RIP Mr. Louie
2-28-1993 to 6-21-2009
I l just lost one of my dearest friends. Not anyone you’d see on MySpace or Facebook. He was Louie, my fifteen and a half-year-old Chow mix. He laid down and died in the same spot where he guarded the back door for the last fifteen years. He was so old, but still loved to go for walks and chase his ball, if only for a few feet because of his arthritis. He’d been having small seizures for the last month and would get very disoriented, but usually I could hold him and talk to him and he’d come back around. Yesterday, he had a pretty bad one and didn’t want me to come close to him. I had to play in Mississippi and it stayed on my mind all night. When I came home, he was OK and we spent some time together before I went to bed. For the last several months, I knew it was coming and was somewhat prepared for it.
Tonight, I silently broke down and sobbed trying hard not to let Teresa hear me.
For some weird reason, I can’t cry in front of her.
He was the last living reminder of the house my mom lived in when she passed on that September of 1993. His litter was born three days after Christmas when a small ice storm hit and his mother had little interest in caring for them. I crawled up under a shed, gathered them all up and took them to a utility room inside the house. Cookie, his mom would come and go at will, so I bottle fed them on the days she didn’t show up. He was the first one out of the litter to show an interest in me and I decided to keep him. I named him Mr. Louie because he walked like a tough guy.
He was the first puppy I’d raised since the early 70’s and I was so proud of him. By two months, he loved to chase this small ball and that’s what we did for the next fifteen years. When he was about six months old, he went hunting with his mom and Gator, who I lost three years ago, and brought me a dead baby raccoon and dropped it by my foot. He stood there smiling at me looking so proud of his little trophy and waited until I rubbed his head and told him he was a good boy.
He knew the sound of every vehicle I’ve owned since he was born and would bark to let me know he knew I was home each time I pulled in the driveway. I couldn’t ask for a better watchdog. He was fearless and very territorial about his home and family. I took him into bad parts of Memphis on business and nobody dared to
get close to my truck. He’d park himself next to me when we’d go for a ride and watch everything and anyone that went by. All he wanted in return was to have his ears rubbed, talked sweet to and told he was the best Chow boy there ever was.
When I found out from my ex after nine years of marriage, that she didn’t like dogs, I remember thinking that Louie would have died before he let anyone get to them.
He had a wonderful home with a big back yard and was loved every day of his life. Maybe I’m not supposed to show favoritism, but he was the best friend I’ve ever had, hands down. He went through a small battle with heartworms back in 2000, and came out fine. Other than that, he had no real health problems. The last two years, I saw him age more than before and it was hard on him because he couldn’t do the same things he used to. He was always so grateful when I picked him up and put him in the truck.
Back in the late 90’s, I was at the vet with my cat and a guy in a high dollar suit came in with an older cat in a carrier. He said in a very rushed tone, “This is my mother’s cat. He’s old and nasty and needs to be put down.” The receptionist and myself looked at each other with amazing disbelief as he handed her a credit card and just walked out. A year later, I’m there when an older lady brings a Pug in that’s got some age-related health issues. This dog had been with her all of his life and she just left it there to be put down. She walked off and left it there alone to die on a metal table surrounded by strangers and not even having the decency to let him see her face as he closed his eyes and took his last breath on this earth.
I was so disturbed by this that I came home and went to all of the dogs and told them I would never abandon them that way. Sounds silly and over dramatic, but
I especially made that promise to Louie. I take extreme pride in knowing in my heart that I kept that promise to him. Watching a human or an animal you love get old is very difficult, but if you love them, it’s a joy and an honor to help and take care of them. I highly recommend it.
When money was so tight after the divorce and I was living on beans and discounted
meat, I made sure that they stayed well fed. I’m not trying to make myself out to be a saint at all here. I just know as I live and breathe that Louie would have done that for me if the situation were reversed. I’ve written before that I truly believe that there’s a heaven for them and I’ll see him again someday. He outlived all of his friends and is with them now in perfect form having an amazing reunion. God holds the animals blameless and all of the things you loved on this earth will be with you in heaven. That’s good enough for me.
Louie, you were one of my closest and dearest friends. I love you and cherished every minute with you. I will miss you as long as I live.
I went twenty years without having a dog and have had eight since 1993. I’m down to this Pit Bull mix I rescued in 2004 named Ruby. Last Friday, the vet told me she had terminal heartworms and probably wouldn’t make it through the first round of treatment. She stayed away from us as we buried Louie tonight. Probably, for the obvious reasons. She was tested for heartworms in May and showed a false positive. The vet gave us antibiotics and some medicine to get the fluid off her lungs. Friday, she tested full positive and had also lost some weight. When I brought up the question of a payment plan, he suggested that she probably wasn’t worth saving.
Between the heartworms and this heat, I don’t know how long she can last. Until she came here, she’s been treated like a throw away ever since she was born at the pound in 2003. Some things never change.
Here's a gem fo ya. I'm doing a show last night with Graham and Kevin from Tucson Simpson and we're swapping sets. Great sounding place and very intimate with the furthest person being less than fifty feet from you. Halfway through my set, I'm about to do "Crossroads" by Robert Johnson and explaining some of the story behind the song.
I'm giving some insight into RJ and how other people took lines from other RJ songs to make it seem like something other than what it is. I'm at the part about the legendary "selling of the soul" at the crossroads.
The place is very attentive and quiet, when I look up and this older, hippie-ish looking guy at the bar has his hand raised. I thought he wwas signaling someone and kept on talking.
When I looked at him again, he was rasing it higher trying to get my attention. Wasn't too sure what to because I felt like a teacher about to address a student's request to go to the bathroom. So, I stop what I'm doing, look at him and say "yes sir, do you have a question?" He asked me if this is where "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou" got the idea for
that character saying he'd just sold his soul to the devil because he wasn't using it.
I responded, "yes sir, that's almost a direct rip of this story." Then, his wife swats him on
his leg and tells him not to interrupt and stop the show. By this time, everyone is cracking up and I told them this is the first time anyone has ever raised their hand to ask me a question in the middle of a story and it could turn into a new concept for me...ask Andy, the ex-rock star. Too funny.
** SOME OF THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM ANDY'S UPCOMING BOOK, "THOUGHTS FROM THE INDIE FRONTLINES", WHICH YOU WILL BE ABLE TO BUY AT www.andytanas.com SOON, JUST IN TIME FOR SUMMER!**
I find it strange that time seems to be going by much faster than I can remember. When I was a kid, the idea of having to wait an hour or two for something was unbearable. A week was a lifetime and a year an eternity. Even kids that I talk to today tell me that they can’t believe that a whole year has gone by so quickly. Maybe this is because there’s so much more to keep them preoccupied than when I was that age. If I’d had all the games, videos, computers, cable and satellite TV and that ever present soccer mom, life would have gone by in a breeze.
Yet, it just dawned on me that October 20, 2007 was the thirtieth anniversary of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines, Dean Kilpatrick and pilot Walter Wiley McCreary and co-pilot William John Gray. For so many, this was the latter day equivalent to the crash that killed Buddy Holley, Richie Valens and JP Richardson (The Big Bopper) in 1959.
I’m mentioning this not only as a passing thought, but because I had a life changing encounter with them. Actually, it was more of a combination of a boy-to-man rite of passage and life altering experience. To get this image, you would have had to be in the Memphis music scene in the early to mid-seventies.
I was a struggling (still am) musician looking for anything that resembled a
break. It was hard times in Memphis, because we didn’t have the thriving local scene
that had been around in the late sixties. Stax was hurting due to financial problems
and Chips Moman had left American Studios for work in Nashville. The magic had
vanished but the city still had that vibe and more importantly, that legacy.
I was in a band called Neltan Gritz. Read the book to see how we came up with that moniker. We were a four piece, two guitar bass and drums outfit. We were a little outside the lines with our originals and choice of covers, but had two killer guitarists named Harrell Otis and Bud Grisham. Harrell was African-American and was one of the most passionate and tasteful blues rock players I’d ever seen. He was also my best friend and funny to the point of passing out laughing.
We were making baby steps into the local club scene, but there was a glut of so many great local bands that were hungry for work and money. Somewhere around late '73, our drummer called a band meeting and announced to us that he was gay. We didn’t quite understand why this required a band meeting, but we got the “don’t come on to us” thing out of the way and went back to business.
All was well until he started showing up for rehearsal in drag. One night in particular, he shows up in hot pants, a black sequined tube top, fishnet stockings, four inch glam shoes and a pink feathered boa. Oh, full makeup too. This was the hotbed topic of conversation for the rest of us and it was all fun and games. That is, until I see two local guys peering in the window of our rehearsal place. One of these was a guy named Bud, who was the local mouth of the South.
Memphis is nothing more than a big small town. Everybody knows everybody and the ongoing connection between us is what school you went to and who beat who in football or basketball that year. Needless to say, our drummer’s cross-dressing was the talk of the town among local players and club owners. This made gigs a whole lot harder to get and ruined our credibility big time.
One of the best venues in town was called The High Cotton. It was right down the street from Overton Square which was the spot for live bands and clubs. I went in to talk to the owner one day about booking us there. He recognized the name of the band and asked, “You got a nigger and a queer in that band, don’t cha?” That comment, however backward and disgusting, pissed and discouraged me more than I’d ever been in my life. That was my best friend and my bandmates he was talking about. I was also facing up to the idea that there wasn’t much hope for us as a working band in Memphis.
We had been rehearsing in the back of a building that belonged to a sound company called Matrix Audio. A good friend of mine named Jim Stanford worked there as an engineer. Jim was coming back from a live sound gig one night, when a kid threw a brick from an overpass that went through the windshield of the Ryder truck they were driving. They were going about sixty five-mph, so it did a real number on Jim’s arm, shattering the bone in about twenty places. I moved in with Jim and helped him through the recovery.
As things stood in 1974, it wasn’t a good time to be anyone with dreams and aspirations, much less me. The music store I’d managed was going under and in bankruptcy. My marriage of eight months was in worse shape than that, probably
because we’d gotten married way too fast and mostly out of boredom. Throw in my
band that was hitting one brick wall after another and you see that being an Andy
was a depressing job.
Jim came into my work one afternoon and struck up a conversation with me,
asking if I liked where my life was at that time. Jim knew everything that was going on with me, so we both had a good laugh over that question. He asked me if I’d consider a job on the road working for this band called Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’d met them earlier that year when they played The Ellis Auditorium. Somehow, I’d ended up at the after show party and met Leon Wilkerson and Billy Powell. Nice guys and fun to talk with. They’d told me about the two of them going back to elementary school together and tales of local band days back in Jacksonville.
Jim worked for Rock and Roll Audio that was contracted by Skynyrd to provide sound for their first headlining tour. They had just come off The Who’s Quadrophenia Tour. They were having a hard time finding a third crewmember because of the usual flakes and dregs that thought that being a “roadie” was one big party with little work involved.
Skynyrd was also a very hot item at that time, with their first album “Pronounced” already a staple on FM rock radio. “Free Bird” was quickly becoming a rock anthem and “Sweet Home Alabama”, their first crossover Billboard hit. I admired them as a band and loved their records... but I wasn’t and still to this day, not a diehard Southern Rock fan. Don’t get me wrong, because I deeply appreciate so much of that genre. I revel in some killer Marshall Tucker, Outlaws, Allman Brothers and 38 Special. But I’m not as convicted as a lot of my buds.
Considering where I was at that point, I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” The head guy
was named Joe Osborne, Bullet for short. I met with him a few days later. A very thin
and wiry guy from Texas, with this long dark brown hair and beard. Somewhat of a manic type of person and severely high strung. Kind of reminded me of Rasputin, from that 1930’s movie. He was brilliant at anything sound related and highly opinionated to boot about gear, bands or just about anything. Not sure why, because I was bigger than he was, but he intimidated me. He argued with the crew chief, Kevin Elson, all the time.
The plan was to do a small run of about ten dates that January of 1975, up in the Midwest and Northeast, before the big tour started later that month. We had four guys from Continental Lighting, four guys from the Skynyrd crew, a huge Texan named K-boy and three of us from Rock and Roll Audio all crammed into a Winnebago in the middle of winter headed for Detroit.
I had never been out of Memphis to speak of, on tour or even entered a Winnebago. I was as clueless and naive as a rube and was slightly overwhelmed by how fast paced and frantic everything was moving. I was also the new guy and had followed a couple of real losers that the other crewmembers hated with a passion. So, I caught constant flack from that 24/7.
These guys were brutal, ruthless road warriors and consummate pros. No errors, no mistakes and no tolerance or patience for pussies or losers. Take into account that I was twenty years old, clueless and embarrassingly out of shape. Long story short, that little tour broke me into tiny fragments as a human being. I cried for about two days when I came home and stayed in my wife’s arms like a frightened abused child.
What I did see on that tour, was one of the most awesome live bands on the planet. To that point, I thought Jethro Tull was the greatest live band I’d ever seen
because of the theatrics and production value. Lynyrd Skynyrd was right to the point, tight and viciously arranged. It was all about tone, execution and the song with them. Nothing pretentious, put on or staged.
From the moment they showed up for sound check, there was energy that followed them like vapor trails. I intently studied their every move and mannerism. Seemed like just regular guys by themselves, but from that first note they were as
cohesive as thousand year old stone.
I watched them night after night and couldn’t believe how one band with three guitars could be so elegantly arranged. Each guy had a job and knew when to play, how to play it and what worked in relation to the song. It was a magnificent and awe-inspiring thing to behold. It also changed the way I looked at music.
I had three weeks off before the long tour began. That would have put it right at the beginning of February. I spent the first week in a state of total meltdown trying to recall how many times I was yelled at or called a fucking loser. That male pride of mine was divided into whether I should quit and not go through that abuse anymore or to go back and show them that I wasn’t the goober they thought I was.
The one constant thing in my thoughts, was how great that band was live. The tour was in support of the “Nuthin Fancy” record that had just come out. I listened to it several times and liked it but, it didn’t have the edge that their live show had. I believed that I had everything to learn and nothing to lose by going back out with them. I went out to some clubs and saw some friends play only to find myself haunted by horror stories of how bad things still were on the Memphis local scene. That pretty much clinched it for me.
What was originally called “The Nuthin Fancy Tour” turned into The Torture Tour because of how many shows there were in such a short amount of time. I left the first week of February and didn’t get back to Memphis until July.
We were afforded the luxury of a tour bus instead of that death trap Winnebago. Ironically, one of my most endearing memories in it was driving back from Pennsylvania --after dropping one of the guys off at a hospital for stomach problems. I was driving right about dawn listening to “Heart Like a Wheel” by Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark”. I was in the hills just east of Knoxville, Tennessee on I-40 and had this feeling of peace and clarity envelop me. Almost like that was exactly where I supposed to be at that moment.
If you want more detail on the events of that tour, you’ll have to read the book. Suffice to say, I saw some of the best concerts and performers I’ve ever seen in my life and no one ever got the best of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I also saw them at their worst. All due to excess of some shape or form. The drinking was way out of hand at times and cocaine was abundant. That was my biggest mistake of 1975, trying cocaine. If you have low self esteem or insecurities, cocaine is your most deceptive best friend.
I related to them on a personal level, because they were so much like these guys I’d grew up with back in Frayser, just north of Memphis. Good hearted and humble but itching to pop you in the mouth for any reason or just for drill if deemed necessary. I saw Gary lightly punch a crewmember for some smart ass remark he’d made. Not enough to hurt, just get his attention. I saw Ronnie punch Billy Powell’s two front teeth out in his room one night. I was there when Ed King left the band under very tense circumstances. I was also there for the Jacksonville riot that broke out when Ronnie announced he couldn’t sing at the homecoming concert that had been sold out for months.
When I joined the sound crew, Bullet told me in very plain terms to stay away from the band and keep my mouth shut at all times. I understood the reasoning behind this, because my predecessors had tried to buddy up to them and it came off real bogus. So, I kept my distance and followed suit. I got to be friends with Allen Collin’s guitar tech named Chuck Flowers. Really good guy that liked to get drunk and propose to strange women. It was quite a sight to walk into his room and find him so drunk he’s cross eyed. He’s clinging to some babe and yelling “T, this is the one. I’m marrying this one, T.” I always said they made a lovely couple and would have beautiful children. I also asked if I could be the best man.
Chuck mentioned to Artimus Pyle that I played bass. Artimus was a sweet soul and an incredible drummer. He was an ex-Marine that got the gig with Skynyrd through the Marshall Tucker boys. I passed by his room one night and the door was open. I knocked and walked in to find Artimus doing pull-ups of the balcony of his room that was about fifteen floors from the ground.
We talked about great players like Stanley Clark, Return to Forever, Jack Bruce and the like. Artimus showed up early one afternoon while I was cleaning up cables. He asked if I had my bass close by and if I wanted to jam a little. Timing couldn’t have been better if I’d planned it. Got my 1970 Rickenbacker 4000 bass, plugged into Leon’s rig and jammed free form with Artimus for a good fifteen minutes. What an ambitious player. All these nuances and off time licks, but still able to keep great time. That happened a few more times and all fun stuff. One afternoon, I heard Allen fire up and join in. That jam turned into “Politician” by Cream. That went to “Crossroads” that I just happen to know almost note for note. I’d just turned twenty one and finally understood the beauty of playing with great players that were all on the same page.
I was rooming with Bob O’Neal, who worked for Continental Lighting, one night. After a few beers and some Thai stick, I pulled out my acoustic and sang some covers with Bob. Heard a knock at the door and it was Ronnie and Gary who’d just got back from a club nearby. They came in, sat down then asked who was singing and Bob pointed at me. They were surprised and asked me to sing some more. I sang this song I wrote when I was seventeen called “I’m Trying.” Ronnie and Gary both were very complimentary on the song and my voice. This was a shock to me because I never thought of myself as a great singer. From that point, we became somewhat friendly with each other. I had to be real low keyed about this because I didn’t want to get fired for getting chummy with the band.
They were a constant source of encouragement and support from that point on. Ronnie would see me and start singing “T done wrote a song, done wrote a song.” Sometimes, asking me to sing the melody for him again. It even got to the point where they were telling me to give up this crew thing and get serious about playing, writing and singing when the tour was over.
Let me give you some insight into how pivotal this was for me. I believed then
and now, that they were one of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen. Forget the Southern rock thing, the rebel flags and that whole stereotype. They were as progressive as any prog band I’d ever been into, only in a roots way. They were as forward thinking as anyone I’d ever been around. They were the living breathing example of what a band should strive for and settle for nothing less.
I was a young guy with some talent, a lot of drive and ambition. I was battling demons and insecurities going back to birth. Kind words and encouragement were a very rare commodity in Frayser. I had deep artistic sensitivity and couldn’t shake the memories of people who were determined to make sure you stayed as wretchedly miserable as they were.
And here were these West Jacksonville boys telling me how promising they thought I was. Call me maudlin or sappy. You can even refer to me as over-dramatic. I thank God above for putting me at that place in time. I deeply appreciate that small act of kindness because it had a profound effect on the way I saw myself and how I viewed others. Someone I had admiration and respect for saw some good in me and had the decency to tell me how they felt. I had nothing that they wanted and there was no hidden agenda. They just did something good, not knowing the ripple effect it would have on another person’s life.
By the end of that tour, the bickering between Bullet and Kevin Elson had become unbearable. I’m convinced that Kevin had had enough and Rock and Roll Audio would probably be replaced by either Showco, out of Dallas or Clair Brothers
in Pennsylvania. The last show I did with them was the Tampa Jam in July. That was another horrific argument between the powers that be that had me in the middle. July in Tampa, Florida is as hot as any place on Earth. I showed up with the system, but no one else was there. Bullet and Kenny Roberts, the monitor guy, were late getting to the venue. Kevin was asking me to get the system up and running, because time was getting close to the first act. I knew how the system went up, but I was not sure on the board inputs. So, I did what I could, as I could. When Bullet showed up, he was screaming about why the system was put up without his being there. I directed him to Kevin and another classic confrontation broke out.
The Outlaws were on that show that day and did a killer set. Skynyrd was as
brilliant as always, even without Ed King. I had pretty much made up my mind that
my days as a sound crew member were numbered. I said goodbye to Chuck Flowers and the other crew guys. I was flying back to Memphis and saw the band in the Tampa airport that morning. I knew things were tense between management and the sound company. Ronnie saw me and waved. He walked over to me and shook my hand. As he did, he smiled at me and said “T, if I see you back out here I’m gonna kick your ass.” I laughed and assured him that I was finished as a sound guy.
That’s the last time I saw him.
That small act of kindness from them and my new found confidence, helped me become a member of the newly reformed Black Oak Arkansas two years later, in 1977. Someone from the group sent me a telegram congratulating me and signed it
Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. Funny, because they didn’t think much of BOA as a band.
We were out with Blue Oyster Cult in October of 1977 in The Pacific Northwest.
We were warming up in the dressing room when one of the management guys came in saying that he’d just heard that Lynyrd Skynyrd had died in a plane crash. I was
in shock at the mention of this and asked if they were sure. He said he’d just heard
it on the news that they plane went down in Mississippi and there were a lot of casualties. My heart sunk deeper by the second. Then he looked right at me, smiled and said, “This is the happiest day of my life!” My fellow band mate, Greg Redding was standing next to me and was stunned at what he’d heard. He knew my connection with them and said somberly, “That’s cold blooded, man.” To this day, there’s no legitimate reason why that comment was made.
Two years later, Black Oak is dying a slow painful death and we’re touring just to stay alive. We’re playing in Jacksonville and Craig Reed calls me at The Hilton. He’s asking if I can get away and come see the guys. I had lots of time and said I’d meet him down in front. Craig was the drum tech back when I was there and last I heard, was still with them.
We caught up on old times and he drops this bomb on me, telling me that Chuck Flowers killed himself shortly after the crash. That left a serious scar on my memory bank and I still think about Chuck from time to time. We drove out to Allen’s house outside of Jacksonville where they were just forming the Rossington-Collins Band. Before we got there, Craig is asking me not to bring up the crash because they still had a difficult time talking about it. Some of them were still banged up and walking around on canes. Allen and Billy weren’t there. Gary was moving slow but in good spirits. Artimus had just been in a motorcycle accident a month or so before and he was banged up from that as well.
There were some new faces that I didn’t recognize but there was a nice vibe and enthusiasm about the new project. Out of the blue, Gary starts talking about the crash. He’s telling me that the plane was having problems earlier and that everyone had a bad feeling about getting back on board. He reminded me how Ronnie could be sometimes and that I knew the rest of the story. I was getting choked up a little and wanted to start emphasizing how much their support and encouragement meant to me, but I didn’t. Instead, we talked about how Black Oak went from what they were to the hideous state they wee in now. He talked a little about the new band but somewhere in the middle of all that said that he knew I’d make it. I joked with him that six guys in a van wasn’t exactly “making it.”
We said goodbye and Craig drove me back to town. That’s the last time I saw them. Allen passed on a few years later. Leon left us just a few years back. There’s a
new version of the band out there carrying on the legacy. I saw Billy Powell at The Horseshoe Casino shortly after Leon died. He said he had a hard time dealing with that because they had known each other for so long. I remembered that he'd told me the same thing in 1974.
Over the years, there have been lawsuits, feuds, accusations, lies and an induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently. I’m a little saddened because the biggest part of the listeners out there have reduced them to about three songs. They’re using “Sweet Home Alabama” to sell something resembling fried chicken these days.
Someone yelling out “Free Bird” at a show is always good for a laugh or two. I was fired from a room two years ago for not playing it when these two yahoos requested it. I’m not pretentious enough to lie and say that Ronnie Van Zant was a close friend of mine. That’s just not true. I only got to know a very small part of him. The rest I got from observing the guy. One thing I can say with all conviction, is that I think he’s up there begging people to check out the rest of the catalog.
I played with another big band or two, but young kids still become enthralled
when I talk about my brief time with them. There are so many people out there that never got to experience what I saw back then. The good, bad and ugly of it will stay with me forever. I have a tendency to always lean towards the good though. So, to Ronnie, Gary, Allen, Billy, Ed, Leon and Artimus , I wish you all God’s peace and blessings.
Thanks for that simple act of kindness.
Copyright 2007, RT Etc. Publishing