The best storyteller in our home is my husband. This piece hopes to capture a few of the stories he has told and retold over the years, although I am sure they won’t carry the humor with which originally delivered. Karl has a way with words and a true appreciation for weaving details and delivering a punch line that I can only aspire to. But here goes.
Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men in this world. The one who learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
I’ll let you guess which one I am.
There was that time I walked home from Kindergarten in the middle of the school day, across Arlington and then across 38th Street. I scared my mom half to death when she turned around from hanging clothes on the line to see her five-year-old little boy standing behind her, a long time after she had sent me to school. I told her I didn’t like my teacher because she was young and pretty. She marched me right back to school (they didn’t even realize I was gone) and talked the office into switching to the plump grandma-like Kindergarten teacher. I happily went to school every day after that.
The time I tried to fly using an old woven aluminum lawn chair and balloons I blew up myself. Incidentally, it didn’t work. As kids growing up in the 1950s, “Lawn Chair Larry” and I may have been dreaming of the same big adventure. But unlike me, he actually achieved his dream decades later by attaching 43 helium balloons to a chair and floating almost 16,000 feet up. I had to settle for imagining I could fly up and over my neighborhood. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself floating above the rooftops and surveying Drexel Avenue and the alleys below.
The time the seventh-grade-me told my dad I was growing a beard. My sideburns had grown in over the summer into soft blonde peach fuzz on my cheeks. My dad caught me admiring this new development as I said, “I think I’ll grow a beard.” Bob didn’t hesitate and in a low baritone voice, “The hell you are.” And I didn’t. Until I was out of the house.
One time I was camping with my friend Dan down by the Muscatatuck River, and he used a rubber glove as an oven mitt to lift the kettle of boiling water off the campfire. I remember I watched him in slow motion put on the glove and reach for the handle of the steaming pot. I thought to myself, “That can’t be right.” Then I heard a yelp that brought me back into real-time. One of those physics lessons that will stick with a guy.
The time I called Paul McCartney on the phone at his MPL office. I am not sure what possessed me. I had been a fan of the Beatles since I was a kid. Paul McCartney inspired me to learn to play the bass and choose music for a career. One day, out of the blue, I picked up the phone and called the number listed for his London office. A woman answered, his secretary I presumed. I was shocked and scrambling for words simply said, “Yes, is he in?” She said, “Oh I’m sorry, you just missed him. Can I help you?” I proceeded to warn her about an ad I had seen in a music magazine selling Beatles satin tour jackets. I told her I knew tour jackets hadn’t been a thing during the years the Beatles were touring, so these must be scam artists trying to profit off the Beatles’ name. She was very polite, thanked me, and said they’d look into it. I’m not sure what I would have done if she had let me talk to him!
The time we played Legend Valley Ohio, or was it the Minnesota State Fair, and the roadie wouldn’t let me hold Willie Nelson’s Martin guitar, Trigger. I swear the guy was 9 feet tall and very determined looking. I asked. He just shook his head “No.” That was that.
The time our instruments and equipment were impounded in Lubbock, Texas because the club owner hadn’t paid his taxes. We were able to straighten it out the next day, but it scared the bejeebies out of us! Note to self: always pay your taxes.
The time I totaled an antique stagecoach. (No, I was not born in the 1800s.) The band was doing a photo shoot and had arranged to use a Wells Fargo stagecoach as the backdrop. None of us knew a thing about horses or any vehicle one might hitch them to. When we arrived, the horses were leisurely grazing in the adjacent pasture, happily minding their own business. I heard that they rounded them up using mini-bikes and circus whistles of all things, so they were not so leisurely by the time the hitching process began. By the time we climbed aboard, the horse collars were in place, but no bridles and bits! The photographer snapped his first photo and the sound of the shutter must have been reminiscent of the sound that a rattlesnake makes just before he strikes because those horses took off like they were running for their lives. I was in the driver’s seat pulling on those reins with all my might. To no avail. Because there were no bits or bridles! We rounded the corner to the barn and the stagecoach started to tip. We all jumped off and hit the gravel driveway at a full gallop. When I landed, I blew the seat out of my jeans and chipped my ankle. Tim drove me to the hospital and we wondered aloud just what we would tell them at the registration desk when they asked about the nature of our injuries. The photos hit the Associated Press and the story spread on the wire across America. Our 15 minutes of fame I guess.
Then there was the time we drove to New York City to play on the NBC Today Show. We had just signed with Warner Brothers and ICM, and we had a song on the Billboard Top 40. We were finally riding a wave of success after years of toiling in clubs six nights a week. Goes without saying, we were feeling a little full of ourselves. And then, as if God himself snuck up behind us and tapped us on the shoulder with a crash course in humility, our server at the Star Café put his thumb in our cottage cheese. On purpose. Scowling. Note to self: Always be respectful to your servers. Especially in New York City. But really, anywhere. Be kind to your server.
There was that one time I kicked Tom Wright in the head. Not on purpose of course. Let me set this up. We were recording an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and the three of us were standing in the isolation vocal booth. Recording albums is a tedious process with lots of takes and retakes and waiting and retakes and listening back and tweaks and audibles and listening back. I guess it had been a long day and I didn’t know it, but Tom’s back was hurting him. In the pitch-dark booth, recording our vocals, we stood in the same order as on stage: me on the left, Tom in the middle, and Tim on the right. The door out of the booth was on Tim’s side. I didn’t know it but between takes, Tom had laid down on the floor in hopes of alleviating the pain in his back. We finished a take and the engineer said, “Come on back in. Let’s listen to that one.” Tim turned and walked out the door. I put my headphones on the mic stand, turned to walk out, and WHAM! A blood-curdling scream came from out of the darkness! Startled I screamed back! It was a little bit like the scene from ET where Drew Barrymore’s character and ET spot each other for the first time. Tom: “BUB! WHY’D YOU KICK ME?” Me: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE FLOOR?” And the guys in the sound booth: “WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S GOING ON? EVERYONE OKAY?” It seems the very pointy toe of my brand new western boot had caught Tom right on the top of his head with the force of a soccer forward!
The time we warmed up for Dolly Parton and she ended up in the hospital. It was the summer of 1982 and the band had the awesome privilege of playing the Indiana State Fair Grandstand ahead of Dolly Parton. She fell ill during the concert, was taken to the hospital, and had a hysterectomy due to endometriosis the next day. She was 36 years old. What was an exciting night for us personally and professionally, turned out to be a life-changing heart-breaking day for her. She never did have children and she suffered from depression for a long time after that day. Goes to show you never know what’s going on behind the scenes in a person’s life, you might as well be kind to everyone.
The time I ran over myself with the car I was driving. I was in Minnesota taking my little boys fishing. I borrowed Grandma’s car and headed for the lake. At the top of the drive, I stopped to open the gate. I set the emergency brake (which no one told me hadn’t worked in years), put it in neutral, and got out to unchain the lock. Walker (age 6) and Jackson (age 3) unbuckled their seat belts and stood up, excited to finally be at the lake and ready to go fishing. I walked around to the front of the old Honda Civic. As I reached for the chain and padlock, I noticed a crew of men working in the yard next to the beach property. About that time, I heard one of them say, “Oh-oh!” There was no time to react, no time to turn around and see it coming. Now rolling at a pretty good clip down the steep driveway, the car hit me in the small of the back and threw me up on the hood. My head flew back and shattered the center of the windshield, leaving me spread-eagle atop the hood of the little car, the back of my head lodged in the dent of shattered safety glass. The sky was so bright, like looking directly into a grand opening searchlight. Then in an instant…BAM! The diagonal pipe of the gate smashed into my upper lip. And again…BAM! The same pipe caught the bottom of my nose, collapsing it and pushing it off to the right in that Z formation. And then…SCRRRAAAPE…across my forehead, before it came to rest at the very top of the windshield, preventing the car from traveling down the driveway between the trees and into the lake. All of this happened in less than five seconds. In the blink of an eye. I ended up with a broken nose, but the boys were not injured.
The time we played at a casino on Christmas Day. We flew out of Indianapolis on Christmas Day morning and played that night in Reno Nevada. It was a surreal experience leaving our Christmas traditions in Indiana and walking into a casino just a few hours later to see people gambling, drinking, and in general ignoring the fact that it was Christmas Day. It was like we had landed on another planet. We’ll never forget it.
The time I found myself in the middle of a gunfight and police foot chase in Terre Haute. I was scheduled to do a service at a little church on North 13th Street on Sunday morning. By the time I arrived, it was the middle of the night after a long drive from a Knightsmen gig in Rushville about 200 miles away. The pastor had assured me the key to the church was in its usual hiding spot. But it wasn’t. It was now approaching 3 am and, dressed in all black, I was crawling around on my hands and knees looking for the key when a shadowy figure sprinted past the church and into the darkness. A moment later, a couple of policemen followed with guns drawn in hot pursuit. I was glad they didn’t see me. After the service the next day, daylight revealed bullet holes in the front door of the church. I’m sure there is a bigger story here; I was just glad to get out of town in one piece.
The time I split my pants on the platform doing a Sunday morning service. After church, the pastor’s wife asked if I would like to change my pants before heading out to lunch. Unknown to me, I guess I had played the entire service with the back of my dress slacks split right up the back! Talk about keeping me humble!
The time they found me sitting on the hood of my car playing guitar on the mean streets of East Chicago. I was waiting for someone to unlock the church, so I could load in and set up for a service the next morning. The caretaker arrived and hurried me into the building and locked the door behind us. His message was loud and clear: I was very lucky not to have been assaulted and/or robbed doing something so blatantly silly. The pastor of the church was also a part-time bus driver in that neighborhood, so we had that in common. But his stories were nothing like my petty complaints. One little girl on his route got a bike for Christmas, but couldn’t use it for fear of having it stolen. It was not unusual for a child on this bus route to be killed in some random gang violence. One boy tried to start him on fire while he was driving the bus in an effort to let him know who was boss.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was driving school bus and a fight broke out on the bus, then a bigger fight broke out when one of the dads got on the bus to break it up? From age 55 to 65, I drove a school bus. Ten long years. Those early morning hours were definitely not ideal for a night owl musician like me. But with two active boys at home, we needed health insurance, and I went where they offered the best coverage for the best price, while allowing me the flexibility to continue the music ministry. I had spent my whole life in music and ministry, so bus driving was brand new for me. For starters, passing the CDL drivers test was, shall we say, a challenge for me. The license branch clerks knew me by name by the time I finally passed it. I’m not exaggerating. They teach you a lot about air brakes, just a little about handling children, and virtually nothing about dealing with their parents. I learned a few things from my time as a bus driver. First and foremost, even the best kids are at their absolute worst when riding the school bus. Kids are usually altogether different on the bus than the little angels their parents believe they are. Secondly, the people driving school buses are some of the most interesting, dependable, and patient people on the face of the earth. Most of them have more than one occupation and are often living out their passions during their off time. The responsibilities of the person driving the little darlings to their future run a wide gamut, everything from comforting the Kindergartner on the first day of school, to memorizing all the children’s names and addresses even when they can’t tell you where they live, to keeping children safe when they get on and off the bus (crossing your fingers that some idiot doesn’t blow through the stop arm), to watching out for distracted drivers in a hurry on their cell phones, to keeping one eye on the weather and the other on the teenager dressed in black standing in the dark at the end of his driveway, to making sure kids stay in their seats and not bully each other (without laying a hand on them), all while enduring a noise level probably deemed medically dangerous. I also learned to laugh. A lot. Like the time I reached up to close the ceiling vents on the school bus and my pants fell down around my ankles. Luckily there were no children on the bus. But the security cameras WERE rolling. Aren’t you glad you don’t have the job of monitoring all that footage?
And finally, there was a time I did a service on Christmas morning at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. I was about ready to wrap it up when a surly-looking huge black man stood and asked me if he could sing a song. What could I say? He stood head and shoulders over me. I handed him the mic and he proceeded to tenderly deliver the most beautiful high tenor version of Silent Night I have ever heard. You could hear a pin drop in that room. When he finished, there was not a dry eye in the place. The next Christmas Day when I returned to the prison, I looked for Dwayne. Turns out he had been released after serving nine years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The following year he was dead. Cancer. But I never will forget that Silent Night. The Bible describes angels as large powerful protectors and messengers. Just like Dwayne.