[March 20, 2020] Flying up the interstate from Seymour to Indianapolis in his buddy’s ‘68 Plymouth Road Runner, 4 speed, 383cu, V8, royal blue. He glanced over at the speedometer: 110 mph! Passing cars like they were standing still! The Road Runner was pretty new on the road, third only in popularity that year to the GTO and the Chevelle. Those were the days!
Running on leaded, windows rolled down, burning through southern Indiana.
Why the big hurry? It was the Battle of the Bands at the Indiana State Fair Grounds and the first place prize was warming up for Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. They couldn’t be late or they would lose their spot.
The year was 1969 and Indy’s garage band scene was hot. The band was The Knightsmen out of Arlington High School and they were good! All the guys were excellent musicians and their harmonies were spot on, but their lead singer was awesome! And I’m not just saying that because he grew up to be my husband. Karl had just turned 17 in May of that year.
That weekend, Karl had been camping with his childhood friend, Dan Lawhorn, on the banks of the Muscatatuck River down by Camp Atterbury. Dan’s dad owned an old trailer near the river and ever since Jr. High, the boys would often get dropped off down there to just be boys for the weekend to roam free. Canned beans, junk food, campfires, a rowboat, true crime reenactments, and firearms in the forest. A boy’s dream come true, am I right?
But that weekend, Karl had to be back in Indy for the Battle of the Bands and a chance at the first prize. His band mate and lead guitarist extraordinaire, Mark Tribby agreed to come to pick him up. The deal was that Karl would have to walk out of the river bottoms up to the highway because Mark wasn’t about to drive his brand new Road Runner into the woods. Miraculously, Karl made his way to the highway just in time to see that blue Road Runner roar by, make an illegal U-turn, and screech to a stop. Karl hopped in and away they went. Indy-bound and 20 feet from stardom!
I probably don’t need to tell you the Knightsmen ended up winning first place in Battle of the Bands and they warmed up that very day for the one and only Kenny Rogers back in the First Edition days.
This was well before Kenny’s crossover fame and fortune but after the New Christy Minstrels. Before the white hair and beard. Before too many plastic surgeries. After three of his five wives and before his last two. It was before “The Gambler” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and before his friendship with Dolly Parton and “Islands in the Stream”. At that point, he had been in the business 14 years longer than Karl had.
For Karl, The Knightsmen was after being the little kid entertainment at his parents’ house parties and before another garage band called “Jubal” and before a band called “Wright Brothers Overland Stage”. After campsite shenanigans at the Muscatatuck River and before national exposure on the Grand Ole Opry, NBC’s Today Show, and Warner Brothers recording label.
The guys in the band all remember meeting Kenny Rogers that day at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and they all had the same impression; that he was a real nice guy. Relaxed and down-to-earth, just a regular guy on the road trying to make a living at something he loved: music and storytelling.
RIP Kenny Rodgers. Thanks for the great memory!
[NOT ORIGINAL WITH ME: Kenny Rodgers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold them” shit I’ve ever seen. #coronavirus #COVID-19]