A Commanding Presence……………#91 (the 60’s)

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis

The Rythm Tamers band was in turmoil, while playing a club date in Lawton, Troy Elledge suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown just before starting the last set.   Don (Red Eye) Kinder a long time friend and promoter of Troys musical aspirations was in attendance, intervening and taking Troy to the hospital.  Gary’s good friend and drummer Glenn Froman who was recently discharged from the service at Ft. Sill making Gary an offer to join him in reorganizing his band.  The drummer desiring to replace Carl, an active veteran of the Korea War who was a wannabe vocalist who played rhythm guitar and was more interested in the female activity off the bandstand, also having secured a sax player named Fred that was in the military and whom like Gary was from Oakland California.  Glenn proposing and Gary finding it difficult to decline,a covert conspiracy to coax’s the unsuspecting guitarist Jerry Willis away from a semi disabled Troy and the Rythm Tamers band.  Gary relenting, Glenn renting a two bedroom house on Oklahoma St, not the best neighborhood but sufficient for the musicians, Jerry soon followed Gary’s lead giving Troy notice, the Glenn’s Hi-Liters having a new look and sound.

Accordingly club dates can be difficult, especially when involving a piano.  There’s a built in handicap with having a pianist in a band,  most clubs or dance facilities were often deficient in having or providing a piano and if by chance they did the instrument was often out of tune.  Gary discovering the purchase of a hand-held accessory, a tuning wrench resolved the first predicament,  enabling a slightly discoursed piano to sound disciplined.   The second asperity was mitigated with a purchase of an inexpensive antediluvian upright piano to be transported for provisional installation,  to insure the bands integrity.    The biggest difficulty to confront was a means to transport the heavy musical burden.  The piano rested in mundane silence at the Oklahoma St. address,  its worn ivory giving vestige to past accolades,  it was waiting to be summoned,  but the custodians of the appendage desired more than a another performance from this heirloom from the past.    A decision was made, a striking new finish to garnish its exterior,  something to instill conversation,  promote awareness and broadcast its appellation.   The artistic coating was completed,  the stenciled name of the group  embolden in black letters, ” The Hi-Liters”   standing captive on the side of the lustrous brilliant Pink Piano.

Innovative Glenn

The Pink Monster

Innovation was Glenn’s middle name when it came to relocating the piano from the Oklahoma St. house to a performance venue as the Hi-Liters normal transportation was limited to a passenger car status.  When necessity intervened, Glenn would scourer the newspaper ads,  selecting pick-up trucks for sale ad and inquire as a prospective buyer,  asking permission to afford the vehicle to his brothers residence across town for approval.  Leaving his car parked with keys in it at the marketeers to still their concern about  Glens character, time consumption or  aspirations,  the drummer returning the pick-up after moving the piano with an apology for declining to buy.

The Pink Monster,  an apropos designation for the exceedingly heavy upright piano was on stage at the Colony Club in Altus.  There was electricity in the air,  never have the Hi-Liters performed before an anticipated crowd such as this,  only the congested throng wasn’t present for them,  but for the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis,  whom would perform that night  The Hi-Liters entered their break-song,  halting at 10:30 to begin moving their equipment backstage for the coming gala performance.  Gary and Glenn commenced to roll the Pink Monster behind the offstage curtains, securing room for the clubs slightly out of tune baby grand at center stage.  The arriving entourage consisted of four, Jerry Lee, a drummer, a bass player and his manager.  The drummer and electric bass player rose without hesitation approaching  the stage to assemble the band equipment,  while Jerry Lee and his manager remained seated  at a table surrounded by enthusiast,  mostly of the female gender.  Gary could tell from Jerry Lee’s appearance, the glassy eyes giving notice of something more than alcohol having entered the entertainer,  either inhaled or digested.

Jerry Lee & 2nd wife Myra

It was showtime, the Great Balls of Fire celebrity strutted on stage,  the manager shouting over the mic, “Lets hear it for the great Jerry Lee”.  Jerry leaning on the grand piano,  plunking a few notes on the keyboard and then to everyone’s start, rising up and  disappearing off stage behind the curtains.   The crowd silenced by his departure beginning to murmur,  then a rustle of a curtain stilled the air, from behind the drapery enter the commanding presence of a Pink Piano,  being pushed by the pretentious Jerry Lee Lewis to center stage.  This was the Pink Monsters finest hour, boisterous, exclamatory, melodious,  the keyboard punctuating a convergence with never felt before dexterity.  The acoustical electricity accompanying the vivid choral vocal lyrics of Jerry Lee,  exploding the perceptive club atmosphere with song.   Jerry Lee was not concerned that the front cover of the piano had been removed,  exposing the strings and rows of hammers,  he soon realized the purpose for its absence,  reaching up and pulling a hammer loose when it refused to return,  it was almost as if the two were acquainted,  Jerry Lee and the piano  having been together before.  The Hi-Liters finding Jerry Lee a hard act to follow, but were resolute with their dance music.  The second show was repetitious, a quick and robotic presentation,  a realization that the young Jerry Lee  performance showed that he was only interested in obtaining the meager monetary compensation and moving on.  It was almost understandable, the accomplished musician having fallen from the pentacle of success rivaling Elvis for the title of King of  rock-n-roll all because of the publics perception of scandal marrying his 1st cousin once removed,  13-year-old Myra Gale Brown.  The Colony Clubs evenings extravaganza a success,  the true star remained on stage that night having provided its acoustical gift to the performer and the audience, the star, the Pink Monster.

The rath of nature lighting up the night sky

The wrath of nature lighting up the night sky

Mom’s 24 hour Cafe in Altus was usually the concluding  gig  for the musicians upon consummation of their performance.  It was never ascertained if the person behind the counter who was addressed as Mom was actual Mom not that it really mattered.   Most often the band members  would enjoy breakfast, including Mom’s famous  “sop’en  gravy”,  before beginning their highway travel.   It was nearing 3:30 a.m., the weather remaining stormy,  tornado watches having been in effect thru most of the night.  Guitarist Jerry Willis having made a decision to travel home to Frederick instead of returning to Lawton,  providing Gary could determine a means of  transportation.  The Pianist concluding with the rain abating,  he could thumb a ride at  the junction,  four miles east of town, where Jerry would turn south towards Tipton and Frederick.

Disembarking at the Junction,  watching as the tail lights of Jerry’s recently purchased Ford Convertible faded  from view.   Gary taking notice, the  wind beginning to gather some momentum and a rumbling in the distance, the sound of thunder giving notice of an approaching disturbance.  Confident of thumbing a ride,  the only destination of consequence traversing  east on highway 64 was Lawton and with a presumed certainty,  he knew that availability would soon appear.

A service station long forgotten but standing watch

Across the highway standing solitude was  the remains of a once proud service station,  its reason and purpose forgotten,  the pumps long ago removed,  a shattered building still erect,  standing watch over its domain.  On the corner by the station rested a derelict wooden wagon, standing barren,  its tongue affixed,  hounds still fastened,  a reminisce of a by-gone era,  yet still baring witness to reality.   The night sky suddenly coming alive,  a crackling,  the forked spears of lightning cresting the shadowed clouds with their transient illumination.  A blue flash,  a bolt  having struck nearby,  the atmosphere vibrating with a thunderous sound, a wind filled gust,  blatant movement being disclosed, the regal wagon regaining  its heritage and beckoned before the wind to signal its  display of esteem.

Sequestered on the highway,  the rain once again resuming  the night sky a showplace,  natures caliber on exposition, the figure still awaiting passage east but to no avail  then twice the approaching glow of headlight, but traversing west the direction he had departed from.  The volley from the heavens descending its fury with rapture, the musician scurrying,  seeking  shelter,  the relic from the past, the remnants of the gas station according  hospitality, an  asylum from the liquid profusion.   The structure shuttered with the gale, the sky perforated with suffused streaks of radiant spears,  the resolute wagon continuing to stay its post,  the scene finally broadcasting a conclusion.

Another hour having advanced only this time with a the approaching headlight from the east, a quick decision to acknowledge an excursion back to Mom’s Cafe.   Once again at the cafe the ascendancy of sunrise, Gary having no difficulty  securing transportation to Lawton, the transporting person even offering to make a passenger delivery to the Oklahoma St. address.   Gary’s reflecting on his experience concluding that  natures elevated  display only augments its magnificent wonder.

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