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Bobby Lloyd Hicks, 1947-2017

Bobby Lloyd Hicks, 1947-2017

“Bobby” Lloyd Hicks.

What a great name, what a great man.

Bobby Lloyd Hicks–it sounded like he came from somewhere big and dusty, like Texas, an old Kansas City steakhouse or a Gary Cooper western. But no siree Bob, the modest Mr. Hicks was born in 1947 in tiny Marshalltown, Iowa, where in 1852 future Baseball Hall of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson became the first European born in the farming community.

And Mr. Hicks was an ace of hearts.

He was the drummer-vocalist for the Skeletons/Morells/NRBQ and about 63 other bands, including the Ozark Mountain Daredevils where revolving members are known as “Sparedevils.” Mr. Hicks died early Sunday in his adopted home town of Springfield, Mo. He had been fighting lung disease.

Springfield mayor Bob Stephens named Jan. 22, 2017 as Bobby Lloyd Hicks Day in Springfield and that night the local music community turned out in force for a benefit-tribute concert at the Fox Theater in Springfield to pay back for Mr. Hicks’ goodwill towards Springfield arts. In the more than quarter century that I’ve been documenting the far-reaching Springfield  music scene, Mr. Hicks was a reliable vessel for history, insight and networking, He always returned calls and e-mails, even last week. He always smiled.

In the 1980s and 90s the Skeletons and Morells gained attention in Rolling Stone magazine and other national media outlets because their engaging sound was a hybrid of the mystical flotsam and jetsam in Springfield, the birthplace of Route 66. Mr. Hicks was the loyal time keeper that revealed a spirit with no musical prejudice. How do you describe the music he played to someone who never heard it? Beach Boys/Ramones/Dictators/Waylon Jennings/The Box Tops/Swingin’ Medallions/Monkees/Sonny & Cher and that is only a beginning. The beat goes on and on.

The deep musical well was not lost on Grammy winning singer-songwriter Dave Alvin, who had kept in touch with Mr. Hicks over the last few months. In 1991 Alvin hired the Skeletons as the touring band behind his “Blue Boulevard” album. By 1993 Mr. Hicks was playing drums alongside iconic rhythm and blues saxophonist Lee Allen on Alvin’s “Museum of Heart” record. From 1993 through 2006 Mr. Hicks and Skeletons keyboardist Joe Terry were part of Alvin’s Guilty Men band.

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“ I can throw anything at them and they can play it,” Alvin once told me. “When we did that (1998 North American) Bob Dylan-Joni Mitchell-Dave Alvin) tour, Joni had Brian Blades playing drums, who was just amazing. His brother plays in Spyboy with Emmylou Harris. Those are the two best drummers I’ve seen in a long time and I’d put Bobby right with them.”

“A lot of drummers don’t understand harmony. Bobby understands music theory. I don’t. And (the late) Donald Lindley (Alvin, Lucinda Williams) and Bobby were two of the best guys ever for understanding what it takes to be a song—different from just coming up with a drum part–to actually listen to the song, listen to the lyrics.”

Over the years, under the considerable charms of late Skeletons and Morells bassist-producer Lou Whitney, Mr. Hicks, keyboardist Joe Terry, keyboardist Kelly Brown, guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, harmonica-vocalist Nick Sibley and others became Springfield’s own “Wrecking Crew,” playing behind the likes of Eric Ambel Scott Kempner, Andy Shernoff (The Del-Lords), Robbie Fulks, Jonathan Richman, Syd Straw, Boxcar Willie just to name a few.

Mr. Hicks moved to Springfield in 1965 to become a music teacher. His father William Herschel Hicks was raised in the Ozarks by Mr. Hicks’ grandfather, an itinerant preacher. During the summer the family would travel from Iowa to the Springfield area to see family and enjoy the pristine lakes.

William Herschel Hicks managed the Kresge department store in Marshalltown. When Mr. Hicks was two years old William Herschel and his wife Genevieve gave their son a children’s record player from the store.

The deal was done.

“The fascination of those spinning disc and the sound coming out of  the box,” Mr. Hicks told me several years ago. “My Mom said I was on my knees all day. Then I’d take my records to bed. It was those (children’s) Golden records but my parents had a lot of ’78s. Big Band stuff and the crooners. We had a lot of novelty records too, for some reason.”

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Bobby Lloyd Hicks, courtesy of NRBQ

This is probably why Mr. Hicks would sign holiday greetings, “Merry Christmas Cousin and a Happy Doodle-ee-dee!”

Mr. Hicks did not recall hearing African-American rhythm and blues and soul music in Marshalltown. “Black people all lived in one little neighborhood in Marshalltown,” he said. “When we got in hight school we discovered WLAC (AM, nighttime rhythm and blues out of Nashville, Tn.) Wolfman Jack and all of that.”

The family had a Grand piano in the living room. Genevieve was an accomplished pianist and Mr. Hicks’ two older sisters took piano lessons along with Mr. Hicks. “But the Beatles changed everybody on what was fun to play,” Mr. Hicks explained. “In fourth grade I went to play drums. We had a little band in high school called the Cooties. We played high school dances and stuff.”

Mr. Hicks always remembered the first two albums he bought: Sandy Nelson’s “Let There Be Drums” and the Jose Jimenez comedy LP “The Submarine Officer.” He laughed, “I don’t know which one had the biggest influence on me. But both of them did.”

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His parents were very religious. “They would rarely go to dances and movies,” Mr. Hicks said. “They would complain every time I bought a rock n’ roll ’45, ‘You’re throwing your money away!’ that kind of thing.”

Later, behind the parental scenes, Mr. Hicks idols became jazz drummers Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck) and Louie Bellson. “Gene Krupa of course,” he said. “I admired those guys but by fourth grade you’re thinking you need real big sticks and rubber pads. I never had jazz chops. Bossa nova came along in the early ’60s and that was fun and easy to play. But I’ve never had a good left hand. It was February, 1964 when the Beatles came out. Everything changed that night. In fact, in early 1964 we had a little folk group that won second place in competition at Grinnell (College in Grinnell, Iowa). The top three finishers got to do a spring concert with the Gateway Trio from San Francisco. In the meantime the Beatles had come on Ed Sullivan. So when we came back with our ‘folk group’ we had drums, Beatle jackets and we did ‘She Loves You.’ The judges were aghast.”

In a deep folkloric drawl, Mr. Hicks loved to tell stories of the late 1960s rock music scene in Springfield when anyone could be a star. Mr. Hicks’ measured manner and gentle country grin made him something of a Mark Twain character. He found that small town dreams were always approachable in Springfield.

“Oh yeah, to have a ‘45 here was a big deal,” he said. His best pal through the 1960s was local soul-saxophonist Mike Bunge. “He had a band with horns, steps and suits, kind of like Bob Kuban and the In-Men (the St. Louis outfit who had the national 1966 soul hit with “The Cheater),” Mr. Hicks recalled. “They were called Lewie and the Seven Days. And there was only six of them”

Mr. Hicks enrolled at Southwest Missouri State University to obtain a teaching degree, but music got in the way. “It was a vibrant music scene in the late 1960s,” he said. “A lot of bands.  No DJs. There was an atmosphere. In college it was mandatory to take two years of ROTC. So no guy in this town could grow hair over their ears. The first band I was in was Lord Mack and the Checkmates (band names were even awesome in the 1960s).  We made a contract where you can’t play with other bands,  you have to make practice several times a week. And we buried way down there, ‘Cannot cut hair for the contract year.’ I took this to the ROTC commander and he signed a little paper that said I didn’t have to cut my hair.. So there was only three of us on the entire campus of 3,000 that had long hair. I got stopped all the time by student officers. I’d have to get out my wallet, show them the paper and they’d get pissed.

“It was fun even though Viet Nam was looming overhead.”

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The Skeletons fax a record deal. From left, Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Lou Whitney, D. Clinton Thompson, Kelly Brown.

Mr. Hicks played Animals, Beatles and Rolling Stones covers. “Then I saw Lewie and the Seven Days,” he said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this is where it is at. Really tight.’ And they were managed by Si Siman and Si booked our band too.”

“Si” Siman was a conduit for the Springfield music scene. He started the “Ozark Jubilee” television show in 1955 on ABC-TV. The Ozark Jubilee was the first television show in America to feature country-western music. The show was broadcast live on Saturday nights from the  since-razed Jewell Theater in downtown Springfield. Patsy Cline,  Johnny Cash and Webb Pierce all appeared on the Jubilee. Rockabilly singer Carl Perkins made his television debut on the Jubilee.

“Mike and I would get out of theory class and go hang out at Si’s  office,” Mr. Hicks recalled.  “Every day. (Late Springfield songwriters) Ronnie Self and Wayne Carson would come in We’d read Billboard magazine. They had a mono recording studio upstairs. Ronnie and Wayne recorded a lot of demos there. The radio station (KTWO-AM), “Keep Watching The Ozarks” was there.” Siman was the station’s vice-president.

Carson and Self wrote for the Earl Barton Publishing Company, also co-founded by Siman. Self wrote the Brenda Lee hits “I’m Sorry” and “Sweet Nothin’s,” and his “Waitin’ For My Gin To Hit Me” became a Skeletons staple, while Carson was Barton’s biggest success penning the Box Top hits “The Letter” and “Soul Deep,” the late Gary Stewart country hits “Drinkin’ Thing” and “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinking Double)” while co-writing the Elvis Presley smash “Always On My Mind,” also a hit for Willie Nelson.

Mr. Hicks was going to school.

Dave Alvin was sold on Mr. Hicks’ musicology while recording his acclaimed 1994 acoustic album “King of California.” “I didn’t have money in the budget to have Bobby on the whole sessions,” Alvin said. “We at least got him out for a couple days of vocal harmonies because he is such a great singer. We had gone through two or three great drummers, Donald Lindley being one, that could not come up with a drum part to ‘King of California” We cut that track live with the exception of the drums. Bobby walks in the studio, He’d never heard the song. He plays this drum part that is absoultely genius. And that was it. I feel this way about the Morells and Skeletons: if they weren’t living in Springfield, if they were living in Nashville or Los Angeles, they’d all have been session guys making major money.”

Between 2013 and 2015, Mr. Hicks was  drummer for the fine  pop-rock band NRBQ. When he was off the road with the Q, he gigged around Springfield. In the fall of 2014 I drove in from Chicago to see Mr. Hicks play 1950s-60s country music at  Luttrell’s Auction and Live Music Barn on the north side of Springfield, There was little money in this gig. Mr Hicks promised this would be a memorable experience and he delivered.

Auctions started in the small, rickety barn in 1955, making it the oldest auction house west of the Mississippi River. Leona Williams, former wife of Merle Haggard was an occasional guest vocalist.  If  you liked the joyful old RR Ranch in downtown Chicago, you would love Luttell’s Auction and Live Music Barn.

Bobby Lloyd Hicks and the auction house band, 2014 (photo by Rene' Greblo)

Bobby Lloyd Hicks and the auction barn band, 2014 (Photo by Rene’ Greblo)

During my visits, the auction barn band featured Ozark Jubilee steel player Roger Blevins and country jazz guitarist Jerry Menown, sort of an Ozarks version of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.. “I bring the rock,” Mr. Hicks told me after the show. He even sang a sterling version of the 1954 La Vern Baker hit “Tweedle Dee,”

Mr. Hicks smiled and said, “ We play from 7 until 9. They like to get home early so they can go to church the next day. When these guys take a lead you have to smile because they still got it. Fat chords. Swing stuff. It’s a joy to do it. My older brother lives in Detroit and came out for a show. He said, ‘Man, this is a time warp.’ People applaud anybody’s solo. It’s like a Porter Wagoner show from 1963.

“It’s still unfiltered here.”

One of Mr. Hicks’ many gifts was to hear such purity even through the static of contemporary culture. Commitment and honesty always helped Bobby Lloyd Hicks recognize the American beat. That is no small thing.

Visitation for Bobby Lloyd Hicks is 5-7 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home, 1947 E. Seminole St. in Springfield. A celebration of life begins at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the funeral home.

Lou. Enough said.

Lou. Enough said.

CUBA, Mo.—-Lou Whitney was proud to tell tourists and visiting musicians that the Carter Family lived in a two story Victorian brick house in 1949-50 when they appeared with Red Foley on the radio version of the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Mo.

That was Lou; talking about Springfield history before he would talk about himself.

In July we took Lou to the empty lot off of old Route 66 where Mother Maybellle, Anita, Helen and June Carter once lived. Lou stood tall, like a mountain in a meadow. His eyes squinted into the Ozark evening sun. He had his hands tucked in the front pockets of his blue jeans and he looked around the calm landscape. His feet were firmly planted on the ground. As always.

There were no airs about Lou Whitney.

I talked my friend and award winning CBS-TV cameraman Tom Vlodek into driving from Chicago to the Ozarks for the July weekend. Lou’s rock n’ roll band the Morells were reuniting to play a high school reunion in Springfield. We wanted to film the concert and interview band members for a possible prose-documentary that uses the acclaimed Morells/Skeletons as a window into the lost history of Springfield music. I’m glad we made that trip.

Lou died Oct. 7 at his Springfield home from complications of cancer and a fall he took in his home in late September. He was 71 years old. Lou never stopped playing and recording other voices.

He never stopped honoring the power of music.

Dave Alvin, Eric Ambel, the Del Lords, Robbie Fulks, Jonathan Richman, Syd Straw, the Bottle Rockets and Wilco are among those who made the pilgrimage to record with Lou and emplloy the Morells/Skeletons at Lou’s studio in downtown Springfield.

I hear Lou just about every day.

The lineage of his own best known recordings dates back to 1979 when the pop-rock Skeletons were created as a back up band for singer-songwriter Steve Forbert. Lou had been bassist-vocalist for the Symptoms (think Ramones meets rockabilly cat Billy Lee Riley) who had been playing six nights a week in the Pub Mobile bar in Rolla, Mo., halfway between Springfield and St. Louis. Lou would remind you the bar was part of an automobile museum on a plot of land owned by a guy who dated “Elly Mae Clampett” of the Beverly Hillbillies.

Donna Douglas, upper left. The Beverly Hillbillies jalopy is on display at the Ralph Foster Museum, south of Springfield.

Donna Douglas (Ellie May Clampett) , upper left. The Beverly Hillbillies jalopy is on display at the Ralph Foster Museum, south of Springfield.

The Morells followed around 1981, the Skeletons returned in 1992 when the San Francisco Chronicle named “Waiting” one of the top 10 albums of the year. In May, 2004 the Morells were the band playing behind Bo Diddley at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. Back and forth, restless hearts. The Skeletons 1991 track “Outta My Way” got major airplay on WXRT-FM in Chicago and porn star Seka used it as a dance number when she appeared at the Admiral Theater in Chicago.

Lou had vaudeville gumption.

He fought hard in his battle against cancer. He was given six months to live in February, 2013. Lou and his beloved wife Kay drove countless eight-hour round trips between Springfield and St. Louis for experimental therapies. He had a cancerous kidney removed on May 21, 2013. Lou bought extra time to be with his family and friends and  to continue to work with regional Springfield music in his studio.

In July we spent a Saturday afternoon with Lou. On Sunday we treated him at his favorite cashew chicken joint on the south side of town. Lou was sharing stories and they were good and some were spicy. Lou was an avatar of Springfield music history.

Country Music Hall of Famers Porter Wagoner and Brenda Lee got their starts on the Ozark Jubilee radio and television show. Chet Atkins was a studio guitarist for the Ozark Jubilee. Wayne Carson, who wrote the Box Top hits wrote the Box Top hits “The Letter” and “Soul Deep” in Springfield as well as the smash co-write “Always On My Mind,” recorded by Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson. His father Shorty Thompson appeared on the Jubilee radio and television shows. Actor Brad Pitt is from Springfield. Lou always had something new to drop on you. In July he told us the Birdman of Alcatraz, a.k.a. Robert Stroud,  died in (a federal prison) in Springfield.

They all left.

Lou stayed.

Lou was rugged Americana before Americana got gussied up. Next fall’s Americana awards in Nashville needs to find a way to honor Lou. Like thousands of others who encountered Lou, I never grew tired of hearing his stories. Even the same story several times. Lou was the only guy I know who liked to borrow from Lil’ Abner when he talked about his adopted home town: “Springfield is more like it was the last time you were here than it is now.”

Scott Kempner of the Dictators and the Del-Lords wrote on Facebook, “Lou was a constant guide, friend, inspiration, hero and musical companion. Truly one of a kind, high-end, top shelf human being. I don’t think I could have worked with anyone else than Lou and the Skeletons, the best band in America you might not know…Taking a minute to remember them all at this time and a special salute to Lou, the greatest man I have ever known.”

The Skeletons sign a fancy pants record contract (L to R), Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Lou, D. Clinton Thompson, Kelly Brown

The Skeletons sign and fax a fancy pants record contract (L to R), Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Lou Whitney, D. Clinton Thompson, Kelly Brown

In 2001 Springfield attorney and former music writer Dale Wiley started the Slewfoot Records label with Lou. They even went full tilt Alan Lomax and ventured into the field to record congregations singing hymns at rural churches around the Ozarks. In late September Wiley created “The Best Facebook Thread Ever” for favorite Lou quotes. Here’s some:

I’ve been around the world twice and talked to everyone once”—Trent Wilson

Did I ever tell you how to butcher a hog?”–Cecelia Ellis Havens

Americana radio’s like Spanish fly and a nymphomaniac: everybody says they exist, but you or I sure as hell ain’t seen one”–Dale Wiley

“Lou Whitney loudly at the restaurant at the Silver Saddle: ‘I’d like some ice cream. They got no ice cream in prison.”–Eric Ambel.

Cars are the art form of the working class”–Dave Hoekstra

My bad. One more time,” on about my 10th take he always acts like it is him who messed up, not me…even when we all knew it was really me. And theres the time he said of my southern gospel singing mama, ‘Man, she sang the hell out of that song!”–Robin Bilyeu Rees

I once had a felafel–I feltawful”–Rick Wood

Give me a little George of the Jungle on the rack tom”—Trent Wilson.

Lou was reticent about playing bass with his band at the July reunion show. He was weak and he didn’t want the attention. “If I felt better I’d play with them again,” he told me. “It’s an emotional thing. I didn’t want to be ‘That Guy,’ you know the guy you see on the television special, and you go, ‘Oh my God, he hasn’t retired yet.’ I was playing when I was 70 (see my January, 2013 birthday post).

My friend Lou Whitney (Dave Hoekstra photo)

My friend Lou Whitney (Dave Hoekstra photo)

Lou did not want a funeral. “And NO band jam memorial,” his long time friend and drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks wrote in an Oct. 2 e-mail. Lou did request that his body be donated to science. Transportation costs for a Springfield funeral home to take Lou’s remains to Washington University in St. Louis were $1,200. A “Send Lou to Camp” GoFundMe campaign raised $2,525 in one day. The extra money goes to Lou’s wife and family.

Doing some quick math, Lou figured he had been playing with some core of the Morells-Skeletons (Hicks, keyboardist Joe Terry, guitarist Donnie Thompson) for 46 years.

What did he learn about himself after all that time?

“A lot of it is confidence,” he answered in satisfied tones. “When you set yourself in the middle of those guys you look good. I don’t care who you are. You know that you’re knocking it out of the park. People dance. If you’re good enough to have that day in and out you can put up with a crappy day easy. A band is like a family. Even if we didn’t see each other for two or three years, we could just pick  up and go.

“That’s comforting to me.”

*                                                                *

Lou Whitney III was born in 1943 and raised in Phoenix, Az. Singing cowboy Gene Autry was in the Army Air Corps at Luke Field in Phoenix and visited the hospital where Lou was born. “Gene Autry got my attention,” he quipped in July.

Lou was the grandson of Louis B. Whitney, the former mayor of Phoenix and unsuccessful candidate for Congress on the Democratic ticket. His son Harold Lou Whitney was a successful Phoenix attorney.

In a tender Oct. 2 Facebook tribute, New York singer-songwriter Mary McBride wrote, “Lou was a tried and true Democrat, one of the best, who infused common sense and utter hilarity into every argument and who could actually separate the good Republicans from the bad. A skill many of us sitting out in the political left field have still not developed. I know Lou will always somehow be watching the polls and trying to steer the vote to the right side of the aisle. I know he will always editing gratuitious lines from songs that think too much of themselves. And I hope he feels great satisfaction in knowing he made an enormous impact on so many people. I am just one of them. How lucky we all are.”

Singer-songwriter-producer Ben Vaughn made it big scoring music for film and television in projects like “That ’70s Show,” “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “Psycho Beach Party.” On his Facebook page Vaughn said it it wasn’t for Lou, he wouldn’t have a career in the music business. “He was the first guy to deem my songs worthy of public consumption,” Vaughn wrote. “In 1982 the Morells recorded a tune of mine for their album ‘Shake & Push’. Without knowing it, I had touched the hem of the garment. Everything changed for me after that. I had no idea how much respect he commanded in the music world.”  The Morells amped up Vaughn’s “The Man Who Has Everything” and the Skeletons later did double keyboard justice to Vaughn’s “I Did Your Wig.”

The Morells had a hit with "Red's," a pre-Guy Fieri hamburger stand on Route 66 in Springfield.

The Morells had a hit with “Red’s,” a pre-Guy Fieri hamburger stand on Route 66 in Springfield.

Lou III left Phoenix by the time he was 16 to live with relatives in the mountains near Bristol, Tn. He was already following the path of the Carter Family. Lou obtained a degree in real estate at Eastern Tennessee University. “It’s a language, actually,” he said in our 2013 conversation. He started playing in tuxedo drenched show bands that were popular in the soul-driven Beach Music scene of the Carolinas, Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. Lou was also a sideman with Arthur Conley of “Sweet Soul Music” fame.

“The World War II and Korea party guys came home with G.I. benefits,”  Lou explained in July. “They went to school at the University of South Carolina. Partying every night. And going out to see these bands. Shag dancing got real big. If you wanted to play a fraternity party at the University of Alabama, you better know some Bill Deal and The Rhondells. Music trends didn’t happen all over the United States. You could go to Denver and never hear of Chairmen of the Board or the Tams. It didn’t get played. But down south it did.”

One of the Skeletons most endearing covers was the Swinging Medallions 1966 Beach Music classic “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love).”

 In 1970 Lou moved to Springfield to sell mail order real estate to  folks in Illinois and Wisconsin who were dreaming of the wide open spaces of the Ozarks. “It was a dying art,” he said in July. “In fact I saw my first fax machine in a real estate office in Springfield. But I really came here to play in bands.”

More than once Lou told me that he and his “Wrecking Crew” Morells-Skeletons musicians were defenders of the song. That’s why songwriters loved working with Lou and it is why his bands did such pure justice with the hundreds of cover songs they did over the years. With Lou on my mind I read Ken Sharp’s Sept. 27 Q & A with former Rolling Stones manager and XM-Sirius host Andrew Loog Oldham in the Sept. 27 issue of Goldmine magazine. “The world is so noisy,” Oldham said. “Music has been wounded by Steve Jobs’ technology; greed and ego is fighting for survival. The main role of the artist is to serve the song, as opposed to him or herself. That is difficult to understand in a world where all technology supports the dangerous charade. Give me John Prine any day over what Simon Cowell barfs up. What’s the result? You’ve got Adele, who is great at receiving awards, but could no more put a set together than a politician could tell the truth.”

Lou was like a good editor. He was an advocate for his talent. He never got in the way. He maintained a dignified work ethic. Here’s Lou setting the table in 1991 on L.A. hipster’s “Art Fein’s Poker Party.”

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In July Lou reflected, “We played together in this tight realistic, no nonsense combo. Playing a bass part all the way through a song, the guitar rhythm and the drum pattern and singing the song. Playing the solos as they existed and getting the breaks rights. We drifted into that. We became popular. Roscoe (Eric Ambel) used to say, ‘When you play a Ramones song it sounds so perfect.’ Well, we couldn’t help it. We’re the best band in the world and we opened for this and we opened for that? I don’t know.

“We’re the band next door. Four guys you would never believe were in a band. We set up and play and if we’re having a good day you go, ‘Yow!’  Even we’re going ‘Yow!’ That’s a good thing. Being in a band is a job like anything else. We practice our songs, learn them and we get better on the job.”

Lou never stopped learning, teaching and sharing. During the rest of my visits to Springfield, I will tell tourists and visiting musicians about the benevolent magic of Lou Whitney. His humble glory roars across America.

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Route 66, New Mexico, 1991 (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

Route 66, New Mexico, 1991 (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

The gentle tones of the dispatch were from another time, one of car hops and flat tops.

Ilse e-mailed me about a week ago after reading Route 66 stories on my website. On Sunday, Sept. 21 she embarked on an eight day trip down Route 66 from Chicago to the 76th conference of the Photographic Society of America  in Albuquerque, N.M. Ilse is driving her “Isabella,” a camel-colored Hyundai  that she named after the Queen of Spain.  She will listen to classic country music on satellite radio and German folk songs. She likes Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

Ilse was looking for suggestions on safety and wondered,  “I’ll fulfill one of my bucket-list wishes, but can I stay in the “old” motels?”

Ilse is 86 years old.

I had to find out more.

“What story?,” she replied in one of our back and forth e-mails. “You are some-one-else and sound like a reporter!   I was delivering hot peppers and just got your e-mail.”

Ilse was a pleasant detour from the salty chest-thumping you see on the internet.

She does not want to be in the news and did not want to share her picture. Her family does not want me to use her last name.

I have left out her Midwestern home town in respect of her privacy. Ilse’s humble approach to the great American road trip mirrors the pleasures of driving Route 66. America’s red carpet is measured journey of clarity and dreams, especially when you check your ego to understand your place in the world.

The Route 66 community is a giving society. I know that fellow roadies will reach out for all sorts of great tips for Ilse. For starters, do not miss Atlanta, Illinois!  Safe, old motels? Don’t bypass the Wagon Wheel in Cuba, Mo. I’ll always be in debt to Lou Whitney (Skeletons,Morells) for hooking me up with the Rail Haven in Springfield, Mo.

Oatman, Az., 1991 (Photos by Dave Hoekstra)

Oatman, Az., 1991 (Photos by Dave Hoekstra)

Ilse has previously done the Kingman-Oatman, Az. section of Route 66. She wanted to drive the entire stretch to New Mexico because she is a history buff. She moves with a full throttle sense of wonder.

Ilse read a few Route 66 guide books, picked up tips on this website while “listening to others and follow maps and my feelings.” Yes, this gal knows how to travel.

I verified her journey in a phone conversation on the eve of her departure. Ilse told me she has visited 140 countries.

She pasted St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) on her dashboard for the Route 66 trip. Ilse, be sure to stop at The Our Lady of the Highways Shrine in downstate Raymond, Ill (near exit 63 on I-55). Late farmer Francis Marten installed the shrine and wooden grotto in 1959 along old Route 66. Marten also installed spotlights that illuminate the sign at night.

Ilse was concerned about her nocturnal safety. She said she stops driving around 4 p.m. and resumes early in the morning. I wondered about road food and told her how Diet Mountain Dew, tortilla chips and truck stop coffee keeps me going. In our Saturday morning phone talk she replied, “I. Do. Not. Eat. In. The. Car. I just drink water. I will have coffee in the morning, yes.”

Ilse was born in the Black Forest of Germany. She came to the United States in 1962. She met her husband in Germany. He later became an orthopedic surgeon in Urbana, Ill. Ilse was jet lagged on her first night in America when they were eating at a diner in Bloomington, not far off of Route 66. “I was proud to see my first cowboy,” Ilse said. “My husband said, ‘No, that is not a cowboy. That was just a tired state trooper’.”

She insisted she is not a professional photographer but she takes pictures as a hobby. “Im using a shoot and point for my Route 66 trip,” she explained. “Before I did slides. (I shot more than 200 Kodak slides of my 1991 Route 66 trip.) But I have nowhere to put them. I live in an apartment and I have about 40 apple boxes of slides. Each box has about 12 (slide) Kodak carousels in them. That’s a lot. I stopped with the slides when digital came. At first I fought it. I tried to transfer them to CDs but I don’t trust the CDs. One scratch and everything is done.”

Pre-social media advertising, 1991, Route 66

Pre-social media advertising, 1991, Santa Rosa, N.M.  The Club Cafe closed in 1992.

Ilse told me she was going to throw out most of her slides, which numbers into the thousands.

Here comes the obligatory Vivian Maier alert.

Ilse has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren but she assumes they won’t be interested in the slides.

“I’ve been to all the continents,” she said. “I went to Chile and Easter Island on a (four-month Aegean cruise) Millennium trip. I’ve been to the Amazon. I went to Cuba with (National Geographic photographer) Bob Krist.  We flew out of Cancun. Africa was my favorite place. I went to Zimbabwe.” She went on her African trip in October, 2001, a month after 9/11 when Americans were warned not to travel.  Her husband died in 1988 after 36 years of marriage. “He left too early,” she said.

I fact checked some numbers with Ilse’s daughter Christine who added that her mother also has attended two National Hobo Conventions in Britt, Ia. The fellow hobos gave her the handle “The Great Northern Gypsy.”

What are her rewards of travel?

“First, I learn something about myself,” she answered during our phone conversation. “How thankful I am that I can travel. Otherwise, I like to see if the things I read are true. This is history for me.”

Selfies and multi-posts a day will not be part of Ilse’s road trip agenda. She does have a traveling e-mail account which is how she will keep in touch with her daughter. I asked her to send us a couple of notes from the road. I hope she does. In one e-mail I asked Ilse what she did for a living. She replied, “I was lucky enough to be a mother and a housewife.”

And now this wonderful mother is on a trip of a lifetime on America’s “Mother Road.”

 

Hobo Marlin Wallace (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Hobo Marlin Wallace (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.—Of the many things to know about Marlin Wallace, it all starts with a strong handshake. His meaningful grip was once seen on a union waterfront and along a cattle trail.

Say hello to forgotten America.
With his right hand the songwriter creates a vice-like covenant that flattens the fingers of a stranger. It is an old hand that has been hardened from 17 years of riding America’s rails as a hobo. Connections can be made in trains and in music and Wallace has spent his life chasing them down and taking notes.

He is America’s most prolific songwriter.
He gives you a gotcha-smile as he shakes a hand.
Wallace was born in Springfield in 1937, and as a teenager played his father’s violin at Springfield area square dances. He has no memories of his birthfather who died at age 47. In 1953 Wallace  got into a fight with his stepfather, who was a train operator. His stepfather’s leg was broken. Wallace was kicked out of the house. He spent time at a couple of relatives homes to live. There were no helping hands. Finally, Wallace was sent to a psychitraist. He spent three months undergoing electroshock treatment at a state hospital in Nevada, Mo.
“It slowed me down but it didn’t help nothin’,” Wallace says during a February, 2014 interview at producer Lou Whitney’s studio in downtown Springfield. “One time there was a faulty machine that didn’t knock me out. It felt like a log chain went in your spine through your head. That’s how much pain I felt. They had us lined up taking that shock stuff.”
After he was discharged and a short stint in the Army, Wallace began riding the rails.

He had to get away.
His most memorable journey was in the spring of 1966. Wallace jumped down to New Orleans, got on the Chilean freighter “Maule”which took him through the Panama Canal and down to Callalo, Peru. From there he grabbed a small airplane to Iquitos, Peru. He then floated 20 days alone in a small canoe on the Upper Amazon River.
He can prove it.
He took black and white pictures and faithfully sent postcards back to his mother in Springfield. There are several hundred postcards which documents a man’s journey into the unknown.
Wallace settled back in Springfield in 1972 and established The Corillions, which at different times is his singing group, recording label and home recording studio. He chose the name because of the Cordillera mountain range in the Philippines. Roughly translated, “Cordillera” is Spanish for “cord.”
Of course nothing has kept Wallace down.
He has copyrighted over 1,000 songs and in the late 1960s was briefly under contract with Dolly Parton’s “Parlowe” records which pressed his debut ’45 “Reno/”The Planet Mars.”
In the summer of 2004 Lou Whitney, the avatar of modern Springfield music, introduced former Morells keyboardist Dudley Brown to Wallace.
Brown immediately took Wallace under his wing.

Lou Whitney (L), Marlin (C), Dudley Brown (R), Feb. 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Lou Whitney (L), Marlin (C), Dudley Brown (R), Feb. 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Since that first meeting, Wallace has recorded 50 full length CDS—more than 750 songs–in less than a decade.
The DIY CDs are themed: “Drinkin’ Songs,” Train Songs,” “Outer Space Songs” and “Prison Songs” (where  the cover art is of the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield where mobster John Gotti died in 2002.) All artwork is done by Springfield artists.

Brown accompanies Wallace on keyboards and produces the wonderfully unfiltered music. The duo is currently working on “Country Songs, Vol. 15.” “In 16 months we’ve done 15 CDs,” Brown says. “There’s more to go. It’s a natural part of our lives.” Brown discovered several three ring notebooks filled with sheet music along with the historic collection of post cards all stored in Wallace’s backyard shed.
“You feel the positive energy of it all being creative,” Whitney says while sitting across from Wallace in his downtown Springfield studio. He grins and adds, “This is worker productivity.”
Wallace got some nice ink in the 2012 coffee table book “Enjoy The Experience (Homemade Records 1958-1992) [Siinecure Books, New York, Los Angeles] that spoke of what Wallace is mostly known for in “outsider art” circles: he believes  Communists are zapping him with lasers. Even some of his current compact discs say, “FIGHT COMMUNISIM.” But to label Wallace as “outsider music” in the manner of the late Hasil Adkins is a grave disservice.
Wallace incorporates country, rockabilly, a smidgen of blues, rural gospel, and innocent pop (think NRBQ or Springfield’s own Skeletons.) I bought a copy of “Jungle Songs” and in an exotica background Wallace touches on primitive rap (“Jungle Jim”) and the rave-up rocker “The Jungle In Flight” where he imagines monkeys flying through the air.
Brown looks at a monkey on the cover of “Jungle Songs.”

web_Jungle_front1024-2
He says, “This is actually a local macaque. The plumber that does work on Marlin’s place owns that guy. His name is Jo Jo. When I took his picture the plumber says, ‘If Jo Jo likes you he is going to come up and do his thing.’ He didn’t really say what his thing was. So I bent down and he was super nice, but my they smell.:
Jo Jo got real close to Brown and started sucking on this neck. “I was okay with it,” Brown says. “But then I’m doing research I  learn that all macaques in captivity have this herpes B virus. And if you get one splatter in your eyeballs it can be fatal. Well, I had my glasses on, but I thought, ‘This is how I’m going to go out, getting herpes from a monkey’.”
All in the name for a Marlin Wallace CD cover.
A common thread in Wallace’s music is about longing and searching for sense of place, where Wallace draws on his hardscrabble childhood and his hobo years. “Memories of places have a bad side,” Wallace says. “You’d think a carefree hobo’s got no worries and there’s times like that. Other times I was depressed. I grew up with a lot of hate in me. I had had hate in me for years and it sticks in your gut. The Bible says ‘As a twig is bent so goes the tree.’  It’s nothing how Dudley grew up. He had a good home and a good upbringing. That didn’t happen for me.  It’s like trying to outrun the devil. I’d be traveling but going a lot further than I needed to go.
“It was like something was driving me.”
On the galloping country “Ghost Train” vocalist Alton Davis sings in bass tones about how “the devil is the engineer/keeps his crew standing near….” “Heart Full of Rain” recalls the organic guitar strumming of J.J. Cale, who was from Tulsa, just down the road from Springfield.

“Wanderin’ Soul” is another tune set rolling Tulsa-country rhythms.  Wallace’s “wanderin’ soul” is being chased by Satan with train whistles blowing in the distance.

Here is a snippet of “Wanderin’ Soul.

“Wanderin’ Soul” is the closest Wallace has come to being discovered by a mainstream audience. In 1975 late Arkansas vocalist Gary Atkinson sang “Wanderin’ Soul on the Corilllion label. In 2006 “Wanderin’ Soul” was re-released by the U.K. based Fat City Records in the compilation “45 Kings III.” That compilation wandered into the House Music scene where the gospel bass break that leads into the lyric “…Oh Satan, I hear you callin’” became a popular sample. The original ‘45 now sells for a minimum of $75 on eBay.
Wallace has never seen a penny of royalties.

*                                                                          *                                                         *
Marlin Wallace began recording music in 1977 at Nick Sibley’s Dungeon Studio in Springfield. The studio was known for nationwide commercial and jingle work. Wallace found other Ozark area vocalists to cover his songs. Wallace has sung on just two of his songs including “Wildcat Mabeline,” which ends with glass being broken and coffee cans being rattled.
“Marlin heard about me being a guy who had an ability to do this and that,” Whitney says. “He came out to see me at a bar on the south side. I was getting ready to go on a two month trip and couldn’t do it. I really, really wanted to do a song with him. Then I didn’t hear from Marlin for quite some time. We later talked songs and I think Marlin got miffed with me thinking  I was one of ‘them.’ He went home and woodshedded.”
A few years later Wallace walked into Whitney’s studio.
He carried a large briefcase with 61 cassettes of his songs.
Whitney called his long time Morells-Skeletons drummer Lloyd Hicks (now with NRBQ). “We listened a lot of the songs,” Whitney says. “I wanted to get them down a little better so Marlin didn’t have to worry about  recording. So Marlin came in on Tuesday mornings and we’d record on 10-inch reels. Every Tuesday morning. Marlin would sit there and play guitar and sing and I’d record. Marlin used local session guys at Dungeon. Lloyd played on some of them. But we never used a band.
“And we got them all.”

Marlin Wallace's lifetime of music

Marlin Wallace’s lifetime of music

In 2000 Whitney had hired Brown to play in the Morells since original keyboard player Joe Terry was on the road with Dave Alvin. Brown was a member of the Morells from 2000-05. Whitney told Brown about Wallace.
Brown, who was born in 1960 in Springfield, Mo., earned Wallace’s trust by becoming the songwriter’s advocate in shady real estate dealings. Wallace’s home and home studio is on the northwest edge of the downtown area. “Marlin was being maneuvered out of his property,” Brown says. “So I just stepped in and bought Marlin’s property. It’s the house that Marlin lives in and a bulding next to it.”
Wallace lives alone.
He says he was married once, “for about 20 years.”
Wallace sighs and says, “I could have left my house. But I had nowhere to go.”
*                                 *                                *
The singer-songwriter-hobo from Springfield, Mo. likes to wear his tattered baseball cap low as a teardrop over his eyes. His narrow face and wispy southern drawl recalls the late Levon Helm.
But one thing becomes clear: Wallace has unbending pride in his body of work, ranging from his heartfelt music to the postcards from the road which he mailed to his mother Theo Walls, a Springfield homemaker.
Brown gently picks up a large plastic binder of the postcards. Each card is organized in plastic sheets. “This is a one of a kind historical record starting on Sept. 11, 1955 and going all the way through 1972,” Brown says. “There’s some from South America. Others are just the (blank) two cent kind you could buy at the post office. Some of these stamps are awesome.”
Whitney says, “It’s chronicled. You can’t argue with it.”
Wallace explains,  “When I changed railroads I sent her the name of the railroad I was at. Each card has the initials of the railroad. I didn’t ride all the railroads, maybe 48. I rode the L&N (Louisville & Nashville), Florida East Coast.”
His first post card (9/11/55) is like a Tweet from today:
I’m in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. We’re headed for Kentucky. So long.
Springfield is a crossroads of railroads. The city was constructed on American optimism. Even the Worman House at the mega-popular Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, 30 miles south of Springfield, was built in 1921 as a rural retreat by Harry Worman, President of the Frisco Railroad.
Wallace can remember jumping his first train. He says, “In 1955  had a ‘42 Packard that broke down before I got into Pittsburgh. So I hitchiked into Pittsburgh and got freights going back to Springfield. I learned fast. When you run after it (the train) and grab the latch you get into a box car and swing your body up; they call that ‘catchin’ the train on the fly.’ Naturally, you try to get them when they are still. But jumping them is where I got the handshake.
“The boxcar grip.”
He also brought along a fiddle for his road trips. “I played in bars and passed the hat at bars in New Orleans,” he says. “I had a duffel bag with the fiddle in it and I would toss that on the train first. I was in Houston one time trying to catch the Rock Island. Boy when that came, I was running full steam and I swang that duffel bag around like it was a rag doll. You can die real quick.”

Marlin & his piranhas from his Amazon trip (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Marlin & his piranhas in New Orleans before departing on his Amazon trip (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

In 1966 Wallace ventured out on the mother of all hobo trips when he went to South America.
“I wanted to get away from civilization,” he says. “I wanted a break from conformity. I wanted to get down to the jungle. I got a job washing dishes at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans waiting for this freighter to come in. I got a big double cabin to myself. I paid $150. I had a passport. I was on the ocean for three weeks. I got off at Lima. I was trying to get to the Amazon. I finally got to Iquitios (Peru), boy the river is wide there. I bought a small boat there and floated down to Leticia, Colombia (a major Amazon River port on the border of Peru) . About 360 miles. The river is pretty spooky especially when a big rain comes up. The first night I lost my flashlight.
“I decided to go to the bank of the river to take a leak. I tied up to a tree. Something was stinging all over my hand. I took the flashlight and saw my hand and arm was covered with fire ants from the tree.  I dropped my flash light and got out of there as fast as I could. I went to the middle of the river. I had trouble swimming around that Amazon.”

Marlin's picture of his New Orleans hotel before  departing for the Amazon

Marlin’s pictures of New Orleans before departing for the Amazon

But wait. There’s more.
Brown pulls out a fat, yellowed ledger. “In these sheets he documented the mileage he went on these trips,” Brown says. He then reads from the penciled notations, “South Dakota, June 9, 1961; Muskogee to Kansas City, 247 miles. K.C. to Omaha, 237 miles. Those are hot-shots, right? (No stops).” Wallace nods his head in agreement.
Brown continues, “Omaha to Sioux Falls, 177; Sioux Falls to Fort Dodge (Iowa) 197; Fort Dodge to Minneapolis 414! Minneapolis to Chicago 395, that’s a good haul too, Chicago to K.C. 414, K.C. to Springfield, Missouri 196.”
Wallace hears the numbers add up and says, “I’d come home and take out an atlas and look at the scale. I’d measure off so many miles by inch, 180 miles and so forth. Every time I made a big run I’d write it down.
“I’ve gone around the world four times, stretched out in one line.”
*                                                                           *                                                 *
Marlin Wallace still churns out songs with the force of an old steam engine.
He works each song out on guitar and then puts it on a cassette. Moving to keyboard, he will write out sheet music with staff notation along with a detailed lyric sheet. He has not performed in public since his nascent teenage fiddling days around Springfield.
“I don’t write as much as I used to,” he admits. “It takes time to finish them. Some are quick, some are slow. Sometimes when I don’t finish them people steal the material before I finish the songs. It may take me 10 years to finish a song. I can name songs they stole from me by spying on me in my own home.”

For example, Wallace says he had “Who Let the Dogs Out” poached from him. And while the 1998 Baha Men hit (which in truth came from Trinidad & Tobago Carnival season) sounds like a Wallace title, there’s more than enough good Wallace material that hasn’t been “stolen.”
Brown watches over Wallace’s songs. He says, “We make a copy of the song and do the poor man’s copyright. Then Marlin brings over the cassette, song sheet and lyric of the songs he decides for us to work up. We bang them out on the piano and get it into the computer. We now have a huge reservoir of songs to pull from.”
Wallace is a modern day Woody Guthrie. Woody was considered a “Red.” Marlin is tormented by the Reds. And just like Guthrie, his considerable travels have informed his music. “The Amazon River influenced me quite a bit,” he said. “I drank water right out of the Amazon. I’m writing a book right now.
“But I’m waiting for something good to happen.”
Whitney listens with wide eyes and the open heart that has made him one of the most empathetic producers in America. Whitney leans over and says in firm tones, “Marlin, let me tell you. If you don’t do anything else in this whole world but write all the songs you did, you have done one bunch of good stuff. Period. It doesn’t seem like that when you inch along……”
Wallace tenderly  nods his head and says, “I know it.”
Whitney continues, “…..But if you take a look at the things you have accomplished. The places you have been. The songs you have written and the interest you generated. You have accomplished quite a bit. Talking in generalities, songwriting is a young man’s game. You have to be young to think everything you do is great. As you get older you think, ‘That’s been said before.’ Marlin totally transcends that. Marlin sees material in things he knows about. He knows a lot about black widow spiders. He knows a lot about the animal kingdom. He knows a lot about history. And he writes about that stuff.
“If anybody paid attention they would see it is transformative.”
Wallace says the Communists are still harrassing  him and this angle is where people get sidetracked off the music. “It’s still happening but not as bad as it was,” he explains. “In the ‘70s it was terrible. I was kept awake all night long. The Reds put radiation attacks on me. I figured it was from satellites. They were torturing me, trying to drive me insane. They could hit me right now. The probe feels like somebody tapped you with a finger. Then they hit you with the laser, a series of twitch attacks. They have to zero in on you first. I’d hold a piece of ceramic over me to stop the attacks.
“In fact the toe on my right foot is broke from one of those attacks. In 1972 they hit me on the head with a laser. It was like my head was exploding.  I jumped out of bed and ran into a door.
“Psychological warfare.”
Just like the music business.
Communist-inspired laser attacks are one genre’ that Wallace has declined to address in an album. He reasons, “It wouldn’t be received very well to say you’re hit by lasers and tortured by reds. But I’ve written four songs about the reds like ‘Machine Guns And Machetes’ about the reds in Central America.” The track is from his “War Songs” CD that also includes “General MacArthur,” “Brave Men of Uncle Sam” and “Mekong.”
Whitney says, “Some people would read his liner notes, and Marlin and I have had this discussion, and form some kind of opinion right off the bat. A lot of people get more interested what he writes on the back of the album rather than listening to it. But if you have a chance to go deeper–you’re fortunate to have a chance to go deeper.”
The instrumental Wallace track “Judgment Day” is a work of beauty, flavored by tropical steel guitar. * I love this.

“I came back from South America and started writing those,” he says. “Somebody in Nashville started to mimic my material with the flat notes I had in there. They put out ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and all that. I came back and hit them in the head with ‘Theme From Corillions’. This isn’t ‘outsider’ music. Anybody who does anything different is ‘outside.’ It is misleading.”

Marlin Wallace Citizen Journalist (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace

Marlin Wallace Citizen Journalist (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace

Wallace grew up in the Pentecostal church but strayed as an adult. He includes scorching contemporary gospel in his repertoire such as the country-jubilee “I Will Follow The Lamb,” flavored with profound bass vocals. “You get this emotionalism in religion awfully easy,” Wallace says “Follow the Lamb’ is one of the first religious songs I wrote. It seemed real easy to write. But they tell you to pray away your troubles. I can’t go that route.”
Whitney laughs and says, “That’s like faith based toxic waste removal!”
Brown earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Missouri State University. He is Manager of Information Systems (MIS) for MD Publications, Inc. (Transmission Digest, etc.) He finances the CDs.

Marlin's notes on the family (right)

Marlin’s notes on the family (upper right)

 

 

“Over the years it has added up to a lot of money,” Brown says. “It is hard to estimate what we’ve spent since 2004. We spent around $10,000 to produce the first 5 CDs. That included re-mastering of all the old vinyl recordings and then the CD production. We pressed up to 1,000 each. After that, since we hardly sold any CDs (vinyl was sold to hard core collectors) we would only press up to 50 of each release. We don’t have to book studio time. We recorded them at my home studio (in southeast Springfield.).
Wallace interrupts, “Before he came along I spent $20,000 out of my own pocket working hard labor jobs. I was a janitor at the Colonial Hotel in Springfield. I hung turkeys at Hudson’s Foods.”
Wallace worked at a now-defunct poultry processing plant in downtown Springfield. When a truck of turkeys were unloaded, a person was assigned to take the turkeys out of their cages and hang them by their feet one by one onto an overhead assembly line conveyor belt of live turkeys. The turkeys were then taken to the “kill room.” This job helped Wallace fund his DIY LPs.
In the early 1990s Brown was recruited by Skeletons-Morells guitarist Donnie Thompson to play bass and sing in The Park Central Squares (named after a park in downtown Springfield) along with drummer Katie Coffman of the Debs.

My favorite  band The Skeletons (Lou center)

My favorite band The Skeletons (Lou center)

At age 17 Brown took piano lessons from Pete Schuelzky (Queen City Punks) who schooled him on the blues scales and improvising in the classic 1-4-5 chord pattern. Schuelzky also helped Brown deconstruct Miles Davis’s “All Blues” (from 1959’s “Kind of Blue”) which gave him the sensibilities to play in ensemble and eventually collaborate with Wallace. Brown counterpoints Wallace with appointed instrumentation that is playful and purposeful.
“Marlin’s music is organic,” Brown explains. “It’s not rootsy, it is  kind of like folk. We start straight from his song sheets and his demos. We have so many songs we’ve been trying to get down for the past 10 years.  Over a thousand. We just sit down and bang out the chords on the piano. While I’m playing the piano Marlin will sing a track to a metronome where in most cases we’ve got the vocal down and a chord structure. That’s the roots of it all. You can take that and go anywhere with it. We have a nice easy pace. We work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and maybe an eight hour day on Saturday if we get in a groove–which is no more time than I would spend if I was playing in a band.”
Wallace adds, “We experiment with different things. We pick a marimba or an organ to back up a song, whatever brings a song in. Brown says, “With a computer you have a pallate of sounds to choose from. So you can pick what kind of flavor  you want to add to the music.”
Just like any other artist and producer, Brown and Wallace endure creative tension.
“We’re quite a bit different in a lot of ways,” Wallace says. He looks at Brown and says, “He’s a meticilous clean freak. I’m an old hobo. He flies off the handle. I just let it slide it off.”
Brown says, “But I’ve gotten better. A lot of time when you’re doing songs you put all this effort into it and get it to  a certain state and you don’t want to turn loose of it. But you know it’s not working. Marlin can spot that stuff miles down the road way before I can. I’ve learned over the years to trust his judgment. For one thing, it is just one song out of over 1,000 so ‘chill out.’ I am more like ‘get the drums done, get the bass done’ and get it up to the level where it starts working for the song. Marlin has the gift of knowning what not to do. And in a creative process, that overall taste is  important.
“It is recognizing the flavor of something and knowing what the real song is.”
In early June, 2007 Brown and Wallace made a cordial eight hour drive from Springfield to Chicago to do a half-hour song-documentary on the 17-year-locust. His “The Seventeen Year Locust” tribute to the locust from his “Buggy” album is an infectious combination of New Orleans Second Line rhythms and Cajun dance music. In his documentary narration Wallace explains there are 15 broods of the locust (the Biblical name for cicadas) in North America and they only appear east of the Great Plains. “They have little fear of man or beast,” he says in the doc.
Like Wallace, the locust are a mystery.
“Seventeen is a recurring number for Marlin,” Brown adds. “Seventeen year locust, seventeen years on the rails.” Wallace recalls, “We got in the car with a camera and got to Chicago and couldn’t hear one cicada. I thought, ‘Where did these bugs go?’ So I said, ‘Let’s drive south.’.”

8040509-illinois-route-66-sign-as-found-on-the-historic-route-66
Brown and Wallace took I-55 along Old Route 66 before finding a park filled with chirping cicadas. “We had a birds-eye nest,” Wallace says gleefully. “We took pictures of the trees covered with them.”
Brown says, “They were landing on us.”
Wallace stops to reflect. He says, “One of my best memory places was in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I was six years old and living in this boarding house. There was a big empty lot next door. I’d get out there and climb those trees. I’d see other kids walking down the street but I didn’t want to be with them. I discovered three or four cicadas down there at this young age. That was one of the best times of my life.
“I just stayed alone in this world of nature.”
There is no rhyme or surface reason for Wallace’s prolific nature. “I’ll come up with the idea first,” he explains. “I’ll get to thinking about a certain subject. Say a warthog.”
Of all the things Wallace could reference, he references a warthog.
“I start thinking about the warts,” he says. “Then the whole hog will develop. Then I have a song ‘Warthog’. Lookin’ out of the eyes of an animal, you have to get on their level and write from their viewpoint.”
Bob Dylan isn’t this succinct.
“Give Me Your Love” is a scorching blues track Wallace recorded in the late 1970s with Maurice Rock, a black singer from Springfield. “One Good Soul” was written by Wallace reflecting on his hobo days. “I was driven by these forces to ride the rails,” he says.
Back in her space age beehive hair days, Dolly Parton signed Wallace to her Owepar Publishing Company she had started with Porter Wagoner. The late Frank Dycus (“He Can’t Fill My Shoes” for Jerry Lee Lewis and “Is Forever Longer Than Always” for Dolly and Porter was a Owepar staff writer. Whitney says, “Back in the late ‘60s they took two songs of mine. I was writing songs and pitching them in Nashville. One was a country recitation song I wanted Porter to get. It was called ‘World’s Biggest Clown.’ They picked up a tune of Marlin’s too. Marlin had a bad experience. I had no experience.”
Wallace still has his contract, signed by Parton in cursive with a pair of breasts.
Wallace met Parton in her 17th Avenue South office on Music Row. “I played some tapes of songs,” he says. “She (accidentally) broke the tape of the one called ‘Mekong’ (a dark folk ballad sung by Jim Grandstaff) while she played it. On Feb. 13, 1969 Parton signed a contract to purchase the rights of Wallace’s “The Planet Mars.”
Trust is imperative whenever people make music together.
“Until I ran into Lou and Dudley I was always given a hard time by people,” Wallace says in measured tones. “It’s a bad story. I room full of staff writers steal people’s ideas. I never got anywhere. I’m not trying to promote myself as a singer as much as my material. I’m a non-conformist and forced into a corner by myself. I have to occupy my time. But as long as I’m kicking, I’ll keep kicking them out.”

Marlin and Elvira on the Maule ship (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Marlin and Elvira on the Maule ship (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

 

MarlinWallace_ElviraOnTheMaule2

 

 

Dudley Brown has spent more than $10,000 and invested countless hours in his efforts to share the considerable music of Marlin Wallace with the rest of the world.
He, too, is a hobo with a strong helping hand.
Why?
Brown considers the question for a few moments. He finally answers, “It is is a great endeavor. When I met Marlin I was interested in the ‘45s and how neat ‘Wanderin’ Soul’ was and then how neat the albums were. I was blown away trying to figure it all out. Somewhere along the line your realize this guy has written thousands of songs. Thousands. There’s only a handful of people on the planet that have ever done anything like this. And there’s only one Marlin Wallace. No one has done what he’s done. It is all so massive. The post cards, the maps, the music.”
Whitney adds, “If you sit down and visit with Marlin you either get it or you don’t. My visits with Marlin convinced me that one, he is productive. Two, his songs are good. And three, he’s an honest human being. I got the entire package but I couldn’t step up and do what Dudley’s done. And Dudley got it immediately without even meeting Marlin. The way Marlin meticulously put his cassettes together. If he’d do something and change his mind or made a mistake–in the unlikely event he made a mistake–he’d hit that record button, there would be a little kechang and it would carry on. That takes focus. Intuitiveness. And patience. It is wealth. You can’t go out and spend it, but it is wealth and it is valuable. It reflects effort, time and investment. It reflects belief and creativity.
“That’s wealth beyond what a lot of people ever dream of.”
Marlin Wallace looks around the room and asks, “How do we cash it in?”

To purchase the excellent music of Marlin Wallace please visit his Corillions website, intro by Lou Whitney.

Copyright, April,  2014  Dave Hoekstra