T-Model Ford April 2011 Tour Blog Part 2May 25, 2011
TOUR BLOG PART 2
Monday April 25, 2011. – We have a short drive to Colorado Springs from Denver, so we take a little time to visit with friends and eat some excellent southern (Creole) food. The sun’s out and everyone’s in good spirits. We’ve been on the road for a week and from here we’re making our way back to Mississippi playing shows along the way. These short tours (2 or 2 1/2 weeks) are perfect for T at this age. Being able to take it slow, have fun with people other than just our insular group on the way is nice. Many thanks to our kind friends in Denver (especially Alex, Nick, & Brian) for hospitality.
Down in Colorado Springs, we are playing the Triple Nickel. It’s a “Steelers Bar” and this native Pittsburgher is damn pleased about that. I get to talk to JJ, part owner of the bar and member of the rocking’ band “Drag The River” about football. We commiserate about the last Super Bowl. Again, more great people along the way (props too to Damian and Ian). The mexican dinner weighs me down and I’m a little concerned I’ll be running to the toilet mid-set, but it doesn’t happen.
The set feels really good, even if T’s tuning was an issue. He wouldn’t let Paul help with tuning and it showed tonight. I don’t think it matter to the attendees. This Monday night crowd was rollicking. Lots of dancing, grinding, and shaking was going on. We did an electric version of “Big Legged Woman” and “Somebody’s Knockin’ ” again felt really strong. “Big Boss Man” made it’s regular appearance in the set and “Hip Shakin’ Woman” (after a false start early in the set) showed up as one of the best-received songs later in the night. T played for about 90 minutes. He looked a bit tired. As I’d mentioned previously, he has looked more tired in the higher elevations and he’s not been drinking much water despite encouragement. He’d rather sip on Jack Daniel or Coca Cola. At 90 years old, I guess he can do what he wants. I’m not going to argue with him. He continues to amaze people.
Tuesday April 26, 2011. – An off day. Well, not off if you consider driving 400 miles to Buffalo OK. (Google “Buffalo OK” and one of the top 2 or 3 listings is an article calling it the “Ninth Most Boring Place in America.” I’m full-on ready for boring at this point. Small town America sounds charming. We get off the freeways and away from the cities and move through the breadbasket of eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and into Oklahoma. Ok, so some people looking for a party aren’t going to find it here. Tonight, we are more than ok with a quiet night in middle America. Bring it on. We’ve got a bunch of late nights and party-like stops ahead of us this week. Give me a town with no street lights and complete solitude. I can use the break.
Wednesday April 27, 2011. – We slowly make our way out of the hotel in Buffalo, OK and head towards Oklahoma City. It’s about 3 hours drive. We’re moving at a nice pace. Life gets going so fast and I really appreciate that I must slow down when traveling with T Model. We’re more in step now.
We get to OKC, check into the hotel and grab a bite to eat. We know we have some friends coming out tonight and Radio Moscow is on the bill too. I like those guys and their music. It’s going to be a fun, rock-n-roll kind of show at the Conservatory.
The sound check is a bit frightening. T Model is making claims about sounds coming from who-knows-where. Daniel, the excellent sound man we worked with last time through OKC in 2010 is again working with us. I think he observed some “magical thinking” on the part of T the last time through town. Daniel’s rolling with it, lowering the sound on all of the monitors and stripping everything back to the basics. Essentially, it’s falling on T to find out what the sound issue is. He won’t let Paul and I help him. He is “pissing vinegar,” as my dad used to say. He is one unhappy man. I am standing beside him. Time is passing and nothing is happening but T either messing with his guitar or blaming someone (Paul, Daniel, etc) for his problems. I try to re-direct back to the issue at hand: stop blaming and start working on problem solving. He eventually gets to one of his points where he is still unhappy but says “I’ll give it a try.” I think we ran through one song in sound check (maybe only a half a song) and he calls it quits. What in the hell is our set going to be like? He was a bit upset earlier when reminded that this is a 4-band bill. He hates sitting through even two other opening acts … having 3 could set him off. What are we in for tonight?
Thankfully, the show’s totally legit and professional. The music starts early, the bands sound good, and the sets are short. The crowd, decent for a Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, is grooving to the music and seemingly getting their drink on. It’s a fun time. Our friends show up and we are introduced to people who will be our friends before we depart OKC the next day. Props to Shiloh, Ryan, Katie, Bob, Brian, Chas, and Lydia. Y’all were very kind. What’s more, by the time Radio Moscow ends their rocking’ set, it’s surprisingly early. I think we hit the stage around 10:45, which is kind of unheard of for a 4-band bill.
So, here we are. I run interference for Paul. T’s mood is too unpredictably, sound check was a mess, and I’m the one with the most experience playing and touring with T so I assume the burden. Daniel and the rest of the team at the Conservatory decide to keep the house music playing as we get T situated on stage and he gets his tuning down. How long will this take? Is this going to be one of those kinds of nights where he’ll keep fussing with the tuning, the amp, etc upset with the sound?
He gets his sound surprisingly quick. He nods in agreement as I quietly kneel by his side for a few minutes just waiting. This nod is my cue to bring his vocal mic towards him. He tests the mic quickly, Daniel drops the house sound and T Model begins: (SIC)
“Good evening everybody.
We’d like to thank the good Lord for letting each and everyone come out tonight to hear T Model Ford, from Greenville Mississippi.”
I bang out the crash cymbal. The crowd gets loud and presses towards the stage.
T Model Ford begins playing “Train I Ride.” He’d not done it the whole tour. Not even in practice. He lets loose and Paul and I follow. I’m smacking the hell out of the drums like they owe me money. Paul’s rocking back and forth. There’s energy on this stage.
Sound check got us ready. I’m reminded of a friend I had that was a very good athlete and told me about how he often felt like he performed best when he last practice was poor or he felt “off” during his warm-ups. Maybe this is the sort of thing that was happening, maybe not. All I know is that we’re seconds into the set and I feel liberated playing music. Pent up frustration is released. We’re out of the Rocky Mountains – where I seriously think T Model was having some mild to moderate cold symptoms that he would not acknowledge due to pride. The lower elevation and sunnier, warmer weather is good for us. Add to this a day off the previous day and a long night’s rest and he and we seem rejuvenated.
We rock the house. All the forces seem to come together. Yes, there were some less-than-perfect moments. T Model can’t seem to go a show without repeating at least one song (again, he comes from the mindset that if the people liked it the first time, they’re going to like it again later in the set). But he seemed to mix it up a lot more than he had been. In addition to “Train I Ride,” he played a great version of “To the Left, To the Right” (a highlight of the night/tour for me), “Somebody’s Knockin” had the whole room swaying, and there were a slew of other usual tracks that scored.
This was definitely a great night on the tour. The people made it fun, the venue was great, the other bands more than held their own, and we threw down with a vengeance. Woo Hoo!
Thursday April 28, 2011. – This is an off day on the calendar, but we’d been approached to play a sort of “secret show” in Norman as part of the kick-off for the Norman Music Festival. It would have been great, but a series of logistical challenges prevented it from happening This may have been for the best. Everybody slept in and we took way too long getting out of OKC, but if was for the best reasons. We hung with friends, new and old, and took care of some of the boring business needed to do on the road (for example, some TLC to the van). We missed going back to the record store next to the Conservatory, but that was my only regret of the entire time in OKC. We’ll be back.
We are playing next in Austin tomorrow night, so we decide to cut the 400 mile ride in half and do 200 miles down to the Dallas/Ft Worth area. Good idea. We get lucky in getting a great place to stay, Paul and T work on some guitar. We find an amazing pizza & pasta place (we’re all a little burnt on BBQ, Mexican, or other fast-food type places) with real New York/Italian roots. Our server had just been released from the army and returned to the family business. We had an interesting conversation. The weather was sunny and beautiful and I greatly appreciated the simple fact of being on the road, making music, and having experiences that I could not otherwise have without touring in this manner – with a 90 year old, no less.
Friday April 29, 2011 – On to Austin, a show at Emo’s tonight. Emo’s is always fun for us … especially for T. If you want visual proof, do a youtube search of “T Model Ford, Austin” and you’ll see more than one occasion of wild times at Emo’s in our not-too-distant past there.
I’m damn glad we had cut the trip in half and did not do the Norman surprise-secret-show because traffic is awful on our way to Austin. It takes way too long to long to get to the city limits, but there’s a tremendous sense of relief when we get there. We get in to do soundcheck and T Model does his Jeckyl-Hyde thing. He’d been a joy to been around from the show in OKC on Wednesday up to the moment of the sound check in Austin. Where did the monster come from that suddenly appeared before us.
He starts complaining about Paul. It’s a bit non-sensical. T doesn’t have the verbal abilities to express his frustrations in a productive and logical manner around the guitar sounds that he is not hearing. I fall quiet. The sound man, Tom, has worked with us before and has seen this on a previous tour. He’s totally professional and just lets it unfold. Paul tries to talk to T and T takes it as an affront. Ugh. Not fun. T’s complaining with no real purpose or direction. After a few minutes – it felt like half an hour but I know it wasn’t that – I finally say to T: “So what are you going to do about it.”
T gets quiet and messes with his guitar tuning and its knobs and declares it to be satisfactory. Paul asks if he can hear T’s current tuning. T says no. What? Seriously, he’s not going to let Paul hear his tuning, yet Paul is expected to play with T Model? These guys were hanging out the night before working on music and now T’s not letting Paul tune to him (and, for those not in the know, since T is illiterate, his tuning is always by ear and is always particular to the performance … there’s no “fall back” way” of tuning for an accompanying player. One must hear it and adjust accordingly). What is he doing? I take my time trying to explain to him the need for Paul to tune to T and T will have none of it. Finally, after an attempt at discussion and a lengthy period of silence, where T can see that we are not going anywhere until Paul can be tuned to T’s guitar, he plays his guitar so Paul can tune to it and sound check can be completed. This bordered upon excruciating. Is T Model simply screwing with Paul at this point? Trying to break him in? Who knows? T won’t talk about it.
T gets off the stage and becomes the nicest guy ever. As Paul would declare later: “The whole thing is nuts. He’s bitching me out one minute and the next we’re walking side by side – I’m letting him hold my hand so he doesn’t fall, for that matter – and getting along great ….. What the hell is going on?”
We go for a bite to eat at what is becoming our regular stop in Austin when we are there, the Green Mesquite. Damn fine BBQ. I need a break from pork so I get the catfish. Everything’s good there. They have a picture of T and Tomas (big T Model fan and super nice guy there at the Green Mesquite) hanging on the wall. They give us seemingly ridiculously large portions of food. They take care of us, and that is so appreciated while away from home.
Back to the venue, see some friends like CR Humphrey. CR’s cracking me up and the mood is lighter. How will the show go?
We go on around 11:30ish. T Model gets off to a tepid start on the first song – “Big Boss Man” or some other 12-bar type song that’s a bit slow – but the crowd is into it. Paul’s rocking back and forth and I’m just waiting for a song with energy so I can let loose. The bartenders at Emo’s have been pouring me stiff drinks and I’m feeling it. It kind of snuck up on me, really, and that’s quite a surprise. In any case, I want to release. T Model plays “Mean Old Frisco” and I can let off some steam. The energy of the show picks up from here. We tear through a bunch of songs. T pulls out “To the Left, to the RIght” and it’s a bit weird, but it works. There’s a guy up front hollering for “Ask her for water” from about the second song onward, but T waited until the very end of the set to pull it out. There were other highlights. Again, “Somebody’s Knockin’ ” is a highlight of the set for me. “Hip Shakin’ Woman” is another strong one.
The set was not perfect. T repeated Big Boss Man. T’s tuning was an occasional issue, but he engaged with the crowd. He let Paul tune his guitar at one point, thank goodness. And the crowd was great, dancing, yelling, and having a good time. Ah, Austin and Emo’s, you were good to us.
We load up and head back to the hotel for a short night’s rest. We have to drive 500 miles tomorrow (ok, it’s now today) in order to play the last show of tour in Little Rock at one of my favorite bars in the U.S., the Whitewater Tavern.
Saturday April 30, 2011 – The drive from the capital city of Texas to the capital city of Arkansas goes surprisingly smoothly. We avoided the worst of the spring storms of this year’s record-setting tornadoes, and we’re ahead of schedule when we get to the Whitewater Tavern. It’s dead in there, but we see our old friend Matt White and I’m feeling the sense of “home-away-from-home” when we get there. We get set up and we attempt some sort of sound check. T’s not too excited about a sound check and he starts in again on Paul. Where is this coming from? T’s argument is non-sensical to me, but I’m sure it made perfect sense to him. Which way is this going to go?
Paul and I give T his space to work out his sound on his guitar and T makes an effort to generate a sound he likes. In surprisingly short order, he says he is satisfied and is ready to get off stage. Ok. “It’ll do,” he says. Again, where is this heading?
We eat at the Whitewater and catch up with some old friends. People start to trickle in and there’s a nice crowd by the time the opening act, Eric Sommer, is on-stage. Most of the crowd is male, but there is a caveat: a number of the women there appear to be getting drunk. Very drunk. That adds an interesting element. By the time we take the stage, this is a bit more of a reluctant Little Rock & Whitewater crowd than I am used to. Maybe it’s the stormy weather brewing outside. Thunder can be heard and lightning seen in between sets from Eric to us. It’s rather eerie out and news of yesterday’s tornado devastation in Tuscaloosa, AL is fresh on everyone’s mind.
It takes about one song and the crowd starts to get into it. T shows some variety early in the set, nailing “Mean Ol’ Frisco” and “Hip Shakin’ Woman,” before retreating to a series of 12-bar-like tracks. Thankfully, the crowd doesn’t seem to notice and when I start to push the tempo, they are really dancing. I’m having a damn good time and so are the people here. The storms brewing outside seem a million miles away as the music starts to flow. T’s doing his best and Paul and I have energy to spare, so we’re letting loose.
The set has a hiccup when T Model spends about 10 minutes trying to get his tuning. T is actually ready to have Paul assist him with his tuning, to the point where he is handing Paul his guitar, when Paul unknowingly makes the mistake of saying “Let me help you with that T.”
The word “help” sets T Model off. “I don’t need know damn help.” Ok, T, what do you need? Your tuning is off and you can’t seem to fix it yourself. “Well, I don’t need no help.” Ok. Whatever.
Paul tunes the guitar and we go back and throw down a mean last 30 – 45 minutes of a set. It’s the end of the tour and we rock out. It’s a blast. The drunk women have been leading people in dances and cheers. Another weird, wild, wonderful (maybe more for me than Paul) night on the road with T Model Ford. When we load into the van at the end of the night, we’re being pelted with heavy rains, wind, lightning and thunder. One could say it was kind of emblematic of the tour. Not surprisingly, we make it back to the hotel safe and sound. At any moment a T Model Ford tour is “this close” to falling apart … but it doesn’t happen.
We’re heading back to Greenville, MS and T Model’s home in the morning. Woo Hoo!
Sunday May 1, 2011 – LIttle Rock is getting slammed with more wind and rain. It’s a mess. We slowly make our way down the highways out of town. About 50 miles south of Little Rock, the skies open. The rest of the ride to Greenville is smooth sailing.
T arrives to the victory reception of his wife Stella, some of her children and (T’s favorite), a group of grandchildren, including Scooter (age 7) and Stud (age 12). Stella’s fixed up barbeque for us (it’s great!) and she asks how the tour went.
“Well, Stella,” I say “It was good … ”
She can hear something in my voice and asks “What did he do?”
I can’t lie, so I tell her about the rough time he gave Paul. She quickly responds to this. We debrief and then she’s outside wanting us to talk to T. She was pretty strong in her delivery: “You gotta work with these boys … They’re your songs and they want to help you, but you gotta work with ‘em” was the general theme. T was a bit defensive at first but backed off. Who knows what this sort of discussion will do. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. But I respect Stella looking out. T’s run all of us through the ringer from time to time. I know I’ve been there. This was Paul’s first tour and T definitely initiated him. For me, it was easy – except for seeing the stress and crud in front of me from time to time. It was unpredictable. It was a quintessential T Model Ford tour.
Paul and I ate the BBQ and then went up to Clarksdale, where we found the town quiet as the sun made its slow decent. We stopped by a newer place in town, Club Vegas, where we had a drink and played chess out front with some locals. What started as 4 people grew 2 or 3 times its size during our hour down on Delta Ave. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was joking and having a good time. It was a great treat before we had to make our way up to Memphis for some venison burgers barbecued as the thunderstorms started to roll back into Memphis.
Osama bin Laden was killed tonight in Pakistan. We watched the news from my friend’s home in Memphis. I found it interesting that T Model Ford survived this tour but bin Laden didn’t. The thunder, lightning, and heavy rains were a perfect backdrop. Another weird T Model Ford Experience was ending. Another will start back up in 3 weeks. Paul won’t be on that one. Stefan and others will be joining us. I have no idea what the future holds. Such is the life of touring with a nonagenarian.
Other news and notes from tour.
- So much good food on tour. Highlights: Sparky’s BBQ in Hatch, NM. Our Cajun breakfast in Denver. Mr & Mrs Wrong’s attempt at southern cooking in Grand Junction, CO (nice job you guys … especially for “northerners”). Green Mesquite BBQ in Austin. Venison Burgers, thanks to Christian (huntin’ & killin’) and Jane Ellen (peril’ & grillin’) in Memphis.
- I tried to list all the kind people we stayed and played with on tour above in the blogs. If I missed anyone, I apologize. Y’all made tour a blast.
- It was weird experiencing so much different weather on the tour. It started in the hot desert of Arizona and New Mexico, got cold and wet – rain and snow – in northern New Mexico & Colorado. We got wind storms, rain, and eventually sun making our way through OK into Texas. Then wicked thunderstorms through Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Damn.
But of al of the weather, it was weirdest being a part of the storms in Colorado and traveling with them to the east. We cut south through OK into Texas as the storms headed east. The storms became the tornadoes that destroyed Tuscaloosa, AL and other areas the next day. That was an unusual and uncomfortable feeling. I don’t think I can aptly describe it.