Rock and Roll Heaven V: End of the Road

davised.com: Rock and Roll Heaven V:  End of the Road photo by KT Westendorf

by Ed Davis on July 23, 2014

(The following concludes my series of rock and roll essays about coming of age in southern West Virginia in the 1960s. In September, my novel The Psalms of Israel Jones, set inside the world of professional rock, will be published by West Virginia University Press.)

“All the roads we run and the folks we knew,
The risky things we used to do.
Now it’s over and we know we’re through
And I wish we had our time again.”

– John Hartford

Bottle and Tape

I heard the awful news the Monday after it happened, from the two Hamdenites who’d been with him:  Tony dead of an alcohol overdose.

They’d accompanied him to a dance in a nearby town. On the way, Tony reached into the glove box, took out a roll of electrical tape, tore off a piece, taped it about a fourth of the way down the side of a pint of grain alcohol and announced that he was going to drink the bottle down to the taped area, which he did.  When they arrived at the dance, Tony was asleep, so Larry and Willie went into the dance. When they came out they tried to awaken him, but he was unresponsive.  By the time they drove to Princeton Hospital, he was dead.

Bad Banana

Tony was the Visions’ lead singer at the time of his death. He had returned to Princeton after being away a long time. All I know is one day he wasn’t there, and the next he was cruising Mercer Street in a yellow repainted Ford with “Bad Banana” written on the fenders. Soon he hooked up with Bob, told the Visions’ leader he could sing and needed a gig.

Lead singer by default before Tony joined the band, I was glad to back him up; in addition to being a really nice guy, he was The Voice. His gruff, cigarette-and-whiskey baritone was perfect for “Light My Fire” and “This Magic Moment,” sounding exactly like Jim Morrison of the Doors and Jay Black of Jay and the Americans, respectively. No show was complete without his rendering “Green, Green Grass of Home” at least twice. He was personable, humble and made women swoon—an asset to any band.

Death of a Dream

But I sensed Tony had some sort of dark history. He was maybe thirty, and already looked weighted with troubles, as if returning from war. Singing seemed important to him, he did it so seriously. Did his past catch up with him the night of the dance?

Even more than the death of a friend, Tony’s was the death of a dream. Scarred and worldly, Tony linked us to a reality beyond Hamden’s magic kingdom where our dream of fame and fortune had for a while seemed possible. For all its bright promise, rock and roll had let me down, had finally become a job. Tony’s death was the wakeup call I needed, and within a year, I started college.

The Risky Things We Used to Do

The dangers we faced pursuing our dream were many:  drugs were present but weren’t as important to Hamdenites as alcohol, to which Tony’s untimely demise attests. Also, we played some violent bars where teenagers had no business. Many’s the time we drove across snow-and-ice-covered mountains to play four hours before retracing our path with not always-completely-sober drivers.

Yet I think the greatest dangers might’ve been from within. It’s obvious to me now that Tony and Dusty were in the grip of demons all of us felt to certain degrees—with the Big Question looming:  what were we going to do after rock and roll? For a few of us, it was college; for others, the military; for others, low-wage jobs. But it was clear we had to do something besides play rock and roll.

Our Time

The Visions valiantly carried on another year or so longer, but I never sang Tony’s songs. I hadn’t lived long enough to sing Haggard’s “Hungry Eyes” or Cash’s “Folsom Prison” like one who’d seen such suffering, maybe even lived it. And I sure wasn’t The Voice. My time lay a little further down the road, when I’d find my way into the heart’s dark blood with a pen rather than an electric guitar.

Today I’m grateful to have relationships, albeit long-distance, with Roger, Freddy and Nick, three surviving members of the King’s English, best little British band in southern West Virginia; and Bob, kind leader of the most disciplined—and certainly the best-paid—band I had the privilege to play with, the Visions.

“And I wish we had our time again/I wish we had our time.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger Cozart July 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Thanks Eddie for this series. I enjoyed it very much. You definitely captured the spirit and the ambiance of that era. I am thankful we survived but certainly miss those who did not.

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Michelle Whitley Turner July 26, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Lovely, Ed, as always!

Reading it is being there–. So nice!

I hope you decide to go with your fall reading idea!

Thanks, as always, for sharing your words, Ed!

See you somewhere soon, I’m sure!

Michelle

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