(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)
In '67 I was
in Atlanta, GA (long story) working a job I needed but disliked when a
roommate came home and said, "Hey, your buddies Bud and Travis are
playing a hotel lounge downtown!"
I went down there that evening to find that they had not, in fact, reunited.
It was Trav and Bob Shane, of The (also disbanded) Kingston Trio, trying to put an act together.
I walked into the lobby of the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Travis was
sitting there with his leg in a cast. (A horse had stepped on his
foot.) He jumped up and started hobbling toward me.
"We looked all over for you! We need a writer!"
He introduced me to
Bob, and the next several weeks would change my life.
They were playing the "cocktail hour" (remember that, fellow dinosaurs?) in the hotel lounge, a tiny dive called "The Pink Poodle" that had been taken over by Pat & Barbara, a couple of youngsters doing a folk show high on energy and comedy--pretty much what was expected of an acoustic act those days.
Bob was related to one of the backers of Pat & Barbara, who set the gig up so Bob and Travis had a place to rehearse and try out material. I started joining them for rough-draft practice sessions, throwing out lines and trying to shape bits into "continuity." That's the term for patter that moves the story line of the performance forward, explaining the song or its origins, tying the last idea to the next idea, etc.
Bob was relaxed, even casual, but still very focused. He proved to be a quick (and accurate) study. Trav, not so much. His attitude resembled mine through high school; that is, he knew the material, basically, but wasn't concerned about details...like his cues, or getting the set-up just right so the gag had some impact. The pudding was proofed onstage.
Bob would do his line, Trav would approximate his, Bob would riposte, and wait while Travis groped around for his next part, sometimes resorting to an old stand-by one-liner. When he was stuck, or flubbed the line, Bob would get that twinkle in his eye and just let him hang.
I had seen this sort of thing between Bud and Travis--the weight of huge egos suspended like anvils on threads over a scene the audience may or may not have understood. Bud and Travis were so alike, so evenly matched, and so similarly tuned comedically, that audiences almost never noticed any friction. Their stuff moved very quickly, building to one or two big laughs toward the end of the bit.
Bob's timing was shaped by the huge auditoriums and crowds of the college circuit. He knew when to wait, letting a line sink in all the way to the cheap seats before proceeding.
He didn't drop the punch line until everyone was waiting for it. Travis admired this, and understood the theory; but, it made him antsy, and his expertise from smaller venues like nightclubs prodded him to jump a little quicker. This really made his hesitations stand out, and Bob seemed to take a perverse delight in it.
I suspected that the huge respect B & T had earned as instrumentalists might have been a contributing factor.
A day came when Bob & Travis would be featured in Pat & Barbara's nighttime show, to make the much larger audience aware of them and test out the repertoire a little. Bob proposed we go out to his farm outside Roswell (GA) to rehearse and then have dinner. He picked us up in the station wagon and took us out there in the morning.
Bob and his wife, Louise, were raising and breeding Shetland ponies. I think they were Shetlands--hope I'm not insulting some more specific breed--and they were cute enough to gag the school spirit queen. The house was, of course, gorgeous and richly appointed with antiques and artifacts from the KT's world travels. The kitchen looked like something set up for a gourmet chef's TV show, with lots of tile and copper pots gleaming from the stainless ceiling racks.
The "rehearsal" went about as thoroughly as usual.
When I admired the shotguns on the wall, and some of Louise's shooting trophies, Bob asked if we had ever shot skeet. I, at that time, harbored no ill will toward the creatures, and confessed I had not. So,that's what we did, right off the back deck.
When the back yard was liberally strewn with skeet remains, Louise said dinner was ready.
She served us the best chiles rellenos I had ever tasted, actually presented with small, perfect sides and an almost clear sauce. I praised the meal profusely and wished for more. Then everyone "cleaned up" and we drove to the club for the show.
I think it was that same evening, during Pat & Barbara's show, a fight broke out at the end of the bar.
I watched with mild amusement as an unlikely couple struggled together for a clear spot for combat. Then my peripheral sight caught Travis, Walter Brennaning on his cast toward the action. The sudden vision of my meal ticket hospitalized with more casts propelled me into the fray.
Once the unevenly matched pair were separated, the smaller of the two thanked me for saving his posterior from that "big animal" and issued a permanent invitation to free dining in his well-known and most excellent Italian restaurant right next door, Salvatore's. It would have been discourteous of me not to begin frequenting that fine establishment and scarfing all the veal parmesan I could.
One afternoon Bob showed up at the hotel, and Trav was off somewhere; so he invited me across the street to catch a flick at the neat old theater. We saw "Bonnie & Clyde." We sat in the balcony so we could smoke (yes, long, long ago!) and when the movie ended with that slow motion murder scene, Bob nudged my leg. I looked down, and we were both holding cigarettes that had burned all the way down, leaving two full-length cylinders of standing ash.
Travis was involved, as usual, with an "affair," and became undependable. Bob began to make other plans, bringing in Bucky Wilkin as a "side man" with sidekick possibilities.
Bucky has a wide range of talents, including writing and producing, and was, through skillful overdubbing, the entire staff of "Ronny & The Daytonas" of "Little GTO" fame. We had some good times, and even wrote a song together.
But, now, we're getting into another chapter, and this one's too long already.
Next week: Atlanta Revelations!