This is part of a new series of posts I’ve entitled, “Stories From the Road.” Each week I will post a new story from Rick Sikes, a Texas musician who traveled the roads of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and out to California for well over twenty years. With hours to pass in a van full of sweaty musicians, they found ways to entertain themselves. These stories are told in Rick Sikes’ words. I’ll do my best to correct grammar, but I want to keep them in his own voice.
Wow! We are already in Episode 10 of “Stories From The Road!” To celebrate, I will give a $10 Amazon Gift Card to someone who leaves a comment. Winner will be picked at random. Today’s post is probably Rick’s favorite story of all time and he loved to share it.
“Over the years, I was fortunate to get to play with some great entertainers – legends, in fact. I guess the most outstanding for me personally was when, in 1964, Sam Gibbs Booking Agency from Wichita Falls, Texas, called and asked if my band would like to do a tour with Bob Wills. I immediately said, “Hell yes!” before he told me how much we’d be paid, where we’d performing or any other details. Growing up in west Texas, there was no bigger star than Bob Wills. He was the ultimate Texas superstar, in my opinion.
Shortly before World War II, Dad bought Mom a Zenith console radio. It was really beautiful and had all the short-wave bands, as well as excellent AM radio reception. There was no FM radio back then. I recall that radio blaring out “San Antonio Rose” over and over. That was the hottest song going for months on end. It was recorded in 1940. Bob eventually recorded twenty-two #1 hits. In 1968, Bob was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an “early influence.” Bob died in 1975 in Fort Worth, Texas at the age of 70. He had begun to play the fiddle professionally at the age of ten.
Anyway, this tour with him was the epitome of my dreams – me playing with the legendary man himself. Tag Lambert was driving him around and playing guitar for him. Bob had just sold the “Texas Playboys” name to Leon Rausch but had decided to do another tour anyway. The posters just said, “Bob Wills and the Boys.” I’d give anything if I’d saved some of them. I can only find one picture of Bob and myself together, but I know there were dozens more.
We were with Bob when Tommy Duncan died and people would come up to the stage and ask Bob if we were going to Tommy’s funeral in California. Bob handled it great. He’d say, “No, regrettably we can’t make it.” The majority of the public didn’t know that Bob and Tommy had become bitter enemies.
At the time we were backing Bob, I had a drummer who was a good drummer, but he had a problem. He’d done some bad acid, I think they called it STP. Anyway, he’d sorta’ slip into another zone now and then and start banging a drum solo with cymbals and all crashing, right in the middle of a song. I’d have to scream at him to snap him back into the real world. He did this two or three times on the first gig with Bob. Bob said, “Just give me a plain ol’ country shuffle; none of that fancy stuff.” I told Frenchy (the drummer), “Man, hold it down. Be cool.” He would say, “Ok.” Well, on every show, he’d go off and I’d have to holler him down. Bob was really nice in the way he told me, “Son, I don’t have anything against the drummer boy, but you sure do need to get you a country drummer.”
I asked Bob one time how he always had such a great dance band. He said, “Get you a good rhythm section and you’ve got a dance band.” I asked him how to tell if you were doing it right and he replied, “Look at the dance floor. If it’s full, you’re doing it right. They get thirsty when they dance and the boss man likes that.”
I recall an older lady coming up to the bandstand one time and saying, “Bob, do you remember me?” He smiled and tipped his white hat and said, “Honey, I sure do. It’s good to see you again.” Then he turned around to us and said, “I never saw her before in my life,” and grinned real big.
Once, we were at the Del Rio Civic Center to do a show. At that time, Bob didn’t light the cigar anymore, but he always held one. He wasn’t supposed to smoke or drink because he’d had a heart attack. Anyway, we were sitting in his dressing room (just he and I) and he said, “Son, you got any whiskey in your bus and maybe an extra cigar?” I said, “Sure. I’ll be right back.” We were in there smoking and having a shot of Jim Beam whiskey when Tag Lambert knocked on the door. I had noticed Bob locking it after I came in. Tag hollered, “Bob, are you in there?” Bob said, “Yes, what do you want?” Tag asked, “Are you drinking or smoking?” Bob said, “What if I am.” Tag said, “Open the door and let me in.” Bob got irritated and replied, “Get the hell outta here. You’re not my momma.” When we came out, Tag was really pissed and he pulled me aside to jump me. He said, “What in the hell are you trying to do, kill that old man?” I said, “No, I’m not trying to harm him in any way, but if I have anything he wants, I’ll damned sure give it to him whether you like it or not. So, don’t try to hand me any shit. You got that?” Needless to say, Tag didn’t like me very much.
Tag was a good singer and a helluva good guitar picker and I truly believe he worshipped Bob as most every picker who ever knew him did. Bob Wills was a musical genius. He could arrange music with three or four instruments or a twenty-five piece band. He knew how to put it together – really together – and he never had any formal music training. He just knew how to combine sounds in a way that few others have come close to doing. Nothing in my entire music career ever topped playing for Bob Wills.”