Kansas City. After a lot of years traveling the country, first by myself and later as part of Brewer and Shipley, it looked like I was about to settle down there. If you consider that any traveling musician actually settles down. I had many memories of the city and now I was about to gather some more.
My first memory of KC was my first solo appearance at the Vanguard coffee house. I remember meeting a young lady there. After the show we continued and well into the late-night, consuming a couple of bottles of champagne sitting with her under a tree in Loose Park. Early that morning I was awakened by an itch that seemed to cover my entire body. I turned on the light, looked at my naked body to find it was covered with sores. It looked like hundreds of them. It can’t be smallpox I said to myself, still groggy from my Loose Park adventure. At first light, I hurried down the street to a Skaggs pharmacy, threw open my shirt, and asked the person behind the counter if he knew what this was and if he had anything for it. He laughed. “That is the worst case of chiggers I have ever seen.” Chiggers. I’m from Cleveland and I’ve never heard of them. And so began my introduction to the real Kansas City. Beautiful young women…it was home to the TWA flight attendant school…and the worst insects to ever inhabit a planet.
And now it appeared I was going to live there. Fortunately, we had played there enough that I had a number of friends. For the time being, we were going to stay at a house on the corner of 43rd Street and Main. Essentially across from the Vanguard. Dan Moriarity (Mort) and Gary Peterson had become good friends. They were the reason we settled in Kansas City and it was their plan to start a production company. Good Karma Productions.
The Good Karma house was a world all its own. Our friend and fellow musician Danny Cox joined us and took up residence there. The office and Michael’s room were on the first floor, I was on the second, and Danny lived on the third. Mort was in and out as I remember and Gary had an apartment not too far away. The basic plan was this. We would each get a stipend of $400 a month which would be taken out of the engagements they booked. Not bad for a couple of guys that had been essentially homeless since leaving California. All we had to do was play.
And play we did. In the beginning, we played every high school and small college in the area. For the larger college shows, it was often Danny Cox and Brewer and Shipley. We had purchased a sound system and red Ford station wagon to carry it in. For a couple of skinny hippies that meant loading and unloading two giant speakers into whatever location we would be playing. There were times that required setting up on the third floor of some building on campus. And we were our own sound guys. The mixer always sat on a stool behind us where we could make adjustments during the show.
I still receive messages from people that saw us at one of those high schools or colleges. “I remember seeing you at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska,” someone will say. I always answer “I remember you sitting in the front row,” I usually respond with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.
The road to a significant number of those north-central colleges usually required us to drive to Tarkio, Missouri. From there we would take a highway further into northern Missouri, Iowa, or Nebraska. Sometimes we would play an old mule barn at the college in Tarkio. Eventually, I began calling the road north from Kansas City as Tarkio Road. That later became the title of a song and the album on which it appeared. As I recall, it took essentially one tank of gas to get from Tarkio to St. Joseph, Missouri. We always arrived there with the car running on fumes. And the first gas station was a truck stop where most of the inhabitants were scary and often had unkind words for us. Not a problem as long as they were just words and not fists.
A couple of those schools were Catholic girl’s schools. One of my favorite and humorous memories took place at one of them. The room they had given us to get ready for the show was a distance from the stage and required us to walk through the gymnasium. There was some kind of recreation class going on and we had to wait while the nuns had the girls sit on the floor and cover their legs with their skirts before we could cross. My wife was raised Catholic and went to one of those schools when she was a kid. She has tried explaining it to me several times but I still don’t quite understand.
There were other times when the travel wasn’t that funny. Like the time we were playing at a bar in southern Minnesota. I was in the men’s room when a rough-looking fellow grabbed me by my shirt collar and threw me up against the towel dispenser saying “I fought for my country.” I didn’t know what to do but thank him for his service and pray he didn’t hit me. It was a hard time in the midwest for people like Michael and me. The tv news was full of images of people that looked like us burning flags and draft cards. We were against the war in Viet Nam but we never burned anything but a joint. Our appearance, however, made us look like we did to a lot of people in the midwest.
So our highway north had a name. Tarkio Road. In the next installment, we will go on to Raytown, Missouri, and a place we lovingly called “Happy Acres.”