In my last blog, I reminisced about Antone’s, which was the club where I saw so many blues legends in Austin back in the ‘80s. In a way, this was our neighborhood bar at the time, and as such it was the scene of some notable nights out. One that comes to mind involves the late great, ebullient Texas bluesman Albert Collins. Albert was a one-off, for sure, who did his own thing and did it well. We were lucky enough to see him on many occasions back in the day, but this one particular night stands out in my memory.
There were five of us that particular night, and in retrospect it should have been obvious to Bruce and I that the other three guys (Gary, Joe and Derrick) were in a bit of a fiendish state of mind. But such a realization would likely not have deterred the two of us, in that we were young and not given to wise acts of discretion at the time.
At the duly appointed hour, the crew piled into Gary’s dented orange Volare and drove the short distance to Antone’s. We got to the show a bit early, per usual, and immediately bellied up to the long, battered wooden bar that ran along the left side of the club. Bruce and I ordered Shine Bock longnecks, alternating with tequila Screwdrivers. The other guys, however, were in the nascent days of an infatuation with Jameson Irish Whiskey and were downing shots of it at an alarming rate. I have to say that the look in their eyes gave me a sense of foreboding. I had seen this Look before, and wondered if we’d make it to the end of the show without there being An Incident.
Bruce and I moved down the bar a bit. Just to create a bit of separation, you understand, for when the club’s giant bouncer finally decided to go beyond the death stares and get off his stool by the door and come over to put the quietus on the increasingly-rowdy horseplay.
When the opening band started up, our three friends didn’t seem to pay them much mind and instead continued down their Emerald Isle rabbit hole. It wasn’t line-dancing (thank god!), but it was getting more rambunctious down at their end of the bar. I glanced over at the humongous bouncer and, if looks could kill, these would be three dead white boys. I couldn’t blame him……the whiskey drinkers were now flicking each other in the ears and laughing hysterically at the resulting pain and indignation. Juvenile shoulder punches, while the other guy wasn’t looking, were interspersed. Eyes became increasingly unfocused. At times, the volume rivaled the band’s.
I sensed an iceberg approaching, but felt like my power only extended to keeping myself out of the sea. These were not men to be reasoned with.
When the opening band finished up, Bruce and I sauntered up to the front of the stage to get a good vantage point for Albert’s show. Based on past experience, we knew that it was going to be a good one. Albert’s band, The Icebreakers, were great, real-deal players who had been together forever and were super-tight. And Albert himself was a consummate showman. He played a Fender Telecaster (using a mysterious tuning idiosyncratic to Albert alone), which is a type of electric guitar known for its high-pitched, stinging sound. Over the course of a night, Albert would unleash endless stabbing, bent blues licks that pierced right through the mix and got the crowd more and more worked up. Sweat would pour off him and he clinched his eyes closed with every fusillade unleashed. He gave his all at these shows, and tonight would be no different.
As was common with the blues legends, the band came out first and warmed the crowd up with an up-tempo instrumental tune. It cooked, popped and sizzled, and Bruce and I quickly forgot about our Jameson-swilling compatriots behind us in the club. As the band launched into the second number, Albert was introduced and he came out firing on all six, launching javelins of sound out into the crowd from his Tele. The energy level in the room leapt up several notches, and everyone started moving and grooving. Fast numbers with the occasional slow blues. Wonderful pacing, and the energy in the room kept building.
And we had a ball.
After about 45 minutes, I thought to look back from our position at the front of the stage. Through the crowd, I could see Gary, Joe and Derrick sitting at a big round table in the middle of the room. I couldn’t be sure, but they appeared to be spitting on each other. Of the many dead soldiers on the table, several were knocked over. They seemed unsteady but determined to ride the jag straight down into the depths of the peat bog.
I wondered if the bouncer remembered that Bruce and I came in with those guys.
One of Albert’s famous show-stoppers that was used for the last song of the night was to hook his guitar up to a 100 ft. long chord and start walking. At Antone’s, that took the form of exiting stage left, going off the stage and out the emergency exit of the club, continuing on through the parking lot and out into the middle of Guadalupe Street, stopping traffic and playing crazy leads all the while. Just when he started his stroll this night, I looked back and saw that the bouncer had finally had Enough and was heading to our friends’ table. This seemed like an excellent time to follow Albert outside, and so Bruce and I—longnecks in hand--sidled right over to that side of the stage and then trailed Albert right out the door and out into the street (no doubt breaking multiple Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations in the process). When the rest of the crowd saw what we were doing (and not knowing out special motivation), they followed us out and soon there was close to 100 people standing in the middle of the main drag, screaming and hollering for Albert to take it higher. And he did! Beers were thrust up in the air, frantic dancing erupted, people got out of their cars on both sides of the road to join the party, and all the while The Icebreakers kept it cooking back in the club, with the sound pouring out the side door.
Just as things were reaching their peak out in the street, I heard a commotion and looked over to see our three wayward whiskey drinkers being thrown out of the front door by the mountainous, scowling bouncer. Seeing that as our cue, Bruce and I left the crowd and walked over to herd our friends around back to the car, sensing that whatever responsibility we might have abdicated earlier in the night could now no longer be avoided.
As you might expect for aspirants trying to qualify for the James Irish Whiskey Shot Team, the trio were not in a frame of mind to consider that their behavior might’ve had something to do with their ejection from the club. Great was their indignation, and mighty were their protestations. But finally we got them into the car and headed back over to Joe’s house.
The less said about the remainder of the night, the better, but I will divulge that the sad inventory of the next morning included a broken window and a broken pinky. But I think it telling that the beer/tequila contingent behaved with great personal aplomb, while the Irish Whiskey drinkers made beasts of themselves.
Would a change of beverage have made a significant difference? Well, if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hopped.