OLD ROCK N ROLLER
He’s just an old rock ‘n’ roller playing music in a backstreet bar.
He sings a little flat and he never learned to play the guitar.
But he keeps on belting out them rhythm and blues,
“Long Tall Sally” and “Blue Suede Shoes”.
He never faced the fact that he’s never gonna be a star.
He’s just an old rock ‘n’ roller playing music in a backstreet bar.
He had a record in the sixties, it was big enough to go Top Ten.
And though he tried and he tried he never could make it happen again.
He’s been living twenty years on bourbon and pride.
Jerry Lee went crazy and Elvis died.
Then his third wife left him but he never really thought it would last.
And now she ain’t nothing but another little blast from the past.
But sometimes at night when the music and the crowd is having fun,
He steps up on the mike with a gleam in his eye and once again he’s twenty-one.
And then it’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and “That’ll Be The Day”
Then the Sweet Bird of Youth just flies away.
He’s an earthbound eagle that never did learn how to fly.
He ain’t never gonna make it but he sure did give it a try.
So go dye your hair and turn the music up loud,
And when it’s time to go at least you’ll go down proud.
You ain’t never gonna be nothing but what you are
Just an old rock ‘n’ roller playing music in a backstreet bar.
Just an old rock ‘n’ roller playing music in a backstreet bar
Old Rock N Roller by Bill White
Do you know that song,”Old Rock N Roller,” by Charlie Daniels? You do? Did you know it was written about a guy who grew up right around here? You don’t? Well, it’s true. And that back street bar where he plays his music? This is the place. And he still plays here, every Tuesday night.
When I met Johnny Lomax in 1957, he was carrying a guitar. Seattle didn’t become a rock and roll town until 1958, so a kid carrying a guitar was a pretty rare sight in ’57. He was walking down Jackson Street, heading for a club where he was going to try to sit in with a rhythm and blues band. He told me he went to this club a lot, but was rarely asked to play. “Someday I’m going to get my own group together,” he said, more than one time,”and we’re going to own this street.”
Johnny and I were friends for two years before he succeeded in putting something together, and I played drums in that band until 1962, when we went into Boles recording studio to cut our first record, and the engineer kicked me out and replaced me with one of his so-called ‘studio’ musicians,. That record, I don’t even remember what it was called, didn’t go anywhere, but the second one, “Pink Moustache,” went national top ten. I wasn’t in the band anymore, and that’s why I work in the office here at the bar, and not on the bandstand.
One song is all it takes. Work that hit single right, and you can ride it for the rest of your life. That one song is the difference between having a name and being a nobody. And once you get a name, nobody can take it away Johnny never had another hit song, although lord knows he tried hard enough, but he was always able to draw a crowd. He was the man who wrote and recorded “Pink Moustache” and that’s something he could always fall back on no matter how tough the times were.
There were never any hard feelings between me and Johnny. Things got a little rough right after I got kicked out of the band, but not for long. By the time “Pink Moustache” came out, we were tight as we’d ever been. It was fun having a friend as famous as him, and my buddies and I used to get a kick watching him on American Bandstand. He was on the road most of the time, and when he got a break he would come to Seattle and hang out with me. That in itself gave me a lot of status, and I got to meet some girls that otherwise would never have given me the time of day.
I guess it was in ’65 that I bought this joint and started booking bands. If the music explosion of ’58 was something, the proliferation of bands that formed in the wake of The Beatles was something else. I had the place packed seven nights a week with a different band every night. It was one of the hottest joints on the hill. Johnny’s career was slowing down because he had a hard time keeping up with the times. The scene was changing, and the stuff he played was starting to be called “oldies” music. But he had that hit, and people were curious to see him play it. So I promised him that every Tuesday night, as long as I owned the bar, was going to be Johnny Lomax night. The only condition was that he would play two sets, and “Pink Moustache” would be featured twice in each set. For the rest of it, he could play whatever the hell he wanted.
For every Jimi Hendrix that has played in my club, there have been a couple dozen guitarists who were just as good. In this world, however, there is room for only one Jimi Hendrix. There are plenty of slots for competent players, but only one genius slot. Same goes for songwriters. There is one Bob Dylan and three million other songwriters, most of who are writing songs that will never be heard. Some of their stuff is just as good as Dylan’s. Check out Reverb-A-Tron if you don’t believe me.
If a girl is willing to forego songwriting in favor of throwing some random words on top of some lame ass beat box rhythms, she has a shot at a career in the music industry, especially if she is willing to bend over and lick the cold metal hot dog sticking out of a jack in the box clown. But if she wants to be Joni Mitchell, or even Jewel, she had better join a songwriting group and learn to enjoy a life on the open mike circuit, because that’s as far as she’s going to get.
I have heard music in Seattle that was better than anything I have heard elsewhere and very little of it made it out of the Northwest. Most of it, and one time or another, found its way into this little back street bar. The sixties and the seventies were the golden years. It was in the late 80’s when everything started to go south. Junkie creeps from nowhere towns like Aberdeen hooked into the amateur music scenes of outlying college towns where they got their thing together before hitting the Seattle clubs with their harsh and pointless whining. For a while those bands were the only ones people wanted to hear, and the scene got so depressing that I nearly closed my joint. A friend of mine who wrote music reviews for the Times was sent to hear two of these groups at the Moore theatre and told his editor the next day that he would never again review a rock concert. .
That was only the beginning. Once these groups crashed and burned, all these idiots who wanted to be next in line started infesting the city. As an example of how bad it was, I hired a kid from Indiana to wash dishes and he asked me one night, in all sincerity, what he should do first – start a band or learn to play an instrument. Throughout this mess, I cherished the Tuesday nights with Johnny Lomax on the bandstand. He might have been pushing fifty, but played like he was still twenty-one…
His show started with the band playing Telstar. He waited outside with his guitar and it was already plugged into the amp on the stage. That cord must have been 50 feet long. When the band got to the last go round of Telstar, he doubled the melody on his guitar, playing it three notes higher, then crashed into the opening chords of “Pink Moustache” as he busted through the front doors, running like hell to the stage and when he hit it, and was right there with the first verse and just killed everyone with it. And after the applause died down, he settled into a string of his favorite songs from back in the day. Long Tall Sally, Blue Suede Shoes, Be-Bop-A-Lula, Heartbreak Hotel, and That’ll be the Day. Then he sat down, like Bobby Darin in Vegas when he bombed with that Tim Hardin song, and cover something by Kate Bush or the Smiths. Then he got back up and went into some endless funk by Prince, always as different one and usually something I hadn’t heard before, like “Supercalifragilistic Sexy” that would segue into some damn Led Zeppelin epic. And he would wipe the sweat off his face and throw the hanky into the crowd like Elvis before reprising with another go at “Pink Moustache.” The guy was incredible.
The second set was always completely different, except of course for the hit that he had contracted to play twice. A lot of people left after the first set. The tourists I mean, those that came to see him out of curiosity because you wouldn’t believe how many of them had never seen a hit song performed live except on television. The ones who stayed for the second set would usually show up once every couple of months to see him. He had a solid following, and that second set would usually include at least one guest star. Usually it would be a local legend, like Merilee Rush or Tiny Tony, but sometimes it’d be some huge star that was in town for a concert. Eric Clapton came by one night, and Buddy Miles became a regular for several months. You never knew what might happen in that second set. It was crazy. Pink Floyd came in once and did the whole “Dark Side of the Moon” Album with him.
Charlie Daniels came in one night and Johnny was so drunk that he couldn’t sing or play. He really sounded like shit. Daniels liked him, but thought he was a crappier-than-thou musician, and wrote that song about him. Most of it was pretty accurate but some of the lines weren’t fair. I mean, they may have been true that night, but they weren’t really true, if you know what I mean. “Never learned to play the guitar,” come off it. John Olufs from the Pickets was taking lessons from him for chrissake.”
Despite this number of really great musicians that have come up in this city, it is still a shitty music town. It’s full of creeps and hustlers who sign bands up for nothing and, if they hit, sell them out to a major label at enormous profit to themselves. Money that never goes back into the city to help build a legitimate business here for music. Cities like Boston were built on the success of bands like J Geils and The Cars, but Seattle is a take it and run town. There is no continuity, no respect what came before. Just a bunch of dumb punks who don’t know shit about anything, not even their instruments.
And if you ask them who inspired them to make music it is usually some band that is as bad as they are. Some give lip service to The Sonics, but have they ever heard of Dave Lewis, The Fleetwoods, The Viceroys, The Dynamics, Floating Bridge, Easy Chair, Juggernaut, Magic Fern, The Daily Flash, Rose and the Dirt Boys, Papaya, The Skyboys, Lance Romance, Dynamic Logs, Slamhound Hunters, The Telepaths, The Lewd, The Dimes, The Vacations, Red Dress, Chinas Comidas, The Pudz, Student Nurse, Visible Targets, or The Whizz Kidzz?
These are some of the great ones. Then there are the old guys that never made it. You have never seen such bitter sons of bitches. I got one coming in tonight. He is always sneaking in here on someone else’s coat tails. The guy is sixty years and has never built up a fan base, not even a cult following. Everybody hates this guy. He is so bad that he could clear a street fair if he ever managed to commander one of its stages. I would never book him, but he is such a tenacious old bastard that he gloms onto the headliners and they let him do an opening set just to get him out of their hair. He thinks he is going on first, but I’m putting him on last. Otherwise, there would be no one left in the room to hear the headliners, and I wouldn’t sell any beer.
Ah, but the times I’ve had here in this crappy little bar. Back in ’75, after playing a three-hour show at the Paramount, which is right down the street from here, Bruce Springsteen came in and played until the sun came up. What happened to rock and roll? Jerry Lee went crazy and Elvis died. Punk and disco rocked side by side. But Johnny and I will always be just exactly what we are. A couple of old rock n rollers hangin’ tough in a back street bar.