New York City: Ninth segment

Driving towards Boston, I’m thinking, Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, the start of the American Revolution, the birthplace of resistance to Tyranny in “The Republic of These United States of America.”

The show was at the Orpheum Theater, right in the heart of Boston, a block off of the Commons. The building dates back to the 1850’s, and the architecture is quite crafty, with attention paid to detail, which was the norm back then. The help all spoke that thick Bostonian accent, and I got a kick out of listening to them talk to each other. I had to pay close attention to understand what they were saying, but I caught on. Of course, they enjoyed listening to my Texas accent as well.

Through the years I returned to the Boston area many times with different bands. Whether the venue was the Orpheum Theater, the Boston Garden, or Foxboro, where the Patriots play football, the same loaders were there. I always looked forward to working with them, and happy they were still around.

After the New England shows next was my first trip to New York City in a semi, with a show at the Beacon Theater. My friend, Ross Ramey, who worked on the sound crew, and also drove semi’s, came to me and offered to ride with me, saying he knew a good way to get to Upper Manhattan and had been to the Beacon a few times.

As it turned out, it was a good idea. We were on I-95 approaching the Bronx, Ross was driving when the air pressure alert sounded, and the air valve on the dash popped out, as a leak in the air system had developed. Startled, we looked at each other with a big oh no. I pushed the air valve in, but it wouldn’t stay, so I kept the pressure on to keep it in. Otherwise, we would have probably come to a screeching halt.

So, here we are on I-95 heading into New York City with a critical braking situation, and I look into my rear view mirror and see rubber flying. One of the rear tires on the tractor had come apart and damaged the air system on the truck.

We’re coming up on a truck, and the brakes are not working, so I told Ross to pull on the trailer brake handle, and it slowed us down just in time. The trailer brake handle will work separate from the foot brake in the cab, and that was our saving grace.

As it turned out, the damage to the airline was just enough, so when you apply the foot brake, the pressure will cause a large amount or air to escape, but by using the trailer brake it avoided putting the extra pressure on the damaged airline and kept enough air pressure in the system to allow the trailer brakes to work.

We arrived at the Beacon an hour and a half late for the load in and got chewed out pretty good by Howard. New York Stagehands and loaders Union, local 1, is probably the costliest per man hour in the country, and they had been standing around for an hour and a half, so it was an expensive situation, yet we were lucky to make it at all.

Before the brake situation, we had been in stop and go traffic, where we lost most of the hour and a half. After unloading the truck, I got in touch with a mobile mechanic who came by and replaced the tire and repaired the airline. I must say, my first trip to New York City had a little more excitement than was necessary.

December 20th, 1976, Pure Prairie League opened up for Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Capitol Center, in Landover Maryland. I was very, very excited. My first big time Rock-N-Roll show. I rolled into the parking lot, at daybreak, drove around to tunnel entrance, and there was five Semi’s parked side by side, all matching trucks, and trailers, waiting for load-in to begin. What a site for my eyes. IT’S BIG TIME ROCK-N-ROLL.

The trucks would back down the tunnel ramp, in a timely manner, to the stage. The driver would open the doors of the trailer; the help would get the big aluminum ramp from under the truck. The first truck in is the rigging truck, first in last out, so his ramp was the only one used, and would be put back in its place under the trailer at the end of loadout.

I was scheduled to unload after sound check in the afternoon. I walked down the tunnel ramp to watch the crews do their thang, as they assembled the rigging, sound, and lights.

I observed for about an hour and went back to the truck to get my sleep for the day. Ain’t no way I’m going to miss a Lynyrd Skynyrd sound check. My alarm went off at 4:00 PM. I crawled out of the sleeper feeling well rested and sat in the driver’s seat for a little while.

The other trucks were unloaded and parked; orderly, side by side with the back of the trailer facing the tunnel so when the show was over they were in a position to back down the ramp as needed to be loaded.

Soon the Limo’s arrived with the band members and disappeared down the tunnel. I climbed down from my cabover, and fell in behind, getting half way down the ramp as the band members headed for the dressing room.

I eased out to the seating area, took a seat center stage, row twenty. One by one the band appeared on stage to do the sound check, the only other people out on the floor were the sound engineer, lighting designer, and a couple of the crew members. What a site for this Texan to see. I was ready.

After sound check, the band left in the Limo’s, and I went out to my truck to back down the ramp to the stage. All that was coming off was P.P.L.’s band gear. After the equipment had come off, I was ready to pull out, and the stage manager for Skynyrd came over and said we’ll just leave your truck parked at the stage so after P.P.L.s set we can just load the equipment up and be out real quick, before the Limo’s return with the band.

The show was a sellout, 20,000, maybe 22,000. Pure Prairie League was well received. However, the Limo’s arrived before the band was finished, and parked right in front of my truck. The stage manager came over and said, looks like we have a change of plans, we’ll just leave your truck parked here till the show is over and the band leaves. That was ok with me.

P.P.L.s gear was loaded, and with the ramp removed, and doors shut, there were about twelve feet between the back of the trailer and the stage. Plenty of room for backstage traffic to pass.

I had an excellent location, stage right, to view the show. The band played all the favorites, and the crowd heard some of the best Southern Rock music ever.

After the show was over, I was just waiting for the band to leave. There was a path between the truck and a brick wall. The wall went for about twenty feet, stopped, and the area widened. There were some trash cans turned upside down stored there, so I took a seat on one, waiting for the band to leave. I figured it would be a good location to see the band as they headed for the Limos.

I soon heard some shuffling, laughter, and loud talking as the band members made their way to the limousines. Ronnie Van Zant soon came into view with his arms around two fine looking ladies, and as they were walking past Ronnie noticed me off to his right, pulled up, and walked over to me, shook my hand, said he saw me out in the seats during sound check. I told him my name was Michael, and I was driving the semi for P.P.L. He said a pleasure to meet you and have a safe trip

As I watched the limos back up the ramp, I was stunned at what I had just experienced. A little more thought and I realized it was my one-year anniversary since my trip to Odessa Texas and my first show with Willie. On December 20th, 1977, fans around the world were saddened, and heart broke with the news that the airplane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd had gone down near McComb, Mississippi, killing Ronnie Van Zant, Stephen Gains and his sister Cassie, and others.

2 thoughts on “New York City: Ninth segment

  1. I hope I wasn’t too hard on you for being late to the load-in. What I remember best about the Capitol Center show was that we were staying in the hotel as Muhammad Ali and I rode in the elevator with the Champ. I asked him how it was doing and answered him I’m tried, real tried. Ali went on to defeat Alfredo Evangelista in 15 rounds at the Capitol Center on 5/16/76.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had lunch with Ross today. I brought it up and we both had a good laugh. Thanks for checking out my Adventure, H, with a story like that you need to start typing about your adventure. long live Cozmic Carl and Andy Fields. Writing about them is the best way I can think of to keep their memory alive! Later.


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