Saturday, December 30, 2006

South's Gunna Do It Again, Biker Style! Part I

Subject: Guitarist - Rock Bottom
Venue: Poplar Bluff, Missouri

C.J. called me in the morning as expected. What wasn’t expected was the alarm clock read 12 noon. I was expecting him to call around 11. I also wasn’t expecting to sleep until noon. My internal clock usually gets me up before then. Then again, after a night of Jagerbombs, my internal clock as a permanent “snooze” button.

We met up at my house. I’d packed his gear in the SUV the night before when we loaded out of 501 Front Street, allowing him to drive his more fuel efficient small car down there today. With him tagging along behind me, it wasn’t long before we were crossing Ole Man River into Missouri, and headed south towards the Ozarks.

There were two routes to take to Poplar Bluff: all the way down Interstate 55 to Sikeston, and hang a right for about 50 miles or so, or hit US 67 through Farmington straight there, part of it being a two lane. I opted for the latter, just because I was in the mood for a pleasant, scenic drive on a beautiful September, pre-fall afternoon. That, and an old, dear girlfriend now lives in Farmington, and any time I’m through there, I often think of her, and it’s a pleasant daydream.

All along 67, the memories are vivid for me. First, I hearken back to the first “out of town gig” I ever played, at Camp Sunnen for the Explorer Post here in Granite. They’d booked Kulprit to play their weekend getaway and float trip down the Courtois, where they furnished us cabins, canoes for a morning float trip, and the best price I think Kulprit ever received for playing, like $250 or something. I was just turned 17, and out of high school. It was like I was “on the road” with Kulprit! Literally a dream come true!

What a trip; a whole caravan of us traveling down 67, Jim Murphy on his motorcycle leading the way. It turned out to be a fiasco of sorts, as we played one set, tops, and the Ranger threw us out when a drunken bimbo ran up to our lead singer Joel in between songs with a can of Busch beer. Alcohol is strictly forbidden at Camp Sunnen. We violated that rule with a vengeance! I think we drank a couple cases that night before when we arrived. Jim and I were still drunk the next morning when we hit the Courtois River for the float. “Ranger Rick”, as we called him, was looking for some reason to throw us out, that was to be sure. He found it. We still got paid though.

There are other memories, too, that always surface as I sailed into St. François County. I’d played down in Bonne Terre a few times with Steve in Nassty back in the late 80’s, my old girlfriend by my side. We were infamous there, so to speak. Caught one place on fire trying to tap into the main power for the light show (Carson was responsible for that one), and kicked out of another across town because I responded on a bitch’s complaint that we were too loud. I showed her the sticker on the back of my Les Paul and pointed out “if it’s too loud, you’re too fuckin’ old”. I think we were banned from Bonne Terre, much like Ozzy was banned from San Antonio for pissing on the Alamo.

Farmington holds fond memories as well. The greatest gig I think I ever experienced was at Papa Don’s right out side of Farmington with Kid Curious, the precursor to Saturn Cats. It’s a flea market now as I passed by it. We rocked that place one Halloween night in ’89. Probably a thousand screaming fans, it gave me goose bumps when we hit the stage, and the whole place pulsed to the beat of Dr. Feelgood. It was a grand slam. Those people can rock down there, let me tell you.

And, I’ve made a trip down there in the past few years to spend a platonic evening with that same old girlfriend. Like I said, lots of fond memories as I travel past the knobby pines and rocky foothills of the Mineral Area, gateway to the Ozark Mountains.

Not long after Farmington, the nice four lane super highway gives way to a two lane country thoroughfare. I love this kind of scenery. It reminds me of driving out near Eureka, or Cedar Hill when I was a courier. Pine covered forests and hills with valleys and hollers dotted with tin covered shacks, roadside churches, and country stores.

We passed through a small town outside of Fredrickstown, and I discovered a Dog N Suds! I hadn’t seen one of those in years and years! I didn’t know they still existed! I had to call C.J.

“Damn man, a Dog N Suds!” I said to my cell phone.

“Yeah man, we’d eat there every time I’d come down here,” he answered. “I have family that lives out here,” he said.

“No kidding? Well, we’ll have to eat there on the way back.”

“Sounds good,” he said.

Not too far down we passed Lake Wappapello, a place I’d always wanted to fish. As some of you may know, I’m a huge fishing buff, and have been since my childhood. Before guitar, before poker, before hockey, there was fishing for me. It is at the core of my heart.

Nestled in the Ozark Hills, Wappapello looks like a very pretty place to camp and fish. Excitedly, I realized it wasn’t really that big a drive to get down here. When I get home, I’ll find more info on it, and hope to take my daughters camping and fishing down here, if we ever get a break between softball tournaments and Rock Bottom shows. I only wish I still had my bass boat.

I must admit, also on my mind during the trip I couldn’t help but fret what might go wrong this time. Like Camp Sunnen, these outdoor deals seem to have a way of being a catastrophe. As I blogged about a couple years ago, there was the infamous Frogfest where while we played to no one in the hot summer sun, Thunderhead never hit the stage at all as the East Carondolet Police broke up the shindig over the spaghetti wrestling! In the back of my mind, I was worried this was going to be a fiasco.

Before long, the highway split back into a four lane, and I assumed we were nearing Poplar Bluff. Not a bad drive, to be honest, but, then again, I drove for a living, so two hours in a car is nothing to me. We were only miles from Arkansas. From Alton to Arkansas. The life of a vagabond guitarist. I love to travel!

I noted the exit to take towards the rally as we entered Poplar Bluff, searching for the Super 8 where our rooms were booked. I also saw a billboard for a local steakhouse, which I’d bring up to C.J. about when we hit dinner. That would be my choice.

The rooms were to our satisfaction, and we promptly back tracked towards the bike rally following a flyer’s crudely designed map. Winding through pine lined country roads and beautiful ranches with emerald green pastures, we happened on the bike rally. The bike rodeo was in full swing, and lines of camper trailers and tents ringed the grounds. A moderate size number of cars were parked out in the open field, and Confederate Stars and Bars flew everywhere.

At the main gate, they directed us to the bandstand where we parked and unloaded our gear. Robin Crattles was already there setting up, and Carson was placing his setup around us. Robin handed me my “Rock Bottom 2006 Tour All Access” laminate. “Deron Boyd- Guitar” it read. Cool! Where’s my publicist?

Mrs. Crattles gave me a big hug, and some of our other regular fans were already in attendance having made the trip down with them. A festive mood was in the air!

It was an impressive stage, built I’m told for the rally they have every year. Covered, and about 5 feet off the ground, it had a runway protruding out the middle into the grassy field about 15 feet, I’d say. Carson had propped a couple Par 64 light cans up to illuminate Steve out there. The stage was lined with Stars and Bars, and at the end of the runway hung a boars head wearing a half shell bikers helmet. An interesting mascot indeed!

I gazed out onto the festival grounds, taking in the sights. The grassy field was lined by dark pines and spruce, and campers had pitched their trailers and tents along the shady perimeter, probably about a quarter mile long.

Amid the roars of motorcycles and echoes of an announcer’s tin voice from a megaphone, leather clad ruffians circled the field on their motorcycles in their rodeo games to the hoots and hollers from the crowd.

About 20 feet out from the stage, off on my left hand side, stood an orange “birdcage” with a dancing pole in it and a Stars and Bars flag waving proudly above it. This was going to get interesting… Further off to my left, towards the trees and the campground, rested a pyre of wood with a motorcycle planted atop it. That was to be burned later, I was told, for the bonfire.

Trying to stay out of Carson’s way, I set the rig up on my side, and C.J. and I headed back to the hotel to shower, and grab a bite.

“We’ll be back by 7,” we said, as that was the time we were to hit the stage.

Back at the hotel, I showered and shaved in record time. I stopped over at C.J. room while he finished up, and we contemplated where to eat. He’d found a college football game on the tube, and I briefly watched while he brushed his teeth.
”Saw a sign for a steakhouse down the street, or there’s a Ryan’s,” I said.

“Steakhouse sounds great. I love going somewhere different,” C.J. told me.

“Me too,” I said. Something we have in common.

The steakhouse was only a few blocks away, and packed for a Saturday evening. As we sauntered into the premises, all heads turned to stare at us! C.J. was decked out like a rock star, red eyes and spiked raven black hair. I looked like his burley body guard or something! Girls would smile, and fathers and boyfriends would scowl as we passed through the entire facility, lead to an empty table way in back.

“Throw your peanuts on the floor, I love places like this!” C.J said, paying no attention to all the attention we were garnering.

The old Sam Kinison line of “being a notch in the Bible Belt” came to mind as I glanced around the room at the decent people of Poplar Bluff who’s world we’d invaded. Some looked as though they were just out after church on a Sunday afternoon. Little children would stare as their parents tried not to notice us. So did some of the teen age girls, too.

After ordering a steak and a beer, C.J. eventually flashed me a coy smile, recognizing the commotion we were stirring at the place.

“I was born here, at the hospital,” he told me, “and I’ve never been back.” Prodigal son returns, eh C.J? You weren’t what they were expecting…

My spicy steak was cooked to perfection, and conversation with C.J. was pleasant. We were both excited to be playing out on the road, away from the usual haunts. While I was still concerned in the back of my mind that this could become a catastrophe at any moment, I was living in the moment, and enjoying myself.

With a glance at the watch, we high tailed it out of there, leaving them all to wonder who the hell we were, and what the hell we were doing there. Looks like we might be fashionably late to start. Not really my style, but, it couldn’t be helped. Snaking through the turns of the rural highways, we arrived about 15 past the hour, expecting to hear some grief. That is, if Steve was even there yet.

Much to my surprise, Carson wasn’t even close to being set up. He’d been in attendance since 11 am, I’m told, and still hadn’t snaked out the cords and plugged in the board. Pardon me, but, what the fuck?