On Friday March 5th, 2010 I headed to Narita airport to board a plane for the U.S. Six years previous, while living in Las Vegas, I had left the States in a rush and hurriedly threw my stuff in storage. In the long process of moving back home this was Step 2 of the plan; sell the truck, move my stuff back to Texas and play some dates to start establishing myself back home. The dates would help offset the expenses.Unbeknownst to me at the time I was in for a month-long non-stop adventure that would see my plans challenged at every step of the way, eventually leading me to question what I was really after and why.
In the two weeks leading up to my departure date the proverbial writing on the wall was already starting to show. Most of the venues were booked 6 months in advance time was running out to fill the week's worth of dates I had planned. The idea was to play dates from TX to Vegas which would offset travel costs; once I got my stuff out of storage we would head straight back to Houston where I could take a week off before doing some more dates around town. Bassist Kenny Payola, whom I had stayed with two years earlier when I was renewing my driver's license (Step 1) offered to help with the bookings. Booking from overseas had proven to be a headache (already had two cancelled tours under my belt) so having someone "on the ground" to make the calls would help out immensely. Once the introductions were made I would take the reigns back.
Kenny was notorious for being a control freak but I've worked with them before, as well as having a bit of that reputation myself, so I paid it little mind. He was eager to be playing again, having been dormant for some time. However, his drummer Parker Townsend, whom he raved about, backed out a few weeks before. Seems there was a fight with his wife and he went to his mom's place in Georgia. Kenny insisted this sort of thing was known to happen and would straighten itself out. But on March 5th, as I was leaving for Narita, it was clear he wasn't going to be back so it was time to look for another drummer. I posted on Facebook and MySpace and received quite a few recommendations. I was confident we'd have somebody.
In the meantime I had a plane to catch. It was my understanding that Kenny had a van (he was also supplying the PA) but I had found out that he didn't. My dad had a van in northeast Ohio he wanted to get rid of so I found the closest city on my flight route, Detroit, and jumped ship there taking a Greyhound bus to Cleveland. Little did I know that simply not using 1/4 of my ticket (round trip to Houston) would cost me an extra $250. Delta airlines gave me a spiel about pricing to Detroit being different but I still say it's a bunch of horseshit- it didn't cost them anything for me to not use one part of my ticket. It's an empty seat!
On to the Detroit bus station and now I know why Michael Moore makes his movies. Gawd, that place is depressing! Not just the bus station, the entire downtown. After a crack deal or two went down it was safe to quickly use the bathroom. On the bus, down to Toledo, hour layover, and into Cleveland where my dad picked me up. Because of crossing time zones I left the house in Tokyo around 11:30 AM Friday and arrived in at the Cleveland bus station at 9:30 PM the same day. Over 24 hours in transit and I'm looking forward to a shower!
Saturday I was in Alliance, OH recovering from jet lag and generally taking it easy. Had trouble finding an Internet connection (my dad didn't have one at the house) and after a few failed attempts at Applebee's (free WiFi with the purchase of mediocre food) Border's books in Canton fit the bill. And that's when the situation blew up.
Kenny was flipping out over my "drummer needed" posts and immediately threatened to cancel everything. At first it seemed he was just pissed at one lady in particular who had been in his cyber ear but he told me he was pissed at me as well, that "social networking 101" was to always project a positive image. Him telling me about social networking is a fucking joke; this is the guy that posts bulletins for a gig the same day with "call me for directions" and gets pissed when nobody comes out to see him.
When somebody pulls a tantrum like that I normally fire them right away. In the case there were extenuating circumstances; 1.) he had put me up and let me use his car two years previous when I was in TX renewing my driver's license; 2.) his brother had just gotten out of the hospital having nearly died the week before; and 3.) I had recently cracked under pressure, going off on people, saying things I shouldn't have, so who was I to pass judgement on somebody else for doing the same? I band-aided the situation under the assumption that it would dissipate in a day or two but it continued to linger as I left for Texas after the weekend, hanging over my head during the drive down.
Despite it all the trip to Alliance, OH was fun. Many years ago I had lived briefly in that small town where my dad is from. It was good to see the town revitalizing itself in the face of current economic challenges and I met some good people including Danny "Two Harleys". Eating at my favorite joints was another plus; there's nothing like a cheese omelet at Ferraro's. On the last day there I used my laptop to shoot a video of my dad and I playing a guitar duet. The video stops early on but the audio continues. The clip was later posted to Facebook.
Leaving Alliance for Houston I stopped in Columbus that Wednesday to see my youngest niece and met her fiancee. Having him marry into the family will raise the collective IQ several notches. I drove through most of the night to Indianapolis and visited my late grandfather's house in Greenwood. It's now old and wore out, the huge corn field across the street a strip mall in front of townhomes. Although it's been 13 years since he passed away this was the first time I really felt like he was gone. I could feel my dad moving into the family position my grandfather once held just as I was moving into my dad's position. The passage of time.
Onwards through Indiana, a beautiful state to drive through, over the Ohio river and through Louisville and finally into Tennessee where at last I got a motel (i.e. a shower) and had breakfast at Loretta Lynn's restaurant. Those Southern breakfasts sure do taste good but don't help the girlish figure. By Friday, the 12th, I was in Texas and made it down to College Station where I met up with Glenn Davis. Glenn is a Texas native who spent 40 years in Japan where he was a chairman of the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan booking the entertainment. A true patron of the arts, he's a personal favorite of all the musicians who played FCCJ and most of us would hang out there if we didn't have a gig that night. Often when one of us was in the audience he would get us up with the band that was playing that night, making for some interesting jam sessions. In College Station, where he now teaches at two universities, he introduced me to a friend who's working on a book about the many Blues players from the Brazos River Valley area; Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb and Albert Collins to name just a few. We spent the day in Navasota, Mance's hometown, checking out the local Blues museum. The collection there was unreal to say the least.
That evening I arrived in Houston. Driving through my old neighborhood where I went to high school was a shock- what had once been a nice area on the outskirts of town was now a crowded slum. Businesses had had barbed wire on the fences, a cop was at each bus stop and my old apartment complex now had a chained gate at each entrance. Sad to see. I stayed with my aunt whom I hadn't seen in 17 years. My cousins were little kids at the time, now they're grown adults with kids of their own. Talk about a time warp! Family business on Saturday and on Sunday it was over to Kenny Palyola's house where the shit hit the fan.
The entire incident was documented in the Blog/Note "Southwest Tour Canceled" so it doesn't need to be repeated here but a few other details have been recalled in retelling the story. When I showed up to rehearse he hadn't learned any of my songs despite having a month or two to do so. And people who have been to my gigs, as well as the musicians who have played them, know that I always open with the same three songs and close with the same two. After establishing the set lists before boarding the plane this dipshit had the nerve to rewrite them starting with five of his own each set. It's no surprise that everything went downhill in less than an hour.
The racist hate mail continued up until a few days before I flew back to Japan and will probably resume upon publication of this Blog. And the three that I reprinted were less than half, there were several others claiming that I had canceled the tour (after flying halfway around the world?!?) and threatening to come after me on gigs. I later learned that this was standard behavior for him; one venue pointed out that several people they know had the same experience, just ignore it and go on, and that they probably won't hear from him again for at least another 6 months or year. Despite his many threats the only person he's ever actually taken a swing at was Nick Curran outside a club in Austin, who was already on the ground at the time. Real tough guy! So glad to remove this piece of shit from my life. His last e-mail was to my wife -I wouldn't reply to him- saying he hoped my plane crashed and making Chinese jokes at her (she's Japanese).
Although glad to be rid of this douchebag it was still a bummer to not be playing the dates. A trip up to Austin hanging out with J.J. Barrera (Tailgators) revived my spirits and restored my faith in humanity. While in Ohio I acquired a CD of my dad's group from the late 50's/early 60's. (Note: my dad played with a black R&B group in high school when most white kids across America thought Pat Boone wrote TUTT FRUTTI). The disc was taken from a severely scratched 45 so I dropped off the files with Glenn Rios (Alamo Suite) to be cleaned up. If anybody can do it, it's Glenn. It was also a nice visit with an excellent musician and engineer who has a knack for calming me down when I'm stressed. Glenn also plays drums and percussion on the Charles Brown song my dad and I cut this past Christmas.
On the road to Vegas to pick up my stuff. The next day I was on the other side of D/FW cruising 287 through Wichita Falls to Amarillo. Passing through all those little towns was just plain cool. From Amarillo it was onto I-45 to Flagstaff. The drive through New Mexico was beautiful at night, I don't remember the last time I saw so many stars in the sky. On through Arizona, headed up through Hoover Dam which is undergoing construction of a new bridge and on into Vegas where the transmission went out. It was Friday, the 17th. Seems I always arrived on a Friday. Took the van to the Chevy dealer the next day and called my buddy Len Fassler, The Rev, to come get me. He put me up while I was waiting on the van and thus began the "Big Lebowski" chapter of the journey.
Imagine John Goodman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI running sound for a Slayer concert and you'll have a pretty good image of The Rev. Every other word is "dude" with a delivery that would make a movie director sit up and take notice. Len's trade is live sound and he's toured with the Stones, Allmans, Skynyrd and gawd knows who else. He's a world traveller who during my stay in Vegas articulated just what turns us ex-pats off to most American girls, "They think they have a right to entitlement." The city had built up quite a bit and the Strip more congested than ever including several large new casinos, some by Steve Wynn. He also explained how and why the suburban subdivisions had
scattered to the farthest reaches of town despite the faltering economy; when the housing market crashed they found they could make more money by going ahead with the construction and selling for less than by cashing out on the loans.
After picking me up we headed down to a supposedly hip club where the wannabe scenesters left a bad taste in our mouths. Everybody decked out in their Vegas hipstery trying to impress each other. We bailed and headed over to a locals' casino which was much cooler. Real people. The Rev is one of those guys who can hang with anybody and everybody and wherever we went he ran into somebody he knew or struck up a new friendship. My ideal touring situation includes The Rev running sound; he's the kind of guy that makes a touring entourage more fun and less of a grind. It's hard to stay in a bad mood with him around. While in Vegas we saw AVATAR at The Cannery and I was blown away. Like REVENGE OF THE SITH the groundbreaking effects supported the story rather than distracting from it. And what a story it was! The way the corporate/military machine was depicted struck a chord with me. Their inhuman greed and arrogance has ruined the U.S. too much already and needs to be called out. David and Goliath, baby!
By Wednesday the U-haul was loaded, truck sold and I was on the road again. I gassed up in Kingman and stalled out nearly empty near Seligman 70 miles away. Hitchhiked into town, got a tow truck and looked for a gas leak. None found but it still ate into my cash pretty good. On the road again now that the van started and then she stalled out again. Hitchhiked into the next town, got another tow truck and found a really cool old mechanic that knew engines like B.B. King knows Blues. Turned out to be the distributor rotor, cap and module causing a misfire and eating up a ridiculous amount of gas. Back on the road yet again but now running low on cash (although getting much better gas mileage). By Tucumcari, NM my credit cards were only working part of the time (my round ass? LOL) and cash was almost gone. I barely made it to Amarillo where I slept in the van that night and picked up a wire transfer in the morning. Having missed dinner the night before I pigged out on a BBQ lunch in some tiny town on 287. Usually I skip dessert but the homemade ice cream sounded to good to pass up! By Tuesday the 30th I had made it back to Houston and got settled. Couldn't believe all the junk I found going through my stuff, bills and receipts from as far back as '96! Several boxes ended up in the trash.
However, the strain of canceled gigs, backstabbing hustlers and automotive breakdowns was wearing me thin. I play music to make money and/or have fun, preferably both, and there had been almost none of either for quite a while. For a long time it had been an uphill struggle in the face of indifference making me wonder if I was doing it all out of vanity. I hadn't exactly set the world on fire; did it really matter if I put out another album this year? At that point I decided to give up playing music and focus on writing. My writing seemed to garner more response than my playing. I've never understood the big deal, but if folks like it maybe it'll pay off more than music has. At least I can work by myself and not have to deal with so many flakes and assholes. Worn down, tired of the headaches and I was dreaming of a more sane, stable existence.
A conversation with Jill Jones, whom I keep threatening to adopt as my big sister, turned all that around. No stranger to the trials and tribulations of trying to make music with integrity in the face of adversity (and overblown egos) she shed light on a few things that had escaped my notice and put the picture into a new perspective. By the end I was at a loss for words (we know how rare that is, mark it on the calendar).
Khalil Gibran wrote in THE PROPHET, "Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility." My favorite 'ghost writer' Seth (Jane Roberts) wrote, "You create your own reality," and went into detail (decades ahead of quantum physics) how and why we create the circumstances in our life. It became clear that many goals had been based on outdated ideas of how it should be, rather than on simply "following your bliss" (Joseph Campbell). Throughout the entire trip I kept thinking I had made a huge mistake, given all that went wrong. At the same time I knew that I had to do it now. The paradox had resolved.
That Friday, April 2nd, I headed to Austin to conduct interviews with some of my favorite musicians. At first it was going to be a series of articles that I hoped to have published in a couple magazines but after interviewing bassist Ronnie James, now playing with Jimmie Vaughan, and reflecting on Jill's words the idea evolved into a book tentatively titled TRASH, TWANG & THUNDER - AUSTIN'S ROOTS ROCK REVIVAL. Much has been written about Austin music but not even the handful of Stevie Ray Vaughan biographies has explored the Roots Rock scene of which he was but one part (the one that made Rock Star status). Except for Dan Forte's writings at the time and Craig Higgins' Keith Ferguson biography (now on hold) no one has given much attention to groups like The Tailgators or The Leroi Brothers, or musicians like Don Leady or Mike Buck. Time to fix that! Interviewing Ronnie James was the spark that lit the fuse; he's my age and grew up on the same diet of Austin Roots Rock albums just as I did. And for those not in the know the title is taken from the 1985 Grammy-nominated all-instrumental album Big Guitars From Texas TRASH, TWANG & THUNDER which featured four of Austin's hottest pickers (Don Leady, Denny Freeman, Evan Johns and Frankie Camaro) backed by the legendary rhythm section of Mike Buck and Keith Ferguson. Buck and Ferguson are also the rhythm section on the first, and in my opinion best, Fabulous Thunderbirds album GIRLS GO WILD and the Leroi Brothers debut CHECK THIS ACTION, arguably one of the most rockin' records ever made.
Technical complications prevented me from doing the other interviews (they'll be conducted later by phone) but I still managed to visit a few friends, though not all, and got an idea for a second book. On the way back to Houston I stopped in to see my buddy Todd Moore, whom I played with when I lived in Austin. Rehearsals for his new group Baby Anacondas had just finished and singer MaryAnn Price was hanging out. I had brought my mom along, who grew up in Houston yet had never been to Austin before, but due to knee surgery had trouble getting in and out of the van so Todd and MaryAnn came out to the van to say 'hi' and hang out with her. Once again it was nice to hang out with real people. A gentleman and a lady in the truest sense of the words.
Back in Houston on Saturday and seeing family I hadn't seen in roughly 20 years. Didn't get a chance to hang out with Wayne Bertone, whose ANOTHER YOU I flew in guitars for, but there's always next time. And now that there's an empty bass slot for the Houston chapter of J.J. Vicars & the Desiatos... More family fun on Sunday and then Monday it was time to board the return flight. I had hoped to interview Larry Slezak, one of the baddest cats to ever blow sax, on Sunday but schedule conflicts nixed that. His son Joe Slezak is my age, we started playing about the same time, and appears on Larry's Grammy-nomintated album NO WORRIES (2009). Joe is like part of the family and I was looking forward to jamming with both of them as well as doing the interviews. I hit him up for a ride to the airport and I'm glad I did 'cause that was the only time we got to hang out. One more jam session for next time. I've got a couple songs picked out on an upcoming all-instrumental album for them to play on. That's one of the reasons I make albums, to have a record of my buddies and I playing together.
As I boarded the plane it seemed the trip was over but a little voice kept telling me "not yet". It's not over until I'm back at the house and even that's questionable. I boarded the correct flight at the correct gate for San Francisco and flew to Sat Lake City. No mention of a connecting to flight to SF until the plane was about to land. Wonderful! Had hoped to meet up with Tara Tinsley in SF to work on some music (planning on using female vocals on some upcoming recordings) but again schedule conflicts got in the way. Spent the night at the airport with three books then boarded the flight to Tokyo. Flying international is so much nicer that flying domestic, you actually get real service! Landed in Narita and went to the ATM to take some cash out for the Limousine Bus back to the house. No dice, neither ATM nor credit cards are working and after spending several hours back and forth across the airport (and listening to all the tooth-sucking) Bryan Harmon, manager of the Barge Inn, came to the rescue. Like Glenn Davis, Bryan is one of those venue managers whom musicians are fiercely loyal to. He takes care of his staff, including the band. A couple beers and some food, a room for the night, and I'm on the Limo Bus the next day. Once again my setbacks are a blessing in disguise; I'm reminded just how fortunate I am to have the friends and family (and a few people who blur the line between the two) that I do.
For much of the time I had thought the trip was a mistake. Simultaneously, I knew I had to do it. Everything that happened, especially the worst of it, was going to happen sooner or later. The storm tore everything apart and gave a fresh start. While I was in Vegas my dad had said there was no point fretting over what I thought I should have done, that I would accomplish everything I set out to do except playing the dates and could do that next time and with better and sane guys. Business was taken care of, old friendships and family ties were renewed and after a long period of anxiety that had gotten the best of me, particularly around the holiday season, I was shown how many good people I have around me. On top of that I began a book, got an idea for a second one and ate lots of Mexican and BBQ. Not a bad month. Now to pay off the bill.