Archive for February, 2012

10–SETTING FOLK MUSIC BACK TWENTY YEARS

I couldn’t believe they really said ‘hit’ for ‘it’ or any of the other things Al Capp had them say in Li’l Abner.’ Since Al Capp knew so little about Joan Baez (caricaturing her as shuffling sandal-footed under a cloud of flies and playing twang on a one-string guitar, when as it turned out she was a fabulously-dressed fashion icon, at least off stage), I figured he’d be wrong about Appalachia, too.

But damn, you drive up to a house to ask directions, and there’s five old men sitting on the porch on their rockers (or off them) and they all have one-piece, one-strap overalls and no teeth, they’re all spitting ‘baccy juice at their hounds, which are mangy, and these old women—either very fat or very thin—are staring from the torn screen door like you’re from France or Mars, and you ask where’s a place to camp and they’ll direct you to some vine-overgrown place by a swamp with a handy river nearby for throwing dead girls in when they’ve been strangled, and one of them will giggle and say, “Look out a snake don’t bite yer toe!”

However, this was Kentucky, land of my dreams, birthplace of really great ballads about stranglings and snakebites. I felt no disrespect. Just amazement. There’s probably an inverse ratio between teeth and intelligence. Anyhow, they knew where the turn-off to Hazard was, which was more than I knew. Hit woren’t afar off; hit wore jist a bit yonder past thet rock longside them three ’ol dead pines. We found it easily after that.

I’d like to see Hazard again, to re-remember. The Hazard of my befogging was narrow and set close along its main street. There was a grayish tinge to everything, like you see in mining towns everywhere. Coal-blackened men walked home with a lunch pail and a head lamp. There was a small central square, I’m sure, and a brick building where official stuff happened. Looking up Hazard today on Google, I get this: ‘Hazard’s property crime levels tend to be much higher than Kentucky’s average level. The same data shows violent crime levels in Hazard tend to be much higher than Kentucky’s average level.’

The IGA was real close—and JOHN COHEN had advised me, “Bring a couple bags of groceries if you go visit Rossie. (He was still ‘Roscoe,’ to me.) So we shopped. Let’s see, now: a pound of butter—some half and half—a package of Swiss cheese—how ’bout bacon?—a box of spaghetti—

Wrong. Roscoe’s family didn’t eat like that, nor did they want to. We should have bought a bag of flour and a forty-eight-carton flat of saltines.

Roscoe didn’t live in Hazard but in Daisy, a tiny community a few miles away. The road wound through deep woods in different, speckled shades of green, mostly dark. In the pickup bed ahead of us, several overalled passengers enjoyed the evening air. All of them were smoking, including a boy of about eight who stared at our bus (dark blue with a white roof) between drags as if it were a circus wagon.

The house was built on a stilty foundation against a steep hillside. The porch looked out onto another steep hillside across the holler. We all sat on the row of straight-back chairs and threaded green beans onto string with big needles, since that was what was going on. When the  bean strings got full, they were hung to dry; the beans would be eaten in the winter. This work was done mostly in silence, with a little desultory conversation about who we were and why we were in their house. At one point one of the girls asked if we’d like something to drink. We were incredibly grateful; it was hot, we were tired travelers. Pretty soon she appeared with a tray of glasses and a pitcher of water. But what, we were expecting juleps? Slowly I began to get the picture.

There’s the kind of poor where you’re a rambling folksinger who’s not about to play the games society has suggested for you; then there’s the kind where you and every member of your family work as hard as you possibly can and are therefore able to buy a little margarine, lard, white flour and salt, some pop to keep you going. And yes, this was the kind of poverty that poured itself into and out of the music. Once ‘Rossie’ got out his banjo and played ‘Across the Rocky Mountain,’ I was sure of it. No number of degrees in ethnomusicology could teach you to sing like that.

And what did I play, when they asked me with polite interest? Well. At least I had the sense not to do one of Roscoe’s songs, or any of his neighbors’ songs. I’d have been ashamed. That’s where my sense ended though. I chose a Greek song; that would be a safe bet. And maybe it might even—waaa-ha-ha-ha—widen their musical base. “What’s hit mean?” the wife and daughters wanted to know. “It means, you take a handful of rice, and some lemon, and an egg……and then you do something with them, but I don’t know what because I only know the one verse.” “Oh. Wal, hit’s a real purty tune, anyways.”

The daughters, in their teens, were extremely interested in our presence. Their mom was more than interested, she was hungry. We were the world out thar. We wore boys’ corduroy pants, sand-colored, and we wore ’em tight. We were free to get in a car and go if we wanted—anywhere! We had no menfolk a-bossin’ us. And we had gallons of wine.

It was wonderful for me, too; it was family life, a home. The hot water got fetched with a ladle from the water-jacket on the wood stove, dishes got renched and the floor got breshed, and I knew how to do these things along with the girls. At night we’d sit up late, and Mrs. Holcomb (I don’t think that was her name) sat up with us. We talked and talked about all kinds of things, and her eyes were on fire. She drank wine and said her doctor had told her she should be drinking ‘pork’ wine to get her strength up but this wine we had would probably do as good. Eventually Roscoe would come out of the bedroom, glaring behind his glasses, and tell her it was time to get in bed, there was work to do.

He wasn’t working, though. The miners were all on strike. A wicked strike, if you asked him; how were people supposed to earn their food? But if you crossed the picket line, you’d probably get shot. He thought it was all stirred up by folks from up north who weren’t aware of the immediate needs of the miners, like food.

One afternoon, I asked the oldest daughter where was a good place to shave one’s legs. “I usually jist go up the crick a ways,” she shrugged. But I didn’t want a snake to bite my toe, so I sat on the back step with a basin of water. In the middle of my shaving, around the back of the house came Roscoe. Right away, watching sidelong, he started in again about the dangers of this picket line: Anyone who wanted to be anywhere else had best go right now, before they blew the road up, because once that road blew up, there wasn’t going to be anyone going in or out, and the people who were in might get shot. There was going to be a lot of shootin’. Even at that, it took me amazingly long to figure out that we were expected to move on—preferably about four days ago.

This story repeated itself when we went to the next folksinger’s house, and the next. Clint Howard sat across the room on a couch with his arm tightly around his wife and said, “Well, Ah shore don’t remember ye, Ah shore don’t.” But, but, I wanted to cry, don’t you remember all those good times sitting around spitting and you told me ‘Y’all come?’ Oh God, it’s tough to be an insensitive person.

Sleeping outdoors was still the best, though, never mind that we had chigger bites all around our sock and belt lines. And I could still practice that frustrating guitar tune. Then one day we were sirened by a local sheriff, who told us that they’d been chasing us down through three jurisdictions to say that Sally’s father had died and she was wanted at home.

After that, it was just me and Christopher, camping and cooking and not visiting any more folksingers because not only was I not collecting any folk songs but I had a glimmer of personal wrongdoing. When we headed north (toward Vermont) I took a turn too fast and rolled the bus, bashed up the whole side of it pretty good. We were both okay, but it began to look as if the best thing to do to avoid further ‘bad luck’ would be to head back to Santa Barbara. Here a drastic bunch of changes awaited, including THE SCRAGG FAMILY.

Advertisements

kajsaohman

“Y’all come,” they’d said, those mountain musicians who were themselves far from home and chatting it up with the cute young folksingers. “Here’s how to find my house.”

It seemed like a good idea, and what’s more, I had just borrowed money from my mother to buy an old vehicle. It was nothing like Joe Maphis’s motor home—okay, it was a VOLKSWAGEN KOMBI—but still I figured I had a home now. It didn’t go much above fifty—fine, I was a lousy driver. It was an empty, windowless shell, horrendously noisy. But I’d soon have it fixed up nice and homey.

And the bus drove weird(ly): every time you changed gears, you were supposed to wind it up to ear-splitting revs before your shift, which I obediently did while disbelieving it. Clarence looked anxious: “Shouldn’t you be shifting down p’etty soon?” “Oh no, no, this is right.” “If you say so.”…

View original post 1,497 more words

9–A RAMBLE DOWN TO OL’ KENTUCKEE

“Y’all come,” they’d said, those mountain musicians who were themselves far from home and chatting it up with the cute young folksingers. “Here’s how to find my house.”

It seemed like a good idea, and what’s more, I had just borrowed money from my mother to buy an old vehicle. It was nothing like Joe Maphis’s motor home—okay, it was a VOLKSWAGEN KOMBI—but still I figured I had a home now. It didn’t go much above fifty—fine, I was a lousy driver. It was an empty, windowless shell, horrendously noisy. But I’d soon have it fixed up nice and homey.

And the bus drove weird(ly): every time you changed gears, you were supposed to wind it up to ear-splitting revs before your shift, which I obediently did while disbelieving it. Clarence looked anxious: “Shouldn’t you be shifting down p’etty soon?” “Oh no, no, this is right.” “If you say so.” “That’s what the dealer told me.” “It doesn’t sound good, though.” “Well, then, you drive it.” “Okay.” So there’s another important thing I learned from Clarence: You drive with your ears, not by the instruction manual. From that day on I drove the bus by ear—for what seemed like hundreds of thousands of miles.

You might wonder, at this point, why I would decide to cross the country again when it kind of looked like Clarence and I were getting a bit warm and cozy. In fact, I just talked on the phone with a friend who knew all of us in the old AG days and who’s been reading this blog; she said, “But weren’t you guys a couple? for about two minutes?”I laughed. Yes, and a lot more than two minutes, but ‘couple’ is an odd description for two people who never asked each other about their past, their future, their opinions or their feelings, who in fact almost never spoke at all, who never held hands in public or shared a meal, who inhabited completely incompatible worlds and had no interest in changing that situation. And truthfully? I don’t even like ‘Black Mountain Rag,’ never did; it may be fast and impressive but to me it’s jerky (especially with me playing it) and unmelodic.

Well, you’ll just have to take my word that going away was the right thing to do. Love, even true love, appears in many forms, few of which end in Love and Marriage and a Baby Carriage. Sometimes you just want to wish the person well; sometimes you want to learn from someone; sometimes—you just have to wait until the next life. At our journey’s end, I choose to believe, every love we ever felt for anyone will be fulfilled in every way without injury to anyone else. Why not?

Before setting off on my quest, I stopped in Santa Barbara for a little gig at the RONDO. While there, I met TONY TOWNSEND, a gentle, willowy guy with a smooth playing and singing style, and DON ROBERTSON, whose exceptionally strong voice and right arm made him just the opposite. Not that they were teamed up, but where one was playing the other tended to be also. And they both were balladeers.

RANDY SPARKS, who had founded the NEW CHRISTIE MINSTRELS a couple of years earlier, was in the audience one evening. I spoke to him about my impending trip to the south, and he wanted to know, in what? So I brought him outside and showed him my bus, and he said I absolutely couldn’t go unless I had two better tires. Then he took me to a late night tire place and bought me two tires, and he said, “This isn’t charity, it’s a gamble. If and when you write a song that would be good for the Minstrels, I want you to give it to us.” Well, Randy, dammit, I never thought about it again. But now I have a bunch for you if you still want them.

That’s when I met PETER FELDMANN, who I liked right away though not suspecting he’d soon play a role in my life. He was a pleasant, friendly kid who had cut his instruments down to two guitars, banjo, fiddle and mandolin to save space because he was renting a tiny trailer from GENE MCGEORGE, who I also didn’t know was going to play a role in my life. Peter, who expressed great interest in my picking ruses, was the person who first introduced me to the concept that flatpicks were obtainable at music stores, six for a quarter.

I hated saying goodbye to this delightful lot, but I had to go to my mother’s house in San Francisco; my aunt had arrived there with my son, and my cousin Sally had arrived there after working on a dude ranch for a while, and I suddenly remembered that I did have Family.

And lo, Sally had some money in her pocket, and I had some in mine, and she loved the idea of just taking off in my bus and rambling across the U.S. No motels, we agreed, just camping every night under the stars. No restaurants, we’d bring a Coleman stove. No bars, we’d bring six jugs of California red, a dollar a gallon, that oughta last us. No contact with anyone we knew because we wouldn’t have an address or a phone number for weeks and months.

And, for me, no worries about not being On The Circuit. The highway, yes; the superhighway to success, no. I could leave my ambition behind, a thing I hadn’t managed to do for more than fifteen seconds, till I felt like I was losing my soul. And I had my son—who now needs a name: Christopher. (His middle name, Dowland, was after the Elizabethan composer.) He was no longer a baby; he’d be four in the fall. A companion—one with strong opinions and desires of his own.

We took route 40 out of San Francisco. It was summertime, and the livin’ was easy. We would drive as far as we felt like, and in the evening we’d ask someone if we could camp in their field. (“Just so you don’t start a grass fire,” they’d usually say.) As we sat around our safe Coleman flame, drinking our dollar-a-gallon red, I would practice ‘Black Mountain Rag.’ One night Sally said tentatively, “It almost seems like you’re getting a little bit better on that.”

Eventually we got to Tennessee. Nashville! The GRAND OL’ OPRY, in the old RYMAN AUDITORIUM. The temperature was about 137 degrees and the line was about 2 hours. Hard on us, harder on Christopher who didn’t know what we were waiting for. When they finally let us in, the temperature inside was even worse–138 degrees, give or take a little literary license. We sat in the balcony, fanning ourselves with the flimsy programs like everyone else was doing. The whole air was rattle-rustle-rattle, perspiration flowed freely through cotton dresses and blue work shirts. It seemed incredibly hokey even to a couple of Vermont girls.

I don’t remember who was on the bill, except of course for STRINGBEAN, GRANDPA JONES and BILL MUNROE, who I’d come to hear. We had to leave before Bill came on because Christopher was worn out and miserable, but I think that night was possibly notable for the introduction of SKEETER DAVIS singing ‘The End of the World.’ It rang in my head for days, and even now I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Skeeter, who looked brave, tough and small on that far-off stage.

At last, Kentucky. The sacred soil—which I knelt down and kissed. An extravagant gesture, but I’d waited and wanted for so long. Now we were here.

And out of gas. We stopped at a small crossroads service station up in the mountains where we were told that they also were out of gas, and the gas truck was usually late, but hit ought be long in a few hours. And the restrooms? Thet’s thetair outhouse yonder, hih hih. So we waited. I tried not to need the outhouse because I was timid about it, because I thought they might only have corn cobs, you know, and suddenly I wasn’t a Vermont girl but a Los Angeles girl.

Meanwhile the resident gents served up some moonshine–in a Mason jar, I’m not kidding. It was pretty eye-watering at first, but if you sip it all afternoon it grows on you. One gent had a big ol’ pistol which he brandished for a while. They stuffed Christopher on crackers and ketchup, and they praised him in the Kentucky hills way, “Bet you’re a real hard worker.”

The man with the gun gave it to him to play with. “Oh, don’t—” I started to protest, but I didn’t have enough will to prevail. “Whoo,” the feller opined to Christopher, “bet you’d like to have you a big ol’ guuun like this’un of yer own, son, ain’t thet right?” I don’t think Christopher had any idea whatsoever about guns, since he hadn’t even seen any movies let alone hunted any squirrels. But he brandished it anyway. “It isn’t loaded, is it?” I asked. “Wal, course hit’s loaded, what use is a unloaded gun?”

To finesse this growing debacle, I decided to ask if any of them knew any old ballads. Shure ‘nuff, one bearded beanpole in overalls jumped to his feet and hollered one out. I didn’t think it was worth collecting. I mean, how? I didn’t even bring a tape recorder. D—n, I wisht I’d thought of that.

The outhouse did not have corn cobs. It had newspapers, from Lexington. Christopher didn’t shoot himself, nor did anyone else die. The moonshine didn’t poison us and did make us a lot more laissez-faire. The gasoline truck arrived and we filled up and bade farewell. Hit was a long way to Hazard.

8–MONTEREY FOLK FESTIVAL

That trip across country was pretty nice. Lee and I were affectionate, hopeful, on good behavior. We’d never had a vacation together, never shared sightseeing or stayed in a motel. We even spoke of saving all the theoretical money I was about to make and going to a Greek island for a year.

However, as soon as we delivered the car to its owner, that was the end of it. I was all done with being married. Maybe it was the prospect of living on a Greek island, so far from the Ash Grove, so far from this music business that had my heart. Whatever, I was done. I refused any proffered compromises to the relationship, for fear I would be tempted to prolong it. I was done. Lee was an intelligent, humorous, good-looking man and in literary and musical areas one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. That was neither here nor there; apparently I was still a bolter. I was no longer married.

But good God, what a decision. Not getting into what it did to him, I discovered that I had pulled the rug out from under my own feet and lo, the floor under the rug was all rotten and crumbling, so that I had to spend all my time looking for precarious bits of joist I could stand on. So I honestly don’t remember much about this period in my life. I had absolutely no idea who I was supposed to be now, what I was supposed to do.

I do remember that the KENTUCKY COLONELS—none other than our old familiar Country Boys with a new format—were there. They’d lost Eric and gained ROGER BUSH on bass; they’d started doing a few pop songs to spiff up their act.(Statler Brothers’ ‘Counting Flowers on the Wall’ comes to mind. I really didn’t think their act needed any spiffing. But what did I know?) Clarence was almost a grownup. The whole act was noticeably more worldly. And they had a record out, on the Briar label.

One strange memory is of being onstage with the senior White, father of all of them, along with Clarence and a number of other musicians including possibly Joe Maphis. I have racked my brain trying to imagine why this would have happened. I even remember Ed Pearl urging me up there. What were we all supposed to be doing?

Making music, that’s what. And broadening our musical bases by contact with one another. I think Ed had a strong sense of the value in this. Each of us had something to offer, but put us in odd juxtapositions and we’d have to reach, to guess, to interpret, to forgive, to keep on our toes—‘You use that chord there?!’—and to grow.

But—I was all of a sudden alone in a way I hadn’t seen coming, no one to cry on and say, ‘Oo-hoo-hoo, he said I was no Joan Baez!’ My confidence vacillated between low and gone. I flew off the handle at people, a thing you can’t do in show business even if you can at home; I butted in where I wasn’t wanted, unwilling to admit I wasn’t wanted; I flirted with lots of guys and was horrified if they returned my attention; I developed the concept of ‘bravado drinking’; I moped in the dressing room and tuned my autoharp so forlornly that Clarence finally took over.

Clarence also went back to teaching me ‘Black Mountain Rag’ and ‘Journey’s End,’ and this time I learned them. More accurately, what I learned was Clarence’s manner of getting to the notes he wanted, a manner that suited me because it follows the path of least resistance, often sacrificing super-accurate picking in favor of overall flow.

One thing we were all doing, however, was waiting around to go up to the Monterey Folk Festival.

Eventually the day came. A lot of people crammed their instruments and themselves into a few cars. I rode in the back seat with JOHN HERALD of the GREENBRIAR BOYS. If only I’d known what I just read on Wikipedia—that he was a New Yorker, maybe even a Villager like me, and used to sing in the Circle in Washington Square—we would have had so much to talk about! But I looked out the window and watched the still-green California hills and dreaded.

The Monterey Folk Festival! First one ever! Reputedly Joan Baez was there, though I never saw her. Maybe Bob Dylan, too, for the superhighway certainly ran through Monterey that day. It was a time when the superhighway and a lot of little paths and trails and country roads and even untrodden shortcuts flowed together for a bit, then separated again.

There was a panel discussion on folk music. A long line of guys—GUYS, yes—at a table: RALPH RINZLER, DOC WATSON, CLARENCE WHITE, maybe ROSCOE HOLCOMB, ethnomusicologist D.K. WILGUS, JOHN COHEN, MIKE SEEGER, TRACY SCHWARZ, probably ED and some I didn’t know or can’t recall. I sat off a ways with CLINT HOWARD and his lads, and what we were doing was practicing long-distance spitting. At least I was practicing; the rest were just spitting, as they’d known how to do since childhood, and kindly teaching me. So why to this day can I not long-distance spit? I want to add at this point, since it will be sadly necessary later, that these boys and Roscoe Holcomb and others repeatedly invited me to come visit them and stay awhile if and when I took the song-collecting trip through the south I kept talking about. “Y’all come!” they urged.

Motel rooms had been booked for us. I went and looked at mine. I would have it to myself, because there were no other females to share it with. To be sure, there was RITA WEILL, a new protégé of Ed Pearl, who was not only starting to perform at the AG but also to be considerably involved in the running of it. She would be performing in Monterey, too, but she didn’t need my motel room. Here’s her picture>>>>

The room didn’t raise my spirits much. It was full of mismatched stuff that wasn’t wanted anywhere else, and its window looked out to the street—or in from it. The holey curtain of flower-print chintz didn’t pull tight enough to shut out the streetlight outside. I decided to go find a place where I could buy a little flask of whiskey and indulge in some bravado drinking.

In fact I would bravado drink right here on the curb, dammit. The very vibe of this spot was cursed. People would see me on this cursed spot and feel sorry and think, oh look, there’s a poor, sad, cursed little girl who can’t even go ahead and live because she ran away from her husband and hasn’t gotten onto the folk club circuit and hasn’t any other justification for taking up space on the planet. Maybe John Steinbeck would see me and use my image for a bit appearance in a story about sad, cursed people. ‘The Girl on the Spot.

This was Monterey on a warm spring night, with its cozy store fronts just starting to light up and a waft of smells from ocean and nearby fields. Cars drove by, lots of them; cars are blind. People walked past; they glanced my way or didn’t. Some were musicians, even ones I vaguely knew; a few gave me a casual wave but didn’t stop to talk. Fine.

After I’d gone through half the pint (it might have been half a half-pint), along came Clarence. With a short-sleeved plaid shirt instead of his red jacket. “What are you doing sitting on the curb?” he wanted to know. I told me I wasn’t doing anything, really, just wondering how it would be if I went ahead and killed myself.

“Oh,” he said, “you don’t wanna do that.” And by the way, it isn’t true that Clarence never smiled.

“No,” I agreed. “I really don’t. I was just joking.” Maybe I was. I’m not sure. But it was true, I really didn’t want to kill myself. So I got up, and we left that cursed spot.

Next day was the show, or at least my part of it. The stage was an open-air covered affair, and the crowd was entirely open-air. It really was a crowd—the most people, I think, that I’d ever played for at that time. I have a photo someone took of me warming up, so I know that I was wearing a very cool dress made out of a complex chenille bedspread, and some silver fish earrings from Taxco. The expression on my face is distant yet focused, just like my sailor father at the helm, and makes me inclined to forgive myself all kinds of foolishness.

My performance, though, was somewhat marred by three things: First, I had a hangover. Second, a jet took off from the AF base and took a long time—my whole opening number—flying overhead and drowning me out. Third, D.K. Wilgus, the ethnomusicologist Ed told me it was important to make a good impression on, was emceeing, and his last words into the mic were, “Just wait’ll you hear this young lady play guitar!” Then I walked onstage holding my autoharp, and the crowd tittered. No big thing—just an unintentional, sneaky way to make Mr. Wilgus look slightly silly.

Worse, there was no response to my show. Unfortunately there were two burgeoning flowers being introduced that day—Rita Weill and me—and I don’t know whether she was just better than me or more likeable or better situated on the program or had more supporters, but I do know that the glowing reviews next day in the papers were all for her. And though we were starting to become friends, my nose was sadly out of joint. I didn’t hear her act—nor Joan’s, nor Bob’s.

What praise I did get was from my mother and grandmother on the way home. And when I asked if they’d noticed the kid with the big guitar and said wistfully that I wished I could play like him, my grandmother smiled her wise little smile and said, “Oh, I think that’s for the fellows to do. It wouldn’t do for a girl, not for you. But I think your playing is very pretty.”

7–SO HOW DID THAT HOTEL BURN DOWN?

The first stop was an international meeting of the UAW-CIO (‘makes the army roll and go’). They needed me to stand on a stage in front of a giant American flag and sing in as many languages as possible while the auditorium filled up. Imagine someone finally asking for some arcane skill you happen to have.

After that, I rambled across town to the next gig. The RETORT was a new and classy little club PETE CANTINI opened in the basement of the MOUNT ROYAL HOTEL, which belonged to Pete’s mother, who was the kind of (black) woman who would—and did—take the new Rolls Royce on which her (Italian) husband had squandered good money down to the chop shop and have it arc-welded into a pickup. The hotel eventually burned down, though not because of that.

Pete was a kind and perceptive person but a bit of a crank in his way. He’d studied a lot of chemistry (not why the hotel burned down) and named his club after those beaky glass bottles they mix potions in. The club was an immediate success, and so was I. In fact, after the first week Pete decided he should be my manager. (About now, I should tell you that I have never ever had a manager; something happens between the bright idea and the signature on the contract. And you are probably beginning to understand why.)

He kept thinking up promotional gambits, but I didn’t like any of them. He even came to me with an offer of a bit in Vogue, which he’d gone to a lot of trouble to get, but I hemmed and hawed and declined. Why? ’Cause I am not a bit. Something like that. Truthfully, the prospect of even a mention in a major magazine scared the whiz out of me. I might find myself on that superhighway to success and then have to follow through—to do what I was claiming I could do. After that, Pete got pretty annoyed with me. He even said, “Okay, you are never going to get anywhere, and you know why? Because you refuse to kiss ass, that’s why.”

At the time, I took it as a compliment; of course I would not kiss ass. But if we change the image a little, to ‘you refuse to let other people feel important,’ then suddenly I recognize the truth of his words and now am forced to look back over a long life of resolute non-ass-kissing in this awful perspective.

The NEW LOST CITY RAMBLERS were playing the club across the street. MIKE SEEGER, TRACY SCHWARZ and JOHN COHEN, a study in black and white with their black string ties on white shirts, black vests and trousers. I went over quite often on my breaks and got an earful of terrific music. Also the chance to strike up acquaintance with some extremely nice (remembering that ‘nice’ is a wimpy and nondescriptive word) musicians. They used to do a number about ‘that awful, hungry hash house where I dwell;’ sometimes they said it was their hotel, but if they saw me it became the Mt. Royal.

One night, Mike Seeger picked up an autoharp and played and sang ‘Man of Constant Sorrow.’ The whole thing was exquisite—the black instrument cradled beside his angular face, black shadows and brilliant white spot, the blackness of the song itself—and I had to have it, whatever it was that made it all happen. I asked him about the autoharp, having never heard of one, and he gave me a darn good quick lesson on the spot. He also gave me some extra fingerpicks and showed me how to put them on turned so they would brush, not pluck, the strings.

Next day I ordered an autoharp from the Sears-Roebuck catalog for $30; three days later it was delivered to my upstairs cell in the Mount Royal. So I sat on the bed and played with it all day. Then that night I performed on it, really fantastically. I tell this laudatory story on myself because I seem to be telling so many demeaning ones that I have certainly earned it.

I will not tell about how husband #1, Pete Cantini and Ed Pearl all converged for my closing night. Enough to say it happened. And that wasn’t how the hotel burned down, either. [But I can tell about how Ed walked on snow, for the first time in his L.A. born life and was almost excited, saying in his bemused way, “I’m walking on snow. I’m actually walking on snow.”]

Anyway, they worked it all out, whatever it was. And as two of my shows had already been cancelled, husband—-aright, aright, his name was Lee–and I looked in the driver-wanted ads and drove a stranger’s car straight to Los Angeles. Back to the Ash Grove.

And, oh yes. Somewhere along that drive through the southwest, we were listening to the radio when came the news that a plane crash had taken the lives of several well-known and beloved country musicians. I hadn’t heard of any of them, having not yet discovered contemporary country music, but the news was singularly moving, probably because we were passing through country-music country and the DJs were all choked up. PATSY CLINE was one. And COWBOY COPAS, RANDY HUGHES, and HAWKSHAW HAWKINS.
Well, you hadda be there.