sludgo’s Mile Markers: Mile 10
Lucas called me that afternoon. Leaving tomorrow with his daughter to go back to Kansas City to live with her and the grandkids. Not coming back. Happy, but sad. Wanted to tell me goodbye. Said I’d been a big deal for him. His Friend. Was packing, but maybe we could take Sharlene out for one last spin tonight, after the show?
He picked me up at the stage door around one and we were already really moving when we hit the onramp but then he floored it and I heard all the butterflies and all the barrels and all the valves open up and the front lifted and the back squatted and we got a little air as we rocketed onto the flat of the 405 and into the orange-black dark of the early LA morning. He cocked back his head and let out a howl, a straight-out snarling-animal-from-hell kinda thang, long and loud and raspy and dirty, coming from somewhere deep and down and old and long ago and sounding more badass than that wide-open 396 did and ending in a smoky, wheezy, coughing, dentured-smile of snowy-white that blinded me. Made me laugh to see him so happy. And he kept it floored.
I’d known Lucas a while. Met him when the band was gigging at this little blues club over in Long Beach. Every Thursday night the second set was open for anyone who wanted to sit in. The takers were usually nervous beginners with Japanese Strats who’d shake and stammer through anything Thorogood, or hair-metal refugees who’d come up in spandex with reverse-headstock Jackson Dinkys and shred out ‘Pride and Joy’ in double-time. Talk about The Blues…
But one Thursday night, Lucas took the stage. Little old black guy. Shock of white hair. Sharp, creased blue suit. Sharp, creased white shirt. Black tie. Black shoes. Links. Zips open an old gigbag and draws out a battered and cigarette-burned deep-red Gibson 335. Straps it on, plugs it in with a pop, and hits an A. Nothing but Tone, baby. He’s done this before. I get goosebumps.
Looks at me. Do I mind if he smokes? Nope. Do we know any Otis Rush? Yup. I call out ‘Big Boss Man’ and we hit it. And Lucas burns. Builds the tune into mild fever then drops it to whisper quiet then brings it back home hard with a jamming, crushing outro. Huge cheers. Encore.
Popular Demand. He stayed on with us through the third set. Lit up the room every tune. Stayed late afterwards, helping with the loadout as much as his messed-up back and blown-out knee would let him. Talked my ear off. Sharp as a razor. Told me his story.
A hot bluesman from Kansas City back in the day. Volunteered in ’41 for the Big One. Purple Heart. Came back to the States and got patched up and hopped a Greyhound to LA as soon as he could, looking for everything people hop Greyhounds to LA to find.
He’d found some of it. He was clubbing on his own name when the blues revue came to call. A tour in The Big Leagues. With Big Leaguers. Played on a couple of hit records and for a time rolled Very Large. Money. Booze. Women.
Things change. The revue ended. His style got old and he got older. Found a little studio work here and there but he was rolling pretty small by the time I met him, mostly on some penny royalties and
He’d also gotten lonely. Told me so. Lived with his two cats, Leslie and Paula. Never married. No woman now. Not for years. Daughter and grandkids in KC. Guys he knew from the Army or the revue all long-gone or far-removed. Said he felt invisible. Said his health was fading. Fast. Said he was scared he’d die all alone in LA. Got quiet. His black, weary eyes filled up. Looked away. Didn’t want me to see. Pretended I didn’t.
I started to visit Lucas over at his place whenever I could. He was a cool dude so No Big Deal, but he ate up the company, greeting me every visit like I was Elvis. I’d bring him a coffee. Fix him a sandwich. Fix him a Mai-Tai. Take him for slow walks down by the water. Take him for slow talks down by the water. We’d play guitar. And, cruise around LA in Sharlene.
She was a new Chevelle SS convertible back in the Spring of ’68 when he bought her. He’d been drunk and had some cash in his pocket and a woman on his arm who loved red convertibles and said he looked good in it. The woman left him faster than the cash did, but he gave her name to the Chevelle, his daily since.
That night, as we flew down the 405 on our last ride, I noticed Sharlene had really gotten rough. Dusty. Musty. Dried-out. Sun-bleached. Her white top was yellowed and torn and didn’t go up because then it wouldn’t go down. Her tattered and creaky seats were clothed in old beach towels and patchwork quilts. Shag-rug samples covered her floorboards. A thick Marlboro-butt shrub spilled out her ashtray. Her radio didn’t work but the underdash 8-track did. A little.
But then I heard her motor. That motor. Deep down. Roaring. Pulling hard. Still making the music it was born to make. Just like Lucas. And I smiled.
Time to say Goodbye.
He dropped me off around seven, outside of my apartment in Pedro. Could smell the ocean. Hear the foghorns. We talked for a minute. A private talk. Then, that was that. Shook his hand. He fired up Sharlene. Revved her hard. I told him he’d better cool it or he’d lose his license.
He gave me a grin.
‘Ain’t never had no license, sludge. Rock on.’
And he floored it.
Rock On, Lucas.
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November 10, 2018 at 12:01AM