams early morning to find the temperature hovering around freezing. None of us were dressed for the sudden change in climate. It was mid-July and in our minds something was drastically wrong. A service station attendant reassured us once we descended down the mountain the thermometer would rise considerably by the time we reached Flagstaff.
Upon arriving in Flagstaff we discovered funds were running uncomfortably low. We desperately needed cash to cross through the state. It was mid-afternoon when we motored through Flagstaff tired and less confident of our journey. Scratch spotted a country and western spot along the roadside and decided to approach the owner about a booking.
The lunch time crowd sported Stetsons like Hollywood Rick. The sight of four longhaired Californians sent shockwaves through the wooden farmhouse. Heads turned enlisting a series of hilarious comments. They’d seen our type on television now we’d entered their backyard knowing any moment we could be snake bit.
The owner was quite amused with Scratch’s bold front and looked upon us as a cheap diversion. He asked only one patriotic question –‘Any of you boys flag-burners?’ Rick was all-American and assured the boss we were different from those protesters. We were a true blue hardhat loving band.
Rick obtained a deferment for a gimp knee injured in a sandlot football game otherwise he’d have enlisted for Vietnam bypassing boot camp.
The guy bought our act offering twenty dollars for an evening of suspect entertainment.
Western folk piled in ready for an evening of Hank Snow classics or maybe a Minnie Pearl jamboree. When we cleared the doorway every tall hat began snickering along with their bovine mistresses. We jumped stage - tuned a few strings and spun into action. Rick executed one of those basic training pivots whipping his black mane into a swirling frenzy - the voice - strained and monophonic.
A greater portion of our opening was improvised void of hooks or potential group sing-a-longs. The audience looked on stunned. As far as they were concerned we may just as well come from some exterior planet well beyond this solar system and none were prepared to travel with us. A few tall hats began interrogating the owner as if he had set them up for a practical joke. We endured the set before being politely asked to pack up and cut the show before midnight. The jukebox was in greater favour with the patrons. They were more curious of us as travelers than musicians. We collected twenty dollars and sped away to Albuquerque, New Mexico unscathed.
Twenty dollars stretched a long distance in 1967 enough feed six nomads and fill a gas tank. Upon arriving in Albuquerque we took notice of numerous car lots and western bars. Scratch spotted one that looked safe for a car load like us and disappeared inside. Somehow he convinced the owner he needed a music policy adjustment and we were the perfect outfit to compliment the Billy Bob act in residence. The only problem - we had no steel guitar or violin.
As I began dragging equipment into the club I came face to face with the manager who in no way seemed as amused as the gentleman along the highway. He was demanding and short on instructions. “If we like you, we’ll pay you”, was his only stipulation.
We sat through a set of weepy bumpkin’ tragedies awaiting our turn. When the order was issued we crashed the stage with the rock and roll zeal of a soon to be derailed locomotive. Rick pumped and bounced - his face rarely in full view. We were loud and foreign.
I scanned faces lining the long bar - the eyes and furrowed brows told me the locals would rather stuff us in a wood chipper than tolerate much more of this nonsense. Everything about us repulsed this conservative ass-kicking brood. I assumed we weren’t going to collect any pay so I signaled Scratch to cut it short sensing greater security in the backseat of the car away from this stage. Sure enough the boss reminded us he gave us a chance and witnessed the crowd’s reaction - so why pony up a dime. Scratch resisted which only aroused an ugly response. I’d seen enough. The manager gave us a choice, get the fuck out of there or he’d gather a few buddies who’d love nothing better than beat the ass of a bunch of Hollywood queers. We still had a few dollars tucked away so we decided to cut our losses and penetrate the Texas border.
The mention of Texas always brought a shiver to my spine. It didn’t take much effort to get buried in a Texas jail. Although we were free of drugs we knew there were methods of manufacturing criminal offences and these guys were masters. Every male with hair drifting below the ear lobe was considered a commie draft dodger in need of fixin’. We knew the key to survival was not courting attention which we managed.
We scoped Amarillo looking for any evidence of shoulder length hair. On a side-street we spotted a paranoid looking guy dodging pedestrians along the sidewalk. My first thought was here’s our man. We then drove alongside and signaled him to the curb and inquired about the music scene, clubs, parks or whatever. The guy ducked his head and waved us down a side-street away from the main highway. We soon came across a low rise housing a few freaks – blinds pulled - everyone keeping a low profile.
Scratch retold our story and asked about possible engagements around the city. The fellow picked up the telephone and called around and came up with a Saturday night dance. Two hundred dollars was the award. We couldn’t believe the good fortune. That amount of money could carry us all the way to Minnesota. The guy then directed us to a military base on the other side of Amarillo. The word military sent shockwaves through the nervous systems.
‘What’s the catch,’ I asked. None, other than playing a Saturday night dance for
couples in the mess hall. We were given contact name and directions.
The thought sent the mind dancing. I envisioned armed guards with chains ready to staple us to a dungeon wall – lost for eternity in some’ hup two three four’ hell hole. Scratch seemed unfazed.
Just getting past the military police was a sight to behold. Two beef necks stop us for inspection then offered a few hippie jokes then telephoned ahead. Bingo! – we were given passage past heavy armaments and a cadre of dreary marched out troops.
The concert hall was definitely a large mess area. Tables had been removed and everyone one was in a frenzy decorating for the night’s social event. We set up in a central locale near were our adoring fans were to be situated. I thought – this ain’t so bad. Good pay – decent room and fair sound system.
After setting up we were then coaxed to hide away in a nearby foot locker far from military personnel. There were rumblings we may be draft dodgers or drug merchants determined to inject liberal poison into the veins of our nations finest. I tried not to make eye contact. What do you say to a three bird colonel with two pounds of brass dangling from the chest and angry disposition? I hope you like the tunes?
Night arrives without much aggravation. The room fills with corsage chested damsels and stiff neck grunts.
“Hey buddy, I used to have hair as long as you – look at me now. They’ll get to you.” Oh, boy. Let the games begin. “Hey hippie, do you squat when you piss.” Yeah man! ‘Yo girls – what you doin’ with those pussies. Come down here and sit with the men.”
Rick’s temper turned volcanic. ‘Shut the fuck up pecker head – I’ll beat the snot out both you and your date.” No, no, no I say to myself. This isn’t good. “Come down here turd-boy and take that funny wig off.” What wig – this is real hair.” Please – slow down Rick.
In real life Rick was one of those beer drinking anti-hippie flower child guys. The get up was more for costume not commitment.
I kept a distance even though a table of date deficient troopers kept shoving their table into us.
Time arrived for the big show and what a show it was. The band quickly lashes into the Leaves ‘Pushin to Hard’. That was one of our endless jams. With a set of ten songs and not much variety a twenty-five minute epic jam was in order.
I could see eyes roll and girls yanking the neck ties of dates. No one danced. It was if we were playing to an audience of timber.
“Play something we can dance too. Wooly Bully! How ‘bout something slow by Gene Pitney – I know ‘Town Without Pity’. I have a girl here who wants to jump my bones let’s get it going.”
What a mess. ‘We’re from California and we don’t play that shit.’ – says Scratch.
“Why don’t you guys take the night off and we’ll get someone to spin records. Deal?”
I’m thinking about the two hundred dollars. “No, that’s just fine – we’ll keep playing. “Here’s one I know you’ll like. ‘Light My Fire’ by the Doors” I say. We glide into the body of the tune without mishap then chairs start sliding and squealing. Before we could get to the forty minute guitar solo everybody evacuates to the back of the room. I could see them whispering. Soon a military spokes men draws near, “Could you guys just stop and leave. This is all wrong. For your safety we’ll help you pack up and find the highway.” Scratch looks the guy straight on and says – “We still have two more sets to play and need to be paid.” The guy pulls us aside. “Look, you’ll get your money just get out of this room – it’s a security matter now.”
“Hey big beak come over here and suck on this.” What? Now Rick and I are in whip ass mode. “Did you hear what he said,’ asks Rick. “Let’s get the one with the shit-eating grin on his face. I’ve been watching how he’s undressed Carol all night.”
Suddenly, the music began playing and couples paired off. We quickly become yesterday’s nightmare.
While packing this diminutive young soldier waltzes near. “I loved you guys – I love acid – in fact I’m so high right now I’m feeling electric – I may never come down – I want some?”
Just as we were clearing the entrance a magic hand appears and slaps the back of my head. I do a quick turn around and see three guys staring the opposite way. I thought of several key phrases but left well enough alone. Then the catcalls start. A couple military police intercede and move the square-headed boys a distance away.
We were then escorted into a room where the officer in charge apologized and told us of his love for anti-social music especially Tommy James and the Shondels. He then proceeded to write us a check. A check? What the hell?
We volleyed back in forth over this but he insisted this was the only way the military pays. Then he said come back Monday morning and he’d arrange to cash the check. The only hitch in this was – it’s Saturday night and what the hell does anyone do in Amarillo for a day and a half.
We took up residence in a roadside park. Our zombie friends downtown invited us to a party. We dropped by for an hour or so but couldn’t handle the paranoia. Everyone was on a watch list – guys and girls. It was easy getting tossed in a police cruiser and more difficult surviving with only a few bruises. Monday didn’t come quick enough.
Bright and early Monday morning we arrive at the front gates. Sure enough the officer lived up to his words and paid us two hundred in cash. He was cordial and respectful. Down the road we go making plans for the heavy haul. Next stop, Des Moines, Iowa.