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25/June/97 - INDIANAPOLIS WEEKEND ROCKABILLY 1997 REVIEW, by Tony O'Bryan.
June 19: Finally got on the road at 2:30 p.m. I piloted the borrowed company van, my wife Sara navigated and DJ/Jam meister Caroline kept the music pumping. We rocked across the rolling hills of Missouri, boogied across the flatlands of Illinois and crossed the finish line in Indy at 9:45 EST. 489 miles in 7 hours 15 mins. The big white bullet from Lone Jack. My version of the Indy 500! We checked into the hotel, showered n' shaved, got our cat clothes on and trucked on down to the Fountain Square to catch the last few bands playing that night. We caught the last two bands and grabbed a big ol' greasy cheeseburger with beer batter dipped onion rings and chocolate shakes. BURP! Starting meeting rockabilly discussion listmembers right away. Talked to "Dashing" Del the DJ from Ann Arbor at the lunch counter. Chatted with Sandra at the booth on stage right. Saw Rocket J giving her food ulcers in the diner. Saw two good rockabilly bands the Starlight Drifters and the Swingrays. The Starlight Drifters were real good! This is going to be fun I can tell already. After the show we went back back to the hotel and Sara whipped up latte's while Caroline went to check on the rumors of a rockabilly jam session in the lobby. Yup! Sure enough. Apparently David Loehr had arranged to have the hotel and lend us a little meeting room so that all of us rowdy rockabillys who ain't had enough yet could get together for a little after show "whoopitup!".
JP from the Swingin' Demons was leading an impromptu jam session while the Farrel Bros. stood nervously by. We met listmember Kenny Bruce and his beautiful wife Darlene. Plus "stay in school" Donnie Briggs and "doll face", Jen. After a few dares I ran up to my room and grabbed my $75 "camping" guitar and returned to the jam session. I got up there and somebody yelled out for some Gene Vincent. I tugged on JP's sleeve and volunteered to sing "Rocky Road Blues" I looked to my right and there is handsome Kenny Bruce on slap bass, to my left Donnie Briggs playing lead, JP from the Swingin' Demons was jumping around strumming rhythm. A whole room full of people stood around wanting to hear and dance to some good rockabilly music. I was as terrified as I had ever been and in the same instant thought I had died and gone to rockabilly heaven. I took a deep breath and belted out the first bar of the tune accapella. There was a dead stillness in the room. My heart stopped beating. I thought I was about 2 beats away from looking like an absolute buffoon. Then out of nowhere Kenny Bruce reached down into my soul and pulled out this slap bass line from waaay down Memphis way. Me and JP started strumming, Donnie started picking, the drummer was kicking and before I knew it I was singing. Folks was dancing, someone shouted my name, "Go Tony!" I felt moved by the spirit of rockabilly music. Donnies guitar solo was so dang cool I almost forgot to start singing the next verse. This is the best version of "Rocky Road Blues" I have ever had the chance to sing and play. Dear Lord, thank you for the opportunity to jam with real live rockabilly musicians. We rocked till dawn. From the hotel balcony we watched drunk rockabilly greasers with tattoos jump the pool fence and go for a dawn dip at 5 a.m.
June 20: Awoke to the sounds of listmember Rockin' Rudy practicing slap bass in the room next to mine. Crazy nut...playing along with Dave and Deke and Ray Condo at 11 a.m.! I was tempted to call the front desk to demand he turn it up so I could practice along too. Sara and I went down to the Fountain Square to check out some of the shops within walking distance of the theatre. Saw some really cool antiques and went into the most far out bookstore I've ever seen. A big white furry kitty greeted me at the door and an ancient but very sweet old man sat behind the counter listening to "that 50's rock and roll". This place was jam packed with books from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling. I stumbled about over stacks of books and old postcards. The old man smiled at me and he muttered, "I should have left room for dancing". Finally we shuffled up to the third floor of the Fountain Square where my freind Clint styles "go cat go" haircuts . I went in there ostensibly to see Clint but I had the ulterior motive of talking to Jason Hart. Jason works under the same shingle as Clint but he is a tattoo artist. I was thinking about finally getting my first tattoo. I showed Jason the design I had drawn myself some 13 years ago and he appeared eager to permanently mark my pale northern european skin despite the fact that he was getting married TONIGHT at the show. After bargaining for a price we set the appointment...4p.m. tommorow.
Rushed back to the hotel to get ready for Friday nights show. All the bands were good that night. To be honest I love ALL rockabilly. To me rockabilly bands are like women: they are all beautiful, some are just prettier than others. I love them all...some more than others. Therefore I have devised my own system for rating rockabilly bands. (This grading system may be ambiguous to you, but it works for me.) In ascending order of "goodness": Good, Real good and Damn good. The Red Ball Jets: Good -- but played too dern loud for my taste, roughedges, need a little more reheasal and a little less beer. The Atomics: Good -- kind of noisy for my taste, some originals good, somea little weak. The Blue Moon Boys -- Real good, great original material, energeticperformance. The Duvalls: Damn Good -- Cool harmonies, fun to watch, Nice Falcon! Greatoriginals. A polished act. Swingin' Demons: Damn Good -- and nice folks too! Fun to watch. Great danceband. Good origial material. Lee Rocker and his band -- Real Good. Lee HAD to perform that night. We'd have hung his ass from the rafters if he didn't. Talented guitarist in his band. I was surprised at the number of rockabilly "standards" Lee sang.
Somewhere in between bands we watched as Jason Hart exchanged wedding vows with his beautiful bride. I always cry at weddings and laugh at funerals. This rockabilly wedding was certainly no exception. This was the second most beautiful wedding ceremony I have ever witnessed, the first being my own. After the show we dragged our tired asses back to the hotel, fixed up a triple shot of espresso and went down to the lobby to check out the Friday night jam session. Rocket J was up there belting out the rockabilly tunes with Donnie Briggs on guitar. The Farrel Brothers stood nervously by. JP finally got the The Farrel Brothers to join in the jam session. It was the first time I seen them guys smile all weekend. JP stood between them with his guitar slung down around his knees and all three of them proceeded to bust strings. I've never seen so much Gretsch orange in one place in all my life. "Rancher" heaven! Can't wait to get these pictures developed. Chatted with Jen, Sandra, Del, Rocket J. Met Mike Lynam, Greg Laxton, Shannon Finch, Gabby and Rodcat today. Everyone from the list is so kind to me. They act as if we are long lost pals. Too cool! Tried to go for a dawn swim with Sara. A lone mallard duck guarded the locked swimming pool. I was too tired to jump the fence so we gave up on the dawn swim and returned to our room for the days last "cigarette". We smoked that puppy on the hotel room balcony as we watched a big pink and orange sun rise over the Indy skyline. Looks like rain. Man... I'm having fun. Gotta get some sleep so we can wake up and do it all again tommorow.
June 21: Once again I was awaken by the sounds of some damned rowdy rockabilly musicians practicing in their room. This time it was from the room below me. Jeff the drummer from Rhythm Bound was hosting a jam session off of the balcony of their hotel room. They were playing for all the rockabillies down at the pool. I stood out on the balcony and watched. Rockin' Rudy and his pals from next door came out to their balcony too and we chatted for a good 1/2 an hour about rockabilly music. How come everyone I meet from Michigan is like a long lost cousin?? They were all snickering. One of them had called Jeff's room and preteneded to be the front desk manager. The conversation went something like: Phone ring: "Hello", "Uhh...yes, this is the manager at the front desk...uh... is this the room where the band is playing?" "Yeah, we are playing ...sorry...uh...is it too loud? We'll turn it..." "Well would you fellas' mind taking your little jam session OUT TO THE BALCONY SO ALL THE GUEST CAN ENJOY IT! Tee Hee! chuckle... snort!" CLICK: BRRRRRRRRR Sounds of laughter and strains of rockabilly music start up again.
Went downtown to get my first tattoo. I was hoping Jason wasn't too hungover from his wedding night. I was hoping he had a GOOD wedding night. I did not want a cranky hungover guy drawing on my flesh. I was not dissappointed. Jason greeted me with bright blue eyes and a big Hoosier smile. He showed me the improvements he had made to my design. I loved the changes he had made and the colors he added, three shades of blue and a splash of orange. This cat has the vision of an artist. I got my tattoo whlile Sara stayed at my side, Clint cut hair, Rick Presley (singer from the Blue Moon Boys) and his pals clowned around squirting each other with a water pistol. Bill Haley and Hank Williams Sr. took turns playing on a little tape player. When he finished I looked at my arm and thought, "Damn, that looks cool!" I love my new tattoo. Sara does too. I'm 35 years old. I did not get this thing on a whim. I've thought about for years. This tattoo is very personal to me. It represents a part of my personal spiritual journey through life. It represents my love and dedication to rockabilly music. I got it in Indy at my third weekender in Indiana. I designed it myself. It took a cat like Jason Hart to make it a beautiful thing.
Rushed back to the hotel to get dressed and pick up Caroline. Damn! We was running late. It started to rain hard...like really hard...like cow manure and big flat rocks to splash it. I was going to be really disappointed if I didn't get to see Rhythm Bound. Looks like dinner at the diner again. Lucky for us we like cheeseburgers. Made it to the Fountain just in time to see Rhythm Bound. I swear I saw a Boyscout standing out in the pooring rain open the door for my wife and Caroline when I dropped them off at the entrance to the Fountain Square building. Gawd, I love Indiana! Only missed Rhythm Bounds first two songs. OK-- I'm biased as all hell but I think these guys were the best band I saw all weekend. Yeah-- I'm partial to these guys...maybe it's cause they're such gentlemen, perhaps it's their deadly handsome good looks and cool threads. Perhaps it's because I feel I owe a debt to Tom Hopkins for being kind to me when I first hooked up my love of rockabilly to a computer and a modem some three years ago. Perhaps it's because I want a job playing guitar in this band. Whatever...I'll try to put those reasons aside for a moment and offer a candid view of their music and performance. Damn Good! Great original material. Fun to watch! Talented musicianship! I can sense a reverance for the genre of rockabilly in their music and stage presence. I almost hate to say it but they sort of remind me of Big Sandy. Not so much in style but rather in their approach to the music. Nice volume level for that room too. (Pay attention youngsters...ringing ears...not a good thing.)
The other bands playing that night were: The Cigar Store Indians -- real good but WAY TOO LOUD. I had to leave the room my ears was hurting so bad. The Belmont Playboys -- damn good, I like these guys recorded better than I do live, loud but damn good. Firey stage presence. Wayne Hancock -- damn good, Wayne is a mild mannered genius IMHO. I've been listening to Wayne since I saw him In Indy last November. His music STILL makes my hair stand on end. Sonny Burgess -- damn good. We aint in love with Sonny's band but man Sonnyrocks!! WE Wanna' BOOGIE!! Ronnie Dawson -- damn good. Ronnie is my personal rockabilly role model. Always a thrill to see Lisa Pankratz give a drum set 'what for' too. She is a real pretty gal but when she gets behind a drum kit she turns into the ROCKABILLY GODESS OF LOVE. It's almost too bad Ronnie D went on last when everyone had already had their little rockabilly butts kicked buy all the other great bands that night.
Made it back to the hotel to attend the aftershow party. We saw Wayne Hancock milling around. Del was spinning records. A lot of folks was chowing down on White Castles. Lisa Pankratz was there. We went to the room and fixed up a few latte's...one for me, one for Sara, Caroline and Jen wanted one...and one for WAYNE the TRAIN. We heard Wayne drinks a lot of coffee and we know he is a "double A" daddy like me and Sara. So Sara made Wayne an iced vanilla flavored double latte'. I was so surprised when my typically terribly timid wife walked up to Wayne and shoved that iced latte' into his little hand. I don't know if he enjoyed it. I saw him walk around and nurse it for a while. I know it was a thrill for Sara just to have done such a thing. We were so tired we didn't stay long but I hear there was another jam session that night and Lisa Pankratz played drums for a while.
June 22: Time to boogie home. Went to the diner for brunch. The Farrel Bros. were there hanging out with two girls and wearing glowing smiles....hmmmm...wonder what them two Canooks been up to? Del was there looking cool talking on a car phone. Del gave us cassete tape of his radio show. Loaded up the van and hauled ass back to Missouri. Somewhere in the middle of Illinois Sara mentioned that the Frantic Flatops were playing in Lawrence KS tonight. Caroline and I went bug-eyed for a minute....we started checking watches and looking down at the speedometer...Uh-oh...I felt a rockabilly wild hair crawling up my leg. We stepped on the gas, flew into Lone Jack at 9 p.m., cleaned up a little, checked on our booming garden and jumped back on the road another hour for the trip to Lawrence KS. Got to the Bottleneck in Lawrence just in time to catch the Frantic Flatops. Between sets Caroline introduced me to the program director at KKFI and I talked to him about starting up a rockabilly radio show in KC. I can tell he thinks I'm a trendy bastard 'cause I dig rockabilly, have greased hair and a new tattoo. I think he is a trendy bastard 'cause he hosts a "death metal" radio show. Talked to the Frantic Flatops for a bit as they came off stage. At first I could tell they had no interest in talking to us until Sara said "Rocket J says Hi! We just saw her this morning in Indy!" They immediatley changed attitude and wanted to know ALL about our weekend in Indy. We told them about our 9 hour drive so we could see them. Nice guys and a damn good rockabilly band. We were all tired. It was time to take Caroline to her home in the city and us back to the love shack near Lone Jack. This was the best weekend I've had since I got married. If ya' didn't go ya' missed out on good time partying with the best rockabilly fans in the world.
FOOT NOTE: All the beautiful women dancing!! My wife in her new (old) blue dress and heels. Hubba! Hubba! Seeing Ronnie Dawson in his street clothes. Caroline dancing...'nuf said! Best Tattoo: Tom Hopkins, bassist for Rhythm Bound. On his inside forearmshe has two pinup girls beautifully drawn with the words "Blue Days" on onearm and "Black Knights" on the other. Weekends greatest unsolved mystery: What is that powdered brown stuff I saw Ronnie Dawson mix into his orange juice at the hotel resturaunt? Bee Pollen? Vitamin B-12? Metamucil? Dehydrated Monkeys paw mixed with black cat bones? Best rumor I heard: Lee Rocker is coming to Clint's Butcher Shop to get hislong hippy lookin' hair cut off on 7 p.m.Saturday. Best coincidence: Meeting somebody from my birthplace, Fern Creek Kentucky.Best Dancing couple: Louis and Michelle from New Jersey. Best reason for ALL listmembers NOT to be in Indy next year: THERE AINT ONE!! Get hip felines...this is the most down home freindly weekender in theUSA!! Well there you have it!! Sorry if I bored anyone. (Not really though.) I hope everyone made it home safely. I came home with $2.67 in my pocket to last me till my next paycheck in a week. Good thing I planted that 15 lbs. of seed potatoes last spring...looks like we'll need them. Good to be back in Lone Jack MO USA, Tony O'Bryan -- The Midway Rebel - OBRYANINN2@aol.com