Reprinted by permission from The Angel City Voice. Thanks to Lis Lewis and Bob Malone.

Crawl Across Texas

(Come Back In A Box)Tour

19 Days on the road with BOB MALONE

PART 2
DAY 9

Today we leave for Austin - I love Austin. It's one of the hippest cities anywhere - It's a goddamn MIRACLE that it's in this state. Tutor calls Another Cup (the place we're supposed to play Friday) just to say hi, get details. We're double-booked.

"Y'all can play on Sunday" says this dipshit club booker.

"We're on the road! We're going to be 300 miles away on Sunday."

"Sorry."

Well, what would any tour be without at least one cancelled gig? ("I have a little bad news: the Boston gig is cancelled. I wouldn't worry about it though - it's not a big college town.")

In a moment of desparate resourcefulness, we call the Borders in Austin and have a new gig five minutes after losing the first one. Got lucky again.

It's about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Houston to Austin - all of it through a bunch of scary backwaters. Dry counties. Babtist churches. Copious amounts of pickup trucks. Cows in the front yard. I'm from New Jersey - this frightens me quite a bit. About halfway there, in Waller County, I get pulled over for going 75 in a 70. This, clearly, is not about exceeding the posted speed limit, it's about exceeding the unposted hair limit. I have to get out of the car, of course. After going through all the preliminary this-is-just-a-warning-for-speeding . . . blah, blah, blah - we get down to the real business at hand: searching the car for drugs.

With all the smug assuredness that only a dumb-hick-Texas-backwater-cop who's sure he'll be taking a coupla longhairs down to the station could muster, he asks me to please sit in the car (his) "for your safety" (yeah right). About this time the back-up unit arrives and they put Tutor in the other car. Just so us dangerous drug-runners don't sit together and hatch plots against the good hard-workin', god-fearin' honest citizens of this great country. After going through the car for an HOUR they find nothing (of course) and reluctantly let us go. The first time this happened we were relieved and happy to get away. This time we're just pissed off. I can only imagine what it must be like to be black around here.

We arrive in Austin in a bleak mood. The gig isn't until 10 so we hang for a while at the house of an old high school friend of Tutor's. We sat on the front lawn with him and his wife and his baby drinking beer and talking and watching the sprinklers go around while the sun went down. It was by far the best hour-and-a-half of the trip so far. It lifted the cloud somewhat (until we showed up at the gig and the black cloud returned with a vengence).

Tonight's gig is at a place called the Voodoo Lounge. It's in a warehouse district right around the corner from 6th Street in Austin, where all the action is. We go in and my first impression is that the place can't be open yet. It's not done - it's all hanging wires and exposed sheetrock, boards laying all over the place, no bar. The owner approaches.

"Sorry, we're a little behind on construction, but we're open. 'Course, we don't have our liquor license but we have a 9,000 watt sound system."

Great. Right now I'd trade that for a couple of shots of Jack Daniels and a Shure Vocalmaster. We also find out that we don't even go on 'til 11:30 because Danny and the Hurricanes have to do a set for the two people in the place before we go on. We go around the corner to the 311 Club on 6th for some cocktails. Terry gets hit-on by a drunk, 5-month pregnant bar-hag. We bug out quickly while Tutor backs away muttering some thinly-veiled excuses about why he has to leave.

Back at the gig there's one person in the "club" (half the crowd has left) and the band is just wrapping it up. I play. Tutor plays. We pack up quietly so as not to disturb the sound man, who has fallen dead asleep on the tattered couch which serves as the seating for the entire club. I go to the bathroom, which just has a hole where the toilet is supposed to be. So, in honor of that great road sage Loudon Wainwright III, who once said, "The club is a toilet when you gotta take a piss in the sink, when you're out on the road," I took a piss in the sink. Total take for the evening - $0.

 

DAY 10

We're back at Border's - unexpectedly - but at least we have a gig. I set up my digital piano only to find out that the sustain pedal, which has been acting funny the whole trip, has finally given up the ghost. I spend the next hour while Tutor plays, frantically searching for an open music store (to not avail). I get back and just do the set without the pedal. It's hell. It's like playing a guitar with two strings missing. It's like driving a car without brakes. It's like eating soup with a fork. Brutal. The little crowd likes me a lot, I sell some stuff. Tomorrow we head for the Kerrville Folk Festival, where I will play on Sunday, and my girlfriend is flying into spend the rest of the tour with me. Things have got to get better.

We go out later to this really cool club called Stubb's Bar-B-Q and see this excellent band called 8 1/2 Souvenirs. They play this kind of acoustic-jazz-blues-cabaret thing - the kind of a band that makes me want to hang out in a club.

 

DAY 11

I'm up at 7 in the morning. Due to poor planning (I have a degree in poor planning) I have to get to Kerrville and pitch a tent (the Festival is this big musician-hippie-commune-camping-singing-around-the-fire-after-the-show kind of thing), then, drive back to Austin to pick up my girlfriend Megan at the airport. We eat a quick breakfast and hit the road. Two hours later we make the scene incident free.

I have to inject at this point that I don't camp. I've never had an interest in going back to the land or roughing it. There's a reason why we as humans have evolved into society that has electricity and running water and indoor toilets and beds and rooms with walls. To me, roughing it means running out of soap in the middle of a shower. Last year when I stayed at Kerrville, I stayed in a goddamn hotel room. This year, in a non-lucid, halluciatory mood I declared with much confidence, "Camping will be fun! I'll camp this year!"

The first indication that my head had been firmly implanted in my ass when I said that, was when Tutor and I attempted to pitch the tent. What you have basically is two right-brain impaired guys doing a job meant for a car-fixin'-handy-around-the-house-checkbook-balancing kind of guy. As tent pitchers we make excellent songwriters. It took us two-and-a-half hours to turn six metal poles and a big piece of cloth into something somewhat resembling a tent and we did it in a dust storm.

Dirty, dishelvelled, tired and experiencing severe culture shock, I make it to the airport an hour-and-a-half late. At some point during that hour-and-a-half, Megan went from elated to see me, to slightly concerned that I'm late, to wanting to kill me for forgetting to pick her up, to hysterical about being stranded alone in a town she's never been in. Upon my arrival she musters all of her restraint so as not to kick my ass all the way across the Austin Airport short-term parking lot.

We just barely make it back to Kerrville in time to catch Ellis Paul's set. I opened for Ellis when I was on tour in New England this February and really love his stuff. I've run into him on the road a couple of times since. He's a great guy and a great performer and songwriter. Anyway, both Megan and I are huge fans so we didn't want to miss this. We weren't disappointed. Things thaw tremendously after the show and we have a great night.

The tradition at Kerrville is that after the show on the mainstage people sing around campfires all night. Travelling musicians from all over the country who have met on the road get to hang out and play together - it's a great time. There's one very large camp (called Camp Cusine) run by a guy from Nashville named Mike Williams. It draws a big crowd from all around the festival grounds and all of the mainstage performers usually show up to play. I did Mike's songwriters in the round last time I played in Nashville so I was invited to play. Also, it's the only camp I CAN play at because they have this battery operated keyboard there (I play guitar like Tutor drives). We play all night - it's great to be back. Megan and I get back to the tent at 4:30 in the morning and attempt to get some sleep in spite of the 40mph winds, the hard ground and the Deadheads banging on bongo's and singing the special, live two hour extended version of 'Uncle John's Band' three feet from the entrance to our tent. God I hate camping.

 

DAY 12

Today is the big day. My set on the mainstage is at 1:30 in the afternoon and I pace nerviously all morning. Backstage I run into friends from Boston, Nashville, New York, L.A. etc. This will probably be the biggest crowd I play to this year and many of my peers are here. I want to shine. I go out when my time comes and it goes GREAT! This is a wonderful crowd to play to - very supportive. I leave the stage to a standing ovation - the whole trip is suddenly worth it.

I go out into the crowd afterwards to find Megan and Tutor (who I haven't seen since the day before when he went off with some of our L.A. friends). When we finally do find Tutor, we see that he has this big, honkin' bloody scar on his forehead from when the wind had blown him out of his hammock the night before. Tutor hates camping. We all go back to my tent to drink beer.

Later on when we go back to catch some of the evening acts on the mainstage, I stop in the CD and tape booth and find out that all Malone product is sold out! Cool! I now have to walk 8000 miles back to the car to get some more stuff but who cares! Things are finally going right! A respite during the 'Plagued By Locusts Tour, '96'! Around ten that night the heat and lack of sleep take their toll and Megan and I leave early to go crash back at the tent.

 

DAY 13

We are awakened at six in the morning by a tremendous downpour. We're talking thunder, lightning - the whole show. It's raining so hard that the tent can't take it. It's starting to leak badly - we have to get ourselves and our stuff out before the whole thing comes crashing down. We run the 765,000 miles back to the car and drive it back to the camping area - drenched, tired and pissed off. After salvaging our belongings from the tent we drive into town to eat breakfast at Denny's (and change in their bathroom). Denny's never looked so good. By now, the rain has stopped and it's turning out to be a nice day. We get back to the tent, roll it up, scrape off the mud, find Tutor (who now has another bloody welt on his forehead from when a metal overhang fell on him during the rainstorm) and get the hell out. On the way we stop at the CD tent to pick up my earnings, which end up being more than I've made on the entire rest of the trip so far.

We're not stopping till Texas is behind us and New Orleans is in our sights. That night we make it as far as Lake Charles, La., where we check into a Motel-6 (beds! showers!) and immediately go check out the local gambling situation. We find a riverboat casino five minutes from the motel and spend the rest of the night losing money and sucking up the free booze. It is wonderful.

 

DAY 14

We're three hours out of New Orleans and going right through the heart of Cajun Country to get there. Life is good. On the way we had only one really bad scare when we saw a sign that said: CAMPING - NEXT RIGHT.

"Get in the left lane and drive like hell" says Tutor from the back seat.

Other than that we were just digging the ride through the swamps and feeling the weight of Texas slipping from our shoulders. We stopped for lunch at this little joint - had some gumbo, oyster po-boys, red beans & rice and boudin sausages - it kicked ass in a big way. We made the Crescent City by 3:00.

Now, most people that have seen my show or have my CD think I'm from New Orleans because of the way I play and sing. Actually, I've never even been here before. All day I'm nervous because I've never wanted to go to a place so badly in my life and I'm really afraid of being disappointed. In less than an hour I realize I have nothing to fear - I LOVE this place. The architecture, the Music (that capital M is on purpose), the food, the VIBES. It's everything I hoped it would be.

My gig starts at 6:00 at this place called The Gazebo on Decatur St. in the French Quarter. It's just a regular four-set bar gig, I wanted to blend in and see if I could pass for a local musician. It's still two hours till downbeat so we find a parking lot (eight blocks from the club, it was cheaper) and ankle it down to the gig. It's outside with the bar right on the sidewalk and this funky old upright piano. Looks like fun.

Now, the great thing about people in New Orleans is that they're so laid-back and relaxed - the really bad thing about them is that they're so laid back and relaxed. I walk up to the bar looking for the owner and introduce myself - the free drinks start flowing immediately - everyone is very friendly (y'all want some dinner, too?). Then I ask the owner if he's got that PA system I specified in my contract.

"Well, you know, we'll dig something up" he says.

"The gig is only an hour away", I say, beginning to feel nervous.

"Don't worry, we'll get a PA - looks like you and your friends could use another round" he says.

Then the guy disappears, downbeat rolls around- no PA (of course). No one else seems to be able to help me with this problem (I have no problem getting another drink, however). I finally take it upon myself to go looking for something (ANYTHING) that I can plug a microphone into. In the kitchen I find a tiny, decrepit mixer and a pair of speakers that were apparently left behind by some band who got fired and never bothered to come back and pick up their gear. I appropriated it, guilt free. No cords though. So I start playing the piano (no singing) while my girlfriend runs the eight blocks back to the car and grabs every guitar cord she can find. By the time she gets back, I've already done most of a set. Three hours later, the club owner shows up -

"Is everything OK?", he asks.

"Oh yeah, just great - I sure could use another drink, though."

"No problem - everything sounds great!"

Arrrgh!

The gig, except for the PA problem, was fun. I felt right at home. This is the only town in America where they'd rather hear a piano player than a guitar player.

Afterwards, we went looking for a hotel room and failed resoundingly. Apparently there's three conventions in town and every room is booked.

Tutor says:

"There's a Motel-6 in Slidell - it's only ten minutes out of town. Lets go there!"

" It looks a lot further on the map. Shouldn't we..."

" I'm from the South, I know how far it is!", he states with great confidence.

One hour later, as we pulled into the Slidell Motel-6 parking lot, I was too tired to even say I told you so.

 

DAY 15

We awake to an overcast day in a nondescript suburb an hour away from where we want to be. The strain is starting to show on Megan who, as a normal human being, is not accustomed to living the vagabond, scumbag musician lifestyle. There has been too much crisis, not enough fun.

We drive back to New Orleans in the pouring rain and head for the Columns Hotel (where I will be playing tomorrow). The idea is to get the owner to let us stay there for free because I'm playing there and we can't get a room anywhere else (like most of our other plans, it's deeply flawed, but we don't give a rip at this point, we're desparate). He doesn't go for the free angle, but he gives us two rooms for 30 bucks each. Score! This hotel is a 150 year old historic monument in the Garden District - it's beautiful. It's our first taste of ambiance and amenities on the whole trip. My girlfriend is very pleased. We spend the rest of the day in the room.

Later on I do my second night at the Gazebo. It's slow because of the rain so I wrap it up early and we hit the town. We cruise around the Quarter but the rain and our lack of funds is really putting a damper on the evening. We're all at that point you get to sooner or later on the road where you just want to go home. Period.

 

DAY 16

We get up and have breakfast while reading the complimentary copy of the Times-Picayune that was left at our door. I need to stay in more places like this. For the first time on the trip I feel almost...human.

After spending the afternoon taking a tour of the Garden District (during which Tutor spends most of the time bonding with this drug dealer on the trolley), we headed back to the hotel so I could do my gig.

The bar is old, wooden and small, there's no PA and I'll be playing on an old upright piano in the corner. I get up there and start shouting them out as loud as I can. It's like going back in time, there's no sign of any technology that has evolved in the last 50 years. I love it.

As the night progresses to an increasingly louder and roudier level of drunkenness, I roll the piano closer to the bar so I can be heard better and solicit more tips (not to mention get my whiskey faster). These are the real locals, they're layin the bucks on me and requesting real New Orleans music - things like Truro Infirmary, Tipitina, High Blood Pressure, Going To The Mardi Gras. I know 'em all.

Six hours later my voice is completely gone and my hands are wrecked from bangin' on the piano. I go up to my room and pass out.

 

DAY 17, 18 &19

There's not much to say about these last three days of the trip. We drove to Austin the first day to stopover (and drop Megan off at the airport) before heading home and doing two more gigs on the way. We find out that BOTH gigs are canceled (not that I particularly wanted to play in El Paso or Tuscon, anyway). I've had enough. ENOUGH ALREADY!!

We're up at six the next morning. After guzzling some java we are out of there. I drove 1000 miles that day. Made it all the way to Tuscon. Would have kept on going if we didn't have to pick up Tutor's car from the shop.

The next morning we find out that these morons at the garage haven't even STARTED working on the car. I tell Tutor that I will be in L.A. tonight with him or without him. He gets the picture, we keep the rental car another day. When we get home I get out of the car and kiss the ground.

That's the story, more or less. Tutor ended up declaring his car a complete loss (after going back to Tuscon, picking it up and losing the tranny AGAIN ten miles out of town) and is now making payments on a new one. Megan left me about three weeks after I got back. She just couldn't take it any more (and who could blame her). And I, one month later, am about to go back out on the road again (to New England and Nashville this time). You know what? I can't wait!


Thirty year old Singer/songwriter/pianist Bob Malone has made his living touring and playing sessions for the last ten years. You can order his new CD "The Darkest Part Of The Night" or get on his mailing list by calling (310) 798-0317.

 


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