Several years before Joe passed away I was already touring fairly regularly with the boys as a merch man. One year we were touring across the deep South, through Texas and up into the Midwest. It was the "New Blood" line-up: Jeff and Joe, bassist Jon Bowman and drummer Phil Keller. CJ Whitt was the roadie in this era. We were in a rental van for this trip, a pretty cramped situation but we pulled it off. I didn't keep a journal back then, but I remember the trip fondly and thought I'd share some of the highlights...
The tour started in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We connected with the wild and woolly one-man-band Joe Buck Yourself. He was opening the dates for us on this run. Bruce Rohers from Maximum Rock & Roll had flew in to follow along as well. We stayed at the beautiful home of Walt and Heather Wheat, which is always a treat. It was a great start to the tour.
The following day I decide to ride with Bruce in his little rental car. The next show was in Memphis. We speed off down the back roads of Mississippi. Along the way he regaled me with tales of old school dementia punctuated with blasts of obscure punk rock on the car stereo. However I sensed he was probably still a little drunk from the night before. Or maybe hung-over. Or at least, a really really bad driver. I grabbed onto my seat for dear life as we bobbed and weaved across the highway. A few near misses with semi-trucks left me white-knuckled. I gently suggested he pull over and let me take the wheel.
At some point he casually mentioned his luggage was lost by the airline when he flew in from California. "What are you gonna do?", I asked. "Oh, its in Jackson. We're gonna go get it." Uh... He had not mentioned this detail before I decided to ride with him. Jackson was an hour out of the way and the boys didn't know where I was. Great. I figured he had a road map, but no. This was still the era before GPS was common. He was just sorta figuring it out. "C'mon", he said. "How many airports is Jackson gonna have?" Hard to argue that reasoning.
True enough we found the airport with no problems. We quickly recovered his luggage, refuel and eventually were back on the highway, hightailing it towards Memphis. "So," I ask, "you got the address to the club, right?"
"No - I thought you did!"
We continue to zip along I-55 knowing it would eventually feed us into Memphis. We rolled into town in the late afternoon and somehow guess our way to the club, arriving only about thirty minutes after the boys. God has mercy on babies and fools.
A few days later we are in Texas. Bruce has disappeared without a trace. We are staying with Phil "Whiskey Rebel" Irwin. The Whiskey Rebel (or 'Reb' for short) is a true renaissance man; author, chess master, and guitarist for the legendary Rancid Vat. We spend some downtime watching old videos of Portland wrestling and drinking.
Reb is a seasoned drinker, which is not to be confused with a drunk. A drinker is something that, as Bukowski once noted, takes endurance. For the record - although I drink, I am not a drinker. I don't possess the fortitude or strength of will required to be a drinker. I wisely avoid trying to match Reb's prodigious intake..
We have a day off between shows in Austin and San Antonio. We decide to spend our free night in Austin. Jeff and Phil stay behind at Reb's. CJ, being a lucky bastard, knows a young lady he chooses to spend his night with. Joe, John and myself head to the legendary Continental Club to see Dale Watson. It is rare for Joe to go out. Joe lived close to the ground, was responsible with his money and had little interest in sightseeing touristy shit. However he enjoyed the smooth croon of Dale Watson, so he decided to come along.
Here, even in "weird" Austin we stand out in the crowd. We grouse about the $4 Lone Stars, but it doesn't stop us from repeatedly swilling them down. Watson takes the stage and we stand right down in front. Evidently this is a bit of a faux-pas. We discover he area directly in front of the stage is for dancing. Aw shit, ain't that too bad. We don't move.
Watson of course can't help but notice us. After a few numbers he looks down and asks "y'all ain't from 'round here now, are you?" Nope. "Where you boys from?" Joe says "North Carolina!" Almost as if by cue the band immediately launch into George Jone's 'White Lightining'. When it was finished Watson dedicated the song to us and we all raised our bottles in unison; a Texas salute to our shared cultural heritage. It was a killer night.
The next night was San Antonio. Most of the crowd was Hispanic, and they could teach the hipsters of Plaza Midwood in Charlotte a thing or three about rockin', believe me. It was one of the coolest stops on the tour. There was a kid hanging out that caught my eye. He was decked out in a studded jacket covered with the patches of left-wing anarchist crust punk groups. However he was also wearing a Skrewdriver t-shirt and sported a rebel flag bandanna. And he was Hispanic. I mean you wanna talk about "fuck all y'all"?? This was the guy. To me, he embodied the spirit and attitude of what ANTiSEEN is all about; not kowtowing to preconceived notions or dogmatic ideals, secure in your own individual identity without regard to what is or is not politically correct or acceptable.
Bruce suddenly reappears. He's a little more subdued than before. I can't remember what he said happened, but we were all admittedly a little concerned. We hang out a chat a while and take a quick snapshot with Clayton. He had to return back to California after this night. He and I would keep up with each other after this tour via a few letters and a couple of drunken late night phone calls. Sadly, he passed away the following year. I barely got to know him. Bruce was a vital link in chain that connected the outcasts and desperadoes of the punk rock underground. His column in MRR was an important force that, if not always right, was always real. A lot of discovery was written into those columns, figuratively and literally. Bruce wrote with the honesty and passion of a fan. He was one of us.
We truck it clear across Texas up to Lubbock. It took all day, but I enjoyed traveling across the Texas desert. As we cruise into the outskirts of town we pass a prison. High chain-link fences topped with razor-wire and ominous guard towers surround dark forbidding looking buildings. "Hey, look", I joke, "There's where we're staying tonight!" Little did we know it was a special prison for the criminally insane. Of course that would be probably be appropriate as well. It was as if I were living out some old country song; sneaking past a prison like outlaws in the West Texas desert with my best friends and not a care in the world. It's the little things that really make these trips special. However we were about to experience some of the big things that makes things memorable, too...
The club in Lubbock is packed this night and the crowd is into it. A lady has gifted us a brick of hash butter, much to the delight of Joe, Jon and CJ. Jeff, Phil and myself, being the straight guys, roll our eyes. A couple of days later I would be persuaded to eat some cookies made with this butter. Stupidly I half a plate of cookies. I didn't know any better. The guys thought it was hilarious, but it was a pretty miserable experience... But that's another story.
So the boys are plowing thru their set. At some point the hash lady starts trying to talk to me. It was way too loud for me to hear her, and really it wouldn't have mattered even if I could hear her. She was clearly on something and making very little sense. I could only make out every third word, but she was laying down some heavy trippy rap about the Shroud of Turin or some such. You know, cosmic maaaan....
Suddenly the band sorta shutters to a halt. Next thing I know a kid comes running past the merch table with Clayton in hot pursuit, ready to kill. I give chase to the both of them. We are met at the door by security who for some reason let the kid pass and stop me and Clayton. For a second it looks like Jeff and the bouncer are gonna go at it, but cooler heads prevail. I'm trying to figure out what the hell happened and Jeff is beside himself with rage.
I go back to the merch table to discover Phil sitting down with a towel pressed against his head and blood pouring down his face. The cosmic hash lady is administering first aid, or some cosmic variation thereof. Jon tells me the kid threw a pint glass and hit Phil in the head. He's cut pretty bad. Jeff has calmed down and checks out Phil's cut. It would rightly require a trip to the emergency room, but Phil decides against it. Clearly the show is over. We still get paid, however. Nobody seems too upset at the short set; it was certainly memorable.
The promoter has generously provided us with a solitary hotel room for the night. Yep, one room for six people. The weather is nice so I opt to sleep in the van. While Jeff helps pick glass out of Phil's head the others come down to hang out in the van. They've scored some weed, I guess from the same cosmic chick that gave them the hash butter. They all are a bit unnerved from the evenings events and decide to unwind with some beer, a couple of bottles of cheap whiskey and indulge in a little bit of smoke.
There is a strict rule about holding when we travel. Jeff, Phil and myself never do anything at all, save for the occasional drink. We're the boring old farts. So the other three usually would disappear to smoke on their own time elsewhere. However tonight there really isn't anywhere else to go. Soon the van reeks of skunk and everyone is a little bit boozy and finally relaxed.
Suddenly Phil appears, a big bandage covering his fresh wound. "Hey," he says, "Can we go find a store? I've lost a lot of blood. I think I should probably get some orange juice."
Wait... what? This ain't the goddamn bloodmobile. I tell him flatly "No".
"Aw, come on. It wont take five minutes."
I think its a bad idea to go anywhere but the others all say fuck it. So against my better judgment I'm soon pulling out onto the deserted midnight streets of Lubbock...
The street is one-way, sort of a service road that runs parallel to the highway. To go the opposite direction you have to travel several blocks before there is a bridge that takes you to the other side or exit out onto the highway. It's pretty frustrating, and nothing is open. Fortunately there is no other traffic. The place is so dead that it feels almost ghostly. We ride in circles and I keep feeling like we're gonna get trapped on an exit with no way to turn-around. After about twenty minutes I finally I give up. Sorry, Phil, no orange juice for you pal. He's a bit crestfallen but accepts defeat.
I've gotten turned around by this point. By the time we make it back, I'm lost. I speed past the motel, realizing it at the last minute. Shit! We're on a one way street and the only way off looms ahead; an exit to the highway leading out of town. God knows if there is anywhere to turn around. I stop. I look behind me. The hotel is maybe half a mile away. Its the middle of the night, there is no traffic and I say to hell with it. I slip the gear into reverse and start trekking backwards the wrong way down a one-way street. The others are impressed how well I can drive in reverse. We are almost to the parking lot when I suddenly spot another vehicle slowly cruising up. It's the only other vehicle we've encountered on this little midnight run.
Unfortunately, its a police car.
"Uh-oh, boys", I say. "We're in trouble." Sure enough the lights start flashing and I stop. Empty beer cans and open whiskey bottles are scattered throughout the cabin, which stinks of weed. Clearly there is no getting out of it. As if his night hasn't already been bad enough, poor Phil is an innocent bystander caught in this mess. We open all the windows hoping maybe to air out the cabin a bit.
I watch the cop slowly amble out of his cruiser .He looks like he's pulled straight from the set of a movie; the stereotypical redneck cop: silver-haired, pot-bellied and red faced. He's about thirty feet away but just stands there shaking his head with a incredulous look on his face. "Son," he asks in a raspy, high-pitched Texas drawl, "What the hell are you doing?"
I start to stammer out an apology, how we missed our turn and I didn't think we could turn around without going back out on the highway. The whole time he's just standing there by his car, still shaking his head. He still doesn't approach our van. "Well all ya gotta do is go up a block, turn left, hang another left and there you go", he says in an exasperated tone, as if this should be obvious.
He doesn't ask If I have been drinking.
He doesn't ask for a license.
He doesn't ask for registration.
I stutter a quick thank-you and start to pull away still not convinced this isn't some sort of trap. Sure enough, he follows us closely around the block. We are all convinced he's gonna follow us into the parking lot. I mentally prepare myself for the worst. But he merely toots his horn, tosses a wave and disappears into the night. We all nearly faint. Did this really just happen??
Joe Young is mightily impressed; "Russ, you were cool as a cucumber! Talk about grace under pressure! You kept us all outta jail tonight!" I appreciate the accolades but still cannot help being pissed off. This whole event wouldn't have happened had we not gone out looking for the magical blood repleting properties of orange juice. I understand Phil is injured, and I'm truly sympathetic, but goddamn. I walk into the motel lobby searching for a snack machine. All I want is a candy bar and a soda.
The soda machine has orange juice.
I guess it should be of no surprise that we have been working heavily on a new album. That's right. NEW. ALBUM. I gotta say it's something I'm pretty proud of. The title is "OBSTINATE" and it's gonna be a hard, fast ride - ten blasts of punk rock with a pretty sweet blend of different stylistic influences added to the mix. We've been tracking at the infamous Monster Lab of Eddie Ford. With a little bit of luck this will be out sometime in early summer. and then... the road. But that's news for another time.