1. Pork chops and mustard greens Special...$3.00
Startled to consciousness, I awaken retching my guts out, I see my dad. He is holding a bowl for me to vomit in. My throat aches from the tonsillectomy. The ether anesthetic has worn off just enough for my mind to surface and for me to get sick. "Where am I?" I think and I quickly fall back to sleep.
Waking up again shocks me more. I see a little kid lying in the bed where I was earlier. The window blinds are pulled, I see that it is morning. As I look around, I am overwhelmed by chlorine and antiseptic smells. "What's your name?", I ask. "LC." LC is there with his right arm bandaged. "What happened to you?" I ask indicating his arm with my puzzled look. "Stuck my hand in the washin' machine". At first I don't believe him. Later my mother tells me that he stuck his hand in an old-time wringer washing machine. Wringer washing machines are curious beasts. The bottom is a large tub that is used for agitating the clothing. Above the tub, there are two rollers that squeeze out excess water from the clothes so they can be hung up to dry.
LC was goofing off, the way kids do and stuck his hand in the wringer part of the washer. The old washer pulled him in to his armpit and stopped. He was too little and didn't have the strength to pull his arm out so he struggled; and the more he did, the more his skin got burned by the two rollers continually turning. Scared and in pain, he could not reach with the other hand to turn off the machine. Before I leave the hospital, we become great friends. We traded addresses and promise each other that we will stay friends.
It is clear to me even as a five-year-old, that there is no way I can visit him. They tell me it's because he lives too far away. But I know better. There is still segregation in Oklahoma in 1956. They call it "separate but equal". And LC is separate from me. I soon forget about him and started growing up, taking piano lessons, learning music and going to school.
2. Smoked sausages and poke salat...$3.00
Garage bands are everywhere in my hometown, in the spring of 1968. I'm in one myself and actually making money playing gigs. I am able to afford keyboards and a Fender amp playing at dances on Fridays and clubs on weekends. Everyone wants me in their bands, not because I'm a great keyboard player; because I have a keyboard.
Early one evening I hear a band practicing in someone's garage. Nothing extraordinary at first, but then floating on top of the soft southern breeze is a voice that stands out above the instruments; a voice sweet as Magnolias.
I rush to garage and stand in the street. Amazed and delighted, I see a tall skinny black kid singing. When the song is over I yell, "hey! That sounds cool! Who are you guys?" Then I introduce myself. "My name is LC, man." I am floored. I pause for a few moments and look him over. LC is standing there, his shirt off and I see scars covering one arm. "By any chance, did you get your arm chewed up in a washer?"
It dawns on him who I am. "Wow man! I've wondered about you," he says. The other band members look on surprised. "Yeah, and I play piano now too." I say, hoping for an invitation to jam with them sometime. LC's band has no piano player. I could play behind a voice like that! However, the band wants to be rockers and I can tell LC wants to sing soul and rhythm and blues. "Give me your number I wanna talk to you, good seeing ya man", he tells me as he walks back to his microphone. I stay and listen as they continue rehearsing.
3. Mud bugs and beer (Wed night only, all you can eat platter)...$1.00
A couple of days later, LC calls me. I am excited as he describes to me the band he wants to start. I tell him I'll learn anything. We talk about soul and rhythm and blues. We talk about the bands we like, James Brown ("Papa's Got A Brand New Bag") Hugh Masekela ("Grazin' In the Grass"), Wilson Pickett ("In the Midnight Hour", "Mustang Sally"), Bobby Blue Bland ("Turn On Your Lovelight", "Cry, Cry, Cry"), Ray Charles ("What I'd Say", "Hit the Road Jack"). He tells me that his band is going to have tryouts and rehearsals at Elmer's Bar-B-Q outside of town. I know exactly where it is; many late nights, I sneak over to Elmer's. It's on the highway on the way to the airport. I sit in my car and listen for hours to the coolest blues, the smoothest soul and, R&B and the liveliest a capella Doo wop. Late in the night I go home and listen to the originals, with Wolfman Jack on the radio coming out of Del Rio, Texas.
The day comes for the tryouts and I am scared, nervous and excited. There are all these black-as-spades cats standing around smoking, drinking, talking and laughing. There are couples here and there wanting to dance. A lot of the guys have their hair "processed" (conked), some are in "process", with nylon hose covering their head to keep the process flat. Some have on shiny, slick, creased gray, sports slacks, a rayon shirt and a fedora. I'm going to stick out --a white boy, wearing dark Levi's, white socks, black Converse high-top sneakers and a white t-shirt. Before I get out of the car, LC comes running over, with the biggest grin showing the whitest teeth, he knows I am scared. The weight of my whiteness evaporates. Acting as cool as a 16-year-old can, LC introduces me to the band members. There is Randell the guitarist, Rufus the drummer, Zeke the bassist.
Elmer's Bar-B-Q is set off the road outside of town on East 429 Rd. It stands in front of a hedgerow of trees lining Boggy Creek. Because they sell hard liquor drinks, the club is located outside the city limits. It's dark inside, small and crowded. Every seat is filled with cool, colorful black cats. It's a late Sunday afternoon. I learn that Sunday evenings are jam sessions and that half of the people there are musicians waiting to jam. The rest are hung over from the night before and are here to listen to LC. I unload my portable Wurlitzer piano, set it up and help Randell and Zeke tune up.
I try to impress the band by playing the opening bars to "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles. They immediately follow along. Then, that wonderful, soulful, sweet voice of LC's comes in. It doesn't sound at all like Ray Charles but like dark honey. The fact that I play the complete piano part, including the solo gets me the job. By the time the song is over the whole place is up and dancing. I am hired.
For the next few hours we play without stopping. We play blues jams with long piano and guitar solos, plus the few soul and R&B songs that I know. A cat with a saxophone sits in and plays some riffs on "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker and the All Stars. By now it's as dark outside as any of the people in here. Cicadas along the creek bottom are making their own music. I go outside during the breaks where it's cooler. People are milling around thinking about whethere they should talk to me. A few people come up. They shake my hand and tell me how cool the piano sounds. I tell them I wish I had a Hammond B-3 with a Leslie amp so we could really cook.
4. Combo plate...$3.50
Elmer's is a strange world for a goofy white teenage white kid to find himself in. The band members try to make me a part of the scene but I never quite fit. As the long days of summer pass, they do all they can to protect and include me. They try their best to make me hip with them. But I always know I am an outsider.
One night while on break, LC comes around from the side of Elmer's. "Come 'round the back with us, man." he says motioning me over. I walk around the side and to the back behind Elmer's. There is a crowd of black guys standing around grinning real big, laughing and carrying on. "Hey man, try this." one of them says. He hands me a doobie. I take a big hit not knowing what to expect at all. It's my first time trying pot. I want to be with these guys. "Yeah man, that's some bad stuff there" one said. I enjoy smoking pot and hanging out with these guys. The crew I hang with even fix me up with some nice swank black chicks. They all talk in a cool, hip lingo and a heavy black southern dialect. I can barely understand what they say half the time.
On a late July night, Elmer's is a big party and everyone is having a blast. People dancing inside and out. It's hot and sultry inside and hot and sultry outside. It's time for a break and on my way to the back of Elmer's, I grab an iced whiskey and a pickled hog's foot. I say hi to everyone and demand a hit off a joint. Randall gets called away and walks around front. Some people follow him. It's just me and a tall skinny guy everyone calls Process.
Process is quite a character. He's fidgeting, singing to himself and dancing in place while snapping his fingers. He suddenly notices me. "Hey man, try summa dis shit." He takes something out of his pocket; I can't see what. I hear a snap sound and then Process sniffs whatever it is he is holding. "WHOAAEE!" he exclaims in a high-pitched voice, looking wild-eyed and pulling another one from his pocket. "Try it man!" he yells. Snap! Before I know what's going on there's a capsule under my nose. I sniff.
My head feels like it is FLYING OFF. My heart starts pounding and my skin tingles. "What a rush!" I yell without thinking. "Shut up man!" he yells at me. Then in a whisper, looking at me straight as he can, "I could slit your muthafuckin' throat right now if I wanted to, ya dig?" With that, he reaches down and pulls out a hollow-ground straight razor from inside his tight nylon socks. Before I know it the glistening blade is flashing next to his face. I'm stunned and too high to realize what could happen.
At that moment, Randell and LC round the corner and stop dead in their tracks. Then after what seems like hours, Randell screams at the top of his voice, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING PROCESS?!" Quickly I grab Randell and pull him away while LC starts verbally abusing Process. "Keep that muthafucka away from me." I half whisper to Randell as we scurry from behind Elmer's. I explain to Randell what happened. "He won't never do dat again 'round you, I promise." Randell assurs me. "I'll make sure he won't give you anymo' snappers". I hear LC and Process arguing loudly. Shaking and high I am unable to think straight. After that I never see Process again.
5. Moonpies...$0.10 Royal Crown Cola...$0.50
We play at Elmer's regularly every weekend. During the week, I split rehearsing between my rock and roll band and LC's group. On weekends I play at Elmer's. I learn so much about music. But as summer begins to close I start to think about going back to high school. It's late August and the heat is oppressive, even at night.
LC never says much about himself. He tells me very little about himself. By design or by his nature, that's how he is. Sure we talk for hours about music, but nothing much about his personal life. It doesn't matter to me. Just hearing him sing tells it all, his soul always comes through. There is talk of doing a demo for record companies. But that cost more money than we have or can save.
6. Ribs Platter all you can eat...$4.00
One night after the gig is over, we go to Randell's house. Randell lives in the Black part of town I had never been before. White folks just don't go there. Randell put ribs on the smoker and we sit around drinking beer and talking about music. People are out walking around the neighborhood visiting neighbors. It is too hot to sleep and no one has air conditioning. He introduces me to his neighbors and people he knows, everyone wants to hear LC sing. I didn't know it but this is my last look at a changing culture. The Black Power movement is arriving and all of this is changing.
The return to school is approaching. The end of summer is near. I tell them that I need to quit the band. There isn't a choice. Besides it's plain to see that LC has outgrown the band and Randell can't hold it together. LC is too good. He is ready to move on and so am I.
Like a cheap velvet painting, time faded away after that summer and my focus became the rock band I was in. The photograph which I had taken of LC that summer lay in a pile with the others I took. I would return home from time to time and black folks lived in all parts of town. The black part of town I had known no longer existed.
Eventually, I heard rumors that LC was busted for dealing drugs and spent some hard time in the Oklahoma State Prison. There were times in my life when I wondered what happened to one of the greatest singers I have ever heard and the part of his life that he let me view.
"Virgil, Quick! Come see! there goes Robert E. Lee" The Band "The Night They Drove..."
There are no small portions at Elmer's Bar-B-Q, no small portions of food, or people or of life. Everyone could get their fill. No one left hungry and no one left unsatisfied.
"Green Onions" - Booker T. and the MGs
"Shotgun" - Jr. Walker and the All Stars.