This tale happened in the early 1970’s, when I was leading a country music band at a popular mill-worker’s tavern, in the small town of Yakima, Washington. We called our little band “Buckwheat”. Katsuhiko “Katz” Kobayashi (Japan’s greatest-ever steel guitarist), Tim McKelheer (drums) and I thought that was a good name for a country band.
Katz was so good on steel, that when he left us, he joined Marty Robbins. Tim could pound the H-E-double-toothpicks out of the drums. I sang with gusto, and played lead guitar on a Frank Zappa model Hagstrom that crossed-over suprisingly well into country music. We played all of the hits from the early-70’s era. We covered the great songs of Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, George Jones – you get the picture. As lead singer and front man of the group, I wore the proper outfit – cowboy shirt, boots, and sometimes a hat. So I looked like a real country boy. And I was, sort of, although I didn’t grow up on a farm or a ranch. I grew up in a residential neighborhood of Yakima. But I thinned and picked a ton of apples – make that many tons – and I did help a friend and his dad feed and care for young beef cattle at their spread near Wiley City, which lay west of Yakima. (Maybe having that experience is why I became a vegetarian!)
I was single, and seeing how I was a guitar slinger, a fair amount of attention was paid to me by the young females in attendance at the Mayfair. That was fine with me, because I was looking to meet a good gal, to pair up and have a steady relationship. You could say I was definitely open to offers.
We were the Mayfair house band, so we played there every weekend. I got acquainted with the regulars, and the not-so regulars who frequented the place. And, I noticed that a pretty brunette had started to come in occasionally. I saw that she danced with the nicest guys in the tavern. – I knew who they were. You learn a lot, being on the bandstand, watching everyone as they drink/dance/fight/fall in love/fall out of love/fall down drunk/throw objects/throw up, as described in James Taylor’s great song, “Bartender’s Blues”. –You see who is in control, and who is out of control. This pretty young woman was obviously drawn to the nicest guys in the place. That of course, made a good impression on me.
One night, she approached me while I was on my break, enjoying a red beer, and thinking about what to play for the next set. She introduced herself as Janet, and she told me she liked my music. She said, “I notice you don’t seem to have a gal who sits with you on your breaks.” I said, “Yeah, that is the case….” She said, “Well, how would you like to go horseback riding with me at my place next Sunday afternoon? I’ve got a couple of horses that are just begging to get out of the corral to get some exercise. And they’re really well-behaved. I said, “Are you sure about that, because I haven’t been riding for a while”. (I last rode at 12; I had just turned 22 when we were having this conversation.) She said, “Oh, they’re really good horses, and I’ll let you ride the gentlest one”. I said I’d like to do it; but I told her I didn’t have a car. She replied, “Well, I’ve got a brand new Ford pickup, and I’ll be happy to give you a ride”.
When Saturday arrived, Janet pulled up in front of my landlord’s place (my little apartment was right behind Lou Nickle’s house) and she tooted the horn. (That was before cellphones, kiddies; she couldn’t just call or text and say, “I’m here”.) So I went outside, walked up to her shiny new truck and opened the door. I saw that she was looking real good. She had on her boots, jeans and a cowgirl shirt with “smile pockets”, and she was wearing just enough makeup to really make an impression on a young man like me. I thought to myself, wow, I’m pretty lucky! This should be fun.
Janet had always been kind, soft-spoken and well-behaved. — I know that last bit might sound funny for me to say; but let me tell you, I saw all kinds of behavior on display at the Mayfair, exhibited by both genders. And I admired the people who were able to have fun without completely abandoning their sanity!
I was looking forward to a good time. — Even though I was admittedly a little afraid of horses. The main reason I hadn’t gone riding in ten years was because I was never any good at showing the horse who was boss. When I was a kid, every horse I rode at the local horse-rental outfit on the southeast side of Yakima figured out pretty rapidly that I didn’t know what I was doing. They ignored my amateur attempts at setting the pace or turning them. My riding partner, older brother Al III, instinctively knew how to direct a horse. They always seemed to sense this, and they did what he wanted. So I’d wind up trailing him and his ride, trying to follow him down the road. — What I am saying is, I may have worn a cowboy outfit on the Mayfair’s bandstand, but that did not make me a cowboy. –- Unlike my grandpa, Al Bowles, Sr., whose two horses, Brass and Champion, were his pride and joy.
Janet lived just a little ways out of town, in a quiet, sparsely-populated area. We got there in about eight minutes. Exiting her shiny new pickup, I took note of her house. It was a big, white clapboard farmhouse, surrounded by a good-sized yard. I saw a corral on the east side of the house, complete with a small stable. Or horse barn. I think you call it a stable. I don’t know!
Janet had me wait outside of the corral, while she retrieved two beautiful, large horses. They were brown. I don’t know the official name of a brown horse. Chestnut? Bay? — They were shiny, brown, and large. Janet said, “I’ll let you ride Sugar. She’s the most gentle. I’ll ride Annie”. She got the horses saddled-up in no time, showing her expertise as a real cowgirl. As she confidently worked, I stood there admiring her, thinking how together she seemed. — How pretty. — How special, really. I was feeling very fortunate at that moment, aside from the twinges of fear I was also feeling.
I managed to get up on Sugar without embarrassing myself too much. She was so big. It had been a long time. Janet effortlessly hopped on Annie, and slowly led the way down the unpaved road out front of her house.
Yakima has a lot of beautiful trees. The slightly dusty road by Janet’s place was lined with willows, cottonwoods, weeping birch, maples. Wildflowers grew on the sides of the road. Songbirds sang. And that well-known Yakima sun was shining, as per usual. Everything was great. – Except that Sugar, who was supposed to be so well-behaved, was not exactly that. She was lagging behind, not paying attention to my attempts to control her. I was doing my best to keep up with Janet, because she’d started a conversation about how pretty the day was, about how she enjoyed living outside of the city, about how much she loved her animals….
But I was falling further and further behind. So Janet put the brakes on Annie and waited for me to catch up. When I finally did, she reached over and, with a wicked grin on her face, she slapped Sugar on the rump! And I mean, she give that horse a whack.
Sugar took off at about a hundred miles an hour. She ran down the road for maybe 200 yards, turned on a dime, and ran back the other way, toward Janet’s place. When we got to the house, which kept getting bigger and bigger in my field of vision, the SOB (can you call a female horse an SOB?) ran into the yard, through the yard, and right up to the house, as fast as it could run. I suddenly saw a wall of white clapboards, getting closer and closer, very rapidly. Well, Sugar came to a dead stop, about six inches from the house. I should have flown off and splattered into the house, breaking my neck; but somehow I hung on, and avoided certain death. — You know, it was almost as if Sugar was trained to do that!
Right away, I dismounted. That is to say, I got off of that @#$%! as fast as humanly possible.
Janet rode up, laughing so hard she was crying. She may have been trying to apologize; I can’t say, because she was laughing so hard that speech was impossible. She just kept laughing. I quickly realized that she saw only the humorous side of the situation. It didn’t seem to enter her mind that she was gazing down on one traumatized country singer, who might have been killed. She saw none of that. It was as if she was watching a Laurel and Hardy movie, and I was Stan Laurel.
I suddenly noticed that I was developing a red rash: hives. They seemed to start on my abdomen and radiate in every direction. Soon, my whole body was itching and burning. I’m not sure if this was from pure terror, or if I was allergic to the horse. But my eyes were filling with tears, as they tried to alleviate the burning, itching sensation. I looked up at Janet, astride her huge brown horse and said, “I guess I should go home now”. She was still laughing, but she got off her steed, took the reins of mine, and led the two into the barn. She did what one does for a horse after riding it (I don’t know what one does – she brushed them or something. I wasn’t paying any attention). She said, “OK, Randy, let’s hop in the truck and get outta here”.
We drove back to my abode. I was silent the entire way. She put “Country KUTI” on the radio, and sang along to Tanya Tucker, wearing a slight smile on her face. We pulled up in front of my landlord’s house, got out, and walked toward my little apartment. Janet walked me to my door, I unlocked and opened it, and she followed me right in. I was living in a studio apartment, so the bed was right there in the living room, just inside the door. She pushed me down on the bed, got on top of me and started to kiss me. I said, “You know Janet, I don’t think I wanna go there, OK? I don’t think so. Have you noticed this rash?” She looked a little hurt, and confused; then the air seemed to go out of her balloon, all of a sudden. I think she finally saw things through my eyes, and realized that she had scared the hell out of me. — Like maybe she had a lot more fun than I had. So, she got up and said, “Well, I’ll just let myself out. I’m sorry.”
Janet came in to the Mayfair the next weekend. We said a quick hello, and that was about all. I could see on her face that she had gotten the message, and that she truly was sorry. — Over the next couple of months, she came in periodically, to have a red beer and to dance with some of the Mayfair regulars. We always said our hellos; but there were no more attempts at dating.
One night, I noticed she came into the place with a well-built, good-looking guy who was wearing cowboy boots, and sporting a brass buckle of the type one would wear in a rodeo competition. She introduced me to “Cody”; he seemed like a nice guy. As Tim, Katz and I played our music throughout the night, I saw Janet and Cody get up and dance to a lot of our songs. And as the night went on, they danced closer and closer, getting very relaxed with each other. They left sometime during the evening, but they returned a week later. And did they have stars in their eyes! They were holding hands, gazing lovingly at each other all night long. On one of my breaks, they invited me to their table, had me sit down; and Janet poured me a beer. We had a good visit.
As time went by, they came in often, and with each visit, they seemed to be falling more in love. And you know what? I was glad. This spunky gal had found herself a good man. One of the nicest guys who ever walked into the Mayfair. And I knew that I would never have go horseback riding with her again!
I was a real cowboy. The above photo proves it!
This song, James Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues”, is a great companion piece to my story. It’s an insider’s view of life in a country music bar:
Regarding the Buckwheat band: the great Stan Ruehlow later joined on drums; Chuck Gregory later joined on bass/vocals; Pat Moss played with us for a month, on lead guitar. For more adventures of Katz, Tim, Stan, Chuck, Pat and myself, please see this post: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/when-one-of-yakima-washingtons-velvet-illusions-and-two-of-tokyo-japans-flowers-came-together/
Here, just for fun is a real cowboy song, sung by Gene Autry: