Sometimes I wish that I believed in something after this life's over. Oh, I don't not believe. I just don't know. I'm pretty sure that there is no hell but I worry that there is no heaven either. Life, here and now, comes pretty close to paradise. It's difficult to keep suffering out of your mind, though, and really who would want to? This treadmill that we call life is rough. You don't dare slow down.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
There are positive energy forces at work here. I mean here. Even as I peer through the sadness that surrounds my real life circumstances right now I still sense the joy and the peace all around me. Turn over the rocks in the road. Look at how the sunlight shines on that busted beer bottle. The clues are in the rock'n'roll and in that crackle of the first fall mornings. You don't make this stuff happen, you let it happen.
Love, love, love.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Friday, September 27, 2013
Oh, the arrogance of youth. I still remember an interview that I read with Chuck Berry in a rock'n'roll magazine when I was ten or eleven years old. He was denying all credit for inventing the art form. He insisted that he was just playing what he had heard Louis Jordan doing when he was just a kid. Of course I thought that he was just being humble. I learned over the years that Mr. Berry is not a humble man.
No, in fact, Chuck had been borrowing riffs right from Carl Hogan, one of Louis' great guitarists.
Growing up with Hank Williams on the radio, I guess I just always assumed that hillbilly music had come right from his genius. I was a grownup by the time I learned about Tetot, the street singer who had taught Hank to play, and Emmett Miller, the minstrel singer, who provided the voice break that was such a big part of Hank's "uniqueness."
Don't get me started about Esquerita and Little Richard or Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
I don't know where any of it came from and you don't either. Who cares? It's the folk tradition, right?
Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
So I'm stuck with one arm under my head going to sleep while I try to take in the documentary explaining why I'm passive since I was raised without a father. My friend next to me is all-the-way asleep.
The ranting doctor on the flat screen is claiming that women will leave me and that I'm sure to fail in business. Now he's trying to convince me that I put all my efforts into seeking love.
He doesn't have to be so smug about it.
Please send me your love. Please.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Oh, I guess I learned plenty in college. One of the first courses that I took at the University of South Florida was Ideas Of Utopia. It was, of course, in the Ideas Department.
Now today I read in the New York Times that the momentum may be in favor of the optimists concerning the end of global poverty. Seems to me that war has had more than its fifteen minutes, too. It sure would be nice if the U.S.A. roared to the front of the pack in terms of change for the better. Of course we were late to the party on slavery and some other biggies. It does seem to me that we should get credit for rock'n'roll. Maybe that will buy us some credit on the ones that we've botched.
Let's feed the poor, help the down and out, care for the sick, educate the kids and find good jobs for the soldiers. Let's reform our laws to put all the money that we waste on "defense" to healing the planet. It doesn't take genius. It takes love and common sense.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
When they asked Chuck Prophet to write about me for the liner notes in the British version of my record, Hep, he put down something like, "If Ronny Elliott got any more underground, they'd have to dig him up with a shovel."
Suited me fine. I like being in the shadows. It's been reported that when George Bernard Shaw first set foot on American soil, coming down the gangplank, he asked the throngs of journalists, "Here I am. How do you like me?"
That's my worst nightmare: taking myself seriously and looking for others to do the same.
Now, they're not making many big movies out of George's plays these days but we all know his name and some heir, somewhere, keeps raking in the dough whenever My Fair Lady plays on Turner Classic Movies.
Luckily, I suppose, I don't have any heirs. Folks like me, if there are folks like me, have to wonder if they've worked all their lives for nothing. Oh, I'm not whining. I would do it this way again. You do it because you have to, right?
Monday, September 23, 2013
Once the clean-cut, clear-eyed worker bees had talked me out of a few bucks to keep up the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's lifestyle in exchange for my own personal mantra, which, of course, I cannot reveal here, I noticed one thing quickly. The Maharishi was always giggling. Not that I ever saw him. I mean in newsreel footage with the Beatles or on some late night talk show giving us, or should I say selling us, the joy and peace associated with transcendental meditation I knew him.
Now, I've seen footage of the Dali Lama shedding tears, too, but I generally think of him as smiling. Maybe joyous.
Me? I don't have anything to sell. I do know this, though. We're built for happy. Don't let the swirling chaos around you suck you in. Drag the folks around you into that place where laughter lives. There's plenty out there to feel sad about. Deal with it with compassion and understanding. Then, get right to "Who's On First" or "I'm My Own Grandpa" or "What It Was Was Football" or something glorious.
Love is the key and laughter is the vehicle. I suppose rock'n'roll's the fuel.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Pray to something, anything, just in case there is something. Be good because it feels good. Don't wear pants unless you want to. You can find the truth in the woods and in the rock'n'roll. Peace is ours when we want it. Love is the answer, whatever the question.
Friday, September 20, 2013
If I had it to do over, I would name this site "I Don't Know." I always notice that folks who seem to know a lot always embrace the mystery of what they don't know.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” Einstein.
Unfortunately we seem to elect politicians from all corners who are pretty sure that they know everything. Is it my imagination or is there a church on almost every corner around here with pastors who have all the answers.
Knowledge is a beautiful thing. Arrogance is really unattractive. I know that.
What if you finally learn your lessons? When you've driven the dark parts out of your heart and the beautiful weather makes you feel right. Maybe you have to go through that long, dark tunnel first. At least some of us.
If you're lucky enough to have love to spare you need to share it with the ones around you who need it. They're everywhere.
Sometimes, it seems, it's harder to accept it than it is to offer it up. Keep pushin'. That's what we're here for. I love you.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
There's what we call the "dead wall" backstage at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa. All over the dressing room walls are posters and flyers of many of the acts that have passed through the beloved, ragged venue.
On one small panel as you head up the stairs to the stage you find photos and flyers of Rock Bottom, arguably the most treasured of all of the area's showmen; Diamond Teeth Mary, who left us way too early at 96; Jimmy Michaelides, the skinny, wonderful bartender, who served us with love and joy and booze. I never know whether to laugh or cry as I stand there leaning on that wall.
We used to joke that the joint would go bankrupt if Rock ever cleaned out his chest of drawers and brought in all of his drink tickets. Now, being alive and all, I've probably played on that stage more than anyone still kicking. I've done shows there with NRBQ, the Avett Brothers, Todd Snider, Paul Thorn, the Subdudes, Chuck Prophet, Jimmy LaFave and lots and lots of other folks. I developed the original noise ordinance for the County EPC which still causes nightmares for the place.
I've drunk their beer and I've eaten their hush puppies. I try not to think about that wall.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
She loved me like crazy. The crazy ones always do.
I hate to think that I might ever miss another sunset. Or sunup, for that matter. What if I haven't even heard the prettiest music? Don't leave any film in the camera, son. That's my advice.
When I start to worry about laziness I try to convince myself that I am working. My friend, Walt, told me the other day that I'm a writer, not a musician. Well, that's gonna please the musicians' union but it might irritate some real writers. Who cares? I don't have time to worry about such matters. Heck, I don't have time to worry. I'm working. I'm a writer.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I remember reading all of those blues masters explain that their purpose was to take away the pain. Nobody ever listened to the blues to make them feel bad. Hey, if you were Black and living in the South in the '20's and '30's, you already felt bad. If your grandparents told you stories of the Ku Klux Klan, you know that terrorism didn't come to these shores in the last few decades riding a camel. Not if you're of African American descent.
Rudy Vallee led us out of the Great Depression and delivered us to the crooners with Sinatra helping us forget about the Big One. As rhythm and blues and hillbilly music morphed into rock'n'roll in order to take the new discretionary funds from American white kids a certain joy became the focus. Oh, sure, Heartbreak Hotel sold a million records but so did Long Tall Sally.
I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You sparked what we called a British invasion and helped us put aside the grief of our loss of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. Peace and love, remember?
Now war is our number one industry and our number one export. Weapons, coincidentally, rank way up there, too, with banking and oil. Wait, this is all for good and we're doing this to make the world safe and to spread democracy, right?
I've struggled with an answer about why I write dark songs since a German writer quizzed me on the subject. Up 'til then I wasn't aware that I did. Maybe I'm just trying to do my part to make us all happy.
Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Ready for a career adjustment. My calendar is empty. I have no jobs. Ever. I always thought I would have more say in my retirement. Didn't Ernie Lee work right up til the end?
Oh, I'm still in the rock'n'roll business. I'm just thinking of shaking it up a bit. I may go out with just my TV Pal plastic guitar and tell my stories and sing to save the world. I keep finding poems around here that I need to be reading to somebody, somewhere. Let's be honest. The may just be notes and grocery lists that I've started. I call it art.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Stop me if I've told you this. I hate to repeat myself. I think I wrote about the beginning of Noah's Ark, our big experiment to save the world. Well, when our kind of music began to get airplay and all of the music magazines began to focus on psychedelic rock'n'roll it should have been time for celebration. It appeared that we were in the right place at the right time. Now, we weren't riding anybody's coattails here. We had ventured into the noise well before there was anything fashionable about feedback. Mr. Moog, himself, had called me and made us the distributors for his theremins in the Southeast. We were hip and we knew it.
It all bored me and made me want to take a turn. For anything. I just don't know how to be creative if I'm doing what everyone else is doing.
It seemed like a fine time to start a big rhythm and blues review. You know, girl singers who danced suggestively, lots of saxophones and keyboards and dynamics to bring an audience to tears. I knew what I wanted. I kept calling rehearsals and kept showing up to find only my three pals, all drummers, in the room. Finally I realized this was my band. To quote my friend, Cuba Luna, "If life gives you AIDS, make lemonade."
Fortunately one of the drummers could play guitar just well enough so that he was able to teach one of the other drummers to play, too. Voila, Your Local Bear, a hillbilly band.
One of the first songs that we wrote was, "Country Music's Back On The Radio." Wishful thinking on our part. Of course we opened with that at our first real show. Did I mention that it was on a bill with Jimi Hendrix?
To say that folks hated that band is to understate the situation. Once in Clearwater the cops had to sneak us out the back of a venue to protect us from a predominately African American crowd.
Timing, friends, is everything.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Well now, I've been left by more women than Agnes Scott. I've been turned down, stood up, pushed 'round and took. I have failed at all sorts of endeavors and managed to wind up broke.
That's alright, that's alright. I have lived with the joy of rock'n'roll. I've listened to stuff to make the angels blush. I've worked with my heroes and I've had the glorious joy of being exactly who I am.
Folks want me to tell the stories about the famous ones. Yeah, I understand. Sometimes, though, it's uncomfortable. I have friends who drop names and they're good at it. I'm not. Just because somebody important walked by me doesn't say anything about me. Well, I suppose it says I was in a room.
Last night I watched the Joel Tatangelo Band. They may never be famous but they should. They know where the magic is. When I was a kid my mom took me to see the Skyliners all the time. There was never better music, never joy more pure. They never made any money. Not for themselves, anyway.
That "deal with the devil" thing- I know all about it. My mom signed the papers for me when I was about eight years old. I couldn't do it legally.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Folks ask, "What's your favorite song?" I've always taken it seriously. My problem is that it depends on when you ask. I'm as likely to blurt out Tim Dawes' "Little Boy Blue" or Rebekah Pulley's "Nobody's Cool Any More" as I am to mention "Wooly Bully" or "Pumped Up Kicks" or "All Along The Watchtower." Just depends on what comes to mind.
There are records that transcend all measure, though. You know the ones. They make the hair on your arms stand up. They never sounded like anything before them. It still hits you in the face like a 2X4 when it comes on the radio.
Your list is different from mine. Mine almost always includes Elvis' version of "Blue Suede Shoes," the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?" They all changed me all the way through.
I'm not altogether sure about just who I am but the key's in those three records somewhere.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
As I poke through stuff, trying to decide what to get rid of, it's sad and obvious to me that I don't have anybody who wants or needs any of my junk. I suppose that all that really matters is that I outlast Jamaica and Angel. They're my only valuable treasures. My rock'n'roll memorabilia looks like trash that crazy people nail to walls if I'm not around to tell the stories. The house is special to me but I know that it will be bulldozed to make room for another McMansion soon after I'm gone.
I don't think the Salvation Army would touch my wardrobe. Most of it looks like the stuff that you see them bundling for the rag factories if you go around the back of the thrift stores.
What about my songs? It occurs to me that nobody has wanted them while I've been alive. Uh oh. The only good thing, I guess, is that nobody will be cheated out of anything! If growing old doesn't make you a Buddhist, you're not paying attention.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
We hadn't been playing much for some time. Two or three times Harry had approached me and asked if I wanted to start a band. That's a question that you don't want to hear when you're a recovering musician. Of course I would tell him yes every time and he would proceed to tell me that he didn't want to do it.
This time seemed different, somehow. He mentioned that David Lane and Billy Artlip wanted to be involved. Harry suggested that we get together once just to see what would happen. I had known Billy and David for a long time. Not well but for a long time.
Well, to tell the truth, we smoked some dope. I hadn't done much of that for a long time, either. I misunderstood something that David said in the haze as "loco siempre." Honestly, I think we started the band just to use the name.
We never worked much. Nobody hired us. We had some adventures. Some misadventures, too. There was the night in Tallahassee at F.S.U. when Harry played in his sheer harem girl outfit. It might have gone better if his guitar strap had been longer. Well, the officer didn't just arrest him. He called in reinforcements first. That was a show with our old pal, Col. Bruce Hampton. Bruce wasn't surprised.
That thing, the band, not the harem girl suit, finally unraveled. That left me, finally, as "Ronny Elliott." For that I'm grateful. It had taken me years. I had never wanted to be up front.
Billy has gone on. Tonight we'll get together with our old friend, Spencer Hinkle, sitting in on drums. He's the best drummer in the world. We won't be too good, though. Never were. We're playing to raise a few bucks and a little love for our pal, Dusty Durst. He's been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Loco Siempre, indeed.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Kids, and by "kids" I mean people under the age of sixty, ask me how to get in touch with me and I find myself telling them that I'm in the phone book. It's only when I look back into that blank stare that I realize that there is no phone book to speak of. I live in a world of buggy whips and spats; Mr. Potatohead and rock'n'roll.
When I poke through my bedside table for my personal address book I thumb through more dead friends than living souls that I might call. I've heard all my life that it goes by quickly. Really quickly. This isn't what I had in mind.
When I walk Jamaica around the block I notice Fall in the air. Makes me just a little bit sad. I notice a tear in my eye. She's a little bit slower and there's gray around her muzzle that I haven't noticed before. It occurs to me that she's eight now.
In case I've done nothing here that matters let me remind you that it's all about love. Don't worry about winning. Love will make everything right. Everything.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Promoter. The word feels dirty in your mouth. Apologies to my few friends who honorably how this row. Well, in 1966 I was working for my record producer, Phil Gernhard. He got tired of paying me sixty bucks a week to sit around waiting for genius to strike. He decided that we would promote shows to justify my existence. Phil had once been a major
player doing shows and dances in South Carolina as a kid. His big competition was Phil Walden who went on to manage Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers.
What a horrible endeavor, this concert promotion. I will say that I got to see some really fine shows that probably would never have gotten to the Tampa area. Good seats, too!
We did Donovan, Janis Joplin with the famous arrest, Derek and the Dominos with the only appearance live with Duane Allman, Steve Miller, Canned Heat, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Chuck Berry and loads of others. I mean, fercrissakes, we had opening acts like John Mayall, Dion, B.B. King, the Outlaws, the Allman Brothers, blah, blah...
We did smaller shows, too. Terry Reid, Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys and Michael Bloomfield.
Most of our shows lost money. By my standards, lots of money. I'm not sure why he kept doing them. Partly to feed a big ego, I guess. Losing someone else's money is rough. Really rough.
After that long running misadventure I was pulled back into the ugly game. My pal, Ron Shelly, called me from Miami begging me to fly down and talk to him about doing shows for him in Tampa. He said that they wanted to do some really hip shows and that they needed my help. I explained that really hip shows in Tampa would fail. He smiled, explained that they were well aware of that fact and that they had figured out that they would lose less with me onboard than they would without me. They needed to buy acts for at least three markets to get the good bands to Miami where they would make their big bucks.
Well, I got paychecks for a hundred bucks a week while I was going to school whether we had shows or not. The checks were from Free Flow Productions and signed by a Michael Brovsky, who I never met. I realized later that he showed up associated with all of the Austin acts that I really liked. I always remembered that he produced Joe Ely's first LP, Musta' Notta' Gotta' Lotta'. In fact, I asked Joe awhile back what had ever happened to our old boss.
"Prison, last I heard."
"Really? For what?"
"Mafia. Russian mafia."
Wow. I've lived an exciting life but never knew it at the time.
That chapter did get me to see some more really fine shows while paying a few bills, too. The Kinks, the Byrds, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the Beachboys and Pink Floyd. I'm sure that I'm leaving some out.
I felt so guilty taking a paycheck when I wasn't working that I finally called Ron Shelly and lied, "I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. He says I can't work any more."
I could tell that he knew I wasn't telling him the truth but I suppose that he didn't know what to say. He did tell me to call if I felt better and my job would still be there. Hey. I could use the work now.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Every morning at around 8:00 am Buddy Richardson would roll up to the house on San Carlos for our work day to begin. According to him, my grandmother wouldn't allow him to wake me up. He would have to sit and wait patiently for the sun to bring me around. He claims that he never minded because Lottie would bring him her homemade rolls and coffee or sassafras tea.
We planned that band for almost a year before we even got to the music. "Noah's Ark Will Save The World." That was the idea. We meant it. I still do.
That band never lived up to its potential. Oh, it was swell on a good night and the three 45's stand up to a certain standard. It should have changed everything. It should have saved the world.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Oh yeah, we were hotshots. We finished up our show at the Lakeland Civic Center and headed out in our Econoline van for Birmingham. The Soul Trippers, 1966. We were pretty sure that we were great and we were getting a little bit impatient waiting to become famous.
Spencer was driving and as we approached the edge of Attapulgus the right front tire went off of the shoulder of the road. When he pulled the steering wheel to get it back we began to roll and flip, sideways and end over end. We knew how far we rolled because as we pulled ourselves from the wreckage we could see a little bump about a hundred yards back down the highway. It was John Delise, our singer.
We were sure that he was dead. The sun was just coming up as we ran towards him. When we got about halfway there he stood up and began to run towards us. Everybody was alive. Miracle.
The excitement was just beginning, though. We got back to the smoldering heap just in time for the flames to begin showing. As we began to throw all of our musical gear out onto the side of the road it began to rain. Could it get any worse? Yeah, it got worse.
A sheriff's car pulled up and, straight from central casting, a gigantic hulk with a shiny star on his badge waddled up and asked calmly, "What's the trouble, girls?"
Well, sir, they took us into the Attapulgus jail and made us some coffee. Pretty soon we were friends with half the town and feeling the celebrity love that we thought we were owed. Everybody was cut up and bruised but we were glad to be alive. Three of us still are.
There are parts II, III and IV to the story, too, involving getting to Birmingham, fighting our way out of the crowd and mononucleosis. I'll save those for another time.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Yeah, where would we be without the Beatles? They changed everything for a whole generation of us. They weren't even on the radio in the states when I figured out that my life was taking a turn. I saw a tiny wire article in the Tampa Tribune about this four piece beat group from Liverpool that was shaking up all of Europe. I stayed on the lookout. Soon Jack Paar ran a short clip of them. I was hooked. My junior year in high school, 1963-'64, was the turning point in my life.
Oh yeah, rock'n'roll was my life and had been for a long time. Since I was eight or nine. Elvis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard were gods, though. I idolized them and copied their hairdos and styles but never considered that I could do what they did. Maybe Curtis Lee or Benny Joy or one of the B list rockers but I wasn't born into royalty.
Then these four white guys writing a lot of their songs and looking like some kid you knew from physiology class if he had washed his hair came along. I still get woozy thinking about it. I shampooed my hair, grew it over the top of my ears and never looked back. Well, not for long.
It wasn't just the affirmation of the rock'n'roll. They preached so much of what I believed from Sunday school and lots of the morality that my grandmother had instilled in me. In the second round they mouthed off about peace and war, vegetarianism and love. Yeah, love. That's all you need. I love the Beatles.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Boy, I sure wanted to win at Indy. Had big plans to build the world's fastest fuel dragster, too. My last real hot rod was a '32 Ford three window coupe with a Corvette engine. It was a beauty. I don't think girls even bothered to hate it. It only ran about half the time.
I'm pretty sure, looking back, that it was all about girls. Always. I remember going out with my friends on a regular basis to "pick up girls." What I don't remember is ever picking up a girl. Oh, I know that this sounds sexist and disrespectful. I don't think it is. I hope it's not.
All of my big decisions in life have centered around romance. I know that now. I have probably always known that.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
I seem to remember that my mom yelled when she was angry. She was really sensitive and very thin skinned. It was easy for her to scream mean things at folks that she loved. The kind of thing that you regret later.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was slow to anger and never said anything mean to anyone. These were my two adult role models. God knows I'm sensitive. Too sensitive for an easy life. I guess I've done my share of hollering but it gets easier all the time for me to walk away from conflict. My inclination is to prove my side at any cost. What's the point?
It's not about right and wrong, is it? It's about love. Free your heart and open your mind. Peace starts with you and me.
Monday, September 2, 2013
We moved to Florida when I was in the first grade because I thought it was all palm trees and Hawaiian shirts. It is if you do it right. I love the beach. Life makes more sense there. I have always written my best songs there. No reason to study war at the beach. Come to think of it, there's no reason to study war.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Oh, how I remember my first stage performance. My pals, Eric and Buddy were in a rock'n'roll band they called the Tropics. They were playing a show at Madison Junior High and were without a bass player. Charlie Souza had called in sick. Turns out he was offered five bucks more to play a show with the Pastels but, hey, it got me into show business, didn't it?
Charlie had been showing me little runs and patterns on bass. I wasn't ready to go out and play but my friends were stuck.
As we started out on stage Buddy asked, "Are you nervous?"
"When you make your first mistake and the kids keep dancing, it will be alright."
A few songs into the set I noticed Spencer, the drummer, motioning Buddy over to his side. We were well into Louie, Louie.
"Somebody's in the wrong key," Spencer informed him. The drummer had to point out that I was playing in a key all to myself.
Well, sir, my musical ability needed some honing but my hair was good. While the rest of the Tropics still sported greased back hair, my well washed coiffure captured the interest of the little junior high girls. I was officially in the rock'n'roll business. The Tropics changed their hairstyles.