Good-bye yellow brick road. That’s where it stood. Brewer and Shipley were leaving LA. I had been camped in Michael’s back yard as we finished our “Down In LA” album and now I was free to do as I please. We had a couple of dates many months down the road but for the next while it was off into the unknown for Tom.
I was fortunate because I had done this so many times before. Traveling and living in a tent had become part of the lifestyle. There will always be a spot in heaven for the people who gave me a place to stay. The folks who established and take care of our Nation Parks and National Forests. And the Native People of the pueblos. What they thought of a guy setting up a tent and stringing the juniper trees with wind chimes, peace symbols, and a host of hippie adornments is still a mystery to me. Bemusement is the first thing that comes to mind all these many years later.
Eventually, I made it to Oklahoma City and camped in the Brewer family backyard. Then it was off to Tulsa, the first of the few gigs we had booked when we left LA. Oops, we were hippies. We didn’t seem to know that we glowed in the dark to the average midwesterner. So our very first gig got canceled when we showed up. I was out of money. I had to borrow $3 from Michael to get to Cleveland. Back then $3 would buy enough gas to make the trip plus a box of cornmeal which could be turned into mush for breakfast. In Bedford, I could hang out until the second show we had booked in LA. LaCava in Cleveland. That was great. It was an outstanding club that had become a national showcase room and they paid real money.
We had some bucks so starving wasn’t going to happen. But finding work was as hard as it had ever been. We started getting a few of the old folk rooms here and there. Detroit, Chicago, and The Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Eventually, Bitter End Productions got in touch with us and offered us several weeks in Wisconsin…in Winter.
Folk music and coffee houses had become popular on campuses. We were booked to play several of the state schools in Wisconsin. River falls, Minonimi, Eau Claire, Superior, and a few others. As we were on our way to River Falls my car, the same old Volvo in which I had traveled the reservations of the southwest, blew up. Question. Has anyone tried to get an aging Volvo fixed in outstate Wisconsin? If you have you can guess the consequences. We had a string of engagements booked and there was only one way to do it. By bus.
Traveling by bus throughout the state was another experience for a couple of guys newly arrived from California. We came to believe that the only people that traveled by bus in Wisconsin were people’s aunts and grandmothers. And we frightened them. When we got on the bus and went to the back, all the ladies picked up and went to the front. The only thing they knew about people that looked like us is what they had seen on tv. Not a pretty picture. We understood and always felt bad about scaring them.
Menomonie will always stand out as a high point for me. We ended up meeting a group of students that quickly became friends who eventually followed us around the state. Our rooms at Stout State in Menomonie consisted of an old, very large white clapboard building full of students and fun. The best feature was the bar in the basement where beer was 5 cents a glass. I vaguely remember riding a bicycle through the bar one overindulgent evening. But I was with friends and we were having a great time.
Dealing with the campus folks was another story. They were formal. One evening we were asked if we would like to go out to eat. We had no car. They had put us up in a cheesy motel out on the highway. The only place to eat was a dinner with a neon sign that said EAT about a mile down the road. When we said yes to their offer of dinner, to our surprise, two very formally dressed young ladies appeared at the door. We guessed “going out” took on its own meaning up there. So we took part in a beauty-and-the-beast dinner, Brewer and Shipley dressed in hippie road clothes, and two girls “dressed up for the occasion.”
Superior was cold. It was right across the bridge from Duluth. The school had put us up with a couple of off-campus friends. When they would leave we would turn up the heat. About the time it started to warm up they would get back and say “it’s like a furnace in here.” We shared a bed with a quilt made out of old men’s winter coats. It was so heavy that I had to lift it up before turning on my side.
There was a little Chinese grill in Duluth called Joe Huie’s. Joe would hustle around behind the counter and keep things under control. He had two signs. One read “we never close.” The other said, “Minimum order of 25cents to anyone occupying a seat.” Joe would walk around the counter with a rolled-up newspaper bopping old homeless guys on the head demanding another 25 cents every 15 min or so. Then they could go back to sleep. And the food was outstanding. Especially his butterfly shrimp.
We ended the tour in Eau Claire. There was a conference of student union officials from the schools we had just played. Like all conferences, after the business was over for the day it was conference party time. We were with the very formal people that we had worked with for the last six or seven weeks. But party time means drinking and we were in Wisconsin where they know how to do that…very well. So the pretty young assistant to whoever was getting her backside patted by the head of her student union. This was not a “Me Too” moment.
Michael and I got our backside patted more than a few times by this or that formal lady that had taken care of us weeks ago. I guessed we were fresh meat.
After the conference, it was back on the road. My car! Where did I leave my Volvo? We eventually found it. It had been repaired and we were back in business. While we had been in Wisconsin we got a call from Dan Moriarity asking if we wanted to come back to Kansas City and try to put something together. We did and the stories about that will start next week. We had begun Tarkio Road. We just didn’t know it yet.