Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Beginning

I have started several blog posts with the phrase, “When I first arrived at Dirty Jack’s Theater in May of 1976…”. That is because it was such a cool and memorable time. I was suddenly immersed in the most stimulating and interesting episode of my young life. So, many of the memories begin at the beginning.

Bob Adams was a bass player and stagehand in Los Angeles when he met John Dorish. Dorish had worked a previous season at Dirty Jack’s Theater in Jackson Hole, and wrangled jobs for both he and Bob in the 1976 show, Paint Your Wagon. Bob and another friend, Paul Fox, arrived in Jackson early to build the rather complex stage set for the show. It was still late winter when they got to town, with lots of snow and cold. It must have been freezing in that old theater; I don’t remember that it had any heat at all.

They scavenged weathered lumber from an old sawmill outside of town and constructed the set with all its movable, convertible elements; a set that was used not only in Paint Your Wagon but also in some form in many of the following seasons. It got modified from one year to the next, but Bob’s engineering persisted. When I came back to perform in the 1979 show the set felt like an old friend.

When I first arrived at Dirty Jack’s Theater in May of 1976 [there’s that phrase again], the set was nearly complete, and as we all got to know each other we found that the set carpenter, Bob Adams, would be returning to LA; his work finished. I remember we were sad about that because we had all become friends. Ultimately, Bob Adams didn’t take off; he stayed for the entire season playing bass in the band.

I got an email from him just the other day, and I was thrilled. He is doing well in New York City, a member of the stagehands union working on shows around Broadway. He still occasionally runs into John Dorish, a successful artist in the city. I have invited Bob to write a post for this blog (as I invite all ex-Dirty Jacksters) and really hope he does. He always had a sharp, witty point of view. I’d love to hear his descriptions of the memories that stuck in his head from Dirty Jacks.

And that’s what its all about, isn’t it? Hooking up with old friends and sharing memories. I don’t mean to sound like I have one foot in the retirement home, or that I spend my days rocking on the porch, screaming at the neighbor kids to stay off my lawn. In fact, with the music my band now plays I suspect some people think I am regressing to my adolescence. And 50 is the new 30, or something like that.

But when I meet old friends from Dirty Jack’s and we talk about the things we did way back then, it becomes vivid for me again. I remember so much more detail. I can remember how much fun it was; I can feel it again. And then I can go into my studio and work on my latest recordings, carrying with me 30 years of love for music, pouring it out in the thump and shuffle of the blues music that runs in my veins.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Paul Fox

Paul Fox, the talented actor from the 1976 production of "Paint Your Wagon" at Dirty Jack's Theater, died the following year from a rare form of cancer.

I remember Paul as a solid actor and a great guy. He was my friend in that long ago summer. He was close to young Rhonda Willford, who kept in touch with him as he was ill.

Part of rummaging through ones past is finding that old friends have died. Doc, Nancy, Paul, and Richard Tierce (and probably others). Jon has gone to a place where he can't be reached. But they live on, laughing and singing in my memories of a creaky old theater.

Rest in peace, buddy...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

These Days

It was early this morning when I got up to do the laundry. It was still dim outside, and my girlfriend was still sleeping. I grabbed the laundry basket and my iPod and busied myself.

My iPod is a Nano 4GB with about 900 songs on it, almost all of them blues and almost all of them featuring blues harp. It also has a few non-blues songs from the era when I came of age; the early to mid seventies – rock and folk and country that I liked or was meaningful to me in some way. I set the iPod on shuffle and quietly went about laundering our clothes, by myself on a dark morning.

The song “These Days” by Jackson Browne came on, and I froze like a statue. Instantly, I saw a friend’s living room in 1975. I heard the music coming out of his stereo speakers. I smelled the patchouli and pot. I was there.

I felt that familiar, comfortable certainty that the best rock songs all had steel guitar in them, like Neil Young’s music. Sitting in my friend’s living room in 1975 passing the pipe and listening to Jackson Brown, I related to the music in a visceral way that is hard to describe. It was almost on a cellular level… The song “These Days” was perfect, and I knew it.

Bam! I snapped back to the laundry room, and my eyes welled up and I trembled for a moment. The song is about regrets, and Lord, I have some.

These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
For you
And all the times I had the chance to

Soon after I sat in that long-ago living room sharing a moment with Jackson Browne I landed at Dirty Jack’s theater, setting out to live the dream. But along the way there were so many things I forgot to do. Alcoholism slowly took over my life, and I could not understand why I was so violent and dishonest. All the times I had the chance to do something about it, I punked. Jackson Browne was warning me, and I didn’t listen. The song was perfect, but I was flawed; I didn’t really hear it.

I rubbed my eyes and finished the laundry, Eric Clapton singing from my iPod. My girlfriend murmured when I bent to kiss her sleeping cheek. She is from China, and has no earthly idea what this is all about. Another day…

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thirty years ago today...

...I arrived in Jackson Hole for Dirty Jack’s 1976 show, Paint Your Wagon. I didn’t own a car, so a friend – actually, the brother of a friend – drove me in his pick-em-up-truck from Powell, Wyoming through Yellowstone Park to Jackson Hole. He dropped me at the theater and drove off.

Within a matter of minutes I was buddies with Sean, Tim, Bob Adams, and the rest of the guys in the band. The Cowboy Bar immediately became our place. A man could sit in there on a fine early summer day and have a beer and a smoke, and contemplate the fates that had brought him to such a pass. Life was pretty frickin sweet.

The Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics were battling in the NBA finals on the TVs suspended from the knobbled pine ceiling in the Cowboy Bar. When I tired of the game I could watch the cowboys (real and of the drugstore variety) grunt and preen for the tourists. All the stools along the bar that stretched the length of the room were saddles, complete with stirrups and horn. Uncomfortable, but the touristi loved ‘em.

Silver dollars were embedded in the bar top. Behind the bar, as in any self-respecting honky-tonk, big mirrors reflected the patrons’ debauchery. One afternoon that spring I sat at the bar and noticed a cowboy who had had way too much to drink fumbling around under the shirt of his female companion in the next saddle. She watched it all in the mirror, as if it were happening to someone else.

That was thirty years ago today, give or take. At the theater we threw ourselves into rehearsals, focused on opening night. We played and sang the big production numbers over and over. Today, thirty years later, I was thinking about that.

So I clicked to and found the soundtrack to Paint Your Wagon. I listened to the song fragments they have there, and thirty years pretty much vanished. Most of the songs rushed back like it was last week: I’m On My Way, Wand’rin Star, Gold Fever, and, of course, They Call The Wind Maria. But the song that hit me hardest was The Gospel Of No Name City. THAT was the song we jammed on as the audience was leaving the theater. THAT was the song where I hit my best licks. It was the trademark jam for our band, and it was rippin’. It made me smile to hear it again. Actually, we played that song a LOT better than the band in the movie soundtrack. If you saw the show I bet you remember it, lo these many years later.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wherever You Go, There You Are

“...Out there in the spotlight, you're a million miles away.
Every ounce of energy, you try and give away, as the sweat pours out your body, like the music that you play.
Later in the evenin' as you lie awake in bed with the echoes of the amplifiers ringin' in your head, you smoke the day's last cigarette rememberin' what she said...what she said....”

[Bob Seger/Metallica]

The ’76 gig in Jackson Hole was not my first professional gig--if you use the metric that a professional plays for money. But I was far from a professional musician. I had invested hard-earned paper route money in high school for a Sears Silvertone Classic and taught myself to play. Sears had a catalogue--and catalogue sales in ’68. I went with the nylon strings and the wide neck, because I too had “chubby” fingers (like Doc) and not much reach. Bar chords were not an option, so I capitalized (as I could) on the rich sound of the “open” chords.” My first professional solo gig was a coffee house at the Student Union building in Idaho the fall of ’73. The pay was unbelievable ($35 for an hour set). I threw together some Irish folks songs, some (very unplugged) Bread, America, Lobo, Gordon Lightfoot, and John Denver and I was off and running. My following became steady—mostly friends—but no relatives (ha!). I soon picked up some other limited gigs in the area. Meanwhile, the college was doing their best to inculcate me into classical music--and I was fighting it. The voice coach did his best to bend slightly (and allowed me selections from Herbert Hughes “Irish Country Songs”), but my heart was not in the classics. I rationalized that I would probably have more real performance time than the high-brow classical performance majors before I left college....In that, I was correct....

The Spring of ’75, I had a bright idea to sit out a semester. College had burned me out. I had the opportunity to be the first one in the line (tracing the clan back to the late 1700’s) with a college degree, but I needed a break. I had a decent local work history and found a “position” (ha!) at the Star Mine outside of Wallace, Idaho. I was a “miner’s helper,” riding the ore train back through the drifts and loading ore cars. One doesn’t usually load ore cars—there’s a metal gate holding back/up hundreds of tons of rock. You open the gate and (hopefully) close it when the car is full. (I only had to dig out a car twice.) When the rocks get jammed (incorrect blast), one takes a 5’ metal bar and breaks them loose. Often, when the one rock that is holding up the rest breaks loose, it’s a slick maneuver to get out of the way. A very cleverly-orchestrated (no pun intended) way to lose an arm, or a hand, or the fingers one uses to fingerpick a guitar. The Star was the second deepest mine in the world and I typically reported at the 6900’ level (below surface). I saved enough money to buy my own Sunn PA system and was back to college.

I saw the advertisement for Dirty Jack’s Wild West Theater the same way that Rick did, on the bulletin board of the music building (now the Lionel Hampton school of music—isn’t Idaho progressive?). One of my buddies, who booked entertainment for the college (groups like England Dan and John Ford Colley) agreed to “engineer” a recording. We set up the recorder in his apartment bathroom (who needs reverb?) and I got a tape together. I can’t describe how elated I was when I found out I’d been accepted.

Doc Holt was a professional musician in the truest sense. That was his life. He said he started playing piano at 3 and seemed to have the “instrumental” ear. He could offer a decent rendition of the classics that he was able to copy just by listening. His forte was honky tonk/jazz and he was a showman. In the middle of a song he could straighten his index finger off the keys like he was shooting a gun and not sacrifice the driving tempo. On the very rare occasion we could get him to sing, we found a raspy, but “signature” voice that probably would have been a commercial asset if he’d featured it.

Marco Fleming was another professional. He had played all over Nevada and did a lot of “pick-up” work with any band that needed a drummer.

Bob Adams had done studio bass work.

Tom Dunham had done a lot of professional work and stayed deep into it since he was a music teacher.

Sean and Paul had done mostly college stuff.

And then there was Rick. We were all pretty amazed that Jon had hired one guy to just play harmonica...and then we heard him play....there was no longer any question—except where the hell Jon had found him! It’s also pretty ironic that he is the one who seems to have done the most with professional music....

In the Fall of ’77, I went on the road, playing second-rate hotel lounges throughout the Northwest and Canada (with another interlude at Dirty Jack’s in ’78). It was the stereotypical life of a musician....

“Here I am, on the road again.
There I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page....”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Big Mistake

One of the stupidest things I ever did was leave the show early in the 1976 season. It was mid August, and my girlfriend back home was growing increasingly insistent that we get married right away. She was kind of frantic about it, and I thought I loved her so I told Jon I had to go. He was not happy.

A senior member of the band took me aside and told me that if I did this – if I left the gig to get married – I would never play professionally again. He was right, sort of… I didn’t play seriously again until I got rid of her.

I packed my stuff in a duffle bag and rode my thumb through Yellowstone back to Powell, Wyoming. By the time I hooked up with my girlfriend she had pretty much forgotten about marriage. I knew then I had made a horrible mistake.

A few months later in Phoenix she woke up on a Sunday morning and told me she had been unfaithful. I cried, and asked her only if the guy was still around and it was still going on. She said no. I didn’t want to know any of the details. It was the beginning of the end, and I dumped her not too long after.

Over time I convinced myself she had been screwing around while I was at Dirty Jack’s. Later reports from friends confirmed it. The whole “let’s get married” thing was some kind of sick mind-fuck. I was an idiot for falling for it.

When I left Dirty Jack’s that August, Jon Stainbrook owed me a week’s worth of pay, and he never sent it. I could not really blame him, since I was leaving the show abruptly and leaving for the worst of reasons. Being an old war-horse actor, he was probably doing me a favor by rubbing it in.

I’ve often wondered what might have happened if I had stayed to close the show. Maybe a couple members of the band and I would have struck out for LA or Austin or Nashville to try our luck. Who knows where it might have led. Now, all these years later, after all the twists my life has taken, I’m still paying the price for that mistake, and I’m still trying to undo it. I think that’s part of what this website is all about.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Simple Blues Song

I just finished posting a song to my website, a song I finished recording today. I started working on it last weekend but I didn't like the way it sounded, so today I redid it.

It is a a little semi-acoustic blues thing we call "Just Messin' 'Round" -- because that is pretty much how it started. [begin notes for gear geeks] The harp is played into two Shure SM58 vocal mics plugged straight into the recorder; no old bullet mics and no stinky tube amps, the gear I normally use to get the ragged Chicago tone. The guitar is an acoustic Epiphone with a Dean Markley pickup through a Korg ToneWorks DI box. I progammed the rhythm section on a Boss DR-880. [end notes for gear geeks]

This song is a bit of a departure from our usual Hard Blues style, but I had fun creating it and I like the way it sounds now. This is a lot like I sounded 30 years ago in Jackson Hole.

Please let me know what you think.

Just Messin' 'Round

Friday, May 05, 2006


Dave showed up on a Wednesday. He drove to Jackson in a 1970 Cougar, of which he was very proud. He pointed out to me the 4-speed transmission and trim option that made it quite rare.

I had not seen or heard from Dave in a couple of years. We had once run wild together, raising hell and hitchhiking all over the Northwest. We split up in Wenatchee, Washington, when a situation turned sour and it was a good idea for me to get out of town fast. I made my way back to Wyoming.

Dave was on a road trip and decided to look me up. Mutual friends told him I was in Jackson, so here he was. It was awkward, until he said something like, “Hey, things got pretty fucking weird back then.” It sounded like he forgave me.

Dave had been my hero. He was cool and hip; confident and glib. He had an easy way with the ladies that I admired. He was like a magnet. Wherever he went people were drawn to him; wanted to catch some of his mojo. He was a minor guru of the hippie drug culture in a place that was the end of the line.

So, he showed up in early June of 1976. Marco, my roommate, had not slept in his bed since I’d been there, so I invited Dave to stay a couple days and crash in Marco’s bed. I was mildly nervous that Marco would discover this and get annoyed; maybe even stumble in during the night to actually sleep in his bed, after having a fight with his girlfriend or something.

We didn’t talk much about old times. We drank in the bars a little, and I comped him to the show. After a couple days Dave seemed eager to move on. As we were mumbling our goodbyes he told me he hit the road because he suspected his girlfriend was sleeping with a guy he knew; a guy who was known around their town for having a really big dick. This bothered Dave a lot, his voice kind of wailing as he told me the story. I thought he was more disturbed by the size of the guy’s dick than the fact that the guy was nailing his girlfriend.

Just before driving away he reached into the back seat of his car and tossed me a beer can cooler he had made. He was in HVAC or something, and he had fashioned a beer can cooler out of sheet metal and insulation. It was one of those hollow cylindrical things you can slide a brewski into. Then he rumbled off in his gold-colored Cougar and was gone.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Little Jewels

Tim’s post about flashbacks got me thinking. Emailing with ex-Dirty Jackster’s lately has caused more than a few random memories to percolate to the surface. I remember:

-The blue and white checked shirts the band members wore in the 1976 show.

-Taking a picture of the audience from the stage one evening right before the show began. I wonder what ever happened to that photo.

-The Hungry Hound, a little A-frame restaurant owned by Jon’s friend Al.

-Jon invited the band to some event; I think it was at his house. I asked him if his sister, Nancy, would be there, and he immediately said, “You horny bastard.”

-Watching Molly dance with some fancy disco guy at the Rancher. She was very good.

-Buying cigarettes at the Jackson Drug, right on the corner near the theater. It is long gone now.

-Getting so drunk I lost my car (for the first time.)

-How really nice Kathy Stainbrook is.

-Listening to Tim O’Reilly singing “Unicorn.”

-Playing “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” in the dinner show at the chuckwagon.

-The mouse mic.

-Bob Adams, the set carpenter, built me a little shelf in the band pit for my harps.

-Every time somebody brushed against Doc as he sat at his piano he would check to see if his wallet was still in his pocket.

-Scotty Graham’s floppy hat and strappy boots.

Mostly I remember how cool it was to be part of the show. We all lived and worked together, and mostly ate, drank, and partied together. And every night 400 people paid money to be entertained by us, and stood and cheered us when we were done. Those were heady times. Every time I stumble across another memory it is like finding a jewel.


It’s funny what you carry around with you: a scarred knee from a bicycle accident off the sting ray; a hurriedly-scratched phone number safe in your wallet where it will probably never see daylight; and laugh lines around the eyes....

August 1991: An outing. A Ch-46 flight into northern Iraq via the USS Nassau sitting in the Eastern Med. The next stop in the itinerary is Silopi, an expeditionary airfield technically in Turkey, but so close to the border that Dan Rather would claim he was reporting from Iraq. The war is technically over and the flight into Zahko is uneventful except for a nagging realization that the border landscape looks a lot like southern Idaho.
At the airfield in Zakho, off the main runway, but close enough to be in the prop wash, sits a Marine who has to be a reservist (because of the gray hair). Directly in front of him is a tripod easel. He is busy dabbing watercolor on thick paper. The Marine is Colonel P. M. Gish, a notable combat artist, and he is continuing his graphic depiction of combat Marines that began in SE Asia.

You don’t pick your call signs (nicknames) and you don’t choose your flashbacks....

August 1976: The weather in Jackson Hole is spelled “perfect summer” and the town is awash with people. There are the locals, who brave the economy even off-season, there are the “turkeys” (seriously affectionate term for the tourists), and there are those of us who come in while the nights are still chilly and stay on through Labor Day.
The town is also awash in art galleries. Most of the art is western art, depicting the traditional cowboy or the majestic landscape. Often one will find an old man, stationed in various locations around the town, sitting at a tripod easel, busy dabbing oil on canvas. My first sighting, I studied the canvas over his shoulder and immediately assessed him as a hack. The canvas was a mess of bright colors that made no sense, apparently random in their placement. And then I stepped back. The oils took on an almost photographic quality.

The man is Archie Teater (I had to ask Nancy [Stainbrook]). His resume is impressive and he is maybe one of the more famous to grace Jackson Hole. He had a year-round studio in Southern Idaho designed for him by Frank Lloyd Wright. His love seemed to be landscapes. His career spanned over fifty years, and we were able to glimpse the twilight years in 1976 as we’d come across him painting or view his work in his gallery just down the boardwalk from Dirty Jack’s Wild West theater.

Early in his career he studied in New York, and as a uniquely prolific painter, he capitalized on those settings, an absolute stark contrast to the Tetons of Wyoming. One of his paintings from that period was called simply “Central Park.”

As Bob Adams (the bass player) once said, “just play the damn song.”

One of our beloved cast members was John Dorish. John played the Indian against Jon Stainbrook’s Ben Rumson. John was the perfect straight man. In costume, no one would believe he hadn’t just left the reservation. He seemed to have the funniest lines—so much so, that as the summer went on, Jon and Kathy expanded his part. There was a shtick to counter Jon’s Pollock jokes about seeing a bug and being told to “squash it.” The line devolves into a misunderstanding between “squash it,” and “squaw shit,” and a tag line in the grunting verbals that became a trademark for Dorish of, “squaw shit?,” “ugh--no beetle.” Or the Indian who drank so much tea, he died in his own tea-pee. Stainbrook and Dorish would spin up the audience and those nights became the “long” performances.

Rumor among the band and cast was that John Dorish was a painter...

He is actually a quite successful artist.

We are hoping he wades into this site and shares some memories of Dirty Jack’s--
and maybe some flashbacks...