Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How I Got My Blues Name

Introduction by Edwin Holt

At the age of twenty one, I would begin one of the most interesting journeys of my life. And that journey would begin on Grand Avenue leading me into the depths of South Dallas. For my entire college career in Texas, I played full time in an all black five piece band in just about every juke joint on the South side of town. I don't elaborate on a great deal of these memories as for me, they are very personal. Things that I hold dear to my heart and selfishly, my memories are the only things that I can call my own. When I got married, those days began to slow and the idea of me staying out until three in the morning would become a very hard sell to the wife.

However, before I left my weekend ventures in the ghettos of South Dallas, I brought someone else with me. David Brashier was and still is my guitar player and is probably the most underrated guitar man in Dallas. David essentially took up where I left off within this diverse cultural scene and like me, found this world to be just as entertaining.

On Monday of this week, I received a piece that he had written detailing three years of experiences in South Dallas. It brought back so many memories that I decided to post it this week. They are his memories and I can promise you they are all true. As mentioned, my memories will stay in my head until they put me in the ground but David has generously granted you, the reader, permission into a world that we lived in for a number of years.

Enjoy the read and my hats off to an open heart from David Brashier, the big brother I never had.

How I Got My Blues Name
by David Brashier

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was eleven. At this point, that’s 41 years. It’s so much a part of what I have done for so long that I cannot imagine it not being a part of my life. I took about a year’s worth of lessons when I was twelve at the Boyd Guitar School in Oak Cliff, Texas. This was the place of one of my great regrets in life.

Mr. Bill Boyd was a large, bald, bowling pin shaped man who was always in a coat and tie. His shop was a small storefront on Beckley Avenue that was painted 1950’s elementary school green, adorned with a few posters of movie stills of singing cowboys from the forties. I had one lesson with him, my first. Then I was given the choice of continuing lessons with him or with his assistant, Jesse. Jesse was a thirty-something hispanic guy, who taught more contemporary songs than Mr. Boyd was willing to teach. Venus, Light My Fire, Proud Mary and so on. Given the choice between songs like that and Pennies from Heaven, September Song, Autumn Leaves and countless other songs that my parents would listen to, I made the natural choice to rock. Not only were the songs more to my liking, they were easier to play. So, most of the chords were right out of the can, and I never had to learn many of the finger numbing nuances of the augmented and diminished chords that Mr. Boyd’s material was fraught with. I’m certain that I would have become a better player had I chosen differently. But I’m not at all certain that I would have had as much fun.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned who Bill Boyd was. Those posters in his studio were actually photos of him and his brother Jim. They were founding members of The Cowboy Ramblers, who recorded a big western swing hit called Under the Double Eagle in 1935. Bill was featured in a half dozen cowboy films, made hundreds of recordings on the Bluebird label, performed with the Lightcrust Doughboys, Jimmy Rogers and others. The Cowboy Ramblers had their own popular radio show, The Bill Boyd Ranch House. Bill was honored for his contributions to radio with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Who knew? Not me. At the time I was only interested in learning the bridge to There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise. In addition to taking the easy road to learning the guitar, I also missed out on a wealth of stories and history that I was not even aware of until almost twenty years after the fact.

But this is not the story of my entire guitar playing history. It is more about how I got my blues name. 

In high school, I played in a mostly covers band that did a bunch of Allman Brothers tunes, and various other Southern rock songs. Then in the early eighties, I was in an all originals band called the Symptoms, that was, well, eighties music. We were heavily influenced by The Police, but were more of an Americanized version. The Security Guards would have been an apt name. It was tons of fun, and the very talented guys I played with are still lifelong friends. After college, careers and marriages called, and we all set off along those paths. I still continued to play, but not publicly. I also went through a solo folk performance phase, which was enjoyable, but I don’t think I was ever truly committed enough to it to pull it off. Throughout all of this, I always had an appreciation for the blues, even though it wasn’t deeply reflected in the material I was playing and writing at certain times.

In the nineties I would occasionally go to blues jams. That was fun, but also kind of cliquish. I’d wait around for two or three hours listening to shuffles, slow ones followed by more shuffles, waiting for a chance to get up and do the same. And I was at the mercy of the emcee as to when, or even if, I would play, and would invariably get stuck with drummers who overplayed, or bassists who played once a year and tonight was the night. Needless to say, it was not very gratifying. At some point in 1994, I met a fellow graphic designer and singer/harmonica player named Edwin Holt. After developing a friendship based in large part on our mutual appreciation of blues music, Edwin informed me that he was producing a blues festival in East Texas, and he wanted me to play with him. I would be joining him and the house band (Hal Harris and the Lowlifers) from a Dallas institution called R.L.’s Blues Palace. The Lowlifers would be playing behind a number of different performers on the bill, including Edwin. He gave me a cassette tape of the songs we would be doing and said we would meet to rehearse in about a week. The rehearsal was to take place at R.L.’s on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00. I showed up at 1:45. This was my first introduction to a phenomenon known only as “blues time.” R.L.’s is at the corner of Grand and Meadow in Sunny South Dallas, a location that can only be described as at the very heart of “all up in there.” I parked between the club and the liquor store, and tried to seem inconspicuous while marvelling at the constant parade of winos and crackheads that make up the Sunday afternoon population of that particular corner. It is, to understate it, a neighborhood with a considerable amount of character. About 2:30, someone finally showed up to let me in, and I eagerly set up my gear to begin on what was certain to be a memorable adventure.

The guys in the band had all played there the night before. There was not a lot of room on the stage, so I stood on the dance floor about three feet beneath them. This placed me in sort of an intimidated posture, but my enthusiasm was not to be deterred. The first song was a Johnny Lang song that I forget the title of. Because of the tape I had been given, or the poor quality of my boom box, when I was learning the tune it fell somewhere between the key of A and A flat. Listening to what the guitar part was doing, I decided that it had to be in A. The Lowlifers launched into the tune, but came to a screeching halt because they were all in A flat while I was boldly wanking along in A. There was a discussion of what key the song was in that I’ll never forget. Raymond Green, their keyboardist, was pretty insistent that it was in A flat. I was pretty insistent that, given what the guitar part was doing, it had to be in A. I thought maybe Raymond was kind of crotchety because he had to be back at the club at 2:30 in the afternoon after only having left there at 2:30 that morning, but later learned that he was pretty crotchety at any given hour.

Raymond said “But the song is in A flat.”

I replied that “It’s whole lot easier to play in A.”

Then Raymond gave a withering glance down at me from the stage and said, “Oh, so now we get to the point of it. We’re supposed to make things easier for you.”

Mind you, I had only met these guys about ten minutes prior. I put my tail between my legs and said that A flat would be just fine. It wasn’t until some years later that I found out that Johnny Lang tunes his guitars a half step lower, so while playing stuff in an A position and fingering, he was actually playing in A flat. Mr. Green, I humbly apologize. The rest of the rehearsal went without a hitch. The festival was a week later and featured the inimitable Bobby Rush, blues legend Bobby Bland and a host of others. I thought it was a tremendous success. It turned out however, that Edwin lost a pretty good-sized piece of his ass on that one. Never daunted, he put on three more Pinetop Blues Festivals before finally getting out of the concert business. After the first festival ended, Hal Harris, the head Lowlifer in charge, said that if I ever wanted to come sit in with them at the club, I was always welcome. It was a tremendous compliment, and turned out to be the beginning of a musical odyssey that would lead me ever closer to my blues name.

A bit more about blues names in general. I don’t think any genre of music has a richer history of assignment of nicknames based on physical features or deeds in one’s past. There’s Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Walter, Little Walter, Little Milton, Big Boy Cruddup, Pinetop Perkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton and Sleepy John Estes, just to name a few. There’s even a blues name generator online that states: “Make your own Blues name Starter Kit: a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Melon, Kiwi, etc.) c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.). For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jackleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not “Kiwi.”) But gaining a blues name is not as simple as plugging some factors into a website generator. It has to be earned, and also assigned by someone from within the fraternity. But more on that later.

After the first Pinetop Blues Festival, I ran into one of the drummers from the Lowlifers, Charles “Sugar Boy” Meyers, who played with the late, great Freddie King in the seventies. I was in a McDonald’s in South Dallas and saw him sweetening coffee at the beverage stand. I was about 70% sure it was him, but could not remember his name. Was it Honey Something? Sweet Something? Finally I walked up to him and asked if he was a drummer.

He said, “Yeah, I remember you! Edwin’s guitar player, right?”

I said yes and that I was sorry, but I could not remember his name.

“Sugar Boy,” he said.

“Right, I knew it was something like that. But I was afraid of walking up to a strange black man in South Dallas who’s putting sugar in coffee and saying, Sugar?, Boy?”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, if I had whipped your ass, you would’ve known you got the wrong cat.”

Eventually, I took Hal up on his invitation and started going to the Blues Palace about twice a month. It was great because, unlike blues jams, the band was tight, and they played more than just straight blues. There was a good deal of soul, funk and jazz mixed in as well. And as long as I musically stayed out of the way, I could sit in with them as long as I liked. I would usually go for the first set on a Friday, then pack up and go home by 12 while they played on into the wee hours. I was, in essence, a blues volunteer.

Their guitar player was a guy from Arkansas named Jerry Jines, who could not have been more gracious. He’d tell me what key we were about to be in, and would nod to me on occasion to take a solo that normally would have been his. I’ve always prided myself on listening to what other players are doing and playing parts that fit into the scheme of things. I think Jerry appreciated that. Or he may have felt some kinship toward me because there were now two white faces in the club. Whatever the case, I am ever thankful for his generosity. There was another white guitar player there before Jerry named Paul. They bore absolutely no resemblance to one another, and even after being there a couple of years they still sometimes called Jerry “Paul.” For the longest time, I had no name there at all, and was referred to only as “Edwin’s guitar player.” Or occasionally, “Paul.” I didn’t look anything like Paul either.

When Jerry wasn’t playing there, an immensely talented guitar player and keyboardist named Lucky Peterson was. As talented as Lucky is, his career is equally as baffling. At the age of 5 he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and What’s My Line. He was tutored by none other than Willie Dixon and has a huge following in Europe and Japan. I could not for the life of me understand what he was doing playing in Dallas for sixty bucks a night while in between world tours. Spend a minute or two watching footage of him on youtube and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. There have also been times in Lucky’s career when he’s been less than dependable. One night I showed up to do my volunteer duty only to discover Hal in the parking lot, half panicked on the phone trying to find someone to fill in for the night. He said, “Can you play tonight?” I told him I definitely could. He then asked for and entered my phone number into his little black address book.

The first night of playing there for real is a bit of a blur. And was kind of a trial by fire. The house band plays a sort of a revue behind three or four different singers throughout the night. And because they’d been playing the same material for so long, they usually knew what song was coming next, and would just launch into it. Several times, all I heard was “1,2,3,4...” not knowing what song we were doing, what key we were in or where we were going next. Sometimes I would get a clue, like when for instance, a singer named Harold Walker would holler “Bobby Bland!” It’s important to note that Bobby Blue Bland recorded thirty some odd albums over his career, so, at an average of 12 songs each, that’s over 360 songs. But when Harold Walker called Bobby’s name, it meant Don’t Cry No More. I did not know this at the time, and Jerry was not there to hold my hand.

Somehow I managed to get through it, and apparently passed the initiation. A couple of weeks later, Hal called me again because either Jerry or Lucky couldn’t make it. This time it was on a Saturday, and the intensity of the situation was ratcheted up a notch or two. On Saturdays from 11:00 to 12:00 p.m., they do a live radio simulcast from The Blues Palace on KKDA, Soul 73. And the crowd is usually about double that of an ordinary Friday. The club holds about 400, but there seemed to be a lot more than that. It gets so crowded on Saturdays that in order to go to the rest room, it’s best to pick some big mama who’s making her way in that direction and fall in behind her like she’s a pulling guard. The fact that the first set was going to be on the radio didn’t exactly calm me down any either, although looking back on it, the listening audience was probably not a great deal larger than those in live attendance. Once we started though, the fact that we were on the air quickly faded from my consciousness, because once again, I was just trying to hang on for dear life. After we were done, Hal complimented me and said, “I was listening to you, and it sounds like you’re starting to get it.” That was a huge relief because I was still feeling like I was sticking out like the sorest of all thumbs. Every once in a while, one of the club’s patrons would say something to me like “You play like a black man” or sometimes even “You don’t play like a white boy.” I always took it as a compliment but was never really sure what to say. Then I came up with what I thought to be a classic response. I’d look shocked, stare down at my outstretched hand and scream “What!? All this time I thought I was just real light brown!”

The calls from Hal were becoming more frequent, and I was becoming more familiar with the band. Then he called to say that Jerry was having back surgery, and they needed me to fill in for three months. By now, some of them even knew my name was David. But I don’t think they realized the dichotomy this was creating in my life. It was like the opposite of six degrees of separation, in that I felt I was the only person on the planet who, in the same day, would have a conversation with the CEO of Halliburton and Pork Chop the parking lot attendant. It made me feel eerily unique.

Not everyone at Blues Palace has a nickname, but several do. There’s singers Little Nicki, Sugar Mama, and Big Charles Young. Raymond Green on keys was sometimes called Catfish, but mostly, out of respect or fear, he was referred to as Dr. Green. Tutu Jones is a guitar player that came in from time to time and I have no idea what his real name is. Drummer David Burns was called Booty by some, and Rock Bottom by others. Rock Bottom was a cartoon character bulldog from the sixties who always had a stub of a cigar in his mouth. David has a habit of playing with a cigarette in his mouth that burns all the way down to the filter, goes out, then stays there. The barbecue man at the club was just called Fat, and the security guy was Lowdown. Harold Walker had no nickname that I know of, but was never referred to as Harold, or Walker, but always Harold Walker. He’s the one I owe thanks for bestowing my blues name upon me. During the weeks of Jerry’s recuperation, I was getting more and more familiar with the band and the material. I’ve always had a pretty good memory for keys of songs, and changes within them, and the time on stage was also helping to cement things into my brain. The only real uncertainty I felt was with what to wear. The Blues Palace is a grown folks club, and for the most part, the attire is pretty flashy. Sometimes I would go as far as wearing a brightly colored tie, or socks, but going any further than that just never seemed right. One night a guy we called “Super Stevie” who sold CDs and assorted trinkets in the club came up and handed something to me. He said, “Here you go guitar player” then hurried away. I looked down and was pleasingly astonished to see that it was a cheap gold chain with a giant gold dollar sign on it. I guess he thought I needed a little more flash. I still have it, but have always had some trepidation about wearing it. Harold Walker on the other hand, harbors no such reservations. Orange sequined outfits, purple slacks and a matching vest with no shirt, bright white suit with a matching admiral’s hat – every night was a sartorial feast. But it’s show business, and he had more than enough flair to pull it off. Not to mention a voice like smoked velvet. A cross between Barry White
and Teddy Pendergrass, both of whom were artists that he covered.

One night (morning actually) when the club had emptied and we were waiting to get paid, Harold Walker came up to me and said “David Wishbone, did you get your food stamps yet?” It took me a minute to understand that he meant “had I been paid,” and I was equally confused by the Wishbone part.

“Why did you call me David Wishbone?”

“Cause you just look like you were wishing for something” he said.

So there it was. I was now David Wishbone.

Jerry came back to work there after recovering from his surgery, so I returned to volunteer status, with the occasional call to fill in. A few months later, Hal called to tell me that Jerry was moving back to Arkansas to deal with some personal issues, and he asked me to come back to work for him. It’s hard to believe now, but I then spent every weekend of the next three years in The Blues Palace. And most of the time, as Harold Walker would put it, looking like I was wishing for something.

A lot of times when there I was wishing I could breathe. The smoke was so thick at times that when the front door was opened it looked like the place might be on fire. One night a group of guys were occupying the table to my left and immediately below me. There were five or six of them, and every one of them was smoking a cigar. By the end of the evening, I felt like a cured ham. Every time I came home from a gig there, I had to leave my clothes on the back porch to air out. A couple of years ago, the city banned all smoking in bars and clubs, and I thought that Blues Palace might not survive, but it’s still going as strong as ever.

Friends of mine would come to see me on occasion. They’d sometimes ask if I was nervous playing in a place where everyone was searched for weapons upon entering. “Are you kidding?” I’d reply. “I’d be a lot more nervous if they weren’t doing that.” But as I said earlier, it’s a grown folks club. And during all my nights there, I saw very little foolishness. Whenever tempers did flare, all parties involved were ushered out the door so fast that there was hardly ever time for anything to escalate.

The greatest regular moments of excitement came at midnight on Saturdays right after we went off the air. As soon as the radio simulcast would end, we would launch into Hey Bo Diddley, and R.L. would start saying, “Can I get a hen up here?” Women would line up by the stage stairs and one at a time, come up on the stage while leaving their dates and all traces of modesty behind. It’s all videotaped, and some of it can be found on line if you look deep enough. So even from my vantage point at stage left, I could look at any of the several TV monitors in the club and get an up close and personal look at what color thong a hen might be wearing. I saw drunken headstands collapse into the drum kit, weed falling out of bras, bumping, grinding, shimmying and shaking of all imaginable shapes, sizes and ages.

One night a hen wearing a fishnet dress was grinding on R.L. and her dress became inexorably tangled with one of his rather large shirt buttons. They tried for a while to become disengaged, until finally some guy on the dance floor whipped out a buck knife and cut, not the button, but the dress to set her free. I thought about the size of that knife and guessed one got by the security detail at the door that night.

From time to time, the area surrounding the club would also provide a certain amount of excitment and entertainment. There was a constant parade of stuff that one could buy from guys pushing shopping carts down the street, especially around the holidays. Bootleg DVDs, pants, used tools, small appliances and gloves were available if you were willing to take a chance. I even saw a guy pushing a cart full of plants for sale through the parking lot one time. One Fourth of July weekend also comes to mind. Before we started playing, I was on the parking lot and I noticed that the City of Dallas was beginning its annual fireworks display. I had a great view of the bursts of color set against a backdrop of the downtown skyline. Once every few minutes, a smaller rocket would ascend from the apartments that were about two hundred yards away on Grand Avenue. I thought it was cool to have both a distant and near view of the celebration of our nation’s birth. Two hours later, we were on break and I came outside to get out of the smoke and give my ears a rest. There were 12 or so kids in front of the apartment building, and an equal number was in front of the retail strip on the opposite side of Grand, which is a four-lane, major thouroughfare. An all out fireworks war had erupted. They were not only shooting stuff at one another, but practically anything that moved, including passing cars and buses. And they were not merely armed with roman candles or wimpy little rockets – the big guns had been brought out. A fire truck showed up, and they scattered into the darkness, but as soon as the firemen left the skirmish erupted again in full force. Once in a while, a stray salvo would come close enough to make me uneasy, so I ducked back inside to avoid becoming a civilian casualty.

Another memorable incident occured when I was on the parking lot later that summer. I heard a lot of sirens to my left, and then saw a police cruiser that came to an abrupt halt after sreaming up Grand to my right. Looking back to my left, I could see a white Delta 88 doing about sixty with four or five police cars in hot pursuit coming up Meadow Street, which fronted the parking lot I was standing in. Before reaching Grand, the driver took and impossible left turn down an alley that was across the street from me. His pursuers followed. They went speeding down the alley, took a right behind the laundromat, through the parking lot, across grand (amazingly avoiding all Saturday night traffic) and into the aforementioned apartments. Apparently, the driver then bailed and disappeared somewhere within the complex. It was straight out of Starsky & Hutch. As I was standing there gawking, Red, one of the parking lot attendants came by.

“They ain’t gonna find Bobby in there,” he said. “But he oughta have more sense than to come down here when he knows they’re looking for him.”

Not only had I witnessed a high speed chase, but I also knew a guy who knew the guy being pursued. I puzzled at this unexpected connection and thought “Run Bobby, Run!”

Aside from the regular night in and night out house band gigs, once in a while a touring act would come through and do a show at the club. One night we opened for Buddy Miles and his band. When we were done, I was walking past a table where Buddy was sitting with Big Charles before Buddy and his band went on. All I heard was “Hey man!” I looked over and Buddy Miles was kind of beckoning to me with his cane. I walked over, and stuck my hand out. Buddy grabbed my hand, and without getting up, pulled me into a bear hug that lasted long enough that I began to wonder what was up. Finally he released me and I came up for air. He asked me what my name was and I could not resist replying, “They call me David Wishbone.” I don’t remember much else about what was said, but I do remember walking, on air, away from that table and thinking that I just got props from a guy that played with Jimi.

Little Milton was another national artist that came through from time to time. And in addition to the shows he did at the club with his band, we also did some three night mini tours with him where we acted as his band. One night in Temple, Texas we were playing a club that looked like it used to be an automotive repair shop. It was on the other side of the tracks from a cotton gin. How fitting is that? The stage was small, and was on about a ten inch riser that was surrounded by a wrought iron railing. Milton was seated directly in front of us on a stool on the parquet dance floor. About 1:00 a.m. I noticed some movement from the middle of the crowd. I recognized the throwing motion, but did not know if it was going to be a bottle, ash tray or what that was soon to be hurtling at the stage. It missed Milton, and hit the railing. There, on the dance floor to his right, was a white, patent leather pump that looked to be about a size thirteen. Mr. Triggs, our ancient security detail for these shows, shuffled over to retrieve it, but Milton stopped him. “No man, I’m keeping it,” he said. After the show, this older, very drunk woman with one white shoe on came hobbling toward the stage with her arms extended like she wanted a hug. Apparently, the throwing of her left shoe was meant as a sign of affection. The next day when we were getting on the bus to that night’s show, I asked Milton, “In all your years on the road, has anyone ever thrown a shoe at you?”

He said “No, that was the first. And it was a big one, too!”

We were doing a show in Tyler with Milton, and in the second set were doing an instrumental portion of one of his songs as he was brought onto stage. It was cookin’. A few bars after Milton had came on stage, he did kind of a quick cock of his head to the right and a slight hunch of his right shoulder. We cooked on. The lights were in our eyes, so Little Milton was sort of silhouetted, and he cocked his head and shoulder again. We kept right on groovin’. The third time he did it, I caught on and started trying to get David “Rock Bottom” Burns’ attention, but it was too late. Milton turned, came back to drum kit, cocked his head and shoulder again and yelled, “This means break it down, god dammit!” Later, Burns said, “Shoot, I didn’t know. I thought he had a tic.”

The rest of the night, he rode David mercilessly about tempo, dynamics and just about everything short of the tuning of his drums. David just said “yes sir” and soldiered on. The funny thing was, the next day, he asked R.L. if David was available to go on the road with him. The only thing we could figure was that Milton had never met a drummer who could take a whuppin’ like that.

We would also head out from time to time and do shows in East and Central Texas. R.L. had bought an eighties era trailways bus from Little Milton that was painted purple with a big panther on the side of it. We never took it more than 120 miles one way, which was probably about as far as they trusted it to travel. We went to Kilgore to play the grand opening of a place called Betty’s Blues Club. Before leaving, David Burns noticed a couple of flies on the bus and said. “Ya’ll better get off now. Gonna get down there and get your asses kicked by some of them country flies!” After a couple of hours on the bus, we pulled up next to a dilapidated looking place that was painted pink and had a sign that said “The Queen of Clubs.” Burns looked at the place and said “Oh my lord.” I thought that something didn’t seem right, because we were supposed to be playing at a place called Betty’s. My suspicions were confirmed when we discovered that Betty’s was the dive that was located in back of the dive we were parked next to. Inside Betty’s the paint fumes were pretty strong, and as it turned out, the paint was still drying. Betty was a large woman who’s very pointed bra made it look like she was armed with two intercontinental ballistic missiles. We could tell that she was a little nervous, but intensely proud of the place at the same time. Surroundings aside, we had a great time that night and rolled back into Dallas about 4:30 in the morning.

These short jaunts into the country gave me a taste of what it must be like to be a touring musician, and the taste can only be accurately described as “tired.” A few months later, Hal called to tell me we had a gig booked at a place in Hearne, Texas. When I asked where that was, he said only, “Down by Waco.” It turns out that Hearne is about 70 miles to the East of Waco. We were supposed to leave at 3:00 p.m., which seemed kind of early to me. I got to Blues Palace early (still hadn’t adjusted to “blues time”) and was settling into the bus. I’d forgotten something in my car, and as I was reboarding I noticed directions on the dash to a club in Ft. Worth. I asked Hal about this, and he said we had to go there first to pick up Vernon Garrett’s band.

“Who’s opening?” I asked. My mind was racing at this point.

Hal looked confused. “What?”

“Who’s going on first, us or Vernon?”

“We are,” Hal said.

By this time, the bus was starting to roll out of the parking lot and I was grabbing my guitar, running to front of the bus and hollering for “Blue” the driver to hold up.

“Let me off, I’m going to drive” I said.

R.L. had this confused look on his face that seemed to say “Why don’t you want to ride on my bus?” I had played with Vernon and seen his act before. He’s an incredibly gifted singer and showman, but can be a little long-winded at times. Factoring that we were going to drive 30 miles West to Fort Worth, then to Hearne, then play, then wait for Vernon to do his show, then drive back to Fort Worth before finally heading back to Blues Palace, I thought I might be able to shave some time off of this gig. I took my time driving down, stopped for dinner and still beat the bus to the venue. We finished playing at 10:45 and I was on the road home at 10:52. Our drummer for the night was a guy named Big Bo, who hitched a ride back with me. Bo stands about 5’11”, and pushes four bills, and completely filled the passenger side of my little SUV. Even after dropping him off at Blues Palace, I still managed to get home and be in bed by 2:45. The bus arrived at Blues Palace at 9:15 that morning. Score one for the Wishbone. R.L. even gave me some gas money, not realizing that I would have gladly paid him to be let off the bus for that one.

Back at Blues Palace, a routine was taking hold. Fridays were the hardest, because after working until 5:00 as a designer, I would head to the club around 9:30 and get home around 3:00 in the morning. It made for a very long day. There was usually a pot of coffee there on Fridays if Willie Mitchell was there. He was a gravelly voiced promoter that worked for KKDA. I once spotted Willie behind the bar and asked him for a cup of coffee, if there was any. Willie poured some for me into a styrofoam cup and asked “You want it black, or do you want cream and sugar and all that other shit?” I could tell from his tone that the correct answer was black, and said so.

“Good’ he said. ‘If you want coffee, drink coffee god dammit. If you want hot chocolate, go someplace else.” The grind of being there every weekend was starting to wear on me. By then I was so familiar with the material that during some slower numbers, I could actually close my eyes and catch a brief semi-nap without missing any of the changes. It seemed that more and more time was being taken away from my family, and the fact that every weekend of my life was spoken for compounded things. That the money was not too great did not help either.

The irony of the situation was that after all the time I spent trying to fit in, I finally did, because like the rest of the band, I looked at it more as a chore than an opportunity. I gave my notice, and am now the all points emergency, first call alternate guitar player. Which is a step up from being a volunteer. But I fostered relationships there that have led to other gigs, learned a lot of music and about playing it, and gained a lifetime membership to the Lowlifers, albeit in absentia.

And come what may, I will forever remain David Wishbone.

It’s not the end. Just the end of this page.

All photos are property of Ric Moore, Photographer. © 2011 Ric Moore Photography


  1. This is excellent, David -- loved every word of it. Great experiences for a great guy and talented musician. I've always enjoyed our brief moments of playing the blues together. Hope to again real soon.

  2. Fabulous story! Someday I'll have to write mine. Perhaps you could put together a book with a bunch of musical misfit bios and call it "Musical Roots"
    Great story!