In 1982, I held down the position of lead guitarist for a truly fine seven-piece country band called Wickline, whose home base was the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State. We drove around in a cute little old blue school bus, which got us from town to town and gig to gig.
I remember how we traveled south from our Western Washington home, down to the picturesque town of Grants Pass, Oregon, to play a private party for a wealthy doctor, his family and friends. Wickline played lots of fairs, and venues like the Naval Officers Club on Whidbey Island; we played school assemblies; we were happy to concertize wherever and whenever we could, if the money was right.
Arriving at our destination on a picture-perfect Grants Pass summer day (think hot and dry), we set-up our gear so that we faced a big, beautiful green lawn, where our audience could relax and enjoy our music. When we commenced playing, they commenced to dine on picnic food, while enjoying those ever-popular cold beverages. We played and sang for about 90 minutes, doing our best to give everyone, young and old, a good show.
We did a little country, a little rock, a little gospel, and a lot of original music. We had a phenomenal banjo player named Scott Gavin; so we did at least one number that highlighted his considerable skills, a song he had a hand in writing, entitled “Banjo Fantasy”. — It’s a popular song, to this day. You may have heard it.
“Banjo Fantasy” has been described as the unofficial anthem of the National Clogging Association. Just hop on over to YouTube, and you can watch about a dozen clogging groups do their fancy footwork while our song plays in the background. See below, for a link to just one of the many videos which are available for viewing. — In addition to having Scott in the band, who contributed so much with his banjo, we also had a fabulous piano player named George (more later).
Back to Grants Pass: Well, we played our usual, fine show. Judging from their applause, and from their reluctance for us to stop, it was easy to tell that our audience had a good time. Quite a few folks were still in the mood for music, even after we started packing our gear. Seeing that a number of people obviously wanted more, George and I set about to perform a few songs in a duet setting, with George playing piano, and me singing.
George had an interesting resume. For a time, he actually served as Bob Hope’s pianist. Currently, in addition to playing in Wickline, George was providing the music for funerals at a Puget Sound funeral home! He was a really accomplished, gifted pianist.
And I was a very good vocalist. But I didn’t sing much at all in Wickline, since I was hired to play guitar, and maybe sing a little harmony. So when I had the chance to sing, I took it. When George and I started running through a few country ballads, I took the opportunity to really showcase my vocals for the folks, milking each tune for all it was worth.
Musicians can be swelled-headed at times, because we’re shown quite a bit of adulation from “normal” folks, who will applaud, buy drinks, ask for autographs…. (I noticed this a lot more after I got a “normal” job, working in an office, where I was not applauded or offered drinks!) — I admit, on this particular occasion, I was a bit full of myself. I had the chance to step out of my set role, and I did. This little show was all George and me! We did impromptu versions of songs either written by, or popularized by Willie Nelson. I think we did “That Lucky Old Sun”, and perhaps, “Crazy”.
By the way, George was playing a really nice piano, one which had been provided by our employer. — It was hard to cram all of the gear a seven-piece band uses into our little blue bus, so when possible, like many groups who traveled, we used whatever piano was provided to us by our venue. This one had a particularly nice tone. And with George at the keys, some extraordinary-sounding notes came forth from that instrument. So I was doubly inspired to put my all into the vocals, even as the crowd eventually thinned out, as the evening wore on. Folks did stick around for quite a few songs; but slowly, as sunset rolled around, our crowd got smaller and smaller. I remember we played a fine version of “Funny How Time Slips Away”; and then we actually realized that time had slipped away. Looking around, we saw that there were only four young men, of rather good size, who remained to listen to us run through our Willie Nelson songs. But heck, they were still listening, so we weren’t stopping.
Well, right about the time George played the intro for my all-time favorite Willie Nelson song, the Fred Rose penned “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain” one big guy reluctantly stepped up to us, as if to speak. Clearing his throat, he said, “Uh, sorry, but we need to move the piano”.