Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, and Merle Haggard are some of the most recognizable of the genre called “Outlaw Country.” This was the music that we played and the image we wanted to project to our audience. And so, when it came time for a new Lead Guitar player — Image would play a big role in our choice.
And so the search was on for a new member to join our band. Although we had an ad in the paper, and even some try-out sessions, none of the guys seemed to fit the Outlaw image of the band. Hey, all I wanted was a talented guitar player who new or could learn the outlaw songs we were doing. Oh, and who looked the part to boot! No big deal right? Turns out, easier said then done!
NOTE: Tales of a Road Band is an ongoing series of entries sharing my experiences as lead-singer of a touring Country Road Band back in the early 80s. — Corky and The County Outlaws. All true tales (memories) about some of the more colorful experiences that we shared together.
LOOKING FOR AN OUTLAW
So we were searching for a new lead guitar player and so far without any success. One day, one of the guys in the band recommended someone they thought might fit the bill. He was currently playing with some house-band in a fancy steak house not to far from home. “A steak house?” I asked, not at all that enthused. “Lets just check him out we got nothing to lose” he said. And so we did!
The place was an odd mix between a roadhouse and a high class diner. It was dimly lit, providing ambiance more akin to a romantic dinner than a live band experience. The small round tables adorned with fancy-laced tablecloths complete with low light candles atop, only added to this projection. There was a sizeable dance floor in front of the stage however and girls slinging beer on trays, so the whole effect was quite unique.
Then there was the band? Outlaws? Ah no, you might say pretty much the exact opposite!
They were all dressed in freshly pressed black suit-pants and stiff collared “going to a wedding” white dress shirts. The volume of the band was dialed down low and there was nothing even remotely “Outlaw” in this whole damn place! The guitar player we came to see was a wide-shouldered clean shaven lad probably in his mid 20s. His hair was neat and short (for the times) and again I was thinking — there’s nothing Outlaw here.
But he was a pretty good guitar player and the boys wanted to give him a chance. So we sat and listened to the band and later waved him over for a chat. He seemed an okay guy and said he was interested so we arranged a session date. I gave him a tape of songs we were doing so he could learn some of them and then we left saying our goodbyes.
Did I think then that we had found our guy? Not even close! But Man was I in for a surprise!
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING!
He showed up wearing tight leather black pants with a Waylon and Willie tour T-shirt. When we broke into our custom made intro for “East bound and Down” a Jerry Reed classic, he made his guitar sing! He had all the licks down pat sounding just like the demo we’d gave him. This, no small feat considering our previous lead guitarist “Boy Wonder” had laid down the track.
Not only was he looking and playing like an Outlaw? But as it turned out, he actually really was one! He’d done some time in prison and even been in solitary confinement for in-house misbehaving. They put him in what they called in the Kingston penitentiary — “The Hole!”— YIKES!
I CAN SEE YOU!
Needless to say he joined the band and it wasn’t long after that we all hit the Road together. He turned out to be no trouble at all, rather quiet in demeanor but fun to be around. He did have one strange quirky trait though. He said it was because of the beatings he took by the guards while in prison. That’s why (as he told us) that he always slept — with his eyes open!
And it was true! Craziest thing you’ve ever seen! When you bunked with him you were never sure if he was awake or sleeping? I’d go to shut the TV off thinking he was long gone deep in slumber and he’d scare the shit out of me hollering “Hey, I was watching that!” I guess it was pretty funny to him, but in all honesty, it was pretty damn freaky!
One time way up in Peterborough Ontario, it was the last night of our week booking. Pops and his sister (my aunt) drove down to catch our last show. Our Lead player was not feeling well, dizzy and noxious and barely made it through the night. But as we didn’t have another booking for a few weeks we were all headed home for a break and he’d have lots of time to recover. At least that was the plan.
We still had all our equipment yet on stage and needed to break it all down and put it in the van, maybe another hour or two before we could leave. Lead player was pretty much out of it, sitting in a chair with his head bowed low. So Pops offered to take him with them (as they were leaving well before us) and drop him off on their way home. We wished him well and off they went.
Now what happened on that drive home was related to me later, but I will never forget it just the same. Pops was driving what would be a good three and a half hour journey home. My aunt sat in back with the lead guitar player to keep an eye on him since he wasn’t feeling well and was having dizzy spells and such.
At one point she was leaning up against the back of the front seat having a long conversation with dad not noticing what was going on behind her. When she did finally lay back in her seat to check on him, a long silent pause followed. After a few minutes this silence concerned Pops enough to ask if everything was okay?
She again leaned forward and in the most serious tone told Pops to pull over.
Pull over? he asks
“Alec” she said.
“I think he’s dead!”
“And he died with his eyes wide open!”