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....”