Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mean Drunks, Sweet Babies

If Hank Williams hadn't been a genius would we have thought of him as just another drunk hillbilly? I suppose we probably wouldn't think of him at all. Oh, he had his pains and his demons. Most junkies and drunks do.

Poor old Jack Kerouac was so mean and ornery at the end that nobody even jumps up to defend him. Are we supposed to feel bad that success was hard on him?

When I met Elvis he was probably the sweetest, most polite gentleman that I had ever been around. Listen to some of those pill- induced rants from the end and your blood will run cold.

I hope that I can learn enough so that some day folks will say, "He was a pretty nice guy. Even when he was drunk." I'm working on it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cowboy Code

People tell me all the time that they don't trust anyone. Seems like a shame. I trust everyone. Oh, I pay a price every now and then. Spoiled with love, notice you'll never hear me refer to it as too much love, I expect that folks are telling me the truth. 

I was never a Boy Scout but I believe all that code stuff. I was surely never a cowboy. In fact I would always want to be the Indian when we played. That code of the West thing always rang true for me, though. Too bad that we didn't apply it to the natives, huh?

Sunday school? I tell you all the time how I fell for that stuff. Still believe it; well, most of it. I surely want to do unto others...

Monday, February 25, 2013


The music business is dead! Long live the music business! Once there were what we called "major labels." They were the big boys. The ones who came and took rock'n'roll from the little record companies that had made it a social phenomena in the first place. Ahmet, the Chess brothers, Art Rupe, Sam Phillips, Jerry, Lew Chudd. All the guys.

They had the money and the clout. The distribution was already in place to get rock'n'roll to the whole country. The whole world. It didn't take any genius to do the math. Any opportunistic business man could watch tears streaming down the face of the teenage girls in the Ed Sullivan audience and recognize the money potential. It was like shooting Sinatras in a barrel.

Warner Brothers signed magnificent acts with little potential for commercial success for the prestige of having them on the label. It was good for credibility. You know, the Grateful Dead, Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder. Herb Cohen even managed to have them give Frank Zappa his own label for such acts as Captain Beefheart, the GTO's and Tim Dawe.

Their biggest competitor, Columbia, was signing away, too and bringing us Simon and Garfunkle, the Chambers Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Taj Mahal, Janis Joplin and plenty more. Of course the wonderful John Hammond had signed a young Bob Dylan to the label and combined with the pioneering work of the Byrds had begun an entire new genre.

Once the money became the entire business, however, the music guys were quietly and quickly being replaced with the suits from the legal and accounting departments.

That brings us to Clive Davis. I just saw the creaky old creep on Morning Joe, hawking his new autobiography. Of course those folks fawned all over him as he explained how he, single-handedly, brought us the magic of rock'n'roll. I had a problem keeping my Cheerios down.

I remember a long story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine a few years back. It was about Clive's new discovery, a young woman who was being groomed as "the next big thing." At the end of the piece Clive mentioned that they had not yet determined what genre the poor thing would perform in. Of course I don't remember her name. I hope she had a good time.

Yeah, it's over. It has been for some time. Kids will find new music for us. Crooks will appropriate it and we'll do all this again. Thank God for the souls who give us the magic outside the borders of this sewer. It's the same as if some hillbillies from North Carolina and Alabama were still racing on the beach in Daytona and ignoring NASCAR to the heavens.

They can kill rock'n'roll but they can't keep it in the ground. Turn it up.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Good Folks

People watching. I'm pretty good at it. Sitting in a booth at some diner by yourself provides plenty of that kind of entertainment. I feel like I love pretty much everyone who comes by. Folks are always good to me. It seems like everybody nods, looks me in the eye and says hello to me. It's always been that way.

Where does our dark side come from? If we didn't have to comfort our egos could we all just get along as Rodney King suggested? I dream of peace and love. I had those dreams before anyone ever asked if I was a hippie.

Seems that maybe preaching about the power of love is a fine way to get by. The benefits are tremendous.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy Enough

Somehow everything seems to be making sense. I'm thinking that puberty could be on the way out for me. Other folks' anger provides really fine lessons. Glad I didn't die before I got old.

Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'm Back

Torn between wanting to just be Ronny Elliott for a living and worrying about ego and self importance, I struggle to work. I've been accused lately of narcissism and being self absorbed; taking myself too seriously. Boy, I hope that's not right. 

One day I was trying to read a blog online and a window opened and asked, "Hey, do you want to start your own blog?"

"Well, sure," I thought, "why not?"

My career choices have been made in haste but, for the most part, I've stuck to the plan. I wanted to play rock'n'roll to pick up girls. I never picked up girls but I keep playing.

I'm not deaf. I can hear that I'm no Pavarotti. I'm no George Gershwin, either. I've got messages. You heard them when you were in Sunday school. I'm just here to remind you. I tend to carry on about love, too. Evidence suggests that I'm no authority there.

It's been pointed out to me that I use a lot of photos of myself. Well, yeah, I guess I do. When you go out and play music, folks tend to send you pictures of yourself. I don't want to be one of those nuts from the sixth grade who carried his own pictures in his wallet but if I go to You Tube to find Fats Domino I expect to see Fats while his music plays.

Don't misunderstand me, now. I'm glad to be warned. If I get too uppity here, you let me know. I love you.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Electronica Pioneer

Must have been some time in 1967. My pal Buddy Richardson and I met every morning about 9:00 am to plan our band, Noah's Ark, and hatch our plot to save the world with love and rock'n'roll. I'm still working on the plan but Noah's Ark is long gone. Buddy still laughs and kids me about my mom and my grandmother keeping him waiting if they thought that I might still be asleep.

We had found a third recruit, young Bobby Caldwell, to play drums. We didn't add Bill Mann until we had a show booked at the Comic Book Room in Jacksonville that required a fourth member. We planned to use that week out of town to put the finishing touch on our baby.

Buddy and I had found a scientist in Lakeland who was working on a machine that would generate sound waves to actually  affect audience members physically. We knew a little something of theremins and thought that might be a fine finishing touch to put us on another plane.

I tracked down Robert Moog and wrote him a letter. Next thing I knew, Mr. Moog was on the phone making Noah's Ark the regional distributors for theremins and other Moog electronic instruments. We ordered one and got two, kinda' like ordering a ginzu knife or something.

Well, I'm a little ashamed to admit that we never got far with the theremin. We more or less pushed it off on Bill and pretended to be impatient when he didn't immediately master the thing. We played around with it and used it as something of a shock prop in our stage show but mostly let it go to waste. At least we were there early!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's Complicated

There's a certain arrogance, I suppose, connected to the concept of giving your heart away. I mean what would make you think that anybody needed it? Or wanted it?

In a relationship? That's good. It's complicated? You mean there's another kind?

Monday, February 4, 2013

"You Be A Good Boy"

Never met my dad. I think I've told you this story before. I saw him once in downtown Birmingham. My Aunt Jo pointed him out. I don't know whether or not he's alive.

About ten years ago I tracked him down and called him. He didn't seemed surprised. First time I ever spoke to him. We chatted for just a few minutes. Neither of us had too much to say. When the conversation was over he told me to be a good boy. I'm trying.

I was always thankful that they didn't name me after him. Waldo Sidney Elliott. Now I wish they had. Waldo or Sidney or even W.S. I like all of them. 

Every therapist that I've ever seen has warned me that somewhere down in here I have issues about him. I'll bet I do. I'll bet I do.

Good Heroes, Bad Heroes

Most of my heroes have turned out to be really nice guys. Makes it easier to keep your gods on pedestals, I suppose. Every now and then, though, there's a really bad apple in there.

In 1967 I was playing in a band called Noah's Ark. We thought we were hotshots but here we were booked to play our first show in New York. I was reasonably sure that the hip Manhattan audience would immediately identify us as hicks with a phony cool act. We were in town to record at Decca's studios and our pal, Rodney Justo, put us on the bill with his band, the Candymen, at Steve Paul's Scene on West 46th Street in the village.

I've told you about meeting Tiny Tim there and what a wonderful, life changing event that was. Well, the Candymen were the absolute darlings at that time among these folks who were hip as a vocation. Also on the bill were Blood, Sweat and Tears. They were an instrumental combo then featuring Al Kooper's piano. Finally there was Van Morrison. I knew the name because Brown Eyed Girl was a current radio hit. I didn't recognize his name from Them, however. I was always a big fan of the Irish band.

It turns out that we had the same publicist, an older gentleman named Morty Wax. Somehow we got the word that Van was interested in hiring us to be his new band. He was unhappy with his current lineup. Well, to say that his band was magnificent is to understate the case. I only remember that Danny Armstrong was the bassist.

During his set Mr. Morrison scowled, complained, cussed and scowled some more. He kept turning his own mic off with the switch when he would try to play harmonica. That would lead to him kicking at the P.A. speakers and cussing some more. Rodney tells me now that the sound system was the Candymen's and that the other guys had to hold him back from removing Van from the stage. At one point he stopped in the middle of a song, looked around and pronounced, "It's hot in here. Where's the little shit that runs this joint?"

I immediately spotted Steve Paul, whose ego was his calling card, marching up the aisle to the stage. With his arm around Van's shoulder they moved off into the crowd. A crowd, I should add, that held Rick Zehringer and Jim Morrison among other notables.

I saw them sitting together with drinks at a little table in the front later and Rodney told me the next day that Van had been fired. I always wish that we would have ended up as his band. I know that it wouldn't have lasted long but I'm pretty sure that there would be good stories from the adventure.

I didn't cross paths with him again until 1970. Duckbutter was playing a small festival in Miami and Van was on the bill. We were there in the middle of the afternoon for a soundcheck. My friend, Harry, came out of the bathroom, grumbling, "There's some little red headed guy in the bathroom bragging about how long he's been in show business."

"That's Van Morrison," I explained.

"No, this guy's British."

"He's Irish. That's Van Morrison."

I've got a few others who have disappointed me and I'll get around to telling you about them. Not many, though. I'm still a very big Van Morrison fan.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rock'n'Roll, The Primitive Culture

All the intellectual drivel about the roots of rock'n'roll has always left me bored and annoyed. When radio programmers or critics mention my "encyclopedic knowledge" of rock'n'roll I find myself cringing, shuffling my feet or just changing the subject.

When Hank Williams sang on the radio, it stirred my blood. I recorded on a little direct to disc machine in a shoe store in downtown Birmingham my own version of Hey, Good Lookin' when I was about four.

Mom took me to see Bo Diddley at the armory in Tampa when I was nine years old and I've not yet fully recovered.

African American culture and hillbilly life in the South are remarkably intertwined. The lack of self consciousness regarding sexuality is what rolled over Western civilization beginning in the mid- fifties.
Oh, music communicates at the deepest level. Always has. Dancing? A good way to have physical contact without getting slapped.

Let's face it, though, you can enjoy Duke Ellington and you can trip any light fantastic to Rachmaninoff but it's not anything at all like the unbridled joy of being swayed in a crowd caught up in a Little Richard show.

It's no coincidence that most of those giggly white kids would give Dick Clark the answer, "It's got a good beat, Dick. I like it," when queried about some new 45 that the crook was pushing down our throats. It is the beat. It's the rhythm.

Sex is not just good, it's holy. Cultures that don't mix morality and sexuality in terms of good and evil will always appeal to a repressed society. Hey! That was us.

Those heroes took it from everywhere. Hank Williams got it from Tee Tot. Sam Cooke took it from the church. Elvis took it from everything out there; blues, what we now call bluegrass, Mario Lanza, rhythm and blues, Dean Martin, Gene Autry.

When the music business finally appropriated the whole thing and turned it into a financial commodity they finally choked it.

Folks will find a way to get their music, though. The sexier, the better. Oh, I don't mean disrespectful, misogynistic junk. I'm talking about high art and culture, holy stuff. I'm talking about Work With Me, Annie and Sixty Minute Man. I'm talking about Great Balls of Fire and Double Shot of My Baby's Love.

You'll have to excuse me. I've got a sermon to preach and dirty songs to write. I've got a world to help save and love in my heart.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ronny's Patience

If patience is a virtue, I must be a shiftless skunk. I've always described myself as a patient man, even recently. Of course I've always described my addictive personality, too. I don't have any addictive personality. Just the opposite. Just good luck, too.

Suddenly my life is so wonderful that it's hard to accept it. My path to help out a little bit is well lit and I'm in awe of life in general. All this loss and all this loneliness that I've whined about suddenly makes sense to me. Loss isn't the lesson. It's the teacher. Loneliness is no lesson, either. It's the reminder that we're all connected and that we all share a single heart.

I would ask rhetorically, "Why didn't someone tell me?," but, in fact, someone probably did. I'm supposed to have lessons to teach her but she seems to be doing the teaching. She's supposed to have patience to handle my idiosyncrasies. Seems like a miracle but she seems to. I've certainly pushed it beyond reasonable.

I come close to being one of those folks that you can't buy a gift for. I have everything. Whatever the question is, love is the answer.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The King's Karate

The blood rushed to my head and I could feel myself blushing as Grandma blurted out to Elvis, "Oh, you have no idea how many days he would come home from school having been in fights to defend you!"

Geez, I was thirteen years old and felt even dumber and more awkward than I really was if that was possible.

"I'll teach you something to take care of that," Elvis grinned.

"Karate?" I asked.


Well, I had no idea what karate really was. I only knew the term because I had read so much about Elvis' fascination with the sport. I had some idea that it had to do with judo.

He never mentioned the offer when I saw him over the next month or so. I never thought of it as a real offer. We had strolled up that day as Elvis lounged out by Colonel Parker's bungalow at Port Paradise in Crystal River. That's one of the Colonel's granddaughters off to the right in the little snapshot that I took that day. I have read that photos of the Colonel in short sleeves are rare. That must make mine extremely rare, huh?

As we sat around and chatted Elvis' moods seemed to roller coaster regularly. Oh, he was always friendly, always sweet but you could see lonely wash up regularly. I'm only just beginning to understand that it's the lonely that connects us. Not me and Elvis, all of us.

My naive suggestion: love as hard as you can. That's all you have.