Most Peculiar Mama (Don’t Eat Your Cat)
Last night was kind of a strange one. Can’t blame it on the full moon ’cause the moon was just a sliver.
I rode with Allan (bass player Allan Edwards) up to the TNH gig in Springfield. Allan is a great guy. I’ve played with him a number of times over the years but, never really got to know him until recently. On these rides to gigs, we have wonderfully long and involved conversations about politics, philosophy, music; all kinds of things. Allan is a hard working, honest guy. I’ll tell you the kind of guy he is; he is from Alaska, moved to Branson with $500 in his pocket and took dish washing jobs, waited tables-any work he could get. He saved his money and, in a few years he bought a business; a shuttle service. So, he really is one of those people that started with nothing, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made something of his life.
So, we have these great conversations and, sometimes, I will find myself playing devil’s advocate when Allan states an opinion or, makes an offhand remark. This is a skill that I honed to a sharp edge, back in the drinking days, and used merely for my own entertainment. Allan is a willing participant in this, he knows what’s going on. Nobody gets hurt, doesn’t get ugly and it’s a way to pass the time.
Last night, we got started on some topic (don’t even remember now) even before we left; while we were loading the van. It’s about 45 minutes up Highway 65 to Springfield from Allan’s place. Our plan was to get to the gig an hour early but, 15 minutes up the road, Allan realized that he left his amp head behind. So, we turned around, grabbed the amp and set out again.
At some point during this turnaround, Boyd (Boyd Manning, band leader-drummer) called and told Allan that Brandi (Brandi Shortt-vocals and tambourine) had car trouble and was stranded up on I-44, about 25 miles from town. Brandi is a soulful singer. On top of that she has none of what Boyd calls “the Diva Syndrome”. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She pitches in on the set-up and tear down, loads gear, the whole bit. Normally, she deals with all of the microphone cables and speaker cables, before and after the gigs. It’s a thankless job. That being said, it makes the whole process go a lot smoother when you have one, go to, cable person who knows what goes where. Anyway, Allan and I were concerned about her safety and welfare, stuck out there on the highway and all but, our selfish sides were also worried because we were already late and, we both know that we have come to rely on Brandi’s cable organizing and manipulation skills.
There is a certain stress that occurs when running late to the gig, especially when it’s one where you have to set up the whole sound system. There are a ton of little things that can go wrong. It’s best to have a little window of time between when you set up all the gear and, the time you have to be “on”. Every player knows what I’m talking about. If you know you aren’t going to have time to do a sound check, you get a different kind of jitters; different than normal stage fright.
Anyway, it’s 8:35 when we pull into the parking lot and the gig starts at 9:00. This club, Harlow’s, is not far from the Missouri State campus. It’s in a little strip mall, next to a liquor store and another club. Parking is always a problem and, knowing that, adds to the stress. So, we pull in and there are three or four police cars, with lights flashing and they have this guy handcuffed with his hands behind his back. This is right in front of the entrance to the club where we load in. There is a group of people milling around the door.
So, I’m thinking; “Must have been some kind of fight or something for that many cops to be here”. Fights, cops, these are bad omens. As we were frantically moving the gear, Boyd and Tom (Hobson, keyboards) let me know the scoop. Apparently, some guy was out in his car smoking some herb. He had the stereo on pretty loud. One of those bicycle cops was riding by and heard the loud music. He knocked on the window and when the guy rolled it down, bike cop smelled the weed. So, bike cop called in the back up units and the drug sniffing dogs-the whole nine yards and, the end result was, they hauled the guy off to jail. I always wondered what those bicycle officers were really up to, now I know.
Brandi showed up a little after we did (who went to pick Brandi up?). We got everything set up but started a few minutes late. Everything worked, the guitars had tuning issues as there wasn’t time to acclimate them. This place is really small, no stage and the people are “right there”, you know? There were a couple of guys directly to my left, so close I can here their words while we play. I overheard one of them say that he was a music teacher with 40 years experience (bearded guy, needed haircut, patches on the elbows of his jacket, drinking scotch, smoking-no shit!). That guy was giving me the 1,000 yard stare all during the set. Nothing like “Mr. Holland” watching your every move at a bar gig. The first set was kind of loose but, we were settling in.
On the first break, I’m standing there having a Pall Mall and this old dude wearing sweat pants and a wind breaker, he’s got an empty Busch bottle in front of him and a carton of Doral’s on the table says, “have a seat”. So, I sit down and this guy says; “What kind of cigarettes you smoking?’
“Well, they’re Pall Mall’s”.
“I hate Pall Mall’s and I happen to be very allergic to them. Sir, if you do not put that out immediately, I will have no choice other than to call my attorney and sue you for every dollar you have.”
This guy is sitting there huffing on Doral and he’s going to sue me. I said; “Man, you can bring Johnny Cochran back from the grave, sue me all you want and at the end of the day, you’d be no better off ’cause I don’t have a dime.” The old guy busted into a belly laugh on that one. So, I figure; “All right, just some guy pulling my chain-has a sense of humor, no worries here”. Then, he put the touch on me. He comes right out and asks if I would buy him a beer. Now, a lot of times, I would just buy the guy a beer. But, money is tight and, I don’t have the extra three bucks to spend on some guy that I don’t even know so, I politely say no and he starts to go into another little rant; kind of a “don’t you know who I am!?” sort of thing.
Right then, this woman stops buy the table as she is leaving the club. She goes about 5’2″ maybe, 190 pounds, I would say, if I was working at the carnival. She’s got this tattered jean jacket on and is wearing a faded t-shirt with a stereo store logo on it, underneath the jacket. She stops on her way out and says some nice things about the band. She calls herself “Motown Jody” and says she used to be a singer. So, I got crazy old guy on one side of me and “Motown Jody” on the other. “Motown” out of the blue, starts off on her own rant. She’s has this rambling tale about a cab ride that she took earlier in the evening. Apparently she had a black driver and she didn’t like the guy because he didn’t want to engage in conversation. She’s busting out the N word left and right, at the top of her lungs, and people are looking over there; looking at me, looking at her, looking at crazy old man-I felt helpless. What are you going to do, you know?
Luckily, it was time to go play again. Second set went a little better. Break time-I’m putting my guitar on the stand and crazy old guy says; “Come on back over here and sit down”.
“Last time you acted like a complete curmudgeon”. He laughed at that and I figure he’s back to being good-natured, crazy old guy. So, I sit down and I say, “I never did get your name” as I offer to shake hands.
“I’m not going to tell you my name because you refuse to buy me a beer.” Great…
He reaches into his pocket and throws a one dollar bill on the table. I guess he’s willing to chip in or something. But, he’s just not getting it, I don’t have the dough even if he’s covering part of it. Meantime, he says; “That dollar is special, it has writing on it”. So, I look at the bill, sure enough something is scrawled underneath old George’s face. This is what it says; “Don’t eat your cat”.
Don’t Eat Your Cat
That’s what it says-Don’t eat your cat. So, I ask they guy, “Was this already on there or, did you write it on there?”
“I wrote it on there.”
“Well, you better keep it then. It looks to me like you meant it as some kind of a reminder to yourself maybe.”
Then, the old bastard gives me this icy glare. He’s looking me straight in the eye all mano a mano and says; Which do you desire money or fame?”
“You know, I don’t really think that way. I would gladly take peace of mind and health over money or fame.”
“Good answer, I will see to it that you will be spared”.
He’s trying to come off as some kind of fucking Charles Manson. Then, he starts going in to the prison speak kind of stuff, like the ex-cons used to do when, I worked at the car wash out in California, 20 years ago. They had this kind of gibberish “secret” language that they would hit you with. Some kind of intimidation tactic, I guess. Or, maybe a trick to identify other ex cons, I don’t know.
Meanwhile, some cat standing at the bar loudly directs this comment at Allan: “Hey man, I’m a bass player. I respect your playing but I’m not a fan of Fender basses.” Alan, I can tell he’s a little steamed. You know, you just don’t do that. If you are a player, you don’t walk up to a guy who is playing a gig and say; “I don’t like your guitar” especially, loud enough for the whole room to hear it. But Alan, to his credit says; “Well, did you bring your bass? Why don’t you get up and play a couple?” The guy, who was drinking when we got there and is still knocking ‘em back says; “Well, I don’t happen to own a bass right now”. Beautiful.
Anyway, we get up to play the last set and a table full of college kids comes in. They sit there for a couple of songs, putting out this vibe like they aren’t into the song list. One guy is yelling out requests for old TV show themes!!?? No big deal, I’ve run into these kinds before. Having fun in a smart ass kind of way.
We’re playing a song, ignoring the TV show requests and, old crazy ass Charlie Manson walks over to their table. Now, I know for a stone fact that he is going to try and bum a beer. The bartender also sees this going down and goes over, grabs Charlie and tosses him, yelling over the music; “I warned you man…I warned you”. He throws the old dude out the door. The bartender is on his way back behind bar when, here comes Charlie sneaking back in! Charlie scurries over to his table to retrieve his carton of Doral’s and sneaks away into the night. Hope he remembered not to eat his cat when he got home.
The college kids kept tossing out these joke requests and, it was starting to be a little disruptive. One of them shouts, “Neil Young” and a couple of them join in. I’m noticing that a lot of kids are into Neil Young these days. So be it then, I launched into a fuzzed up, slightly punked up version of “Hey Hey, My My”. We had never played it before but, what the hell. The college kids just went apeshit. They were singing along, knew all the words and, I look around, the people at the bar are singing along, bass player with no bass got on the floor and started dancing solo, like a male version of Elaine Benes; who knew? Neil Young was the secret hoodoo for the night.
And, the night ended. As we were packing up the gear, people were shuffling to the door. Outside there was boozy laughter echoing through the chill night air. Inside, Boyd was talking to a club owner from an up-scale place down in the “live entertainment capitol of America”. This guy loves the band but says we need to know some George Strait. “Branson is a country town, after all”. They all want something, something different than they just saw you do. Another guy, a drummer, was talking to Tom as he packed. This guy learned to play from Buddy Miles, when he was a kid growing up in Omaha. On his way to a tribute show in Texas to “jam with Buddy one last time”. R.I.P. Buddy.
Just another Saturday night, you know? Not what you would call typical but, I’ve seen crazier nights. It started with the nervous edge but, it all came together in a nice way, I think. Even with, bicycle cops, Crazy Ass Charlie, intolerant Motown Jody, bass player with no bass and, the college kids that love old Neil. It takes all kinds, as they say.
I thought that I should write some of it down because, as the years go passing by, the details tend to fade at a faster rate.
So, thanks for indulging me, if you somehow made it this far. And….
Don’t eat your cat.