Or so the Route 66 song goes.
We have moved flights and plans just so we can be in Oklahoma City for August 1st to tick my last item left in my bucket list; see Jerry Lee Lewis play live.
Every time I mention his name, the stock answer is from people is “is he still alive?”. Believe it or not, he is and he will be 80 this September; but I don’t care, he will always be 32 to me. He only plays a couple of gigs a year so I think myself damned lucky that I am anywhere within cooee of him.
So here we are in Oklahoma, the heart of the bible belt. We arrive Friday night pumped and ready for our big weekend. Only fifteen minutes from the Will Rogers airport to downtown OC by taxi, in which time we passed only 4 cars. We ask our driver Carl (the ex-vet single dad whose partner is in jail at the moment) where all the people have gone, however it seems this is as busy as OC gets. We make arrangements with Carl to take us to The Grand Casino Shawnee the following day because public transport is totally non-existent. The car is king over here. A few buses here and there but that’s about it. And it works out that it’s cheaper to take a taxi the 50kms out to Shawnee than rent a car.
Had a fabulous meal at Mickey Mantels steak house that night; very expensive, but they do have great steaks here. We stagger back to our hotel ready for a good nights sleep, only to discover a wedding in full flight. Midnight that night I found myself doing something I never thought I would be capable of….I rang the front desk and demanded they shut down the after party that was raging next door. And they did.
Next morning the hotel was full of apologies and gave us a free room in a sister Hotel of our choice. Nice. But I had to add to the kind staff that yes, I was young once and it was just that I was a little tired and emotional after a long flight. What I should have said was that on several occasions in my youth (and, to be honest, quite recently) we have had a little reminder from management to keep the noise down a little. I feel like an old person and this was payback for me. Lesson taken. I will try and be more considerate of others in the future and never again make anyone stay up to the wee hours of the morning just because I say.
Saturday morning and the same 4 cars I saw driving from the airport were still cruising about, but that was about it. Which must be why the city is so clean; it looks as if it was recently disinfected with pine-o-clean.
And off to the casino we go. All the 200 or so casinos in Oklahoma are owned by the Native Americans. Including the land. So they have their own police department, rules and laws; they even have their own schools etc. They also employ their own people as well as others in all their businesses. And, as we all know, there is a serious amount of money to be made in the gambling industry which makes for some very wealthy tribes.
The local tribe here is called the Potawanami. The “chief” is now called the chairman and what he says goes. I can’t help but think how good it would be if our Aboriginal people were self-sufficient with full autonomy. Much of the land in Oklahoma is still owned by the Native Americans, and some laws that exist in the state don’t apply to them (and visa-versa).
This casino is one of the biggest in the state,; no its not Vegas, but nonetheless it’s still reasonably showy in that sparkly/bright light/crass way. But pretty it ain’t. 20 story boxy Hotel attached to a yellow concrete square of a casino surrounded by a 5000 lot car park on all sides. And the car park is full. The back car park is used by the truckers for a safe sleeping spot and I guess they could also get cheap food at the casino. We counted 53 big rigs (sorry, but time prohibited us from counting the cars).
Time for a quick bite to eat before the concert. We had the choice of shocking crap, expensive crap or inedible crap. Seems like we made a bad choice and ended up with the inedible crap. Literally. So I had an ice-cream which was delicious.
Now for the concert. Fabulous venue, maybe seats 1800, with all the seats full and, dare I say it, a certain demographic (as in 50 plus). The concert started at 7pm (read certain demographic and there should be more of it). The support act is Chubby Checker. On the dot of 7 Chubby leaps on stage to the roar of the crowd. He looked great, hair as black as charcoal (I can’t help but wonder is it a wig?), tight tight blue jeans and a denim jacket!! Haven’t seen double denim for years, good on you Chubby! He sang his heart out, a happy chatty man, just looked so like he wanted to be there, unlike some bloody artists that you pay good money for who treat the audience like shit…but I digress.
He called people on stage and showed what a true entertainer should do. Entertain. He hucklebucked and twisted and considering the man is well in his 70’s, proved what a showman he is. The crowd roared with applause and a standing ovation.
Now Jerry Lee…my little heart was pounding, crowd roaring and out he hobbled, yes a little bent over but still that arrogant tilt of the head as he grabbed the mike and yelled “where’s my piano?!”. He opened with ‘Movin’ on down the line’ then a few country numbers. You could see his poor hands gnarled and twisted with arthritis, but he was there for a show and he sure didn’t let us down. The band were a bunch of old guys from Memphis (where he lives). He has been playing with them for years, so when he stopped half way through a song, saying he was playing it in the wrong key, the band stopped on a dime. Brilliant. His voice was a little shaky and he talked/sang a lot of the lyrics but when he started ‘Whole lotta shakin’ we were all on our feet dancing and screaming the lyrics back at him. He only played for an hour, and he certainly looked spent, but it was worth a 16 hour plane trip (and more) to see the great man.
And yes, I know all the things about him which may turn more than a few people off. The sad and unusual deaths of 2 of his wives, the time he shot his bass guitarist (winged, not dead, I’m pleased to say) and a thousand and one other silly things he has done to others and himself. But what an original artist. There is a new CD out of a jam session with him, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, it was recorded by Sam Phillips and only recently found. You know you have made it when you are known by your first name. He is rock and roll to me. If only Sam Cooke and Janis Joplin were alive I would have the trifecta.
For no good reason we booked for two nights at the casino and weren’t we lucky because Sunday morning, straight out of the shower wet and makeup-less, we wander downstairs for a puff and there in the foyer is Chubby and friends checking out. Not wanting to be too familiar I say “great show Chubby” and he picks our Aussie accent straight away and we immediately become friends (sort of ish). His manager, a lovely guy, offers to take a photo of us together. Kismet. Did you know Chubbies manager has Tourettes? He has, it’s true. And what’s more, it has to be said that some good things can happen if you smoke.
So we are up and down the lifts having a fag because we are in the middle of nowhere with not a lot to do unless you gamble, which I don’t, and blow me down with a feather we meet Jerry Lees manager JW and Jude (Jerry’s 7th wife) in the lift. Jude is reasonably elderly (she was in a scooter thing) and JW looks like Willy Nelson. So we make friends (in a not too over the top just pleased to meet you kind of way) and say thanks for the concert and tell them we have flown all the way from Australia. Then we get out of the life and talk some more. JW (who’s been with Jerry Lee for over 40 years) tells us about a TV presenter in Australia (can’t say here) that they fought with and other juicy gossip. Then Jude said she loved those “itty bitty koala things ya’ll got down there’’. Well, as luck would have it, we had bought those little koalas you get from the $2 shop to leave as souvenirs and Ray says he’ll go and get her one. She tells us they collect little horses and little Norwegian trolls, which she displays on a shelf in their parlour. She loves the little koala and says it will be much loved by her and Jerry Lee. They were so friendly we talked like old friends for half an hour. Our brush with fame. I’m sure if we had asked to meet Jerry Lee we would have, but I think it’s nice to leave it this way and not spoil my illusions.
Nearly finished, just one more thing. After a very relaxing day we head into the casino for a ‘yes it’s 5 o’clock’ vino, and you wouldn’t believe it; it’s Sunday. Sorry sir, but we don’t sell hard liquor on a Sunday, only 3.2% or under beer. ‘What, no cocktails or wine?’ I cry. But I betcha I could go into a gun store and get me an AK47 and all the bullets a lady needs, but no wine. Well I suppose it was a bit like a blister on your tongue; annoying, but not life threatening.
Okay I’ve yakked long enough, as usual I got too much to say.
If you like the letters, follow on my blog www.thedawndaily.com so I don’t have to put it on Facebook.
Till next time,