Wednesday 27 July 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast 6

Forty one dates and fifteen thousand miles, north to south, east to west and back again across the United States and Canada, just me with three guitars, an amplifier, two fuzz boxes, a cheap delay pedal and a dodgy looper that puts things backwards and cuts them to half speed. I broke four strings on my acoustic guitar and one on my telecaster. I ran through five sets of electric guitar strings, eleven sets of acoustic strings and close on a hundred guitar picks. I almost wore a hole in the top of the acoustic guitar. I had to keep brushing sawdust off the thing - I’ve never played with such consistent violence. I suppose it’s a reflection of the times we’re living in.

Now I’ve been home for a month and that old familiar just like I’ve never been away feeling is creeping back in. I'm hoping that in time we can make the house look a bit less like a depot. When either or both of us come home the house fills up with dirty laundry, guitar cases, leads cases, amplifiers and stuff. The laundry's all done now, guitar cases are stacked up in the garage, guitars are cluttering up every room and I'm busy writing songs for a new album.

The touring is fast turning into a distant memory and I'm left wondering if it all actually happened. I think it did. I’ve given up trying to single out the highlight shows - they were all highlights in their way - I blew people’s minds. That seems to be what I do, I blow minds.

I was sitting outside the club in New Orleans before I played. A tall guy strolled up accompanied by a good looking woman. The promoter scooted up and quickly explained that the guy was a New Orleans hotshot guitar player, Mason Ruffner. We were introduced and it was slightly awkward because he obviously wasn’t that interested, and who could blame him. They’d strolled by to catch a couple of songs because his wife liked Whole Wide World.

When I finished my set he came rushing over to me, wild eyed and exclaiming:
‘You just blew my fuckin’ mind man - I ain’t never seen one guy with a guitar do that! And plus, you don’t give a fuck do ya?!!?’
I played it cool but I was quietly thrilled - he’s a great guitar player and he obviously meant what he said.

I liked Marfa in Texas an awful lot. I’d been wanting to go there for sometime. A sleepy town on the edge of the West Texas desert - the minimalist Donald Judd bought some buildings there and a small artists community developed. I played in the Lost Horse Saloon. The owner was a real cowboy - a monument to the Wild West: seven feet tall in cowboy boots, a floor length duster coat, Stetson and a black leather eye patch. He had a German girlfriend called Astrid. The show had been organised by a lovely woman called Julie who escaped to Marfa from Austin. I found out later she’d held a bake sale to help raise money to put the show on. We stayed in her Air B’n’B and it was quite wonderful.

I had fun, I survived, and I think I got away with it:
  • I hung out by the ocean in Brunswick, Georgia, and narrowly escaped being murdered by a lifesize baseball bat wielding bunny rabbit
  • bought an early seventies Silvertone hollow body guitar in perfect condition for next to nothing from a pawn shop in a sleepy town in the wilds of southern Georgia 
  • visited the Country Music Hall Of Fame with Amy who flew into Nashville too late for my outdoor show at the fabulous Fond Object; 
  • spent a few days in Lafayette, Louisiana, hanging at with Tess and Patrick of Lagniappe Records and saw alligators in the bayou
  • caught up (albeit briefly) with the great Hartleroad brothers and cousin 
  • endured the desert heat of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona 
  • rediscovered the great tamale takeaway in El Paso
  • celebrated my 62nd birthday in Tucson, Arizona
  • had the greatest time I’ve ever had in California
  • played a show in Los Angeles with Jessica Espeleta and Bart Davenport as my last minute backing band 
  • had The Mantles as a cameo backing band for a couple of tunes in San Francisco 
  • caught up with Roy Loney in SF and Scott McCaughey in Portland, Oregon
  • met up with my old tour manager and soundman Tony Ferguson from the glory days of Stiff Records. He told me he was really proud of me and that meant a lot
  • almost lost my mind in the Canadian Rockies on a two day drive from Vancouver to Calgary 
  • reflected on the futility of existence over the thirteen hundred miles between Edmonton and Sioux City (broken up by a show in Winnipeg which looked like it might be a disaster but ended up being a triumph)
  • hung out for a day with Ryan Myers at Sioux City Guitars trying out his handmade amps and effects 
  • made my way steadily eastward and home via shows in Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Detroit and Rochester where I woke up in the same room where I’d woken up a year last May, terrified at the prospect of playing a collection of new tunes from my as yet unreleased amERICa album for the first time, at a festival in Toronto later that night - I was just a beginner back then.
Of course there's a lot more to it than that - you can read about it in previous posts. I try not to repeat myself.


I made it through the night in room 622 of the Sioux City Howard Johnson. I got into bed and even though it was a warm night I kept all my clothes on. I was beginning to feel itchy and I was hoping it was just psychosomatic. It’s not just neurosis - I once contracted scabies from a hotel very similar to this once, and that was a very distressing and debilitating experience.

I made the room as ok as I could - selected a couple of pillows from a mis-matched collection of six, three on each queen-size bed. They were the sort of cheap pillows that are filled with chunky off-cuts of foam from an upholstery factory Nothing felt clean, the bed covers and pillow cases were creased and rumpled as though they’d just come out of storage. The carpet was gritty and stained. There was a two inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. I rolled up the bath mat to block the gap - this is standard practice - you don’t want the outside world intruding - draughts, light, cigarette smoke, mice… so you roll up the bath mat and block the gap. That’s what the bath mat is for.

I should pass on a few survival tips culled from years of road experience:
  • Put the plug in the sink and fill it up past the overflow. The overflow pipe quite often holds trapped water and unless it’s change it goes stagnant, and that’s part of the reason hotel rooms often stink.
  • Open a window if you can. The air conditioning unit might well replace the air but it’ll be passing through dirty filters and layers of greasy fluff. Best not to dwell on that.
  • If there’s a microwave don’t open it (a precautionary measure - you don’t know how clean it might not be). Unplug it if you can so that the light from the clock doesn’t keep you awake. 
  • Do the same with the fridge. You don’t need the noise of the fridge kicking in every forty minutes. If you can’t unplug the appliances without moving the furniture or reaching into a grubby and undusted recess put a folded towel over the microwave clock and turn the temperature control in the inside of the fridge to the off position. Make sure you shut the fridge door properly.
  • If the bed has a plastic mattress cover under the sheet you’ll need to remove it or you’ll wake up in a lake of your own sweat. I’ve thought about this rather more than I’ve really wanted to but it has led me to a fairly positive viewpoint: any spillage by previous occupants of a sexual, menstral or incontinent nature will most likely have been intercepted by the plastic sheet because no one else will have had the foresight to remove it, so the chances are that the mattress underneath will be pristine, not that you ever want to actually see the mattress. YOU NEVER WANT TO SEE A NAKED HOTEL MATTRESS. What you don’t see doesn’t exist.
  • This is how you remove and dispose of the plastic sheet without ever seeing the mattress: Open the wardrobe door. Go to the back corner of the bed furthest from the wardrobe, gently lift the fitted sheet, without looking remove the fitted corner of the plastic sheet, and (still not looking) push the plastic sheet under the undersheet and the fitted corner. Repeat on the other corners, and when you get to the last corner which should be the one next to the open wardrobe, quickly pull the whole plastic sheet out from under the sheet, stuff it into the wardrobe and shut the door on it. Try to do this without breathing. Replace the fourth corner, wash your hands and try very hard to think of something else, something wholesome, something pleasant.
  • If the hotel room is too grubby and it’s too cold to go and sleep in your vehicle, or you don’t have a vehicle, you could forgo performing the plastic sheet trick and just sleep on top of the fully made up bed in your clothes and whatever you have in the way of an overcoat. This is also a good solution for beds where the mattress is completely shot and you’re just lying on springs covered with a threadbare expanse of piss-stained poly-cotton and an undersheet.
  • And one final tip: when you take your socks off remember to put each sock into the shoe to which it purtains. If you don’t do this you run the risk of putting your socks on the wrong feet and after a week or two wearing the same socks you’ll get blisters.


  1. I've stayed in some sketchy motels, but never one with a plastic mattress protector. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Your prose is just as enjoyable as your music, Eric.