What was once a sea of grass for buffalo, became the land of red durum wheat tilled by Mennonite farmers, in the late 1800's. But the 1960's were a time of change for the youth there. They started seeing guys like our band with long hair and dressing different. Football games meant everything. On early Winter nights there was a dance after the game.
For farm towns, there was nothing else to do on a Friday night. We called them hicks and red necks. We weren't nice about it, it was a derisive term. We weren't much more than hicks and red necks ourselves. Only we were playing loud rock music.
I was in the band because I played keyboards. I could afford a portable Farfisa organ, a portable Wurlitzer piano and a Fender amplifier. I wasn't great, but I added to the sound the band made. There were five of us and a couple of other friends that always went to our gigs.
Booking dances was by word of mouth. It was always a hustle. Most of the time during the week, we were able to play clubs. More often than not, we wouldn't start playing until 10:00 PM and we would play until 2:00 AM in the morning. I slept a lot in school.
JR the drummer and motorhead, had a '66 Olds 442, a muscle car with a Hurst 4-speed shift. Lawrence the guitarist drove a Dodge Barracuda that we hooked up a trailer to. Late that Friday afternoon we loaded our equipment into the trailer and both cars drove to the gig.
We arrived right after sunset, found the dance hall and started unloading equipment. A crowd of kids gathered around us as word got around town. Guys came with their girlfriends and followed us around. "Do you guys play Hendrix?" "Do you know '96 Tears'?" "How about 'In the Midnight Hour'?" "Do you know anything by the Doors?" We played many of these songs a hundred times. Sometimes we members in the band felt like a jukebox.
Around 8:00 or so, kids started drifting into the dance hall. We started playing at 8:00. Over the next hour and a half, Lawrence kept coming over to me and asking me, "What's with all the tomato juice cans?" We were playing rather loud so I yelled back him, "I noticed that in the restroom on the last break!", and thought nothing more about it. Tomato juice cans were starting to fill up the trash cans. It was dark in the hall and with the stage lights the way they were, I only paid attention to the girls in the crowd standing in the front row. I could barely see to the back of the hall. But straining to see, I noticed a group of guys in the back, not dancing much and they were all holding large paper cups.
In between one of the songs I go over to my friend Steely, "Can you find out what the deal is with all the tomato juice cans?" "I already know", he said with a silly grin. "They're mixin' it with beer." Yuck, I thought, sounded to me like a good way to get sick. I yelled over to Lawrence during a song that they were mixing tomato juice with beer. The face he made threw me into hysterics. I needed a good laugh. The crowd was not real friendly. Usually, people would come up and talk to us during breaks, they seemed uptight and .... well ... hostile.
On the last break, with 45 minutes left to play, Steely and I headed for the restroom to piss. Two guys followed us inside and leaned back against the wall with their arms crossed, not smiling and not talking. Wanting to be friendly I turned around and decided to tell them a joke, maybe get them to laugh. "Hey man, have you ever seen a bird stand on it's head?" They both shook their heads, didn't say a word and didn't look amused either. "What's with these guys?", I thought to myself. I took my left hand, with my middle finger extended and stood my middle finger on the palm of my right hand. I laughed at my own joke and walked out of the restroom, thinking that not only are these bumpkins not friendly, they don't get any jokes either. "Jeezus! why'd you do that!?" Steely yelled at me, as we blended into the crowd on our way to the stage. "I was tryin' to make 'em laugh, get a little humor around this place.", I explained. "Man!, he thought you were flippin' him off!" "He started comin' after you but the other guy grabbed him."
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Oh my gawd, I did the one thing you don't do in a strange town or a strange dance hall, INSULT somebody when they are drunk. Not only did I feel like shit, I got scared. There were a hell of a lot more of them than there were of us. As we started the first song of our last 45 minutes of the gig, I looked along the back wall and saw the guy I told the joke to, counting how many guys there were on the stage. This was not good.
The dance came to a merciful end. Then it was time to pack it up and get out of there. Steely comes in, "There's a whole crowd of red necks and their girlfriends outside, and I bet they are waiting for you", he chuckled. It wasn't funny. I had to explain to the other members of the band the dumb ass joke I told. They weren't happy at all. "You break down the equipment in here, we'll load it up into the trailer." JR said in disgust. I was a little relieved but I knew I had leave at some point. Walking out into a pissed off crowd of red neck drunken kids was not something I looked forward to.
As I tried to reach JR's 442, I saw him talking to a guy sitting in his car. "I want him out here. I wanna kick his ass now! He pisses me off!" I was standing behind JR. "There he is!" he slurred. Before I knew what was happening, his door flies open and he put both feet down on the ground to get out of the car. Before I realized what I was doing, I lunged at the door of the car and SLAMMED the car door across his legs. "OOOOUUUUUUcccchhhhh!", came his agonizing yell.
I did it before I even thought about the consequences. We're dead now I thought. I backed off and he came out of the car drunkenly swinging his arms. JR realizing the situation bear hugged him pinning his arms to his side. He was yelling and screaming obscenities and I was standing there like an idiot. JR is trying to push him back into the car so we could get the hell out of there. The crowd is goading the homeboy to kick my ass. JR turns around to me, "When I get him in the car and shut the door and lock it let's get the hell outta here". He no sooner does that then we all run over to JR's car get in it and peel out in a cloud of dust.
"One More Red Nightmare..."
U.S. Highway 64 back to where we came from was long and straight. JR's bright red Oldsmobile/Hurst 442 had lots of horsepower. So we were headed back to town in no time. "Well, it looks like he's not gonna follow us", JR laughed. We all lit cigarettes and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Uh oh!" Pickitt the bass player just looked out the rear window. "There's two headlights comin' up behind us". Shit...I turned around and sure enough, there are a set of headlights. "Be cool you guys!", JR sounded stern. He started slowing down from 85 mph to around 65. "Whatcha doin' that for!?" I yelled at JR. "I wanna have a little fun idiot", he yelled back sounding a bit peeved at me.
In no time, a car pulled up behind us and then started to pass. As the car came up to our side, JR bumped up the speed a little just enough to stay a half length ahead. Our speed was creeping higher as they tried to pass us but couldn't. Then JR would reduce his speed so they could almost be even with us. We kept going back and forth like that until we reached a very high rate of speed. Their car couldn't keep up.
The carload of guys drifted further and further back. As quickly as they came up to us, they faded back, into the dark. I noticed a car going past us on the other side of the highway. JR laughed and we were all relieved and joked around a little on the final stretch into town. "Their piece-of-shit car probably blew up!", JR said snuggly. He was very proud of his hot, red car. He treated it like gold, for situations like this.
We got into town early that morning. We were tired and hungry so we stopped at an all night diner and ate, laughed and I took a fair amount of kidding to have gotten us into that mess. By 4:00 AM we were so exhausted we were acting like idiots. We drug out of the restaurant and went home and slept nearly all day.
When I got up that Saturday morning, my mouth was dry, my hair a was a mess. I threw on my robe and walked out to the kitchen. I noticed the morning's newspaper on the dining room table, next to an unfinished bowl of cereal. I scrounged through the refrigerator looking for something to eat. "Want some bacon and eggs?", my mom asked as she entered the room and sat down at the table. "That sounds good." I noticed my stomach let out a growl as I said that. "Oh my word!" I heard my mom say with a tone of disbelief in her voice. "The paper says a car load of kids were killed in a head-on collision on the highway to Jet last night". I was stunned. As my mom fixed my eggs, I sat down and read the news story. I knew who that car load of kids were and why they were killed.
I never played professionally again after that night. I never played those keyboards for a band ever again. My band members never knew why I decided that.