Sometimes when I’m going to be in the car for a long while, I open a big box of old cassette tapes and grab a half dozen or more before leaving the house. These are tapes from the ‘old days’
and due to the fact that I was never very good at documenting things, I rarely have a clue as to what I’m going to be listening to. I call it my ‘Random Blast From The Past’
. It sure breaks up the boredom of a long trip and frequently, it instantly takes me back to a long ago and almost forgotten point in time with near perfect clarity.It’s really amazing.
Some of these tapes are simply full of songs captured off the radio from a certain year which I recorded so that I could learn them and write down the lyrics. Some are practice sessions which I almost always recorded for later scrutiny. A bunch of them are live recordings made mostly on not so
state of the art recording equipment run through the sound system.
Believe it or not, some of the best ones were recorded by placing an old ‘boom box’
somewhere in the club and simply pushing ‘Record’
. One of us would check on it at the end of a set or two, flip the tape and push record
again. Even more than the professionally produced stuff I’ve done….those ‘BoomBox Tapes’
are my absolute favorites!
These tapes are ninety minutes of FLASHBACK
I hear crowd noise, bottles being tossed into trash cans, long ago forgotten people having conversations, the occasional drunken woman laughing at the top of her lungs, former band members comments and always…..ME!
Dear Lord was I ever a smart ass!
It’s a wonder nobody shot me but I used to say some outrageous stuff while onstage and strangely, no one ever got mad.
People always just kinda laughed and said, “Awww, that’s just Ron.”
On one tape I listened to today, I could be heard as the last note of a Alabama tune ended (If I Had You)…..“Hey, Jean and Daniel!”
I shouted over the mic. “For God’s sake, I know ya’ll just got married today but for God’s sake…..consumate that sumbitch at home! You’re makin’ us horny up here!”
The crowd exploded and that poor young couple damn near died! They had been doing a slow grind and swappin’ spit the whole time we played the song.
Today, fifteen years later……
I was THERE.
Right back in the moment.
Another set of three tapes took me back to a time when I had formed a band called ‘Bootleg’. The band consisted of yours truly, a great guitar player and singer named Dicky Blevins, a weird bass player named Artie Cantrell, a drummer named Boo Thurman, a rhythm guitar player and singer named Ernie Gadson and a keyboard player named Billy Pounder.
I don’t know the exact year but in was probably 1980 and we played all over the east coast but, on this occasion, we were playing a club in Myrtle Beach, SC. I believe the name of the place was ‘Rosie’s’
but….don’t quote me on that.
In one of the tapes today, I heard us talking on stage between songs and after rewinding the tape three times, I finally figured out what was being said.DAMN!
It reminded me of one of the wildest things I’d ever lived through.
Here’s the conversation…..
“So how in the hell are we gonna get to Savannah dude” Artie asked.
“How the hell should I know?” I answered.
“Well we damned sure can’t count on old Tom can we?!” He laughed.
"Aw man...that's fucked up!" I replied.
Innocent enough ain’t it?
Nothing strange in that right?Wrong!
Hearing that brief exchange and the laughter which ensued on that long ago tape, I was transported precisely to a moment in time that was, at the time, let us say…a bit trying.
In retrospect however, it was just freakin’ strange and funny
!Here’s the tale….
Our agent at the time, Steve Lehman, got us the booking in Myrtle Beach but our little bus had broken down so….the gig was in jeopardy.
We really needed the money as well as the exposure so quite naturally, everyone was panicking. Steve came to me three days before the big Myrtle Beach gig and said that he had found transportation for us and it would only cost us a thousand bucks.
He and I got in the car and headed down Hwy 17 in Charleston and drove south until we came to a little used car lot called….I’m not making this up
….’Honest Abe’s Home For Veteran Vehicles’.
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me Steve.” I laughed.
He looked over at me and grinned.
“What can I tell ya…dis sumbitch thinks he’s Abe Lincoln.” He sort of shrugged his narrow shoulders. “He’s a fuckin’ nutcase but….he’s got us a deal.”
We pulled into the lot and as we drove past the little office, I noticed that it looked like a tiny replica of the White House!
No sooner had Steve parked the car than a very tall, gawky looking man who looked remarkably like all the historical pictures of Abe Lincoln came striding through the White House’s front door and headed straight for us.
“I thought you were kiddin’” I laughed.
“Wait till you meet this moron.” Steve said.
We got out off the car and walked to meet the guy.
“My fellow American’s!” He shouted as he offered his hand.
“Well, actually Mr. President…..I’m Canadian.”
He grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously.
“Always glad to meet a brother from the north!” He grinned.
Steve laughed and shook the dead chief executive’s hand.
“Well I’m AM
an American Mr. President.”
The guy shook his hand and looked at us both in a conspiratorial manner.Side Note:
I know I often say this in my stories but….I have to say it again
.I AIN’T MAKIN’ THIS UP FOLKS……..
“I ain’t REALLY
Abe Lincoln boys.” He said quite seriously. “I’m required to say that so ya’ll don’t get confused.”
I looked at Steve and he covered his face. His shoulders were shaking and he could barely contain himself.
I looked at Abe and grinned.
“You’re kidding right?” I asked innocently.
He became animated and began stomping around.
“Oh HELL NO
…..I ain’t kiddin’ one bit sir!”
He almost shouted. “You get ONE fucking lawyer latched onto your boney ass and you cain’t have no gotdamned fun AT ALL!”
We were speechless so…he continued
“Don’t get me wrong boys….I KNOW
who I am but well, you know…I just cain’t say it right out no more. It’s a legal thing you unnerstand
I looked at Steve as if to say, “Dear God…let’s get this over with
!” So….like a good guy, he did.
Regaining his composure, Steve tried to steer the long deceased commander in chief to the matter at hand.
“I heard that you’ve got a big van for sale.” He said.
Old Abe perked right up and transformed into a used car salesman.
“Oh yessir!” He said while motioning us to follow him. “You are of course referring to this fine vehicle at the back of my lot.”
We walked almost half a block through rows and rows of vintage automobiles and, as I remember, one authentic Sherman tank until we came upon a gun metal gray ANCIENT vehicle.
“Here we are my fellow Americans!” He announced proudly. “This is an almost mint condition 1966 Tom’s Peanut truck!”
The damned thing was huge and incredible ugly but, as we inspected it….we realized that it would do the trick…..IF
it ran which, after a short test drive, we decided it would. Actually, it ran quite well so, ugly and all….we bought it after arguing the price down to eight hundred bucks.
We paid the president in cold hard dead presidents and I drove the truck back to my house but not before we shook hands with Abe.
“Boy’s ya’ll will be happy with that vehicle or my name isn’t Honest Abe.” He said somberly.
“What’s your REAL name Mr. President?” I asked sarcastically.
He grinned and clapped me on the shoulder.
“Keep this under your hat boys but it’s really Ivan Mandel….hence the ‘Honest Abe’ He laughed. “Who the hell would buy a used car from a plain old Russian?”
I looked at Steve who was damn near bent over laughing.
“Oh yeah….I can understand that.” I laughed. “I’d MUCH rather buy a used car from a dude who thinks he’s Abraham friggin’ Lincoln
.” I growled. “C’mon Steve…I’ve gotta smoke SOMETHING
After driving the monster home, my band mates came over and we began to get stoned and brainstorm over how we were going to modify the damned thing.
Within two days, we had transformed that ugly, ungainly beast into a pretty cool vehicle.
Artie was a talented artist so he was given the job of putting our logo on the sides of the van. Ernie was the sound system freak and he was given the job of wiring the truck for sound. Dickie came up with the idea of securing a beer keg to the floor which was cooled by a plastic shell into which we constantly had to pour mass quantities of ice. I came up with the idea of bolting army cots into both side walls so we could sleep if needed. Boo Thurman had the most brilliant stroke of genius when he suggested that we cut a large Frisbee sized hole in the back door beneath one of the windows so that we could stand upright, view the cars behind us in traffic along the highway and try to piss on their windshields!
We planned to see which of us could cause motorists to turn on their windshield wipers but alas…..that plan never came to fruition. Before we ever had a chance to play that strange game…..well....
Shit, as they say...HAPPENED!
We loaded up the van with all of our small stuff and climbed on board headed for Myrtle Beach. Most of our sound system, instruments and lighting was to follow us in a truck driven by Tucker Blevins, Dickie’s older brother.
By the time we climbed aboard our ‘new’ truck on James Island, Ernie, Artie, Billy, Boo, Dicky and myself were as stoned as hell and ready to roll!
Tom Kelly, our driver was an old man of at least forty and a family man who possessed all the humor of a friggin’ undertaker. I don’t think he really liked us OR his job but, since he rarely spoke at all, we really couldn’t be sure. He was a retired Marine who looked exactly like a retired Marine and only spoke when it was absolutely necessary.
“Allright boys……….we’re gone.” He barked. “Sit your asses down and don’t be smokin’ none of that silly shit!”
We just groaned and laughed at him as we passed the bong around.
“Hey Tom…you want a hit?’ Dickie asked.
“Fuck you!” He growled. “You little bastard.”Ah yes….things were going well.
We rode north for a couple of hours or so and along the way, we drank beer, pissed out the back door, smoked pot and worked on new songs accompanied by me or Dickie on guitar, Billy on a little keyboard and Boo playing drums on anything in range of his ever present sticks.
We were having a real ball until all of a sudden; we felt the van lurch violently! In a matter a mili-second, our world went upside down and ‘ass over tea kettle’!
For what seemed like five minutes, all of the occupants and items in the big van were thrown around like cement inside a mixer until just as suddenly, the world became silent again except for moans, groans, creaks, hisses and traffic noises.
I can remember feeling an incredible pain in my right knee as I looked up into the brilliant sunshine and wondered how in the hell I was so far away from the truck. It had to be at least twenty yards away from me and down a steep embankment. I had been thrown out apparently as had Dickie Blevins who was only a few yards away and standing upright and stumbling around.
Within seconds, Billy, Ernie, Boo and Artie crawled out of the open back doors of the van which laid on its side.
Everyone sort of mulled together for a few awkward moments comparing minor injuries until we heard a siren wailing.
The siren grew louder until finally, a hundred feet back up the hill, we heard a voice.“Stay where you are! Help is on the way!”
We all looked up.
“Holy shit!” Ernie said. “That’s a state trooper!”
We were all beat up a bit, stoned and pretty much drunk but the only pot we had on us was quickly buried by Boo Thurman as the cop came hopping down the steep incline. As he reached us, he put his hand on his big revolver.
“You boys okay?” He asked.
In a chorus of grunts, groans, murmurs and grins, we conveyed the fact that yes…we were indeed alive and well.
Seemingly satisfied with our response the trooper hopped down the hill to the truck where he leaned up into the overturned cab.
Immediately he leaped back and leaned over with his hands on his knees.“Oh dear Lord!”
He said quietly.
We all started to stumble towards the van and the young trooper held out his hands palms out, warning us off.“Stay away!”
He gasped. “Ya’ll don’t wanna see this.”
“What’s goin’ on?” I asked as I limped down the hill.
The trooper looked at me with a vague expression on his face.
“Sir….whoever was driving this vehicle is now deceased
.” He said somberly.DAMN!
Old Tom Kelly who had earned a DFC and two bronze stars in three tours in Vietnam had been decapitated while chauffeuring a bunch of stoned musicians to a gig in Myrtle Beach.
A hero had died and a bunch of moronic musicians had survived relatively unscathed.Go figure.
Life just ain’t never gonna make any damned sense at all is it?
Well, as things progressed, the trooper regained his composure and began questioning us as we gathered around the crumpled van.
Ambulances had arrived and we all just sort of endured the ordeal.
We watched as the ambulance crew extricated Tom’s body and severed head from the van and still the trooper questioned us.
As we collectively denied any usage of illegal drugs or the consuming of alcohol, a low rumble could be heard above the din of activity in the air.
We all heard this strange noise but, none of us could quite place its origin.
It seemed like a low roll of thunder in the distance.
Suddenly, and without warning, a loud explosion occurred and everyone within forty feet of that smoking hulk was showered with beer!
Apparently, the keg had been shaken to the point where it exploded and of course…..We ALL went to jail.
To Be Continued………..