About thirteen years ago someone in the Delbert McClinton camp had the bright idea that it might be cool to hold a bunch of fat, gnarly, old rich folks (that are still upright) captive for a week out to sea on a giant cruise ship and inundate them with some lame-o blues music and sell them band merch and $20 autographed photographs of themselves with the “stars” of the shows. Now, of course the Delbert Blues Cruise wasn’t quite as harsh as all that, but sometimes that was the only way to explain it to myself. It was a strange congregation of old and young to be sure, but there were also many great things about it. And not to sound sappy, but underneath all of their fat gnarly-ness I found a lot of beautiful people. I guess true music fans are just naturally beautiful inside.
I stayed up a little later than I wanted too at the Don Dixon show at Hideaway Bar-B-Q on the night before leaving and 6am hurt a bit. I didn’t drink that much, but don’t forget I AM 50 years old and I needs my rest. I was hoping to get some sleep on the plane..yeah, right. So anyway, I get to Ft. Lauderdale without too many bumps in the sky (after being held up slightly by the guy in Raleigh trying to get through the security check with what appeared to be a SWORD!) and I finally find the dude who’s directing us musician hippie-types towards the Greyhound (with one of those stupid hand made hand held signs) that would put our asses out by the right boat.
Boarding the boat (which looked about the size of the Empire State building lying on its side) was a bit of a pain with all the paperwork that had to be filled out. And of course, if I had looked through the folder I received prior to leaving North Carolina I would have had all of it done beforehand and breezed right on through to my cabin. Dumbass! But actually my cabin wasn’t ready when I got on board so I called Al and he invited me up to his sweet suite! There was actually room so that two people walk side by side in there! It was pretty damn nice. We caught up and had a good time discussing mutual friends and such until I figgered it was time for the staff to have my closet..I mean cabin, ready.
Got to my room and it was actually pretty damn OK. It had a big, nice, hard queen size bed, a balcony, couch and 27” TV. The refrigerator was full of $5 beers so I decided now would be a good time to start trying to dry out for a while. I needed to anyway. So I took the night off from my full time drinking job..not that I didn’t WANT one! The TV was short on channel selections. They gave us CNN, ESPN Deportes, TCM, The “Diamond” channel (where they tried to sell ya diamonds all day), a channel that showed the water in front of the boat and one that showed the water in the back of the boat. That was pretty much it.
I got hungry as hell as I hadn’t eaten since being in the airport in Raleigh and I ran into Jim (Al’s other guitar player and all around cool and funny guy) in the cafeteria line. I was thinking..”I wonder what this food is gonna set me back?” But no one ever asked for my card (issued upon boarding with credit card and ID info on it) so I ate like a king and felt like I had stole it. Wouldn’t ya know it too, there sat Big Al over there with Bob DiPiero and Jeffery Steele so we joined them for dinner.
Al said that they were doing a songwriter show in the Queens Lounge and that he wanted me to come down and sing a song. So after dinner Jim and I chilled out on the top deck for a while just talking about our first and many experiences with Al and just about music in general, just getting to know each other. He tells me this crazy story about his trip down to Ft. Lauderdale. It seems that as the plane is trying to land some drunk and some redneck get into it pretty good. Fisticuffs break out and Jim is caught underneath it all. He has to give a statement upon landing. Jesus, people! What the hell is wrong with you? Any way, we decided to meet back at the songwriter thing later.
Seated stage right to stage left when we got there was Bob DiPiero (who used to be married to Pam Tillis, now happily re-married and who I also wrote the Jo De Messina song with), Jeffery Steele (writer of many hits), Joy Lynn White (quick witted, red headed, songwriting fool), Craig Wiseman (a Mississippi hit machine, wide load and a dude who enjoys a Corona or 9) and our hero, Big Al Anderson. They all took turns singing their hits and eventually throwing in a throwaway or two. Bob did one about Santa being “Too Fat to Fly”, Jeffery sang about a fling with a “drunk girl” and Craig sang one about his Uncle who brewed a beer and named it “Titties” (everybody loves titties!..”sell’m in pairs and call it a rack”). But you can imagine who the star of the show was. Maybe one of the only guys I know who can still raise the hairs on my forearms and give me chills when I here him sing, my man Big Al, of course. He sang two songs I’d never heard before that put a hush on the crowd and left us all, even the other guys on the stage with him wondering how someone could be that talented. After another one or two rounds of songs, Al called me up on stage with those guys. I was a little neverous but I knew the song I was gonna do and knew that I could nail it. The only thing to do was jump in with both feet and start screaming and that’s what I did, ending with the crowd of 200 or so singing along with Al and me, “I Love You Period”. That felt pretty good and I got a lot of “atta boy’s” all week from it..
Jim and I left soon thereafter to see what a Tommy Castro was. He was performing on the top deck. We heard a couple of songs (including a really white version of JB’s “Sex Machine”) and laughed at some of the dancing before calling it a night about 10:30 or so. I was pretty beat. Oh, speaking of being beat...the driver of the semi truck full of the equipment for the boat who was arrested on his way from Nashville DID die, he was tazered to death by the cops. He died in jail. What IS it with cops these days?
I woke up at 7:30 and the boat was shaking. Dude was backing it into dock in Nassau, Bahamas. We couldn’t find Al to find out what the plan was so Jim and I went on land and took a taxi over to the beach behind some huge fancy hotel. We went swimming in the perfectly clear (and a bit cold) water after putting on bathing suits with towels wrapped around us because there was nowhere else to change. We stayed there for about an hour or so before we moseyed back towards the boat. “Aw hell, how about a beer?” “Sure, why not.” “What time we gotta be back?” “ I don’t know, 6-ish I reckon.” The Coronas went down pretty fast and it’s a good thing too. After re-boarding the ship, just 30 minutes later while having dinner with Al, Jim says, “Looks like that boat next to us is leaving” “Uuuh dude, that’s us!” Whew!..back on board by the skin of our teeth.
Margaritas were the special of the day so I went down to the sports bar and had a couple as I watched the final college football game of the year. It was really stupid too cause they could only get the FOX feed WITHOUT the commentators. Now normally I would welcome this, but what we got instead was the stadium noise turned up to 11! It was actually hurting peoples ears, mine included so I had to leave. It was time anyway, Bettye Levette was on soon.
9pm was showtime and after her crack band played 3 instrumentals the keyboard player introduced “Miss Bettye Levette!” She came out in a black tight top, skin tight jeans and high heels and began to let it rip. For the next hour or so all eyes and ears were on Bettye, part Tina, part Gladys Knight, all soul. There was something very 1970’s about her, she was almost “Foxie Brown”-like and reminded me a bit of Ertha Kitt when she talked. On the way back to the cabin I stopped by and caught Al and Raul Malo having their way with a Van Morrison song. Goodnight!
Sleep still in eyes, I step in the breakfast buffet line in the shadow of a rather large figure. Of course, I looked up and it was Big Al. “How ya doing, little buddy?” Right at that moment I knew what Gilligan musta felt like working with the Skipper. We had breakfast and after stuffing ourselves pretty good, Jim and I wanted to work some of it off so we went up to the gym for a while and rode stationary bikes. Even though the boat was on “cruise contol” (a joke that I milked for everything it was worth all week) we pretended to be propelling the ship forward as we looked out of the “windshield” on the 9th floor heading towards Puerto Rico. Later we met at Al’s, sans bass player who I still hadn’t met at this point, and ran through a few tunes. Al’s sat on his bed and as we completed the arrangement of each passing song he reclined more and more horizonally before finally giving up and kicking us out.
The ship had started getting “roll-y” (as one of the Indonesian stewards put it) anyway so Jim and I figgered we’d better take a Dramamine and lay down (NO! not together!). He had some of the Wal-Mart version, eloquently named WAL-DRAM and I thanked him for one and retired to my cabin..
About 8pm or so I got up and went upstairs to eat…AGAIN! For a while there that seemed to be all I was there for! We ate all the damn time! And every time we got in line we had to put up with that smart ass server dude who would make fun of everybody. A lot of people hated him, but I was OK with him. Some ugly stupid retardo dumbasses just have to put other people down to make them feel better about themselves, ya know what I mean? So I understood where he was coming from. He just needed a hug.
At the Queen’s Lounge there was another songwriter event and I ran into my friends from North Carolina, Curtis (and lovely wife) from Thomasville and Shane (and lovely wife) from Cary. They took me to a party where some folks had snuck in some of that evil alcohol! This helped the pocketbook (for one who ain’t got a pot to piss in!) and spirit of the day and made things fun for the Jimmy Hall show later that evening. The stars (the real ones) were really out that night so Jim and I reclined in lounge chairs on the top deck as the music played on and we got the feeling of falling into the sky. Weird!
Day 3-AKA…”Shitty Day” began as we docked into Ponce, Puerto Rico. We checked in with Al before Jim and I decided to go ashore and check out the beach. A 2 minute $5 (which became $200) cab ride caused my camera to slide out of the big pocket of my cargo shorts. Once at the beach the driver drove off before I could catch him so we took another cab back to the taxi stand near the boat. We waited there for about an hour and a half in the blazing Caribbean sun for our guy to come back by but he never did. I loved that camera too, with all my heart and soul. It was 3rd on my list of worldly possessions, right behind my BMW and my Gibson 335. Gone.
So we start back over, sans camera, to the crappy beach. The shoreline was all sharp coral and rock (not to mention the jellyfish) and not conducive to laying out. We head back to the ship and as we’re boarding Jim says he sees our friends, faces white as ghosts, being hauled off by 3 Puerto Rican officials with dogs. “No way!” I say. “I’m serious!” Apparently, the dogs didn’t like the smell of their room and so they were taken downtown. SUPERBUMMER! What was that movie, “Midnight Express”? Man, I was scared for their lives.
Found Al and a stage, but still no bass player. We rehearsed, the 3 of us and it was clear that there was a lot more work to do, but we weren’t worried...we was PRO-feshy-nals! The entertainment that night was crappy so it was an early evening. But thankfully before retiring we ran into our friends who had been taken off earlier in the day. They said they got off but it took a lot of paperwork, a lot of little green papers with pictures of Benjamin Franklin on’m to be exact. No REAL paperwork was ever discussed.
At 11:45am the next morning we call Al, “We’re rehearsin’ at noon, right”. “Yeah”. “Well, we’re at the Crow’s Nest now” “WELL, YOU CAN WAIT THERE TILL NOON!” he chorts. He arrives soon thereafter in good spirits and after we get the monitors figgered out we get in a pretty damn rockin’ practice, this time WITH bassplayer, Steve Mackey, who is great by the way and already knows the songs better than then rest of us. After rehearsal, we had a late lunch and then I went back to my room and mixed a drink with the free rum handed out in Puerto Rico. I guess that place was good for something! I had a few more drink specials (vodka raspberry lemonade) and went upstairs and shot some basketball with a fifth grader who properly skunked me in a game of best of ten from the free throw line.
Al was on another songwriter show at 8pm and this time Bekka Bramlett, daughter of Delaney and Bonnie, was on stage. They started like usual with the ring leader, Bob DiPiero, then Jeffery Steele, then Craig, then Al and then the world seemed to stop. Bekka started into a song which I assume she had something to do with writing called “What Happened”, a big hit. She sounded like a Tina Turner that had just gone 10 rounds with Ike. As she sang you could see the soul being squeezed out of her every pore, and when she was done there was a puddle of it around the chair that she was sitting in. Unfortunately, her performance was spoiled by a “those-who-like-to-talk loudly-during-quiet-events” convention in the back of the room. Sick of their rudeness, I high-tailed back to the cabin for the night.
I ran into Al again at breakfast the next morning. It was rather early and we discussed rehearsal pans for the day. On the treadmill afterwards, an announcement came over that we were gonna have to bag our scheduled stop in the Grand Turks due to weather. We were pretty damn socked in with rain and wind. Captain Peter Harris, who I later found out was captain of a ship that removed folks from Grenada during their little skirmish, decided to take the ship farther north where the weather was better so that the outside shows could go on as planned..namely OURS! This was our only show for the whole week so we BETTER get it in. We were all itching to play. The price for clear skies proved to be high though as the seas went from “rough” to ”VERY rough” (14-18 foot waves slapping the side of the boat) and the winds went to “strong gale” as the day went on. There was a lot of toilet hugging going on and I myself vacillated between a nice chartreuse color and olive green. Just after 1pm blue skies began to appear although the seas were still a bit rough. But at least my TV had quit moving from side to side.
Al called and said we could have the stage at The Crow’s Nest from 1 to 4pm for some final tweaking of the set before the show that night. During that rehearsal we became …The Dinkies. From here on out our names were Rinky Dinky (Al), Winky Dinky (Jim), Stinky Dinky (Steve) and I was Pinky Dinky. It was perfect! The first record is gonna be called “Meet The Dinkies”.
As per protocol on gig day, we had an early dinner so as not to chance throwing up into the microphone while singing. The boat was still rolling around pretty good and the gig was a gametime decision. At 7:30 we got the “all clear” from Big Al and the show was a “go” on the outside stage as planned. I get the call, “We’re gonna play outside..like men!” he says.
The crew gets right to work putting the huge tarp back over the stage which had blown off during the night. They send one dude up the light trusts to make it happen. He was up there on the edge, on the top of the ship hanging on another 16 feet up, wind blowing like crazy, crawling around spreading this thing out. One slip of the foot and he was shark food. Mission complete, he got a huge round of applause for his bravery. The show must go on. I go a few rounds with the stage manager about where the drums could be set up, knowing that I would not prevail. Singing half of the songs and being stuck in the back of the class to do so was not the way a TA show usually goes down. I’m usually stage left, but what the hell...I had to deal with it..like a MAN!
A little after 9pm with guitars tuned, drums shoved in back and all monitors checked, Al begins blasting the opening chords of “Pawn Shop Guitars” out of the provided Fender Twin. It was a dream coming true for both Al and me. We were finally getting to play a gig together and we made the best of it. The whole set rocked pretty hard especially when Al took his crazy solos in “Comes to me Naturally” (which Al said I played better than Tom or Chad) and “Crazy Like a Fox”. All too fast the set (see previous blog) was over and the people out front were totally mind-blown. We went back out and did my personal favorite from his new record, a very funky “Shake That Thing”. Bob and Jeffery, co-writers came up and brought that nut Craig Wiseman with’m to sing along. It ended with them singing it a cappella. It was an unbelievable gig, one for the ages and a personal thrill for me. “Can we do another set?” I asked.
But no, we had to give way to Teresa James’ band, who COULD be categorized as a “poor woman’s” Bonnie Raitt. Now you’re not gonna get ME to say that, I’m just sayin’.. ya know? Unexplainably though, in the middle of her set she calls Al back up to play a song that we had just KILLED, embalmed and buried for the night, “Drinkin’ on the Weekend”. Huh? “That’s just foolish,” Jim quips. His observations about bands were always on the mark and usually hilarious. Again, I agreed, especially as lame as her version was. Al looked like he was about to fall asleep up there. It paled miserably to our rendition but don’t tell her we said so.
After playing such a rockin’ set I had a lot of folks comin’ up and offering to buy me drinks and who was I to offend them by refusing? Margaritas were flowing in my direction at an alarming rate and I had to drink fast to keep up. This put me in a very Gene Kelly-like state and as the night wore on I was game for checking out the late night jam session which I hadn’t done all week, at the Crow’s Nest (this was a pretty cool bar behind the windshield on the 10th floor). My feet couldn’t have been happier to hear the smooth voice of Raul Malo as we entered the room. Raul was holding court with his flawless renditions of Elvis movie songs. His mind blowingly perfect “Surrender” told me to find somebody fast. I asked my friend Jack from NY if I could borrow his wife for a while. I know she thought I was crazy spinning her around, dipping and sliding like Fred Astaire (or at least trying to). I danced with a few more young (and old) ladies before I had to sit down and take a break. Raul was run from the stage by lesser talents and my desire to dance left with him. As I sat there I was called up by dude who took over to sit in on drums or sing a song. It seemed as though all eyes were on me as the 200 or so in attendance prodded me on. Finally I gave in, but not before doing my best Keith Christopher impersonation, tripping and falling to the floor in faux pain pretending to break my leg. After I milked that for a while I hopped back up and ran to the stage. “I Love You Period” I yelled at the boys. “It’s in A but starts on D, there’s only 3 chords so if you’re on the wrong one you only got 2 other choices. Don’t screw it up!” The first verse went by a little loosy-goosy but the guys soon fell in line so that I was able to concentrate on lyrics (which, on that song are pretty much second nature by now) and not the arrangement. They tell me it sounded great out front but I remember much about it really.
I woke up not feeling very great a lot on this, the last full day of the cruise. Luckily, the weather outside was unbelievable. Trust me, if you’re gonna have a hangover, the Caribbean is the place to be. The sun was blazing but there was a cool dry breeze blowing across the top of the ship where everyone was laying out and enjoying the funk of Mingo Fishtrap. It wasn’t really my thing. Kinda white boy for me, but hell.. I could listen to Kansas in this weather! I had lunch with DiPiero and then a quick lay-me-down back at the room. Started the packing process when I got up and around 6:30 or so I met with Jim and our friends Jack and Mary from New York, Suzy from Asheville and Eileen from Cary (don’t get me started on Cary and their 9 minute stoplight intervals!) down at the fancy shmancy sit-down dining room. “So Jim, why haven’t we been eating here all week?” “Uuuuhh…’cause we’re dumbasses?” “Yup…pretty much!” Much of the dinner conversation was centered around a lascivious occurrence beside the pool a day or too earlier. I think some breasts were exposed and some camel toe was poked in front of God and everybody. As a sluty little minx walked around the pool she made a stop by her male friend who would reach up and give her a quick gynecological check up. This went on for about 30 minutes before they figgered out that people were offended by this, damn kooks!
After dinner we went up to the Lido Stage to be bored to death by Marcia Ball for a while. Nobody was drinking much because the cruise line was trying to close out everyone’s accounts at this point and the lack of alcohol made her version of “Louisiana” even that much more painful. Delbert was next and his voice sounded much better than it had all week. He’s got a few really great songs. I’ve always liked some of what he does. He did about 10 tunes and then made the mistake of bringing up Bekka. You know when Bekka comes on, that’s the end of the show, right? A modern day soulful version of Patsy Cline, when she started into the first notes of “You Send Me” my knees went to jelly. If she ain’t the greatest singer alive I will kiss your naked ass at the corner of Fifth and Main, Anytown, USA! This was the best performance of the week by 1900 nautical miles! After she (from here on out to be known as..The Greatest Singer Alive) finished kicking everybody’s ass on the boat I knew it was gonna be all downhill from there..and it was. As I was leaving Delbert was stopping the trainwreck that was “Key to the Highway” to show Tommy Castro the chords. See ya!
Sunday morning peeped through the curtains waaay too early but in time to have breakfast, say goodbye to my new friends and to be herded out like cattle according to our bag tag colors. People were crying and trading phone numbers and Email addresses. I got to the airport about 10am for my 12noon flight, me and about 5000 other people! We were all getting nervous, frustrated and worried about about the lack of movement in the Delta baggage claim lines. A mere hour and fifteen minutes later I was joyfully at my gate.
I didn’t make a lot of money on this trip but the experience was priceless. Not only for the gig itself and the cool places we got to see but for all of my new found fans and friends. I look forward to playing with Rinky, Winky and Stinky again soon. Hopefully someday you all can MEET THE DINKIES!
The plane lands without fistfight, although I wanted to beat that old man’s ass beside me wearing rubber gloves the whole trip, and as we’re leaving the stewardess tells the old guy that she has a wheelchair waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. I can’t resist, “You got one for me?”