#003 Heritage

“Kantner once told me, ‘You’re never going to grow up,’ and I’m making a determined effort at it.” – Grace Slick

I’m doing my best not to grow up, but try as I might, it’s happening slowly. A couple of years ago, I decided I was finally mature enough for community college. School’s going well. I seem to have finally nailed how to focus, concentrate, memorize and regurgitate for a full three and a half months at a time. I celebrate such small victories.

Last year in my group communications class, populated with Gen Z’s and Millennials, our final project was called “Music Meltdown.” Each group of eight students was to put together a presentation analyzing  bands that had broken up. 

Our group chose The Spice Girls. Yawn. It wasn’t my choice, but I went along.

During the final class of the semester, each group made it’s presentation. One at a time, the other bands in question were revealed: NWA, Destiny’s Child, Led Zeppelin and *NSYNC. I sat in stunned silence.

My life keeps following me around. Call me paranoid. Call me whatever you’d like.

I wanted to raise my hand and announce that I had connections to all the groups. I had been Jason Bonham’s tour manager, Dr. Dre’s tour accountant on his “The Chronic” tour, *NSYNC’s merchandise accountant twice and Destiny’s Chid’s tour accountant in Europe right before Beyonce blew up into, well, Beyonce. 

What would have been the point? Although I’ve always been treated well by my fellow students, it’s hard to call them peers. Nobody likes a showoff, especially a showoff old enough to be one’s grandfather, or even great grandfather in a few cases. I had a vision of myself morphing into Grampa Simpson before their eyes. What would have been the point, indeed. No one would have believed me anyway. 

As David Byrne once posed, “How did I get here?” That, dear reader, is the $64,000 question. I promise you, if you come back week after week, and we both live long enough for me to unfold the story of my life from zygote to forty, you’ll get the whole story.

[Deep breathe.]

Let’s begin, shall we?

The number one song the day I was born was “Sukyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto. That’s only relevant for one reason: it’s such a major uncool song. Not that I’ve ever been cool, but only “The Purple People Eater” would have been worse. Were it not for the randomness of my mother’s fertility cycle, my song could have easily been “It’s My Party” by Leslie Gore or “Surf City” by Jan and Dean. Far cooler, in my opinion,

I was born in the tiny town of Hazard, Kentucky, population then and now around 5,000. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, the region was, and to some degree still is, a time capsule of an earlier era. The dialect, music and simple way of life there have changed little over the decades. These attributes are more reflective of the original settlers’ English heritage, and given the geographic isolation immune to the rapid societal progressions of city folk.

Hunting, fishing, trapping, planting by the signs, using plants as natural medicines, distilling corn liquor, curing meat, dehydrating vegetables and cabin-building were but a few of the skills necessitated by their hardscrabble existence in those mountain hollers (hollows).

I’m proud of my English-Appalachian heritage. For the record, I detest the word “white” when it refers to my ethnicity, the word “Caucasian” being no better. Unless one is sight-impaired one can easily see that my melanin composition is actually a slightly-tanned beigish-pink. 

I far prefer the term Appalachian-American. For the record, yes, I am a Hillbilly. Use that word as a pejorative, however, and my first reaction will be to throat-punch the offender or worse. (The term “Saltine-American” is acceptable in all cases.)

If you care to know more, please consult Chapter 6 of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller “Outliers” which discusses in detail my Howard heritage and our propensity to shoot first, ask questions later and be slow to forgive.

My Howard and Combs ancestors abandoned Mother England for the New World in the early 1700’s, for reasons unknown to me, and landed in Virginia. Samuel Howard was my first forefather to be documented as born on this continent. He fought in the Revolution against King George and was present at Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington at Yorktown. 

Back in the 70’s, when the pre-internet genealogy craze hit after the mini-series “Roots”, my father and I spent hours looking at census records in the basement of the Perry County library. We sent for and received by mail from the National Archives Samuel’s narrative of his service in the war, written by his own hand, which was required as proof to qualify for a military pension.

[As an aside, I once ran into LaVar Burton at the spa I frequent. I didn’t recognize him. A couple of hours later I had the Aha! moment. My only excuse is that we were both naked at the time. I’ve seen Laurence Fishburne there a few times, too.]

From my mother’s side, I was told my great great grandmother, Nancy Parker, was full-blooded Cherokee. I believe it’s easy to see Native features in my mother, grandmother and pictures of their mothers. That would make me 1/16th Native. DNA analysis suggests I’m less than that, 1.2% to be specific. While far more than that of Elizabeth Warren, I nonetheless continue to self-identify as of both European and Native American heritage.

The music of Appalachia is derived from English ballads, as well as Irish and Scottish traditional folk songs, with fiddle, banjo and fretted dulcimer as the main instruments. The music from the motherlands evolved into the genres of Old-time, bluegrass and country music, and featured prominently in the folk music revival of the early 1960’s.

I’m listening to Gospel bluegrass right now as I finish this post. It’s my Sunday morning ritual, as close to church as I get these days. It’s a satisfying feeling to know that bluegrass was enjoyed and studied by the great American Jerry Garcia in his musically formative years. He actually visited Bean Blossom, Indiana and recorded with a portable reel-to-reel machine at Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival. 

Coincidentally, my wife’s maternal grandfather was a luthier and picker, and one of Bill’s Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Michelle has such great stories to tell of her grandfather, Frank Beach. I’ll always treasure the memories of our private tour of Bill’s museum on a rainy January day a few years ago.

Music was around me from the time I was born. Though neither of my parents played an instrument then, music was always present. Incidentally, my mother now plays guitar and mandolin and sings beautifully in the Appalachian tradition.

My mother listened to Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith and Dolly Pardon. She had an old Motorola console stereo that was more of a piece of furniture than it was a hi-fi. I wish I still had it today. I’m searching for a used one.

Until the age of 5, I was cared for by my mom’s mom while my parents worked. In that humble house, hand-built by my grandfather and heated by a coal-fired potbellied stove, Old-time and bluegrass played constantly on the AM radio.

My father loved music, too. I learned about bluegrass from him. I have a memory of being at a bluegrass festival with him, but I don’t think it was in Bean Blossom, yet it could have been. Sometimes I think I made that memory up.

He loved singing along with the car radio in his deep baritone voice. I remember singing “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” many times with him. On one particular fishing trip, while lunching on saltines and sardines, we sang along gleefully to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” There was much more.

Especially heart-warming to me now is remembering my father enjoying “Sugar Magnolia” and “Truckin’” with a smile on his face. Although, he didn’t exactly hate hippies with the passion of Cartman, I don’t think he realized who the Grateful Dead were, and neither one of us could foresee who they would become. We couldn’t foresee who we would become, either.

#002 Introduction

”The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S Thompson

I started to call this “book”, chapter by chapter, “Second Act Sunday” because it’s about my second act in this lifetime. If you saw recently the picture of me at age 9 with the stethoscope playing “Emergency!” with my little brother juxtaposed with me now with my real stethoscope you know what I mean. 

I’ve decide to actually entitle this project “How I Screwed (Up) My Way to the Top.” Amidst much success there were also many mistakes and blunders, which now, I’m able to start laughing at. Actually, I’ve laughed about them for a long time, just not publicly.

In January of 2003, I accepted a job working in-house with the band I had just been on the road with. It paid less than I wanted, but in terms of a per annum figure it wasn’t that bad. The job had been offered to me even though I was highly unqualified for the position. 

I saw it as a chance to segue off the road to a different way life. I was tired. Being on the road nine months a year, year after year had taken its toll.

With hindsight, a lot of it, I wish I had taken six months off, or even three, but I had just bought a condo in Culver City. I wanted to stay in one place for a while and live in my first real adult home. My bank account was depleted in the purchase, so I felt motivated to get back to work. 

I also hated to say no to work. A-level work was A-level work. Plus, all involved had thought highly enough of me to consider me in the first place. I felt honored. They didn’t realize I was unqualified. More than once in my life people have thought me capable of more than I could handle. 

When I accepted the gig, I knew it would be challenging and a lot of work. I was my style then, as is still my style now, to jump off the highest diving board I could find only to be submerged way in over my head in the freezing cold water of the deep end of the pool and learn how to swim all over again.

By early July, I was told that I was rendered redundant. I’ll save those details for the final chapter. When I was let go, I felt as if I’d been set up to fail. I was behind before I even started. Even worse was the realization that ultimately, I, myself, was the one who set me up to fail. I should have said “I’m not your guy, buddy.” I’d like to think by now, all these years later, I’ve learned to say no. We’ll see. Just know that I had truly put my full heart and energy into the job. By the time I was let go, one of the band members had become insufferable and only now can I forgive him.

(Yes, chucklehead, I forgive you. I even began listening to your latest album this week. I wish you well.)

I stayed on for the next eight weeks at full pay, handing off to the next person who lasted on the gig about as long as I did.

At the heart of it all, I was embarrassed. I thought the firing would follow me around. I’d lost jobs before, or had not been invited back later, but this somehow felt different. I failed to recognize that sometimes being sacked by people known to be difficult  could be a viable calling card unto itself. It was little consolation that on their next tour they did housecleaning of personnel, anyway. 

A friend gave me an opportunity to interview at his company. I got the job. I was excited to start a new career in sales.

A few leads came in for road gigs, which with hindsight, might have been really great tours. I turned them all down or didn’t follow up. I, as has been my modus operandi with many a relationship, turned my back and walked away.

Music had been my life for forever. It had been more constant than any friend, lover or anything else. It had been my “thing.” Leaving the touring industry felt as if my best friend, no, a part of myself, maybe the biggest part of me, MY IDENTITY, had died.

I mourned. I grieved through the various stages of a denial, anger, bargaining and depression. I stopped listening to music. It took years to go to a concert again as a fan. 

I’ve never been diagnosed as manic-depressive, but I certainly have tendencies. All my life my moods have ranged from dysthymic to hypo-manic. If I’ve ever disappeared on you as a friend, just know it was me, not you. I, for whatever reason at the time, wasn’t in a great place and couldn’t stand the emotional  pain of answering the simple question of “How are you?” 

I’ve always regarded myself as a high-functioning depressive. I knew that sometimes the highs were too high and lows were to low. Life is, as Sue Marshall reminds me, about finding a broader middle spectrum. 

The last two years have been a time of reinvention. I’m truly happy, even though I’m making far less than I used to make. For now. School is beyond rewarding. My internship at the hospital fulfills me. I have a true inner purpose again and a reason to wake up every day before the alarm clock. I am in a great place emotionally with a new passion and career-beginnings, carving out my little corner in health care. 

Even though it’s been nearly 30 years, I feel the same buzz that I used to feel. Walking into the hospital feels like what walking into a load-in used to. Hearing a sick baby cry or someone scream in pain moves me more than the house lights going down and the punters cheering ever did. Comforting someone who’s afraid, connecting with them, human-to-human, feels better than faxing a show settlement at one in the morning and heading to the bus and the comfy confinement of my bunk.

I look forward to each new day and each new learning moment. I’m in my zone. I’ve found my new tribe. I’ve found my new “thing.”

Even Michelle doesn’t know much  of these years of which that I’m about to write. I just didn’t talk about, until recently. I can now write about my years in that cruel, shallow money trench, that long plastic hallway. 

I’ve finally reached acceptance. 

#001 Preface

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages…

William Shakespeare 

“As You Like It”

Published 1623

I’ll spare you the reading of the complete passage. Let us suffice to say for those who know or choose to know, that I vacillate between what the Bard called the “schoolboy” and the “soldier.” 

Four years ago, when I was 52, I noticed my life had this beautiful symmetry to it. Dividing by 4, I was looking at 4 distinct 13-year periods. 

Ages 0-13 were spent growing to adolescence in Kentucky and West Virginia. I had an idyllic Appalachian upbringing. I would not trade growing up on the top of a mountain for anything. Those years themselves could, and maybe will someday, be the source for much writing. 

Ages 14-26 were my Indiana years of puberty, high school, college and the beginnings of my music business career in Indianapolis with Sunshine Promotions. Oh, what wild times. 

Ages 27-39 I traveled to all 50 of our United States and nearly 30 countries, in service to a wide variety of entertainers and musical groups. These expeditions with so many minstrels and troubadours kept me very busy. That is truly the subject of this “book.”

Ages 40-52 were in one place, with one job, in my adopted hometown of Los Angeles, which I had used as a home base during the quarter before as well. 

The purpose of these writings is manifold:

One is to inform those who know me, but have no idea what I did before they met me at the age of 40 or beyond. 

Most people who knew me growing up, family included, have no idea about my young adult life. 

Another is for me, myself, to put it all together. I’ve forgotten more than I remember. At least it feels that way. With luck, by reflecting and typing it in, I’ll have a mostly complete recounting to share with you.  

Additionally, I just may be able to pull together a complete employment resume. 

This is not going to be a Hollywood tell-all. Don’t expect a lot of TMZ-style dishing. Under the advice of Bambi’s Thumper and my mother, Mary L. Woolsey, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I will be far less effusive than with those I admire. 

I’ll be starting with how I came to love music, especially live music, and how that passion turned into a career. The beginnings of my touring career with Sunshine Promotions in Indianapolis are as important to me as my 13 years on the road. 

These weekly Sunday installments are a grand experiment for me. Conflicting parts of me are shouting that I can’t, I shouldn’t or I won’t tell my story. I do and don’t want any commentary. 

Done correctly, a week at a time, this will take a couple years at least. 

Bear in mind that most long-term touring pros are humble people who simply do a job they love day-in and day-out. They do not boast and brag. They are not conceited. They are not of the “Hey, look at me!” variety. They sacrifice time with their families or maybe decided to forego the family route at all. Some suffer in silence over what is missing in their lives, as other parts are very full. It’s not an easy path to choose. Yet there are many rewards. 

I’m not trying to call attention to myself. At least not in the vein of “Look what I used to do for a living!” I generally say, when asked, that I did some behind the scenes stuff in the music business, and hope no more questions are asked. 

There are many who have done it much more than me, and done it far better. 

I’m not special. Yet, when I stop and recognize that I’ve worked for and with a Nobel Prize winner and 3 EGOTS, maybe there is a story to tell. 

Thank you in advance for reading. 

I want to thank the following people:

Jim Cimino  and Chi Neal for their incessant prompting. 

Kelly Morgan for helping me find my voice as a writer. 

Fred Schrott, Tony Collins & Sally Mann Romano, writers extraordinaire, for being salient, current inspiration. 

Michelle Minor Howard for her constant love, energy and support. We met each other way back when, and we are miraculously and joyfully married today. To you, my soulmate, life-support system and partner for the rest of my life, this “book” is humbly dedicated. 

Dave Howard

Long Beach, CA

15 September 2019