Location: marengo, il, United States

Friday, July 28, 2006

Country Gentlemen

Friday, late afternoon. Too hot as usual. A typical brilliant sun does its job, unmercifully baking the surrounding desert landscape. Nothing stirs.

The heavy front door to the Tahiti Reef had never been set properly to begin with. Or maybe countless coats of black paint brushed on over the years might have helped the sticking effect. Give a tug on the big brass handle. It will resist at first, making the old tavern seem to be locked up tight. Yank hard enough, and the door yelps once, but it will swing outward with practical ease.

Cool air then rushes to refresh the face.

At this time of day, the interior appears to be as dark as a cave. The bright light coming from the sun tries to fry my backside. An elongated patch of sunlight spills onto the floor in front of me, stretching out across dingy red-and-white linoleum squares. I step over the threshold and allow the door to pull itself closed again.

Tex owns the bar. His wife waits tables. Both are in here somewhere. My eyes have barely adjusted. I see movement coming from behind the dim-lit bar to my right. A familiar shape waves once and says hello, and I have to imagine a mustachioed smile above a string bow tie from where I stand, nearly blind from the California desert sun. Tex can move fast for an older gent. He keeps going, preparing for the long night ahead. I carry my gear and go left, headed toward the bandstand in a back corner.

Don already has his amplifier set in place. It leans against the back of a folding chair. A small stand-by light on the front glows amber. He untangles a microphone cord and grins as I step up on stage.

“Where is your buddy Douglas?”

Our drummer is late, as usual.

Rose stops by to see if we want anything from the bar. She brushes a light-colored wisp of hair from one eye and waits.

I ask for a Coke. Don decides to wave her off. The front door squeaks sharply, and then a figure carrying a bass drum comes wading through a pool of brilliant foyer light, until the portal slams shut quickly. Moment later, Douglas appears out of the murky dark. He looks haggard, but he hurries to set his bass on a patch of carpet in the corner before returning to his car to collect the rest of his things.

He had to pull another double-shift at work, he explains while setting up his rig. An early arrival, a regular customer at the Reef, makes several selections on a juke box that sits close by, so Doug has to shout over the music. That seems to revive him somewhat.

Don sets his guitar back on its stand, happy with his tuning for now.

“Paul should be coming along soon. We still have a couple of hours to kill if you want to go back to the base and get a quick nap.”

I snort at that idea while looping a fresh tape on my new Copicat echo chamber.

“You know he won’t get any sleep if his wife is at home.”

A dreamy look comes over his face as Douglas begins to squeeze two imaginary melons, and he sways from side to side.

The front door pops open just then, and a lanky figure comes through the entry carrying a guitar case in one hand and an amp in the other. Don finishes attaching a cable to one microphone as he looks across the room.

“Paul just walked in.”

The voice of Patsy Cline laments about falling to pieces.

The tall red-head comes over and stops next the rail surrounding the stage. He sets his equipment down on the floor, and then wipes his forehead with the back of a freckled hand as he swears.

“It is hotter than the hubs of hell out there today, you guys.”

Douglas tightens up the last of his cymbal stands and does a final adjustment to his stool. Paul and I tune our guitars to Don. Douglas yawns once as he runs a few test licks from snare to tom-tom and back. Paul sees this and speaks while waving to catch the attention of Rose.

“Go into town and get a pack of Rouse tablets from the pharmacy. Those things are loaded with caffeine and will keep you awake.”

Douglas soon leaves, and the remaining three try out some new songs. We still have two hours to go before the gig starts.

Later that night as a crowd dances during our third set, Don backs off the mic when it is time for me to take off on the instrumental part of Six Days on the Road.

Good Lord have mercy, this echo chamber sounds unbelieavably sweet! Some of the folk on the dance floor are hopping around like mad. I barely notice as the chord changes to D, but I know Rose is out there, moving from table to table.

I glance up around C. Douglas drums while balancing atop his padded seat. Both of his hands are barely moving as he continues to keep up; one over the snare and one held next to his Zildjians. Then I see the way his head nods to the beat, and how his eyes stay closed.

Then I realize that he is no longer smiling.

I motion to Don who then signals Paul. Paul never misses a lick, but he grins before he leans over and yells into our friend’s ear.

“Wake up!”

Douglas tells us the next day that he made a slight mistake by buying and then taking a big dose of a similar product, Drowse.


Blogger Harry said...

Left to right: myself, Douglas, Paul and Don.

5:54 PM  
Blogger James said...

Classic photo! Back in the Day!!!

Of coarse I knew instantly which one in the old photo was you.

Showed the photo to Tracie and she said "Oh my god HAT looked exactly like Tim"( my youngest) He has taken up the guitar and can belt off a few nice riffs. I'm guessing the Tippins blood runs deep.

I'll look for a recent pic of Tim and email ya. To see for yourself.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

Wonderfully atmospheric, as ever. And a great punchline too! Thanks for yet another wonderful story, Harry.

(Good grief, were we ever that young?)

8:25 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

I take it Tracie is falling in love with me now, which is so understandable.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

I thought you'd appreciate this one more than most, Clive.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Ned said...

I knew which was you instantly.

A great story! The empathy that I feel for Douglas is so great, I think I need a nap. Honestly, some days I think I have narcolepsy. I could just be sitting here typing away and...


I hope I don't snore.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Douglas the Drummer said...

Douglas the drummer SEZ ... How could I have been late? We had 2 hours to the gig? (deny deny)
Many memories of this fine blogger named Harry and the corhorts in the picture. I must also say that we put out some awesome country music way above the expectations of our crowds. This story is but one of many many memories in a calabalozza array of locations. He failed to mention a green pool light hung above the bandstand, was used as a cymbal in some of my stick shenanigans while playing.
We never went to Nashville ... but we certainly could have, as this group was of that caliber!! Don "Goldenthroat" .. Paul "sounds just like his cousin Jones" and "Nimble fingers" Harry .... all loved music .... and still do! My tubs are set up in my family room! Over thirty years and like the bunny...
"Still going.... going"

12:33 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

How-do, Doug. Nice touch, using that green pool light. Now show me your best paradiddle.

(Doug will always fail to tell strangers he won a Gene Kruppa drum contest early on.)

12:47 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

What ARE you adding to your coffee now, Miss Nedness?

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Sweetpea said...

My lawd....I remember when yall were that young. And yes it was a very good band. The money from that band saved us many times! It wasn't much but then food didn't cost much at the commissary and I did get tired of hamburger.....some chicken was like Heaven back then...When I think of the band....I still see yall just like that picture.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

"She was just seventeen..."

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

Don Said: I remember those day well. We had a lot of fun, and made very litle money. I think we got $15.00 a night didn't we? I wonder if the Tahiti Reef is still there? Maybe we can go and get our jobs back. I kept playing also, have my equipment set up in my music room. Have gone electronic now with keyboards, drum machines, and a machine that gives me harmony to my singing. Have not played in clubs for a while, but still miss it. Never had as much fun as we did in 29 Palms, Calif. Harry, your story is super I even smelled the stale beer etc..Thanks

5:35 PM  
Blogger DonThompson said...

Don Said: Super job Harry. I remember those days so well, and I know they paid us a lot then. I think we got $15 a night didn't we? I could smell the place as I read the story. Have played some since then, but don't think I ever had as much fun as we did. Still have my stuff set up in the music room too.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Don Thompson, ladies and vocalist to stand near a mike I ever met, personally. He can even swallow a bug without missing more than three notes, and keep right on smiling, too.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Jack Thompson said...

Harry, I wasn't there THAT night, but was there many other nights. I do remember the door, floor and stale beer smell! Some of my favorite times were there. I did go by the place a few years ago, and the building is still there! Don't know if it was still open or even occupied. Thanks,

11:28 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

My pleasure seeing you again, Jack, and I'm glad you made it here.

Lots of talented people often set in with us at the Reef, but none had to make the hours-long drive from El Toro to reach the High Desert, and certainly nobody but Jack who, in spite of once being diagnosed with a severe case of guitaritis (that common but painful tendonitis), kept returning weekend after weekend, just because he loved to play rythym guitar with us.

Thanks, man.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don Said: I forgot about the bug Harry. It was at the Officer Club I think when we were playing for some party they were having out around the pool at night. Felt like a June Bug, but suspect it may have been a little smaller.

Remember the little girl that played in the band "The Mandrells" that played the weekends we didn't at the Staff Club. She was about 10 years old I think. Turned out she was Louise Mandrell. Time Fly's

1:15 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

You are right about the Officer Club, Don. There was also a problem with their loudspeakers, which we used that night. Located across the pool from where we sat up, all of the the bass drum notes arrived at our spot out of sinc with the rest of the music, which made for quite a night (but at least you had your little snack).

I can still see the mom who played bass with the Mandrell Family. Stone-deaf, they announced to us, yet she never missed a lick all night. Seems the deaf can actually feel the beat, since she did just fine.

4:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home