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Why I Played the Blues Richard Terrill We were four white guys trying to play the blues in ruralWisconsin. We were patch-jeaned and unshaven at a time when the bar crowd was spackled in polyester and slapped with cologne, overdressed for nightclubs and lounges in towns too smaU to have them. Or the people shot pool in PBRon -tap, plastic-cup saloons, shitheels Ustening to George Jones and Charlie Rich, a big ten-four,partner, before country wasn't cool. Trying to make a Uving at the blues, we spUt a hundred bucks a night four ways—a hundred minus gas money and a twelve pack of Walter's Beer for the ride home from the gig. Walter's slogan was "The Beer That Is Beer," a nifty tautology that matched our youthful cynicism. WaUie's was brewed right in our town, and it had that American-lager clarity of purpose and bargain price that made sense in the days before microbrews. Like microbrews, Walter's was better than the national brands, better even than Leinenkugel's, which, since it was brewed in the next county, we considered an import. In Bloomer, Wisconsin, we have set up in a bar dominated by foosbaU tables and pinbaU machines, our small stage in one corner. Thejukebox blasts out country and western. During our first tune, the FoosbaUers, in work boots and newish cowboy hats, pack up one by one. The young women kibitzing by the bar and pretending not to notice the action at the tables, one by one, go with them. By the end ofthe first set only the bartenders are left in the joint. "Ifyou guys quit now," the owner teUs us, "I'll pay you for halfthe night. Just forget the last three sets and we'U call it square." "Do we have a choice?" Lee the drummer asks WiU, the guitar player. Lee's voice has a throaty rasp, so that even serious things he says are funny. WiU's voice is low and even pitched, perfect for irony. "Not reaUy," WiU answers. We take the fifty bucks and begin to pack: the black speakers with the beer rings on top, the trap case and drum cases, 38 Richard Terrill39 WiUs amp, my axes, the bass player's stuff, the board, the garage-built monitors , the mikes and stands. It aU goes into the traüer rented from Brackett Avenue Sinclair and into the hatchback of Lee's eleven-year-old baby blue '68 Ford Pinto. The trader cost us twenty bucks for the weekend. The car wiU do only thirty-five in second gear uphiU on the interstate. Ted the bass player and I have to hunch over to fit in its bench back seat. Ted is not very tall. By the time the car is loaded, the same FoosbaU players in the same boots are back at the same tables. Their girlfriends continue to pretend to ignore them, seated along the bar. Apparently the word spread down the street to the other saloon in town that the band was leaving. The four ofus are standing in front of the empty stage. "So let's get the heU outta Dodge," Lee says. "Score a six pack first?" "Let's make it a twelve," WiU says, handing Lee a five-doUar biU. "Get Walter's. Go down the street to the BloomerTap, though. I don't think we want to give this guy our business. Bring back the change." And as quickly as that we were off, in our car so loaded that the exhaust pipe scraped. Loaded with equipment, but also loaded down with the burdens of being the Burner Blues Band. The first burden: it was 1979, and disco, having peaked by now on the coasts, had finaUy made it to the heartland ; we didn't play that stuff. Problem number two: not every country bar soldWalter's Beer. I had gone to coUege with the Walter girls. Barb played first chair flute in the concert band and was stern and unapproachably beautiful . Her sister Margaret had dated my friend Gary, a trombone player. Brand loyalty counted and Walter's was our brand. Our third...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 38-52
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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