DIARY - 24 MARCH 2004 - ON THE ROAD TOO LONG PART 1
THE ROAD TOO LONG
The first sign of trouble was when the chauffeur to the rich and infamous
pulled into the Sphinx Hotel in Geelong West and the agitato artist dropped
his lit cigar down the shirt of his guitarist.
is the one fucking town you know and you can't find the right venue,"
Richard "Big Dick" Friedman yelled as Washington Ratso
fled a torched Tarrago and the star's flaming cigar.
"Just ask the guys at the liquor store. We don't need a tension
The chauffeur wasn't fazed by a panic attack in a town where disappointment
usually didn't come until September.
"Now we're at the Sphinx why don't we just lighten up and open
a Geelong office of Little Jewford's Sphincter Records," the
older man slumped at the wheel, retorted in a vain attempt to ease
the mood swings.
It was a beautiful summer night with one small problem - two Bell
Park Sports Clubs in sleepy hollow and we were close to the sibling
where the lights were on but no-one was at home.
with the divine intervention of the visiting Texan crime novelist
we finally found the venue paying the bills.
retreat with no flashing neon and about as much signage as a Taliban virgin.
It was just the beginning of this raw Renaldo & Clara reprise for
the new millenium.
The cat land cultural cringe crept up a cog when the Country FM radio
president told the expectant crowd neither Kinky or Billy Joe Shaver were
well known in Australia but the club booked them anyway.
There were guffaws from sections of the audience who had heard both artists
on high rotation on the rival community stations - including the now defunct
Or had read
the massive print media coverage for the best publicised country music
tour of the decade which peaked when it made Noddy Holder's Sydney Telegraph
Confidential column six days in succession.
It wasn't clear if these dorks were born dumb or just got there by rectal
So it was no surprise when a bucolic bazza at a stage side table choked
when roadie Ben Welch bared his butt on cue as Shaver joined on stage
warriors for the choruses of Asshole From El Paso.
A few more catalogue classics and it was time for the spiritual Shaver
encore that was as much a family tradition as the Texas Mooning.
Just as the crowd was primed for their choral climax out came a few more
words from the president - intro to an elongated chook raffle. So the
encore went straight to God.
Some times the chauffeur had to imbibe and this was definitely one of
Drunk on the cheap booze and tempting fate and bears on Highway One.
And the night had started so well with a swift short cut to test the one
working artery of joint headliner Billy Joe, 62, and holding on by a thread,
for scheduled post tour quadruple heart bypass surgery.
I hadn't been on the Grand Prix track before and neither had any of the
overseas and local passengers in the twin Tarrago convoy.
It was Barricades & Brick Walls on hot corners and cold shoulders
but we made it safely out of Albert's park into Gazza's gaudy Geelong
Well, the tour was never going to be an ornament to the fame game and
it was as cool as the law allowed for the artists who had been coital
celebrants of the redneck-hippie romance of the seventies and lived to
sing the story.
Friedman, son of a decorated World War 11 air hero turned Professor Of
Psychology, was the enfant terrible of the Texas outlaw country sub genre
with his Texas Jewboys.
JOE AND MABEL
was raised by grandma and mother, and wrote poetry - nurtured by
an English teacher, Mabel Legg, who recently turned 101 and still
recites his works.
The severing of the top of three fingers and lust for the lost highway
turned his poems to hits and his soul into a springboard of credibility
that peers would kill for.
So when you wed a cowboy poet and country comic in a Vaudevillian
travelling show you come out of the wash with a spectacular spray
- a cosmic collage of surrealism delivered with delicious dexterity
by a quaint quintet of rambling renegades.
Shaver's understated humour and passionate parables and Friedman's
comedy, under- pinned with evocative social comment and love songs,
are a potent mix.
who soak up karmic classics of Willie Nelson without textbook or cyber
signpost, you either get it or you don't.
industry has long been littered with philistine fuck wits who drown in
the opiate quicksand of style over substance.
Lost in smoke and mirrors imagery plantations, they are babes buried in
the wondrous woods of whimsy.
Even the Texas Mooning, using a perspex sheet daubed with a map of Texas,
is a self- parody designed to amuse, rather than shock.
This prairie pastiche, embellished by the addition of two Texas flags
bought for $8 at a road side stall half way between Austin and Houston
on the chauffeur's first Texas sojourn in 1978, was first class farce.
This was a visual experience, originally designed to test Shaver's concentration,
but later retained for audience inter-action.
It was necessary to follow the singing satirist Fred Negro - a perfect
bill sharer - who dined out on his revelation that Kinky's stage rider
was a jug of contact lens.
Negro, unafraid to borrow lines from tabloids, reminded fans that The
Kinkster had indulged in a midnight swallow of his partner's spare eyes
from a glass of water in a dimly lit motel room.
It was a cartoon panel that beat the gift to Shaver of his Shonky Tonk
CD, with Billy, Willie & Waylon - the song penned by Negro about his
closing acts on the 1994 tour by Waylon Jennings, Willie and Shaver.
WAYLON RIP AT 64
But the real test for Shaver was not impractical jokes but news of mentor
Waylon's death on Valentines Day.
The calls came from Melbourne radio personalities David Heard and Derek
Guille as the Tarrago terrorists sped north on Highway 31 to the their
gig at Newmarket Hotel, in Albury.
Promoter Rob Hall stopped the convoy to enable Shaver and Friedman, travelling
in tandem, to comfort each other at an anonymous truck stop between Violet
Town and Benalla.
Jennings, 64, was the catalyst for Shaver's late blooming career when
his 1973 album 'Honky Tonk Heroes' comprised only one song not penned
by Billy Joe.
And it was Waylon who joined Shotgun Willie, Tompall Glaser & Billy
Swan in the choir on The Kinkster's original cut of the Willie produced
They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore from his self titled 1974 disc.
But the show must go on and did when the troubadours dedicated the Albury
soiree to Waylon with emphasis on the Shaver songs, cut by Jennings, already
in the set.
It was only the next morning, standing in white-hot gravel at the Burvale
Motel, that Billy Joe revealed an eerie on stage visitation during delivery
of his songs.
"I felt the presence of Waylon and began singing in his voice,"
Shaver confided, "it was like he and I were singing together. I was
sounding just like him."
cavalcade rode into national capital Canberra for radio interviews and
book signing Billy Joe held a wake in Lubbockian guitarist Jesse Taylor's
That was after Shaver and Kinky shared a Kinkster dream with Canberra
"Kinky had this dream just before the tour where he saw this long
black limo," Billy Joe revealed, "he saw me pick Waylon off
the back seat and carry him somewhere. So I called up Waylon. The fellow
there said Waylon was napping so I said not to bother him. Just tell him
Billy Joe called."
There was a pause from the interviewer and Shaver said "I don't know
if I would be here now if it wasn't for Waylon."
It was only after Jennings' death that Billy Joe belatedly called his
answer machine in Waco and found the voice of Waylon whose left foot was
amputated before Christmas because of diabetes.
Billy Joe, conscious of his own mortality, kept his Waylon wake modest
- just Kinky and Little Jewford and their partners, Ratso, Jesse and the
It was not a lavish wake, but a spiritual sprint, peaking in an exclusive
syndicated live to air interview with Don Imus in New York City.
The nocturnal three-way tribute, with Billy Joe and The Kinkster on twin
phones, was an anecdote-swapping bonanza with a gaunt gem about a gig
where Waylon, Billy Joe and late Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein were
stiffed by an American promoter.
As the trio sped away from the venue there was a dynamite explosion that
lit up the night sky.
"What was that,?" Billy Joe asked his smiling mentor.
"Didn't hear a thing," Waylon laughed as they drove to the next
town and gig.
With both Waylon and Shel - who wrote the soundtrack for a 1969 Ned Kelly
movie soundtrack featuring Mick Jagger, Waylon, Kristofferson and Tom
Ghent - now dead, it was an apt time to let the explosives out of the
The heartland of America laughed to a bizarre midnight confession from
room 163 at the Quality Inn on the cusp of the national capital's Trade
It was only half way though a tour where the best was yet to come in exotic
locales such as Bowral, Pittwater and Sydney Harbour where history, love
and lunacy lurked in hidden places.
CLICK HERE for Part 2 of Diaries.
/ back to diary