I found this signed John Prine album at a local record store on the same day I found the signed Emmylou Harris LP I wrote about earlier. At the time, I already owned a copy of Common Sense, but decided that the autograph alone was worth the $2 price tag, so I bought another copy.
As you can see by the above picture, John signed the back cover of this 1975 LP with a ballpoint pen, which was still a very common thing to do in the early to mid 1970s before the advent of the Sharpie. He quoted a line from Side A's "Come Back to Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard," which leads me to believe he was promoting this record at the time that he signed it.
I never thought I’d get to see Charlie Louvin play a dive bar in New York City, let alone have the experience on multiple occasions. The above picture was taken in 2006 at The Rodeo Bar in New York City and it gives you a sense of the intimate environment, as well as the configuration of his band. Charlie brought along with him a bass player and a female harmony singer/acoustic guitar player and the trio was rounded out by three local musicians: a mandolin player (partially obscured), drummer, and electric guitar player (not pictured). The New York backing band did an excellent job and, as you might gather from the look on the drummer’s face, the band played loud, energetic honkytonk music, not the watered down stuff you hear at Opryland.
My friends and I were in good spirits that night and were sitting at the front table, in plain view of the performers on stage. At the beginning of the show, I don’t think Charlie quite knew what to make of our group, but when he realized the extent to which we knew and loved his music, he warmed up to us pretty quickly, sitting at our table between sets and posing for pictures. At one point he even sang a song while seated at our table.
As I recall, Charlie’s setlist was a mix of Louvin Brothers tunes, hits from his solo career, and country standards. During the break I asked him if he would sing "I Don’t Believe You Met My Baby," which he reluctantly declined to play because he didn’t feel that his harmony singer would be able to hit the high notes that Ira hit on the old Louvin Brothers recording. The following year when I caught Charlie at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, I asked him if Ira, who died in 1965, could ever have imagined the environment Charlie found himself in now. He paused for a moment and said "I don’t think Ira could have handled it." I guess his answer didn’t surprise me, but I didn’t forget it, either.
It was at the Maxwell’s show that I asked Charlie to sign the above copy of his most popular solo record. I think you can tell by the illegibility of his signature that he was holding the record with one hand and signing it with the other, as there were no tables in the room for him to place the record while he signed it. Though this isn’t my most attractive cover, it does have sentimental value. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the opportunity to see a country music legend of Charlie’s stature in such a small club again.
I can’t end this post without mentioning that Charlie is recuperating from surgery he had this past summer for pancreatic cancer. The surgery did not go as expected, and he needs your prayers and support. Visit his website if you care to leave him a message.
Les Paul was 92 years old when I caught one of his regular Monday night gigs at the Iridium on March 17, 2008. It was on the list of things I wanted to do before I moved from New York City and I'm just glad I didn't wait any longer, as he died 17 months later. I guess my hesitation in seeing him was that I knew he would not be playing at the level he was playing ten or twenty years earlier. It wasn't until I saw him perform that I realized he could still put on a very entertaining show on the strength of his personality alone. Sure, he missed a few notes and he shared the spotlight with a few guest performers, but the banter between the musicians and with the audience gave me priceless insight into Paul's personality and a reasonable understanding of what his post-Mary Ford shows were like in earlier times, despite not hearing any blistering guitar dynamics. And, the fact that he came out after the show, sat down at a table, and shook hands and signed autographs made for an even more memorable evening.
As I stood in line to meet Les Paul after the show, I had three LPs and a brand new sharpie with me. When it came my turn to go up to Les's table, I handed him the records in the following order: least favorite cover, middle favorite cover, then my favorite cover. My thinking at the time was that the autograph on the third LP would probably look the best; after all, he'd have ample practice on the first two records. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first autograph, on the World is Still Waiting for the Sunrise album I had inscribed to my friend John, came out beautifully with a cool personalization: "Howdy!" with the "P" in "Paul" making a pretty, round arc around the inscription. The second autograph on the mediocre Hits of Les and Mary cover came out okay, but the "Keep Rockin’!" personalization doesn’t fit with the music on the LP, which, like all of Les Paul’s music, simply isn’t rock and roll, and the "P" in "Paul" is much messier. The third autograph on my favorite cover, Lovers' Luau, came out the worst, with Les accidentally smudging his signature with his hand as he signed the cover.
It’s easy to second-guess the decisions I made when getting these records signed. Perhaps I should not have handed him the records in the order of least favorite to favorite, but I've had other experiences where I wished I had done this but hadn’t (see Gil Scott-Heron). Perhaps I should not have used a new sharpie, but I have autographs written with old sharpies that don't look very nice (see Pete Seeger). I suppose that if there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that much of autograph collecting is luck, not science. As I stated in the beginning of this entry, I'm just happy I got to see the legendary Les Paul at all.