October 22, 2023
Sometimes I shock myself at how stupid and naive I was growing up and, yet, somehow I survived a ridiculous career choice.
It was absolutely and without question the most naive, sexy, dangerous and absurd job of my life (not counting publishing).
Nympho Rodeo: Confessions of a Honkytonk Drummer
It’s been more than 40 years since I played drums in a series of Country bands in the Old Pueblo (Tucson). It was a decadent time in a decadent town and I hesitate to admit it, but I was more than up to the challenge.
One of the constants in each of the bands I played it was this: Each of us thought we were the only reason the band sounded half-way decent. We had shitty gigs. We all hated each other. We all wanted to quit, or get in a better band. We were family. Actually a family of brothers, with the same fantasy driven ideas of the women we wanted to meet.
From my little paradiddle roost on the bandstand, I’ve seen some serious neckin', standup noodlin’, dancin’ handjobs, limbo lechin’, hair pullin’ punchouts and ball-peen-hammer wielding exes. Some of it was breathtaking and some of it was jaw-dropping scary. But I did learn a bunch playing drums in a honkytonk. Among the lessons:
• When you’re in a band, some people think you’re special and others think you’re scum. And the main difference between the two is the latter are not too shy about telling you.
• Against all odds, sometimes the people who frequent honkytonks have pretty solid advice. One night at the Red Rooster on South Nogales Highway, a truck driver, who assured me he had a Phd, told me this: “Let me tell you something about ‘Thorny Relationships.’ You just need to take off the ‘T’ Hoss. Take off the ‘T.’”
• Honkytonk Band Law #76: The gigs that pay the most are usually the suckiest gigs.
• Guys who build bars always scrimp on the bandstand. Usually, it’s an afterthought, tiny and unrealistic for a four piece Country band.
• Sunday Jam sessions: This is where lackluster performers plink and pluck, croon and croak, their tiny talents on pathetic display. But sometimes there was a buffet and that made it all worthwhile to drummers who needed actual food.
• If you’ve never smelled the inside of a bar on Sunday morning, you’ve never lived. There’s this pungent, gagging mix of stale beer and booze, mixed with cigarette smoke and lysol, all ground into a pulp and covered with a glossy sheen. Veterans have told me it's a little bit like lime dumped on a ditch full of dead bodies.
• Band Fights always start between the two most talented and high strung players in the band. The one with the biggest ego usually starts bad-mouthing the other to all the other members until everyone is infected and upset.
• No matter how big or small the band is, there’s always one guy falling in love and another guy falling out of love. Not always, but sometimes the first guy is falling in love with the latter's lawful wife.
• The more important the gig, the more things goes wrong.
• In-house P.A.s are the worst. The doorman is invariably the sound man.
• The higher the ponytail, the lower the I.Q.
• Bass players work all the time. Nobody wants to play bass. It’s boring.
• Drummers don’t want to stay in back. They want to sing lead (Guilty as charged, your honor).
• We played a wedding reception at a dog track on south 4th Ave. It was cheesy. We set up in the tri-fecta area and played looking out on the darkened track. There was a palpable tension between the guests at the party. Finally the groom jammed cake in the bride’s nose and she choked and tried to slap him. He laughed and grabbed her hands and did it again. As we broke down, I had to step over the groom and his father-in-law rolling between the tables, cursing and punching each other in the face. Sometimes I think about that bride and groom and wonder if they’re still happily married. I would take odds on one thing: I'll bet they are still married. It's a Country thing.
• “We’re so excited to be here...Testing 1-2-3-4...”
The Band Practice Conundrum
• The double-edged sword. When you work all the time you start to gell as a band, but you spend so much time together you don’t want to even see each other away from the gig, much less practice. So you rarely practice, and if you fall into this cycle, you never grow. If one guy bails on practice, everyone bails, happy that the first guy takes the fall and gets the blame.
Really Hurtful Honkytonk Joke #67
Q: How can you tell if the stage is level?
A: Drool comes out both sides of the drummer’s mouth.
Honkytonk Fevered Dreams
She appeared out of a smoky haze. Spaghetti straps anchoring her floating, rocket ship bosoms. She was a headturning, knocked-out Country goddess and she knew it. As she picked her way to an empty table near the dance floor, every guy in the place craned his neck to get a glimpse. They all wanted her, but she kept looking straight ahead at the bandstand.