I Never Met John Prine, But…

So I never met John Prine, but I sure got an earful of his music growing up, both as a teenager and as an adult. I did however meet his bass player (and good friend), and managed to sell him a Hammond Organ. That transaction got me choice concert seats and backstage passes. So the story:

The Date.

It was the summer 2004 when it was announced that John Prine would play the University Theatre in September. The catch? $50 bucks a pop. In today’s Missoula it’s the new norm, but back then it was shocking. At that date it was hard to get a dollar or two cover charge for a local band, and national acts were still in the ten to twenty dollar range. I didn’t buy tickets. The day of the show I was putzing around the store listening to freeforms on Public Radio, and as the concert was that evening, they were playing a bunch of Mr. Prine’s music.
About 11:30 a gentleman came in and hearing the tunes asked if I was going to the show. “No,” I said. “I wanted to, but by the time I got tickets for the wife and I, and bought a few overpriced drinks, it would cost $150 bucks.” “That’s more than I paid for all of his albums” (most of which I own). “I get you,” he said, and then proceeded to spend the better part of an hour picking through the store. As he was leaving he asked “Does that Hammond organ work?, and if so, what do you want for it?”

The Hammond Organ.

So… my friend (and fellow musician) Mary was, at the time, running ‘The Boys and Girls Club’ on South Higgins. Someone had donated an old Hammond Organ, with a tube amp and a cool reverb unit, but the gen Xers didn’t like it (too dated!) and it took up a lot of space, (compared to the modern variety), so Mary called me up and said “If you come pick it up you can have it.” This seemed like a good deal as it worked fine and I had the room. I enlisted my son Luke (for $10), to move it out of the club and back to Circle Square. About a week later as I was closing up the store I noticed someone had moved the organ, … and stolen all the tubes out of the back of it! I swore a lot and then remembered a tall hipster in a big trench coat, who I thought spent a little too much time in the back of the store, while I was reading Kesey or Capote or something wonderful at the front counter. Which is why I have cameras now.

The Deal.

I told the gentleman that it had worked when it came in, but someone had stolen all the tubes out of it. The original price was $200, but I would take $50 bucks for it now. “Let me think about it” he said, “If I bought it I would replace all the tubes anyway.” This seemed very contrary to the way my friends and I deal with tubes (only replace them if necessary), but who am I to judge.
Later that day, about 4:30 I got a phone call. “I’m the guy that looked at that organ this morning.” “I want it, but there’s a catch.” “I need help loading it, and I can’t pick it up till 8:00 AM tomorrow morning.” “I don’t open till 10:00 so that’s kind of a problem” I responded. I don’t mind getting up early for garage sales, but this seemed like it was just going to make my day longer, and I’d already moved the thing twice. Three times if you count moving it back, after it was ransacked. “Well here’s the deal” he said. “I’m John Prine’s bass player.” “How about I throw in two tickets to the show tonight. Does that make it seem like a better deal?” “Yes, I said. “I will see you at 8:00 AM sharp, and I will have two tickets waiting for you at ‘Will Call’ Mr Baker.” Done Deal!

The Show.

I went home feeling triumphant, but the wife was unimpressed. She’d had a long day and doesn’t like surprises in general. She likes good music, but doesn’t like going to concerts, and likewise she loves good food, but getting her to go out to dinner is like pulling teeth. Plan B, I decided, was to go to Charlie B’s and see who was hanging around. I won’t lie, my first choices were a couple of cute girls, but one already had tickets and the other said her boyfriend would leave her if she went to the show without him. Looking further I saw an older bachelor friend named Bob. Bob is not only one of the best cooks I know, but is also quite the musicologist. His record collection is epic. His tastes tend more towards Jazz and Blues, but are defined by quality. I asked him if he wanted to go to the show. “Yes” he said, “but I’m not paying $50 to see a guy I saw for free in the seventies.” I explained the details, and after some trepidation he agreed to go. “I guess it’s better than sitting here all night” he quipped. We get to ‘Will Call,’ and not only do we have good seats, we also have backstage passes! This was a relief as I always freak out going to ‘Will Call.’ Was that really John Prine’s bass player? Is he too stoned to remember? Did the promoter throw a fit? I must say, that of the dozens of shows I’ve gotten into, because of the store, not one has left me standing in the cold. We got there as the show was starting, and after a few standards he broke out a timely new song about the untimely Gulf War. Something about “some asshole from Texas starting a war in Iraq.” The crowd loved it. Towards the end of the night he pulled out all the classics, and I swear grumpy old Bob cried for about a half hour. After the show we debated the backstage passes. “It’s not really my thing,” said Bob “It’s not like he’s Tanya Tucker or something.” I won the war and we briefly went backstage only to see the Missoula Usuals milling about, and the band…. sitting down to dinner at a table together. It speaks volumes that Mr Prine used his backstage ‘rider’ for a homestyle dinner for his family and friends. Usually these things are abused, and include things like Perrier, Courvoisier, and expensive foods that don’t get eaten. We took in the scene, Bob looked at me and I said “Let’s go back to Charlie B’s,” and we did! I stayed a little longer than I should have, (closing time), for someone with an Eight O’Clock load out, but the place was full of people buzzing from the show, and others who wanted to hear about it.

The Load Out.

Easy-Peasy as the saying goes. The truck was there at eight, and it even had a lift. The bass player didn’t want to ask the road crew to help load what was inevitably going to be a pain in their ass for the rest of the tour. They did anyway, without a word, and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

The Last Rummel


 
 I first encountered Jay Rummel in the mid 1980’s. He would come into the Tropicana Cafe on Woody Street and play guitar and sing for a free breakfast and tips. I was the dishwasher there and was unimpressed.He was out of tune and obviously drunk. I asked the owner why she let him play there. She immediately lashed out at me “Jay can play here anytime he wants” and stomped off, leaving me to my pearl diving. I soon found out the why of two things. Turns out he was responsible for all the legendary black and white wood block print’s that were ubiquitous, in all the right places about town, and he was drunk and hungry at noon because he’d been up all night working on his art. Live and learn I guess.

Later on, after I bought into Circle Square, he was somewhat of a regular, being the store was right  between his old studio on Woody Street and his favorite watering hole, Charlie B’s on Higgins Ave. He would get the occasional small loan on unused instruments (I still have his Hawaiian Steel), and besides he collected comic books, (especially Tijuana Bibles) of which we had ample supply. I think I sold him a few pairs of cowboy boots as well.    

Eventually, my old band ‘Cold Beans n Bacon’ became the “House Band” at Charlie B’s. Jay was a regular at these gigs, frequently seen Two Stepping with the ladies during the first country tinged set before the bar dissolved into Chaos later in the evening.

Eventually, (1995) we made a record (a CD really) but I won’t go into that. Let’s just say it wasn’t what any of us had hoped for, but that’s a whole different tale. There were two good things about the CD though. It made it a lot easier to get gigs, and the cover art provided by Jay and Barb Tellin. When the disc came out we invited The Missoulian and The Missoula Independent to review, or at least announce the project. The Missoulian immediately buried a short paragraph in the sports section. In their defense, they didn’t really do arts coverage back then. The Indy however,  nothing. Notta. This was strange because the band was friends with all the owners of the paper. They came to our gigs! One month turned into six.

We started to beg them, “Just write something! Pan it! Bad press is better than no press! We don’t care,we don’t like it either”. “Soon” they said, “soon”

It was approaching a year after the CD release when I got a call at Circle Square. “Hi. My name’s Jim Crumley and I’ve been hired to write a story about your band for The Missoula Independent. Would you mind if I come to all your practices and gigs for the next month”? Not at all, kind sir. Not at all.

I have to admit I had no idea who he was, but I was about to find out that he was a lot of fun, and that he was as much of a local legend as Jay. He had written a bunch of very entertaining crime novels (mostly popular in France) and had taught literature at The U of M for years. When the article came out, it was pretty much a love letter to the band wrapped up as a fantasy with Crumley becoming Mayor of Missoula and CB&B being his city council, jointly returning Missoula to it’s pre-yuppification days. “Tear down the awnings!” would be our rally cry! The biggest surprise, though was Jay’s cover art, as seen above. We got the cover and the feature story! Thank you Missoula Independent.

Ironically, it was while reading a recent copy of the Indy, featuring a story about Jay’s lasting footprint on Missoula’s art scene, where he also got the cover and the feature article, I realized this print was his last real commercial work. He just got sicker and sicker from that point. He refused to quit drinking. “You can’t get into Cowboy Heaven if you quit drinking” he once told me, and was dead a short time later.  The biggest irony of all is he died in the very living room which spawned CB&B on Missoula’s West Side.

Once I realized this was “The” last Rummel, I had my copy of the art blown up from magazine size to a full size print. It looks great, thanks to Marcy at ‘Paper and Ink Studios’, and I am working on getting a couple copies put up, in the right places about town, keeping  the legacy alive. I hope your enjoying Cowboy Heaven Hoss.     

 

Poets at Circle Square

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Usually if someone calls and want’s to bring 25 or 30 teenagers( who are not  going to spend a dime,) to my store, I’d be rather leary. But when Montana’s  Poet  Laureate, Sheryl Noethe, called and wanted to bring  her high school  poetry students to the  store for a reading, it was a no brainer.  Not only do I have a love of poetry, but Ms. Noethe and Circle Square have some history. In 1995, PBS made a film of her poem “Goodwill Thrift Store, Missoula”  with Circle Square sitting in for the, by then ,defunct downtown Goodwill. So it was super cool to have her come back and read the poem “in situ,”  and teach the student’s how any object or happening can be the genesis of a poem.

Welcome to Circle Square 2nd Hand

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Photo by Tony Demin for the New York Times

Got an email from my son Luke to check out this article in the New York Times about politics in Montana. Wait a minute, thats the front window of the store! Sweet. Unfortunately they didn’t give the store a plug but still very cool. I remember the girl and thought the guy taking pictures had an awfully nice camera. The hat is off the rack from circle square and what you can’t see is her teeshirt says VOTE F*#ckers.