Keep The Shiny Side Up
A few weeks back, I talked about my friend Johnny Nitro and his untimely passing.
As grief will do, the sadness tends to ebb and flow. About more than I can bear today, not so bad tomorrow, then out of nowhere I’m down in it again.
I guess that’s the thing about the blues.
Over the weekend I finally slowed down a bit from this crazy job and had some time to devote a few brain cycles to my actual life. Of course my thoughts went back to my friend Johnny.
There is a memorial for him coming up next weekend at The Saloon, San Francisco’s oldest continually operating bar. It’s a dive, but what a beautiful dive it is. The very fibers of the walls are soaked in beer and cigarette smoke and some of the meanest, dirtiest, rawest blues music in the world.
Johnny played regular Friday and Sunday nights there, so there can be no other more perfect venue.
While I was Googling about, I found a tribute page to Johnny on Facebook. From there, someone had linked to a blog that he had been working on over the past couple years. There’s only about fifteen or sixteen posts, but all of them are pure Nitro gold.
I read this one and knew for sure I had to re-blog this. I know that if I’d asked Johnny for permission, he’d say yes, so with much love to my blues buddy, please enjoy his words.
Johnny was on a riff talking about what it’s like to be a musician on the road. You’ll pick it up from there:
The show must go on! Everybody’s heard that old adage before. Well, if that’s gonna happen you’alls gotta get there. Sometimes you gotta use a little creativity in that department. Case in point: Once long ago on the way to a gig, we was drivin’ this old Ford station wagon from the 1970’s that belonged to the bass player. Everything was loaded up on top and in the thang! (We were probably loaded too!) And wouldn’t ya know it, the throttle cable broke, snap, and the gas pedal wouldn’t work. Well, we coasted into a gas station and I opened the hood for a look! Sure ’nuff, it was the throttle cable! Here we were miles from the gig and no parts store in sight. Oh boy! What to do? Well, after the panic subsided I started a closer inspection of the broken cable to see if there was a way to fix this one. As I gently pulled the broken cable out of its tube, I noticed it was very similar to a low “E” string from my guitar. I quickly grabbed a spare one and checked the length. Yep! The guitar string was long enough! I lubed up the string with oil from the dip stick, slipped it into the tube, managed to tie it to the loops on the gas pedal and the carburetor… and voila! It worked!! Well, we made it to the gig with plenty of time to chase groupies (remember those?) and the “E” string worked so well that Cowboy, our bass player, drove it jury rigged like that for three our four weeks while the new part was ordered from Detroit!
Now that’s a bit of bluesman handyman skill right there. I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years how guitar strings came in handy for quick fix its, but I have to say, that story is the best.
In another story from the road, Johnny talks about how to get along with your fellow bandmates while trapped in the car together. He wraps up the story with this:
And one last thing: When they ask YOU to drive the van, drive it all crazy – and then they’ll never ask you “Drive” again.
Which made me laugh out loud for a couple reasons. One, Johnny drove all crazy on a good day. And two, I can just see Johnny pulling this. That’s pure Nitro right there.
I can’t say I’m actually looking forward to the memorial next week. I don’t know how to exist in the world where Johnny isn’t playing The Saloon on Sunday. That’s how I always knew if the world went topsy turvy I could find my way back to level.
On Sunday I’ll walk in there and he won’t be there.
And yet, he will.
Finally, here’s a special Johnnyism that I believe I should add to the signature line of my emails at work:
As always this is Johnny Nitro saying “keep yer tits to wind and keep the shiny side up!” Ride!
Photo by Scott Palmer, taken at the 2000 Rumsey Blues festival.