- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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Rockvale TN December 10, 2005 - - I came back to Texas in late October to the little town of Pittsburg at the invitation of Gus Gustafson and Janet Franklin, musicians who decided to combine their love of music with their love of coffee and opened The Coffee Cup in Pittsburg a little while back. I had sent them a promo package and they had met my strict criteria of places I will deign to play; that is, they booked me. This was way back in July, before I had gone to France.

Now on the night before my gig, October 21, driving the stately silver Volvo down I-30 from Little Rock, I had stopped in Hope, Arkansas, to pay homage to the birthplace and boyhood home of America's last real President, Bill Clinton. I had spent the night in an Economy Inn across the road from the Hope barracks of the Arkansas State Police, perhaps in one of the very rooms where Bill had been trysting by the pool. I asked for the Jennifer Flowers Suite but got only a blank stare from the Indian (from India) lady at the desk. Hope is in the southwest corner of Arkansas and Pittsburg is in the northeast corner of Texas, so that when I woke up I had only about a two-hour drive to get to The Coffee Cup.

All of this country, including my own vast holdings(yeah, right) in Tennessee, is cotton country, and cotton season is over. I noticed that Texas cotton picking machines are a lot more efficient than the one Bubba Junior and his son Bubba III operate up home, there being less cotton left on the stems and strewn around the roadside down here. Maybe it's a matter of timing. Maybe we've waited too long this year. Perhaps our cotton bolls are rotten, because when them cotton bolls get rotten you can't pick very much cotton. It's a real puzzler for us cotton farmers.

Gus had arranged for my illustrious bass playing friend David Carroll and me to stay at the Carson House Bed and Breakfast.

I checked in and was assigned the Pitt Room. David got the Sophia. The B&B's namesake and second owner, Mr. Carson, was in the lumber business in the 1800s. He also owned a circus and an interest in a railroad which traveled between Texas and Mexico. The other notable distinction of the Carson House is the extensive use of curly pine in its trim, from Carson's stand of diseased trees, which had developed a grain so distinctive that, until Clark Jesmore the joint's owner, filled me in I took for a tropical hardwood. For you fellow carpenters, it's worth the trip just to check it out.

David Carroll is a lanky, laconic and intensely intelligent soul who is a joy to be around and has that quirky sense of humor I have come to associate with the bass players of our calling. I think some of the attitude they have comes from the knowledge that while we singers and songwriters are pulling down the front man kudos, it is really they, minding that bottom and guiding us safely through musical shoals into the next root tone coming down on the one, who literally carry the show. I had only played with Dave once before, earlier in the month at my gig at Waldo's Coffeehouse in Waco, and he had astonished me with his easy grasp of all of my tunes, so I was looking forward to repeating the experience this weekend at our two gigs together.
I got a reassuring phone call from David, on the road from his estate down in Bastrop telling me that he'd be in Pittsburg on time. He showed up plenty early, checked into the Carson House, approved of his suite, and we headed out to the gig.

The Coffee Cup sits on Highway 271 in Pittsburg and Gus had assured me that my name would be in lights, or at least on the roadside sign, all week long, thus virtually guaranteeing a full house the night of our performance.

We played to a full and very generous house, did my little tunes, sold the snake oil and a few CD's, and headed back to the Carson, pausing on our way to buy beer, there not being much in the way of night life in Pittsburg after the Coffee Cup shuts down. Thank you, Pittsburg. And thank you, Gus and Janet. Despite our initial plans to par-tay into the night, David and I shut down ourselves almost immediately on arrival back at the Carson.

The Carson House, appropriately enough given the bio of its namesake, sits beside a railroad. Late in the night I got up, awakened by some instinctive hoboistic ghost-in-the-jukebox clickety-clack of ten-ton wheels, and raced down the stairs and out into starlit Texas gaping in wonder at futuristic stainless steel gondola cars disappearing down the track into impenetrable dark and distance. Suddenly I was aware of my impossibly lonesome self and the miles I was away from home. I went back to bed and slept until morning.

Next day, Dave and I set out on the road to our next gig, Lin Been's Rancho Frijole, in Wills Point. Lin had called me one afternoon about a month before while I was grocery shopping to come play at her place. It's a combination tropical nursery, campground and performance space about sixty miles or so east of Dallas. She's a member of Kerr Union, a group of folks who know each other from good times at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and they decided this year to have a little mini-fest of their own, starring none other than your faithful chronicler. I was, still am in fact, tickled pink to show up.

We got to the gate and past the cowgirl security and onto the property, where we were met by Miz Been herself, who showed us to our quarters. Dave and I shared a cabin by the little lake, or maybe it's a large pond, on the Rancho Frijole grounds. During the afternoon, lolling around in front of our cabin and on the floating pier out on the lake, David tutored me in the finer points of reading the stock market pages.

While we were reading the paper, the Dallas Morning News from two days before, we came across the entertainment section, listing the best musical bets for the weekend. They were: The Dallas Symphony, Merle Haggard, and Panama Red. "Gotta be a slow weekend in Dallas," I said. "Torpid," agreed Dave. It's always nice to have such strong ego support on your team.

We played our set at nine pm, just as advertised. We were received well, and hung around some of the campfires afterwards. Dave went to bed early and when I awoke the next morning he was gone back to Bastrop. I decided to hang out around the greenhouse where breakfast was being served.

Lin Been was born in Oklahoma but got to Texas "as fast as I could."
The railroad of life is full of sidetracks, however, and Lin found herself in Florida for a while, where she fell in love with tropical plants. It was the combined affection for Texas and jungle botany that impelled her to move back to Texas, buy some land and set up a greenhouse. Now she spends as much time away from Dallas as she can at Rancho Frijole. In the company of numerous canines, but particularly a huge amiable soul named Hermann.
Named, I presume, after The Sons of Hermann, a fraternal organization the Dallas branch of which Lin is involved in.

Late in the afternoon I felt the need for a short nap and, the weather having turned chillier, eschewed the rustic pleasures of the lakeside cabin for the bed in Lin's guest room.

My power nap turned into an all-nighter, and I awoke to mockingbirds greeting the Texas morning.

Lin's other guests were Chet and Carla Gossett, a tag-team from Northern California. Chet does something for the city of San Mateo which for reasons of national security I can't go into here… After breakfast they split back to NoCal, and I said goodbye to Lin and hatted up myself. Back in the stately silver Volvo I lit out across country to the little town of Italy, Texas, joined up with the Interstate coming down from Dallas and set out to Austin.

I was up for and in for more adventures, and looking forward to hanging with my new pals, the estimable Will Sexton and Gabe Rhodes.

More about them later…



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