This is in front of the stage at Pecos River Cafe
It's 1984, Pecos River Cafe has relocated to a bigger and friendlier location - a few blocks from where it all started. The new place seats about 75 people, the pool room houses maybe 20 more, and with standing room, they stuff 300 people in there. There's plenty of parking, the dance hall is upstairs, it's nice inside, good size dance floor. It's a little bright, and maybe a little too nice for a redneck bar. The first band to play there is "Key Willie Makai", young girl, ultra hip, sings ok, band is ok, the mother is as pushy and self serving as they come. Friday and Saturday nights, there are maybe 15 people in the place. Most of the country crowd is at the Cowboy Inn, a run down but homey place about a mile up the road. The bands that play there aren't any better, but the place does seem to feel more comfortable. Well, there are two owners from the old Pecos, and a couple of new ones. My current pedal steel player, Craig Roberts, happens to be a good friend of some of these guys. At the time, we were working military clubs all over the island, and had had Jim Mitchell alienate us from the old owners of Pecos with his sneaky tactics. Somehow, Craig talks the new owners into giving "Rio" a try. "Rio" has a guy who sings a lot of the old country songs (I think that was me), a lot of the Outlaw Country that was popular at the time, and plays fiddle and banjo. We also had a decent girl singer/bass player in Lynda, Craig on pedal steel, and after going through a few sorry drummers, we ended up with Mickey Barrera - great drummer, personality to beat hell, hard worker, and just a really fun guy. In spite of his long, Slash style hair, black T shirts with the sleeves cut off, it didn't take long before he was well accepted in that total redneck bar. By the end of the second month of Rio playing at the new Pecos four nights a week, the weekends were looking real good - packed to the walls, rowdy - fun rowdy, but rowdy, smokey, and I had talked the management into turning the lights down more. Key Willie had been replaced by "Dixie", consisting of a married couple from Mississippi and their rhythm section - the guy was a good singer, and they played some good country music.
A few months into this, the place was packed to the walls on the weekends, and full the rest of the week - both bands doing well for bring people in and keeping them there. The next four and a half years were the best of my life - professionally, that is. Besides playing the four nights a week at Pecos, we also continued to play the military clubs, and even spent a few months playing Sundays and Mondays at the Cowboy Inn. Louie Santiago had come into Pecos, and bought out all the other owners within the first year, and had his son, Bobby, managing. Louie only cared about money, which worked out fairly well for me, as long as I put money in his cash registers, he was a happy guy. He didn't want to pay me what I was worth, but I wrote it off as "Paying my dues", which all artists had to do, and at the time, I was ok with it.
The Cowboy Inn, that was my first real encounter with fragile egos. Warren Johnson and the Gator Creek Band was the house band there about a year after Pecos opened its doors - playing Tuesdays through Saturdays - 9:30 pm till 3:30 am - killer hours, I don't know how they did it, but they did. The Cowboy Inn's owner, Gar Winward, got in touch with me to ask if I'd play Sundays and Mondays, so we did - I had my price, and Gar was happy to pay it. We had one waitress on duty - Debbie - she was somethin' else, and we had Rudy Camello tending bar - also great at what he did. Between Rio on the stage, Rudy behind the bar, and Debbie waiting tables, we did fairly regular $2000 Sunday & Monday nights - we had our share of slower nights, but for the most part, the people were in there drinking and dancing - at the old Cowboy Inn. Rio was always a four piece band, while Gator Creek had five guys. Rio had the usual - 2 or 3 guy singers, lead guitar bass, drums, pedal steel, but also had a good girl singer, a fiddle, and banjo, and by far the biggest following in the state. Gator Creek had Warren singing 90% of the songs, and usually one other guy singer, and that was it - no fiddle, no banjo, just guitars, bass, drums, and a poppy sounding keyboard. The owner of Pecos, being the greedy guy that he was, insisted on paying a band according to how many players were in it, while the owner of the Cowboy Inn was more about the following. Well, Gar paid us, a four piece band, the same as he was paying his five piece house band, and when Warren got wind of that fact, he hit the roof, and threatened to quit if Gar didn't fire us immediately. Well, Gar couldn't lose his house band, so we had to go. It was ok for us, we had plenty of work between Pecos and the military clubs, and we still had our following - packing Pecos to the walls just about every night, and having people follow us all over the island to all the military clubs - as I said, it was a great time for us, but I can't forget that whole ego thing from Warren.
Back at Pecos, it was one huge party every night - dancing, screaming, whistling, laughing, cutting up, guys chasing the girls, girls chasing the guys. Most nights I couldn't wait to get to work. We'd gone through a few players, but keeping the core of Lynda and me. After going through a few drummers, Lynda decided she wanted to play drums, so we got her a set, I gave her a crash course, and a month to the day after she got her set, she was onstage playing them - and doing a damn good job. She was not agile, but she was like a human metronome. I loved that she was simple and solid - no B.S. to her playing.
After the first two years, Craig, the pedal steel player, I guess he started to get frustrated, he was a Grateful Dead fan to the core, liked to play loud, and began to act out. After a few months of warnings, he finally had to go. It just so happened that an exceptional pedal steel and lead guitar player had just moved to town, Denny Hemingson. My friend, Keith Zeller told me about him, raving about how great a player he was, clean guy, good attitude. So, I met with Denny, and hired him sight unseen, or more accurately - playing unheard. Well, holy hell was he ever good. The first week or so he came in, played pedal steel, and then played guitar on some of the songs, played at about the same level as I did. We would talk on the breaks, and on the phone sometimes, and I guess he at some point realized I wasn't going to feel threatened by him, so he came in one night just a SMOKIN'. The rest of the band, including me, were in disbelief at some of the stuff he was playing - both on guitar and steel. On some of the songs, I would forget to start singing again, because I was so knocked out by what he was playing. The whole band was grinning ear to ear the whole night. Keith was also right about his attitude, Denny knew what he was expected to do, and he just did it - I never had to babysit him, never had to tell him to turn it down, and he was always on time. The Pecos crowd took him in immediately, and the next two years continued on as part of the best time of my life. By the way, Denny has been Tim McGraw's pedal steel player, second lead guitar player, and musical director for about the past fifteen years. We emailed for a few years, and I guess it became apparent that we don't see eye to eye on the subject of the music business, and I think I offended him, so we haven't spoken in 3 or 4 years. Kinda a shame, but well, that's the way it goes sometimes.
One of the highlights of Pecos was "Pickle" (Dan Dille), and Quinn. Pickle was a backwoods country boy who could clog (and old mountain style of dance) like nobody I ever saw, and Quinn was also a clogger, but trained. It became a regular thing where we would start in with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", everybody would clear the dance floor, Pickle and Quinn the only ones on the floor - doing their clogging side by side, up the middle of the dance floor, separating towards the outside, then back down the middle again. The people would be clapping, screaming, whistling, and generally going berserk while this was going on. The two cloggers would escalate, until Pickle would break into moves that Quinn just couldn't keep up with. They were both such great guys, nobody really trying to outdo the other, it just happened that Pickle had a few more moves - and his style was more wild and raw. Quinn would be grinning and laughing, but still dancing, while Pickle went to town with his wild stuff. The crowd would erupt at the end of the song, the guys would shake hands - genuinely admiring each other, it was just one of those things that made it all worth it.
So, those were the Pecos days, nothing since has held a candle to the way things were then, and I'm sure nothing ever will. I learned a lot, experienced a lot, met some great people, and just lived. I miss those days, I think about them and the people, and I often wonder what many of them are doing now.
So, thanks, guys and girls, for the best time of my life.
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