THE BOOK HAS BEEN PUBLISHED AND CAN BE PURCHASED AT, https://thehappytexanbook.com
THE BOOK HAS BEEN PUBLISHED AND CAN BE PURCHASED AT, https://thehappytexanbook.com
Synchronicity – One can consider an event synchronistic when an inner experience such as a dream, vision or other forms of deja vu, prepares you for the physical event.
As the month of June eases into July, the return of the heat in central Texas can be brutal.The summer of 1973 was no exception. I was living in a friends barn, just outside of Austin, working for a contractor framing houses by day, working on music with my friend Jim and his girlfriend Christi Lou, at night. Jim played six string and twelve string guitar, Christi Lou played the fiddle and sang like a bird, played six string guitar.
The music scene in Austin was just starting to take off. Eddie Wilson and friends had opened Armadillo World Headquarters in the old National Guard Armory building, just south of the river from downtown Austin, in 1970, and was bringing in national acts to perform there on the weekends, and local bands during the week. San Francisco had the Fillmore West, New York had the Fillmore East, and Austin had the Armadillo World Headquarters. Truly a musical oasis.
Willie Nelson had moved to Austin from Nashville in 1972, had played a few concerts at the Armadillo, was well received, and was one of the headliners at an outdoor concert west of Austin in the small town of Dripping Springs. The show was billed as the Dripping Springs Reunion, organized by four dudes from Dallas. They had hoped for a large crowd, but the event was not promoted well and maybe 10,000 folks showed up for the three-day event.
Willie decided to hold another outdoor festival at the same location, the next year on the Fourth of July, 1973 and promoted it as Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic.
Jim, Christi Lou, and I made plans to attend, and did so, leaving Jim’s place early the morning of the Fourth. Jim had a small blue mail truck that we had loaded up with our camping gear, food, ice chests, water, our favorite adult beverages, guitars, and Christi Lou’s fiddle, arriving about 7:30 in the morning.
Traffic was already heavy leading into the concert area, with cars parked on both sides of the road a mile from the site. Jim said, were not parking this far away, and kept on going toward the show site. We found a place to park under some oak trees right across the road from the main entrance, backed under the oak trees and set up camp.
The music was to start around 9 or 9:30 AM. Since we were early, we decided to play a few tunes. We were in the middle of a song, and I began to have this vision that someday I was going to be on stage with Willie. We finished the song, and I sat pondering the vision. After a few minutes, I just shined it on as fancy thinking since I had no desire to be an entertainer. I played guitar for the fun of it.
By noon, the sun was high in the sky and hot. I had been walking around for a couple of hours without a shirt on, was sunburned, and plenty thirsty. I went in search of water and located a series of water fountains that had been set up for us concert goers.
After waiting in line for a while, watching people walk away with weird looks on their faces, I soon found out why. It was artesian water, and the smell of sulfur, so I left.
I was walking toward a growth of oak trees for some relief from the sun and noticed what looked like a backstage pass, laying on the ground. I reached down, picked it up, and sure enough, it was a backstage pass that had not been used, as it still had the peel off paper on the back.
Not knowing if there was a particular spot that the pass should be worn, I moseyed on down the hill toward the backstage entrance. I noticed that many in the backstage area had placed their passes on their left leg, just above the knee, so I pulled off the paper on the back of the pass, put it on my left leg, just above the knee and proceeded to the gate into a whole different world.
As I walked pass security, I noticed that the passes were color-coded, and the one I had found was ACCESS ALL AREAS. I was just beside myself. I saw an old refrigerator lying on its backside with the door off, full of iced down Lone Star Beer, in cans. I reached down deep, grabbed me a can, popped the top, took a big swig to quench my thirst, and as I brought the can down, I noticed a couple of longtime friends, Jackie Smith and his older brother Dewayne, talking to the beautiful Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson. Dewayne is one-half of the Geezinslaw Brothers, known in the music bid’-ness as Son. The Geezinslaw Brothers, Sammy, and Son Geezinslaw were on the list of entertainers scheduled to perform at the picnic.
Needless to say, I was having an out-of-body experience. In the span of a few minutes, I went from being extremely thirsty at the top of the hill, to being backstage, with a cold Lone Star Beer in my hand, seeing a couple of longtime friends talking to Kris and Rita.
The first time I saw Rita’s face on an album cover, I was stunned by her beauty. Whew, there she was right in front of me. In unison, Jackie and Dewayne asked, how in the hell did you get back here? I said you would never believe me if I told you, said I’ll catch you later, and eased on, not wanting to interrupt their conversation with Kris and Rita, more than I already had.
This is just the beginning. There is so much more. See you next time. Michael – AKA “The Happy Texan.” 9/6/2016 10:04 PM
The picnic was a one day event. The 4th of July was on a wednesday, so the next day it was back to the real world, driving nails, framing houses, not knowing that one day in the not too distant future, I would be driving big trucks instead of driving nails.
During the Christmas Holidays, I visited the home of a family I had been around since little league, the Hodges. Robert and Danny had played L L baseball at the same ballpark and we’ve been friends ever since.
David, an older brother was home from Alaska , where he worked for a company that handled food service for all the camps on the Alaska pipeline south of Fairbanks. We were listening to his story’s of his experiences on the pipeline, when he mentioned he could not get good help up there. Robert and I looked at each other and said problem solved. We told him we’d be glad to come to Alaska and be the good help he so badly needed.
Robert, my older brother James, another friend named Moreno and I were ready to leave in a week. We traveled out to Anaheim, then on up to Seattle, in a gold 4-door Buick. Robert sold it in Seattle and we caught a plane to Anchorage, then on up to Fairbanks.
We took a little over a week to get there, and while we were traveling , the Environmental Department of Alaska had made the determination that the sewage facilities in the camps were inadequate for the amount of personnel living in the camps south of Fairbanks, so they shut them down.
We shifted to survival mode. We rented two rooms in a motel, The Tamarac Inn, that was probably built in the 1920’s. After a couple weeks, David called his brother and said he could hire one person, so the next day, Robert left for the big money.
A few days later the motel doubled the rates, to get the people already staying, to move out, so the pipeline personnel could move in, as Alyeska, the pipeline company, was footing the bill.
My brother James, Moreno, and I slimmed down to one room with 2 single beds and a rollaway. Moreno and I hired on with Haliburton, working in a warehouse where we mixed three components together in a big hopper to make a special cement for caseing the wells on the North Slope, that would expand when heated without cracking. It was necessary to heat the oil so it would flow easier.
James had gone to this church, and met the young preacher and his wife, and they had him over for Sunday lunch. He told them our story and they said there were two bedrooms upstairs we could stay in, just put a hundred dollars in the basket each week and that would be enough. Couldn’t have worked out any better for us. We were able to live comfortably and save some money. Turns out the preacher had to do the janitor work, so we took that over as well, as a show of appreciation.
One Saturday I was walking about town and noticed a poster that said there was a seminar that night that was going to touch on spirituality and psychic abilities. I immediately got excited. I am an intense spiritual person, and open to such thangs. I let the substance and the way it makes me feel, and a little discernment, be my guide in such matters. At the very least it would be interesting.
The school where it was being held was just a short walk from the house, and made shorter as a result of the excitement and anticipation I was felling, finally having something to do, and maybe meet some folks.
There was a good sized crowd when I arrived, with only a couple of seats left on the front row. I normally set in the back at such gatherings because if there is audience participation, it usually comes from the front. Now I had to make a choice. I didn’t want to stand up through the whole thang, so I walked down to the front row and took a seat, risking audience participation.
My Mother, who had made transition in 1972, had been spending a lot of time with me in my dreams, very vivid dreams, since I had been in Alaska. When the woman presenting the seminar was introduced, I was stunned at how closely she resembled my Mother.
Her presentation techniques made everyone comfortable, and there was a lot of audience participation, which created a high level of energy.
At the end, she said she would give private readings down stairs for 20 bucks. For twenty bucks I was all in. I joined her and told her my name was Michael. The first few minutes she spent telling me about my name. Then she started talking about guardian angels. She said everyone has one, most have two, she said I have six I could call on anytime. Well I’m thinking, maybe so, maybe no. I couldn’t prove her wrong, and she couldn’t prove she’s right, but it felt good, so I was Ok with that.
The session lasted about twenty minutes, a buck a minute, it all sounded good to me, so I thanked her for a wonderful evening of entertainment, paid my 20 bucks, and I was gone. For a five dollar cover charge and 20 dollar bill, it was a very, very interesting evening.
A couple nights later, Moreno came upstairs at two in the morning, and woke James and me up. Said we needed to come down to the church parking lot, the Northern lights are happening bigtime. Sure enough, we get down to the parking lot and look up, and there they are, a most wonderful sight to behold. Mareno, who had not smoked a cigarette in 3 years, turned to James and said , I think I need one of your cigarettes.
There was one very complete, a colorful curtain across the sky, complete with trim on each end, like the curtain on a presidium stage. There was another one that was halfway across the sky and had the same patterns as the first one. By the time the second one was complete, another one had started across the sky. This went on for a good hour. There were five in all, right above us and we could look between them. They were so complete and perfectly semetrical, with magnificent colors, and movements. I could even hear them crackle. I have never seen a picture of the Northern Lights as complete as these. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
During the next few nights, I had a couple of dreams that seemed to have a continuity between them. In both dreams I was unloading equipment, moving equipment around on a stage, setting up equipment, and loading trucks. Both dreams lingered through the next day and left me with the feeling and excitement that I was going to be in the music bid’ness.
It gets better folks, join in and enjoy. Michael, AKA “The Happy Texan”
It was late April, early May when I landed back in Austin, and spring was in full bloom. I was able to rent the same room I had lived in before the trip to Alaska. The house was a 100-year-old, two story home with high ceilings, on the corner of 43rd and Ave H, located in Hyde Park just north of The University of Texas, a neighborhood I had lived in since the age of three.
November of 1975, Randy Dayton, a friend I had met in 1970, came to the house to visit one day, with a question for me. It turns out him and his fiance’ Treva, were getting married just before Christmas and had a large party planned at the party barn, located just outside Austin, on Bull Creek Road, also known as Ranch Road 2222.
Trevas younger brother David, had a band and wanted to play at the party but didn’t have a Bass player. The question Randy had for me would change my life for the next 20 years. He asked, would I rehearse with Davids band and play at the party? I agreed, and we rehearsed about six songs David had written, and started the party with our performance.
The wedding was a success. I say so because Treva and Randy are still married to this day and have yearly parties to celebrate that fact. The main band to play at the party was Rusty Weir’s backup band The Filler Brothers. Todd Potter was the lead guitarist, and his brother Jerry owned Lone Star Sound and was on tour with Willie Nelson. Willie just happened to be playing in Austin that night, at The Chaparral Club. The club was not large enough for the whole sound equipment, so Todd borrowed some of the equipment for the party.
The Filler Brothers played a little too long that night, and Todd had a deadline to return the equipment to the Chaparral Club. He needed someone close to sober, and had a pick-up, to haul the stuff back to the club. Jerry had to travel all night to Odessa Texas, for Willie’s show the next night. My friend Steve Fooshee, who had grown up with Todd, said I got somebody, and the next thang I knew I was loaded up and headed for the Chaparral Club.
When I arrived, I went inside the club, introduced myself to Jerry, and told him I had the equipment from the party. He had just one guy working for him, a fellow named Doug, and they were both run down and wore out from the grind of making one night stands. I told Jerry it looks like you could use some help, and offered to help unstack the speakers and load the truck. From Odessa, they were going to Wichita Falls Texas and back to Austin on Monday.
After we had loaded the truck, I offered to drive the truck to Odessa so that the both of them could get some much-needed rest. Seemed like a good idea to them.
We left my truck at a friend’s house; they crawled into the sleeper, and off we went, headed for Odessa. I just wanted to help out, but little did I know that my life was already changing in a big way.
Upon arrival at the Coliseum, I backed the truck up to the stage (24 ft bobtail), left Jerry and Doug in the sleeper, and the stagehands and I unloaded the equipment onto the stage. I remembered how the stuff stacked from the night before, so we had the equipment stacked and ready to be wired, before I woke the guys. They had been asleep about 10 hours and were quite refreshed, and also very surprised and happy to see the equipment in place.
It was a new day. Jerry and Doug were feeling much better. We ran cables; they patched in all the mic-chords; we set up the mic-line, and Jerry and I went on to the floor and set up the Front of House (FOH) equipment. While doing so I heard a very familiar voice say, how bout that Mike Inman. There he was, Scooter Franks.
We were teammates on the Austin High School football. I was the center, and Scooter was my pulling guard, the season of 19 68 and we had some fun playing and talking trash on the line. We would come up to the line of scrimmage, and I’d say Scooter I got that man there, he’d say no I got him, I’d say no you get that linebacker, no that is your man. The officials threw a flag on us two, said we can’t be reaching across the line of scrimmage like dat. No penalty, just a warning. Charlie Crenshaw, who was the Quarterback, would be laughing so hard he could barely call the signals. I’d snap the ball, Scooter would wind up pulling, and I would get his man.
I had lost touch with Scooter after high School. He went on to play college football at Texas A&I, in Kingsville, Texas and was all-conference, I joined the Navy
I had no idea Scooter and his older brother Bo, were running the t-shirt sales for Willie, and had been for a couple of years. Seeing Scooter and Bo, two of my favorite people, was special, and this trip to Odessa was getting better as the day wore on.
We were ready for Willie and the band for sound check. No Willie, no band. Turns out the new R.V., custom built for the group, complete with red and black interior, and bullet proof had broken down in Ozona, about a 150 miles to the south. Eventually, Willie and the band showed up, and I was amazed at the number of people that stepped out of the R.V. There had to be at least 15 or more and the R.V. was maybe 28 feet.
Willie and the band gave the people their money’s worth, and after the show, Willie signed autographs until the last person was gone. I stopped working to watch Willie walk off stage. At this moment I realized that the vision I had at Willies first picnic in 1973 had come to pass, and here I was on stage with Willie Nelson. The goosebumps were starting up, and as Willie went to step through the black curtain at the back of the stage, he stopped, turned and looked right at me, gave me the nod, and a wink.
The goosebumps were so strong , coming in waves, so electrical, I felt so lite, I had to look down to make sure my feet were still touching the stage. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was working in the music bid’ness, and the dreams I had in Alaska would manifest.
About the third week of January 1976, I received a call from Jerry Potter. He told me Doug had left and asked me if I would like to work for Lone Star Sound, and tour with Willie Nelson? I said yes, and I was in the music bid’ness. Jerry said there was a tour starting in a few weeks with a lineup of Willie, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and David Allen Coe.
I let my boss Know that I was leaving but had two good carpenters looking for work and he could choose between the two, or hire them both. He thanked me, wished me luck, said don’t be a stranger, as we parted ways on good terms.
Jerry’s cousin, Jeff, had come down from Syracuse, New York, to help out on tour, and he hired Mark Proct, from New York City, who had been living in Austin for a short while and was involved in the early music scene here in Austin.
We needed to upgrade the sound system to accommodate the bigger venues the tour would be playing in, and that involved a lot of woodwork, painting, installing speakers, and electrical wiring, and soldering connectors, etc.
Before the tour started, we worked a few shows with Willie here in Texas. The Yellow Rose in Corpus Christi, Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio, Beaumont, and an outdoor festival in Nacogdoches.
During the show in Nacogdoches, it started to rain, and rain, and rain some more. The show site was a large open field, surrounded by tall, long needle pines, the soil was red sandy loam, and it got plenty muddy, mighty quick. The show was called off, we loaded up and managed to slip and slide our way out to the highway. On our way out we passed Asleep At The Wheel’s tour bus, bogged down to its axles, in the red mud.
Their bus was an old Greyhound double decker super cruiser, and they are big and heavy. The sad thang about their situation, they had arrived just before it started to rain. I’m not sure if they were pulled out that evening or the next morning, but I saw the bus later that week in Austin.
Those few shows allowed Jerry to educate me in the fine dynamics of mixing sound. My new job was mixing the Front Of House sound the audience hears. Jerry had just received this massive 32 channel Yamaha sound console for the tour coming up. It was eight feet long, and I’d never seen so many knobs and faders, and was very intimidating to me. It also had something called a matrix, and I had no idea what that was, nor how it was used, but I soon found out.
Spring was approaching, and it was time for the tour to start rolling. We took the equipment over to a nearby shopping center to load onto the semi. Concert Lighting, located in Houston Texas, was contracted to do the lights for the tour, was furnishing the semi and waiting for us when we arrived. We introduced ourselves; Howard Kells owned Concert Lighting; Andy Fields was a lighting Tech from England, Jack McCormac, lighting tech, and the driver was Jim Swartz, who went by the name of Bozo, complete with long red hair and quite a character. We transferred the sound equipment to the trailer, and we were ready to hit the road.
First show, Little Rock, Arkansas. Willie had just bought Dolly Parton’s MCI tour bus after realizing the RV was just a little too small for the band and band crew. The RV was passed down to the sound and light crew. There were seven of us, four on the sound crew, three on the lighting crew and were quite comfortable with that arrangement.
We rotated drivers on the way to Little Rock, but that would soon change as the tour went on to whoever could stay awake. We arrived in Little Rock a little after sunup, clear blue sky; the air was fresh, a little nippy, and I was on cloud nine with excitement. My first tour with three bands I enjoy and the verdict was still out on David Allen Coe, as I was not too familiar with his music, but would soon get to know.
We started load-in at 8 AM, and by mid-afternoon, Jerry and I were out at the big Yamaha 32 channel mixing console, sorting it out. I said, man, I don’t know about this, as I was feeling intimidated with such a big lineup. Jerry said don’t worry about it; he would work with me till I got the hang of it and felt comfortable, and I would soon have total control of the sound console and the bands sound in a couple of weeks. That made me feel better and took some of the pressure I was feeling away.
The first show allowed us to set the order of thangs, as far as working with stagehands and setting up the equipment, as we would be working with a new crew in each city and we needed to be very organized.
When the show was over, we brought down the equipment, and I helped Bozo load the trailer. We had to reorganize the load as a result of all of the band gear added. It was a real good workout that I didn’t mind, as I had wondered how I was going to stay in shape out on the road. Now I knew, loading the truck with Bozo. When we closed the doors on the trailer, it was two AM.
Now let me see, 8 AM to 2 AM, is 18 hours. That’s a mighty long day. I showered and got in the RV to find that everybody was laid out in the bunks. I guess it was decided whoever got to the RV last gets to drive first.
Jackson, Tennessee was the next venue, and just 205 miles away, I drove the first couple hours, then one of the other rookies took over. A 21-hour workday, and I was ragged. With about three hours sleep it was 8 AM, time to do it all over again
After the Jackson show, while Bozo and I were loading the trailer, I asked, how many hours in your work day? His reply, not as many as yours. Later I got a little noisier, and asked him what kind of money did truck driving pay? His response was just what I wanted to hear. More than you make. So both of those answers gave me something to ponder. I already had my commercial drivers license, and driving a big diesel truck, alone, no attitudes and stinky feet to deal with, which can be a problem on a crew bus,were very appealing to me.
Loaded up, we headed to Birmingham, then on to Atlanta, Georgia, and a show at the Fabulous Fox Theater built in 1929. There was talk that the Fox was going to close and the show was a scheduled benefit to help save the Fox, with special guest Dickey Betts from The Allman Brothers Band. The show was a roaring success. The crowd demanded encore after encore, and The Fox Theater is still open on Peachtree Street, Downtown Atlanta.
With a day off in Atlanta after the Fox show and a night at Rosie’s Cantina for the band and crew and a few too many Margaritas, the tour headed to Jacksonville, Florida.
We started having trouble with the RV along the way to Jacksonville. Jerry did some troubleshooting and a little tinkering and got us going again. After Jacksonville, the next show was in the very Historic city of Savanna, Georgia and the RV started acting up again. We needed a piece to the carburetor linkage that had come loose and lost along the way, so we removed the engine enclosure inside the RV, and Jerry operated the throttle by hand, while one of us drove on to Savanna. You do what it takes to make the gig.
We were a little over two weeks into the tour, there were quite a few folks from Dallas that were traveling on the band bus, so Willie brought another bus on to the tour, to give the band a little piece and quiet. Poodie, Willie’s stage manager, said we had a few days off between Savanna and Chicago and the crew bus was going to Chicago via Dallas, to drop those folks off.
At this time there were changes made on tour. Poco departed the tour, for reasons I do not know. Well maybe I do but I ain’t saying. Tom Paul Glazer and Waylon Jennings were added to the line-up.
The show in Chicago was at the Aerie Crown Theater, right on Lake Michigan. Scooter and I had not been able to visit much, so after lunch, we eased over to the water’s edge, to visit a few minutes, to reflect a little and catch up on a few thangs. Who would’ve thought a few years out of High School, we would be in Chicago, on tour with Willie Nelson and friends.
While loading the trailer, after the Chicago show, Bozo asked if I would ride with him, to the next gig to keep him awake. He said he had not had any sleep during the day and was pretty tired. I told him I would be glad to. We finished loading the trailer, shut the doors, showered; I told Jerry I was going to ride with Bozo, and we were on our way. The first couple of hours, I was in the sleeper, getting the restful sleep my body needs.
Bozo woke me up, asked me if I wanted to learn how to drive a big truck? I said hell yea! There was a rest area a mile up the road, he pulled in and went over a few thangs about shifting gears. He showed me where the shift pattern was on the visor, and the first thang he said, you only need the clutch to start and stop. When you take off, watch the tachometer, run the RPMs up to 2100-2200, then start your shift. Pull the shifter into neutral, and around 1700RPMs Start pulling the shifter into second gear, it will slip into gear real smooth before 1500 RPMs, and you are on your way. Same way with the other gears.
We got out of the truck; he went to the restroom, and I did a walk around, kicking the tires and checking the lights on the truck and trailer, making sure they all were working. When Bozo returned to the truck; he said to get on up there behind the wheel.
Climbing into the truck on the driver side for the first time, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. The view is very different in this seat. A lot is going on. You have the steering wheel, the handle for the trailer brakes, the speedometer, the tachometer, and a bunch of gauges on the dash. There are a red and yellow push-pull knobs for setting the parking brakes, an AM/FM radio, and cassette, and a two-way CB radio for communicating with other trucks as you run down the highway. The seat is air ride, with the push/pull button just under the front left side of the of the seat.
Most semi’s, have a Jake brake that is used when coming down a long steep grade, on the downside of a mountain, to slow the momentum of the truck, without having to use the truck and trailer brake. There are usually three switches. Flip one switch, and it shuts down two cylinders, and the compression from the two inactive cylinders will slow the truck down some. If one is not enough, then you flip the second one, giving the truck two more inactive cylinders of compression drag, and if that is not enough, then you go for the third. As the truck nears the bottom of the grade, you start flipping the switches back to the on position, and the cylinders will return to active, and you have all your power back, and your brakes are not smoking, and you just keep on trucking.
Bozo refreshed his log book, and I was ready to go. I gave the engine fuel as I let the clutch out, and we were rolling, eyes on the tachometer. I ran it up to 2100 RPMs, and started my shift without the clutch, just like Bozo said and around 1700 maybe a little less, and pulled the shifter into the second position without a scratch. Bozo said you got it, just remember how long you are when you pass someone, and into the sleeper he went. Wake me up when we get near a weigh station.
As a kid, my mother would drive us to Houston, before the interstate highway system was built, and all traffic would have to go through all the towns along the way. I remembered how the trucks would sound as they would go through the gears when taking off from a red light. They would wind the engine up to a certain sound every time they would shift. That sound was embedded in my memory. That memory helped me with the shifting, and I was confidant in my ability to shift without a clutch from then on. Trailer trucking 101, on-the-job training.
I was totally surprised at how easy it was to steer this big truck, with a 45-foot trailer. I had no problem keeping the truck between the lines. Jerry had taught me a secret to maintaining a 24-foot bobtail truck, centered between the lines, just keep your right foot, in the middle of the lane, and you will be in the midst of the road. I used that technique with the big truck, looked in both rear view mirrors, and sure enough, I was in the middle of the road, been using that method ever since. You can use the hood ornament or a crease in the hood; it’s just easier for me to use the foot.
I passed a few vehicles without incidents, and I felt pretty comfortable. I exited the highway a few miles before we crossed the Mississippi River, and changed places with Bozo, and he drove into St. Paul, and the arena, that was the venue for that night’s show.
After we had unloaded the truck and parked, Bozo showed me how to fill out a log book, and went over a few dos and don’ts. Make sure you have your log book up to date when approaching a scale house, have your medical up to date, and never drive past an open scale house.
After the sound equipment was in place, and ready for the sound check, there was a situation I felt like I needed to address. At the start of Willies set in Chicago, it was painfully obvious to me that Jody Paine, Willie’s lead guitar player, was having trouble with his tuning. When it was time for him to play his part for the first time, it was way out of tune. I felt bad for the guy. I could tell from his reaction; he was embarrassed. The spotlight was on him, and he was trying to back away from it, but it just kept following him. I pulled his guitar out of the mix, and after the song, he was able to make the necessary corrections, and I brought him back into the mix.
I decided to take the liberty to go into the tuning room and make sure his guitar was tuned, and just as I was tuning the last string, one of the cool breezes, that didn’t get off the bus in Dallas, came into the tuning room, asked me what I was doing? I explained the situation, and he fired back, the guitars are somebody else’s job. I fired back that he was not doing a good job, and he replied, don’t rock the boat. I said, O.K., I guess you can make sure that the job gets done so Jody doesn’t get embarrassed tonight as I tuned the last string.
When I asked Jerry what this guys job was, he just rolled his eyes, saying he’s one of Willie’s friends. This guy had been pushing my buttons since the start of the tour, and I just about had enough. I was worn out from long hours, and three hours sleep a night, for the last few weeks, and was just about ready to hit the bricks, and head back to Austin before he and I got to mean street. The thought of driving big trucks got me back on track.
Poodie, Jerry, and I had a little sit down on the crew bus, and that gave me an opportunity to get some thangs off my chest. Poodie said he knew I was just taking care of bid’ness. He told me Willie was real happy with the sound, said he would smooth thangs out. All of Jody’s guitars were in tune that night and each night after that.
The next drive was just a little over 400 miles to Omaha, and Bozo invited me to come along, and he would let me drive most of the way. He said that there would be a couple of scales open along the way, both in Iowa. One on I-35, just after Ames, and one on I-80, about 40 miles before we cross the Missouri River into Omaha. I took it all in, and the excitement was intensifying more each day. My mind was very clear. I wanted to be a truck driver, Fewer hours and more money, plus it was fun.
The last show of the tour was Red Rocks, Colorado. A beautiful outdoor amphitheater, with a capacity of about 10,000, located in the mountains just west of Denver. What a majestic place. The seating is set between these two large red sandstone rocks that are just about ten stories tall, and the views of the surrounding valley, along with the acoustics, from the top row of seating, is fantastic. The Load-in and load-out are a little tight and tricky, but still, an excellent place to end a tour.
The band and crew stayed over at the Holiday Inn, there in Denver, and after a good night’s rest, little by little, there was a large table full of us, for late morning coffee and breakfast. With Willie, and Paul English, Willie’s longtime friend and drummer, in the bunch, there was a large side order of storytelling to boot.
We had a late afternoon check-out, and the sound and light crew boarded the R.V. by mid-afternoon. Bozo was long gone, leaving as soon as the trailer was loaded, and the doors were shut, so I traveled with the crew.
We were traveling through New Mexico, around 3:30 A.M., I was at the wheel, and everyone else in the bunks, sawing logs. Moving At 60 mph, the left front tire exploded with a loud boom, scaring the hell out of me, and bringing everyone out of the bunks, with the R.V. swaying side to side, as I worked hard to maintain control. I was able to bring the R.V. to the side of the road safely, and we all piled out to check the damage.
We were in the middle of nowhere, and this was a couple of years before cell phones. There was no traffic, the spare tire had no air, and it took a while to locate the jack. The R.V. had four tires on the rear axle, so we took one off the left side and put it on the left front, and resumed our journey to Austin.
It was late May of 1976 when we loaded the bobtail truck for a few Texas shows with Willie and Band. We did Odessa again, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, and Mickey Gilley’s before he enlarged his compound and built the arena.
Gilley’s was big for a dancehall. You walk in, and the dance floor is right in front of you. Look to the left, and it goes about a hundred fifty feet, maybe more, of tables and chairs. Look right, and it’s the same thang. There were pinball machines along the front wall from one end to the other, like I ain’t never seen. The place was the size of a football field, filled with Cowboys and Cowgirls, drinking adult beverages like it was water.
The movie Urban Cowboy had not come out at this time, and I didn’t see a mechanical bull, but it could have been corralled back in a corner, and I just didn’t see it.
There was plenty of excitement and expectation, for the show that night. Leon Russell was on the bill with Willie, and he played first, then Willie, and Leon Joined with Willie for a few songs. Leon was a big favorite of mine after the release of Asylum Choir 2, with Marc Benno, in the early 70’s, and being able to work a show with him was one of the many great benefits of working with Willie.
After the show, the load-out was much more challenging than the load-in. We had to bring the equipment in through the front door, and out the same way. When the show started, there was not a lot of dancing, as people crowded the area in front of the stage to be as close as possible. As a result of the crowding, there was a lot of spilled drinks and some broken glass, in our direct path to the front door. We had to sweep a path to roll in our road boxes, then had to wipe the beer and beer soiled dirt, on the concrete floors, off of the cables, as we loaded them into the cable boxes. Do not read me wrong; I am not complaining, just an exercise that comes along with doing a show at Gilley’s, with Willie and Leon.
Speaking of a difficult load-in, load-out, the Sportatorium, in Dallas comes to mind. The ramp was steep. There was a hard left at the top and a hard right at the bottom that made it difficult to maneuver the lighting trusses. The place was a wrestling palace, the stage was the wrestling ring, and when it was full of people, it became very hot, everyone soaked in sweat. It could have easily been a wet t-shirt contest. Any show in Dallas was a sell-out with Willie playing.
There was another venue in Dallas that Willie would play called The Longhorn Ballroom, located in a rough part of town. A convenience store was located across the dirt parking lot, that I had gone over to for some reason. A fellow approached me, offering me a good deal on a watch. It just so happens that my watch had played out. He said it was a Bulova, so I took a look. Looked good to me, he said forty bucks, I said O.K. and bought it.
As I approached the ballroom, Bo and Scooter were standing outside and had seen the deal go down. When I got close, they started laughing. These two cats are extremely street smart and knew what had happened. I had this big ole grin on my face and was so proud of my new watch. I asked them, why are y’all laughing? Bo says I see ya bought a new watch. I said, yea, got a good deal; it’s a Bulova, and they both broke out laughing. Bo was laughing so hard he tried to speak but couldn’t. He finally was able to say; you better take another look. I looked, and what looked like Bulova to me the first time, actually said Bolivia.
The both of them were laughing so hard, they had tears in their eyes and had to lean on their suburban to keep from hit the ground, they were laughing so hard. I said I’m going to get my money back. The laughter stopped, Bo and Scooter both got serious. Bo says’s, were in the Dallas Badlands, get in the suburban, and we’ll go with you in case there is any trouble. We all got into the suburban and headed over to the store. Bo said, you know this could get real serious, as he showed me our defense. Bo doesn’t take any chances.
When the guy that sold me the watch saw me he headed across the street, so I hollered at him, hey I want to buy another one of those watches. He stopped and came over to where I was standing, and I said give me back my money, while Bo and Scooter were holding jiggers for me (standing by with the protection in case there was trouble).
He was shaken up and made the mistake of saying he had already turned the money in. It turns out he was selling the bogus watches for the store manager. I said let’s go, and we went inside the store. I said to the guy behind the counter, we know what’s going on here, give me my forty dollars back, and we will go away. To my surprise, he did just that, and we left.
I thought that was the end of that.No, no, no. Not with Bo and Scooter. For the next few weeks they called me Bolivia, and of course, not wanting to let a good, funny story go to waste, they felt obligated to tell everyone about it so they could have a good laugh as well.
I had gotten my money back, and knowing how a good laugh is good medicine, I was able to laugh right along with them. Every time I heard the story told it got better and better. The whole episode was a lesson learned, and I appreciated Bo and Scooter backing me up.
Due in part to aggravations, irritations, frustrations, etc., I had a big kink in my attitude. I decided that it was time for me to move on. After a very frustrating day during an outdoor festival in Corsicana Texas, I grabbed my thangs and hit the bricks, hitchhiking my way back to Austin. I was home just before dark.
I cleaned myself up a bit, jumped in my pickup, and headed for the Armadillo Beer Garden for some cold Lone Star Beer and delicious nachos, looking forward to some time off.
I sat in the beer garden trying real hard to make myself feel bad about the decision I had made just a few hours ago, and it just didn’t happen. I thought about Willie’s Fourth of July picnic that was just a few days away. With all the work involved in the production, there just isn’t any room for a bad attitude and mine had gone way south, I had made the right decision.
I had learned so much working for Jerry, at Lone Star Sound, and touring with Willie had given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the music bid’ness, plus I had learned how to drive a semi. I was very confident that I could find more work in the bid’ness.
A few weeks later I went to see a band from England called Trapeze, playing at the Armadillo. I had seen them in concert, opening up for The Moody Blues, a couple of years earlier, and was impressed with their music and performance.
After the show, I saw a very familiar face pulling cables, so I went over to speak with him. It was Howard Kells, the owner of Concert Lighting, who did the lighting on the Willie tour. Willie had gone on vacation after the picnic, so Howard picked up the Texas shows that Trapeze was doing on their tour of the states.
Howard asked me what I was doing these days; I told him I was loafing, and he asked me if I wanted to work for Concert Lighting. I said sure, and he hired me on the spot. An opportunity to learn a different aspect of show production, and I was ready for the challenge.
After we had finished the load-out, I dropped my truck at the house, grabbed some clothes and was back on the road again. Five shows, Corpus Christi, Odessa, San Antonio, Houston then Arlington Tx.(Dallas)
While driving to the next gig, Howard said he had the contract for Pure Prairie League’s upcoming tour in a couple of weeks, and I would need to come down to Houston and work in the shop a few days to set up the lighting design for the tour. I told him no problem, as that would allow me to become familiar with the tasks involved in setting up the light system. I had a basic understanding working with them on the Willie tour, but not the details.
Dallas was the last show of the Trapeze gig, Howard and Jack went back to Houston, and I rode back to Austin with the fellas from American Concert Sound. They had handled the sound for Trapeze and were based in Austin, just a few blocks west of The University of Texas. On the drive back to Austin I got to know the guys a little better, and Bill Stephens, one of the owners, mentioned that they always had work and when I was home to come by and work.
I spent the next week getting thangs in order. My pick-up needed an inspection sticker, paid the rent on my room for a couple of months, caught the weekend’s shows at the Armadillo, ate plenty of Tex-Mex at Matt’s “El Rancho,” and Chicken Fried Steak at Scholtz’s Garten.
I learned when you go out on the road; your favorite foods will be hard to find and definitely won’t taste the same, so it is always good to make the rounds to your favorite places, and that is what I did.
Come Monday, I had a head full of good music (Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen), a belly full of good food, a new inspection sticker for my truck, and I was driving to Houston.
Concert Lighting shared a large building with Houston Stage, so there was a large area to set up the lighting system The crew consisted of Howard. (The Boss), Andy Fields, from England, Jack McCormick, and I
We finished the work in a few days, loaded the truck, and I was off to Chillicothe Ohio to pick up band gear.
The tour was pretty intense. A lot of shows back to back. It was late summer, and once fall came around, many of the shows were on College campuses.
When you do a show on a college campus, there is always a bunch of enthusiastic college students to work as stagehands, to unload the truck, and assemble the sound and lights set up.
Driving in New England in the fall is quite a site to behold. Autumn was ablaze with color. Traveling through such beautiful countryside, I find myself in a reflective state of mind, with thoughts of thanks,and humbleness, for the many blessings that have accompanied the experiences in my life, good, or not so good, happy or sad, and luckily, I was able to maintain a balance.
Speaking of changes, working in the music bid’ness, having the opportunity to see the country, drive a big rig, and getting paid for it, has been one of the most significant changes, right up there with my marriage to Lisa, and the loss of my Mother, Marie.
Next segment will feature a show with Pure Prairie League opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Capitol Center and a very unexpected meeting with Ronnie Van Zant, Dec. 20, 1976.
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.