Rock slide on I-40, North Carolina – 10th segment.

I was driving West, through North Carolina, on I-40, toward eastern Tennessee, about 40 miles from the gig at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, at 6:30 in the morning. The call for load-in was 8:oo am, and we were going to arrive about 30 minutes early; Howard was riding with in the truck with me, snoozing in the sleeper. Arriving a little early would give us time for a little bite to eat before we started work.

All of a sudden the traffic in front of us was coming to a stop and I noticed that there was no eastbound traffic. I woke Howard up, told him the traffic had stopped, and probably an accident up ahead but really could not tell what was actually going on, as we were on the north end of The Great Smokey Mountains. The interstate had a lot of curves and the side of the mountain was real steep on our side of the road.

After about an hour, words finally made it back to us that there was a landslide and the rock was all  the way across the road, twenty-five to thirty feet high on our side.

By this time traffic was backed up behind us as far as we could see. There were cement barriers between the west bound and eastbound traffic, making it impossible to turn around.

Again, this was just before cell phones, we were already late for load-in and had no way to inform the crew of our situation. I guess one could say we were caught between a rock and a hard spot.

The slide was about thirty five to forty miles east of Ashville, N.C., and just a few miles from the Tennessee line. The heavy equipment did not arrive on the scene till around the lunch hour. A crane removed three sections of the concrete median so west bound traffic could turn around and head back east and find another route. that took an hour.

There were two lanes of traffic a mile long ahead of us and it took us close to twenty-five minutes to reach the crossover and turn the semi around.

I back tracked twelve miles and picked up highway 209 north as our alternate route.We stopped the first opportunity to make a phone call to relay what had happened and our expected time of arrival. By now the time was close to 4:00 pm. The show was to start at 7:00 pm and we had ninety miles to travel through mountains and winding roads. The show was moved back to 8: pm.

We arrived at 7:00 pm to a cheering crowd of college students and they were determined to make the 8:oo o’clock show time. The trailer was unloaded, the equipment was set up, and the Pure Prairie league came on at 8:30, and we even had a short sound check that the crowd really enjoyed.

Absolutely amazing. The crowd got to see how a show comes together, the sound check. and then the show

I was told the band put on a real good show, as I was ten toes up in the sleeper recovering from one of the most stressful days since I started driving big trucks. Luckily, the rest of the shows on this part of the tour were uneventful.

We had a break in the tour a couple of weeks later and everyone needed it. Jack  Mcormac rode with me to Chillicothe, Ohio. Jack could drive a semi so he helped drive along the way and was driving when we got to where the band stored their equipment. I was in the sleeper and felt a shift in the trailer that woke me up. Jack went to speaking in tounges. I said what happened? I clipped a light pole turning into the alley. I said holy****, and went to speaking in tounges.

Sure enough the light pole was ruined, Jack was not certified to drive a big truck, so I had to take the blame, real quick . The equipment warehouse was on one side of the alley and right across from the side door to the cop shop. Big bummer. Yes, no? It took a few months of phone calls then it went away.

In the last conversations with a city official, he spoke along the line that prior to the clipping of the light pole, the city was pondering the very fact the pole was cramping the entrance to the alley and were considering removing and relocating it, where it would not cramp the entrance to the alley and police station. The official said he would keep me posted. Never heard another word.

Jack and I made it back to Houston and unloaded the lights system for some changes that needed to be made before doing a few shows with Willie. I drove the truck to Austin and left the trailer backed up to the loading dock, as a little tinkering needed to be done on the sound system before going back out with Pure Prairie League in a few weeks.

I was able to spend a few days in Austin, doing my routine of good eats and good music. I ran into one of my long time friends I had known since the sixth grade at Club Foot, a roadhouse for up and coming bands (U-2), and bands that had peaked (Leslie West). Come to thank of it I believe it was U-2  playing that night (1977). I had not heard of them so I didn’t pay much attention.

My friend’s name was Carl Alex Steele, AKA, Cozmic Carl, one of the cosmic cowboys Michael Martin Murphy gave credit to on the back of the Cosmic Cowboy album. Cozmic didn’t have a lot going for him at the time. Over a couple of adult beverages and conversation, Cozmic looked me in the eye and said Michael D. (my middle name is Douglas) I need a job and I’m ready to get serious.

Coz you see, had been doing the High-ola Polka on the couch circuit for years, and had done a little work with local musicians. I looked Cozmic in the eye and said I would see what I could do. I told Coz to order up a couple of beers, I need to make a phone call to Houston, as I dropped a twenty on the table.

Jack had gone out on the road with another band so there was an opening. I called my boss Howard, to tell him about Cozmic Carl. He asked me if he had the right stuff, I said I believe he did, and he said bring him on down and we’ll see how he catches on in the shop doing prep for Willie.

I returned to tell Cozmic I had something for him. Telling Carl the good news gave me such a good feeling. I wanted so badly to be able to share my blessing of being in the music bid’ness with one of my close friends, and now it was happening. I saw Cozmic change before my very eyes, oh happy days.

I told him that we had a few shows to do with Willie, and we had part of a tour to finish  with Pure Prairie League and we needed to leave for Houston on Monday to do the prep for Willie, so get yourself ready.

I had no doubt that Carl would work out. He knew the Willie bunch already, was good friends with Poodie, Willie’s stage manager, and as I mentioned earlier, he had floated around the music scene in Austin for quite a while. As it turned out Cozmic had the right stuff and fit right in.


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