(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)
I got a call from my dear old friend, Joe Monsanto in Tucson. He and a friend,David John, who had worked with me when I was the publisher of The Frumious Bandersnatch (oh, yes, I was!), were getting ready to open a non-alcoholic nightclub and they wanted me to help rig some staging and lights,
They wanted to fly me back to Tucson for a few days, and I couldn't wait to get back to the United States; so I packed a green file box with a brass sign on it that said "Danger" in big red letters with a few tools, toiletries, boxers, and socks and when Barbara dropped me at the airport I was wearing white jeans and a T-shirt that had both been tie-died in a striking yellow and brown flame pattern. Again, I was somewhat medicated, of course. If you're going flying...
So I went through the Atlanta airport, a two-hour layover in Dallas, and the Tucson airport with no luggage, head-to-toe flame tie-dye, and a metal box with a sign saying "Danger." and no one batted an eye. No one ever asked what I had in the case--nothing going out, nothing coming back. 1971.
I spent an afternoon with the guys at the club, making lists, gathering materials, working on the basics of some switchable lights that could serve as stage illumination, and we knocked off at dusk and all headed over to Mike Ronstadt's house for "dinner." Must have been half a dozen of us, or so, and we all pitched in on some home cookin'--Mexican food in the Sonoran style. The meal was vast and long and we relaxed in a cloud of smoke, listening to music.
The phone rang, and it was Barbara, calling to say that Monk Arnold had booked us into the Club Car Lounge at the downtown Marriot for the cocktail hour gig! Well, that was wonderful news, dampened only by the fact that we were to start the next Monday. It was Wednesday.
The next morning I was whisked to the airport for my return trip, got back into Atlanta Thursday evening, and learned 36 songs with Barbara by Monday afternoon.
(Oh, yes, we did!)
I was a little nervous. (You may have heard the analogy about the canine and the peach seeds.) We arrived at the Marriott an hour in advance, just to be safe, and reported to the Club Car to check out the staging arrangements. Oh, boy.
The "performance area" was a space at the wall end of the bar, where a stool had been removed to provide room for us to stand. This sumptuous space was attractively illuminated by a single red light of around 100 watts. All the bar traffic and all the door traffic would occur between us and the "audience." We couldn't be seen, so I tracked down a custodian who offered us a stepladder for Barbara to perch on, making her at least visible to patrons. I would stand next to the ladder, in the dark. I could barely see the set list taped to the top of my shiny new J-200.
That's when I discovered that the sound system wasn't working, and there was only one mic. I found my friend the custodian again, and he shrugged and led me to a little closet in the wall of an adjacent room with an ancient PA amp.
I sized up the situation, told the custodian what we needed, and got another shrug. He aid "I can't do that." I said, "Well, get me some tools and I'll do it." "I can't do that--" my faithful helper said,"--union."
Not having any cash worthy of such a bribe, I made a brief, impassioned speech, he brought me pliers and tape, and then literally looked the other way while I went to work.
We had found another mic stand and mic, of sorts, and I began trying frantically to actually splice wires together to get what we needed hooked up. Once I had, it was not really adequate, and I was dripping with sweat, my hands shaking with nerves and anger. We started 45 minutes late.
Look at me, Mama, I'm finally in show business!
Speaking of airport security, here's Bob Smiley's take...