Blurred Time Continues
The War Pipes
A Trip with Ralph
In a Birmingham Diner
|1980--My Last Days of Blurdom
I've given away the ending, so I'll end all this with a beginning. But first. You see this--life--is like the sea, right? Where on the surface there's a wave coming towards you, and underneath there's a pull the other way, Out There. My nephew Zack used to call this the Under Toad back when he was four.
My last year of Blurdom contained the best of our three European Tours, a perfectly arranged (by a professional agent) tour in Belgium of festivals and clubs and summer-in-the-city music venues, with the added attractions of an apartment in which to regroup, just on the outskirts of Brussels, and the secret that Belgium produces the world's greatest beers revealed one evening late on in the tour by our agent himself, at a little local pub down the street from the said apartment. Among the 150 candidates, I personally vote for Duval, tho I was only able to sample maybe four other contenders. The winnah is not Stella Artois. I know that.
Before Belgium came Roseanne Cash's East Coast Wedding Reception. I hope she'll forgive me relating it--it's not really about the reception anyway, but about attitude and the lack thereof. Or the Under Toad.
We'd done this wonderful tour of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, all these little clubs and special concerts, making not much more than expenses, but finding everywhere great fans who were extremely happy that we came waaaaay up there to see them, which no one much did. At the laundromat in some little place, Hancock I think, I met a hippie horse-logger who loved his horses because one day they didn't run him over when he fell between them and the logs they were pulling. He came to the show that night drunk as a skunk. The smelt were coming the next week everyone said, but we had to go.
To Roseanne's East Coast Wedding Reception.
See this was maybe the Big Gig. It was in the Nashville burbs, at Johnny's Mansion. Johnny was a Sun product. You know, with Elvis and Carl and Jerry Lee. We busted ass getting there, I know that. Hauled through a spring blizzard, down Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, with a little shut-eye somewhere, but not enough. The gig was about 5 PM or something. We did make it.
Johnny and June had covered their tennis court with a huge tent. Inside were those big jet blowers like sheetrockers use in the wintertime. Like the Green Bay Packers use on their side of the field. It was cold and damp outside. The blizzard was trying to sneak into Tennessee like Sherman on a night march.
We knew there'd be all sorts of Nashville folks there. It had been five years since Diamond Studs, and we'd been truckin'. We had five albums out since Studs. And we were kinda living half our lives in a Dodge Extendo van. As Mike Craver calls it, it was "life on a beanbag." That was the "chair" the fifth Blur got, back up there on the rug covered platform, on top of the gear. I was making that corrosive calculation I've mentioned previously. I don't know that I speak for anyone but me, but the East Coast Wedding Reception was a life preserver as far as I was concerned.
They had the food out. Great spread. Zillions of little pieces of roast beef rolled on toothpicks. Same with "city" ham. Same with melon balls, pineapple squares, cherry tomatoes. Looking around, we discovered that there wasn't any alcohol at all, only sparkling cider. The Cashes were dry, born-again sorta folks.
People started drifting in. The blowers blowed. We ate, chatted amongst ourselves, tried to pick out the Importants. I think I met Roseanne and Rodney briefly. It was obvious that this was more Johnny and June's deal, that Roseanne and Rodney had done their do on the West Coast. Tom T. Hall came in. Some guys put up the "sound system."
(An aside: The Ramblers never owned any sound equipment in these olden days; I don't know about now. We figured if they wanted us, they'd provide the sound. This was true, too, and enabled us to travel relatively light, i.e., in the van and not in some big bus. But the sound provided was whatever "they" felt like getting together, and not necessarily the seven mikes, monitors, etc. that we "specified." If we remembered to "specify.")
The sound system was three mikes and some speakers set on a wobbly stage. I think the board was up there too. This is where it hits the fan.
At this time the Ramblers were doing complex material--we used a variety of instruments, with some being changed in mid-number, and a variety of vocals. Our basic vocal volume was also pretty dynamic, with Watson possessing pipes that could cut through a foot of mud while Mike was needing to sing up close and personal. And of course Mike played a piano mainly--which wasn't up there anywhere. But this was the big gig. What we were going to do was to showcase our terrific original songs and amazing harmonies and incredible spectrum of know-how and command of the idioms of old-time and early country and even a dash of Irish and bluegrass in front of all these Important Nashville personages.
So we made up a little list with all the Big Numbers and climbed up there and had at 'em. I think it was pretty horrible. People mostly hung out by the food tables. The blowers blowed louder than the speakers, and actually the main thing about the whole deal that we never got till later was, no one was there to listen anyway, but simply to make an appearance, to shake hands. You don't snub Johnny's invite. On the other hand, there was only sparkling cider. Ole Possum No Show wasn't invited I don't think. Tom T. sat alone in the folding chairs up by the stage, a kinda blurred look around his eyes. If he listened, we never heard from him. Finally it was over, like an all night poker game full of losing hands.
Then John McCutcheon came up there with his autoharp and fiddle and whatall, probably only needed two mikes out of the three, and he cranked down on some tunes and the crowd all came over and had a big time. And that was Roseanne Cash's East Coast Wedding Reception.
In October, we went back up to the Midwest. We started work on Hard Times, our upcoming album, a project I'd wanted to feature Mike on--get him to pick the material and just use the rest of us as his band. I didn't want a formula to develop. Ended up Mike did his own solo album a few years later, Fishing for Amour. We drove out to southwestern Wisconsin, Platteville, and the van broke down (timing chain), and we did a big Halloween ball. All these people came in wearing masks, and when they took the masks off, I was aware that I still didn't know any of them. We eventually got back to Chicago with a new timing chain and did another day or two in the studio.
When we got back to North Carolina, I gave my notice. I told Tommy first, standing out in front of Talbert's Esso on NC 54, where the band would drop me at the end of trips for Annie to come and get. After a few days, after Annie had said, "Don't quit cause of me," I drove around Chapel Hill and told Jim and Mike. Jack I never really told like that, but of course he found out soon enough anyway.
|Red Clay Ramblers Souvenirs|