No Depression Blog: Still Seedy After All These Years

By Kevin Russell
November 22, 2011

Durango is one of those towns that has always been good to us. Going way back to the Storyville days we have always had great shows here. The Henry Strater Theater is part of an historic hotel of the same name. As I arrived a kid was toting jack o lanterns out to the dumpster and tossing them unceremoniously into the rotting cavity of the receptacle. To me it felt a little sad, these gourds, past their prime being thrown out with the everyday trash. A young girl came out with him for the last load of Halloween harvest. I said hello to them and smiled but they did not acknowledge me. They gave off a subtle Children Of The Corn thing. That paired with the destruction of my calabaza cousins was enough to put me on guard. Knowing the haunted history of this hotel I could take no chances.

The stage was smothered in a hopelessly tangled morass of red cables laid out by a stage hand. We mumbled complaints to Mark [Creaney] and he assured us that it would be just fine. looks like a shit ton of red licorice, I have a deep fear of red licorice. It's a laxative. That much of it in one place could be highly dangerous. It could induce evacuation by mere proximity. Mark assured me it would not, could not cause my bowels any problems. That frozen burrito from the hotel vending machine in Santa Fe is what you should worry about, he reminded me. The food at this haunted hotel was stellar. House made sausage, Chorizo stuffed chicken and potato-leek soup. We ate in our green room in front of a mirror. I have sat across from all of these chaps eating many times. But, sitting next to them, eating together in a mirror was like something from the mind of Stanley Kubrick. The show was sold out and solid gold.

We had to get up early and bust ass up to Boulder for the Fox show.

American Alt Country throw down is how the promoter described this show. A third act had been added at the insistence of the venue, Miss The Boat they were called. They were a nice bunch of chaps it seemed. Musically they were highly derivative of that Colorado hippie jam grass style. We have worked on a theory that the jam band style evolved in higher altitudes where it is difficult to sing effectively due to lack of oxygen. While singers caught their breath the band played on, noodling upon noodles until the singer could sing again. This is how that band sounded. They were good at it. But, again, as is always the case with jam bands, no great singers. They all were pretty good, nobody great or distinctive though. The green room at The Fox theater is underneath the stage. If one wants to get out into the main houses, one must at some point walk onto the stage. Eagle [Eye Williamson] was wondering how to do this while they were playing. I told him in that situation I would wait until the end of a song and then run across quickly while the applause was still ringing. He took my advice and then waited while they played a song, solo after solo they went on and on and on. We laughed about the situation of having to wait for a jam band to stop. When he finally did get an exit point he ran up the stairs as fast as he could. I didn't see him for a good 15min or during the whole next song. Then he appeared as applause erupted overhead, as if he were being applauded on his decent into the underworld like Orpheus, the rock star going down into the cavity of earth in search of his leather clad Eurydice asleep in her high heels and lace trimmed, seamless, jezebel bustier. "Man, I have been waiting for ever for that song to end," he sighed. Then he illustrated some of his favorite stupid dances for us, "The TNT," "Ride The Horse," and one that can only be described as "The Scarecrow Meets The Motivational Speaker On Ephedrine."

EagleEye is a lot of fun to have around. He's a great hang and has some great songs too. Boulder really dug his thang. They really got what he was doing. And he was so different from Miss The Boat. It was the perfect blend of opposing forces to set up things for The Gourds to walk on and blur the bubbles, whatever that means. Blur the bubbles we did. Blurred them and twisted the lemons, stirred the pot, picked a pickled pepper, thumped the tummy, popped the clouds, strummed a few winks, bit an apple or two then skated out into the foggy fusion of fragrant filigree. A dazzling dandelion of a show was had by all. We hope to return to Boulder as soon as possible.

Gracious Host: ( inquisitively generous) What's yer favorite shot?
Smart Ass Band Guy: Rubella

Pla Mor Ballroom in Nebraska. It's a great example of early-mid 20th century dance hall. When Bobby Layne bought it from Caril Ann Fugate's lawyer in the Starkweather case, it had hippies squatting in it. He kicked them out and cleaned the place up. It has served as a popular dance hall since then. While trying to find it Keith and I went to 6600 O St. The thing you need to know about Lincoln NE is that the roads are in a grid, letters running east-west and numbers running north-south. Another important fact is that the numbers run east and west like a mirror. Which is to say one can go to 6600 East O st or 6600 West O st. Unfortunately we went to the east O. There we found a dilapidated mall and, by process of elimination, the knowledge of this peculiar city grid design. So, that's right, we drove from 6600 East O to 6600 West O to arrive at this wonderful dance hall. I was not in the best of moods when I arrived. But I soon improved after walking into the musty, old, wooden welcome of our helpers, Dave and Opossum. I love old dance halls. I asked if the place was haunted, because they usually are. Dave told me sometimes he hears tables being moved when he is alone in here. Welcome to Nebraska where even the ghosts are productive, hard working and reliable.

(in my best urban, contemporary rapper voice)That's why they call this shit, the muhfuggin' Hawtland, Yo!! Cornhuskerz n' shit, kickin' it from the wishbone like Tom Osborne, Starkweather, Caril Ann, a death star was born. We gonna bring it back no matter the cost and never underestimate the loss when you are on the ground watching the ass of Scott Frost skate across the goal line, the soul shine, the song man stands in the corn, the storm, the vibrations of the husk in hand, the hawt land Hawtland Hawtland!!!!! All rise, all stand for the man and the woman in the heart of the land in the hand of the hand of the man who sailed the flat waters in search of peace and harmony.

Opossum put on Old Mad Joy. He said he has been trying to figure out "Want It So Bad" so he can cover it. But he was stumped by the chorus. I got my guitar out and he went and got his and I showed him how to play that part. Larry Campbell had the idea that this song needed a better chorus. He gave me a rough outline of that ascending thing as a possibility, then told me to work it out. I did. And that's what the chorus of that song became. It is tricky though as it ascends in half steps up from the E position, C, E7, F, F#, G, G#, Am, F then back to C and again but different slightly, C, E7, F, F#, G, Am, F, C. Once Opossum saw me play it he seemed to understand right away. He and Dave said they were gonna cover it in their band, Hayseed Cowboys. A Monday night in Lincoln NE could easily have Peppermint City potential. But the friendliness of our promoter, Dave and the genuine appreciation of long patient Nebraskan Gourds fans colluded to provide us a very enjoyable night. The sound on stage was just about perfect I thought. We played an old song of ours as a special tribute to the occasion and location, "Starkweather Made Nebraska." The lyrics had been written on the walls of Jimmy's old Steamy Bowl house on Depew by Claude's bro, Rob Bernard during a bottle night perhaps, in a drunken, slobbering scrawl no doubt. Later Jimmy put some music to it and we played it for a few years. It never made it onto a record. Though Rob had his own music he put to the lyric that did make it onto a Prescott CurlyWolf record, Funanimalworld. We went over it at Soundcheck and it brought me great joy to play it again. Songs, like smells, can bring back feelings and memories. And in many ways this could be thought of as a night of songs and smells. It never occurred to me that perhaps they don't care to hear about the infamous serial killer from Lincoln. Until later, once it rolled around in my head for a while. I considered that if someone were to come to Austin and play a song about Charlie Whitman, I would not be impressed. I would not be offended either. Maybe ambivalent? I am sure plenty of bands have come to Dallas and dedicated, sang songs about Lee Harvey Oswald. It is something most Dallasites would consider history of the city and therefore allowable. Though I have read about the Dallas Cowboys team at the time getting all kinds of shit about the Kennedy assassination when they would go to other football stadiums. Weird, eh? It makes me wonder, will some band ever come to New York City and sing a cryptic, pop culture laden song about Mohamed Atta? Probably, eventually. (Read Welcome To Terrorland, by the way. Good research in there. Similar to me in that he is not the greatest writer but writes about some disturbing shit. So yeah, Starkweather I guess we played it for our selves. And by conjuring a horrific string of heartland murders from the 1950's we made a sentimental connection with an inspirational time in our personal history. That's twisted. But that is sometimes the mysterious way life manifests itself to us humans. I mean it's not like we are a Kali death cult or anything, but life does grow from death.

Speaking of life and death, we had to get up and get back on the blue highways for a long, murderous trip of our own. We would be traveling all the way to Minneapolis MN to the family home of Claude's in-laws. We were hungry when we left Lincoln.But the only foods around were fast food chains. We thought we would find something better maybe up the road. But since leaving Colorado there had been nothing but an endless chain of McArbysubqueen's broken up by the occasional dingy, truck stop annex with the word, "Restaurant" placed strategically to signify that, indeed, this is a place with a kitchen that prepares "food." Nothing against truckers or the trucking industry, but I am not a gambling man. These are the times that try men's holes. As ugly a sentence as that is, it is pretty damn accurate. This is never pretty, ladies and gentlemen. We ended up eating in Iowa at a burrito place. It was a good effort they made but ultimately it failed to reach that convergence of ingredients that equates to what I would call a burrito. We theorized that the meat was boiled instead of grilled. And the salsas had no heat. We knew that the menu offering of three different sour creams said something about the cliental in this market. We are in dairyland boys. (Kev's healthy eating tip: for all of you sour creamers out there, try greek yogurt instead for a healthier option without any compromise in flavor) I will give them points though for having whole wheat tortillas and wild rice option instead of white. As a lo carb, metabolic syndrome foot soldier, I appreciate it. The long road ended in the cold of dark Minnesota evening. The plan, as is usual, when we land in a communal house situation like this is for Jimmy and/or Mark to cook a meal. Mark had pealed off from the tribe to visit a friend. So Jimmy decided he would make a spaghetti bolognese, based on the recipe of the former chef at Louie's 106 in Austin. He was a tall Austrian (i think) fellow named Norbert. That bolognese was some of the best stuff I ever ate. Jimmy can almost hit it on the head too. Since Keith and I arrived earlier we went to the store with a list of provisions from Chef James. We brought'em back and laid stuff out for the arrival of the cook. He hit it as soon as he walked in the door and in a couple of hours we had a fine feast. EagleEye made the bread especially good too. So, yeah, the metabolic foot soldier was swimming mouth deep in carbolicious offerings. Perhaps I could eat a smaller portion? Nope, fail. I pigged out and enjoyed every bite.

After a day of utter stagnant laziness we cruised down to St Paul to the Turf Club. It was maybe the coldest day so far. It sat around the 20's all day. There was some grumbling about conditions, but nothing major. I never ate because it was just too cold to go walk around and find food. There was a Thai place next door. I may be the only Gourd who doesn't really care much for Thai. I keep trying, but it never impresses me. There is just too much aromatic spice or something, I don't know. It always tastes like someone's grandmother's perfume was accidentally dropped in the curry. The turf is a classic twin cities dive. There is something about the place that makes me drink a little more than usual, turn up a little louder, sing a little longer than the average. And since I didn't eat that got me into a little trouble. The show was clammier than usual. But it was low down groovy and greasy too. Sometimes execution is sacrificed for feel. Feel is most important I think. Gear, talent, looks all have varying degrees of value in the world of music, art and thru out society. For me, though, it's all about inspired performance and feel. I judge most all music, art, literature on that kind of scale. If it don't move me, it lose me. Definitely, the audience was movin all over the place. They came from all over. Some from Wisconsin, some from Iowa, Canada, Illinois. It was a cool show I thought. But, sometimes a cool show for me can be a not so good show for somebody else. Sound, health, sobriety, emotions can all affect the kind of show one of us has. Even the greatest bands have off nights. What separates those bands from the others is that the audience will never know about the bad nights. There are a few fans who have seen enough shows to know when we are having a good night, bad night, great night, whatever. Most will never be able to discern that. And, like I said, I can have a great night while the others can suffer mightily. I think Claude and Keith had not so much fun. But they played well I thought Yï and toughed it out apparently. Maybe it was that shitty Thai food.

Madison has been a great town for us for many years. We first played a tiny little place called The Art Bar many years ago. It is still a legendary show in the shared memory of the band. We have been playing High Noon Saloon for a long damn time too. Tag Evers has been a fixture as a promoter in the Madison scene for as long as anyone can remember. Max says even the Wilco guys have stories about him. He is a classic, thick skinned, self determined sort of promoter. If I were making a movie I would cast this guy as a music promoter. He certainly is good at what he does. A little too good for us sometimes. In the past he has done this double booking sort of thing to us. It goes something like, he offers another band to open for us, we reject it because we tour with our own opener. So he books the band anyway for an early show instead. Thereby making it impossible for us to soundcheck. To his credit he did try to inform us ahead of time about this. But, it is so out of the bounds of normal music venue etiquette that we were not aware until the day before when Keith reviewed his paperwork for this show. Nothing against other touring bands having a gig, but not having a proper sound check truly shorts us and our fans from having the best possible experience. We were forced to show up at 8 for a 9 o'clock show. Normally a sound check can take an hour and a half to two hours. Cramming it in quickly while there is a small, gathering audience is stressful and problematic. We were unhappy about that. And it affected this show measurably (Editor's Note: see "Throw and Go"). I had several comments afterwards expressing concern and sympathy in regards to the problems in sound at High Noon. I thought about explaining to them that it was just a normal soundcheck, though condensed and unusually open to witness by an audience because of Tag's double booking decision. Though saying all of this in a noisy bar after a show is an irresponsible use of my larynx. So there ya have it. I will leave it at that because I have learned, as well, some of you don't want to read me bitching about the venues and their dubious ways. Only other musicians are interested in those details. So, maybe I will put together a sour grapes compendium of the most incompetent, inconsiderate, irritating and insane venues and promoters in the USA. A simple facebook page would be best I think. Hell, there probably already exists such a thing. Such might constitute an irresponsible use of my blog.

The coolest part of the Madison show, by far, was meeting Bun E. Carlos. We were aware that he was a long time fan of The Gourds from mail order fulfillments we had done in the past. It was great to finally meet him, one of our favorite drummers of all time. I offered him to sit in on a song, but he said he just wanted to hear Keith play. "Keith is a great drummer" he said. That he is, Bun E. if that really is yer name.

Oh Milwaukee, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. It's Chicago done right. The architecture, the food, the people. We always play Shank Hall and we always eat at an Indian joint down from there. We love this place. It was a star on everyone's figurative calendar for this tour. Next day we hit a German place called Mader's. It was full of barbarian, Bavarian decor. The wall of fame included, Clark Gable, Hepburn, Oliver Hardy, Three Stooges, Reagan, Ford and Kennedy etc. Everyone didn't like their food from here. But I sure did. Sausages, Kraut, Potato dumpling, oh yeah. It set me up perfectly for Chi-town.

"if you can't get up for a Chicago show, then yer in the wrong business" says our old pal Dorsey Williams. He's a consummate, professional, entertainer's entertainer from the old school. And though his anecdotes are colloquial at best, they have a grain of truth in them. This one in particular is right on the money. Chicago, New York done right, Hog Butcher To The World and all that. We had a great turn out at Martyr's and we surely appreciate so many coming to the show. Maybe the best show of the tour. The pacing, the sound, the audience enthusiasm all riding steady and high with a big ol' finish.

Keith and I arrived at Martyr's in Chicago early, followed by the band. As they were loading in I was in the middle of a conversation about the central Texas wildfires. That became a story told by Ray, the owner of Martyr's, about a friend of his, from NOLA, who swam with his family out of the 2nd floor of their apartment building into the black waters of the Katrina flooded crescent city. It was a riveting, sobering reminder of how lucky we all are to not have had such tragedy strike us. I certainly felt that I could not be so insensitive to walk away from his telling me this story to go load in gear. Now the problem is I had, honestly, in recent days, gotten a bit lazy about helping with gear loading. It is not exactly that I had been avoiding it. It is just a matter of timing. Often, since we travel in separate vehicles, we are in different places at different times. Like in mid-conversation with the owner of a venue. I have always made it a point to be the first to begin unloading/loading. I wait patiently for the van to show up and I am back there toting gear as soon as it stops. As this tour went on I became less gung ho. No reason, I'm just tired like everybody else. For the sake of argument (which is almost like for god's sake), if I am at the hotel before the van how long am I obligated to wait? If they are getting corn dogs at Dog O' Bell, how long do I wait? The way I see it is their late night hunger is equal to my late night slumber. Actually, in the end, it all works out pretty evenly. Everyone has times when they don't do as much loading as the next guy. We allow each other slack sometimes. But when it has gone on longer than the unspecified, silently agreed upon time, somebody has to say something. And that is just what Claude said as I was in the last, sympathetic murmur's of this conversation. He called into question whether it was I had to unload the van anymore. I got a little defensive, as he has before. He was right to give me a little kick in the ass, a sort of friendly reminder that we all are in this together. Thanks Claude. I did notice, though, that you and Eagle weren't around after the Chicago show for the load out? And I did sit in the front lobby waiting for the van that mornings night, barely able to keep my eyes open, until I realized they had loaded in the back. Damn I really tried that time. Next morning, same thing. I heard from Don Voci that the cannoli and espresso was on its way. I sat in the lobby waiting, then got a rather important call from my wife. You see? Timing. Then there comes the whole lot of them heading to the buffet. I had missed another load. Unbelievable. At this point I am starting to worry about keeping my job. But, no one says anything. In the true democratic communist anarchy of The Gourds, such things are quickly swept under the rug. And that is how we have stayed together all these years. It may be all out of pure spite and pride, just to prove to each other they were wrong about me, we, them, us. Or it might be that we just don't want to get real jobs, where real bosses and co-workers give you real shit.

By the time we arrived in Lafayette, Indiana one would expect us to be tired, blurred judgement, angst and frustration infiltrating our every attempt at fellowship, the sword of Damocles hanging over our stage. And you'd be exactly right. But, we wouldn't let a little thing like the sword of Damocles dampen the end of our Old Mad Parade. Hell No!! The last show is a special show. It often is where we are looser, well rehearsed and falling headlong into the excitement of returning home. The full retrospective of what we have been through, what we have accomplished in all its absurdity, settles in. We look at each other on that stage of the last night and smile at all the cross words, all the petty bullshit, all the clams, the struggles, suffering and doubt. All of that goes away on stage each night. And it really is true, as trite as it sounds, that we love what we do. We love what we do and each other too. Such was Lafayette Brewing Co. LBC playing for the Friends Of Bob. This is equal parts church social, town hall meeting and rock show. People bake us pies, truffles and give us fine crafted beers. An audience of music lovers assemble there to take in great performances. And that is exactly what they all got on this Sunday night in the middle of boilermaker town. The Gourds were as fine and as fun as ever. We still gots that old mad joy, mama! Still seedy after all these years.

And that my friends is how it ends, happy, fat and gourdly. Its been a fine kick in the arse and an old mad joy. "Rave on children, I with ya, rave on cats he cried, it's almost dawn, the cops are gone, let's all get Gourd-a-fried."


  1. Stunning. I like this long-form, stream of consciousness tour-spiel! It was what it was, and I, for one, like to hear about it. Great writing! Keep kicking our arses for years to come!

  2. I need to mail Jimmy $20 for "Bridgett", a great story told in very few words. Was hoping to hear in Somerville but it wasn't to be. Gourds music is perfect for my ears. Great new album. Love the "On the Road" blog. Keep up the Gourd work. Best wishes from RI!