Springtime greetings from Hummingbird Towers.
Just a wee news update:
Copies of my new album – Into The Sea have arrived at Drumfire Records. Hurrah!!! And are now ready for pre-order here: http://www.drumfirerecords.com/
It’s not officially released until May 11th, but you’ll also be able to pre-order soon on iTunes. Plus you’ll be able to pick up a copy at the up-coming album launch shows listed below.
My special exclusive Into The Sea track this week is It Could Be Worse. This might be my favourite track on the album. It was such a special moment in the studio when we recorded this. You can listen here for the rest of this week only – https://soundcloud.com/dean-owens/it-could-be-worse A new track will be available from Monday.
Here is a short film Into The Sea ‘The Making Of’ Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3W4_olFtHg
Part 2 coming soon.
On the live front here are my confirmed dates so far. Unless noted otherwise these are all with The Whisky Hearts – Calais Brown, Amy Geddes, Jim McDermott, Nico Bruce, Sean Pugh and Mike McCann.
This weekend –
April 10th Shetland, Muckle Roe Village Hall (Duo show with special guest Arthur Nicholson)
April 11th Shetland, Mareel, Lerwickhttp://www.mareel.org/whats-on/
(Tickets for both Shetland shows are available from the Mareel box office)
Can’t wait to be back in Shetland again.
April 26th Glasgow, ALBUM LAUNCH SHOW Glad Café
May 4th Edinburgh, ALBUM LAUNCH SHOW Traverse Theatre Bar
http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/551/soundhouse-at-traverse-theatre—dean-owens-and-the-whisky-hearts-band.aspx This is organised by our friends Douglas and Jane Ann of http://www.soundhouse.org.uk/
June 11th Dundee, Clarks On Lindsay Street (Solo show)
June 12th Leith Theatre Sessions at the Thomas Morton Hall, Leith, Edinburgh Details soon.
June 19th Stirling, Tolbooth http://tolbooth.stirling.gov.uk/tolbooth/whatson/june_2015/dean_owens_and_the_whisky_hearts.htm
There will be some other UK dates confirmed soon.
I was a guest on Off The Ball on BBC Radio Scotland last weekend with Stuart Cosgrove, Tam Cowan and Sanjeev Kohli (Navid from Still Game). You can listen again to all the nonsense here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05p9ngg
I’ve added the final part of my short story – The Motel And The Highway at the end of this newsletter, plus parts 1 & 2 just incase you missed them. While you’re reading have a wee listen to these classic songs to help you get in the mood:
Townes Van Zandt – Pancho And Lefty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SjwO17gsqU
Ray Price – Crazy Arms
I’ll have news of a special Edinburgh Fringe show to give you soon that I’m very excited about. It will see me re-uniting with some old friends.
Look out for my Kickstarter campaign being launched in the coming weeks to help with a new video project.
Thanks again for all your continued support.
Please follow me on twitter here –
If you have any ideas of places to play near you or you would like to arrange a House Concert please contact my manager Morag Neil here: http://www.scarybiscuits.com/
Cheers for now and enjoy the light nights.
Here’s the story…………
The Motel And The Highway
Johnny left Jessica in the motel room and headed out onto Highway 395. It was a beautiful summer morning. A cool breeze was coming down off the Sierras and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
It didn’t take too long before a truck pulled over and the driver asked him where he was heading. ‘North,’ was all Johnny said.
Jessica woke up to find Johnny gone. The note he left her simply read, “Sorry, but I just had to go. Take care of yourself. Love you, Johnny”. She was sad, but not surprised. She always knew it would happen someday. She knew he would go.
For a while Johnny and the driver never spoke. Merle Haggard was on the stereo. Johnny just stared at the road ahead. The sky was still blue but there were some dark clouds making an appearance to the North.
‘Where you from, son?’ asked the driver.
‘You’re a long way from home friend. Texas is a big place.’
‘Yup,’ replied Johnny.
‘Whereabouts in Texas?’
‘Plainville?’ replied the driver. ‘Ain’t never heard of Plainville.’
‘Think yourself lucky. It’s near Waco.’
‘I heard of that place.’
‘Yeah. Who ain’t!’ said Johnny with a bitter tone in his voice.
‘So what brings you up here to the Sierras?’ asked Bill.
‘Fourth of July celebrations,’ answered Johnny.
Jessica had seen it in his eyes for a while. Sometimes he would just gaze along the highway watching the trucks. She wasn’t sure why he’d brought her to this small town in the middle of nowhere on the 4th of July. Independence Day. I guess that says it all. Independence Day. He must have had it all figured out. Nah, Johnny wasn’t like that. She knew there was a darkness inside him. A melancholy. He couldn’t get enough of Townes Van Zandt. Sometimes he’d play Townes’ White Freight Liner Blues over and over again. He’d even learned a few chords on his brother’s old beaten up guitar and could play a version of the song, but it was a real slow version and that made it all the more hopeless sounding. She kinda liked it though. Nothing wrong with a bit of misery now and then. Her favourite Townes song was Flyin Shoes. Another song about getting away.
Where was he heading? Only the mountains knew that.
‘I’m going as far as Lake Tahoe. I got a load of ski equipment to drop off up there. That any good to you? I’m Bill by the way. Bill Mason of San Bernadino. It’s not much of a place neither.’
‘I’m Johnny, Johnny Nelson. And Tahoe’s fine thanks. I got no real plans. As long as I’m moving North.’
‘Moving’s alright with me son. It’s what I do. But we all gotta stop sometime. Buddy of mine moved around so much he left himself behind.’ Bill smiled and winked at Johnny.
Johnny closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the wheels, the engine, Bill Mason and Merle Haggard. His thoughts turned to Jessica.
How had she reacted to his note, he wondered. He really didn’t want to hurt her. She deserved better than him anyway. He was far too much of a dreamer and knew his grasp on reality wasn’t very strong. She had high hopes for them as a couple. She’d talked about marriage and kids and he’d been into the idea too.
He’s probably gone South, thought Jessica. Back to Texas. Although he hated his hometown. Maybe he’s heading to Austin. Looking for Willie Nelson’s house. Always thought he might be related to Willie. Ha. He sure was a dreamer. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was. She was missing the fool already.
She was from Santa Barbara, California – well Montecito to be exact. It was a great place to grow up. There by the ocean, overlooked by the Santa Ynez Mountains and the desert only a few hours away. Her parents had bought the place for next to nothing in the 60’s then watched their home become a million dollar house in the 80’s when lots of big movie stars had moved into the neighbourhood. She loved going home to visit her folks there. Santa Barbara was such a laid back place. The actor Jeff Bridges – The Dude from the movie The Big Lebowski – was a local and to Jessica he kinda summed up the spirit of the place.
Strangely enough it had been at one of his gigs in Santa Barbara where she met Johnny. As well as being an actor Jeff Bridges was also a bit of a singer and played occasional intimate shows. She had been home from LA visiting friends and family one weekend and had gone along to the show. Johnny had come up from LA to see a Townes Van Zandt concert but the show had been pulled at the last minute due to unforseen circumstances, which probably meant Townes was incapacitated in some motel room somewhere on the edge of town. Some girl on the door had told Johnny about the gig and with nothing better to do he’d gone along to see if he could get in. But he got there only to find out it was sold out. By chance Jessica had a spare ticket and was waiting in line when she overheard Johnny trying to get in. She was supposed to be going with Ruby, her old room mate from college who was coming down from San Francisco. Only Ruby hadn’t showed up. She was a real stoner and always did this kind of thing so Jessica wasn’t concerned. Feeling sorry for Johnny she offered him her ticket. He insisted on paying for it. They didn’t sit together during the show, but had got talking afterwards at the merchandise stand. That was how they’d met.
When Johnny woke up they were parked up in a truck stop in Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth’s not that far from Yosemite National Park and Jessica had always wanted him to take her there to look for bears and mountain lions.
Bill Mason was asleep beside him. Bill was skinny and had a lived-in face with a thick head of grey hair. He wore an old black western shirt, jeans with a big belt buckle with a buffalo head on and brown cowboy boots. Plus a bootlace tie with an eagle design. He had a strong, sharp profile.
Johnny could just make out the song on the stereo. It was Johnny Cash singing Give My Love To Rose. He loved that song so he turned it up. He’d really hoped to have been a bit further up the road than Mammoth by now, but what the hell. No destination, no hurry.
‘So you like the old Man In Black do you?’ Bill Mason was awake again. ‘I met him once,’ he mumbled.
‘What, you met Johnny Cash?’
‘He came to play for some of us out in Nam with his wife June. Man did we appreciate that. He really lifted us out of there for a short while. I remember watching them board the helicopter when they were leaving. It took me all my strength to stop myself running after him and pleading with him to take me with him.
‘That’s amazing. I can’t believe you met The Man In Black.’
‘Yeah it was kinda special I guess,’ replied Bill. ‘Anyway, you want to get some coffee kid?’
‘I’d rather keep moving to be honest, if you don’t mind?’
‘In a hurry to be nowhere are ya?’ laughed Bill. ‘Well I’m driving and if I don’t get some coffee in me then the next time you wake up it might just be in some ditch by the side of the road or some hospital. That’s if you wake up at all. Besides I got a bad shoulder from years of hauling all these tarps and it’s killing me.’
‘I’ll take a latte then,’ said Johnny reluctantly.
‘A latte! What the fuck’s that?’
Jessica packed up her things then sat outside the motel room and lit a cigarette. Maybe he’s gone down to Joshua Tree to stay with his Uncle Jack. He’s got an old trailer out there on his Uncle Jack’s land and he loves to go out there to the desert to spend time with his uncle. He always talked about moving out there someday. Old Jack and his wife Sarah have a wildlife sanctuary out there. They look after all the injured critters that people bring to them – usually found in the national park or out on Highway 62. Coyotes, birds, desert tortoise. That kinda thing. Someone even brought them a bear cub once. Sarah mainly looked after that. Raised it until it got too big to handle. It once almost tore half her face off.
Maybe that’s where Johnny was heading. Jessica kind of hoped so. The thought gave her some comfort at least. She loved his Uncle Jack.
When she’d finished her cigarette Jessica gathered up her things and loaded the car. She felt numb. Sad but not upset. She thought about it all, Independence Day, freedom. Maybe it was time to move on. She’d certainly had enough of Johnny’s mood swings. Maybe a fresh start was what they both needed. Or just some time away from each other. The old guy at reception took her key from her and told her to have a nice day. She didn’t think there was much chance of that but thanked him anyway. Even the car looked forlorn sitting in the motel parking lot. She got into the driver’s seat but just sat there looking up at the beautiful snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. There, standing higher than the rest, was Mount Whitney. They’d talked about climbing to the top together one day. That day looked a long way off now.
She thought about last night’s fireworks: small town fireworks sponsored by the local funeral parlour. ‘Not a bad way to scatter some ashes,’ Johnny had joked. The thought gave her the creeps. It had been a beautiful summer night with the mountains on either side of them and the California stars above.
But that was last night and this was this morning. It had been a beautiful blue sky start to the day but now there were dark clouds gathering. Soon Mount Whitney would be hidden from view. It looked like rain. She started the car.
Johnny waited in the truck listening to Bill’s Country music.
Why am I doing this, he asked himself. What is this darkness that creeps up on me and takes over?
Sometimes he felt like he was walking around in a trance. Sleepwalking through life. Halfway between dying and living. He felt so tired all the time.
He didn’t want to leave Jessica or be without her and he couldn’t believe he’d just walked out on her.
What have I done? What am I doing? I’ve got to get back to her. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, he thought to himself. This was how it was for him. When he had to stay he wanted to leave and now that he’d left he was wishing he’d stayed. What an asshole. He sat there thinking, If there’s a town called Loserville I should move there.
‘Here’s your latte son,’ Bill said sarcastically when he returned. ‘Lots of milk with a little bit of coffee is what it looks like to me. I got you a blueberry muffin, but if you don’t like it I’ll eat it so don’t worry.’
‘I do, thanks. How much do I owe you?’
‘Ah don’t worry about it,’ Bill replied. ‘How do you know about Johnny Cash, a young guy like you?’
‘Oh I like a lot of that old Country stuff. I’ve an old uncle who likes nothing but Country music. In fact he has a saying – If it ain’t Country, it ain’t shit!’
‘Ha ha. I like that,’ laughed Bill. ‘He ain’t wrong. If it ain’t Country it AIN’T shit,’ he mumbled to himself.
‘Well I don’t know about that but some of it’s ok. Though a little can go a long way.’
‘So who do you like son?’
‘All kinds. Anything that’s good.’
‘Yeah, but who’s your all time favourite?’
‘That’s a hard one. I’ve so many favourites but I guess it would have to be Townes Van Zandt.’
‘Townes Van Zandt. I think I’ve heard a couple of his songs but never heard him sing them. One by Wille Nelson and Merle Haggard. Eh, Pancho and Lefty isn’t it? Ain’t he a bit of a miserable son of a bitch that old Van Zandt guy?’
‘I guess so. But there’s more to life than enjoying yourself,’ replied Johnny.
The trip back to LA was pretty uneventful. The rain had started to fall heavily so Jessica stopped at Kramer Junction for coffee and a breakfast burrito. As usual the portion was far too big for her. She struggled with her burrito while being surrounded by some of the fattest people she’d ever seen who were eating twice as much as her. They were probably heading for Vegas and the Casino buffets. All you can eat for 10 bucks and these guys can sure eat a lot. What a gross sight. Once they’re in Vegas they’ll be lucky to see daylight while they’re there. They’ll go from slot machines to the buffet and back to the slot machines before taking the elevator up to bed. Their only exercise will be walking from the elevator to their room along the puke design carpets.
Or maybe they were on their way to Bakersfield to see Buck Owens at his Crystal Palace. She and Johnny had gone there once with his Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah. Johnny had a real soft spot for the old Country stars thanks to his Uncle Jack. For Jack there was only Country music. Nothing else came close. She could picture Jack sitting there at the table by the window in the living room preaching to Johnny about the greatness of Country music and playing his favourite song, Crazy Arms by Ray Price, over and over while he kept the beat on the table. Jack collected LP’s, CD’s and even cassettes along with magazines, biographies, photographs, you name it. Jessica actually found herself laughing out loud thinking of the time Johnny was flicking through one of Jack’s Dolly Parton biographies when Jack, not realising she was in the room, excitedly said to Johnny, ‘Hey she talks about giving her first blow job in that one’, only to turn round and see her standing by the window. It was the only time she’d ever seen Jack blush. She liked Jack. Everyone did.
That’s one of the saddest things about breaking up. It’s all the family you probably won’t see again and friends you made together who don’t feel so comfortable with seeing you anymore. They don’t want to be seen to be taking sides.
It’s so easy to become strangers again.
Back on 395 Johnny Nelson was still thinking about what he was doing. Where he was going and what he was leaving behind. He did love Jessica. It was himself he had trouble with. What had he done with his life? He was a loser and that was that. Everything he’d ever done in his life had ended in failure. Every job he’d had he’d either quit or been fired from. He never stuck at anything. Even quit high school early. He’d been fired from his first job after only a few weeks. His boss had told him he was letting him go because Johnny’s head was full of rock ‘n’ roll.
After a few phone calls to his boss Johnny’s father managed to persuade him to give Johnny another chance. He was supposed to show up at work on the Monday morning, apologise and promise to try harder. So Johnny listened while his boss told him what was wrong with his attitude and what he needed to change about himself but when he offered Johnny his job back he told him, ‘No thanks’, and said that his boss was right. His head was full of rock ‘n’ roll. Threw the job back in his face and walked out. His boss couldn’t believe it.
When he got home and told his father he went crazy at Johnny.
Luckily a week or so later his big brother helped him get a job with another firm, though they turned out to be a right bunchof cowboys so that job didn’t last too long neither.
Jessica would be better off without him. He hoped she’d understand and forgive him in time. He really should give her a call though. It would be the right thing to do.
The rain fell heavy on the windshield. The small towns along Highway 395 passed by, Lee Vining, Bridgeport. He had no grand plan. Hadn’t thought it through at all. He had an old aunt in Reno who he hadn’t seen in years but had always been good to him when he was a kid. He knew where she lived. Could always crash with her for a bit while he got his head together.
Or there was his old buddy Mitch in Portland. Mitch had been on at him for ages to come up and visit him. Sounded like a good place. Lot’s of cool bands there. Mitch always fancied himself as a bit of a singer. He was a big fan of the singer/songwriter Elliot Smith. He’d opened a couple of shows for him before Elliot Smith was big news. Mitch thought he could maybe follow in his footsteps, jump on the Portland scene bandwagon. Johnny hoped he didn’t as Elliot Smith had recently just supposedly stabbed himself to death!!
‘Not too long now till we hit Tahoe.’ Bill Mason broke Johnny’s train of thought. ‘What are you gonna do when we get there son? It’ll be late. I’ll be sleeping in this thing once I’ve dropped off my load. What about you? This rain looks like it’s set in for the night. You don’t want to be stuck outside with your thumb in the air tonight. Tell me to mind my own business son, but are you running away from some trouble? You worry me. You sure you’re gonna be alright?’
‘I’ll be fine and don’t worry, I’m no fugitive. No trouble to worry about. I’m just rambling.’
It was getting dark now and Johnny stared out into the grey dim light. He couldn’t see the mountains anymore. Couldn’t see much at all. What the fuck was he going to do with his life.
Back on the road again it was getting dark and the lights of tinsel town were just beginning to sparkle in the distance. It all looks so nice and inviting from a distance. You can’t see any of the grime or the lost and the lonely of LA from out here, she thought.
Jessica’s phone suddenly started ringing. Maybe it would be Johnny. She hoped so. Her phone was in her handbag that was lying on the back seat. Desperate to get to it before whoever was calling rang off, she didn’t see the car pull out in front of her until it was too late. She clipped the back of the car in front and was sent spinning round facing back Northwards and the oncoming truck.
He felt he at least owed Jessica a call. Just to check she was ok and to tell her he was sorry and that he would be in touch again. He was soaked through standing on the sidewalk trying to call. The street was flooded around him. The 5th of July and flash floods had brought certain parts of northern California to a standstill. Bill Mason would be tucked up cosy in his truck cabin listening to Willie, Waylon or one of those old Outlaws.
He was miserable alright. He wished she would answer.