Leaving Nashville on Oct 9th, we head west to California via Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Two weeks in and our departure seem like six months ago. Out here time speeds up and slows down all at the same time. Routine forces movement, while spare, quiet moments are savored. I love the opportunities that come with the changing landscapes, and traveling west provides them in spades. This trip is a venue mix of aging movie theaters, a couple of casinos, a famous rock club, and a county fair.

Let me say this about aging movie theaters… they are a treasure. The civic groups and art councils that bring them back from the brink are to be applauded. Support them, wherever you are.

Below is the exterior and interior of the Fox Theater at our last stop in Bakersfield

Bakersfield-Fox Marquee

Bakersfield-Fox Interior

But let’s start at the beginning…

Greenville Texas – Our first stop finds us at the Municipal Auditorium, built in 1939 with money from the Roosevelt public works project. This stage has seen acts from Elvis Presley to Duke Ellington. Thanks to the Kenneth Threadgill Performance Series, we played here a few years ago with Leslie Satcher and Jim Lauderdale.

Greenville Threadgill

I must point out that the food here was unbelievable!! (this is usually not the case) Thanks, ladies!

Greenville 2

The gig doubles, however, as a jumping off place to meet up with my old friend Ken Fitzgerald and his wife Judy, to do some train spotting. Ken is a published photographer in train magazines, a self-published book author, and is hired frequently by the Union Pacific Railroad to document special events. He is a great teacher to me in honing my evolving photography skills. We head out in his Ford SUV checking the scanner, and find three train events going on. First, we sight a Blacklands Railroad engine, down for the count, being checked over by two crewmen,

Greenville-Blacklands Long

Greenville-Blacklands Crew

Then the old historic Greenville depot where passenger trains used to pull out three times daily.

Greenville Depot

Just out on the other side of town is an LTEX (Larry’s Truck and Electric) engine waiting for gas pipe to be unloaded from its flatcars.

Greenville-LTEX long

Greenville-LTEX Flatcar unloadGreenville-LTEX Pipe FlatbedThis is a wonderful opportunity to witness railroading at work, and not just whizzing by.

Nearby we find our last sight, a beautiful Kansas City Southern freight waiting its turn on a mainline siding.

Greenville-KCS Money

I return to a spirited crowd at the auditorium, and after loading up, we head off into a lightning storm.

 

Early the next morning, I stumble into the front lounge as we pass through Roswell NM. I snap this picture through the window and can’t help but to ponder the alien question.

RoswellBefore 1947 and the “incident,” Roswell was just a sleepy desert town. These days Roswell embraces its celebrity and shoves it on your face, as many businesses here sport alien themes. I smile as Roswell slides by our bus window. Out in the middle of nowhere you gotta work with what you have.

Our next gig is the Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso NM. This is probably the biggest cowboy gathering in the country hosting storytellers, poets, chuck wagon cooks, western artists and craftsmen. We are welcome here, but a little out of our element as the best western swing bands in the country surround us. It’s a subtle intuitive feeling. The best way to describe it is like a “New Grasser” playing a traditional bluegrass festival back in the mid-70’. You’re tolerated, but not really accepted. Byron Berline finds me to say hello however, and Little Roy Lewis visits our bus and entertains us with his Georgia Blues pickin.’ We break out the rhinestones for this gig as most of the attendees are sporting their best western duds. When we get onstage, that “intuitive” feeling I had earlier is completely and immediately disarmed when Connie Smith joins us. She brings an unaffected, calming, dignified, classy presence to the audience. I LOVE playing with Connie.

Rudioso Stage

 

Continuing on, our diesel stagecoach parks us downtown in Tucson at the Rialto Theater.

Tucson Rialto marquee

Right across the street is the Congress Hotel where in 1934, members of John Dillinger’s gang were cooling their heels on the top floor. Waiting for Dillinger to join them, an early morning fire broke out in the basement, and when asked to evacuate, the firemen were tipped handsomely by the gang to help with their rather heavy loot filled luggage, (close to $24,000 and some heavy artillery). One of the firemen recognized some of the gangs’ faces from a True Detective Magazine, and Dillinger was captured a couple of days later just down the street without the police having to fire a single shot. Dillinger was extradited back East and later escaped using a wooden pistol. Cuz and I had a wonderful lunch on the back patio of the Hotel Congress.

Tucson-Hotel Congress ExtAfter playing a casino near San Diego, our bus heads towards Los Angeles and The Roxy.

Thanks to March Martin for this marquee shot

Roxy Marquee March edited

Originally a grocery store, then a strip club, the Roxy was established as a home for the Rocky Horror Stage Show in the ‘70s. When I lived in LA, I saw some amazing shows here like Earl King, The Meters, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, and Ry Cooder. I played there myself with Silver, Jay Ferguson, and Al Stewart. With Al I recorded his “Indian Summer” album live at the Roxy over two nights back in 1981.

81-indian-summerWhen we arrive, the set up begins in earnest for our show and a TV taping for Marty and Dan Rather.Roxy Interior SetupBefore sound check, Dan arrives and the interview begins.

Dan meeting MartyRoxy-Dan & Marty InterviewDan Rather is a class act.  I miss the professionalism he brought to the small screen in todays newscasters.  He is so subtly in the moment.  Afterwards, he graces me with a pose.

Roxy-Me & Dan RatherAfter a short rest we suit up and play for a star-studded crowd that includes actor Fred Willard, and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers. I missed seeing Rodney Bingemheimer though…used to see him all the time there in the 80’s…

 

Leaving tinsel town behind we enter a total polar opposite environment, Ridgecrest CA. It may be home to the China Lake Naval Testing Center, but for us, it is better known as the home of The Porthole, and Lewis Talley and the “Whackers.”

Crestridge The Whackers AlbumThe Porthole was one of the circuit bars that helped evolve the Bakersfield Sound. Merle Haggard is seen here playing a Fender Jaguar with Lewis just after his release from prison.

Merle at the Porthole

Buck Owens played here, Bonnie Owens lived here and so on and so on. Our gig at the fair brought out songwriter Red Simpson.

Crestridge Me & Red Red is credited with writing, “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go,” and is invited on stage to play it with us.

Crestridge Red & Marty Stage 2Merle and Buck might have been kings of the Bakersfield Sound, but in this place I can truly feel I’m down in the engine room of it all. The people of the Imperial Valley are hard working, blue-collar folks, and I drink up all the stories I can while hanging out with Red and his cronies. Thank you, Mike Leming, for promoting the show, my Rolling Stone Altamont poster and keeping vinyl alive in the old Porthole location.

Fresno is next and another fabulous old movie theater, the Tower.

Fresno Tower Marquee

Be sure to check out Spinners Records if you ever get to Fresno. They have some great vinyl. I found a wonderful Porter Wagoner “live” album that I bought just for the cover, an old Glaser Brothers “folk” rarity, and a British re-release of Jimi Hendrix’s first mono “Are You Experienced.”  Back at the Tower, Marty snaps a couple of impromptu pics of me backstage in the deco dressing room and opener Sam Lewis becomes my 1000th “liker” on Facebook. Big day in Fresno.

Fresno Harry BackstageFresno Sam

After a night at an Indian casino up near Eureka, we start heading south to Red Bluff and the State Theater.

Red Bluff-State Theater Marquee

Red Bluff is home to Tom Hank’s mother and brother. According to Wikipedia, Mrs. Hanks and Tom’s brother moved there after a divorce. The point is, the State Theater is undergoing restoration, and is struggling with hardly any corporate sponsorship for help. Tom Hanks donated some money to help purchase the property to get them started. The arts council for the State is the “little engine that could.” They are passionate, dedicated and patient. Red Bluff is an old community, but its hay-day is long past. Go say hi if you’re in town.

After Red Bluff we get a day off… sort of…We drive to Redding to spend most of the day with Merle Haggard.

Merle-Bus in front of studioMerle welcomes us to his ranch, and was in top spirits.  He brings out Lefty Frizzell’s J200 for us all to play, and we trade stories, laughs and share some pretty special musical fellowship.

Merle-Kenny & MerleMerle-Paul Kenny & MerleHe and Marty had written a song, and we proceed to record it in the studio.

Merle-The Band & MerleMerle is a real fan of the Superlatives, and after many years of crossing paths, I can say that we have a true connection now. What a memorable day, one for the ages.

Merle-Me&Merle

The next day, in Folsom California, our bus gets a wash, and we get a tour of Folsom Prison.

Folsom-entrance

I was interested to go in, and relieved to be able to walk out. Folsom is an old prison, opening in 1880. Its location was secured by some savvy mine owners who made a deal with the state. If they gave the land, (from their mined out land), the state would build a dam with inmate labor which provided a moneymaking hydroelectric utility for the mining company. This gave Folsom the distinction of the first AC electrified prison in the state, while most of the electricity was shipped off to Sacramento. Smart guys.

We’ve all seen pictures of Folsom’s’ Gothic ominism.

Folsom-East Gate solo

The 30-foot walls go down beneath the ground surface another 8 to 10 feet to solid bedrock. Upon entering and a shout out from the guards from above in the East gate tower, our first sight is China Hill, where Chinese prisoners were segregated to in the early years at the prison. Back then they weren’t considered human. They provided garden vegetables for the warden and the prisoners though. Without our cameras, our memories are all we have to document the Warden’s office and Greystone Chapel.  We are then escorted unprotected through the medium security yard (at this point my unnerved feeling came from Folsoms “no hostage” policy), and into two of the cellblocks. Finally, we’re ushered into the old execution room. Built as a hanging gallows, the room was small, with ten cells on two levels. If you were sentenced to hang, you started out on the bottom floor, and moved across and to the top until you were next. Ninety-three men died in this room. I simply can’t imagine. Today it’s used for storage and a prison band rehearsal hall.

Allow me this commentary…Spiritual evolution is mandatory for us all.  Love is the answer… period.

Just across the hall from the execution room is what we really came for. We are ushered into the cafeteria where in January of 1968, Johnny Cash recorded his historic “At Folsom Prison” album. We are shown the spot where a narrow stage was constructed at one end of the hall. Along with the Tennessee Three, Carl Perkins, June Carter and the Statler Brothers, Cash uttered, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” to a primed prison audience. I imagine seeing JR shaking hands with inmate Glen Shirley from the stage after performing Shirley’s song, “Greystone Chapel.”

JR on stage at Folsom

Outside the prison at the East Gate, like Abbey Road, thousands have had their pictures snapped where Cash once posed, and we’re no different.

Folsom-Jim Marshall

Folsom-Band Abbey Road

After Folsom, we wind down the tour with Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage,

Berkeley-Sign

Modesto’s State Theater,

Modesto-State Theater Marquee

and the Fox in Bakersfield, where Red Simpson joins us again onstage.

Finally, it’s LAX and a non-stop flight back to Nashville.  I settle back and give thanks to Maddox Bros & Rose for blazing that Golden State rhinestone trail for us all,… way back in the 1940’s.

Maddox Bros & Rose

“So long, California… can’t wait to get back.”

18 Responses to California Dreamin’… Old Theaters, Old Friends, Old Memories & One Prison

  • Thank you for posting these photos. I really enjoyed them, especially the ones with Merle. I always watch the Marty Stuart show and enjoy it so much. Real Country Music can’t be beat.

  • I just want to thank you for the beautiful pictures and the all the info. How awesome to see Merle and to see Kenny Vaughan with a smile on his face. I was in shock…lol I’m sure you all know how much love and respect I have for each and everyone of you. Loved the trains and love historic places. Keep up the good work and thanks so much.

  • Great reading and browsing. More please, Harry!

  • Thank you for this wonder blog and sharing your pictures that let me dwell in memories of California dreaming Thank you all for the wonderful time I had there and I am so grateful that I was able to do this tour with you and got to see some fantastic shows. You guys got better with each concert. Just like you, being back home now, it is all in a kind of haze and seems more like months ago and not just a few weeks. I do hope I can do this again sometime.

    Chris

  • thanks harry for sharing your pics & thoughts !
    I, having grown up an lived in santa monica & southern az, both places are home and been to many of the places that you are talking about, really appreciate your perspective . plus, it was great to hear y’all too. good medicine !
    peace & joy………garry gamez

  • I took a break to check in with friends on FB and saw the post about your new blog and website. Gorgeous work! Harry, as well as
    I know you, I learned so much more about the wide scope of your musical career as I read through your bio. It deserves to be told.
    Well done, my friend!

  • Love your pictures & stories, Harry! Thanks for sharing.

  • So enjoyed your picture trip. Got a “GENNIE-GO” for my DIRECTV to never miss your shows. and OH, tell Marty to let you sing more. THANKS

  • Awesome Harry!! Thanks for sharing your pictures and inner thoughts with us all… GOD Bless You My Friend!!

  • Gee, you aren’t just another pretty face are you? What an amazing way you have of helping us all share in your wonderful trip!! I was completely transported as I read each line and viewed each fabulous picture. Thank you so much for sharing and making us all feel like we were living the moment!! God Bless!!!

  • Just absolutely stunning …. alot of history shown first class…… nice job Harry

  • Great travel (tour) writing, it’s great to do what you love, and there is history everywhere, wish I could go along for the ride!! Hope the new album is doing well!!
    Thanks for the music!!

  • Awesome travelougue, Harry. As a professional photographer, I’d say your photos are ‘two thumbs up’. Loved the train pix. Also, one of the best blogs I’ve read in a long time. God bless you, brother!

  • Great pictures Harry. It was an honor to have you guys in Ridgecrest. You are not only Great Talents but Great Individuals. It was fun to see all of you in Bakersfield at the Fox. As a child growing up in Bakersfield I spent a lot of time there watching movies, so it made it even more special to see Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives in that venue. God Bless and keep the music coming!

  • Hey Harry

    I’ll show this post to Nigel. He’ll be thrilled to see the bit about the Roxy. He mixed sound for that and that was the first time we met lol.

    Good to see you’re doing so well.

    All the best

    Angie

  • Hi Harry — three things —

    I live about a quarter mile from Dan Rather’s childhood home on Prince St. which was torn down a few years ago for the 3~4 story patio homes going in all over the inner loop Houston and beyond.

    Also I heard an interview on the radio with Marty where your name came up with all kinds of superlatives attached, him mentioning talents I didn’t know you had.

    Since I met you in Nashville troop 87 of BSA you are the only Stinson I have known until last week when I met Mike Stinson here in Houston. I mentioned to him the other Stinson I knew of and more superlatives came to my ears, and he said he has approached you more than once in friendly encounters. Mike has his own top notch band playing hard driving Texas country rock, very danceable, my girlfriend loves dancing to it.

    BTW I’m active in the blues/R&B circles here and also get to workout with classic rock standards. T. Groover

  • Met you in Folsom after the concert, Harry. Just discovering your page. Thanks for your music and congrats on capturing so much of America. God bless.
    Austin

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