Friday, December 29, 2006

By The Seat Of Our Pants

Blogs, blogs, blogs. All I hear about is “when are you going to write a new blog!” GET OFF MY BACK! Here’s your new blog!

That was said with a smile. In all honesty, I’m astounded at the different people that approach me and let me know how much they enjoy my rants and reflections. And it’s very touching that people read it, and stop me to say something positive about it. I don’t really write them for response so much I guess. They are just rambling tales. After having read Paul Joseph fire a couple off, I thought “hmm, that seems right up my alley.” So, that’s where they come from: Paul and I trading war stories, and you guys get to listen in. Thanks for listening, you’re all invited.

And, I apologize that it’s taken me sooo, soo long in between chapters. At my old job, I had time to write at the desk waiting for virus scans to complete. Since then, I’ve changed jobs, and the work has been steady and long. 50 hour weeks at times. Not back breaking, but, still, it takes a whole lot out of you. And then there’s poker, but that’s another crybaby story…

With this Christmas week off as the plant shuts down, I promised I’d put up some new tales. As I sit doing laundry (my dryer broke), I’ll regale you with tales from the past few months. I hope you enjoy them as I coax the memories from my barley malt soaked synapses.

The big weekend fell right around Labor Day, where we were kindly invited to play the “South’s Gunna Do It Again, Biker Style” rally right outside of Poplar Bluff. With cautious optimism, I awaited its arrival. It’s always fun to play out-of-town, as I love to travel. And I’d never been to Poplar Bluff, so that much would be exciting.

However, the Friday night before, we were booked at 501 Front Street. We’d been booked there before a month earlier but had to cancel. Not something we often do, and we really didn’t want to do that to Howard and our friends at 501. So, I was looking forward to finally getting in there.

That turned out not to be the case with a couple of the other guys. It’s not that they didn’t want to play there, but looking at the long ass road trip the day after, it became apparent that Boozie and Steve wanted to drop the gig, again. Chuck and I disagreed, partially because we both wanted the money, no doubt, partially because we stiffed them last time, and partially because, hey, we dig playing! Anywhere!

Carson had also voiced his dissent on playing the show. And that was understandable. He had to drive (as we all did), then set up that massive system. Tearing that down the night before, well, that’s an ass load of work for anyone.

Chuck and I pondered what to do, and how to make everyone happy, including ourselves.

The answer was obvious: call on our friends to give us a hand! It’s amazing the amount of support the area musicians have for each other around here. With a few quick phone calls, Derrick was running sound, Rick formerly from Ivory Tiger and Johnny Rockett and the Double Wide Symphony was singing, and I called up ole Scrappy from my Knucklehead days to see if he wanted to jump in for a night. “Sure!” he said.

We met at the foot of Front Street at the same time, Scrappy and I, the shining lights of Argosy Casino across the way reflecting off his familiar yellow SUV. Since Rock Bottom had yet to play here, walking in with Scrap felt more like a time warp to a Knucklehead gig. And, in some ways, it was: no rehearsal, no idea what we’d play, just a rough framework, beer, and a “screw it, lets rock” attitude. The key tenants of the original Knucklehead.

DJ T-Bone’s podium was dressed in colorful birthday balloons: it was his birthday! Huh, sorry T-Bone to have to subject you to this: we are going to suck! Well, I hope not.

Rick strolled in all smiles accompanied by his wife, while Chuck had his “business as usual” face on as he set up his rig, tending to last minute details on his side of the stage. We greeted each other briefly, a few nods, and some glances: “what the hell we going to play?” Rick and Scrappy both agreed that they were prepared with the lists I’d furnished them, and it was my discretion: where ever I felt like taking this carnival with maybe one or two exceptions. They were along for the ride.

Our saving grace was there was virtually no one there, so it didn’t really matter much. A small gathering stood playing darts, and they seemed to be friends of T-Bone here to celebrate with him. I knew we had some leeway at first to play more adventurous songs, saving the real money tunes in case someone actually appeared.

We piled into all the standard, boring “80’s Hair” tunes we were so familiar with, and it all had a tight, familiar groove. Rick was right on, and Scrappy didn’t seem the least bit rusty. It did seem his tempo was slow, much slower than I’m used to. Slow for Scrappy, too. Rick picked up on it, and mentioned it to me as well. Dirge-like at times.

What’s more is the interesting stage set up at Front Street left Scrappy way in back, isolated, and with no monitor. That had to suck! Couldn’t see us, couldn’t hear us, no set list, no rehearsal! Is he a trooper, or what!

My amp sounded like ass, and it was right in my face, reminding me of how terrible I was playing. That kind of pulled my mood down, and I hunkered down, playing everything safe, just trying to plow through this night fulfill our obligation, get paid, and get the hell out of here!

On break, Scrappy had a smile of satisfaction having survived the first round, and eagerly sucked down a bottle of beer.

“Wow,” he said, “I can’t hear a damn thing back there!”

“I noticed it was a bit slower than normal,” I suggested softly, “Having a tough time?”
”Naw,” he said shaking his head, “I was playing slower because I though that’s what Rick was used to.” A puzzling statement. Why would Rick be used to that? I didn’t ask for clarification.

“Oh,” I nodded. “Naw, screw Rick! Play like we always play ‘em.”

The second set rolled out, and true to form, Scrappy “The Human Drum Machine” adjusted his tempo, and was rock solid. It’s impossible to pull something like this seat of the pants crap off without a rock solid drummer like him. I’ve been blessed to have played with some near world class drummers in my days, the likes of Boozie and Scrappy.

At one stage, we brought T-Bone up to sing one of his signature tunes he does with us in Rock Bottom, Kryptonite.

“Hey!” Scrappy bellowed from the back. “THAT wasn’t on the list!” Ruh ro. Having introduced T-Bone up, there was no backing out now. Scrappy rolled back his eyes in thought, a light bulb popped over his head, and boom! Like he’d accessed some hard drive in his head, Scrappy started the intro with me, and played the song with no difficulty. I had to laugh to myself. The Human Drum Machine indeed.

While my playing failed to improve, we slogged through the rest of the night with little difficulty, no serious train wrecks. A late crowd of familiar faces strolled in, and the party picked up. We were in a festive mood having navigated most of the night by the seat of our pants, and other area musicians jumped up, making the task even easier. By the end of the night, I sat in the back, beer bottle in hand, watching Derrick, Rick, Brad, Floyd, and sometimes Scrappy jam away. And they call this work!?

Chuck doled out the pay at the end of the night, Rick said his farewells, and I loaded out with Scrappy after finishing a few beers and schmoozing with the late night partiers still hanging about. Tomorrow was going to be a trip, in more ways than one.