Jazz Story #1 (cont'd) "A Guy Called Whitey"
So W.L. rolled his big frame off back through the kitchen to go and check with the bossman about me playing with them that night. I was pissed about this whole thing. Really pissed. I ripped my tie open. I went up to Speed and said, "I need a fuckin' drink." "Wha's'a matta, Whitey?" "My name's fuckin' Wolf, dammit." "Well 'scooze my ass, Whitey." "OK, OK, call me what the fuck you want to, I don't give a fuckin' shit." "Shit, Whitey," Carmine hollered over at me, openly taking a slug off a hooch bottle as he did, "what the fuck's up y'ur ass?" "Come on, Motherfucker, give me a drink out'a that bottle." Carmine handed me the bottle. "You shure you wanna drink after a niggah, Whitey?" "Fuck you." I took a long drink out of the bottle and I didn't even wipe the top off either. God I was pissed. "Thanks," I said to Carmine. "So why you so pissed, Whitey?" Carmine asked me. "These motherfuckers don't want a white boy playin' with you guys." "Yeah, we talked about that before we came here, about whether they'd like us bringin' a white boy in here to Midland, Texas. There's a whole bunch'a white supreemists in this town. Whitey, you know this is the richest city in the USA. Everyone of these motherfuckers is a millionaire, even the bitch cleanin' out y'ur room, brother." I checked that; I caught he called me "brother." I'd been puttin' Carmine down in my mind, you know, his acting like he really was a black man bugged me. I was thinking, shit, he's a Mexican from Los Angeles, hell, Carmine Pico; yet, he was black, too, black as Speed who really wasn't that black at all, more light tan, though neither one of them were as black as W.L. who reminded me so much of the blues singer Howlin' Wolf, tall, he must have been six-three or -four, and broad, a real cool kind'a big man, like a lot of bass players, big dudes, big enough to handle the big sounds of a bass, even though W.L. played an electric bass, a Fender Jazz bass as I later discerned, those electric bass strings were heavy metal even in those days, as heavy as the metal strings on an upright acoustic bass.
I didn't tell Carmine I was born and raised just 30 miles back east down Highway 80 from Midland, Texas. Yes, I knew Midland had more millionaires than any city in the US; in fact, only the oil-rich Arab nation of Kuwait was said at that time to have more millionaires than Midland, Texas, which was also oil-rich from the Permian Basin days, the Permian Basin one of the richest oil discoveries in US history--glutted by the floods of oil exploration and leasing companies that hit the area and eventually overdrilled it and overproduced it and dried the huge field up, except it still left plenty of producing wells and the rich of Midland had stayed rich and famous and stayed in Midland. Midland's first Republican-ever politician to get elected to eventually Congress and eventually to become president was George Herbert W. Bush, but I said nothing about knowing all of this or that I had wooed a Midland girl one time, a rich oil-man's daughter, and had shot my wad in Midland on many an old teenage evening of unbounded pleasure and fun, right there in Midland, by God, Texas. But boy was I mad as hell at Midland that night standin' in that alley behind that motel where I thought I'd be playin' the piano with W.L. Lee and His Advance Quartet to a fucking packed house and instead here I was standing in this alley drinking booze straight out of a bottle having sucked hard on a doob roach, high, a little whoozy from the booze, pissed as hell, gettin' crabby and vicious, thinking, "fuck this shit, I'll just hike my ass over to the Greyhound station and head on back to Santa Fe, to my hot little Tex-Mex wife and my hot little bed...." I was pissed. And then here came W.L. back out of the kitchen. It was already fifteen after nine. CPT, I supposed.
"Speed, Carmine, y'all go on in and sit and then Johnny L's gonna bring us on," I heard W.L. talking to the other cats. "Hey, what about my ass?" I hollered. Boy was I pissed but out of respect for W.L. I cooled it as he came over to me. "Whitey, look, man, the boss is thinkin' it over. He wants for us to go on on and he'll let me know after he consults with the big boss about whether he gonna let you play or not. Sorry, man, but this here's your people." He stood there. "So, what the hell do I do, W.L.?" "First of all, straighten your tie up, look good, cat, always look good. Comb your hair, straighten up, stay cool, and then come on in here." And he headed back into the kitchen.
When we got through the kitchen to the kitchen door that led into the club area, I could see the lights were down in the room, it was dark. "OK, Whitey, now you just stand right here firm, you see? Don't move. Don't go off hot headed. Let me get the show goin' then the boss'll know by the end of the first number--we just be startin' off with a up tempo thing, you dig? So just stay here, man, and cool out and we'll see. If the boss don't allow you to work, then I'll understand if you ready to bail on me fo' the rest of the circuit, OK? Trust me?" "OK, man, I'll be patient." "That's the way I like it, man." And he was smiling, dammit, he was smiling big time. "Hey, Sweetheart," he then said to one of the female kitchen workers, "give this white boy a piece o'fried chicken, you got a wing or somethin', help calm the boy down; he's nervous." And then he went through the door and off into the club.
This cute chick did bring me a piece of fried chicken, a breast, huge, and I told her thank you but no thank you I wasn't hungry and she laughed and said she understood and went back to her work. Then I saw a spot come on in the club and a white dude in a red sportcoat hit the microphone and I heard "Ladies and Gentlemen, a big howdy welcome to all of you to the Famous Flame Room and tonight's entertainment. Let's get on with the show, Ladies and Gentlemen, without further adieu here's one of your favorite bands, brought back here to the Flame by popular demand, Double...Uuuuuu...ellllllll...Lee and His Advance Quartet...." And the joint went wild; raucous applause and Texan whistling and yahoooing; and the backlights came up and W.L., Speed, and Carmine were then playing "Chicken Shack"--and they were good; they were rockin' with just the guitar leading and playing the lines, and Carmine was a hell of a drummer, too, and W.L.was...shit, they were swinging pro pure and I was standing there wantin' to play so bad--dammit I knew "Chicken Shack" like the back of my hand and it sounded like they were playing in E--my natural key is F so I'm pretty good at remembering what E sounds like--no, I don't have perfect pitch but I played with this alto player one time who had perfect pitch and told me there was nothing to it, it was just memorizing the note sounds based on your natural vocal pitch key, mine's F like I said, and you memorize the other keys off that. Yes, it's hard to memorize all the keys, 88 on a piano, but it's possible; at least I think I can tell if a band's playing in E or F or G or F# or E-flat, too; whatever, I guessed they were playing in E; besides, like I knew, too, guitar players don't like playing in F, but they don't mind G or E, but especially E, which is like playing in C on a piano for them.
At the end of the tune I started applauding--then I heard applause coming from behind me; the kitchen workers were up close behind me; they'd been diggin' the scene through the kitchen door with me. "Damn, the boyz are hot tonight aren't they?" one of the kitchen guys said. "Yeah, but where's that piano player they had last time?" "Yeah, man, they ain't got no piano player, I just noticed, damn."
After the thunderous applause died down, W.L. lummoxed up to the mic. "Thank you, thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen of Midland! Yes, we love Midland, and we especially love playin' here at the Fabulous Flame and for the fabulous Mister Charlie Barnes--let's give a big hand to the Flame's on boss of the entertainment world here, Charlie Barnes...take a bow, Charlie."
A thin rather rakish looking white guy stood up right center stage at a table full of men wearing Western clothes and three very hot babes, one a black chick...whaaaaaa! Wait a minute, I'm thinkin', that son of a bitch won't let me play with these black dudes yet he's sportin' around town with that black chick. I assumed, white like, she was a whore. That excused her. Shit I was mad; shit I wanted to be a part of this show--I was supposed to be out there gettin' my star to shinin', too, dammit, and damn I was getting really pissed again. Then W.L. went on.
"Now I'm shure y'all noticed I have no piano player tonight." A big question came up from the crowd, you know, like moans, groans, and yeahs, and one "Yeah, where's your piano player?" "Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm about to take care of the situation. I've got a treat for you all tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, all the way from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where's he renown for his flute playin'...." My heart got stuck in my throat. Motherfucker, I suddenly thought, this son of a bitch, those sons'a bitches, those motherfuckers.... "Ladies and Gentlemen, the newest member of the Advance Quartet, the Wolf Man! Put yo hands together for The Wolf Man."
Sweat was pouring from under my arms tackying up my new blue sportcoat as I ran out on stage. I hadn't noticed the piano was set up so the audience could see me and was mic-ed, too, damn, I hadn't noticed that. And the joint was standin' and clappin' and shoutin' and Charlie Barnes was clappin' and smilin' and the black chick with him, I swear, was diggin' me right into my eyes, the pretty thing, Jesus. And soon W.L. called "Night Train" in C, and I was off; I was wailin'; I was showboatin'; and the first set went on for over an hour and at the first break Charlie Barnes invited the band over to his table and I heard the first champagne cork going off as I sat down by the black chick who introduced herself to me and holy shit she was a singer from Dallas I knew in college, she was workin' with some guys, one a close friend, I knew from college over at another Midland club--holy shit...suddenly I felt right at home.
After the show, W.L., Speed, and Carmine, Carmine had hooked up with the cutest little cowgirl I'd ever seen, started laughin' big time at my ass, with Speed going, "Lord, Whitey, we fooled your dumb white ass, baby, you gotta admit it." "Oh yeah, that's one of the best ones Washy's ever come up with." "Whoaaa," I said, taking my arm from around the waist of the black chick, "you motherfuckers, W.L. set my ass up?" "You got it, Whitey. We set you up. You white folks are so full'a guilt around black folks you lets yourself git gull-a-ble." I looked over at W.L. He was full of total smiles, laughin', jawin', drinkin'. "You motherfucker," I thought looking at him, "you crazy good ass Motherfucker. What a ball I'm gonna have from now on; I'll show your ass." And then the black chick said we were all going over to her room at another motel and we were gonna party the rest of the night..."Unless...." she said, winking at me as we went out and piled in W.L.'s smokin' Cadillac, except the Caddy didn't smoke at all when he fired it up; in fact, it purred like a kitten--like Z.Z. Hill sang in his "Shade Tree Mechanic." Plus, damn, it had been washed, I just noticed that as we pulled away from the Downtowner parking lot and headed up Highway 80.
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