Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wild Side of Life -- Hank Williams

Since, I've been having trouble drumming up tales about Blues music, my good buddy Rob stepped up in relief.  Here is a music-loving tale from him.

It was a little while ago when I had my 20-year high school reunion back in God’s country, Norman, Oklahoma.  It had been 10 years since our 10-year reunion, the last time I had seen all my old friends.  We all had a blast  ten years before, but this time we were destined to rip the paint from the walls.  Afterall, ten years earlier, half of us were still single or newlyweds.  Everyone was on their way to striking it rich.  Not only that, we were young and partying all the time.

This time was a different deal.  A lot had changed in ten years.  We all had some life experience now.  We had traveled, we had seen, we had won some and we had lost some.  There were a few divorces and a lot of kids.  There were several gray hairs and a lot of expanding waistlines.  A lot of us needed this party so there was no way I could have fun at this shindig with my lovely bride within ear shot.

The whole slew of 37 and 38-year-olds met up at this big, shit-kicker bar.  There was this Country-Rock cover band set to play that night.  Since I was in the radio biz (and a hopeless ham who loves attention), it was determined that I would be the M.C. (or was it that I just hijacked the stage and started making fun of my old classmates).

The house band was great. They weren’t trying to be the focus. They knew lives were being re-lived and didn’t want to take away from that. As me and a few of the old gang were watching the band, and the girls who were now well-coifed and fit middle-aged women, someone mentioned that we should get up and play a song.

What?.. Me, who loves attention?  Was raised on a lot of the songs the band was already playing?  Me who was just chompin at the bit to show off my guitar licks for the former high school cheerleaders?  

“Get up and play a song?” Shit.. what took you so long to ask?  

Word got out that we might sing a song and there was a buzz starting to fill the room.  Me and my two best buddies in the world, Curt and Cotton, started up the steps to the stage and the applause started.  The band leader figured we were coming on stage to sing a number so he asked “Whaddaya know?”   

Now my buddies and I had always sang a simple 3 chord country tune from the great Hank Williams called “Wild Side of Life.”  Little did our fellow graduates know that we had sang this song no less than 500 times in our lives.  Curt would sing the lead vocal and I would play rhythm guitar and harmonize with him. There were times when we could make this song sound like a world class recording. There were other times, after some “medication,” that we made the song sound like we were raping a duck.

Anyway, I suggested this song to the band leader and he and his boys new exactly where we were coming from.  What he wasn’t expecting, however, was for me to reach for the spare accoustic guitar he had sitting on a stand.  Since it was our party, the poor guy felt reluctant to interfere.  He felt he had to let us do whatever we wanted, but when it comes to a man’s ax? You better have your shit together son, or don’t touch it!

I slung the guitar over my shoulder, grabbed a pick off the drummers kit and jumped right in and started strumming the opening. The rest of the band looked at each other with a sense of relief that we at least knew how to put the guitar strap around our neck.   We were off and running and the crowd loved it from the first chord.

My other best friend, Cotton was a guy that couldn’t sing worth a shit. What he “could” do was make you bust a gut laughing at how he danced with himself. He had just enough rhythm to be dangerous.  He did a dance that was half two step, half twist... absolutely side splitting.

Curt was getting ready to start the vocals like he always did but this time he seemed a little nervous.  Thank goodness Mr. Jim Beam was in attendance, because he might not have been able to kick it off without a little help.   We went through the intro a couple extra times to give him a chance to “find” his note and to get his knees to settle down.  By now the band was full behind me and it was time for Curt to get the party started. Curt stepped up to the mic, in front of at least 150 of our soulmates and let ‘er rip.. “You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you.” The crowd went bananas. “You asked me not to call you on the phone.” The floors started shaking. “But there’s something I wanted to tell you.” The cheers were huge. “So I wrote it in the words of this song.” 

It couldn’t have been any cooler.

It was now my time to harmonize with him.  I stepped up to the mic and joined in.  The whistles and cheers escalated even further.  Did Elvis walk in?  I looked over and Cotton was almost levitating off the stage. He was dancing like someone was putting money in his shorts.  Those old girlfriends from high school that didn’t want to have anything to do with us 20 years earlier were pulling their hair out. 

“You gave up the only one that ever loved you.”  
“And went back to the Wild Side of Life.”

As we wrapped up the song, the applause was deafening. The whistles were confusing dogs, 5 miles away. As we made our way down the stairs off the stage, all we could see were guys holding beers to give us and girls with monster smiles on their faces and lust in their eyes. We loved it and still talk about it to this day.

Don’t much remember the rest of the evening.   Anyway, here is the Hank Williams song we sung that night.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rockin' At Midnight -- The Honeydrippers

I know I’m stretching it to call this a Blues related blog post.  The thing is, I’m running out of stories to tell.  So, help me out.  Give me some suggestions for stories.  Any old memories out there that you can share?  Just give me a reminder and I will craft up a story around it.

Now that the truth is out there, here’s today’s blog post.

When I was a young man, I was a pretty darn good basketball player.  I didn’t win any state championships, but I could score 10+ points a game with regularity.  

Anyway, when I moved on to college at the University of Minnesota, I continued playing basketball in the intramural league.  I also frequently played pick up games at Cooke Hall on the campus.  Back then, in the early 80’s, Cooke Hall was open to the public.  Therefore, all the street ballers from the local area would show up.  You might even say that it was frequently hijacked by the street ballers. Eventually, the University closed off the public access and only college students could get in.

There were three courts in the upper level of Cooke Hall.  It didn’t matter to me what court I played on or who I played with.  I just wanted to play.  One day I sidled up next this fellow watching the game on the middle court.  I asked, “Who has the next game?”  This dude, just looked at me and smugly said, “This court is reserved for the NBA.”

What the hell was the “NBA?”  Apparently, you had to prove yourself in order to get any playing time on the middle court where the NBA played.   What a bunch of bullshit.  I just walked away and played on one of the other courts.

Then, one day, I had my chance to put things right.  I showed up at Cooke Hall and there was barely anyone there.  There were exactly ten of us and we “failures at life” finally got our chance to play on the NBA court.  It so happened that of the ten players there, five were from the NBA.  I can’t remember exactly how it turned out this way, but, the five NBA guys ended up on the same team.  I ended up with a bunch of dorky white guys.  One of them had Pepsi Cola bottles for eye-glasses.  Another was so skinny and that a good gust of wind could have knocked him over.  I don’t remember the attributes of the other two white guys.

So the game got started.  Since I was the only experienced basketball player on the team, I took on the leadership role.  Let me tell ya people, something came over me that day.  It was probably the feeling of disrespect I felt being denied access to the NBA court or something like that, but I was like Bernard King.  I schooled those shitheads.  We played up to 15 by ones.  I easily had ten of the points.  I was shooting the lights out.  If I wasn’t nailing jumpers, I blew past ‘em the took it to the hole.  If I didn’t score, someone else did because I made the assist.  I controlled the boards and if some dipshit came in the lane, I sent their shot flying over to the peon courts.

We smoked those mofos.  It was a blowout.  

I just strolled off the court thinking to myself, “NBA.  Right.”  The sad part of the whole thing was even though I had just schooled the NBA single-handedly, these dudes still didn’t see me as worthy to join their ranks.

So what does any of this have to do with the Blues?  This story just happened to remind me that when I was in the intramural leagues at the U, my roommate and friend for life, Brent, would get ourselves revved up and play this old rocker, “Rockin’ at Midnight” by Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers.

So here it is.