Larry Cacchiotti, proprietor of the Caravan Inn, was a good boss. He always let you know where you stood. And, I am happy to say that he liked my music. In 1973, he decided to install me as bandleader and host for his popular Sunday night jam sessions. I was glad to do this for him from ‘73 until ‘74, when I left Yakima for the bigger town of Seattle. — A musician has to move on, once he or she has played all the local venues. But my time at the Caravan Inn was well-spent, and happily remembered now. I enjoyed playing for the appreciative audiences, and working with “Red” Copeland, the bartender, and his great crew of waitresses. It was fun playing for old friends from my WVHS and YVC days, who would stop in to hear the music.
In the early-mid 70’s, the Caravan was primarily a country/country-rock venue. On those Sunday nights, my crack country-rock group, the Western Electric Band, and I would play four sets, and we would welcome guest musicians to the bandstand, to sit in. We jammed with a lot of local talent during those years. And Yakima has always been known to be the home of many fine players. I remember quite a few names of folks who sat-in with us: dyed-in-the-wool country musician Dean Dutton joined in on bass and vocals; Joan MacDonald, who has gone on to play with orchestras and chamber quartets, occasionally sat in while I sang “Never Ending Song Of Love”, adding her harmony vocals and fiddle. Once or twice, the very talented Al Maletta, Jr. brought in and played his huge Cordovox, which looked like a giant accordion; but it was capable of sounding like a Hammond organ, or Cajun button accordion, all at Al Jr’s whim. What a musician he was…. Jim Staff or Mike Dederick occasionally subbed on bass.
My regular band was composed of “Weasel” on bass/vocals, Dan Davis or Johnny St. Martin (cousin of The Ventures’ Noki Edwards) on lead guitar, and Stan Ruehlow, alumnus of Chuck Gregory’s Fluorescents, on drums. They were an outstanding backup group, and together, we did indeed welcome a lot of fine pickers to the Caravan Inn stage.
But the man who stands out most prominently in my memory, the entertainer who really impressed me, was “Dusty” Rogers: Roy, Rogers, Jr. — Dusty, who was around 27 years old at the time, sat in with us on several occasions. Larry Cacchiotti preferred to book out-of-town, rather than local, talent. A lot of Yakima club owners operated that way. They thought they’d draw bigger crowds if they had road bands play five or six nights a week; then they had a local band handle Sunday nights. Larry contracted with Dusty and his fine Western band to come to Yakima occasionally, to do two or three weeks. Well, finding himself with nothing to do on Sunday nights, Dusty would come and sit in with us.
He had a fine, countrified, tenor voice, which he used to great effect on his Dad’s best-known numbers, as well as other, more modern country songs. He had such a sincere delivery. He always had kind words to share with our audience. He always, always (!) had good things to say about his Dad. You could tell Dusty really loved his Dad and Mom. He was an ambassador of good will for the Rogers family. He told wonderful stories about growing up with his famous parents.
Our time together on stage was filled with tender moments, thanks to Dusty’s truly unique, kind personality. And I loved playing music with him. But my favorite moments happened during break-time, when I was able to sit at one of the Caravan’s little round cocktail tables with Dusty and just listen to him talk about Roy and Dale, about how much he loved and respected them. He shared how important it was to him for people to know just how great his Dad was. He would often say, “As Roy’s son, it is not my job to stand in my father’s shadow; but it is my job to lengthen it”. I remember thinking how a man could do a lot worse, than having a loyal son like Dusty.
For a fellow who was 6’4”, he was a very tender-hearted, soft-spoken person. He could have been big-headed about being born into such an amazing family, and to be gifted with so much talent himself. But he never acted like he was better than anyone else. He truly liked people, and he loved to get up and entertain. — How many other stars would come in on their one night off, and give their music away, so generously?
When I moved from Yakima to Seattle, I left my Caravan Inn days behind. I miss the great audiences, the staff, the big stage, my old band. And I especially miss playing with, and visiting with Dusty. Since those days, he has played the esteemed Carnegie Hall twice, he’s appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show”, and he has released his own biography, entitled “Growing Up With Roy And Dale” . His own fully-grown son, Dustin Roy Rogers, has joined him on stage as part of the Roy Rogers, Jr. show. Dustin is the third generation of “Roy Rogers, Western Entertainer”.
I am the grandson of the founder of the Spokane Diamond Spur Rodeo, and the son of Yakima’s own Cowboy Pinkeye. I know what it’s like to carry on the family tradition of entertaining. And, when I go through my mental list of the performers I’ve rubbed shoulders with, including Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana – folks who are not only talented, but genuinely good people, Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr. more than makes the list!
Here is a fairly recent YouTube video featuring the man: