Fleeting Fame in Mexico

By Reverand Windowpane Johnson

In 1975, my buddy Cliff Firestone and I climbed into his 1968 VW bug and traveled south into Mexico. I can’t remember why exactly. I guess we were seeking adventure and avoiding boredom.

Mexico was so different than it is today. It had a feel of timelessness, charm and lawlessness. It reminded me of the American old west. Road signs were virtually nonexistent, so you never knew if you were where you were hoping you were. 

Machine gun toting, teenaged Federale soldiers strolled the streets. You couldn't drive at night, because there were dogs and donkeys walking around in the dark. You might drive for two hours and see no one, then suddenly a peasant man carrying a bundle of sticks would appear out of nowhere. We would converse in our broken Spanish and he would give us a "Vaya con Dios" and disappear into the desert. There was a dreamy, hallucinogenic sort of feel to each day.

At the end of our second day we ended up in a small village high in the mountains. I don't remember the name of the town, but it had some dusty streets and a water source in the center of the plaza. We found a quaint old hotel and the amicable owner fed us well and started us on a night of drinking.

Refreshed from our meal and showers, we wandered about the town until we came upon a cantina, with swinging doors just like in a western movie. Inside we could hear discussion, and revelry. It was an unspoken inevitability that we would enter, and I pulled Cliff aside and said "Lets just keep a low profile in here, we don't know  how they feel about Americans". Cliff nodded, and strutted through the doors, his arms above his head gesturing wildly, shouting out, "tequila por todos! tequila por todos!"

So much for the low profile, but we were warmly welcomed.

It was a primitive old saloon, a trough urinal running down one side of the room and a rough-hewn bar down another. Eight Mexican farmers eyed us warily and with curiosity. We traded rounds of the most rotgut, vile tequila I have ever had.........even to this day, and the ice was broken.

Cliff and I broke into an acappella version of an old Carter Family tune, and soon we were trading songs as well as drinks. The evening began to take on a bizarre glow. It was like a scene from a Keruac novel, just us and our new best friends hanging out in a remote village bar in the middle of the Sierra Nevadas, singing for each other.

Small, dirty, smiling urchins huddled just outside the swinging doors soon spread the word among the village that there were gringos entertaining tonight. Suddenly the cantina was closed and we found ourselves on the street, surrounded by teenagers, eager to hear gringo music. I ran back to our room to get my guitar, and we were now singing for a new crowd. We were famous and life was good!

But as quickly as we had found stardom, the tequila caught up with us and we made a hasty retreat to our room, where we soon found ourselves vomiting upon the cool tile floor of our bathroom floor. Fame is a fleeting mistress and two days of diarrhea was our penance for letting it go to our head.

Week Night in Chicago 1994

“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them for I have seen your painted ladies beneath the gas lights luring the farm boys.” Thank you Carl Sandberg. But it wasn’t the painted ladies, it was the lure of authentic Blues that swept us in.

Buddy Guys place.

The real deal.

We (Bob and me) had driven a rental car to downtown Chicago with the address of Buddy’s establishment written on a coaster from the night before. We rode past the classic “Buddy Guys” neon out front, and parked the rental in the nearest lot that didn’t say, “Full.”

I turned around and there was Bob, his face stretched into a huge, goofy grin and 2 large martinis sloshing over their sides. “It’s a week night. We’re in Chicago. We’re at Buddy Guy’s. And it’s Open Mike Night. Drink it. I’m getting 2 more!”

A couple of random, adequately talented guitar players traded the stage with one another, and the whole night began to feel flat and average, standing in the back of a crowded bar, yelling to talk and scanning the landscape to see something interesting.

Then it happened: Buddy jumped on stage. Buddy Guy, in the flesh, in his oversized blue bib overalls, in his place on Open Mike Night. We had struck Blues Gold.

Buddy jumping on stage was the beginning of the, “We’re Having a ‘Tini Every Song He Plays” game. With Bob buying, and appearing from nowhere before each new song with fresh martinis in each hand, all lit up with that goofy, “Isn’t this great” grin.

Buddy played a couple tunes with the dude’s guitar who had been on stage for “Open Mike Night” before Buddy had taken over and borrowed the guitar from the awestruck rube.

After a sweaty rendition of “Damn Right I Got The Blues”, Buddy’s all fired up and hollers to the wild crowd, ”My guitar is kinda like my woman. I don’t like stroking no one else’s.” With that, his red axe was promptly whisked on stage. Buddy looked at it lovingly, stroked it a few times, and then laid into a nasty, “First Time I Met The Blues”.

The place exploded.

Song concluded, Buddy leaned into the mike and teased, “Someone bring me a Conneyack, and I might stay up for a little while.”

Bob howled, “Hell yes!! It’s a week night. We’re in Chicago. We’re at Buddy Guy’s. And Buddy Guy is playing!” He raced back to the bar for 2 more fresh martinis, a pack of smokes and a Cognac for Buddy. His new buddy, the greatest guitar player of ALL TIME.

The night went on. Late. Real late. And the “We’re Having a ‘Tini Every Song He Plays” game ran it’s course and did us in real solid. So did the singing. Cause neither of us could talk anymore.

We cabbed it to a hotel near the airport for flights we both missed.

The next day, I called Bob to recount the night and asked about the fate of the rental car. Bob answered without the slightest hint of remorse. “Oh, I Fedexed them the keys with a note that said, “it’s in a lot near Buddy Guy’s place. You better go and get it quick, because we didn't pay for the parking. I’m a Hertz Gold Member.”

Who found the Blues

From the Spud Turner Chronicles

Marble in Berlin?

It’s late night in Berlin – cold, windy and damp. I am walking along the Münzstrasse, and music drifts up from a side street. I venture towards the sounds, blues notes and guitar becoming clearer. “Lötte Bar”, the sign says, with a Kindl beer emblem. Opening the door, the room is heavy with smoke, crowded tables and sounds of glasses at the bar.

Before I can find a seat, a man approaches. “We’re closed. Private Party.”, he says brusquely, and grabs my shoulder to steer me back to the door.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were closed. Who’s the singer?”, I ask, nodding toward the tall figure hunched over a guitar.

“Some American. He sings like they did before the Wall went up.”

I stop at the door and turn for a last look. The singer’s hat is tipped low over his face; his voice is deep and gravelly, as he sings “Boogie Chillin”. He looks up; the shades are distinctive.

I step back into the night, with Willie’s voice for company as I walk home.

So, You Think Being a World Famous Marblelette is So Glamorous?

So you think being a World Famous Marblelette is so glamorous?

Well, let me tell you what happened to this Marblelette the last time Willie Marble rolled into town.

It’s common knowledge that Marble tries to stay south of the border during the winter months. But there he was, sitting at the bar in an establishment that had seen its better days in a town significantly north of the border. He’d gathered the Xperience for another xperience. We were as surprised as anyone. We don’t usually see him from November through March. Just like you, we hear the rumors and the random supposed sightings, reported anywhere from the backstreets of Memphis to a small village in the Andes Mountains.

But to see him in the flesh deep in the heart of an early February cold snap was out of the ordinary. He mumbled something about being in town to “make a few things straight again”, but offered nothing else. I didn’t care much one way or the other, I was simply happy to be hopping on the Marble Xpress for a winter ride. I packed for what would likely be a long evening – light, but with enough supplies and accoutrements to meet most any situation. At a minimum, a Marblelette needs her lipstick, bling and boots and of course, a few of her essential Marblelette lingerie items. While this Marblelette was never a Girl Scout, I’d learned through the years to pack a few extra of everything when making the rounds with Mr. Marble.

As usual, we did some carousin’ and drinkin’ of his favorite brown Southern bourbon, Willie playing his guitar, the Xperience singin’ and playin’ the blues and everyone having a good ole’ time. Folks gathered around to hoop ‘n holler ...they were dancin’ up a storm and cheerin’ us on and we were lovin’ it! Several dives, multiple bourbons, many songs and some unaccounted for hours later, I found myself standing on a street corner, searching for bits and pieces of my stuff, that by now, were scattered from one end of town to the other.

I was..... stranded! A Marblelette damsel in distress!

By this hour, everything was shut up tight and no one was in sight. But as charmed Marblelette luck would have it, a fellow carouser, pulled up in a well driven van and offered me a ride and a place to crash for the night. The guy claimed he was a Reverand of some kind. Of course what kind of Reverand would be out tending his flock at 3:30 AM? But maybe 3:30 AM is precisely when a man of the cloth does his best work. By that point, I certainly could have passed for a lost sheep in need of some spiritual guidance. Little did I know that my evening’s adventure was far from over.

The Reverand said that he knew Marble, though he was hesitant to admit it. Something about a deal going sideways in the Florida Keys back in the late 70’s. I nodded, neither being in a position or the condition to ask too many questions.

Upon climbing into his truck, I was overcome by the smell of some god-awful stuff coming somewhere out of the whole heap of assorted paraphernalia stashed into the back of the vehicle. Not a good mix with bourbon. With minutes to spare before passing out, we arrived at his place. We walked through his toasty kitchen and climbed the stairs to the guest bedroom.

Which had no heat.

But the Reverand, being a hospitable sort, appeared with a small heater. The heater, blankets and the last bit of bourbon from my flask, the one thing I never leave scattered around anywhere, made for a nice, fully clothed doze for a few hours before I awoke - sweltering. I tossed back the blankets and began tossing off articles of clothing until I was right down to my Marblelette lingerie. I dozed back off until a suspicious odor brought me out of my dazed slumber. That heater was about to burn the house down beginning with the room I was in! Adrenalin set in and any remaining bourbon haze disappeared as I regained my wits and started pulling any plug I could get my hands on. First thing to go were the lights! It was pitch black with the heater still blazing.

After the heater was finally disengaged, and my near death experience was stuffed into the closet, the room began to cool .....fast .... and went from cold to Polar Vortex in no time flat. I began to shiver and shake which prompted a visit to the necessary room. Fortunately the gracious Reverand did make me aware of where it was so finding my way there, in the dark, was slow but successful. That room was a damn igloo! A glaze of ice beginning to form in the bowl - and my ensuing experience is one probably best left in the water closet.

This Marblelette was ready to leave the building!.

Putting my now freezing clothing back on, which included those damn frozen boots, was quite the unpleasant challenge. I gathered up whatever remaining stuff I could find by Braille and made my way to the street. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, I stuck out my thumb. Another well-worn but rather spiffy little red truck soon stopped. I hopped in. A discreet sideways glance reveled a decent sort. My Marblelette lucky charm was still working! Said he was a Doctor of some kind on his way to do a house call. On Sunday morning? He and the Reverand need to team up. I’m not one to judge, but Lord knows I could have used him a few hours ago for a personal hypothermia treatment.

As his heater began to thaw me out, I received a text. It was from Marble. A picture was attached. I did a double take. After a full night of singing and carousing and after not only nearly burning to death but also freezing to death, I wasn’t sure whether to believe my eyes. There he was, with that sly little smile of his, a woman on each arm, and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t standing on what looked like a Caribbean beach, the sun over his shoulder just beginning to peak over the horizon. I checked the date and time indicator on the text, and sure enough, the picture was taken five minutes prior.

I asked the Doctor to turn up the heat.

“It’s at max”, he responded. “But this should help.” He offered a flask. For his early morning house calls, I presumed. Hair of the dog for me. I obliged. I don’t know what kind of Doctor this guy was but he provided me the perfect prescription at just the right time.

I checked my look in the rear view mirror...a bit dicey but not bad considering the time of day after the evening before…and settled back in my seat wondering when Marble would be through town again. I freshened my lipstick, contemplating whether to ask this guy to take me to the nearest airport for a flight to the Caribbean to track him down, when my chauffeur cut his eyes towards me, a glint of recognition crossing his features.

“You’re a Marblelette, aren’t you? It seems like such a cool life. So glamorous!”

I motioned for another sip of his flask, took a dainty Marblelette pull and with a bit of a Marblelette smile responded,

“Damn right it is!”

- This Sighting and Xperience recorded and submitted by Queen Victoria

Marble In Mississippi?

I was sittin on the Ground Zero porch in Clarksdale the other day, on that sofa with all the stuffing squeezing out of the torn Naugahide cover, when the old purple Ground Zero caddy crawled by real slow. It was dusk, and dusty and hard to see real clear; the back window was partially down; a waft of smoke curled out, but i could swear I saw Willie in the back seat, leaning forward with a bottle pressed to his lips.

- Submitted by Spud Turner, Clarksdale, Mississippi