The room was perfectly dark
My first thought was to look at the clock–8:45am–my second was of the insufficient number of socks I had packed. I would have to wear the same pair on this second day. My associate was fast asleep in his bunk rustling and chirping in 40-second intervals. Soon enough a second bird began to sing…
“Turn that dreadful thing off,” I said.
There was already one wounded parakeet struggling in my head, I didn’t need a second one limping around on the nightstand.
My associate and I would perform our hygienic maintenance rituals as quickly as we could. The sun was up–we needed to be bright and sharp for our hand-shakings. It had always been ordinary for me to convince others that I was an actual human being in these kinds of extraordinary circumstances and today could be no exception. A quick cup of coffee from the hotel lobby before checking out, and we were out the door…
The city was forgiving
The pavement softened under us, the tall buildings hid the sun from our eyes and a cool breeze blew past in a friendly wave. There was no time to bask in her majesty…we carried on.
Nashville Music City Center – This was public entry day for the NAMM show. Again with the cowboy boots. At least the boots were well made…masterful even. We passed by a number of the musicians from the Little Walter Endorsee Jam the night before–I was tempted to commend them on their performances but any time this is done the reaction is usually awkward and the parting of ways even worse. Was all of this gear here yesterday?
Evidently I had missed a number of great booths. Everything was so crispy and delightful, I found myself unknowingly wandering into booths only to be dragged out by my associate. “I will escape you, you fool” I thought. One thing that struck me was the noise level at the show. It was surprisingly pleasant to walk through the exhibit hall. All of the vendors appeared to be displaying the proper level of respect for the venue and for one another. No one was blasting out their neighbors and ruining my good time…perhaps my reputation preceded me…they must have known I was coming.
We were slated to meet with a man by the name of scott vanfossen.
Scott was the founder and master builder at Bullhead Amplification. Like many of us, Scott was once riddled with seller’s remorse after sacrificing an old Mesa Boogie amp. Legend has it, he changed for good that day. He took the break-up hard. No one blamed him. When it came time to replace the amplifier, he was cautious not to fall victim as well to buyer’s remorse. He became a builder.
We approached the booth and introduced ourselves. Hands were shaken. My associate was invited to sit and play one of the amplifiers in the Bullhead booth. It was magnificent. Scott’s amps were timeless to the eyes and bitchin’ to the ears. Everything had a nice clean look that would definitely age well. My associate would later confirm that the circuit was also incredibly responsive and tactile. We spoke a bit about this particular quality in Bullhead’s products, to which Scott would offer that his amps had to be versatile for studio work as well as live performance. They had to…
“Get you into the groove and keep you there.”
This guy was alright in my book. One day he just up and decided to join all the builders forums, gather up every schematic within reach and immerse himself in a skill and a lifestyle. He danced the devil’s dance…and now he is an expert with an elegant product line. But there was just one more question…
“Star trek or Star Wars?”
we had a lot of ground to cover.
It was time to get across the showroom to meet our friends at ValveTrain Amplification. We were going to speak with Rick and Rick. One Rick was the owner and founder of ValveTrain and the other was the product evangelist. The latter ran me through their Charleston 16 Watt. This amp was traditionally a 40 Watter with a governor knob. It was all point-to-point hand-wired by real live human beings…right here in the U.S. of A. He demoed the amp for me a bit…it truly was a magnificent sounding piece. Crystal clear yet very well tamed and not at all unpleasant.
Rick was a player in the Orlando music scene. Some years back, he made a very clear decision to have ValveTrain amps accompany him in his giggery. We all fall in love with a product of some kind at one point or another…but rarely do we fall so hard in love that we run out and become the manufacturer’s official brand ambassador. SOLID. Rick told me he used the Charleston 16 watt in smaller live settings wherein he may or may not even be mic’d. For the larger venues he resorted to the ValveTrain 635–a mid-power 4×10 combo which was essentially their take on an amp from the late 50s.
These guys were great to talk to and we were honored to have a moment of their time…but whatever deficiencies I had gained from last night’s psychedelic 80’s clown car experience were now showing teeth. I needed brisket, and quick. We made our way with unpredictable and untrustworthy leg manipulation out into the lobby and towards the warm light of the concessions oasis. Here we found sustenance but no true reward…we needed real brisket and we needed it soon.
We browsed a bit more and shook another few hands…
…and then it was time to go. The show closed at 4pm that day and we needed to move our car out of the parking lot of the hotel from which we had long since checked out. I will say that at one point prior to our departure I did manage to briefly elude my associate and find my way to the Moog booth for a solid 15 minute demo of some proton neutralizers.
we moved our car to a parking lot 2 blocks down from the main strip
There was a place by the name of “Jack’s” just around the corner–evidently my associate heard the sweet cry of assorted slow-cooked meats calling his name. Desperately in need of protein and sugar, we fought our way to this “Jack’s.” In the daylight these streets were not what they had been just a few short hours before. While there were still herds of bustling human people, there appeared a new charm to the city. There were still a number of bands playing as we made our way and there were still the same boot-clad beauties chirping about, but the air was calm…serene even. It seemed as though the entire community was at peace. I’ve never been one for big cities…they do not interest me. But something about this place was outstanding. People carried smiles and polite southern conversation with them wherever they went. Everyone appreciated being there in the heart of the nation’s music capitol…and so did we.
After a platter of various proteins and exactly 24 ounces of liquid dog hair, it was time to make our way to the second hotel. The hotel closest to the airport always seems harmless…the final resting place of weekends passed.
we wanted to ensure an early and thorough slumber
So naturally the hotel bar was the most suitable command post. “Two drinks should be good,” my associate said. Four drinks in, we had grown loud. The conservative half-suits shadowing us at the bar would cast the occasional side-eye and sink back into their newspapers. Those who dared engage us could only speak of one thing after learning where we’d come from…sharks.
The coast of North Carolina had recently seen an uproar in shark attacks–these attacks were publicized carelessly, with intent to scare, and had thus been broadcasted to the entire world.
how many more shark people will approach us? what time is it? if i go to the bathroom…will i make it back?
Pressing questions. The darkness had returned. All the suits had been swapped out three times over. The bar tendress was preparing the leave her shift by briefing her supplanter…I’m certain a warning was issued regarding my associate and I. How long had we been here? How much longer would this madness last?
“Giggins, the time has come,” I said to my associate, just as all four of him rose from the bar and wavered in the direction of the elevator.
I was in poor shape myself and trying to follow a drunk is like driving behind someone having trouble staying in their lane…bad form is contagious. By now there were at least twenty people eating and every one of them took nest between us and the golden elevator doors. We must have looked like puppets…tired ones…and we were just that. The real issue is that our puppet master was out sick and his apprentice was a bumbling idiot…a God forsaken amateur.
Suddenly it was morning
No birds this time…just bats in the attic. The thought of those ghastly old socks came rushing in. Evidently my associate had the same thought as he turned to me and said, “I absolutely can not let you wear those again.” A kind and gracious chaperone. The journey to and through the airport was seamless…praise. Now aboard the plane, the undercarriage was emitting a white gaseous matter into the cabin. It likened the watchful fog hovering over the eggs in the movie Alien. “Another lemon,” I thought. Guiding us home would be none other than Captain Dan Landergood–a broken man whose dreams of flying had been exhausted by the demands of commercial pilotude. Born and raised in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, his childhood home sat in the lap of Roanoke Valley and was cradled by the river. When he was twelve years old, his mother died of pneumonia. His father owned a general store just beyond the county line. Their fuel system had been decommissioned during previous ownership and as the years passed the shelves grew thin. When the dry years came, the entire community suffered…but Landergood’s father suffered twice over at the cold hands of tuberculosis. The future Captain would have to seek work further south in order to keep his father alive. He found himself working in the candy trades in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina. One day, during his post-work ritual of downing a beverage at the local pub, he overheard three gentlemen discussing plans to set up shop deep in the shade of the mountains and produce moonshine. Landergood followed these gentlemen for weeks until finally they led him, unknowingly, to their distillery. Landergood appeared to the men with a legitimate plan for business as well as a harsh delivery of blackmail…he was made partner. A year into the operation, the group had acquired a small single-prop aircraft with which to make runs up north and distribute their now highly sought-after product. The authorities had long since been privy to their doings and at last made their move on a Thursday. As the men were loading a fresh batch onto the plane, they were ambushed. They refused to be stopped. They hastily gathered up the last of their moonshine and scrambled aboard the plane. Shots were fired. Confusion was in the air. Their pilot had been killed. Landergood had to think quick, and in a spell of fast testicular fortitude he took to the wing. On this day, the son of a simple shop owner from Roanoke Valley became the ever-revered Captain Dan Landergood.
By now, everyone was aware that Landergood was ancient. His bones were practically broken and floating within him. What we didn’t know is that this would be his final flight. We were only in the air for maybe seventy minutes, and in this time there were no hiccups. Everything was perfectly smooth…a surprising end to our rocky expedition. But then, as we approached ILM and our landing gear made its decent…our wings had a fit. We were swaying violently to and fro. Giggins would attribute this to the dreaded “puffy clouds,” but I knew it was nothing more than the shaking hand of Captain Dan Landergood. The ground was approaching rapidly, we were now only 30 feet above the landing strip…would we even out? The population of the cabin braced itself…everyone said a prayer for Landergood to land her well. At last, not three seconds before we made touch down, our wings steadied and the fear died. We rolled safely to the gate and waited to make our exit. Landergood removed his cap, wiped the sweat from his brow, turned to his favorite air hostess and said, “Virginia, I think this is it for me.”
“We’re safe Giggins,” I said.