|Author: Rhynes, J.D.
|Bits and pieces of the past.
Here is a post script to the piece I wrote about Bill White,
harmonica player last month. My good friend Keith little relayed
this story to me back in the middle 70s.
Back in the middle 70s, Bill Monroe and his bluegrass boys were
playing a festival in Southern California, and Bill White was also
appearing at that festival. Mr. Monroe and Bill White were good
friends, and Mr. Monroe always said that Bill White's harmonica
playing reminded him of Deford Baileys playing. Deford Bailey was
in Mr.Monroe's band back in the early 1940s. During one of
Mr.Monroe's sets, he seen Bill White in the audience, and vowed to
himself to acknowledge Bill White's presence and music. Now for you
folks that don't know this, Bill White was only about 4'7" tall. As
they say nowadays, he was vertically challenged.
Between songs Mr.Monroe said to the audience, we have a wonderful
harmonica player here today, Mr. Bill White. Bill, stand up and take a
bow. Whereupon, Bill White said; I am standing up! Keith said that
brought down the house! That's the first bit from the past.
The second bit involves yours truly. In the late 70s a friend of
mine and his wife opened a nightclub in Angels Camp California. It
was in the basement of the Angels hotel, and the name of it was
"Raspberry's", why they named it that I never did ask. Jim and Peggy
booked the biggest names in show business at their nightclub. People
like Stefan Grappelli, Mark O'Connor, The Ink Spots, the Kingston
Trio, David Grisman, Rodney Crowell, Bill Monroe, and Rose Maddox
with the Vern Williams Band.
It was late summer of 1980 when we were playing at Rasberry's with
Rose when this next bit happened. In the band that night was Vern on
mandolin, Delbert Williams on guitar, Keith little on banjo, Ed Neff
on fiddle, and me playing the bass. Now that nightclub was a very
intimate setting that seated 120 people, and there was no stage per
se, the band was on the same level as the audience with a railing
around the band area. The sound system was state-of-the-art for the
time and the acoustics inside was wonderful, and you could hear
everything that was going on with the rest of the band. We were well
acquainted with the cocktail waitresses and they all knew what we
liked to drink, and you always had a cold drink setting on the
railing in front of you. A bout the third song into the first set I
had worked up a sweat, as bass players are wont to do, when Peggy
set an ice cold Guiness Stout on the railing next to me. It was a
warm summer evening, and MAN, did that cold Guiness ever hit the
spot! Fast forward to late in the third set,[NOT having kept count
of the number of Guiness Stout I had consumed] when a friend of mine
in the audience yelled out; get the bass player to sing one! [Here's
where it gets interesting.] Rose turned to me and said yes JD, get
up there and sing one for the folks. It was then that I realized
that I couldn't feel my lips, and they were numb and almost useless.
I physically felt my lips on my face, and told Rose, I don't think I
can Rose I think my lips have polio![Wild fits of laughter from the
audience] Needless to say that brought down the house, but Rose
saved the day and grabbed my bass, and said I'll play the bass you
sing! Vern told the boys to kick off "I wonder how the old folks are
at home", and somehow despite my polio laden lips I managed to
muddle through the song, and the audience loved it. Moral of the
story? I don't know if there is one, other than DO NOT consume more
than two Guiness Stout per set. Preferably one per set to avoid
polio of the lips, if you're going to have to sing.
Wonderful memories from a wonderful time, shared with wonderful
friends, lo these many years ago. What I wouldn't give to get polio
of the lips again due to several Guiness Stout, and to hear Vern and
the band play, with Rose Maddox playing the bass.
Every time I drive down main street of Angels Camp, I slow down to a
crawl in front of the Angels hotel, and I would swear that I can
still hear Vern and Rose singing a duet on the chorus of "Tramp in
the Street". I have often wondered how the folks in the hotel can
sleep at night when those two hit the high note's on that chorus?
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