While residing in the one-horse, Eastern Washington town of Yakima, after making a whole lot of racket, performing as a rock/psychedelic blues singer-guitarist, I made a radical switch to playing country music in 1971. And I played in every hard liquor joint or tavern that would allow me to foist myself upon their clientele. Which wasn’t many. Because in the cow-town of Yakima, most club owners didn’t want country music. I guess it reminded them that they were — country.
In 1974, order to further my picking and singing career, I moved across-state to the big city of Seattle, where they didn’t mind country music. I continued my southern-fried caterwauling for another ten years. — I still sing the occasional country song at my folk music concerts (because some country music is folk music. Just ask the ghost of Johnny Cash.)
Just months later, in the winter of ’74, my Seattle nightclub career took a temporary nosedive, mainly because I was in the wrong band. It was my first Seattle band, and things weren’t working out. So while I cast about to find a different band, I started busking (singing for tips) at the Emerald City’s fantastic three-ring circus, the famous Pike Place Market. I mainly performed acoustic “cosmic cowboy” music, along the lines of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Grateful Dead, the Allman brothers, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
When I busked, I always tried to present a certain look. I wanted to be noticed, because if no one took note of me, I wouldn’t make tips. And I needed them, to live on. I sang, people tipped. But I discovered via experience that if I dressed too well, I would stand to make almost no tips. — I guess because I looked like I didn’t need the money. So I tried for a slightly down-and-out, long-haired cowboy look. I wore vintage, embroidered cowboy shirts and good ole’ blue jeans, with either running shoes (since Willie Nelson was wearing them) or the really cool pair of cowboy boots which I wish I still had (save everything, peeps).
Most, if not all of my cowboy shirts came from my friend Kim, a lovely young woman who adored vintage fashion. Kim combed Seattle to find collectible clothing. She rented a table at the market’s North Arcade, where she sold some of her wonderful finds. And I was a steady customer. Not only did she stock hard-to-find, unique items; her prices were right. I was a young man, mainly playing on the street. I wanted to achieve a certain look, on a budget, and Kim was there to help.
I visited Kim just about every day, whether or not I bought something from her, because she was very sweet, and so different from anyone I’d ever known in Yakima. Kim took me to her vintage Wallingford bungalow once, where she revealed to me her numerous closets crammed full of vintage-era clothing. I was amazed at her fabulous accumulation of both men’s and women’s clothing – all of it rare and beautiful. (Side note: being from Yakima, I had not been exposed to a whole lot of things. I didn’t know that when I was in Yakima; I had to leave Yakima to learn that. For instance, Kim made lunch for us that afternoon. She steamed a couple of artichokes, and melted some butter as an accompaniment for dipping. Kim had to show me how to eat the artichoke! I had never seen nor tasted one, in spite of the fact that I grew up in one of the most fertile regions in the – well, in the world. Kim, with her wares, along with the 30’s-styled clothing she wore, was just another example of the exotic wonders of Seattle I encountered in the early 70’s.
By now, you’ve probably forgotten that this story was supposed to be about some kind of special cowboy tie. – Or you think I’ve forgotten. Nope! Here we go:
One day, when I stopped by Kim’s market spot to exchange hellos, from among all kinds of dresses from the 40’s, leather purses from the 50’s, and pearl necklaces and earrings from who knows when, Kim pulled out a tie. She said, “Take a look at what I found, Randy. I saved it for you”. Taking the charmingly decorated tie in my hands, I was delighted by its luxurious feel. I had never held a silk tie before. But that was just the beginning. The tie’s style suited me to a “T”. Embossed with a crosshatch pattern, the vintage purple and grey tie featured a beautifully-executed portrait of an American Quarter Horse. It was the perfect tie for a cosmic cowboy like me to wear while performing.
While carefully examining the tie, I recalled how my Daddy, Al “Cowboy Pinkeye” Bowles, wore similar ties when he made personal appearances as a comedic Country & Western (as they called it back in the 40’s/50’s) disk jockey.
I really liked the tie. Kim took it from me, threaded it through the collar of the vintage “smile pocket” shirt she had previously sold me for a song, tied it around my neck in an elegant Windsor knot (which I never could replicate), took a step back, looked at me, and remarked upon how good I looked. She said, “Give me a buck”. Having busked that afternoon, and having raked in a small pile of dough, I fished a George W. out of my jeans pocket, placed it in the palm of her hand, and left to find another spot where I could set up, play my tunes and strut my stuff, in my brand-new/old cowboy tie. And I made a small fortune that day.
I’m assuming the tie was made shortly after the end of World War II. Silk was rationed during the war; and I’m at least 90% sure this tie is made of silk. (The other 10% of me says it could be rayon satin, because that was also in use. But I’m a guy, so I don’t really know….) As far as its age goes, I can say this: if it came from the 30’s, it would be shorter, and not quite so wide (it’s 4.25″ wide). So, I’ve deduced that it’s about the same age as me. We were both made in the late-40’s.
My tie sports a Fashion Craft label. I’m not sure when Fashion Craft was founded; but I’ve seen skinny, 1960’s vintage ties which have their label. The label also bears the mark of a Lake City men’s store: Carson’s. If you travel north, and go just about nine miles from downtown Seattle, you’ll come to the Lake City neighborhood. Could my tie have come from that Lake City? I’m not sure…. I wonder if Cowboy Pinkeye ever went there to buy a tie?
Wearing my special tie has brought me a bit of good fortune. In June of 1975, I wore it to perform at the Seattle Center House, in the Northwest Regional Finals of the one and only Grand Ole Opry’s 50th Anniversary Talent Search. I took first place, beating out nine other acts from all over Western Washington. In July, “Country KAYO” radio flew me to San Diego, CA, where I represented Western WA in the West Coast Finals. Of course, I wore my lucky tie, and I even sang a song I wrote about my Daddy, called (what else?) “Cowboy Pinkeye”. Well, I was named First Runner-Up. My talent and tie carried me pretty far. I didn’t quite make it to Nashville, but that’s OK. I had a good career playing all over the Northwest until 1983, when I up and decided to quit playing bars. And, I started playing music which meant more to me – a more folky, acoustic music, in smoke-free clubs, where all ages were (and are) welcome. I’ve done hundreds of these concerts.
I still try to maintain a good appearance when I perform. Because if you’re a singer and guitarist, you really do want the attention. But it’s also about giving. I lavish my attention on my audience, and give them everything I’ve got. And when and if I feel the need for a special boost, I take the tie from its honored spot on my foyer wall, where it hangs near the photos of Cowboy Pinkeye and other country music greats I’ve managed to rub shoulders with over the years. I tie it around my neck, and the memories come in like the Puget Sound tide.
Someday, when get really old (hey, I’m just getting started!) I’ll need to find a young person who wants a vintage silk tie which sports the fine features of an American Quarter Horse. I may charge them a buck; or perhaps I’ll just ask them to sing a song.
Here’s an example of a song I sang at the market, when I first got the tie. And it’s title fits my story perfectly. As I recently told a friend from those market days, when I hear this song, I’m 23 again:
BTW: Everything is connected: the short-lived band I sang with before I began busking at the market was called – Cowboy Pinkeye. Yep. Named it after my Dad. I’ve written about the band in other blog stories.