Friday, August 15, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 12 - April 1986

"I can't get no sleep at night, but don't you worry - I'm alright" - Hege V, "House of Tears"

03 - Tuin
04 - New Grass Revival
05 - The Bad Checks
11 - The Right Profile
12 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
17 - The Connells
18 - Fetchin' Bones
19 - Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers
25 - Rohrwaggon with A Number of Things
26 - Party for Gil T
I've talked about the folks that worked directly with us and made the whole thing possible. But there was also an extensive West End community that was part of a wonderful support system, made up of bartenders, dish dogs, chefs, cooks, waits, restaurant owners/managers and other assorted folks, many of whom were also musicians. Tijuana Fats was our home away from club and the bar often functioned as Jeannette's office. I pretty much lived on chile and green cheese enchiladas and huevos revueltos, which we're pretty sure means “revolting eggs” in Spanish (but man they were good!). Jeff (the manager for part of that time) occasionally bartood for us and our friend Pete Rogers and all of the bartenders would send folks over to the club when out-of-towners asked where to go. Meg at the Cave kept us supplied with quarters from the pool tables in the back as we almost always ran out. Pyewacket was just a couple of blocks away and many of the local band folks worked there – it was a great place to send out-of-town bands for some excellent vegetarian fare. And if there was a hot band that played until late, you could usually find Bill Smith (one of the original owners of Cat's Cradle) dancing up a storm in the back.

Tijuana Fats tshirt.jpg
Photo of my last remaining Tijuana Fats t-shirt.  I think I cried a little when the last one (in Blowing Rock) closed a few years ago.

Our relationship with Mama Dip and her family was a little more strained for two reasons.  The back wall of our place was the back wall of Dip’s Country Kitchen in its old location, which wasn’t so bad since most of that back part was actually the kitchen.  But she had an alcove with a large booth in it that was hard by the wall closest to the drum kit.  We tried to work soundchecks around her dinner rush but occasionally a band would be late and that incessant thump-thump-thump of a drummer who insisted on getting his or her kick juuuuuuust right would drive them and their customers crazy.  We also crossed them occasionally when someone unknowingly filled up her dumpster.  There were two dumpsters in back - she had one and we shared one with Tijuana Fats and woe be unto the bartender who tossed a couple of garbage cans full of empties into the wrong one (recycle?  that wasn’t really a thing then). But for the most part we got along fine - I was damn sure going to stay on the good side of a woman that could make chicken and dumplings and ‘nanner puddin’ like she does.

Up until now I've been either lying my ass off or making shit up or relying on an extremely faulty memory, but I finally put on my hat, grabbed my bullwhip, and fought my way through the maze into the back of the storage unit and found our closing sheets. This is good since I lost the pages for June and July out of my booking calendar. It also points out how prejudiced memories can be, as the bands I liked often didn't bring in nearly the audience that I have said they did and some that I didn't care for actually did pretty well (I hereby offer a formal apology to Jack and the Cadillacs, wherever you are)..

That was not the case for Tuin, our first act of April. I do not remember them and I'm guessing no one else does either as the audience was all of half a dozen folks. It is entirely possible that they were completely brilliant but I just don't recall. What I do know though is that no matter how small the audience, every damn band that came into the club played for whoever showed up, even if it was only us. It's pretty incredible if you think about it and a credit to the professionalism that almost every single performer that came into that room exhibited.

Friday night was the complete opposite of the night before, with a return engagement of New Grass Revival. It was a packed house at $7 a head and people were not afraid to drink some beer. My friend Kevin worked the bar with Bryan and Diane and we agreed after the show that NGR was the best rock and roll band we'd ever seen.  And the best gospel band and bluegrass band and country band and you name it.

New Grass Revival publicity photo - with a 12 year old Bela Fleck on the right

Saturday night's show with the Bad Checks was not one of their better-attended shows but I'll guarantee it was a fun night and everybody danced.

No Thursday show the next night, which I'm sure was a nice break. Friday night was the return of Right Profile, who I recall was one of Lex's favorites. And, can it be? Yes, another Dayroom Monitors appearance! I'm starting to think Kenny and co. played the Alley more than anybody else.  They did manage to play every single month from January to June.

I was convinced looking at the calendar that the Gumbo Ya-Ya show Saturday night was really the first time Hege V and the Bijous played, but the closing sheet says I'm wrong. So I'll get to them in a bit. GY-Y always pulled in 80-100 people (not a great crowd, but a pretty good one) and every single person in the audience would have a damn good time.

The next Thursday was another massive Connells show – believe me, I never took those for granted (but I'd forgotten how many times they played on Thursdays). If I say that we had massive beer sales (on a Thursday!) and a huge door, it sounds mercenary, but nights like Tuin meant we HAD to have nights like the Connells. But I wouldn't have booked them if I hadn't liked them and man, did I like those guys! And still do.

Speaking of bands I liked, the Friday night show with Fetchin' Bones and Johnny Quest stands out as the show I remember as being the best single best night of our time at Rhythm Alley. JQ opened up with their incredibly high energy set which Hope and gang tried their best to top (and somehow succeeded). I remember standing in the back by the sound board during the encore when Rob Ladd jumped on stage with a guitar and started shredding along with Aaron and Gary (“All Clocks”, maybe?) and thinking that it was totally impossible for anything to ever be better than that. Or maybe I just made that shit up because it SHOULD have happened. Zingo and Diane worked the bar that night, so if you guys remember, tell me. Or don't.

Saturday night was the return of the Blazers - great music, great fans, great people, great tips!

The last weekend of the month included some unique events.  There is a complicated web of Triangle musicians and the many different bands they’ve played in and who they’ve played with, but I don’t recall any other entity approaching a “supergroup” more than Rohrwaggon.  Take some of the Pressure Boys, throw in some Terminal Mouse, some Veldt, some Johnny Quest and assorted other friends and family and you get the best, most high-energy ska cover band ever.  Dan Sipp make a great video of the Brewery show in Raleigh (the night after ours), much of which is available on Youtube and well worth checking out - the cover of “Free Nelson Mandela” is particularly awesome, as is Ms. Taz Halloween’s lead on “Celebrate the Bullet”.  Some serious skanking was done by all.

Rohrwaggon poster - designed by Stacy Guess (note the Air Jordans)

Saturday night was a farewell party for Gil Templeton, drummer for The Socks and friend of many, before he headed off to Nashville to seek his fortune.  He found it, as an advertising writer as well as a writer for television.  One of the sadder aspects of this project is realizing the number of folks who haven’t made it this far - Gil passed away a few years ago and the world became a smidge less fun.  But on that night, there was much drinking and dancing and a very loud rendition of Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” as we saw Gil off on his way.

It was a short month (partly naturally, with only four weekends) but we also only did a couple of weeknight shows.  That gave us a bit of a rest but wasn’t good for paying the bills.  Most of the bills (rent, sound system rental, insurance, etc) were monthly, regardless of the length of the month or number of shows, so April (and the losses from the Riders shows which hurt a lot more than I initially remembered) put us in a bit of a hole. May’s schedule was a lot busier but we had some serious ground to make up.

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At 10:03 AM, Anonymous PC said...

I have never had more fun playing music than I had playing with Rohrwaggon. Period.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

You looked like you were having a good time. :)

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

That must be the bluegrass band I was thinking of. Awesome shows!

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

New Grass Revival - WOW.

I remember sneaking out from behind the bar and into the audience at some point, just listening - stunned. A wall of mostly acoustic instruments washed over me and an undercurrent washed me out deep into a stormy sea where redemption and damnation were both possible and equally likely... I remember thinking I will never hear another performance like this one... and I want to hear all of this... And then I think Diane dragged me back to the bar so she could take a turn...

Truly, that night I think I learned something. The power of music. The way it can really sweep you up into somewhere else and forget all the surroundings around you. Around you is a life you know, but lives you could have known exist at the same time, and to be transported there... Wow. I don't know how they worked their magic - but everyone who saw that show will tell something like the same story.

I felt... changed, afterwards.

Like going to a vibrant church or diving into a deep pool from the high dive, like being submersed in a breathable mix of what is, what can be, and what might be...

I truly do not know how to describe what happened that night.

But that night, that band, and that performance stands out.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

You said it much better than I could. It's rare to get that much talent on a stage at one time and the effect is remarkable. Relativity and New Grass Revival while we owned the club and The Punch Brothers and Sarah Jarocz much more recently - they'll transport you to places you didn't know you wanted to go.


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