Further travel adventures in Colorado, Tennessee, and Southern Oregon, winter of ’71-’72. Sweet Cindy
After the opening-act gig with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Denver I made for the Rockies. In a small town called Allen’s Park, a few hours west of Boulder, was a log cabin restaurant that also served live music. It was called the Bluebird Café. Even though I was blackballed from the major club circuit in Colorado, I still had some connections in the smaller venues and this intimate gig was one I was looking forward to.
Magic Music, an acoustic folk-rock group from the Boulder area invited me to crash at their mountain retreat. They had a great little scene going on up there – living and playing a gig out in the mountains, and jamming at their house till sunrise.
The snow never let up it seemed, but a warm fire raged in the fireplace at the Bluebird. They had the best home cooked meals you could find anywhere, and the ambiance was delightful. You could hear folk, blues, country, singer-songwriter, and even Sitar music played by this cat named Jonathin. Part of your pay was a meal or two, plus a small amount of cash and tips. But that was fine as the gig and place was pleasant to be in, and the jams we had went on for hours.
A tall, rangy, deep-voiced girl named Cindy slept on a couch a few feet away from where I was crashing. One late night she accepted my offer for a massage. One thing led to another, you know how the story goes. Next thing we were sleeping together every night. Aside from the obvious benefit of having a nighttime companion it was much warmer than sleeping alone on those numbingly cold Rocky Mountain nights.
After a few days Cindy told me it was time that she headed back to Southern Oregon. But she did invite me to visit her in should I happen to be passing through. Turns out she lived about ten miles from Takilma, my place of refuge after I hastily left L.A. two years previous. It wasn’t very likely that I’d be passing through, but I certainly considered making a special trip to visit with her, as she was a wonderful girl, an enthusiastic lover, and a superb cook. She was also learning to play flute, and wasn’t too terrible.
After a week or so in Allen’s Park, the Bluebird gig over, I hitched down to Nashville Tennessee to visit with a couple of musician friends of mine who were guitar players with the Tracy Nelson band Mother Earth. Robert Cardwell and Jack Lee were two of my guitar gurus, as well as good buddies. Besides being phenomenal guitarists they were cool brothers to be around. It was always a good hang, and they weren’t stingy with their licks either. I had been to Nashville a couple of times previous and really dug it. The people were warm and unpretentious, and the southern belles hospitable and friendly. I could listen to that Southern drawl for hours, especially if it was accompanied by a pleasing tone of voice and an interesting face.
This was a real musicians town, a songwriters heaven. It was the only town I knew where nearly everyone was a songwriter. If you were at breakfast with a friend and were talking about a good line or title or idea for a song, you had to be careful, because the waiter, or the person sitting at the next table might hear it and possibly snatch it. Maybe not, but you had to be alert just in case.
For my money the premier venue for singer-songwriters in Nashville at that time was the Exit In. And that is where my next gig was. Jack Lee played electric guitar, harp and piano, and Sylvia Caldwell – another Mother Earth alumni – sang backing vocals. Cardwell sat in on the last set as well. It was one of my favorite gigs, and we were well received. Besides playing my original tunes we sang, The Fiesta’s ‘So Fine’ in three-part harmony. As an encore we sang ‘Amazing Grace’ with the audience joining in.
On a different night at The Exit Inn I met a thin wisp of a woman whose name I have forgotten. We found ourselves willing participants in a fit of lust by nights end. She left me with something to remember her by in the form of a dripping shaft days later. The funny part was knowing that she got it from none other than old Bob Cardwell. What goes around…
I was invited to a New Years Eve party given by that rapscallion Travis Rivers; manager of Mother Earth. My friends and I couldn’t stay long, as we had tickets to go to the Grand Old Oprey, at the original Ryman auditorium. We stayed just long enough for some punch, light snacks, and one or two of Travis’s usual far-fetched yarns about one thing or another.
In the car on our way to the Oprey, I discovered that my vision was either playing wicked tricks on me, or I was hallucinating. I was hallucinating. My friends were too. Turns out that bastard Travis Rivers had spiked the punch at his party with LSD. We should have known. Since we were already in motion when the acid started coming on we decided to just stick with the plan.
I can’t remember all the artists who played that night, but I do remember Buck Owens, and Porter Wagoner, plus old Grandpa and Minnie Pearl, who were hilarious. Between each act a billboard would drop down from the ceiling advertising one thing or another. One advertisement was for something like Stuckies candy, and every time the sign was unfurled my friends and I – for some dumb reason not even known to us – would howl with laughter. The people sitting near us kept giving us strange looks, like “What’s so damn funny”. But we were beyond being fazed. It was a fun night, but I learned the hard way why Travis Rivers was considered a wily character.
Much later that evening I hung out with David, one of my fellow fruit-punch-spiked brothers at Slyvia and Teppers leather workshop/store on 16th Street. He was on holiday from university where he was studying to be a doctor. Sitting next to a wood-burning stove, we wound up getting into a long conversation about oil, a simple thing – oil.
But he got way into it, describing it in great detail, breaking it down to molecules, and on and on for like hours. Was it really that fascinating or was it the power of the dose? Who knows, it was a great way to ring in the New Year.
David and I both had a crush on a tall attractive back-up singer named Darleen. After he crashed, deep into the early morning, I composed an up-tempo song about her, with rhythm and chord changes that Cannonball would have been proud of. It helped to pass the long night and eventual come down.
It didn’t take long for me to feel like it was time to move on. That’s just how it was. I’d get an urge to travel, and the next thing I knew I’d be out on the highway with my guitar and backpack, thumb already twitching to flag down a ride. It was such a great feeling to have no responsibilities or ties. The best part was not knowing what possible adventure lie in wait, or whom I’d meet, or even knowing where I’d spend the night. I didn’t care because I had some kind of faith that it would always work out, and always it did. These leaps of faith, and my trust in the power of the unknown, I can see now, paved the way for how I continue to live even today.
I’d been thinking about Cindy from Oregon. Who wouldn’t have? So I phoned her neighbor to tell her I’d be passing through. (Cindy had no phone) I wasn’t really passing through, but she’d gotten under my skin, I missed her sweet sensuous body and her good sense of humor, and since I was between gigs, I thought it was about time to resume our friendship. It turned out to be a great idea too. She received me with open arms, and smothered me with affection. It’s always nice to know you’re wanted.
Cindy lived in a small hamlet in southern Oregon called Selma. It’s near the Siskiyou Mountains about forty miles southwest of Grants Pass. If you went to the tip of northwest California you’d hit Crescent City. There you would take a right at Highway 99 and travel northeast following the Rogue River till you hit southern Oregon and Selma. I don’t know how the area is now, but then in 1972 it was a spectacularly beautiful rural region, except for the incessant logging. And logging was big in this part of Oregon. All day long you’d see huge double tractor-trailers loaded with fresh cut logs, barreling down the roads. Sawmills with noxious smoke belching out of chimneys were scattered along the main routes.
Cindy was 5’9. She had cerulean blue eyes, a high forehead, dimples and long wavy chestnut hair. She was originally from Chicago but now lived in a shack. No use trying to make it more than it was, it was a shack. It leaked in the rain, had no insulation, and had two small plastic covered windows. But it did have two crackerjack wood-burning stoves. One stove was for keeping the place warm, and the other was for cooking, at which she was a marvel. She made me feel like a king with her splendid home-cooked meals, including homemade bread.
Some mornings were so cold that we’d have to start a fire to make it comfortable enough to get breakfast going. We had playful fights over who would get up out of that toasty warm bed first to start the fire. It was she who usually started the fire.
Her shack was backed up against a vast pine forest where we picked wild mushrooms for a sorrel soup she’d make from time to time. Wild black bear could sometimes be seen up in the trees, and you had to be real careful not to get in between a cub and it’s mother.
Cindy had an improvised plywood sweat lodge that was heated by starting a log fire in the customized fifty-gallon steel barrel. The stove was set on its side and had a lid welded on one end for a door. Since her place lacked hot water it was nice to be able to take a sauna, then stand outside in the Oregon night unfazed by the cold, gazing up at the million and one stars pulsing on the roof of the black sky.
This was funky country living at its best. Beautiful girl, home cooked meals, and a quiet place to write and practice. But one thing was wrong with the picture: the rainy season was approaching, and it would last for five months. A couple of weeks of gray downcast skies with rain water dripping into pans in the shack was enough to get me thinking about moving on.
About this time a letter from Cannonball arrived. He said he was recording in L.A. and if I came down I could do some singing on the record.
That was all I needed to get me rolling. Cindy, dreading the months of rain ahead, wanted to come with me. It was my pleasure to have her join me, as we were still enjoying each other’s company immensely.
We found an old sixty-two Chevy Impala that looked like it had been through a war or two. It was painted in the Rasta colors of yellow, green, and red, by what must have been a couple of six year olds in kindergarten class. We called it the Schmata. (In Yiddish that means a rag, or something old and used) We paid all of $65 for it, and they told us it burned a little oil.
A little oil my ass! We were stopping every seventy-five miles to put a quart in. Other than it smoking like a rubbish heap and smelling like an oil sump, with fumes enough to sicken an entire city, the Schmata was all right. But the clutch, a Hurst four speed, froze up about fifty miles outside of our destination. Welcome to LA. We left the Schmata where it died and got out and hitched the rest of the way to Malibu.