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:
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.
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!
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.