January 15, 2002
Well, I finally found a moment to write something about this trip so far. Last night, we played in Phoenix and Andy West had his group, "Phwap" (spelling?), playing the show with us. They sounded great, but the main thing was the nostalgia of getting to hang out with Andy at his home there, also. In case you're interested, we started playing together in the late 60's in Augusta, Georgia. Andy moved there from Atlanta, and I had moved there from Michigan a couple of years before.
Culture shock was our instant mutual bond, since being somewhat different looking musicians in that city at that time was very weird. We spent a lot of time jamming and working up songs to play live at the oasis of the town, the coffeehouse named the Glass Onion. Eventually, we ended up with a band including my older brother on drums, Johnny Carr on keyboards, and Frank Brittingham on guitar and vocals. We called it Dixie Grit. We thought it was funny at the time. And being funny has usually been more of a motivation for naming things than whether or not people will like the name.....
Dixie Grit became loved and hated in that town. Many of the folks that went to that coffeehouse and our concerts loved the band. Everybody that went to the dances we played at hated us. Well, at that time, original and covers like Zeppelin were considered unacceptable material to play at a dance. Still, we played some actual gigs, including opening at some local concerts. The guys were all talented, and we really had a pretty cool band. Anyway, we eventually disbanded. At that point, Andy and I were keen to keep on playing instrumental music on our own to the same people that liked the Dixie Grit band. So, since we were the only ones left from the group, or the dregs of the group, we called it Dixie Dregs. Our first gig as the Dregs probably was in 1971 or 1972, not that I wrote it down, but just using cues from my own educational timeline.
Andy and I were really a duo at first, then we got with a drummer from the neighboring state of South Carolina, Gilbert. He would drive all the way to Augusta just to rehearse with us and play some obscure concerts. We did songs like The Odyssey and Huron River Blues with that trio version of the Dregs. It was later in Miami that I ended up meeting Rod and Allen, and Andy moved down there to keep the band thing alive. So, Andy and I have a super long history together. That's why it was a big deal to see him, and we both played Huron River Blues together last night for the first time in lots of years....
There are at least two more reasons why I am so psyched about this gig in Phoenix, too. Normally, on the road, we play every single day with the SMB or the Dregs. Partly, because we have no singer who needs to rest his voice, and partly because the expenses don't stop just because you have a day off. In this case, we were coming from Dallas, and truck literally couldn't make the drive without a day off. So, this rarely happens, an evening and the next day in Phoenix, right?
Well, over the years, many people have given me an invite to visit some places of interest, or go on some adventure, or visit their studio, music store, etc. "If you have some time". Well, normally, we get in town just in time to check in at the hotel, and hustle to sound check, followed by food, shower, gig, meet and greet, midnight snack and back the hotel. So, we never really "have time". This was different. Some of the guys from the 21st Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB have a band, which is not too unusual. What was unusual is that Buc, Axe, and Rug, all are active F16 fighter pilots and know about the Dregs. Even more unusual was that I talked them into picking me up at the Airport and driving me over to the base to fly the F16 simulator. Actually, they offered....really! It was a fantastic experience for me to see the panoramic 180 degree view and they even set me up with the equivalent of a fish in a barrel to fire some missiles and guns. All simulated, of course. At one point, I realized that I could learn even more by asking them to fly it for me, and they did. Very impressive and smooth, and they weren't even trying, just casually joking around, even. So, like the USO tour that I did with Kansas in the late 80's, this was something I'll never forget. Thanks, guys.
I'm feeling pretty lucky, since I also have an appointment the next day with Sam, one of the head honchos of the Arizona trail riders. He's a very experienced dirt biker that has invited me to go on a long ride in the awe inspiring hilly desert lands north of town. He picks me up in his truck with a new bike that his friend Ron has donated, and we head out of town. Like I said, normally I could never do something like this on the road with our normal schedule. But this is another lucky day. The terrain, and the trails were spectacular. Sam was very generous with me, letting me lead the way almost the whole ride. For those of you who have never been dirt bike riding with other guys, that's pretty unusual for a guy not to want to get in front and really show you his skill and shower you with a hailstorm of rocks and dirt in the process from the churning back tire. He let me enjoy a perfectly clear, pristine view of that scenery that I will never forget. Even though, like the fighter pilots, he could easily leave me in the dust, he spent all his energy directing me to the best trails and views to enhance the ride. After a few hours, I was tired but so glad to finally be riding again, and in such a perfect environment. Sam also had nearly every album of the Dregs, too. Thanks again for the great ride, Sam.
How about the music? This tour we've been trying songs that the other guys have brought in, to add some balance and to make everybody feel connected. Since we don't live in the same state, we don't get to spend lots of time together working on stuff that would be arranged on the fly with the whole band in the room like the old days. So, having the guys bring in some of their songs seemed like a way to get everybody to feel more involved, as well as adding some more variety to the listeners that heard us last time we were in town. So, T brought in a song called "Justice", Jerry has one called "Brick Chicken", Rod does his drum solo to one of his pieces, we added a Mahavishnu tune that Jerry recorded originally with them called "Dance of the Maya", and we do a cut (from the album "Split Decision" that Dave and I have coming out soon) called "Busybodies".
The new tunes seem to be going over very well, and everybody is happy, so it's a big success. Well, California is next, and it should be great. See you soon.
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