Once again my muse, Sista Smiff has inspired me with her post of her husband’s band and their odyssey to Branson in the back of a Uhaul. Back in the day, my band would play just about anywhere for a hundred bucks a head. The band leaders, DogDoc and I, occasionally got an extra $50 if we did the booking, hauled the gear and provided the “entertainment” for the ride to and from the gig.
That’s right, Knucklehead. We skimmed the till on you, but bass players only buy strings once every ten years and I got the damn 1099’s from bars that actually kept track of that stuff. Wow, that’s a load off my mind. I’ll pay double for my first shoulder sandwich at the Mothership.
But this particular adventure was during a period when Knuck was off on a cruise ship getting blown off course by various divorcees for a year or so. Our bass player at the time was a graduate of two prestigious private institutions of higher knowledge in Nashville and whose father, ironically enough, had been my child psychologist when I dropped out of one of the aforementioned institutions. (and not into any other institution, I might add.) My friendship with this bass player, let’s call him “Rocco,” has certainly been more valuable than my connection with either his alma mater or his pater familias, though I’m sure they’ve both been beneficial to lots of other people.
Our drummer was one of the funkiest white men on the planet. If you’ve gone to 3rd and Lindsley on a Wednesday night, you’ve probably seen him. In the five years I played with him, I never saw him want to take a break or miss a beat. He also beats the drums like he caught them in bed with his wife. But he is also a very soft-spoken man with a wry sense of humor. We’ll call him “Chambers.”
So the gig opportunity comes from somebody who saw us play at some wedding or bar mitzvah or reunion or hayride, but it’s a big money gig. To us, big money was anything over $500.00. This was for $600.00. The bad news was that it was in Memphis. The worse news was it was a surprise birthday party. The worst news was that it was in a really big room and we’d probably have to rent gear and get a truck to handle the gig.
Not one to want to spend extra money on gear or transportation, I began to scrounge. I had always been able to get both my and DogDoc’s guitars, amps, mike stands, effects boxes, monitors and the entire PA into my ten year old Legend with enough room to spare for exactly one twelve pack of beer and a couple of Atlanta Rhythm Section cds. Since the drummers and bass players were more transient within the band, we let them fend for themselves.
First the expanded PA. We began calling anybody we knew who had speakers and amps. We figured (correctly) that with all the liberal arts education represented in this combo, we could somehow piece together a sound system that would at least be very loud. Ultimately, we sounded like somebody dipping an electric guitar with a pack of beagles strapped to it into an aquarium full of electric eels, but at least we were f&%#king LOUD!
So how to schlep this gear to Memphis? Rather than rent a UHaul and have the other two band members follow DogDoc and me in the rental, I decided to ask if I could borrow one of our delivery trucks from work. My father used to be one of the owners of the company where I work, so I have occasionally been able to use a truck for a short haul during the weekend. During the day. In perfect weather. On surface roads. With a light load. Sober. None of those would be the case this time.
We met Rocco and Chambers at my house and loaded all the gear into the back of the truck. As we heaved this last huge speaker into the five foot high platform at the back of the truck, Chambers asked, “What does this lever do?” Oh, I guess that was the control to the Dolly Lift on the bed of the truck. That would have helped. When all the gear was in, there was a surprising amount of room left. The rhythm section asked if they really had to drive all the way to Memphis and back. I knew I wouldn’t be sitting in the dark on a wedge monitor for four hours, so I said, “Sure, you can ride in the back.” But being the scrounger that I am, we searched the basement of the band house and found a Coleman lantern and a moldy couch so disgusting that it had been thrown out of DogDoc’s fraternity house. Whereupon, we had salvaged it for just this sort of occasion. This couch was so nasty that the fleas on it had lice. So nasty that the cat wouldn’t crap on it any more. So nasty that DogDoc only slept on it when he was really drunk…like twice a week.
It was a dark and stormy night as we headed west down I-40. I didn’t have a lot of experience driving a commercial vehicle and had a lot of trouble maintaining my lane. Well, I had a lot of trouble maintaining in general. This truck wasn’t ever driven at night, and it showed. The windshield wipers swept at about 30 beats per minute and only served to smear bugs and road grime across my vision. The headlights were apparently two anemic lightning bugs encased in dirty glass. The big old truck crabbed like a sailboat with a stuck jib in the gusting crosswinds. I was really worried about the well-being of Rocco and Chambers as I heard equipment sliding around the bed of the truck, but I couldn’t turn my head to open the small hatch between the cab and the back. “Hang on, brothers,” I yelled through the steel panel separating us.
We came upon a weigh station and I wondered what to do. We were in a commercial truck, but I had no CDL. We weren’t hauling anything commercial and there were already at least six empty tall boy Miller Lite cans rolling around the cab, so I figured we’d run it and take our chances. I got DogDoc to open the panel so we could warn the rhythm section of our plans.
With a mighty effort he pried open the opening, and what to our wondering eyes should appear? A dim light illuminated the back of the truck, and I could see the shadows of equipment heaving back and forth as the truck swayed in the breeze. But was our rhythm section concerned? It was doubtful considering the fact that Chambers had a Hustler magazine held up to the Coleman so he could make out the latest story of a student at a small southern college in the Forum section and Rocco had his lips around a four foot bong that glowed like the embers of hell in the flickering lantern light.
“Yeah, we’re definitely running this weigh station…” So we crashed the gate doin’ ninety-eight. I said let them truckers, roll. 10-4.
We finally made it to Memphis and the address we had gotten from the back of the cocktail napkin at the bar where we originally booked the gig. Hmmm, this can’t be right, can it? Well, it was a big room. We had arrived at Celebration Station. I’d seen it from I-40 many times on the drive to and from Memphis, but i had never really realized what sort of place it was.
“Hello, Cleveland!” we bellowed as we opened up the back of the truck to a billowing cloud of green smoke. “Look on the bright side, guys,” I rationalized. “We’ve never played at a place with batting cages and bumper boats before.”
We unloaded our gear and prepared to soundcheck our Pink Floydesque sound system that we had assembled. We were told we couldn’t play until the facility was officially closed to the public and then that we shouldn’t play until the birthday boy got there, being as it was a surprise party and all. Oh good, we had more power daisy-chained together than we’d ever played through in a warehouse-sized room filled with somebody’s cousins and grandparents and we don’t get to sound check first. This should be good…
With nothing else to do until Myron arrived, we went to get some tokens and play some games. “Oh, those are only free to guests with armbands.” Nice. “I don’t suppose we could have any of that beer from that keg while we wait?” No dice. They did let us borrow a basketball and play H-O-R-S-E on an indoor court in between shots by paying customers. Stoned or not, Rocco kicked our asses. And now, we smelled really bad to boot.
Finally, young Myron arrived to cheers of “Surprise!” and polite golf claps from his family. Apparently, the lad was a bit of a hothouse flower with a nervous disposition. They let him walk around the whole facility, taking in the fact that it was all just for him while we stood in the corner of the basketball court with our instruments poised, debating what power level to start this unfamiliar PA at and get this debacle going.
We didn’t know what sort of music this fellow liked or how we would sound once the downbeat fell, but the straining beast that was Conscious Pilot could be held back no longer. We hit the first chords of “Magic Carpet Ride,” and several miraculous things happened at once. The power surge from the amps caused the lights in Celebration Station to dim noticeably. The curious out of phase sound of two guitars and a bass all tuned to three slightly different interpretations of the muscial scale blended in a peculiar shriek. Chambers’ double kick drum reverberated off the concrete walls a hundred feet ahead and slammed back into our faces, knocking us temporarily breathless. Myron and his family literally ran to the other corner of the buliding from the band and began to huddle around the birthday cake wondering how to get rid of these crazed heathens.
We came up with a suitable solution. We played 30 minutes, got our cash, stopped by the liquor store and drove home.
All in all, it was a pretty successful gig for us.