It Takes a Village… (June 12-14)

(DATELINE: June 15, 2015) Ah, monday morning after a weekend of travel and rock n’ roll. Coffee never tasted so good.

So what was last weekend about about? Something round on the ends and hi in the middle: Ohio. We generally get up that way maybe once a year, and it’s always a blast. Susan and I have been lucky to make a lot of good friends there over the years, plus many of our favorite bands are from the Buckeye State.

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TL, KA, SBL @ Crow’s Nest, Cincy

For this trek up I-75 across the Ohio River, our pal Kevin Abernathy joined Susan, Chris, and me. As I mentioned previously, Kevin has a really cool new record called “Ain’t Learned Yet” that we all had a hand in making. He’s also a fun guy to have around, so he’s a welcome addition to the stealth van.

Friday’s show in Cincinnati was a weird one, but good. We really had no idea what to expect going into it. When a previous booking I’d worked on fell through, Kevin got to work and lined up a slot at the Crow’s Nest, where we were to share a set opening for a band called the New Old Fashioned.

The band’s name immediately brought to mind visions of fiddles, fedoras, and brogans. I figured our evening would probably amount to no more than pissing off a string band, but fortunately they were quite electric and super nice guys. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against any kind of music (I’m an equal opportunity ridiculer … I make fun of everything), and we play shows with all kinds of bands. You just never know what somebody’s reaction will be when you’ve been added to their bill.

As I said, though, they were great guys. They’re from Dayton, and it was their first time at the ‘Nest as well, so they really knew no more about what was going on than we did. When they arrived, they were very amenable and we got a plan in place for the evening pretty quickly.

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Crow’s Nest, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Crow’s Nest is an Irish Pub that sits on a corner in west Cincinnati. It has a sports bar vibe, but they have a small stage and sound system in the second room. The bar sits across the street from one of the numerous giant cemeteries you see in Cinncy, and the door has a sign that reads, “If you think it’s dead in here, just look behind you.” We got there just before the kitchen closed, so we were able to get something to eat before loading in. (Eating on the road is another subject that I’ll have to tackle in detail on another day.)

Despite the last-minute nature of the show, we had a few friends come out including former Ass Ponys and Libertines bassist Randy Cheek (now of the excellent Ready Stance) and his girlfriend Paula, as well as Jim Davidson (“Jimmy D” to his friends), a local guitarist we’d met on previous visits to town.

Jimmy’s exactly the kinda guy you want at your show. He’d seen a post of Randy’s on Facebook at the last minute and high-tailed it to the Crow’s Nest. Once settled in with a drink, he went to work on the phone calling various friends. “Drop whatever you’re doing,” I’d hear him say. “Come to the Crow’s Nest. The Tim Lee 3 is playing, and you need to be here.”

You can’t beat that!

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TL3 @ the Crow’s Nest (photo by Jim Davidson)

A couple of Jimmy’s pals made it, including one guy (whose name I can’t recall … er, I’m terrible with both faces and names) who had a tattoo that consisted of a Telecaster and a Les Paul Jr. with crossed necks that celebrated Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, and Johnny Thunders. Yeah, he and I had plenty to chat about.

Kevin kicked things off with a solo acoustic set that was well-received, and then we joined him to play “Wild West” and “Second Thoughts” from Ain’t Learned Yet.

We always enjoy playing his songs, and for me, Kevin’s just a fun guitar player to play along with. I’ve been the only guitar in our band for nine years now, so it’s not always easy to work around another axe-wrangler. But it’s never an issue with Kevin. He’s one of those guys that enjoys playing electric guitar nearly as much as me (I’m pretty sure nobody enjoys it more than me).

Kevin and I have been pals ever since we met at the old Corner Lounge in Knoxville at least ten years ago. We have a good bit in common (not the least of which is an abiding appreciation for various ’70s blues-rock guitarists), and enjoy hanging out, whether we’re playing music or not. We’ve plotted world domination many times over during happy-hour hangs.

After a short break, we played a hot and sweaty set of our songs (did I mention that the second room at the ‘Nest was pretty much twice the temperature of the main one?), and Kevin joined us for a couple songs at the end, including a brand new one, “Fall From Grace,” that we’ve played with him before. Kevin’s made himself quite at home on that one; it sounds great with him and it’s a lot of fun.

The small crowd was appreciative and made a good bit of noise, which is nice. We sold a couple CDs to strangers, and that always makes you feel good.

Despite the heat, we hung in for the New Old Fashioned’s set. They were an alt-country-ish band, what we used to call country rock when I was young, with super strong three-part vocal harmonies. Mixed in amongst their original songs were a rocking cover of “Please Mr. Postman” and a Ryan Adams song (can’t remember which one). They played for well over an hour until the small P.A. head we’d all played through gave up the ghost in the sweltering humid atmosphere.

G’night, Cincinnati!

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Crow’s Nest Saturday am to retrieve KA’s pedalboard.

After spending the night at the Red Roof Inn (I like ’em because, in my experience, they’re incredibly consistent, i.e. the light switch is always in the same place), we got in touch with our pal Chuck Cleaver of the band Wussy. He’d not been able to come to the Crow’s Nest as his band had been in the studio the night before working on the first round of mixes for their new record.

After a quick trip back by the Crow’s Nest (Kevin had left his pedalboard behind, but fortunately the NOF guys had contacted us through Facebook to let us know it was there … suffice to say, we gave Kevin a hard time about it the rest of the weekend), we met Chuck and his wife Josie at the Blue Jay, a kickass diner in his neighborhood on the Northside. It’s always great fun to see them. Chuck has become one of my favorite people. We’re the same age and share many of the same tendencies (you know, what most folks called curmudgeonly, but we just think of as charming). Chuck is much funnier than I will ever be, though. I have a hard time not hurting myself laughing whenever I’m around him.

After catching up with the Cleavers over a lengthy breakfast, we went next door to Shake It, the excellent record store that also is home to the label that releases Wussy’s records (reason enough to support them in my mind).

Chuck nabbed a couple records he had on hold, Chris got a Randy Newman LP, and Susan and I combed through the used records and came away with affordable clean copies of the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl, Translator’s Heartbeats and Triggers, Holly and the Italians’ The Right to Be Italian (Tell that girl to shut up, indeed.), Richard Barone & Jim Mastro’s Nuts and Bolts, and the Pete Townsend/Ronnie Lane collaboration, Rough Mix. All in all, a good haul for $25.

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Chuck Cleaver, Tim Lee, Josie Cleaver, Susan Bauer Lee

After saying our goodbyes to Chuck and Josie, we visited the local coffee shop for smoothies and hit the road for Columbus.

With a short drive ahead of us, we opted to take the smaller highways and leave the interstates to those in a bigger rush. Our motto is, “Always early, never hurry.” (Thanks to Greg Horne for that one.)

I do the majority of the driving, and I enjoy taking the back roads when the schedule allows. Even on two-day trips like this one, you end up with a lot of time to kill. Motel checkout is usually at 11 a.m., and load-in is rarely before 7 or 8 p.m. Unless you have a particularly long haul, you can easily wind up with a few spare hours on your hands.

Although much of the world is starting to look the same (every Wal-Mart looks the same with that weird symbol that Susan says looks like an asshole), some small towns have retained some sort of identity. Several burgs in Ohio have interesting historic downtown areas, and one we drove through was having some kind of street festival on the main drag, so we had to take the long way around town. It was tempting to stop and check it out.

It was kind of a quiet ride, not a lot of conversation, other than pointing out interesting roadside stuff, until we got closer to the outskirts of Columbus.

The first time I played in Columbus was in 1985. The Windbreakers opened for X at the Newport, which was a pretty sweet gig. More importantly, though, I met Mark Wyatt that night. Mark was the keyboard player in the band Great Plains, who were labelmates of ours at Homestead. Gerard Cosloy suggested I get in touch with Mark, as he was generally cool about putting bands up. I loved Great Plains (as I do now), and was hyped to meet him.

We stayed with Mark that night, and we’ve been pals since. I’ve spent many a night on couches or in guest rooms at his various places of residence over the years. GP stayed with us the one time they came to Jackson. Mark wound up playing on the last couple WBs albums and went on the road with us for the Electric Landlady tour.

In recent years, we’ve played shows with his bands (the Beatdowns and the Columbus Power Squadron) in Columbus, but he has since moved to Indiana so I knew we wouldn’t be seeing him that night.

Like a lot of folks, Mark has been a part of this whole crazy musical journey I’ve been on my entire adult life. It takes a village to raise a middle-aged rocker, I suppose.

Saturday night’s show was at Ace of Cups, which is one of our favorite venues for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is owned by our old friend Marcy May from the band Scrawl.

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Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

I first saw and heard Scrawl in 1986 or ’87. The Windbreakers were on tour and had a date at Stache’s, the longtime Columbus venue. Scrawl was booked to open the show. At the time, the band consisted of Marcy, Sue Harshe, and a drummer named Caroline. They were scruffy and sassy, and they were great. I loved ’em from the get-go, and the first time Scrawl went on tour they came to Jackson and stayed with us for a couple days.

Hanging out with Sue and Marcy is always a treat. They’ve been best friends forever and apparently have never lived more than two miles apart in their adult lives. They still keep Scrawl going with a guy named Jovan on drums.

That’s the beauty of this music thing: the friends you make. Maybe you’ve already picked up on that thread in this writing. It’s one of my favorite things. We don’t make a lot of money doing this or earn a lot of acclaim, but the friendships you develop make it all worthwhile. It’s a major aspect of it.

At the Columbus show, we saw people who’ve been coming to the TL3 shows of the past few years, but also people like our pal Shirley, who I’m pretty sure was at the Windbreakers/Scrawl show at Stache’s in the mid-’80s. We met new people too.

At the beginning of this whole thing, I posed the question: what makes a grown man climb in a van and travel great distances in order to play music for an hour (or less)? The answer involves a long list of reasons, but for me friends is right there at the top. There’s the friendship with your bandmates, the fellowship you share with other bands, and there are the people you see whenever you go to their town. It works the same way when they come to yours. You share your war stories, travel woes, goofy anecdotes, and dining tips. You laugh at stories you’ve maybe heard before, because they serve as affirmations for your life’s choices.

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RayRay’s Hot Pit, Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

Another thing we love about Ace of Cups is Ray Ray’s Barbecue. Ray Ray’s is a food truck set up behind the club that offers up authentic smoked products that stand up to some of the best around (and trust me, I’ve eaten BBQ in a ton of joints in order to come to that conclusion).

Upon our arrival, we loaded in quickly, grabbed a picnic table on the AoC patio, and got in line for some ‘cue. The food was excellent as usual, and eventually Marcy showed up to hang out and oversee the doings at the bar.

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Tim Lee & Chris Bratta

She showed us the new “green room” located just off an open area overlooking the club, where we were delighted to find a ping-pong table. Chris and I volleyed back and forth for a while until the local regular players showed up. We politely yielded the table to them and went downstairs to get a beer and wait for the other bands to show up so we could suss out the gear-sharing arrangements.

We were sharing the bill with Sue’s other band, Fort Shame, which also features Todd May and George Hondroulis (who are both also in Lydia Loveless’s excellent band), and another local act, the Sin Shouters. We’ve played with Fort Shame a couple times, and we’re big fans of both Sue’s and Todd’s songs (I highly recommend his solo disc, Rickenbacker Girls). The Shouters was comprised of several players we’ve shared bills with before. This is a newer incarnation which plays a few originals and a bunch of cool rock n’ roll covers. Raucous and loud, fun and funky, I dug them a lot.

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Kevin Abernathy at Ace of Cups (photo by Karla Hughes)

Again, Kevin kicked off the show solo and we joined in for a couple songs at the end of his set. The Sin Shouters followed and ripped it up, just great fun.

We were on third, and by then a decent crowd had assembled. Columbus audiences are among the best I’ve ever encountered. They like their rock n’ roll, and they like to have a good time, which is what we dig too.

The stage sound at Ace of Cups is excellent. Sound man Nick really keeps it together, which just makes our job a lot easier.

Kevin joined us for the last two songs, and he killed it as per usual.

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TL3 @ Ace of Cups (photo by Shirley Tobias)

Fort Shame closed things out with a great set that included a couple new songs, which were as great as their previous repertoire.

We’ve been fortunate to play some really great shows at AoC in the four years it’s been open, sharing the stage with the likes of Scrawl, Wussy, and Cobra Verde, three shining examples of why an inordinate percentage of the world’s great rock bands come from Ohio. This night’s show with Fort Shame and the Sin Shouters was right up there on the fun-o-meter: hot, sweaty, raucous, and rocking.

The only downside for me on both nights was the aforementioned humidity and heat. That kind of thing generally doesn’t bother me too much, and once we hit the stage I really dig the sweaty thing. It can be kind of cathartic, so it makes me throw myself into the whole thing even harder than usual. But I’d been fighting some allergy-based crud for the previous week, so my strength was compromised and both shows wore my ass out.

Hey, nobody ever said it was easy. If I had to do over, I probably would’ve just played harder.

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TL, SBL, Marcy May, Sue Harshe

We crashed at Marcy’s house and awoke to a spread of coffee, bread, cheese, fruit, and meats. Sue dropped by with more coffee, hummus, and cheese. It was quite a little feast. We would’ve been happy to hang around there all day, snacking and visiting, but those miles toward home don’t click off by themselves, you know.

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TL3, Our Lady, & 6 String Drag passing John Nemechek on I-75 south

After hugs and goodbyes, we got on the interstate and pointed the nose of the stealth van southward. Other than a traffic tangle in Cincinnati, we made good time on the road, pulling into Knoxville less than six hours after we left.

Susan and I even mustered the energy to head down to the Pilot Light later and see our pals Psychic Baos hit the stage (well, the floor in front of the stage) to celebrate the release of their new 7-inch record on Magnetic South. Will Fist, Elizabeth Wright, and Harold Heffner laid down a slab of psycho-delic sound that provided the perfect soundtrack to the end of the weekend.

Another rock n’ roll sortie completed. Mission accomplished. We saw a few dozen faces, and we rocked them all. Sold some records, saw some good friends, shared bad jokes and good food, and created a new set of memories (if I can only manage to remember Chuck’s outrageous quips).

Now though, it’s back home to do the things that allow us to climb into the van again. This ain’t no rock ‘n roll fantasy, no rock star life, it’s just life. And a damn good one at that.

Hope to see y’all soon …