Monday, August 12, 2013

Victim of A George Thorogood Sneak Attack

I was a victim of a George Thorogood Sneak Attack! And that beer swiggin’, guitar slingin’ and rockin’ Blues bombasting son of a gun kept me up half the night, when I had to go to work early next morning. It all happened thirty years ago, in West Chester, Pennsylvania - at Joe’s Sportsman’s Bar.

Joe’s was a regular old neighborhood bar, set there - comfortably - on a residential, small town, side street of slender row houses. And it was just a few blocks from where I was living. I’d been in West Chester less than a year, but had enjoyed some fun times at Joe’s. There were good, friendly, happening people to drink with, swap stories and share laughs. Sometimes, live, local bands played there, and they always kicked out solid sets of good rockin’ music.

I was in there early one, midweek, evening, wanting to get a beer buzz on then head home in time to get a good night’s sleep before work next day. When I arrived at Joe‘s, I went in through the frequently used backdoor, across the side of the small dance floor, past the rarely used little bar on the left, saw a white guitar on guitar stand behind that bar, but did not know what that meant. Then I walked over to the far end of the main bar - an oval shaped bar, and sat down two stools away from three guys drinking beers to my right. There were two more patrons down the other side of the bar, and one bartender. It was two or three hours before the place normally became nicely crowded.

As I was drinking my first beer, some smiling dude comes in and stands at the bar a short ways over to my left. He was wearing gloves that had their fingers cut off and sporting a snakeskin looking jacket. I thought, “Well, now, that’s either a fake snake skin jacket and he’s a wannabe, self styled nobody with his cut off gloves on, or that jacket is made of real snakeskin (I wondered what kind of snake) and that cat’s a real deal of somebody mighty interesting, who’s very good at what he does for a living.”

Before I could strike up a conversation with the snakeskin clad dude, as was easily done among most strangers in Joe’s, some casually dressed, successful businessman looking, tall fellow comes in and snakeskin guy and businessman greeted each other as good friends. They began talking, and then snakeskin guy reaches in his pocket and pulls out a rolled up, clear, plastic baggie full of something dark brown leafy looking. As he unfurls it, I’m thinking, “It’s a bag of reefer, I don’t and probably nobody else here cares if he has it, but it’s not cool to see it out in public view.” But before I could slide over with a friendly warning about that baggie of brown, snakeskin guy pulls out a nice, fat, fresh cigar from it, and I saw that it was all cigars in there. I was quite relieved, because the guy and his friend sure seemed to be nice people, and I didn’t want them to be booted out of there by the bartender. Them two fellows then each held a cigar, took cigar lover’s, savoring, sniffs of the premium tobacco tubes, and they skillfully lit ’um up.

I stepped off into the men’s room, and as I stood at a urinal, one of the three fellows setting two bar stools away, when I came in, walks past me and says, with a big grin on his face, faking mild anger in a comical way, ”My brother just gave George Thorogood my beer!” I knew who he meant got the beer - snakeskin guy, but I didn’t know if it was George or the guy just looked like George Thorogood. I had heard George’s music on the radio, but had never seen a photo of him.

When I was back out at the bar, not wanting to interrupt an apparently great conversation going between George(?) and his friend, I never said anything to them as they each had a drink or two, while smoking their cigars. Then they left.

In comes a band who set up their equipment over against the back wall across the dance floor. One of them was an acquaintance of mine, and he told me about them just forming up a Rockabilly group named One Four Hundred. They kicked out a tight set of songs, the bar about half filled up with patrons, the band “passed the hat”, everyone put in a dollar or two, and I figured after a nice surprise like that live music on a weekday evening, plus I’d had some friendly talk with other patrons, and the five or six beers I’d drank, it was time for me to split. As the band packed up its equipment, equipment for another band was being set up. I thought about staying for some of the next group’s set, but I knew I’d best get home to bed. On the way out that, now steadily busy, backdoor, that white guitar behind the little bar caught my eye again; but I still didn’t know what it meant.

Outside the backdoor, the bar’s small, row home sized, backyard was used as a little parking lot. Patrons parked in the alley too, and some used to use the side yard of a neighboring house across the alley for parking. Not liking that parking in their yard (who would?!), the neighbor had laid a telephone pole down between their yard and the alley.

As I moseyed out the backdoor and through the bar’s backyard, a lot of people were pouring into the bar. When I got a clear view past the incoming bar patrons, I see this car backed up part way over that prone telephone pole and seven or eight incoming patrons had stopped to try and help the car’s driver get the vehicle off that pole. One rear wheel was on each side of the pole, with the rear axle cockeyed across the darn pole. The right rear wheel had gone over the pole and was dangling in mid air over the neighbor‘s yard, and the left wheel was barely touching the ground on the alley side of the pole. Everyone was heaving and hoeing, like a railroad work gang in unison, trying to pick up the trunk end of the car and lift that one rear wheel back over the pole into the alley. Before I could get my hands on the car to help, loud, live, hard rockin’ music comes blasting out of the bar’s backdoor, and the helpful work gang looks at each other, then at the unfortunate woman who had been driving the car, and one person said for all, “The music’s started. We gotta go!” The pole hopping woman looks around pleadingly, but, in a few seconds, only I was there to be seen.

That was fully fortunate for her. I had been taught to be a backwoods driver up in Northern Maine, where the roads get real rough or ain’t none even there where you need to go. So I know how to get unstuck out of some bad spots. All I asked her was if she had a bumper jack; she had, and I told her the car’d soon be off that pole easy enough.

She was wearing the kind of black leather jacket women who ride on the back of a motorcycle often wear. She had blue jeans on her kind-of-long legs. Her brown hair was parted in the middle and cut just above her shoulders - no great styling to it. She wore no makeup at all. Was quite a trim gal, but solidly shapely. Not a real good looking woman, but not bad looking at all. Didn’t strike me as being a good cook or meticulous housekeeper, but she was a nice person.

The car was a plain, danky dark green, budget model, six or seven year old Chevy - no chrome, no extras. I knew that hard core bikers usually put every bit of their money made for nice stuff into their motorcycles. In those days, a biker’s car or pickup truck was rarely customized or prized like their motorcycle.

I took the jack from the trunk, and snugged it up firmly under the rear bumper. Then I got into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and carefully - quite skillfully I must say - eased the car forward as far as the dangling rear wheel could go up onto the prone telephone pole. Got back out, jacked it up a little more, then got back in it and throttle tapped it on over and off that pole. Knowing that if I moved the car too fast, the jack would go ka-sproinging off into the air like a missile; so I had warned her to stay clear, whilst I was hoping the jack didn’t fly against the neighbor’s house or through one of their side windows a short ways away. But I done right good, like I figured I would.

That leggy, not bad looking gal happily jumped up and down all grabbin’ and huggin’ and thanking me. She insisted she buy me a beer, saying, “You don’t know how much trouble you saved me.” But I did, because I knew that her hard core biker boyfriend would have given her all kinds of hell had he needed to come there with his biker buddies to get his car off that pole she’d - ditzy-dame - put it on. She was a bit ditzy, but a nice woman no doubt.

I tried to refuse that beer she was insisting she buy me, repeatedly stating that I had to get some sleep and go to work early next morning. Besides, I truly enjoy challenges like getting vehicles unstuck, especially when the technique to do it works as easily as it had that night. I had won that game of skill in real life. Considering that win, her warm gratitude, plus I had spared her a bad time from her man but never mentioned it, I was satisfied; but she insisted on buying me a beer. I agreed on one, and we went into Joe’s. 

That was when I saw that white guitar being played by that snakeskin clad dude, and realized that there they was: freakin-aye-right, George-friggin-Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers were blasting out Blues Rock like there was no tomorrow. Right there in my closest neighborhood bar. The place was packed, and the dance floor was rockin. It stayed that way, as the band played for the next two-and-a-half hours, until fifteen minutes past legal closing time at 2AM. I know, because I had checked the time as I reentered Joe’s, thinking I best not stay long, and then looked at my watch as I left and knew it was worth it only having a few hours left to sleep. Because I realized I had experienced the very best damned bar band I ever will. Absolutely.

The biker’s gal had bought me that beer, and I wisely stayed away from her after that. Couldn’t have anyone think I wanted more of a reward from her. If she’d been single, I would have bought her the next few beers and probably asked her out. I was fully satisfied with what I’d done out back, and fully rewarded by her hauling me reluctantly back into Joe’s Sportsman’s Bar to learn what it meant by that white guitar being in there on a guitar stand behind the bar.

It meant that George Thorogood was going to do, what he called, “A Sneak Attack.” He had come up in his music career by playing small bars and clubs, etc. in the Tri-State, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area. Thirty years ago, George and his band had reached the top, and they did not forget the local fans who helped them make it to the top. Free “Sneak Attacks” was how George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers showed their appreciation for the folks who loved them first.

Weeks later, I saw George in Downtown West Chester. He was coming out of the local army surplus store, with two other guys along and a bag of blue jeans in his hand. But I just didn’t think he needed me to say hi at the time. Eventually, I met and befriended George’s guitar technician, plus a former roadie of the band. The two roadies shared a large house with a very good friend of mine - a struggling, talented artist named Kevon Snyder. Kevon and his girlfriend, she played keyboards in bands, and the roadies had a place where beer was traditionally kept on ice in a cooler, and a bottle of good vodka was kept in the freezer of the refrigerator. We all pitched in on quite a few a cases of beer. Those roadies had traveled the world with George and the Destroyers opening up for the Rolling Stones. Basically, I am now, will be and have always been a Rolling Stones Fan. It was a highlight of my life to have my two roadie friends in West Chester show me photos of themselves backstage with a Stone or two. And the guitar tech told me that George always bought his blue jeans from that army surplus place. He also told me that not only was I never going to see George with a bag of reefer, if anyone in the band or crew brought any around him he'd fire them. I was lucky to be given a few rides in one of George’s three world famous old Checker Cabs, which he had had restored and painted black and let his guitar tech use.

Kevon and I became friends partly because I was a struggling photographer, and he a struggling artist. In the early 1980s, West Chester was a great place for people like us to live. It probably still is, but I haven’t been there for years. One day, I was heading out to the western edge of town to do some sunset photography. I was hustling to catch the colors, knowing the sky would soon go to yellow, then orange, then go grey. I suddenly thought of a house several streets over that had great looking yellow trim. That trim, with yellow sunset light hitting it and a yellow lens filter I had would make for a “Maximum Yellow” photograph! I made it there just in time, and got what I was after. Later, I showed a print of the “Maximum Yellow” shot to Kevon. He said, “That’s Pat and Billy Blough’s house.” I said, “Who?” He replied, “Pat, you know her, she tends bar at the Cabaret Club, and her husband Billy is the bass player in George Thorogood's band.” Jeezums. When I wanted to watch a good band play at the Cabaret but not get beer buzzed, Pat always gave me free orange juices after buying one. I worked as a security guard for the bank where Pat and Billy were frequent customers. Billy drove one of the three Checker Cabs that George had bought. Billy is a fairly quiet man, not a wild rock star at all. I had conversations with many bank customers, made friends and good business contacts there, but I was so embarrassed and felt too uncool in my security guard uniform to speak to the exceptionally hip looking guy in the real cool Checker. I had taken the photo before Kevon had moved into the roadies' house, and hadn't met them two guys yet.

After Kevon told me whose house I’d photographed in “Maximum Yellow,” I told Pat about it, and she told me to just go ahead and talk to her husband. He and I ended up becoming casual acquaintances. Sometimes, when he’d drive past me walking somewhere, he’d stop and we’d chat for a bit. I was in the Blough’s home twice, for very short visits. I gave him the photo and negative for “Maximum Yellow,” so that he could print it if he got his home darkroom set up again. Plus, I told Pat about how their street address numbers being gold colored against a yellow background made them a challenge to photograph right, but I had gotten the numbers to show nicely. She told me they had planned it so the numbers weren’t easy to see, because her husband, “Signed hotel registers all over the world. And you never know who might come looking for him. He is, after all, a Rock Star.” Billy stopped by at Kevon and the roadies’ house for two Halloween parties I was at and a 4th of July picnic. But he didn’t stay long, because he wasn’t a partying drinker like the rest of us there. He had been invited and is such a kind gentleman that he came by to say hello, honor the invitation, and then politely left. I doubt he ever drank much booze at all.

On December 18, 1982, George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers performed a sold out, one band concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum. They had previously traveled the USA and the rest of the world as the opening act for the Rolling Stones. But George figured he had made it to the top and could sell out a huge venue in his home territory. He wanted no opening act, just to see if only his band could fill the house. The bass player Billy Blough’s wife Pat’s best friend - a fine young lady named Julie - worked in the bank where I worked. Pat had given Julie and her husband two tickets to the sold out show, but Julie couldn’t go and told her husband to see if I’d like to use her ticket. So I was fortunate to attend that fantastic event in George Thorogood and the Destroyer’s careers.

I saw George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers - as they peaked way up onto the top of the music business - in a small neighborhood bar then several months later as the only band at a sold out Philly Spectrum show. For free! Sometimes, I’m just flat out, full steam lucky. Ain’t I!?!

David Robert Crews {a.k.a. ursusdave}

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