The Story Of The Last Lariat Band
Or How A Reformed Hippie Georgia Cracker Died,
Was Transported To The Western Maryland Mountains,
And Resurrected as a Living Hillbilly Rocker;
Ok. I really didn’t Die. I just used Shock and Awe to hook you. It wouldn’t be the first time such tactics were employed to get your attention.(Lately.)
Death means Drama. Everybody knows that there are different kinds of Death. My kind of Death, and subsequent Reincarnation could best described in Tarot Card terms. There are different schools of thought involved in the interpreting of the symbolic use of scary scull pictures in Human history. There are scary skulls represented on the Death Card in Tarot Card divination, scary skulls on motorcycle jackets, scary skulls on the back of said-type jackets of guys NAMED Skull (or Blackie)- and bottles of, say- arsenic, mountain bathtub moonshine or (inject personal disgust here)any sandwich containing sauerkraut.
My death was spiritual, but not necessarily accompanied by an angelic choir. It was accompanied by the chorus of “ Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was more like the sound of a large Saltine Cracker being crushed underfoot by a big Motorcycle Boot. This lends credence to the Native American concept that all objects have life and that there are transcendent life affirming moments for boulders, trees, used Fiats and-Yes!- even a confused, misplaced Georgia hippie snack Cracker.
PART ONE: I enter the City Of Frostburg in a Haze.
Literally. My first reaction to Frostburg was: Where the Hell IS it?
After being on the road for 3 days, eating Howard Johnson food, and being frightened to death by secondary West Virginia mountain roads, and being forced to travel from rural South Georgia,(read Peanutland) upwards into a strange topography containing hardwood trees and Northern people,(on my 17th birthday,no less.) – I found myself, my family, our moving truck, our overheating car hauling a home-made wood rail trailer full of farm mammals- completely enveloped in a cold pea-soup thick fog.
This is the kind of FOG that would make a London Bobby-Cop curse.
“ Well, kids- we’re here!” said my mother in the mock cheerful tone she usually saved for dish-duty;” This is our new home.”
“ Uh. Where exactly. I can’t see a Goddamned thing.”
“ Watch your mouth, son.”
“ I’d watch my mouth but I can’t see it OR
this suppose-ed Frostburg place cuzza fog. Y’all ‘er dreamin’ if yuh think I’m Living here,”
“ Stop being negative, son..the Fog will clear up.”
She said this prematurely. Not only did the Fog NOT clear up for three days- We hadn’t even driven over Big Savage Mountain yet. This is the mountain where I learned the term WHITEOUT and that thick impenetrable fog could go from blinding to solid- in the form of ice crystals, in a matter of minutes.
To this day the memory causes my heart rate to accelerate to unhealthy levels.
There is no Easter Bunny. There is no Santa Fraud. There is NO summer in Frostburg in June 1972. Not what a Georgia /Florida boy would call summer anyway.
Things had been worse.
I hated Ty-Ty Georgia. Never had I been so glad to leave a place.
South Georgia was a hot, below sea-level, Redneck promulgation of vicious nose talking wielders of multiple shotguns and racial epithets who, between beer-drinking and Bible thumping, relaxed by hunting Hippies in their spare time. These Rednecks weren’t without their own kind of charm. They had talent. Not everyone is capable of growing Hogs as big as your average Volkswagen Beetle.
When my Mother moved us from Athens, Georgia to this impossible outpost of Post-Agrarian Lynch Mentality- I was pretty sure my Hippie ass was done for. A year of sprinting for survival in Sumner County Georgia was quite sufficient, thank-you. I was ready to leave. No one in South Georgia understood my Alice Cooper records. I declined many an offer for a free haircut from Deputy Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriff’s brother-in-laws.
I was cautiously optimistic about moving closer, incrementally, to New York City. That made traveling with my parents, three sisters, my brother, his wife and newborn son, five dogs, four goats, three mean geese, eight Siamese cats and a parakeet- tolerable.
But I hadn’t been prepared for this strange unknowable block of Ice-Smoke called Frostburg Maryland.
“ Yep, “ I whispered under my breath;
” Hell indeed hath frozen over, bubba.”
This was the quixotic parallel Death of the Crestfallen Teen-ager.
Temporary, perhaps- but not without gravity and consequence.
The Parakeet died. And I’m not being symbolic. Poor Damn thing was dead and hard as a freeze-dried biscuit by the time we crossed Big Savage Mountain and pulled into our rental house(hut) just over the Garrett County line in Frog Hollow.
I’m no Iroquois , but this was not a good omen.
My sisters cried all week. The unfortunate tropical avian tourist was buried on a hill under a glued together couple of popsicle sticks by the Goat shed.
The Goats, who are famous for not really giving a damn, ate the Funerary marker within days.
Goats are resilient creatures.
More so than Teen-agers.
PART 2- I Leave Western Maryland With No Intention of Returning
Unless It’s a Holiday
That was the plan anyway. For a few years it worked.
My domestic life was in turmoil. The little house my Mom rented sight unseen was tiny compared to the big Southern houses we were used to. There was only one bathroom for eight and a half people. Squabbles broke out in five minute increments. My family began to disintegrate. By the end of the first two months the situation met it’s breaking point. My Mother and step-father rarely spoke, my brother and his brand new little family literally hitch-hiked out of Frog Hollow and spent their last hundred bucks on a Greyhound bus back to Athens, Georgia. And my sisters began to rebel about doing domestic chores for everyone.
I spent a lot of time in the upper meadow with the Goats.
I had taken to calling our new hill cottage, “Mount Bitchmore”.
The surrounding mountains, as beautiful and interesting as they were, had little appeal to a seventeen year old.
Being an average 17 year old in the early 1970’s, my thoughts turned often to beer, pot, rock n roll and pussy-and though some may intone that three out of four ain’t bad- they are mistaken about the magnetic pull of item number four.
My acclimation to altitude proved confusing. The beer tasted like fermented potato peels. My Mother wanted me to go to College.
The mountain people I met that first “summer” were mildly engaging- especially The Amish, who know how to party at a Barn raising. I thought their black garb was cool. They look kind of like cool Goth Preacher-Cowboys. They rarely made it over Big Savage Mountain in their horse drawn buggies to Frostburg. I assumed that this was because it made no sense to nearly kill a team of horses in search of the goods or services provided by the corrupt Modern World.
Or, perhaps, in search of a decent Pizza.
Amish, not surprisingly, do not consider the eating of Pizza a culinary option. This fact alone, rad impressive black hats notwithstanding, made it pretty certain that I wasn’t gonna run away and join The Amish.
I was in my Alice Cooper pizza eating beer drinking(reefer smoking) phase. I’m pretty sure joining a band of Amish would’ve meant going to a little more church than I was used to.
The wardrobe possibilities, however, seemed endless.
Let me remind you- this was way-y before Goth music had been identified as an Art form or The Children Of The Corn had been released for our viewing pleasure.
My mind always did tend to work that way. I like the Art of cultural collage. Mix that with a pretty smart-ass sense of humor and an angry crayon and in 1972 what you get is a home-schooled 17 year old. And an impressive 100 yard sprinter with a G.E.D. High School equivalency diploma.
I was ready to go. I’d had enough. I managed to score a job down the road stacking hay bales from an insane Farmer named Buzz. He had a steel plate in his head from a mining accident. This made Farmer Buzz a bit unstable in temperament. He had long obscene angry conversations with hoes, pitchforks, and broken pick-up trucks. The pay was meager and unsatisfying, but I thought it prudent not to ask for a raise. I didn’t want to rile Farmer Buzz.
The one improvement over South Georgia is that no one, Farmers or otherwise, said a thing about my hair. No one particularly cared.
This was weird. I had spent a few years keeping my adrenaline at peak levels to fend off frequent long-hair-hating Bubba attacks down South, and these people didn’t seem to care too much. The Western Maryland Hill Folk were not a particularly demonstrative or emotional lot. Except of course for Farmer Buzz. But that was medical.
SYNOPSIS: I took the pitiful pocketful of money I earned stacking hay for Farmer Buzz, bid my family goodbye, and hitch-hiked back to Athens, Georgia. I returned to Frostburg only occasionally, marvel at a mostly bearded population who would put up with such a climate, harvest some fast female company, drink and smoke a lot of cheap Mexican weed- and leave again. This fancy-free hit and run rover life worked for a few years. During these hitch-hiking dead-end job years I learned to play harp and acoustic guitar. This probably wouldn’t be considered much more than a lateral move toward job security, but I didn’t give a Rats ass. Attitude, as they say, is everything.
In late 1977 I took a job delivering medical supplies all over the Washington D.C. area. One hung-over morning, while trying to free a wedged box, I brought my left groin down on the corner of a wooden crate with strong enough force to rupture myself and abruptly end my career as a delivery man.
Ouch. It was as bad as it sounds.
I ended up virtually penniless in Frostburg to undergo surgery and convalesce at the family homestead- now located in Slabtown, a tiny hamlet between Frostburg and Mt.Savage, in mid-freezing ass- snow and ice covered=January.
Hint fellas: A hernia operation entails a CLOSE shave in areas one usually likes to leave alone.
Upshot? No skirt chasing til we can be sure the sight of our mighty sword doesn’t evoke peals of laughter from the opposite sex.
This left me and my stitched-up gut little else to do but play my Dobro and draw obscene underground cartoons. In an attempt to parley my new found obsession with cartooning and funky Dobro playing into more than a pastime; I hooked up with a couple Art students and a couple Townies to jam. We played a pretty eclectic mix of Old And In The Way, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Acoustic Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, The Band, Bob Dylan, Byrds and of course -Grateful Dead.( NO Alice Cooper..I kept that side to myself.) We played house parties, little semi-acoustic shows here and there, and our buzz grew. I named the band “ The Last Lariat Band” as a dark joke alluding to how I viewed my options without music.
The Music Scene in Allegheny County at the time consisted of nothing but Hard Rock and Heavy Metal cover bands. Some good, like Full Steam Eddy, and The Neighbors, some horrid- (no need to bash the forgotten)- and a good deal of generic bluegrass or truck drivin’ country bands for the County Fairs, Veteran’s Day parades, and church bake sales.
In Grantsville, at the now defunct National Hotel, (an historical structure dating back 1801-a last chance motel for the first settlers headed west to sleep in a bed), there was a little basement club called The Blue Moon Saloon. The Blue Moon was a rarity for this part of Maryland in that it had imported beers and a decent menu. It catered to the skiers from DC and Baltimore headed to the slopes in Oakland, and a more thoughtful Bohemian college crowd willing to make the drive from Frostburg.
Kenny P.; a Baltimore escapee from Fells Point ran the place and was the first to bring a much more acoustic coffeehouse and jazz eclecticism to the area. It was also far enough out in the Boonies so that a certain amount of 70’s type wild behavior went largely unnoticed. Kenny P. was the first person to book me as a solo in the Blue Moon.
Kenny P. is also a contender in my top ten craziest- motherfuckers I- ever- knew list. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the OTHER nine on that list and the amount of time that has gone by.
The Last Lariat band grew out of these first appearances in the funky, spooky, beer cellar of The National Hotel. Some swear the place was haunted. We were snowed in more than once and had to spend the night til the roads were cleared. I saw ghosts. It may have been the mushrooms and Bach beer.
We started out very much as an anti-Foghat anti-metal type Roots band. I liked Southern Rock, but Kenny wouldn’t allow electric instruments into the tiny club. We did much more low volume arrangements of otherwise heavier music using congas and a lot of dynamics. And we drank for free, as long as we kept the people happy. Much to our surprise and delight, we were popular. We were therefore drunk a lot. We stayed booked. Eventually it became evident that we had to go more electric in order to play the larger venues for better money.
The thing that set us apart was our ability to adapt easily from semi-acoustic low volume to an electric rock unit with ease.
The Last Lariat Band was in a class by itself. We had the first electric fiddle player in the area. We mixed funk, country rock, newgrass, Psychedelia and a large helping of Southern Rock into our sound. As our popularity grew, we added as crowd pleasers, some pretty fair interpretations of songs by The Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, and a lot of Charlie Daniels Band. We did a seriously kicking version of The Devil went down To Georgia , and we did our own version of an Orange Blossom Spaceship(Special)..with flanged and wah-wah Fiddle.
To this day I can recite the lyrics to that damned Devil Went Down to Georgia song. This causes my head to ache, and my brow to furrow. Jeez, I can’t remember what I did yesterday but that song is forever conjoined with my brain waves. It must be because I learned and performed it tripping my ass off on L.S.D. I wonder if any Government studies have been conducted concerning lyrical recall and bathtub Acid.
The Last Lariat Band could be in the Main Control Group of THAT little psychiatric sled-ride. Trust me.
Another big reason for our popularity was our willingness to let other players from other bands sit in and Jam. We were big on stretching a 4 minute song into a 30 minute extravaganza of leads from guitar to fiddle to sax ad infinitum. Jam bands are nothing new. Bands like The Allman Brothers and The Dead were doing it long before someone decided to use the Jam Band “genre “as a marketing ploy.
The definition of a Jam Band?
Keep playing til we figure it out cuz everyone- including the club owner-are too stoned to notice that weer playing the same song over and over for 3 hours.
It’s great practice. Really.
The Last Lariat Band morphed from acoustic/eclectic to commercial Southern Rock in a matter of 6 months. This was a mixed bag for me. The music I listened to, and the music I was able to play were two different things. I liked playing the “B” sides of great bands rather than the “Hits’. It frustrated me mentally and artistically. I knew the only way to finally break through was to write original music and leave these mountains and perform it in the metropolitan areas.
We were big fish in a little pond. The money rolled in, we drank as much as we wanted, had regional pre-hero status, all the women we thought we wanted- (different sets for each county)- and this made most of the band members quite comfortable with the status quo.
What started as a side goof at parties became an actual full-blown business enterprise, and my pushing to play originals was met by my bandmates with a cold response. We kicked around an idea or two, but it never went further than that.I was the musical weak link on my instrument- but I was determined to evolve by writing my own songs as much as could in my spare time.
It has been proven again and again that musical virtuosity without soul or originality is BORING. There is this odd 20 –something male thing that makes everything- even in music- a competition. Only time, experience and the wisdom that comes from self-awareness and artistic fulfillment can cure this. Many a successful band of young men break up in lieu of this. There is always someone in the periphery whispering in your ear. Disintegration is the cost. Whiskey and dope are the enemy. So is time.
We were in constant demand and played every roadhouse and gin-mill in the tri-state. Make no mistake- these joints were pretty rough. Fights and all out Free- For- All bar fights were common and expected. When you mix Jack Daniels and Coal Miner,(or Coal Miner progeny) you get a short fused type of Mountain dynamite ready to rumble as soon as a song by Lynyrd Skynyrd starts.
People in that Appalachian triangle of Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania are a mighty hardy lot. They like to drink, party, rock n roll, fight(did I mention that?) and drink some more.
Other than intense town rivalries, they usually sober up and remain the best of friends afterwards.
Fact: If Hill People like the songs your band plays they don’t clap- they yell- otherwise they’d smash their plastic beer cup.
Or they start pounding the shit out of one another. This usually means you have chosen the correct songs as soundtrack of their lives. A little friendly blood may be spilled, but your money will flow too.
When I tell these stories to my city musician pals they think I’m embellishing the facts. I most assuredly am not.
Remember that scene in the Cowboy Bar in “ The Blues Brothers” movie? That’s no joke..that’s exactly what it was like. Beer bottles, chairs, flying Miners, flying Miner’s girlfriends, flying Miner’s wives throwing flying Miner’s girlfriends. Yep. Yee Haw. Gimmee Three Steps indeed. Free Birds all around. Saturday Night Special and lots of drunken stalkers of skittle wielding women.
The Devil Went Down To Georgia Cuz in Western Maryland he’d get his demon ass beat.
The Last Lariat Band played in Road Houses so tough that the
“NO FIGHTING” sign was over The Ladies Room Door.
I shit you not.
I have personally been put in the Hospital 3 times playing in Western Maryland Rock N’ roll bands.
I state this not as a testament to my bravado or my superior intelligence, but as simple fact.
It would be more apt to call these incidents a testament to my temporary chemically induced UN-intelligence…and my choice of company and location..location..location.
Hell man, like they say-
If You Remember The Seventies You Probably Weren’t There.
I Meet Biker Bad Ass#1, And His Best Buddy-
Biker Bad Ass#2- and Live To Tell about It.
James McMurtry had it right when he said that he started out each evening as an artist only to end up being a beer salesman. This is the sad but true fact of the Bar Band life. To this description I would add part-time gladiator and pugilist.
We were popular with the Bear Hill boys. This is a Mountain area between Grantsville and Deep Creek Lake. They were what I came to term as “Acid Gomers”- kinda like psychedelic well meaning Hicks and Hillbillies with a lust for life and Fiddle rock. They were friendly, loyal and followed The Last Lariat band wherever we played. The boys from Bear Hill were big. Like the name of their home- Bear-like Men, burly, bearded ,strong ,rambunctious and REALLY high. They rarely ventured into Allegheny County, but for us they made an exception. Our Bass player Dick was one of their own, so the rest of us relatively scrawny musician types were accepted despite our obvious midgetry and inability to smash beer cans into our foreheads. They felt sorry for us and became our troupe of protector-giants.
In Frostburg city proper there were only two places rock bands played. One was called The Republican Club. The other-you guessed it- The Democrat Club. Bands in the mountains were pretty territorial. They guarded the few venues there were to gig at pretty jealously. It could be tough to get a gig at either club on Fridays or Saturdays, but Thursday nights were pretty wide open. The Last Lariat Band began bringing in a crowds from the college(Frostburg State) and more townies, we were in the paper quite a bit, so The Democrat club gave us the gig. There was a small problem. The Democrat Club was a favorite in-town hang-out of the local Bikers. They pretty much ran the joint because they were prodigious and loyal drinkers. Most of these motorcycle enthusiasts were a pretty reasonable lot as long as you didn’t go out of your way to piss them off. And you HAD to play Born To Be Wild. We were at a tiny disadvantage because we considered songs by Steppenwolf, Foghat, Bad Company, AC/DC or Van Halen…well..stupid music for stupid people. I’ve since tempered this attitude somewhat, but we were in our 20 something smart-ass superiority of taste phase. There were plenty of bands playing selections from the afore-mentioned bands, and we quietly and stubbornly held our ground and played a lot of Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels as a sort of consolation prize for those who preferred Southern Rock over Biker Rock. We liked it too.
But more importantly The Bear Hill boys loved “Sweet Home Alabama” and their drinking accelerated to double the ordinary intake. This meant bar owners made money. Bar owners enjoy that type of reaction to a band. Thirty cases of beer consumed in the space of a 4 minute song is a good return on your investment.
Of the Bikers there reined a king miscreant Bad ass and his second in command, they went by the names(I’m NOT making this up)
Blackie and Skull.
Blackie, as I was told, was a Viet Nam Vet who saw action in the Tet Offensive. He was medium height, tattooed with the slogan
” BORN TO DIE”
and had a gaze that it was best not to meet if he was in the mood for kickin’ butt. His minion, Skull was far less impressive in the tortured history department, but had several of his own crosses to bear. He was in fact the son of one of the more well-to-do families who pretty much decided on an illustrious career as Master Fuck-Up. Skull was bad because he desperately wanted to be Blackie- and Blackie was bad because he ..just was.
They sat on the naugahyde grommet stud bar stools and sneered at our wussy half queer jazz lovin’ fiddle country intellectual bullshit band and drank Miller High Life with Wild Turkey chasers.
Every once in awhile the Bikers shouted something rude or made requests that we perform actions that were physically impossible to recreate, and laughed amongst themselves.
People in Western Maryland talk funny. Being the son of an English Professor, I have always been fascinated by local vernacular, dialect and regional accents. The Western Maryland dialect pretty well dispenses with normal use of the verb “to be”.
People say things like:
“This jacket needs sewed.” Or “ this beer needs drunk” or my enduring personal favorite, “ Yous needs yer ass kicked.”
I mention this only because one amusing and endearing feature of this dialect and local pronunciation makes “L” sound a lot like “W”.
Milk becomes “Mowk”. Mile becomes “ Mow” and Miller Beer becomes “ MIWWERS”.
It cracks me up to see a Bad Ass Born To Be Wild Biker order a beer sounding like Elmer Fudd.
As an extra helping of hilarity I have also heard the words
“LI-BERRY” and “PUS-Kewwy n damada sauce.” Uttered in my presence.
It kinda makes my “Yawls” and “Might coulds” seem tame and urbane in comparison.
It goes without saying that mocking a Biker Elmer Fudd in Leather boots carrying a knife the size of Schwartzenegger’s forearm and drunk on three-quarters of a case of Miwwers Beer may be hazardous to yer health.
I guess some guys gotta learn the hard way.
The night in question was when I learned that lesson rather well.
The Bikers, being the sort of charming Peckerheads one might come to expect, had brought firecrackers to light and toss into the dance floor if they disapproved of our musical selections. This frightened our college crowd.
This was affecting our performance and scaring the shit out of Sam, our mellow Grateful Dude guitar player. The Fiddle Player, Pete, a tall Aryan ex-Army guy was scowling through Orange Blossom Special, the bass player Dick had a hard to read stone face black fury aura about him, and young Pete(we called him RE-Pete) the drummer looked ready to rumble.
I was just plain old Georgia Boy pissed.
We were halfway through the second set when a boisterous and enthusiastic herd of Bear Hill boys showed up and began hootin and hollerin with great gusto. They brought women with them, but not enough women to go around. At some point one of The Bear Hill boys began romancing a Frostburg Biker moll and things became tense. Skirmishes began to break out during Seatrain’s electric Fiddle version of the Little Feat song “Willin.”
It was as if we had picked the score for the Wild West Saloon scene. Chair and stools were sailing through the air. Firecrackers went off. Bodies crashed into tables, smashing them into sawdust.
One of the Bear Hill boys took a break from bludgeoning, grabbed Sam the Mellow by the throat and demanded ;
” Yous Play Sweet Home Alabama Right Now!”
Considering the situation and the look in Sam’s eyes it seemed a reasonable request.
We broke into that song, not knowing what else to do, it was like being a pit orchestra being sprayed with hard cow patties at a Human Rodeo.
In the immortal words of Ronnie Van Zant-
Two of The Bear Hill Boys ran past using a screaming college kid
as a battering ram against a raging clump of Bikers.
Now a word about Microphone stands: The standard circular metal weighted Mic stand, when used properly, can dissuade the aggressive advance of a 250 pound charging Hillbilly. If deposited squarely in the shin area or the foot area above the steel toes of a motorcycle boot, can afford at least a full three to five minutes of escape time(per Hillbilly, less per Biker) for the average musician under siege, further allowing those playing stringed instruments to unplug and run like Hell- using their guitars as clubs or lances to clear the way for an hurried column of retreat or as a flanking maneuver to afford the escape of the drummer- who when backed into a corner or in close range combat can use his hickory drumsticks-and in a more lethal battle, his ride cymbals(or stands) to affect his evacuation.
Direct contact of a weighted mic stand to the head is to be avoided at all costs. The object is to subdue and redirect an over-excited music enthusiast, not dispatch them eternally. Such extreme actions tend to reduce gate receipts and make it necessary to audition new band members.
A heavy standard mic stand is your best friend, soldier.
It took me years to accept those twinky-lite little aluminum tripod stands as being in any way credible in live situations. That was before I moved from the outer provinces into a city venues wherein Club Bouncers were provided for protection against music and a drug induced temporary insanity.
It may also be noted that this was before my Punk period where the physical contact in a moshpit was both appropriate and encouraged.
There was blood and at least one tooth missing from one of The Bear Hill boys, who, though possessing of bulk and Hill bravado, did not strut the streets with numb-chucks, chains, or sharp objects for rumbling.
“…now Watergate does not both me, does this bloodshed bother you?-now tell the truth!”
One of my many talents is improvisation when least appropriate.
Now there was a hand around my neck. It was Skull.
“ Play Born To Be Wild, NOW!”
Before I could wriggle away and answer, Skull was attacked from behind and became otherwise distracted. The Band, in almost telepathic and clatch-like consensus of opinion, quit taking requests and left the stage in a phalanx of near military precision; regrouping in the rear by The Men’s room by the beer coolers.
The fracas was over. The Bear Hill boys, though they fought valiantly, were ejected. The Bikers and their allies won the day.
The dust settled- but not the adrenaline. I did the most logical thing I could think of. I strode through the broken glass and furniture to order a Miller Beer.
And there stood Blackie, looking square at me and advancing to finish me off.
“ Why you little faggot- you and yer Hillbilly crew- When I say play “Born To be Wild” you play “Born To Be Wild” cuz yous needs yer ass kicked!”
Now Blackie, king of Bad Ass Frostburg Bikers, the Mordred of leather garbed killer- pricks, had me by the collar and had his studded fist cocked to deliver the final blow.
So I did the NEXT most reactive thing I could do.
I took my beer bottle and using the butt end where the glass is thickest, stamped Miller Brewing Company, St. Louis Missouri, U.S.A. on Blackie’s forehead.
There was a look of absolute surprise on Blackie’s face as he went down. He was out cold.
There was a dazed silence from everyone in the room. It was a sorta David Georgia-Cracker and Goliath Frostburg-Biker kinda moment-Biblical in scope, massive in drama-no one could quite process what had just happened.
Least of all me.
I stood for what seemed like an eternity holding a shattered neck of a beer bottle -frozen in shoulder position where I had struck the blow -while Blackie’s Lieutenants gathered around him and dragged him away bleeding. It unfolded in what seemed like a slow motion battle sequence from Mad Max. The loyal soldiers pulled their fallen bloody Biker King toward the door.
The rest of The Last Lariat Band, almost in unison, muttered
From the back of the crowd came the Prince Of Darkness, an avenging leather studded anti-angel, flying on evil bat-wings, over and through the gathered herd of besotted bit players.
It was Skull, he was screaming-
“ Did you hit Blackie! Did you hurt my brother Blackie?!”
I remember my insightful and poetic response
in that moment of clarity as I backed away and retreated behind the bar.
“ Holy Shit.”
The rest of the ballet was recounted to me second hand. I wasn’t conscious, so I’ll have to take on faith what Re-Pete and the rest of The Last Lariat Band told me when they visited me in the hospital.(This is a paraphrased synopsis;)
Skull smoked yer ass and mopped the barroom floor and the entire top of the bar with you. The cops came in and saved your life.
It took awhile for the Ambulance to get there. You look like crap. We gotta gig in 4 days opening up a liquor store. Rest up.
Try not to piss anyone else off.
In addition my van had a smashed windshield, four flat tires and had been ticketed and impounded by the police.
Frostburg is a little town. News of excitement gets around with lightening speed. The incident made the Cumberland Times. People were engaged in conversation and in giving sage advice. Some of this advice came in the mail. The Get Well Card read;
“ We’re gonna kill alla yous.”
It was a month of high drama. Our audience grew and in fact, tripled. People showed up to the gigs for the same reason people go to Stock Car races and Fire Dances. There is a certain anticipation and skewed optimism in the audience of gladiators and Southern Rock. There is a modern flashier version of hard luck than one might see in the Blues.
I survived. The Last Lariat Band grew ever more popular until artistic differences and my decline into substance abuse (mostly alcoholic in nature) took it’s inevitable toll.
We recently had a 20th anniversary gig. Our personal life paths have become diverse- but we all still play music.
Blackie and I became friends. Not close friends. But we smirked at one another in passing. He seemed proud of the half-moon shaped battle scar that is still on his forehead. I think at one point I heard that he had approached The Anhauser-Bush people about an Endorsement contract. I’m not really sure how that turned out. I heard he got a job on the Railroad.
Skull continued to hate me from a jail cell on un- related charges. He was eventually released from jail into his Mother’s custody.
I was regarded as mercurial and unstable in temperament. Kind of “Artistic” type( times ten )and therefore to be kept at arm’s length by the local inhabitants and other musicians, watched by local cops and regarded suspiciously by Pizza delivery men even though I tipped well.
No matter. I had discovered The Clash and The Ramones.
I was no longer interested in playing Lynyrd Skynyrd covers.
I had been ReinTARnated and ReinTARnated once more in an unfolding metaphysical and spiritual Drama.
It was Magical to Behold. Like stop-action sequential National Geographic nature photography of a Carnation-blooming,growing, fading and turning to dust.
From Cracker to Hillbilly Southern Rocker and finally, by virtue of the Alpha Zen state brought on by the little death known as concussion and oxygen deprivation- I was again transformed.
I was now a living breathing Born Again Punk Rocker. A reinCarnation safety pinned to Jonny Rotten’s lapel.
Who says Lateral evolution is mere theory?
My Thanks is in order to members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
And I owe it all to Sweet Home Alabama.