The Dudemobile-my 2003 Ford escape with 195,000 miles on it- and I are getting on the old superslab–I-40- tomorrow at dawn for the West Coast run. Do we have enough miles left on us? We better..
I had a request for an old Clover road story, so here’s some of the same Interstates–from 35 years ago, when four hours of sleep was more than enough…
I hope to see you at the San Anselmo Playhouse Oct 14-15th..a real reunion , including Mitch Howie and Gary Vogensen..and all of you, my old friends from those days of yore..!!!
here’s an excerpt from the book: BY THE WAY****************BUY THE BOOK AT BARNES & NOBLE OR AMAZON ONLINE HARDBOUND OR FOR KINDLE OR NOOK..PLEASE REQUEST THAT YOU LOCAL BARNES & NOBLE STOCK THE BOOK!! THEY ARE RESISTING BECAUSE MY PUBLISHER IS A SMALLER COMPANY…*********************
On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again…
Willie Nelson (of course)
We were happy to be back in the land of hot showers and real cheeseburgers again. We hadn’t been home for months. We hung out with our girlfriends and our pals. I got to see my goofy dog Abu, who had been with my dad. I’d missed him a lot. He was my solo-camping buddy. He and I had spent a lot of hours, just the two of us, driving down rutted dirt roads in search of fishing spots and seldom-visited wild places in the mountains, where he could chase deer and I could chase trout. Neither of us did as well as we’d have liked at those pursuits, but we were great companions. He’d flop his big lab-shepherd body down next to my sleeping bag under the stars. But there wasn’t enough time for a camping trip right then. Clover squeezed in a softball game or two and then we were off in a station wagon to conquer America.
We had a hugely important Friday night headlining gig at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. Wow. Clover was getting somewhere now. The Roxy epitomized what the L.A. scene was all about: long legged, enhanced-bosomed blondes, glad-handing handsome guys with sunglasses on at midnight, lights, camera, action. It was the most-happening L.A. gig of the time. There was buzz enough about us to pack the place with worthies: record company A&R types, publishers, publicists, wannabe singers, their managers and entourages, and dozens of women who were so pretty and flashy it was hard to know whose cleavage to stare at next!
We played well. It was L.A., baby. Bright lights, valet parking, drop-dead waitresses, perfect teeth, big boobs, phony smiles, handshakes with a dagger in the other hand. Man, it was all good. Jacko and Dave were pleased. People we didn’t know plied us with coke and scotch and told us how great we were and how we should be doing business with them instead of so-and-so, who was a hopeless loser. It almost made you want to stay up all night and figure it out over a bunch of drink and drugs. Anyway, it was a fun night and we were off to a good start for our American tour.
What we were actually off into was the heat of summer in a rented station wagon and a Hertz truck full of gear. The Friday night Roxy crowd didn’t need to know the details. Not exactly a Silver Eagle bus with a built-in stereo and champagne on ice, but that would come soon, we hoped. We headed east, to Phoenix, Albuquerque. Houston, New Orleans, Miami. It’s a big country and we were going to drive it, seven wankers to a wagon with the back seat folded out backwards, legs hanging out in the blazing sun.
CB radios were all the rage that summer. Roll that truckin’ convoy, son. We had one to communicate with the roadies in the Hertz truck and so we could hear the latest info on the “Smokies.” Break one-nine, this be that one Johnny Reb. Mercy, how it be lookin’ over your donkey? Kick it back. [crackle, buzz] How ‘bout you, good buddy? You got the Okie Drifter. There be a smoky handing out green stamps at the three-six-two, don’chu see. Mercy, I be eyeballin’ a seat cover in a red four wheeler at the three-five-niner….
We were quite taken with this expression of Americana. We all had “handles.” Frank, who drove the station wagon, was the “Cuban Cutie.” I was the “California Kid.” John McFee had the best: “That One Wacko Shithead.” Huey especially got into it; he’s very good at lingo and regional accents. He’d been talking a bit like a Brit, everything from cockney to member of Parliament, but letting the whole Brit approach color his language. In keeping with his perfectionist personality, he switched over and did CB lingo just right. He didn’t want to be mistaken for, say, a rock musician in a station wagon. He did a funny bit where he hit his throat repeatedly with the side of his hand while going on in redneck-ese about needing a new set of load-levelers for his rig. He sounded like a guy thumping down a washboard road in a rig with bad shocks.
In Albuquerque, we had a gig at a roadhouse way out in the hills, which was called off because nobody—and I mean not one person—showed up. The club owner, a good-natured guy, gave us broke musos a couple of fifths of scotch. Huey uncharacteristically drank heavily and flipped over a foosball table at the club. Oops, sorry, we’re just leaving, thanks for the booze man. Sorry about the table. We were staying at a big old motel just outside the Albuquerque city limits, a place that had an after-hours bar scene. We were told that politicos and organized crime figures hung out there, along with numerous hookers. It was kind of like Phil Lynott’s mom’s place in Manchester, but on a bigger, dark Cadillac, Wild West, New Mexico scale.
It was a hot June night. Doomed bugs circled in the parking lot lights. The scotch and beer had been flowing for hours. At three in the morning, Huey somehow managed to be out wandering around under those lights in the packed parking lot stark naked, bottle of scotch in his hand, shouting CB lingo. “Kick it back! Good Buddy! How it be looking over your donkey?” He decided it would be funny to break those little glass panels that say Break Glass in Case of Fire. So he broke them with his fists, shards of glass tinkling on the concrete. It was a wonder he didn’t get his hands all cut up.
It was very funny, but eventually we stopped cracking up and McFee—the great calm voice in the night—talked him in, and Huey finally crashed out in McFee’s room. But John liked having fun at Huey’s expense, so he put the finishing touch on the evening by turning a mattress over on the sleeping lad, and packing his balls in ice. John found this to be wildly hilarious, as did we all. Today, we’d have captured it all on our cell phones and it would have been on YouTube by dawn. Thanks to that kinder, gentler, technology-deficient age, Huey was spared further humiliation for the moment.
The next day we had to drive all the way to Houston. That’s like, fourteen hours. The merciless Texas summer sun beat down on the station wagon. Huey sat in the back, trying to sleep it off. The poor guy was not feeling well at all. After observing him puking on the side of the road, one friendly trucker called on the CB and said gravely, but with deep compassion, “Somebody needs to tell that boy to keep his liquor down.” Huey didn’t drink any more scotch for a long time. Like, maybe three days.
McFee was a great practical joker. Because he was outwardly so calm and humble, he could pull off major shit on the unsuspecting. One night he called our room and told Huey to come to his room “right now,” he had to show him something.
Huey had just gotten out of the shower. He said, “Can’t it wait?”
McFee said, “No, you’ve got to see this now!”
If McFee said it’s important, then, so be it. Huey put a towel around his waist and stepped out into the motel hallway to John’s door and knocked. John opened the door a crack and grabbed Huey’s towel, whipped it off his waist, and slammed the door shut!
Everyone else, including me, Huey’s roommate, had previously agreed not to let Huey into our rooms. Huey raged around naked in the hallway for a few minutes until John relented, laughing insanely. John always had this that-was-fucking-funny, don’t-you-think conspiratorial look in his eyes. Huey had to laugh, too.
New Orleans, just like I pictured it. America’s Alcoholic Disneyland, where the normally straight-laced Protestants of the Midwest and the South funneled on down the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers to become momentary Catholic–Voodoo worshippers at the fire-fountain altar of the Big Easy. There were guys who were probably perfectly responsible accountants back home stumbling zombie-like down Bourbon Street at two in the morning, bare-chested with their t-shirts in one hand and a drink in the other. Normally staid, church-going, Jesus-loving, maybe not-so-sexually-repressed-as-you-might-have-imagined secretaries flashed their breasts and threw strings of beads from wrought iron balconies. The tide of hurricane-fueled humanity slogged past local passed-out drunks asleep in their own vomit. This was real, not Disney animatronics. Pirates of Bourbon Street. It was a wild opportunity, obviously, and quite a surreal scene. At our club gig on the strip in Fat City, a big-busted gal with an outrageously huge cone-shaped bouffant hairdo boogied down on the dance floor to a funky Naw’lins groove while a two-inch-long burgundy-colored palmetto bug walked around her hair like a living brooch.
We got a small cash bonus, which was unheard of, and three days off. It was Fourth of July weekend. I spotted a real hot but straight-looking Dallas-business gal at an oyster bar. I told Sean Hopper I was positive she wouldn’t even talk to me. But I struck up a conversation and we ended up eating a lot of oysters and having a big ol’ Naw’lins time together. She had a penthouse room in the Sheraton with a view of the whole city. It was pretty up there. There were fireworks and forked lightning in the hot Louisiana sky.
After three wild days, including some more balcony-based shenanigans involving Ciambotti, fireworks (M-80 barrel bombs), and a police car, somehow Frank corralled us all and we headed off to Miami, another long-ass drive. There were seven of us in the station wagon. McFee and I generally sat in the rear seat that faced backwards, with the tailgate down so we could stretch our legs out. It was otherwise a really cramped ride. No one wanted to sit in the middle of the middle seat. You had to call “shotgun” first thing every day to sit in the coveted front passenger seat. Woe be to the guy who was too hung-over to think of calling at least a window. But John and I were the only ones who wanted to ride looking backwards.
Ciambotti, who was of course the last of the wayward partiers to be rounded up by Frank, was sitting in the middle of the middle seat the day we left New Orleans. We headed east, cruising along I-10 through the Florida Panhandle. It was an endlessly long, straight road, not too much traffic. It was a hot, muggy, cloudy day, with thunderstorms brewing. We came up on our equipment truck, with Cinque, Massive Roggie, and Lybo grinding along at fifty-five. Ciambotti lit a bottle rocket in a coke bottle and fired it out the window from his middle seat as we drove past the truck. It shot out and hit the truck right on the passenger door. Wow, what a good shot! But it was dangerous. We were going, “Fuck, Ciambotti, you’re going to get us busted!” Frank was holding our stash of pot and a little of the white powder that makes those fourteen-hour drives bearable.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, there was a Florida state trooper lighting us up. We pulled over on to the shoulder. McFee and I were sitting with the tailgate down, facing the square-jawed guy in his flat-brimmed Smokey the Bear hat as he walked up. He looked like an actor perfectly typecast for his role: thick-neck, military buzz cut, arms like legs. He looked like a big, mean version of Porky Pig. With a gun and a badge and cuffs on his utility belt and a shotgun in his car. Probably played tackle at Florida State.
He drawled, “Which one of you fellers been shootin’ off fahr’wuhks?” He didn’t sound all that friendly.
McFee, his hair hanging halfway to his waist, was wearing three-inch-long abalone earrings, a wild Hawaiian shirt, outsized women’s sunglasses, and ripped-up shorts. He said, “I didn’t do it, officer,” from behind his Foster Grants.
The trooper glared at us. “Don’t get smart with me, boy. You watch your mouth. You’re gonna wind up in a whole heap a trouble!”
Holy shit! He meant it, didn’t he? We shut right up. Frank was out of the car, being cool, smiling and explaining that it was a bottle rocket, that it was our equipment truck we’d fired upon, and that we knew we shouldn’t have done it. Our truck rolled up. So did four other state troopers. We were way fucking surrounded. Our hearts were thumping. Visions of smirking Southern jail wardens danced in our heads. We weren’t in West Marin anymore, Toto. We were fifty miles from some nasty lockup in a small town in the cypress swamps somewhere west of Tallahassee. In 1976, long-hairs could still be still mistaken for commie- or faggot- or nigger-lovers in this part of the world.
The central-casting troopers were conferring, trying to figure out what do with us, when a blue dodge sedan rolled up and a short, beefy guy with long, curly hair, like an afro almost, and a ‘38 in the waistband of his plaid bermudas hopped out. He was the ATF agent who’d seen the incident and two-wayed the cops. He’d thought it was rednecks shotgunning a hippie truck. He was cool, thank God. He obviously outranked the troopers, who didn’t want to deal with us anyway. We hastily autographed an album for him and we all apologized profusely to all the burly law enforcement guys. We were released from our doorway to hell and drove off at the speed limit, with the windows rolled up. When I drive around the South today and see people being routinely searched for drugs I have the feeling that we skated that muggy afternoon.
Johnny saved the rest of the bottle rockets so he could rain them down on Raleigh later from a hotel rooftop.
We wended our way through the South. The weather was unbelievably hot. And so were the Southern girls. “Where y’all partyin’ t’naht?”
“I don’t know. Where are we all partyin’ t’naht?”
Sounded like fun, and it was. We headlined clubs, which were more or less full, depending on the night, and also opened at a few arenas for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, a great, great band. The audiences weren’t as doggedly hostile as the young British males had been. There were a lot more girls at these shows, which worked well for us handsome lads. It makes a big difference when you walk out onstage to an enthusiastic welcome instead of a sullen one. Occasionally we lit it up, had fun onstage, and got some encores. We were getting to be a real solid big-stage band. We wished our friends back home could hear and see us the way we were playing. We assumed that they would. eventually.
After nights of fireworks and crazy young belles in Atlanta, Raleigh, and other sweaty southern locales, we finally headed north and eventually hit New York. There we got to play the Bottom Line, one of America’s most prestigious gigs, a New York counterpart to the Roxy. We also opened for Alice Cooper, of all strange bedfellows, at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
The Big Apple was a trip. We squeezed into a limo, which wasn’t big enough for all of us, but no matter, it was out first limo, and were driven somewhere to meet our new manager. Our new manager? Was anyone going to tell us we had a new manager? The streets of New York produced quite an impression on all of us. There were so many people, all nationalities, giant buildings, brownstones, delis, Arabs selling stereos, yellow taxis doing sixty down the avenues, the Empire State building, Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village, and Central Park. It was coolly overwhelming. Just put an actor or two and a cameraman out there and you have a movie. Amazing women walked by, right next to bums and stockbrokers, all colors, shapes, and sizes. We did meet our new American manager, Alan, and witnessed a gun battle between police and a gang in the same day. We did a photo shoot with Annie Leibowitz. We were riding high.
Clive Davis, the legendary head of Columbia Records, was at the Bottom Line gig. The room was packed with music biz types and members of the press. We played pretty well, but towards the end Ciambotti and Mickey Shine got into an argument about something onstage. About what? Who knows?
“You’re too fuckin’ loud.:
“No. You’re too fuckin’ loud.”
We’re talking about two guys who could be so stubborn that they’d have a public fight during one of our most important shows ever. Johnny started smashing Shine’s cymbals with the neck of his bass and yelling, “Fuck you!”
Shine, a New Yawker himself, was yelling, “Fuck you!” back.
Hey, no worries lads, it was just fuckin’ Clive Davis, one of the most important figures in American pop music sitting ten feet away, in the front row!
Clive thought this was great, authentic rock-n-roll theater. Or so we hoped.