The first time I did it for money I was 5 months shy of 15 years old . It was a country band named "Leroy Joy and The Country Kickers". I was a little kicker. We played at the American Legion Hall in Crook, CO. My Mom drove me 26 miles on dirt roads in a 1962 Bonneville, from Peetz to Crook, and dropped me off with my employer for the evening.
We rehearsed for as long as it took the other 3 fellas to get through a fifth of Old Crow and some little white pills that came in a baggie instead of a bottle.(approximately 20 minutes)
The drummer that night, A hispanic fellow whose name slips my mind, just got drunker by the minute at the gig. 30 minutes into the 2nd set he fell over backwards behind the drum kit, boots straight in the air, and passed out cold. Made a helluva racket. Leroy and the bass player put him in a booth to sleep it off, and since I played drums in the high school band, I played drums the rest of the night.
I didn't know half the songs. Everyone was pretty drunk but me. I did my best to hang on for dear life - I limped that beat along like I was whippin' a chicken for the next two hours. It was pretty awful but, at the end of the night, I did get sloppy french-kissed, and a winked invitation for a long slow ride in a Buick, from a "lacquered-up" - "liquored-up" "older women" out of Julesberg. That was enough to set the hook. I've been flopping around on that string every since.
That year I had become completely fevered with learning to play guitar. Couldn't decide between Jerry Reed or Jimi Hendrix. As soon as I could shine enough shoes in town, I paid my own $30 , and bought a 3/4 size Stella acoustic guitar at Larsen's jewelry store. The strings on that thing tore my fingers to shreds, but I stuck with it, night and day.
If you'd have unscrewed the top of my head back then - a Les Paul electric guitar, a Playboy Bunny, and 3 Dog Night would have popped out. Our music teacher at the time, Jim Keezer, had a Les Paul, and I don't know that I'e ever lusted harder after anything in my life. It was cherry sunburst - cream pickguard - 2 Humbucking pickups - and it weighed a ton.
It was shaped like a woman. That alone was reason enough to appreciate the fine instrument.
Mr. Keezer let me take that Les Paul out of the case a few times during lessons, and I might as well have been holding the nails that pierced Jesus' feet on the cross. I was breathless. I wanted to weep for it's sheer beauty. I was beginning to understand what was possible with one of these things.
. Mike had been a major jock in high school, just a few short years before. He was cocky as hell - laughed easy and quick. - a complete smart-ass. He worked at the elevator and he drove a bright yellow Dodge SuperBee with hood scoops, a spoiler, and a 383 Hemi.
More-so than any of those things I've just mentioned, he was extremely kind and funny.
Mike's mother was my Aunt Helen's cousin . Mike would buy me a Mountain Dew for helping unload grain trucks at the elevator whenever I'd wander across the tracks to hang out. He and Ron Nelson would take me along to Sidney with their softball team in the summer to shag bats and open beers on the way home:-)
Ron was Mike's nearest neighbor and best friend. His mother Delores, one of the sweetest funniest women to ever yell 95+ decibel obscenities at a high-school football referee with white foam coming out of her mouth - worked for my mother at the Cafe we ran in town.
As far as I could see it back then - If I was o.k. with these guys, I was probably gonna be o.k. These fella's always took the time to treat me like I was somebody worth hangin' out with - to encourage me and occasionally include me in some bit of covert mischief - that made us all related in my book.
I was unaware, but everybody in town knew by that time, that music and specifically playing guitar, had become an apostolic obsession for me. From sunup to lights-out, I couldn't think of anything else. I was driving my teachers, parents, my friends, even my dog - completely nuts. . My best friend thought I belonged in a home. From the time I woke up till the time I went to bed - that was all I thought about.
That August Saturday afternoon at the Bules farmhouse we were sat down to lunch. Mike's Dad -Dean - and he were discussing rod-weeders and vaccination syringes over their mashed potatoes. They would, in good-natured teasing, press me about football and the girls at school - in between farm implements.
I don't remember what all was said. I remember Mike got up from the table and walked out of the room. When he came back in he was carrying an old guitar case. It looked old - and pretty beat up. It was light chocolate brown and textured like alligator skin. Mike laid it on the sofa a few feet away and pointed at it it - nodding to me. "Take a look"
Mike reached down and closed the lid. He looked at me with his signature smart-ass grin and pushed the guitar toward me. "You come back and work for me for 3 more Saturdays - and you can have it" You just make sure you learn how to use the damn thing better than I did" - he chided. " Take it with ya - I know where you live"
I couldn't even speak. I was an odd screwy kid back then (go figure). Eaten up with the hormonal tornado that is 14, and ate up worse every time somebody dropped a dime in a jukebox or turned a radio on. Music tormented every secret dream I had back then, but I had no idea that anybody outside of my house was paying any serious attention to any of my foolishness - to what I cared about, or to what I needed.
I was wrong. They were. Mike was. Turns out, the whole town was, and they all knew before I did.
I wish I still had that Les Paul. It woud be worth around $20K now. I still have everything that came with it though. That's worth more.
I'm still all chewed up with the fever, and I still have these crazy wonderful friends and family that know me better than I know myself. Who see right through me, even when I think I'm flying under the radar. Who bless me with their kindness and grace at every turn, and who let me ride along so I can be that cool too.
I still stop by Mike's place now and then when I go back home. Drink his coffee and talk about our kids, wives, and yesterdays. He's still in my camp. Still watching out for me. They all are..
"Don't take any wooden nickels"