Live At Wembley (Holiday Inn)

Will they let me carry my guitar on? We’re traveling Aer Lingus and when checking in on-line I saw their policies required either checking or buying a seat for any instrument bigger than a penny whistle. Various musicians websites I searched (Mandolins United…We Strum International) offered stories and advice “Brazen it out!” “Don’t risk it, honestly”. In the end Eric checked his and I brazened it out and it was fine. Aer Lingus was not bad, we had to fly through Dublin but it broke up the trip into 5 hours and an hour and a half to London and I unknowingly went through immigration in Dublin when a guy in a booth asked me “So – do you live around here then?” and I said No and he stamped my passport. No landing card, no chance to show my work permit. At Heathrow we exited the plane to baggage claim!

We’re stopped in a lay-by in Norfolk with the rain beating on the roof of the car. Graceful trees with yellow leaves all around, other cars speeding by spraying water, seats back to sleep a few minutes. This is us, I think – stopping for a nap on our way to our friends’ house after a flight from New York. Ever since I met Eric we’ve been going somewhere. Heathrow to motorway services where we drank Starbucks and ate bacon sandwiches and got that giddy “wow, we’re here” feeling looking at a busload of Cambridge youths in their sports gear, glowing that rosy cheeked silken ringlets way only British youth can and taking in the older folk in their Sunday leisure wear, trying to keep away from the newspaper stand because I’m not ready for the latest scandals.

We’re in the Cley Spy store on the north Norfolk coast with my goddaughter Daisy, trying out one of hundreds of varieties of binoculars and looking at khaki vests for “twitching” (bird watching). It’s a treat to visit this beautiful part of England and stay in our friends’ lovely place and get to catch up for a day or two but we also have to gather up our equipment (two amps, a keyboard, various stands and pedals and cases) that we keep over here. Get it down from the loft, load into the rental car. Drive to London for rehearsal. (Eric drives over here. The right hand drive car, manual transmission on jet lag…roads that seem half the size of US highways, packed with cars – I should handle it but can’t face it). Stop at another Starbucks. Or was it a Costa Coffee? Arrive at Fire Records to meet up with Sterling Roswell who’s playing drums and opening some of the shows, he’s a stylish chap and great character and Barry Payne, bass player who at seventeen played with Eric and still has that boyish charm and shaggy Brian Jones-style hair. We work our way through the songs in Fire’s rehearsal space, it’s a lot to keep track of but I’m lucky cause I know a lot of them already.

Stayed with Barry and his wife and adorable boys in Muswell Hill. So many names ring those bells here – think of the Kinks of course and remember a Gregory Isaacs show I saw in a gym somewhere up here when I lived in London in 1980. Pub names from fabled punk gigs I read about in the NME that still fill me with reverence even though I know they’re more Wetherspoons and quiz nights now.

Driving through Stoke Newington I see people in black standing on a sidewalk and a hearse with flashing lights parked at the curb – it’s a funeral and just as we pass they carry the casket out. The street’s so narrow that from the left passenger side window I can almost reach my hand out and touch the gleaming wood as it slides into the back of the hearse. A reminder to live? That this is all there is? That no matter how cold it is in Germany, it’s better than the alternative? “Better write a will,” Eric says. We agree we don’t want to be buried like that.

Another rehearsal and healthy lunch at Haberdasher with its shelves of old Penguin paperbacks (not just orange, there were green ones too). Getting a handle on everything and notes for the stuff I haven’t got yet (lucky thing about playing keyboard – it doubles as a handy shelf for paperwork).

Wembley Holiday Inn. Dumped the rental car at Saint Pancras, jumped on the tube to out here where the tour van company is. It’s fun to be in the shadow of Wembley in our Hotwire hotel with pool, sauna and right next to a mall with Wagamama, Pizza Express, Gap Outlet and Costa Coffee. Yes, there was a time when I would’ve begged to stay in central London – so much charm, so much character! I want to be where the action is! No more. What’s easy, convenient and gives me the best chance of getting a decent night’s sleep and being where I need to be with the least amount of effort the next day? Yes, I have changed, become hardened. It’s not that I don’t like culture and discovery. Just…not when we have to catch an 8 AM ferry and drive to Cologne on Friday and play Friday night.


There’s the van hire place. Time to meet our tour vehicle.

Bag On The Run

Saturday night

“Well it’s alright and comin’ on, we gotta get right back to where we started from!” I’m lying here with the guitar cases and merchandise boxes trying to get some beauty rest, but disco music keeps pumping out of the media room (okay, they’d never call it that, it’s just a den with books, records, a big old Sony TV, couch). The kids are watching the 1977 movie Slapshot where Paul Newman in a leather leisure suit and a trio of hockey thugs wearing scotch-taped glasses smash opponents on the ice and convince themselves the future looks bright in shabby hotel rooms – I get the feeling this is some weird pre-tour ritual. I start to drift off and then here comes that song again. I swear the lady is even clapping along now!

Sunday late afternoon

The drive to DC was a breeze. Man, that Buick LeSabre the guy is so proud of is one smooth ride. Much cooler than the soccer mom-minivan they used to travel in. What’s happening to these two? I hope they aren’t getting too good for yours truly. I’d hate to be cast aside for a leather Louis Vuitton number, but given the budget concerns talk in the car (“if we really push the merchandise on this trip, we can put down the deposit on the van we need to rent for Europe and there’ll be just enough left to pay the property taxes…oh shit, we better get an oil delivery before we leave…that’s $360?”) I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Sunday night

Wow this hotel is deluxe. I didn’t know it would be like this – pretty fancy – but I heard the lady talking about Hotwire and how it’s easy to score nice business travel hotels on weekend nights especially. The show at the Hamilton in DC was a success. The pair played a short set and then talked to a whole lot of people at the merch table. Ian Hunter & The Rant Band were in fine form, in spite of it being a sitting down dining kind of club, they rocked and there was a crowd down in front of the stage. Getting in and out of this place was a little like being on a CIA mission, lots of pressing codes to open doors, winding around corridors and waiting for barricades to go up and down. It’s like that in DC they say – every building feels like Watergate.

photo by Tamara Guo

DC photo by Tamara Guo

Monday afternoon

We’ve been hurtling down I-95 all day (when we’re not crawling along in traffic). The man and lady had their first road food experience apparently, playing it safe with “Panera”. Now we’re passing this monolith on the side of the interstate, called Carolina Crossroads. The lady gets all excited, says her brother told her about the brother of Dolly Parton who rooked the local government into funding his dream theater, and then used up all the money on himself. The place sits on its own in the Carolina wilderness. A shudder goes through the car – it’s like a warning to these show biz folk – keep your dreams realistic? Don’t try to build another Branson? If you build it they probably won’t come? Be thankful you have a job for this week…anyway, it means something, I’m not sure what, but it’s a heckuva story!

Tuesday night

Post-show at their friend Alison’s house, the pair creep around trying to eat a leftover Papa John’s cookie without crunching too loud. They’re still coming down from an epic rock show in Durham. Seems they played this place before (pre-yours truly) and it has a great big sound, no seats. Tonight it was full and the people were cheering. They saw some old friends, Carolina rock royalty filled the room, and Ian brought them up to sing on the encore All The Young Dudes. I sat to the side of the stage beaming with pride, feeling like a Ranter myself. It doesn’t get better than this.

pic by Tamara Guo

All the Young Dudes Durham pic by Tamara Guo

Thursday morning

Wednesday involved a stop at Lexington Barbq, where the waitress insisted the man was a singer with a famous British rock group, but she couldn’t put her finger on who. Then when the lady was in the rest room, she did put her finger on… Who. The Who, she kept saying, you’re the singer with The Who. The more the man shook his head “no, not me, wish I was!” the quicker the owner rushed over wanting to give the pair everything on the menu for free and a tour of the squadron of smokers out back.


They were too in a rush to get to sound check in Charlotte – a big old theater with chairs set up, not like Durham. It was hard to follow Durham, and almost as penance for the incredible barbq in Lexington, they ate crappy pasta in a bar across from the venue with the sound of trivia night siphoning knowledge from their brains as they ate. Ian brought them up to sing again. The hotel was crappy and now we’re drinking espresso in a nice food market in downtown Charlotte.

Friday night

Your humble bag is here to tell you, I love Atlanta. From hanging out with Shawn and Ruth in Decatur, eating oysters at musician pal Gentleman Jesse’s awesome restaurant Kimball House, to a mind-boggling rock show at Variety Playhouse full of friends from the past and future, this bag is in hog heaven. It’s times like these I think back to the Walmart and wish some of those totes and cases could see me now, rubbing elbows with the Georgia Satellites, and even what appear to be a few groupies from another era who perch around the dressing room in velvet and lace like an infomercial for Stevie Nicks clothing line. Living the dream!

Atlanta photo by Jim Johnson

Atlanta photo by Jim Johnson

Saturday on the road

All afternoon we go up and down the Georgia hills and then they turn into the Alabama hills just after the lady shouts “Summerville! Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens!” I’m not sure what to expect of Alabama, but they say Huntsville where the guy has his own gig tonight, is full of rocket scientists – for real. The lady has fond memories of shows in a punk club there back in the day. There are some big fans of the guy here who wanted to put him on in a brewery, and he’s asking the lady if she’ll play a few with him. It’s different from when they do their thing together, her being his guest, but it’s still them.

Later that night

The brewery really was filled with rocket scientists. And young people, adorable girls who did interpretive dances to Whole Wide World that involved reaching out their arms to search and then hugging each other and jumping up and down for the chorus. So cute! That’s not just the Kolsch talking. The whole room was buzzing and the lady got to play a few too which felt great not weird like she worried it might. I hung out by the merch table and they were selling albums and the guy’s paintings by the dozens. Who knew Huntsville was so hip?


On our way to Nashville. The last Ian Hunter show for a while, at a fancy new winery in town. I never knew they grew grapes in Tennessee? But if Alabama can craft beer…I’m looking forward to sampling their Pinot George Jones or what have you. There’s a buzz in the car here on I-65, it’s that Music City excitement. The lady remembers how even Springsteen was nervous playing Nashville, or said he was. I lean back in my spot next to the Gibson who says she was born here. I’m just hoping there’s time for a stop at those American Pickers’ store.

Nashville pic by Mike Fickel

Nashville pic by Mike Fickel

Monday afternoon

Whoa that went well. The pair did their thing and felt happy about the show, seeing friends, selling records and even meeting that super-nice bass player from Cheap Trick! Ian brought them up one last time to sing on the encore, warm smiles and hugs all around from the boys in the band and he even gave me a nice thumbs up when they were loading out. Then it was hair cuts for the pair from the lady’s old favorite haircutter in town and coffee with Joy who was a friend from Nashville days. Nashville days – the lady talks about feeling sad and regretful last time she was here, but this time it’s all okay, she feels lucky to have had her time living there years back, no regrets! We even drove by her old house, and she texted her daughter a picture, wondering how it got so small and what kind of hillbillies were living in the place now?

nashville house

nashville house

Headed east away from the sun, towards an Applebee’s and home. It’s been swell but I got some woodshedding to do before…Europe next week.

The Leaving

The light’s on again – one of them’s awake. It’s like four in the morning. This has been going on for days.

Is it him or her? They’re both balls of nerves and who wouldn’t be – we’re going on tour tomorrow.

Yeah, it’s me again. Bet you forgot about me. Hell, I forgot about me, out there in the cold through the godawful winter with the snow so high they couldn’t get the garage door open for four months. Then standing by through what looked to be a blissful summer where the mower came and went and the bikes saw a lot of action. But your old pal the Bag? If I had a brain I’d have solved all the world’s problems by now, that’s how much time I’ve had to think about things.

Instead I went into a kind of coma. Making movies up in my mind, most of them starring Harvey Keitel, I don’t know why. If they ever need a person to play me in a film he’d be my number one choice.

Anyway, a week or two ago the woman came rummaging around for the leaf blower; then the rakes. It’s about  that time I thought. Time to hunker down for another long winter and I’m not liking this semi-retirement thing, I don’t even play golf, or hunt.

But I didn’t hear a peep from the leaf blower. And the rakes just sat there leaned up against the garage, I could see them through the window. Then there was music coming from the house, I mean there’s always some kind of music but I realized they were playing one of their songs – one the man and lady do together! It got me kind of choked up, I thought “I miss those two.”


And then the guy grabs me and I’m back in the house, on the floor next to Archery Bag and a couple of the guitar cases. I hear them talking about Ian Hunter dates down south and a trip to Europe and what and who’s playing on the guy’s shows there. I even heard the lady volunteer to not go, because air fares are so high and I thought that was big of her to give up her seat for me.

The guy wouldn’t hear of it. “We’re in this together”, he said.

I was glad – I wouldn’t think of strolling the old Alexanderplatz without her.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby opening for Ian Hunter & The Rant Band

02 WASHINGTON DC, The Hamilton
04 DURHAM NC, Motorco Music Hall
05 CHARLOTTE SC, Neighborhood Theatre
07 ATLANTA GA, Variety Playhouse
08 HUNTSVILLE ALABAMA, Yellowhammer Brewery (Eric solo show)
09 NASHVILLE TN, City Winery

Wreckless Eric shows (w/Barry Payne, Amy Rigby & Sterling Roswell)

21 COLOGNE, King Georg
22 NIJMEGEN, Merleyn
23 UTRECHT, Le Guess Who
25 HAMBURG, Hafenklang
26 BERLIN, Crystal Club
29 MUNICH, The Atomic Cafe
01 ZURICH, El Lokal
02 STRASBOURG, La Popartiserie
05 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO
06 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – WRECKLESS ERIC solo
10 HULL, New Adelphi
11 GLASGOW, Broadcast
13 LONDON, 100 Club
14 BRIGHTON, Prince Albert


Brothers & Sisters In Arms

Brothers & Sisters In Arms

Can The Can

You know things are bad when they take away your garbage cans.

There they were, sitting out on the curb that bright autumn morning, proudly doing their job of holding a week’s worth of recycling and rubbish. Then they were gone.

It’s true I’ve been lax paying the bill. Wouldn’t you? It’s bad enough having to pay for water, electricity and heating oil. Insurance is a con but we pay it. The pathetic internet service they call Mid-Hudson Cable, that we’re always threatening to cancel. AT&T for our phones – their “Have you forgotten to pay your bill?” reminder call is sometimes the only actual phone call I receive all month.

But paying to have someone take the trash away feels so wrong. What exactly do the taxes around here pay for if the town can’t provide this basic service? It’s the bill I consistently avoid acknowledging, until they pile up and now – this. (Yeah, yeah direct debit. Does it hurt less, in lean months, to have an overdraft fee tacked on too? No, this is a game I play, that they’ll get their money when I’m good and ready. It gives me the illusion of control. Until – this.)

Did the neighbors see the truck taking our cans away? Oh who cares, the last people who lived in this house installed an above-ground pool on a pile of their refuse – I’m still finding styrofoam chicken trays, clam shells and Diet Coke bottles in the yard. They blasted modern country radio through outdoor speakers and filled the front yard with inflatable Halloween crap. We’ll never be that low.

I feel so judged. County Waste don’t want us. And the cans we’ve filled and dragged dutifully every week, proclaiming cozy camaraderie with the neighbors and “we’ve got it together! we remember what day it is!” are gone.

We were determined to do it ourselves when we first moved in here. I was constantly crossing the Walmart parking lot with a small bag of garbage while the recycling piled up in the garage for an eventual outing to the dump that never seemed to come. The van became a traveling garbage can and we had to acknowledge the truth – that we’re just not organized enough to deal with our own refuse.

Maybe some day. But in the meanwhile, I have to beg them to take us back. We promise to do better, just give us this one more chance!

mr. & mrs.

PS They’re back. I didn’t hear a truck, just a scraping rolling sound and there they were. They’d even been cleaned. So that’s a small victory, right?

Driving Miss Combo

I accompanied Eric to Gonerfest in Memphis last week for the only US show of his legendary band the Len Bright Combo. LBC hold a special place for me because on a Saturday some fifteen years ago while sitting in Manhattan-bound traffic at the Holland Tunnel, I heard “Young, Upwardly-Mobile and Stupid” on WFMU and thought hmm that voice sounds so familiar! When Terre T back-announced the songs she’d played and talked about Len Bright Combo and Wreckless Eric I was so pleased to hear his name and that he was still out playing (not with LBC at that point but solo) and hadn’t disappeared into the ethers of time. Then a friend gave me a copy of Eric’s Greatest Stiffs collection, I started covering Whole Wide World and that led to us meeting in Hull of all places and the rest is covered in Do You Remember That.

For all sorts of selfish reasons I jumped at the chance to come along: wonderful friends to visit, barbq to consume, and a chance to soak up the Goner atmosphere that fits so well with Memphis – sweaty and loose with underpinnings of tradition and a healthy dose of dysfunction.

We stayed first with pals Ilene and Ben and their three kitties in a gorgeous mid-century house and had a great time eating barbq & catfish and watching American Pickers, Drunk History a bad HBO movie about the Loud Family and this poignant documentary Marwencol about Kingston artist Mark Hogencamp. It was a dream come true to lounge about with these two instead of the usual dashing in and out we’ve done when playing a gig in Memphis. In the midst of it all, we kept Facebook/email/cellphone vigil for word from the UK on the birth of Eric’s new grandchild – a son! a son! born to his daughter Luci and partner Simon. What a thrill and relief!

When the other Combo members arrived from the UK, I acted eager-to-please chauffeur like Norman in Robert Altman’s Nashville, happy to ferry the trio around town. I’d met Bruce the drummer before and he is a wondrous character but I hadn’t met Russ – I expected a bass-slinging brute but he was an urbane delight. Driving up and down the bungalow-lined streets of town, I got a kick out of the trio’s effortless banter – it’s something the way a band clicks back into place, where all their speaking voices even sound alike.

Russ, meet grits. Grits, Russ.

Russ, meet grits. Grits, Russ.

I threw my tin discipline to the wind and ate as much of the local southern food as I could: Payne’s barbq ribs and slaw; catfish, hushpuppies and collards at Soul Fish; cornish hen and ribs at Cozy Corner; sausage patties, eggs, grits biscuits and sausage gravy at Bryant’s. The rare time I ate a salad it was grilled and studded with bacon. We tried to stop for what has been called the best fried chicken in the US but the line outside Gus’s was too long and we were too hungry, though I don’t know how that happened because it seemed like we never went more than an hour and a half without food. At one point we met drummer Greg Roberson(who only last week was at our house recording for both me and Eric’s new records) and his adorable son at a Whole Foods for fresh juice but it was like throwing fuel on the fire, the vitamins only upped my desire for more fat and grease.

Where would you like this, ma'am? Bruce at Bryant's

Where would you like this, ma’am? Bruce at Bryant’s


The Gonerfest bands were energetic and often Australian, but honestly once I’d seen Len Bright Combo (preceded by Deaf Wish who had me worrying for the band that had to follow that energy) I got what I came for. The Combo were teetering and tight at the same time, and funny and ferocious. It was sort of like watching someone else play your guitar – after playing next to Eric so many nights on stage, and he’s always an awesome force, I stood there with goosebumps watching him take off and thinking “I didn’t know you could do that!”

Len Bright Combo photo by Greg Roberson

Len Bright Combo photo by Greg Roberson

I needed a pic of Eric from the show, this is from Pitchfork’s great review

Afterwards I sold records from the merch table next to Deaf Wish and got hugs from Scott & Charlene’s Wedding who we hosted last week at home in New York. I love these Australians so much, wish I could adopt them. It was a treat to see them play at a backyard show the next day, feeling them turn the world on with their charm.

Me & the kids back home in Catskill

Me & the kids back home in Catskill

Then we faded away from Goner and out to the Stax Museum which contains many interesting artifacts, loads of info and the incredible wall of records, but lacks the emotional wallop you want – even though they’ve recreated the studio, Memphis is so much about place and…well, the real place is gone and the most feeling I get is being outside the building, on this street, in this neighborhood where the original theater stood. But it is still a must to visit.


To cap off the Stax experience, we caught the end of Robert Gordon’s talk about his Stax book Respect Yourself. He’s a wonderful speaker, and had a guest Sidney Kirk, who had gone to high school with Isaac Hayes and played piano in his band and I wished they’d had him in the Stax Museum talking because he made history come alive, it’s often the people on the sidelines of the inside who do.

We were staying now with old friends Robert and Candace and their darling daughter Vivian and we all had birthday cake and I passed out on the couch, not from drinking but a complete sensation overload. The last day we accompanied the Maches to a front porch cookout with nonstop platters of fried chicken and beef tips, and then took Russ to the airport (Bruce left the day before). We went by the finale of Gonerfest and then sat down in a bar to hear barefoot soul lady Linda Heck play with Ross Johnson on drums. Ross took a phone call as the first song started, and played with one hand while hoisting a flip phone to his ear with the other. We’d seen Ross play earlier in the week with a whole gang doing Like Flies On Sherbert, the Alex Chilton album he’d played on, and he’d sounded great. I heard him order a “Diet Croak” from the bartender.

Yes no Memphis visit would be complete without a visitation from Chilton’s ghost. All the exes, girls he’d herded and produced in bands like the Clits and Hellcats were present, and there was a moment when two of them spotted Eric. It is well-noted and documented that Alex loved Eric’s records but they never got a chance to know each other. Still, the girls knew and I saw them fix their big shiny eyes on my boy and come floating across the room like hungry flesh eaters in Night Of The Living Dead. It was scary, it was sweet. I doffed my imaginary Norman chauffeur cap and took my leave. “You’re on your own here.”

Two minutes later Eric emerged from the bar, wiping sweat off his brow. We walked off into the sunset to find one more meal.

Bar-b-q's fine, wish you were here

Bar-b-q’s fine, wish you were here



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