Twenty years ago this past August, my dad and I packed all of what I thought were my valuables into my car and his SUV and made the two-hour drive from our home to Lafayette. By lunchtime, we unloaded everything into the dorm room I would soon share with a stranger and he left. Suddenly, I was alone in city I had visited at the most four or five times in my entire life. I knew no one.
Over the next two decades I earned a degree, lost a few million brain cells and significant amounts of my hearing, built a career just to abandon it as it had exhausted itself of growing room, went back to school, started a family, built a second career, just to relaunch my first career from my driver’s seat. (Much of what has filled this space started with a framework outlined as a note on my iPhone as I waited for my daughter to get off the bus.) Though I am no musician — save for a that one failure of a time when I sat in with my brother’s band on drums at practice — music has been a constant in the last 20 years.
The bulk of my bylines came at the top of pieces about music, but it wasn’t my only focus. One of the great things about feature writing is anything can be featured — food, homes, businesses, haunted cemeteries, old school wrestlers. (I even had to write a feature about the Camellia Bridge — the bridge itself — once.) I’ve seen more than enough of my share of unforgettable moments that qualify as ones that had to be told — but just couldn’t be told for one reason or another. Until now.
With The Independent’s transition to digital-only and the rollout of The Current, my contract has expired like so many of those great bands I once wrote about. For my 20th anniversary and this occasion, I decided to open my vault-like mind and release some of my favorite anecdotes that never saw the washed-out, black-and-dim-white glare of local print.
• The day I turned 18, I walked by myself to Festivals Acadiens from my dorm to eat a bowl of steaming pork jambalaya. The ticket/coupon thing confused me, so I didn’t have a drink to go with it.
• One of my first memories of Lafayette — and definitely my first memory of Lafayette’s rock scene — was a flyer for a show featuring Frigg A-Go-Go and the Quadrajets of Alabama. It featured a picture of a hot rod and one of Junkyard Dog, the wrestler of Midsouth fame who had a wrestling school in Scott. I died a little inside because I wasn’t quite 18 and could not go to what I thought was some sort of wrestling-meets-drag-race rock show.
• Dallas Griffith invited me to accompany him and two of his band mates from two of the three dozen or so bands he was in at the time as they drove through the night and into the next day to a used limo dealership in Arlington, Texas. Dallas planned to buy a purple and white shuttle bus adorned with Texas Christian University Horn Toads (the previous owner used it to haul his friends to away games) and use it to ferry his many bands to their gigs. Over the toads that decorated its interior walls, Dallas said he would put the names of local music luminaries on each of the frogs. By the time we got there, we were lack-of-sleep drunk, caffeine crazed and full of fast food. One used limo sales man in jean shorts was giving us the nice guy routine, assuring us the engine was good even though it was rebuilt and not new as the ad had said. The other was bad-copping us, telling Dallas he pretty much had to buy since they had wasted the whole morning showing it to us. Nice guy suggested he go eat lunch and think it over, even suggesting a place where they served “flame grilled sammiches with all the toppings — lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions ...” We asked him what the name of it was and he said, “Burger King.” Dallas ate a Whopper that day but didn’t buy a frog bus.
• The day I went to their house to interview them about their first record on Arhoolie, The Pine Leaf Boys had somehow gained possession of Steve Riley’s sweat towel after one of his Blue Moon gigs. It had an accordion and his name embroidered on it. There was talk amongst them of auctioning it off, but I don’t think that ever happened as they were quite proud of it.
• At The Times of Acadiana, Reese Fuller used to have a framed picture of Boozoo Chavis; a framed picture of his wife at Elvis’ grave; a poster of Zachary Richard wearing an ascot, a wife beater, jeans tighter than Dwight Yoakam’s; and a mariachi-esque puppet/doll of Michael Doucet. I could never figure out which he was most fond of.
• Dick Dale at the Blue Moon. Period.
• When Mastodon played The Renaissance on Jefferson Street, Dickie Landry stood on a chair, pumped his fist in the air and shouted “I want to hire that drummer for life!” Maybe. It is hard to say. It was a Mastodon show after all.
• My closet is overfilled with faded t-shirts from concerts, bands and company and convention promotions. In fact, as I write this part of the column, I am wearing a wearing a South by Southwest shirt from 2005. As much as I like the shirts, it makes me feel old and sad when I go through them — and my old CD collection — and see so many of the great bands I wrote about are now defunct. About half of them broke up a week after I wrote about them.
• After one edition of The Times’ “Band Issue,” I got a voicemail from Dege Legg talking about a group of teen boys who submitted their listing (and were the first ones on the list because it was in alphabetical order and their band had a number as the first word). Their first gig was at a junior high dance or something. I called Dege back, just to get his voicemail. I made my voice really high pitched, pretended to be one of the lads and left a message about hearing that he wanted to play with us. I may have mentioned that our mom would make us snacks. A year later, he and I were talking and he brought up how he was contacted by some kids who wanted to jam, not realizing it was me.
• One day I stopped by the Dollar Store down by B’s Poppa P’s to pick up a few things on my way home. As I was checking out, my phone rang. It was my wife screaming about a snake being in our carport. I told her what to do. At that point, I realized two things: my cashier was zydeco musician Donna Angelle and I had just repeatedly ordered my wife to “just go ahead and kill him! KILL HIM!” in front of a few strangers.
• You didn’t have to be drunk to go to the backwards Taco Bell on Pinhook (where Raising Cane’s is now) and have them serve you with a snow shovel, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
• Following an interview I did with Paul Marx of KBON 101.1 FM, the station’s Todd Ortego took me to eat at some tiny hole-in-the-wall plate lunch place. That day they were only serving ponce. I made the mistake of telling my wife about it and she refused to kiss me for a week.
• I got a call from a publicist one day, letting me know that Ray-J (yeah, that guy who would later be the co-star of that video with Kanye West’s wife) was going to be in town and would be available for interviews. After all, he is Brandy’s brother and he would be (at some point — not right then, but at some point — she assured me) cutting an album. When I told her I only interviewed locals or people who would be playing locally, she became perplexed, She kept questioning me about this, as if she had misheard. “You do know he’s Brandy’s brother?” was repeated a few times. At some point, I am sure I was on her speakerphone and restating my point as her office of hip, cool and in-the-know staffers listened in on this dumb yocal who did not want to interview Ray-J. After all, he is Brandy’s brother.
• I am glad I still had my own office at The Times the day porn legend (at least that’s how he referred to himself) Bill Margold called me from California. Turns out he had a friend here in town who read a blurb I did about the local cover duo known as The Ron Jeremy Trio. Ronnie, as he referred to the porn legend Ron Jeremy, wanted to set something up with the band. He also preceded to tell me about his shoot that day. That was a conversation best not had in a Daily Advertiser half-cubicle.
• The first time Scott H. Biram could travel and play a show in Lafayette after being hit head-on by an 18-wheeler, he came by and picked up Drew Landry and me so we could roadie for him in Baton Rouge (the night before playing Lafayette). On the way to the gig at Chelsea’s Cafe, Drew watched WWE Smackdown on the van’s TV and composed the song “Mid-South” (“It’s 1-2-3, JYD!”). As he still had some trouble getting around, Drew and I set Biram up to play then wasted some time playing foosball. After a while, we realized he was late going onstage. When we found him going number two in the bathroom, we thought it was pretty funny that he missed his cue to use the bathroom. Later, we realized it wasn’t too funny as he lost part of his colon in the crash. Years later, karma would bite Drew when Kris Kristofferson played Cypress Bayou. Before the show, Drew was able to meet him and play him a few tunes. Kristofferson dug what he heard and, later, even called him out from the stage. Except, Drew wasn’t there. He was taking a bathroom break. And there was nothing wrong with his colon. Seeral years later, he would be in a crash with an 18-wheeler.
To be honest, if Drew ever puts out a best-of or greatest hits album, it won’t top some of the genius-level nonsense he comes up when he’s out running around. At Wendy’s once, he ordered a spicy chicken sandwich then had the staff add a burger patty to it, because he was on “that Fatkins Diet.” After running into a girl we both knew, he told me she was “a pretty girl until you looked at her.” Another time, on Jefferson Street, the owner of the nightclub Rain corralled us into taking a tour of the club as it was being readied for opening. After seeing all the cheap looking, expensive lighting accents and vessel sinks, Drew told him, “If this club thing doesn’t work out, you can always turn it into a Chinese buffet.” The owner wasn’t amused.
• The dumbest thing I have ever done was at one SXSW. At some earlier point (maybe the previous fall or the one before it), I saw a great set by the Blind Boys of Alabama at the Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans. At SXSW, I happened to get on an elevator with one of the singers — who are all actual blind men from Alabama. I told him how much I dug the show and extended my hand to shake his. His helper had to tell him that I was standing there like an idiot with my hand stuck out.
• One of my earliest members is when the One Man Gang sent Hacksaw Jim Duggan flying into a ring post and the terrible bloody mess that followed. Duggan — a good guy in the NWA wrestling promotion — was my hero and the image of him gushing blood burnt into my young mind an unforgettable image, even though it was a grainy image received from 60-plus miles away via our old outdoor antenna. When All Access Wrestling brought Duggan to town, I called Judd Lormand, the booker and host of “This Week in Wrestling,” and set up a meeting. As awesome as it is to meet your hero and have him sign a fresh cut 2x4, it is also very humanizing to see him wear bifocals, eat his chicken sandwich with a knife and fork and no bun, because, you know, carbs, and talk about real estate investments.
• The second worst part of the writing job is when someone dies and you aren’t able to make it out of the office before being tagged as the reporter who will call friends of the recently departed. The first worst part of the job is calling friends of the deceased and actually being the person — unbeknownst to you — who breaks the news to them. That was me the afternoon Herbert Heymann died. Number three worst part is getting calls from people who believe Bill Clinton is out to get them because of a fender bender they were involved in back in the 1980s. That was me too.
• I may be a Guinness World Record holder as the only person to ever take a picture of DL Menard not wearing his trademark cowboy hat. Better yet, I took one of him wearing a baseball cap. Write what you think is a great story about DL - exploring his little reported-on crafting of chairs – be sure you don’t run it with a picture of him not wearing that hat. They’ll complain.
• Surely, someone has developed a metric of how cool you are based on from which location of Toys Music Center you used to buy over-priced CDs. Before you think you are cool, if you shopped at the one on Stewart Street, you are only uber cool if you mostly shopped there on days other than Dollar Days. Add a few points if you ever bought a bumper sticker for 10 bucks and got a poorly bootlegged video of a rock show for free.
I might not be uber cool, but for the past 20-plus years I’ve seen and heard a lot of amazing things — too much to ever be contained in this space. Thanks, Acadiana, for the memories. Stay funky.
Nick Pittman was somebody once. To contact him, email [email protected]