I’m serializing the first 10% of Smokin’ & Cryin’ here on my blog. It’s the story of a young American rock band set in the early 1970s. Please feel free to share this with your friends.
Overture is the first installment. This post is #13 and the final installment in the series.
Chapter 5 – Demo (part 1)
We were bushed after closing out a three-night stand at the Crash & Burn, which was either the best or worst biker bar in Arkansas, depending on how you look at it. Knife fights, cat fights, you name it, they’d fight it, or fight over it.
Stupidly, I’d jumped into a brawl erupting on the dance floor to yank a big dude off a girl who couldn’t have been more than 13. She managed to get away, but he pinned me under one sweaty ham of an arm. Arthur ditched the stage to get the guy off me. Then Deuce dove in, throwing punches at all comers. We barely got out of that place with our lives.
None of us cared to sleep anywhere near that town. Even Waverly ditched the girl who’d been buying drinks for him. Deuce didn’t stop to get our money from the manager. Shaken, we drove halfway to the next state before stopping for a rare breakfast out, Perry’s treat. He picked a glittering new truck stop with a plastic Santa waving from a fake chimney on the roof.
Deuce had a black eye and Arthur was nursing a fat lip, but everybody was joking around instead of blaming me.
The sun cracked an orange streak across the blackened sky as our pancakes arrived, brown and fluffy. Arthur drowned his in syrup. A silver bus slid past the plate glass windows and parked. I thought nothing of it until the sleigh bells on the entrance jingled and destiny sauntered in.
Gravity hardly applied to Ty Odette. Platinum locks flowed over his shoulders, contrasting with his deep red western shirt. His Concho belt tinkled with each step of his snakeskin boots. An entourage of a dozen hip people flowed in behind him. Some I recognized from the photos on the inner sleeve of Savannah Blues & Harmony, the Odettes live album which I’d spun on my turntable endlessly through seventh, eighth and ninth grade. That album was my musical home.
My personal idols breezed into the diner as if they were normal people who ate actual food instead of grapes and ambrosia served by cherubs.
Perry tapped on my plate with his butter knife. “Robin. Quit staring.”
“Can’t believe they’re actually here,” I said.
“Stop it. I get session work because I know how to play it cool. Don’t ruin it for me.”
What a joke. Perry was a top-quality studio musician. Nothing I did could possibly ruin it for him.
“You already know him. At least introduce us,” Deuce said.
“Chill out.” Arthur dumped more syrup on his pancakes. “Let the Odettes eat in peace, man. They didn’t come here for a fan club meet and greet.”
“We could give them our demo,” I said. “This is the perfect opportunity, you guys. Perry, come on.”
Deuce poured sugar into his coffee cup. “The kid’s right. Screw playing it off like we have no idea who they are. You’re blowing our chance to get this band off the ground.”
“Cool your jets,” Arthur said. “Where do you think pestering the Odettes is going to get us?”
“Don’t you realize what kind of pull Ty has?” Deuce lowered his voice. “Dude has his own studio. He’s in tight with Len Janes and Cobalt Records. He’s smart. Connected. At the top of his game.”
For the first time, I agreed with Deuce. Now might be our chance to meet Ty Odette, and we were deadlocked two against two. Waverly, busy eating sausage, refused to weigh in.
I gulped my orange juice. Ignoring Ty was impossible. He put on a pair of reading glasses and studied the menu. The women with the group tossed their shimmering tresses and vied for Ty’s attention. Ty laughed long and loud at something.
A girl in loose, reddish-blond braids at the far end of their table gazed at me. I waved. She turned away, snickering at something another girl at their table said. She was probably close to my age.
I elbowed Arthur. “How old is that girl?”
“None-of-your-damned-business-years-old, I’m sure,” he said, without even looking. “Don’t let me catch you staring at them again. Unless you want your eyes poked out.” He pointed his fork at my face.
“Geez, lay off. I’m, uh, going to find the can.” I headed toward the johns labeled Chickens and Roosters, then cut out through a side exit and sprinted to the Econoline. I grabbed two copies of our demo 45, and for good measure, took one of Waverly’s perfectly rolled doobies out of the glove box.
I slipped back inside and walked straight to Ty’s table. He looked up at me and smiled. “Coffee with a shot of whiskey, son. Unless we’re in a dry county here. I forget.” His Georgia drawl was familiar to me from him introducing his bandmates on Savannah Blues & Harmony. What a thrill. “And I believe I’ll have the pork chops with grits and gravy, and that little gal down at the end there? She’ll have the same.” He waved his hand to indicate the girl with the braids. “Minus the spirits, mind you.”
“Ty, hush.” She swept a braid over her shoulder. “I’ll order for myself. Anyhow, you need to lay off the Acapulco Gold if you believe that’s a waiter you’re talking to.”
Ty assessed me, his pale eyebrows furrowing. Abruptly, I regretted my bold move. Ty Odette was a rock god, not somebody you could walk up to and start a conversation with.
“Well, aren’t I the big old fool? What’s that you’ve got there, one of our singles? You want it signed? Forgive me, I don’t carry a pen.”
Their keyboard player waved for the restaurant manager.
“I’m not asking for an autograph,” I said. “These 45s are for you. It’s my band’s demo.”
“Demo?” He laughed. “Lordy. Another demo. No deal, boy.”
“It’s a thank you. For inspiring me.” I’d meant to tell him I was a huge fan and a songwriter, but it came out “I’m a fan and a huge songwriter.”
He looked me dead in the eye. “You’re giving me your demo? As a thank you? For inspiring your huge songwriting?” He laughed, his bright blue eyes watering.
Paralyzed, I stared at his big teeth, his blond eyelashes, his freckles. My head spun.
He dabbed his eyes with a napkin and collected himself. “What did you expect from me, boy?”
I took a deep breath. “Listen. I’m Robin Chelsea. I’m nobody. That’s my band over there, they’re also nobodies. You should check out our demo or come see us. We’re pretty good.”
“A pretty good bunch of nobodies.” He cracked up again. “I want to see your wheelbarrow, boy, the one you use to carry around those brass balls.” His whole entourage burst into laughter. Shrinking inside, I set the doobie near his plate. He was laughing too hard to notice.
Waverly, Deuce, and Perry booked to the van and pulled up in front, revving the engine like accomplices at a bank robbery. Arthur stood next to me. He put his arm around me and begged Ty Odette to forgive my rudeness. “We told him to let you be. My kid brother here gets overexcited when we keep him up too late.”
“Little brother, huh? How old?”
“Sixteen,” Arthur said.
“Fifteen,” I said. “Stepbrother.”
“Baby bro, it’s after midnight. It’s your birthday.”
Ty Odette stood and shook Arthur’s hand, introducing himself like everyone in the universe didn’t already know exactly who he was. “Tell me now. Did I spot Studio Perry Stoddard sitting at your table?”
“Yeah,” Arthur said. “He’s in our group.”
Ty nodded approvingly. “Lucky you. Tell him next time he ought to at least say hey. Anyway, happy birthday, son. You’re damned ballsy for sixteen. You might go far with that, if it doesn’t get you killed first.”
The day I met Robin Chelsea he told me he was a nobody. Then he said if he ever became somebody it would be because of me. But I knew from the get-go, that child was going places with or without my help. He was born with a sparkle in his eye and a song in his heart. I sent him off, but it was impossible to forget him. I doubt any of us ever will.
Excerpt, Ty Odette’s Grammy introduction speech, March 3, 1973
This concludes the sneak peek at Smokin’ & Cryin’! Click here to return to the first installment.
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