As I mentioned in my last entry on this website, the experience of writing Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton (Backbeat Books: 2003) gave me more than just the opportunity to tell a great musical story. While music is obviously the book's major focus, with Danny at the center, Unfinished Business also emerged as a great human interest story, especially from a broader cultural perspective.
Many of the comments I've gotten have remarked on how vividly my book evoked the era that it covered, from the '60s to the '90s, starting with the venues that have since been cosigned to the memories of those who played there, like Danny, or were simply regulars show goers -- names like The Bayou, The Cellar Door, The Crazy Horse, and so on -- and how the scene they sprung up around them operated.
As many of my interviewees commented, Washington, DC wore its contrarian colors proudly, being a place where the likes of Carl Perkins could tour regularly, long after their initial hitmaking days had passed. In that spirit, it wasn't hard at all to imagine Danny's first independent release, Redneck Jazz, outpacing the Rolling Stones's Some Girls, the hottest album of 1978! Whether that memo -- or the resulting sales reports -- got back to Jagger Central, I've no idea, but it wouldn't have been hard to imagine his reaction, if it had: "Hey, just who is this Gatton guy, exactly? Somebody find out what's going on!"
In many ways, Unfinished Business also evokes a simpler time, when vinyl records, the stores that sold them, and the maze of clubs, large and small, ruled the roost of Anytown USA's local musical universe, when only three national networks existed -- and if your local TV station really felt daring, it signed off at 2:00 a.m., instead of midnight! It was also an era of when "the band" definitely existed as a grouping of specific, uniquely talented individuals, and how the loss of one or two of them could mark a major shift in your allegiances. The same story held true for those precious pieces of black plastic, whose contents often made (or broke) reputations at a single stroke.
I'm appreciative to all my interviewees, large or small, cult or major label alike, who took the time to detail that era, and how Danny's life and times fit into it. I naturally wound up with many more anecdotes and stories than I had room to accommodate, which is why I appreciate hearing from fans who contact me to drop over them over the virtual transom (so to speak).
In that spirit, picking up from where Part I left off, Ronnie offers some Gatton-related recollections and stories that, while not specifically about the man himself, shed some additional light about him, and the scene that he inhabited. Enjoy, and to anyone else -- all I can say is, "Keep 'em comin'!"
"MY TALL POMPADOUR
AND PEGGED JEANS TIPPED HIM OFF":
THE FLEA BOPS' LIFE & TIMES (8/23/21 email)
Darren Lee Spears was an amazing rockabilly singer fronting a buzz-generating up-and-coming local band here called Go Cat Go. Man, Darren could sing like Elvis and Carl Perkins rolled into one, and while he was just 27 in 1993, the year of the benefit, he was writing some cool original songs. The drummer in that band was Lance LeBeau, who would also be the drummer in Flea Bops for the entire run of our band (1991 - present).
One day I was in the auto parts store buying some struts, when a prematurely bald, gray-haired, gray-bearded, portly guy in a Sun Records T-shirt came up to me and asked me if I liked rockabilly. My tall pompadour and pegged jeans tipped him off. I said yeah, and he told me about a gig his band was playing locally that night. His name was Bill Hull, and he was their guitar player.
Long story short, I saw them, was blown away at how good they were, and fell into their fold. A secondary band (Flea Bops) was started, featuring me on vocals and rhythm guitar, Lance on drums, Lance’s brother (Preston) on electric guitar, and Lance’s wife (Wendy) on upright bass. The two bands often gigged side-by-side for two years, but Go Cat Go was going to go national on some level, while Flea Bops still needed a lot of seasoning.
But then, Darren was shot and senselessly murdered in a robbery...and then, the benefit gig with Danny. What’s interesting, though, is that less than a year before Darren was killed, Paul (my mom’s husband, and Danny's hot rod buddy) took Danny a copy of Go Cat Go’s six-song vinyl EP (pictured on the poster). According to Paul, Danny was blown away by Darren.
Danny asked Paul to talk to me about getting Darren to record a few songs with Danny. I went to Go Cat Go with this request. Darren was thrilled, needless to say, but there was some uneasiness about this with the rest of the band, for obvious reasons. But I went back to Paul and told him yes. Paul told Danny yes...and Darren was killed soon thereafter, nixing the collaboration forever.
Now, Danny had already done the play-with-the-rockabilly-singer thing with Robert Gordon and Johnny Seaton. And while I think Darren was much more talented than those guys (no slight intended to either of them), I’m sure the Danny/Darren collaboration would not have financially netted much more for either of them, than it had previously netted for Danny while with Seaton or Gordon — but there would have been some good music made. Oh well…
LAST (BUT NOT LEAST): REMEMBERING PAUL ALSOP,
CAR FLIPPER 'N' CHICKEN PICKER (8/17/21 email)
Lastly, I’ll share one more piece of information about Danny that is, again, typical of my life “around” him, but not directly involved with him. It’s not a story “about" Danny, but someone like you who spent so much time writing your book would find it interesting.
So, my dad, the man who introduced me to Danny’s music, died pretty young at age 40. in 1984. My mom got remarried a couple years later to a guy named Paul Alsop. Paul, also from Oxon Hill, was an auto body man, a hot rod builder, a car flipper, an artist, a left-handed in-the-garage Tele chicken-picker — and worshipper of Danny Gatton.
He was a unique individual, to be sure, but a sometimes difficult personality to deal with. Bipolar. My mom and Paul were the owners of the Charlotte Hall house where I now live. Paul was in Danny’s circle of hot rod guys. He was a regular down at Danny’s garage, but rarely would Danny be up here, according to my mom. But those years Paul was hanging out with Danny were lost opportunities for me to get to know Danny personally.
Relationships are tricky things, and I guess I thought it was best not to elbow in on Paul’s relationship with Danny — but I regret that now that both are long gone. Paul died back in 2016. My wife and I sold our house and moved into Mom and Paul’s house. My mom is now in Florida.
Paul's garages here looked like something out of "American Pickers." Filled with signs, odds and ends, cars, guitars, amps — anything cool. Paul had a couple of Danny’s old vehicles in the garage here. Paul also had one of Danny’s prototype Telecasters. I think he bought it from Danny or traded a car or body work for it. Paul was forced to sell it when he was battling cancer in 2015 and could no longer earn a living. It came with a detailed letter from Billy Hancock, verifying its authenticity to the guy who bought it. I still have the letter if you’re curious and want to see it.
My mom let the auctioneers come in and sell everything in the garages. She was overwhelmed by the task of dealing with the stuff in there, so she just trusted them to be fair. God knows what else of Danny’s was in here. I stayed out of the loop and let her do it her way.
The only thing I have left of Danny’s (oddly enough being that these auctioneers seem to know what’s what) is a Leslie cabinet that toured with Danny in the early 1990s. The access panel has Jay Monterose’s schematic drawn on it, as well as the notes of the tour and Jay’s signature. It’s pretty cool, but it’d take some doing to get it in shape again. I also have a few of Danny’s old hot rod car Maryland state registrations for the 1956 Ford he owned in the 1970s/80s.
Paul was involved in the Sam’s Crab House tribute show organization, and I think he was also involved in at least one of the Tramps tribute shows. I still have a gold-colored left-handed Tele that was presented to Paul at one of those shows. It’s signed to Paul by most everyone who played there.
One last thing. Billy Hancock actually lived in this house for six months or so. He and his wife rented a room from Paul. I used to see Billy here from time to time and we’d talk a little. Shortly after Paul died and before the auctioneers rolled in here, Billy showed up one day. We talked a bit, then he got around to the point. Did I still have his old 1959 Danelectro guitar and his Tex-Rubinowitz-custom-made electric bass?
Those were prized possessions of Paul’s. I’m guessing Billy needed some money and sold them to Paul, but Billy was telling me how he’d love to have them back in the family. He said he bought the Danelectro when he was 12 years old, with money from his paper route.
Well, they were Paul’s, not mine, so I went into the garage and dug them out and gave them to Bill. Needless to say, he was a happy guy that day as he drove off in his 1990s vintage tank — maybe a Caprice? He’s gone now, too, but I’m glad he was reunited with those instruments for awhile again.