Keep It Rock Steady, Man

It's early March of 1983, a couple days after a late winter storm tore through eastern Montana. Not dumping very much linear inches of snow, but accompanied by forty to fifty mile an hour winds that kicked up what had fallen and blowing it sideways at high velocity, the resulting high plains ground blizzard created a howling and shrieking frozen hell on earth where no beast or sane man would willingly spend more than a few minutes out in a 50 to 70 wind-chilled degrees below zero world where you can't see anything past the end of your outstretched arm, and millions of tiny razor sharp exploding ice bombs try to scour off any exposed flesh from your face.

That's a long sentence, and so are the hours spent in enforced lay-over at a funky motel in west Billings when the Interstate highway gets shut down until it can be plowed open the next morning. Luckily we were able to score some yummy and nutritious take-out road food, and beer, and enjoyed watching any one of three available channels on the tiny TV in the room:

On this particular road trip, "we" is me, your humble blog servant, and Charles "Beaver" Cavanaugh - a more engaging and continually entertaining trip companion you would be hard pressed to find. Never a dull moment with the Beav. Here's a photo from 1983 of both Beaver and I, plus some other denizens of the Colorado music scene in the early 1980s:

From left to right, that's Tom "T-Bone Thomas" Jerkins; me, the author of this blog; Charles "Beaver"  Cavanaugh; Fabrice "Fab" Dolegowski; and Clark Hardin. For more details, see here.

Now back to that road trip. The next morning dawned clear and cold yet sunny, and the Interstate was opened a couple hours before noon; time to hit the road.

That might look like pavement on the highway, but it's all traction-free black glare ice with a thin sheen of sun-melted water on top, so treacherously slimy and devoid of adhesion, that if you pulled over and got out of the car, you'd either immediately start skating or quickly fall flat on your face or butt, your choice. Those 18-wheeler trucks in the right lane are going at a relatively safe, but still insane, 50 to 55mph or so. But our big 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III was sledding down that slippery road a lot faster and insaner than that, easily overtaking and passing everyone else.

I was messing with the camera and taking pictures out of sheer panic, anything to keep my mind off certain death. That massive and heavy rear wheel drive Lincoln, only 12 years old at the time but already seeming like a living fossil from another era, was doing a slow motion controlled fishtail down the highway, the rear end constantly twitching left and right as Beaver made minute corrections of the steering wheel every second or so, and somehow almost miraculously keeping the front wheels in the center of the fast lane at 70+ miles per.

I said, "Whoa Beaver, that is some conscious driving, dude. Can't believe we're still on the road!" He laughed and said "All you got to do is keep it rock steady, man!" and then, "Hey Jimmy, roll us a big fat spliff, it'll help me concentrate!" Well, okay, that would give me something to do besides have a heart attack. And yeah, the smoke did help, and also some zen breathing - letting go and resigning myself to the fates, whatever happens.

As it happened, nothing happened. Somewhere past Big Timber we hit dry pavement and, Montana not having a speed limit, really goosed that big 460ci with a carb the size of a dinner plate, and rolled into Missoula in good time.

The weather stayed mostly sunny and even warmed up, and we had some adventures before heading back to Boulder. Including driving by pure chance into Butte for gas and magically wound up riding in a big green top-down '60s Cadillac convertible in the middle of the St Patrick's Day parade, Beaver Cavanaugh got unofficially crowned the new King of the Irish, and we got free drinks all night long at every bar and saloon downtown until dawn, and then drove out of town, excuse the expression, drunk as a couple of Irishmen.

Truly an unforgettable night. When we woke up in the middle of a sagebrush flat a hundred miles out of town, in a valley surrounded by gigantic snow covered mountains with not another soul or a car or a house or a horse in sight, I asked, "What just happened?" Beaver said, "I don't remember."

You'll have to take my word for that last story; the battery died in my camera, or it ran out of film, I don't remember.

Speaking of photographs, all of the pictures in this blog post are scans of old prints. Some years ago I lost a sizable box of photo prints, negatives and slides; thankfully the box was found. The bad news is many of the pictures were missing, as well as a lot of the negatives; the good news is I still have at least some of them.

*               *               *

A few months later during the summer, we took another road trip up to Montana, this time with I-Ron, the lead singer of Beaver's reggae and rocker band, Burnt Lips. First, we stopped and visited John, whose family had a farm near Idaho Falls, between Rigby and Ririe. At the time, John was building a sawmill, and doing an amazing thing - kayaking down an irrigation ditch at full flow, the entire length of the farm:

Beaver held the kayak steady while I-Ron got in for his turn down the chute:

After a while we made it to Missoula:

It was a beautiful warm and sunny Montana summer day, perfect for relaxing on the grassy lawn at the homestead of another of Beaver's friends, up on the Potomac River valley east of Missoula:

The Mark III was having starter issues, so it was also great weather for crawling under the car. The problem turned out to be a couple of badly corroded cables:

On this trip we took along my favorite travel guitar, a short scale '57 Duo-Sonic, along with a battery operated Pignose amp. One late night, Beaver driving, I-Ron riding shotgun, and me lounging in the Lincoln's huge leather back seat and noodling on the guitar, we were cruising along Interstate 15 between Dillon and the Idaho state line, just about the only car on the road, the full moon lighting up the shining snow capped peaks of the Bitterroot Range (the next photo shows the Bitterroots in daytime).

Remembering what Beaver had said last road trip, I was chunking the top four strings of alternating Am and G chords in a reggae style backbeat, and singing "You got to keep it rock steady... Keep it rock steady man..." Beaver turned to I-Ron and said "Roll another spliff, mon!" While I-Ron was rolling that spliff, I put what the Beav had just said into the mix; with a couple tokes came inspiration, and I came up with a cool sounding poly-rhythmic riff. After a while that became "Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips..." And that was a good start on a strange song.

The Burnt Lips band, performing "Burnt Lips" onstage in 2016:

And here's a founding member of the original Burnt Lips group, Jeanne "C.B." Bacon, singing "Burnt Lips" at a house party somewhere in warm and sunny California:

Burnt Lips
Music by James Aoyama-Clifford
Lyrics by James Aoyama-Clifford, Charles Cavanaugh and Fabrice Dolegowski

You got to keep it rock steady, keep it rock steady, man
Keep it rock steady, keep it rock steady, man

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

There is a conspiracy
It is rules and idiocy
The man with the peaceful herb gets struck down
But the guns and the killing go on and on

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

The ambassadors from the sky
Have come to get I and I high, yeah
You don't have to ride on no alien spaceships
All you got to do is have burnt lips

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

Big brother man he say ban the nuclear war
But what you got your hand on that button for?
Keep it rock steady, like a good friend said
We can lose our world, if you lose your head

So, roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

*               *               *

Here's some more photos from those road trips in 1983. The Salmon River, near Challis Idaho:

The Grand Teton Range in Wyoming:

Elk at sundown and bison after dark in Yellowstone National Park:

Was a crime committed while taking this picture? Just asking for a friend:

Two shots of a really interesting home-made contraption on an irrigation ditch line off of the North Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, not too far south of Lost Trail Pass. As water flows through the sluice gate, it turns the paddle wheel which, through a crank lever, opens and closes that gate. It might have been made to meter a consistent amount of water flowing from the upper ditch into the lower one, or maybe it was a whimsical device built by an inventive farmer:

We stared at it working for over a half hour and debated just what in the heck it did. To get some scale of the size of this gizmo, the paddle wheel is about 18" in diameter; note the wire mesh critter guards to keep squirrels and raccoons off the machinery. On the back side of the mesh guard on the left, there's a couple small white rectangles attached to it - tiny signs that say, in faded red lettering, "Danger!", and "Keep Out". Maybe squirrels in Idaho know how to read:

On the North Fork of the Big Thompson River in Colorado, near home:

*               *               *

Click or tap on any photo above to see larger, higher def images.

No comments: