|Me? Make a record? You betcha!
I carefully laid the spark plug wrench on the towel Id placed across the fender to protect the paint. I wiped off the grease, raced inside and grabbed the phone. The fellow on the other end explained that his daughter wanted to become a rock singer and that he was self-producing a record in hopes of helping her to make it big. To pull it off, they were putting together a back-up group they would call the Racket Squad.
Although there was no money in the deal, if his daughter became a star, it would be as Roxanne and the Racket Squad, and all would share. A group of musicians I performed with each Saturday night at the American Legion Post 65 had recommended me...did I want to try out for the group?
With fame staring me right in the face, I didnt have to think about it for very long. I said, Sure, count me in. When and where do you want to get together? The answer was their house next Sunday afternoon. I left home early, but I still wasnt the first to arrive. The lead guitarist was there, so was the drummer. When the little blonde with the pouty lips came out of the kitchen, I learned that she played the violin.
Of course, Roxanne was there, too, but she was not nearly as pretty as Id expected. She was tall, flat-chested and had curly brown hair. She was wearing a headset, singing softly into a microphone while her dad adjusted the mixer. She wasnt smilinga good indication that she took herself and her singing far too seriously.
When the bass player arrived, we were instructed to go downstairs to the recreation room and get set-up. I took my old tenor sax out of the case and began to warm up. The dude on lead guitar joined me and so did the drummer. Soon we were belting out strains of the Bill Doggett classic called Honky Tonk.
Roxanne and her dad came down the stairs. She still didnt look happy. Her dad waved his arms and told us to cool it and started passing out the music. Roxannes song was called, aptly enough, Roxanne, and it sounded a lot like the Teddy Bears tune To Know Him Is To Love Him. My part was a short rift somewhere between the second verse and the chorus. Pouty Ellenthe blonde with the fiddlehad a solo part. When it came time, she struggled through, albeit slightly off-key. I thought to myself, its too bad her violin doesnt have frets. Still, she was a cutie that Id let play my violin any time.
We went through the song a half dozen times and agreed that we needed more work. Another rehearsal was set for the following Sunday at 2:00. I was just out of high school, about to enter college in the fall. I had a summer job as a proofreader at a large printing company where it took all the concentration I could muster to keep from screwing up. Still, that next week, I couldnt keep my mind on my work. I kept thinking about Ellenthe long blonde trusses, her pouty lips and that violin.
At our next rehearsal, we sounded a lot better. Not great, mind you, but better. I thought our lackluster accompaniment matched Roxannes lackluster singing. (If it were happening today, she would never have made it passed the first round on American Idol. She would also have driven Simon up a tree!)
By the end of Session Two, her dad was happy. He said that next Sunday, if we sounded this good, we would go live and cut the tape. Before leaving, I asked the guitar picker what he knew about Ellen. He said she was a junior in high school, and that she dated some goon whose dad was a copI later learned he was actually a highway patrolman on the governors staff. Anyway, he didnt think she was available, and his best advice was not to even try.
Now, when it came to girls, I always relished the joy of victory far more than I dreaded the agony of defeat. So about mid-week, I gave her a call. Didnt ask her outjust gave her a call. But when Sunday came, was it my imagination or was old Ellen warming up to the guy with the tenor sax?
After a couple of run-throughs, Roxannes dad said we were good to go. He said, Quiet on the set, and pressed the record button. Afterwards, we all shook hands and prepared to go our separate ways. The lead guitarist, the drummer and the bass player said that theyd booked a job next Saturday night at a barbecue joint in Cumming, Georgia, twenty-five miles to the north. It was a grand opening that paid twenty bucks for a one-hour gig. Wed be performing on the back of a flatbed truck. Was I interested?
Why not? Back then, twenty bucks was enough for a date and gasoline for a week. The guitar picker said hed call mid-week and give me the details. I felt bad that Ellen wasnt part of the group. I guess there wasnt much call for a rock and roll fiddle player, no matter how pretty. I walked over to her and said, Nice job on the solo...call you next week? She grinned and that was all I needed. I drove away knowing Id just scored a 9.95.
We dated for two or three months. All the while, I did my best to keep up the Mister Cool image. We went to the movies. We saw a couple of plays at Theater under the Stars. We spent a day at the Flying S Ranch, a lakeside get-away south of Atlanta owned by some family friends. On a weekday, for forty bucks, we literally had the place to ourselvesthe horses, the lake, the pool, the bathhousewhatever.
I wanted to take Ellen to see a nightclub act, a stand-up comedian known in these parts as Brother Dave Gardner. However, since we were both underage, we would need IDs of some sort to get in the door. No problem. In those days, the printed form for a Georgia drivers license was available at any Post Office. Making it quasi official required typing in the information and somehow coming up with a replica of the authenticating red stamp that contained an outline map of the State of Georgia. Again, no problemeven for someone only slightly artistic like me. So, outfitted with the fake credentials, we went down to the old Domino Lounge and spent a great evening with Brother Dave.
We were almost back to her house when I noticed a black Chevy in the rearview mirror, following close behind. I pulled into the drive and walked her to the door. Turning back toward my car, I noticed that the black Chevy was against the curb across the street, motor still running. On my drive home, whoever it was stayed right on my bumper. The driver kept yelling something out the window. But since there were three of them, and only one of me, I didnt stop and ask them to repeat it.
The next day, I told Ellen about the incident, and she said that if it was a black 59 Chevy Impala, it was likely Cary, her old boyfriend. (I guess he subscribed to that piece of redneck culture that says, If I cant have her, nobody can have her.) Anyway, the next time we went out, there he wasstalking us and following me home. Each time he got braver. Each time he had more of his hooligan friends along for the ride.
Now there are a couple of things my old daddy taught me: never give a sucker an even break and always take care of yourself. He said when it comes down to self-defense, theres no such thing as a fair fight or should there be. So, the next morning before I left for work, I took the .32 automatic from his dresser drawer, slipped it into my pocket and later hid it underneath the seat in the car.
Id no more arrived at work when Dad was on the phone. He asked, Have you seen my gun? I answered yep, and I didnt stutter as I told him the story of Ellens old boyfriend and the gang of hoodlums. He asked if Id taken any of his bullets. I told him, no, just the gun.
He was silent for a few seconds, then he said, Son, theres nothing more dangerous than an unloaded gun. If youre going to carry a weapon, youd better be prepared to shoot it.
That night I gave him back his gun, and he gave me a couple of pieces of pipe and a length of steel chain. He said, Swing that chain the right way and you can take out all comers.
I placed the two pieces of pipe and the chain underneath the seat where the gun had been. Sure, nuff, the very next night the boys in the black Chevy appeared once more. However, this time I was ready. We were double-dating and my meanest, toughest buddy was along for the ride. We pulled into a drive-in restaurant in Brookhaven, and before those clowns could get out of the car, we were in their face. Both of us gripping one of those pieces of pipe in one hand, pounding it against the palm of the other. After a heated discussion, it seems Id been wrong about them. They didnt want any trouble, just a hamburger and an order of fries.
A couple of weeks later, when I returned from making a delivery to a mid-town ad agency, my boss said the president of the company where I worked wanted to see me.
Me? Heck he didnt even know who I was. What did he want with me? I was soon to find out. I climbed the stairs and his secretary led me into a beautiful office, perhaps the largest Id ever seen. Mr. Siegel sat behind a big mahogany desk, at least twenty feet from where I was seated in one of the guest chairs.
Ron, he said, I received a disturbing call from a Captain at the Highway Patrol this morning. Seems theyre investigating a ring that produces fraudulent drivers licenses. He asked a lot of questions about the company and about our relationship with the state, also about you...now tell me, young man, do you know anything at all about this? This time I stuttered big time. Only eighteen and about to be a felon.
I told the truth and assured the man that I would take care of everything. That night, I called the pretty fiddle player and laid it on the linesince shed obviously told her old boyfriend about the fake ID, and hed obviously told his dad, the gumshoe trooper, if she didnt return it to me immediately, I was going to tell her mom about our day at the Flying S. The evidence arrived in the mail the next day and I promptly reduced it to ashes inside the fireplace.
But the story doesnt end there. Remember, I said I worked for a printing companyone that had a printing contract with the state to produce things like brochures, fliers, promotional materials and official documents, including of all things, marriage certificates.
One day, out of boredom, I picked up a proof of one of the marriage certificates and after looking it over, asked a couple of co-workers to help me fill it out. I wanted the certificate to say that Ron and Ellen were husband and wife. Old Chuck signed as the Ordinary of Paulding County, one Rufus Crutchfield. Noel found an embossed, star-shaped, gold seal left over from an insurance policy project. He stuck it on the bottom to make it look real and official. For grins and giggles, I decided to mail it to my parents, knowing full well that they would open it before I arrived home. I was right. When I went through the door, Mom was wailing like a siren and Dad was stomping around like an old wet hen.
I did some fast-talking. I told them it was a joke and pointed out that the embossed gold seal at the bottom said Life of Georgia, not State of Georgia. Finally, they bought in. Dad said if it was a joke, it was a bad, bad joke. But again, the story doesnt end there.
Following my Moms passing some forty-five years later, my real wife, Valerie, and I were charged with holding an estate sale, a garage sale and cleaning out my parents old house. After several busy weekends, we were having a late dinner one Sunday night when Valerie said she had something to ask me. I looked up and replied, Sure, what is it?
She said, It doesnt matter, but why didnt you tell me youd been married before?
Married before? Me? You gotta be kidding!
She reached over to the buffet, opened a drawer and pulled out the errant marriage certificate that Id long since forgotten. Unfortunately, when I pointed to the bacon-saving seal that I said read Life of Georgia, not State of Georgia, I discovered that after years of being packed away underneath God knows how many pounds of stuff, the embossing was flattened beyond recognition. It took a heckava lot more explaining in 2004 than it did in 1959 for me to get off that hook!
Although a few years too late, Ive leaned a valuable lesson and have sworn off counterfeiting and all the practical jokes. But not off rock n roll. Matter of fact, on a summer night when the windows are open, my neighbors will still hear me rockin out. With four synthesizerstwo Kawai, one Yamaha and one Casio, an Alesis reverb and special effects unit, an eight-channel mixer, a powerful Peavey amp, four big Peavey speakers and a Leslie tone cabinet, it sounds pretty darn good if I do say so myself.
Well, pretty loud anyway.
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