How Things Have Changed Over The Years in the Music Business

Friday, February 5, 2016 9:00 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I ran across a quote by Hunter S. Thompson that made me think about some of the things that Doc, Marilyn, and their friends have said about the music business and how ruthless it can be. Here it is:
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."  -  Hunter S. Thompson

I read this to Doc, Marilyn and Big Dave when I was visiting the other night, and got their responses. Marilyn, of course had the most to say about it, even though she is the youngest, and has only been playing and singing publicly, for well less than 20 years. Doc put her to work playing and singing in the streets and passing the hat when she was 10 or 12 years old. Nevertheless, the quotation sparked a fire in her.

Marilyn: Tondy, I don't know who that Mr. Thompson, but he is RIGHT. We know that, and we are just nobodies! But we have experienced a lot of that. People promise you all kinds of things, especially when you don't have a job and are hungry. Things like good connections, good money, and other things, and then you find out that they don't even have anything themselves, and are hoping to just use you to get things for themselves! Like, they act rich and like they are looking out for you, but they are not. A lot of them are broke and owe money to everybody, and are hoping to use you to make some money for them! Like, they line up a gig, and tell us how wonderful it's going to be, and how many hundreds or thousands of people are going to be there, how much money "we'll" all make, meaning how much money HE will make, and then when you get there, it's just something we could have got on our own! Then they introduce us to MORE people who want a piece of the action, and talking about how well connected they are, and how they will open major doors for us...

Big Dave: She's right, Tondy. I've been doing this all my life, and it's always like the next big gig is around the corner. If we play at this crummy little dive, it will open the door to the really BIG crummy dive. After a while, you just stop believing in any of them. They are all a bunch of no talents who want to be big shots, and want to pimp whoever they can...

Doc: I decided a long time ago that ain't nobody gonna pimp me but me. I've had times when it was just me living in my panel truck. Well, me, a couple guitars, an amp and a dog, and when you're broke, everybody wants to take a vantage of you. and you have to smile, you have to pretend you're happy, you have to put on a show like everything is all fine and dandy, even when you're dying inside. That is the show part of show business. You got to "show" that you're happy and that everything is good even when that ain't your reality. 

Big Dave: But this ain't nothing new Tondy. It's always been like that, as far back as you go. If someone's got talent, there are always a dozen people who want to pimp them and make as much money off them as possible, and then when they have worn that person down to nothing, they are through with them and move on to the next one.

Like, one thing that happens is this. I was in a band with a so called agent once. He said he'd take care of all the bookings, travel, food, hotels, everything. He wanted a ten percent commission. So we went for it. He had us playing a lot of good gigs, colleges, resorts, festivals and all that. So at the end of the Summer, he's explaining why there's no money left for us!

Here's why: He CHARGED us for like every phone call he made! He got the cheapest prices he could get for airplane travel, but charged us full price for all of it! He got discounts on the hotels, but charged us full price, marking it all up as much as he could. He'd tell us to go ahead and get room service. Why? Because he'd mark it up so he made a profit on everything! Then he'd take it out of our money, PLUS the ten percent commission on every one of our bookings! Everything he touched had a giant sized mark up on it, and it all came out of our pockets!

Doc: I ain't never had an agent. I had an Asian once, though... that's a joke, Tondy! Anyway, for me, it's better to just do our own bookings, do our own music, work with the close circle of friends that we have, and let whatever happen happens. heck, I ain't never had no money anyway, and I still need to lose 20 pounds. What do I want to be rich for? I ain't never wanted to be rich - never wished for that, and my wish came true!

I have been totally down and out as far as society is concerned, but I have always been able to find food to put in my belly, some clothes to put on my back and a shelter to sleep under. Kings can't do any better than that. Plus I have always had friends. A lot of kings don't even know if the people around them are really friends, so I'm better off... in my book.

Tondeleo: So you've always played music, always gotten to eat, sleep and had friends. 

Big Dave: Right, That's true for me.

Marilyn: It's been true as far as I can remember. Even when mama ran off with that piece of trash from the carnival, Uncle Doc took me in, and made sure I had clothes, food and a bed. I can only wear so many clothes, and only eat so much food and can only sleep  in one bed at a time. Why would I want more than that?

Doc: Yeah, and we're still the same as always. We ain't never been famous or well known. But I'm still high energy. Marilyn's high energy. Our band is a very high energy band - more energy going on than a lot of teenaged bands… 

But I CAN say that when we were young, we'd play and there'd be girls throwing their panties up on the stage… and that still happens sometimes. But, they're a lot bigger now… and sometimes it's boxers what's bein' thrown up on the stage. It IS a little different, in that respect... But that's the music business!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn: Hawaii - Last Thoughts and Impressions

Saturday, January 16, 2016 2:12 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: Doc and Marilyn at last opened up to me a bit about their trip to Hawaii courtesy of their friend, Billy. It isn't that they weren't grateful, it's just that they know they went there, they liked it, and had a wonderful time playing music and meeting people, but they don't know much about Hawaii, even where it is.

But now we know a bit more about their holiday, not much, but at least a little.  And a lot of what they said was so confusing that I couldn't even make blog posts out of it. Sorry!

Tondeleo: Any last thoughts, Doc? Marilyn?

Marilyn: Well, some people that we met were like people here at home. Some tried to sell us weed at special prices, if we'd go home with them - well, not Doc, he wasn't invited, but it happened to me a few times... I don't smoke weed so I didn't take them up on it. They were really friendly, though.

Doc: And there was guys up on the North Shore what had some things to sell at pretty good prices, but they wanted to know my social security number and my mom's last name to make sure I was really who I said I was - and I told them who else could I be? They said it would prove I wasn't a cop. And they wanted that social security number and my mom's name from before she got married. I mean, THEY didn't know her back then! How's that gonna prove anything? But they wanted it before showing me any of the cool things they had for sale at cheap prices.

He said he had guitars, amps, phones, mp3 players, weed, knives, anything I wanted... and he'd take me to see it all if I would give him $20 for a finders fee, and the info he needed so he could check me out. He said it was because I was a immigrant.

I'm no dummy, Tondy. I asked him where he got his stuff and he said mostly it was things people left in their cars. That made sense.  I'd seen signs up there where the cops warned people not to leave things in their cars. So I knew he wasn't lying.

Then I asked him why he was selling his stuff so cheap and he said it was so he could buy ice! I told him you could buy a whole bag of ice for $2 back in Maryland. He just stared at me, Tondy! He couldn't believe it!

Tondeleo: Ummm... Doc, ice is a name for crystal meth, which is pretty popular... So did you do business with him, Doc?

Doc: Well, no. No, I didn't. Ever since I was young I had this special ability, some people even say it's a supernatural gift. I can listen to people and somehow know pretty soon if what they are saying is me or not.

In this case, I felt the incoming vibes and about that time I noticed some other guys behind the bushes with walkie-talkies. I thought, "And here he is trying to make ME prove I'm not a cop!" The dude what was trying to sell me stuff was telling me I had to go down this path with him. Then it was revealed to me that it was something to avoid and not get involved with. Just like that!

I wasn't tryin' to hurt his feelings or nothing but I had to back out. He got kind of mad, but he got over it when he realized I couldn't remember my social security number and I wasn't sure which mama whose name he wanted anyway. My birth mama, the mama what raised me, or the one what paid my bills... He called me a dumb Howie, which is not my name anyway and told me to get out of there.

I told him my motel was where I was heading to and I wouldn't stay even if he wanted me to, so we parted ways right then and there.

Tondeleo: Were you scared, Doc? 

Doc: Scared that I couldn't remember my social security number? No. I knew I had it wrote down back home. Scared that I wasn't sure which mama he meant? No, he coulda explained himself better if he hadn't been so pushy.

But I didn't like hurting his feelings, or of the other fellas that was hanging around in the bushes. I just walked back to the paved road and hitched a ride back with some other local guys what wanted to know if I wanted to party, which at that time I didn't. They wanted me to pay for their party which I did, because I didn't have anything to buy now that I couldn't remember my social security number... They was real nice and they laughed a lot and dropped me off about only a mile from me an' Marilyn's motel. They was really nice, them Hawaiians.

Marilyn: They truly WERE nice, Tondy! You should go there!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Hawaii Memories Part 3 - Itty Bitty Guitars

Saturday, January 9, 2016 10:39 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that impressed Doc particularly was the "itty bitty guitars" for sale in Hawaii. When they went to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, he and Marilyn were amazed at the various vendors selling these itty bitty guitars with only four strings. Here are some excerpts from our conversations about them:

Doc: So Tondy, me an' Marilyn was walkin' around the swap meet there in Hawaii and ran across this guy what had dozens of itty bitty guitars for sale. He had them hanging all around his booth and on shelves and tables - I never seen that many regular guitars in one place before let alone those little bitty ones! I'm thinkin' they're for little kids. But mostly it was Chinese grown ups playing them and buyin' them up. Some of them was buyin' two or three of 'em!

Marilyn:  Actually it was Japanese tourists, but Doc thinks they're all Chinese, of course. But he's right, they we're buying up all the little guitars. 

Doc: They was all little nylon string guitars. Some was cheap, like $10 and people was definitely buyin' 'em for their kids. But SOME of those little guitars, which they had a Hawaiian word for, and I forget right now, but the guy sellin' 'em said it meant "flea" and I would never try to sell somethin' called a flea, but he did and was sellin' them like half price tickets to  a NASCAR race -  Some of them was like $250, $300 even $400! For a tiny little guitar with only four strings! Over here, in regular America you can get a six string full size guitar for that!

The guy what was selling them saw me eyeing his merchandise and told me to go ahead and pick one up. He asked if I played them, the word he used what I can't remember and I told him "no." But it wasn't that hard. It was tuned like for blues, in open C I think.

Marilyn:  So of COURSE Doc starts playing Dust My Broom - that old Elmore James song... and he can't help but singing! And of course not under his breath because he doesn't know how. He had a deep half inch socket in his pocket that he had found on the ground behind a dumpster, and he used it for a slide! 

Doc was SO happy that he could play it! The guy that ran the booth got very round eyed when he heard the sounds Doc was getting out of it! So did the Japanese people. Some of them started videoing him on their phones, others were taking pictures and asking for more! Then they started buying those little guitars! And that kept Doc there singing one blues song after another, and the tour group bought I think 4 or 5 of those little guitars thanks to Doc's playing blues on them!

Doc: Well, the guy what was selling 'em was just strumming some sort of shuffle rhythm like all the other people who was selling them at their booths, and it really wasn't much to get excited about. Like if you remember Tiny Tim from when your mama was a little girl. But once you pick one up and start messing with it, you can bend the strings pretty good on those little suckers, Tondy, and they can put out some good blues!They do slide pretty well, too. And I only sang maybe three or four songs more maybe five.

I asked the guy what was selling them why such a bitty little guitar cost so much and he told me that it's really expensive to live in Hawaii - food, gas, rent and all that - so when he sits down and spends several days making one of them little guitars, he has to charge more for it than you would think. The ones he made started at about $275, which is more than I have ever paid for a full size guitar in my whole life!

Marilyn: He had cheaper ones, and so did the other people who sold them, but they weren't made in Hawaii by hand. They were made in China and or maybe Texas. That's the same way it is with buying regular guitars here at home. Cheap ones are made in China and better ones are made in USA and they cost more. Hand made ones are for rich people.

Tondeleo: Unless of course you're talking about one of Doc's hand made box guitars or tackle box guitars. They're not for rich people but they sound good and are impressive for as cheap as they look.

Doc: The only time I've played a four string guitar was a bass or a regular guitar where I'd broke a couple of strings. But it wasn't a 4 string on purpose. But I admit, I liked those teeny little guitars! But I couldn't afford one! So I stuck with my $20 guitar what I brought over with me! It's been with me a long time and is my old friend!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Favorite Hawaii Memories Part 2

Friday, January 8, 2016 12:28 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: For some reason Doc and Marilyn are really opening up about their Hawaii trip. I think the fact that I don't make fun of them is helping them to talk more freely. I love hearing their stories, and especially their stories about Hawaii, one of the many places where I have never been, but would love to go! 

Marilyn, how as the shopping in Hawaii? I know you two didn't have much money, but I'm sure you were able to do enough busking to buy a few things...

Marilyn: Other than the thrift shops, the only other place we went shopping was the swap meet...

Doc: Swap Meet!!! I brung some stuff to trade out  - I had my whole guitar case full - and they ain't about swappin' out there, Tondy! They're about swapping their stuff for MY money!

Marilyn: That part's true. They really aren't there to swap anything. But it is really nice! And huge! It's every Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday at the Aloha Stadium. You pay a dollar to get in and then there's hundreds of little stands and booths set up with everything you could want...

Doc: I wanted some things they didn't have...

Marilyn: Well, everything that a normal person would want...

Doc: But I got special needs...

Tondy: YES, we all KNOW that, Doc!

Marilyn: And the prices are really good! Like t shirts were 7 for $20. That's cheaper than a thrift shop! And they were brand new!  Might not be the best quality but you can ask for lower prices, it doesn't hurt and usually works!

Doc: We got to drink outta coconuts. That was pretty cool. Not cheap but it is a good memory.  They had about any kind of food you want. Plus some dried bugs and little dried up peppered crabs at some of the Chinese booths. I didn't get 'em. I got a big hot dog.

  Marilyn: OK, here's something that I didn't plan to eat, Tondy... Marinated squid! A little Korean lady named Ms. Patti  (Doc asked her if she was Hawaiian or Chinese, and she said she was Korean, which he had never heard of and told her he thought she was Chinese) with a red hat on was selling it. People were in line to buy it. The Korean lady lets people sample all the different kinds that she's selling Of Course Doc wouldn't eat it because he said it was fish bait and he is a man, not a fish. When Ms.Patti found out I'd never had it before, she rolled me a little a sample with rice, seaweed, kimchi and her marinated cuttlefish. I actually LIKED it, Tondy!

Doc: And I actually did not even want to try it! I ain't eatin' no dried up squids or fish or seaweed. Man was made to eat hot dogs and normal food what is found in nature.  But I did buy a bottle of Broke  Da Face hot sauce. I liked that. I wish I'd bought more.

Marilyn: We should have gotten an umbrella at the salvation Army before coming. It was hot as Anacostia [in Washington, DC] in July! We should have brought some bottles of water, too. But we had a really good time!

Doc: They had all kinds of stuff... shirts, stickers, magnets, food, them itty bitty guitars, stuff what they carved outta wood. And one thing that was the same as here, Tondy, is that most of it come all the way from China! That's why it was so cheap.   

Them itty bitty guitars was NOT cheap! They mighta come from China or maybe was made local, but they was not cheap, not unless you bought the toy ones... and I thought ALL of 'em was toys at first, but they wasn't.

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Favorite Hawaii Memories Part 1

Thursday, January 7, 2016 9:48 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I've been real fortunate getting Doc and Marilyn to agree to talk about their Hawaii trip that their friend Billy footed the bill for. They were embarrassed about going to Hawaii because neither of them knew where it was before going, while they were there or indeed to this day. They might mention that they "went down to Hawaii," but they don't talk about it. 

They loved it, and Marilyn is certain that Hawaii is "like Heaven only shorter." Their friends who do know about Hawaii don't believe Doc and Marilyn really went there. The others of their friends, which is most of them, may have heard of Hawaii but don't believe that Doc and Marilyn could have possibly been there.  And, if they DID, how did they get back?

 Doc: One thing we liked about Hawaii was the people. Not the tourists but the locals. You can spot the tourists - their clothes and cameras around their necks and they're spending money everywhere. Loaded down with shopping bags.

Not just American tourists, Tondy, but they had tourists of every color and country under the sun! I didn't know there was that many kinds of people anywhere exceptin' Washington, DC.

Marilyn: Yeah, it was all kinds of tourists. We didn't have any cameras or any money! Billy paid for our tickets and motel but we had to come up with all our own money for food and stuff. We had to sing and pass the hat and eat the cheapest food we could find - people didn't think we were tourists. I think they thought we were just homeless. Like tourists that got there and ran out of money.  But not drug addicts. We're not skinny enough for people to think that. There's a lot of homeless people in Hawaii.

Doc: I was glad I brought my acoustic guitar. The locals was real nice to us and helped us out with whatever we needed. They didn't care that we were Gringos. Sometimes they would come and sing with us or play their itty bitty guitars. They would tell us places that was best for singing and passing the hat. They was real good to us like that. Plus, they was a lot of fun.

Their dogs was real nice, too, Tondy. But dogs are pretty much the same everywhere. It made us miss our dog, Dale Junior what we had to put down last Summer cause he got blind and deaf and couldn't walk anymore. He was 16. That's pretty old for a American Bulldog.

Marilyn: This one gal, Louisa, she took us under her wing and invited us to her family reunion party and helped us out almost every day. Their party was like three days, Tondy!

Doc: And boy could she sing! She had a set of lungs on her, I tell you! And she was real good to Marilyn. Helped Marilyn meet people and chased away the boys what was comin' on to her. 

Marilyn: We sang and we laughed and sang and ate and sang and laughed some more! Then we ate some more and sang some more and laughed some more... then we ate some more, and everybody fell asleep and the next day we did the same thing! Ate and sang and laughed and ate and sang and laughed... we had FUN!

Doc: A lot of singin' laughin' and eatin' went on, all right!

A Little More about Doc and Mailyn's Hawaii Trip

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 11:47 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: As you know, I've been trying to get Doc and Marilyn to open up a bit more about the two weeks they spent in Hawaii last year, courtesy of a friend who wanted them to get a break, and catch a broader view of life than just the southeastern part of the United States.

I was out of the country when all this happened, and they had never mentioned it. Only by chance Doc mentioned it a few months ago and then wouldn't talk about it anymore. Marilyn was the same way. If pushed, they may talk about it a few minutes and then change the subject. Fortunately they do have a few photos that were taken of them on Marilyn's phone.

So tell us a bit more about your trip to Hawaii. Like, how was the hotel?

Marilyn: It was beee-YOUtiful, Tondy! We were up on the fourth floor and could see mountains and the beach and the water! I took pictures on my phone of the view looking off the balcony. 

Doc: It was all right. I got to play guitar a lot. I missed my panel truck. I don't usually go no where without it. But I couldn't bring it with me. Just a picture I brought in my guitar case.

As for the motel, first thing I do when I go into a motel room is if it's summer I turn on the AC full blast and if it's winter, I jack up the heat.

Tondeleo: And why is that, Doc?

Doc: 'Cause I ain't got AC at my place and my heat aint that good neither. If I can go to a motel room and get heat and AC and a good hot bath, that's all the vacation I need.

But guess what, Tondy? They didn't HAVE any heat or AC in the motel room! I looked all over for it and so did Marilyn and it wasn't there! I'm thinkin' what kind of cheap hellhole did Billy book us into? Marilyn called the front desk and found out something crazy. NO heat or AC!

Marilyn: You know why? Because the lady at the front desk said it doesn't get hot enough for AC and doesn't get cold enough for heat! She said it's about 72 degrees year round so we don't need heat or AC!

Doc: Well they hadn't met a poor man before. We don't care if we NEED heat or AC. We just use it cause we ain't got it at home and it's free with the room! If it's Summer and is 72 degrees, I'm still gonna use the AC! I'm paying for it - well, Billy did this time. I might have it down to 60 degrees just because I can!

If it was Winter, I'd set it to 80 or 85 degrees because nothin' says vacation like getting good and warm in the winter. I mean, I aint really had no real vacations, but I HAVE stayed in plenty of motels before.

Tondeleo: So, with no heat and no AC, were you comfortable?

Marilyn: It was wonderful, Tondy! I think it is what Heaven will be like, only shorter. 

Doc: Yeah, I was comfortable. It just took a while to get used to having the windows open like it was at home. Plus, they had them jealousy windows what wind out. that was different. Also, the screen door with bars on it, so you could have it open all night but no one could get in and rob you. But you gotta play and sing quieter 'cause everyone else got their door open, too.

But, I liked it, yeah.

Back to Hawaii - not a second trip, but a second attempt to get Doc and Marilyn to talk about it

Sunday, January 3, 2016 11:52 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: Back in the Summer, I found out that Doc and Marilyn had gone to Hawaii! Someone paid for them to go out there and take a break, meet some new people, play some places that they would never play on there own. 

I asked them why hadn't they told me about it and they were both embarrassed because they had never been there before. They had never flown in an airplane before. They had no idea where Hawaii actually was, even after they had been there. None of their friends knew anything about Hawaii. It made them feel like outcasts! I told them that I would count myself triple lucky to go to Hawaii, but they shook their heads, "no."

Marilyn: It really WAS weird, Tondy! NOBODY we know has ever been to Hawaii, so some of them laughed when we said we were going there. They made fun of us, like we thought we were better than them or something. Some didn't believe we were really going there, and said we were probably just going to South of the Border, SC and thought that it was the same thing as Hawaii...

Doc: Yeah, that's because a few years ago I went to South of the Border, and thought I was in Cuba. I didn't know any better. I saw that big Pedro and thought I was at the Cuban border. What else would it be? I ain't never been south of North Carolina til then.

I was workin' on my truck there at South of the Border - well, Cuba to me - and one of their security guards told me to quit. I told him I was a 'merican citizen and he said he didn't care if I was from the moon - which I am not - that I needed to stop working on my truck or he'd have me locked up. I stopped. Not because I was scared of him, because I wasn't, but I didn't want to go to no Cuba jail. Later someone told me it weren't really Cuba, it was just South Carolina. Hey, how was I supposed to know?

Marilyn: Since nobody believed us, when we talked about Hawaii and didn't know where it was, we just kept it to ourselves about Hawaii.

Tondeleo: So, tell me about your trip to Hawaii!

Doc: Well, first thing, it wasn't all filled with pretty girls in grass skirts and wearin' coconuts instead of shirts. I was figurin' that they'd be all over the airport, doin' hula dances and hangin' flowers around our necks. But no, that didn't happen.  I DID see Randy Travis at the airport. He was helpin' someone carry their suitcases.

I tried to get him to carry my guitar case, because it was heavy. I had the acoustic guitar in it and it was stuffed full of a lot of things I might need. Old Randy looked at me like I was crazy. I said, '"Yeah, go ahead and look at me like that, Mr. High and Mighty! You treat me like this after all your CD's that I copied!"

I carried my own guitar and let Randy Travis get back to carryin' suitcases. I brought my acoustic because I wasn't sure they'd have electricity out there yet... but they already do!

Marilyn: And it was beautiful, Tondy! It was the perfect temperature! Not too hot, not too cold! Just right! And everyone wears flipflops! 

It was funny to watch Doc because he doesn't have any flipflops and doesn't wear shorts. He stuck out like a bad belly button, walking around in camo and work boots!

Doc: I ain't gonna be a phony just because I'm not at home! Hawaiian shirts, shorts, flipflops! Some people can do that, but not me. I don't know how to be anyone but me.

Marilyn: But you DID find some flipflops on the beach and you wore them the rest of the time! And you DID cut off one of your pairs of jeans after a couple of days...

Doc: Yeah, well I figured the Good Lord wanted me to try out some flipflops, since my boots was wet and my socks were too - and He provided me with them flipflops there on the beach. What would YOU do?

Tondeleo: I'm sure I'd wear them, too, Doc. 

Marilyn: It was funny seein' him in flipflops and shorts! With his white, white legs! They hadn't seen the sun probably since he was a baby, Tondy!

Doc: Well... now you know why I don't wear shorts! My legs got all sunburned and hurt for three days! Why? All because I tried to fit in!

Marilyn: No, all because you didn't wear sunblock! Tondy, his legs looked like two skinny hams!

Doc: Long pants ARE sunblock! Why would I wear shorts and then put on sunblock? Makes no sense.

But we had a good time, Tondy.  We can talk about it later...

Doc discovers a top notch guy - his new hero - to fix his acoustic guitars!

Saturday, January 2, 2016 11:28 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing about rural Americans is that they want the same things that other people have, but they usually can't afford them, well unless they steal or sell drugs. For the rest, they have to figure out how to make things themselves or fix things so they can have nice things that we all like. Doc and his friends say that they have made so much out of so little for so long that they can make anything out of nothing now.

Doc, Big Dave, Marilyn and I were standing out front of Doc's house, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, and talking about how, all in all, life is pretty good. When you try to do the right thing, right things seem to happen for you.

Doc has an old Martin guitar  - 44 years old, to be precise - that he said just seemed to get worse over the years. It got to where it hurt his left hand to play it so he would use his old no-name guitar from the 1950's that he had paid $20 for ten or more years ago. 

Doc: A man needs several guitars for the different places he  plays. Like, out on the street you need a old beater guitar, because it might rain on you, or something might happen to it while you're walkin' from one place to another. You need a old beater electric and a old beater acoustic. but they still have to sound good. But they also can't look good enough that someone would try to steal them. You have to think about that. they have to LOOK like cheap garbage.

For a open mic, you need somethin' that might look a little better, and it's gotta sound good. For a paid gig, you need somethin' that looks pretty good and sounds real good. A 'lectric on for some, and a 'coustic for others. And that is what broke my heart with this old Martin gettin' worse over the years. Plus, after so many years, it's like a pet, like a friend. It gets all full of music from years of playin' and it wants to be played alot. But I could barely play it. It got to where it hurt my hands...

Tondeleo: And then, something happened!

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, I'm pretty excited about this! My Martin been getting worse and worse an' I all but stopped playin' it a few years ago. It didn't sound right, didn't feel right. The strings were too high, it was just gettin' issues. You know that I don't mind tearin' somethin' apart if I think I can fix it. but I am not dumb enough to tear an old Martin apart. I'd probably mess it up even worse. They definitely are not something I want to mess up.

That meant I needed to get ahold of some money and just find someone who can fix it. I know a couple old guys what can do that kind of work, but ain't neither one of 'em doin' it anymore, unless it's little things. They both are geniuses with wood and can make brand new acoustic guitars outta raw wood, so they ain't too interested in tearin' into somethin' like resettin' the neck on a 44 year old Martin. I don't blame 'em. I'm scared to do it too. So that meant I had to come up with two things.

I had to come up with some money and I had to come up with someone who could do the job. It don't do no good to have the money if they ain't no one what can do the work. I asked around and found out it was gonna cost at least $350 or $400 just to get it started bein' fixed, plus whatever else they found when they tore into it.

I sold an old Tele [Telecaster] to a boy down here and fixed a couple other 'lectrics for people what been buggin' me to do their work, and got some money in my pocket. Then I got Marilyn to look on the interweb for someone round here what could fix it. She found me a guy in Arlington over in Virginia, what is about an hour from here. Close enough.

Marilyn: You know how Doc is, Tondy! He's not scared of anything or anybody, but he's scared of computers! He's scared he'll mess something up, or that he won't know what to do - which is true. I think he's scared to admit that he COULD learn something like doing a Google search, but then if he DID learn how to do it, he wouldn't need me anymore - which also isn't true! He can't even balance his checkbook! 

Doc: I ain't scared of no 'puter and I ain't need a checkbook. I pay in cash. So what do I need a 'puter and checkbook for?

Marilyn: Well, when you don't know something, you're pretty quick to call me in a panic and ask me to find out for you! And every month when you're trying to figure out how to pay your bills you seem to need to balance a checkbook!

Doc: Anyway, Tondy, what I was TRYING to say was, Marilyn found this guy. I asked her a bunch of questions and she read me the answers off his interweb page and the answers sounded good. She gave me his number and I called.

Marilyn: I had to MAKE him call! Doc wanted to hop in his truck and just show up with his messed up guitar. Luckily the man didn't put his whole address and luckily we don't have a map of Arlington, and luckily I wasn't available to go anywhere - and Doc doesn't like to go anywhere alone!

Doc: Sure, Marilyn... Now here's what's crazy. Most these people ain't gonna do much work between Christmas and New Years, but I called this one on Tuesday, what was the 29th an' he said to bring it on over. I got my friend George Edelen who is the best guitar player I know round here, and we rode over there.

The guy's name is Daniel. You can tell by lookin' at him that he's smart and also by listenin' to him when he talks. He knows guitars inside and out. He looked at my Martin and pointed out a bunch of things that it needed, and said what it needed wasn't a neck reset which made me feel better right then, but it needed some other things, a lot of little things, and it would cost less than a neck reset.

He talked all about guitars he's made, and all kinds of different wood and what it does to the sound and a bunch of other stuff that was interesting and I learnt alot. Me and George left and both felt good about having Daniel work on it. I figured it's be a couple of weeks, but no! He called me the next afternoon, and it was all done! I couldn't get up there to pick it up right then, but it was done! I couldn't believe my ears, Tondy!

Tondeleo: That's fantastic, Doc!

Doc: What's fantastic ?

Tondeleo: It's fantastic that he took it in right away. It's fantastic that he knew so much, and that he didn't take advantage of you. It's fantastic that he got it done so quickly. It's fantastic that you actually paid someone else to do something for you that was beyond your capabilities...

Doc: Oh yeah. I guess it IS fantastic. I just don't use that word, Tondy.  Anyway, he got it on Tuesday, called me that it was done Wednesday and I got it on Thursday, the last day of 2015. He made it perfect again. For me to tell, because I don't have that much brains, I had to pick it up and close my eyes an' play it and feel what it is doing in my hands and how the vibes are. it was just like it was a long time ago! it was just right. I could not in my wildest dreams think it could be that good and be done that fast, but it was true. Plus he kept to his price what he had told me and didn't all a sudden jack it up when he saw how happy I was with it.

He taught me a few things about fixin' guitars so I could do better on fixin' the kinds I fix - cheap old pieces of crap! Well, that's about it, Tondy except this: He asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee that was better than any coffee I'd ever had, and I figured that he thought I ain't never been to a 7-Eleven before. But he was nice so I played along.

But guess what? We didn't go to no 7-Eleven! Daniel gets his own coffee beans raw off of some dude an' then roasts them right there at his house and then grinds 'em up right there, and makes coffee in a itty bitty little silver coffee pot what he screws together an' puts on the stove. Ok, he didn't lie about that coffee. It was the best coffee I have ever had in my life. I am thinkin' about breakin' one of my guitars just so I can go back over there for some more of that coffee. Seriously.

Oh, here's his info, Tondy. Put all of it on the blob what you type:
Daniel Carbone
N. Peary St.
Arlington VA 22207 
703 969 6233

Back in the States for the Holidays, Making a New Years Resolution to Put Up More Posts

Friday, January 1, 2016 1:30 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I'm back in the States after being gone for five months. I've been mired in work and have had absolutely no time to transcribe conversations with Doc, Marilyn and their friends. I feel dreadful about this, but life happens. Actually, life happens while you're waiting for life to happen. I'm learning that as I grow older! 

I'm in awe of the weather on the east coast here in the States! I have been here since the week before Christmas and it has been unseasonably warm and quite nice, even though it has rained a lot. It still isn't as damp as England. I love this! I'm outside with just a tshirt and even wearing short trousers!

Being New Years Eve, I'm wondering what Doc, Big Dave and Rick are going to do. Maybe tonight they'll break their teetotaling ways. Once can only hope. All three of them had had problems due to their drinking in times past and all of them come from families where alcoholism runs deep. I get that. But that isn't MY background! And here I am stuck out living in a cabin in the woods with these three tee totaling musicians and their dogs and instruments.

 Doc was just talking about how every year his father would drink up their Christmas and nobody got any gifts. His dad's head hurt so bad that everyone had to be quiet and tiptoe around the house. Doc's dad was big and acted like a bear with a headache. And Doc would've kept up the family tradition if not for a few miracles.

Doc said, "As much as I hated my daddy, I was growin' up to be just like him. When he would walk across a bar, other men would point to him and say, 'there's a dangerous man.' That's what I wanted to be, a dangerous man. And I was workin' on it pretty well, but like my daddy, I found out that no matter how dangerous you are, you're gonna run into someone more dangerous than you."

"Plus, it's better to go to an AA meeting if I want to get together with my old drinking buddies. They have sober parties, and it's easier to stay sober if everyone else is..."

Big Dave added, "Yeh, I grew up the same way. Daddy and mama was always fightin'  over his drinkin' and fightin'. It weren't no fun for us kids. Not at all. Far as I'm concerned, alcohol ain't good for nothin' but pourin' on cuts."

Doc agreed. "I ain't taken a drink in years. I don't go to no bars. You can have a few shots of liquor and start lookin' for a fight. Liquor makes a angry man more angry... Do y'all have AA in England, Tondy?"

I assured him that we did, which he marveled at. looked over to Rick, who'd been sitting over in the corner quietly. He said, "i'm more peaceful than these guys. My dad taught us that you shouldn't go looking for fights, because there's always a fight looking for you. And you shouldn't think someone is being mean just because he's running his mouth. It might just be that he's ignorant and doesn't know any better. We were raised to just quietly slip out and go home if we could... or go stand by someone like Doc - let HIM be the target!

Doc and Big Dave got into a discussion of the nice cars and pickups that they'd had but had wrecked them due to drinking. Both of them talked about miracles that happened to keep them from getting killed. Doc had a couple of guitars that were destroyed by his automobile accidents. 

"I broke a good Telecaster in a fight once, hitting a guy what pulled a knife on me. He never knew what hit him. A Tele weighs like 9 pounds. It's a pretty good weapon. But if we'd all been sober, I'd still would've had that guitar."

Rick added that he threw up into a harmonica once. Well, actually twice. 

I have a lot of catching up to do with Doc, Big Dave, Rick, Marilyn and all their friends. I look forward to taking more pictures, recording more conversations and doing more blog posts than I did last year! And I guess I'll get a good start, because none of them are going anywhere to celebrate. Marilyn and her husband David are going to church! She said they want to start the new year with God and with taking communion...  I almost went with them, just to get out of the house, but then she said the communion at her church isn't wine, it's just grape juice.

Ok. I'll stay home, be safe, get some sleep and wake up with a clear head tomorrow. Could be worse.