I learned to shun the mixture of alcohol and music early in life and I wanted to share here how that good lesson was borne in upon me.
Just because I played bass horn in the high school band and could read bass music, I thought it would be cool to learn the bass fiddle. I don’t remember anyone playing electric bass back then. I heard a local barber had an old-timey stand-up bass for sale for $90, about two-weeks' salary for me as a Western Union messenger boy. I pondered the purchase during the early weeks of one summer and finally committed to ownership of the beat-up old musical instrument.
The local “orchestra” director taught me a couple of scales on the thing. The four bass strings were tuned like the bass strings of a regular guitar which I could play somewhat, so I picked it up quickly. The first group to find out I owned a bass fiddle and could play it a little was called the Hi-Fi’s, consisting of a self-taught trumpet player, a clarinetist, a drummer, an electric guitar player and, after I gained approval practicing with them once, the group had a novice bass player who owned his own instrument.
I painted the old thing black and white and put some sparkles on it. We had gigs all over the place and my bass paid for itself easily that first summer and fall. Then a group called the Modern Hillbillies notified me that they needed a bass player. The professional-sounding band had a program on the local radio station Wednesdays at noon. They were a bit more particular than the Hi-Fi’s, but their fiddle player worked with me quite a bit until I could accompany that expert group satisfactorily. We had a few out-of-town shows, one as far away as Dubach, La., and I actually got fan mail. Not that my 17-year-old ego needed any more boosting.
Shortly, Dude Bubba Dixie and his band, a local group called Bayou Dixie which had actually cut records in Nashville, notified me that they wanted me to play bass with that bunch as well. They were on a local television program at six every Friday evening. “Where do I come for practice,” I wanted to know when Dude Bubba himself called me on the phone. “Oh, we ain’t worried about that; just come to the station at about 5:30 Friday.” Upon arrival I found that Dude Bubba and his band were all older, rough looking cowboys, and I felt a bit out of place with my Hi-Fi’s white sport coat on, but they didn’t seem to care. Before each song, Bill would ask, “What gear do we do this one in fellows?” Someone in the band would call out the key and off we’d go. I knew from my own domestic circumstances what bourbon smelled like, and I certainly got multiple whiffs of that elixir during our television performances.
The Hi-Fi’s were my favorite of all the groups and I felt I was fairly dealt with money-wise by the leadership. I usually got $12-15 per performance. I didn’t do quite as well with the Modern Hillbillies, except for the rare stage shows, where I earned as much as $30 for one evening. Dude Bubba never paid me squat. I guess whatever money he made went for “refreshments.”