I’ve been fortunate to have many interesting experiences so far in life, but one from a few years ago combined several of my favorite things: music, travel, and cars. Two of my good buddies are current members of the Atlanta Rhythm Section: Dave Anderson on lead guitar and Jim Keeling on drums. I’ve known them both for almost twenty years and, as a former band member and studio musician, I can attest to the fact that these two young gentlemen have ‘chops’. As musically-inclined friends often do, the three of us hang out and listen to music when we can, although it is often me listening to them play; which is fine with me. In addition to being killer instrumentalists, they are also kind and generous – always offering to get me backstage whenever they are playing a gig that I can attend. One such event was a show in Nashville about three years ago and it’s the subject of my very first blog post.
Dave called me to say that ARS was playing a gig for promoters-only at a small club off of Broadway and that I needed to go. Not only would ARS be playing, but so would Rick Derringer, The Cowsills, Bob Welch, and Pat Travers. I grew up listening to Rick Derringer as part of The Edgar Winter Group, as well as from his solo efforts. Pat Travers was also admired. And while the name Bob Welch didn’t immediately ring a bell, Dave reminded me that he was in Fleetwood Mac, e.g., Sentimental Lady, and of his solo hit ‘Ebony Eyes’. It looked to be a great line-up, so I booked a room in the Music City.
At the time of that show, my ‘fun car’ was a gorgeous Argento Nurburgring Ferrari F430 Berlinetta F1. I have to admit that the perfect stretch of curves and hills between my home and Nashville added to my excitement. I didn’t know exactly how much excitement it would add, but I’ll get to that later in this post. The trip up was exhilarating and uneventful and I checked into the Hermitage Hotel with time for a drink and a shower before walking over to the show. While I had asked if the hotel had covered overnight parking, I didn’t remember it being valet-only. So as I pull up in this rather loud silver streak, I can see the valet is pretty darned happy. And while I have no compunction about letting friends and family drive any of my exotics, I had never handed over the keys to a valet – one who may or may not be familiar with an F1 transmission. This particular gearbox is operated via paddles on the steering column, having only a small toggle on the tunnel to engage the drive and a button for reverse. The valet assured me that he could handle it, and he did without incident, but with a rather large smile.
Onto the show… The Cowsills opened up and were technically good, but not much there except for nostalgia. I had forgotten that they were the inspiration for the Partridge Family. Derringer was next and his trio truly performed. RD is an overlooked guitarist, in my opinion. ARS played next and did a great set. Travers followed them and also performed well. Bob Welch closed out the show and had the Atlanta Rhythm Section as his band. He was excellent, in spite of his poor health. He died a year or so after the show and I doubt he did much touring after that night. One of the perquisites of hanging out backstage is, obviously, to hang out with the artists. It was not drugs, glamour, and groupies as perhaps it was back in the seventies, but it offered up one very enlightening conversation.
A room was set up as the canteen and I had dropped in for a sandwich, only to find Derringer and Travers tearing through some roast beef and Swiss. As I inconspicuously moved around the deli trays, the two of them were discussing a subject of great interest to me: the best guitarist ever. Now, having said that I’ve played at a decent level of accomplishment for a number of years, and remain a daily player, I have my opinion about who can bring it and who is over-rated. I listened intently as the two gossiped about the abilities of some very famous guitar slingers and about choked when one of the most famous was mentioned: Jimmy Page. Travers said the name and they both paused for a split-second before cracking up! They were joking on a Guitar God! Discerning players and honest critics know that Page brings plenty of dingers – even in his finest and most noted solos, to wit: the seminal riff from ‘Stairway to Heaven’. But to hear it from other legendary players on a first-hand basis was a bit staggering. They had no problem at all awarding the top prize to another former member of The Yardbirds: Jeff Beck. While I would have voted for Jimi Hendrix, they didn’t ask for my opinion. Nor did I offer it.
After the show, a few of us headed back to my room to party like rock stars, but the event was poorly attended by individuals who I would actually consider rock stars. I say that with no malice at all toward Dave or Jim, but I know those guys. And RD’s bass player is not someone I grew up listening to, nor were any other of the half-dozen attendees, but that’s life in the fast lane. After the festivities ended at about 3:00 a.m., I hit the sack with the knowledge that I had a 1:00 p.m. conference call later that day and needed to swing back to reality pretty quickly. I guess I slept through the first wake-up call. By the second one, I was already in a semi-panic. Jumping out of bed, I grabbed some hangover helper: a few miniatures of vodka and some orange juice from the room’s bar, and a Lorcet. This helps. I got on the road at about 10:00, allowing enough time to make it back and refresh my brain in an effort to satisfy my customer.
Things went well on the way out of Tennessee, but that would change as I cruised into my home state of Alabama. While fiddling with the manettino or dicking with the phone, I missed my exit. Crap. Taking the next exit would cost me about twenty minutes and I was not in the mood. There had to be another exit somewhere. As I laid on the gas in hopes of recovering precious minutes, I lost focus of rule number one when travelling at three-digit speeds: watch for the cops. As my head scanned the frontier in hope of a turn-off, I saw the silver and blue of a State Trooper in an oncoming lane. Crap. I let off the gas and glanced down at my speedometer: 135 mph. Not good. As I coasted toward the shoulder, I watched the trooper find a turn-off and then haul ass to my location. At that point, I suffered an ‘uh-oh second’, that brief moment in time when you realize something is really, really bad. I had packed about a gram of Peru’s finest pink fish-scale in my backpack – leftover from the earlier morning’s party. Shit. My only vision was that of my F430 newly-liveried with D.A.R.E. on both doors, being driven around the state to enlighten kids on the dangers of drugs. Shit.
As the trooper alighted from his cruiser, my paranoia went from bad to worse. A giant of a man emerged. His creases had creases, and his posture would have been envied by my West Point-educated father. I could literally smell my own fear. As he walked toward me, he adjusted the brim of his hat and his stride meant trouble. Lou Gossett, Jr. had absolutely nothing on this man. My window was rolled down and I had my license, registration and insurance papers ready. He stuck a few inches of his blue straw hat into the cabin and said ‘Nice car!’ I replied ‘Thank you, sir.’ What he said next had me a bit puzzled ‘How’d you get it?’ I told him that they had brought it in a truck from Atlanta. He said ‘No, no. What do you do? What do you do for a living?’ Due to my esoteric profession, that’s one of my least favorite questions, but it was not the time to demure. I said ‘I’m an aerospace consultant. In economics.’ It was his turn to be puzzled. I then spent a few minutes explaining the subtleties of satellite and launch vehicle economics. He was somewhat satisfied and moved on to an evaluation of the car: how many horsepower, how fast at the top-end, 0-60, et cetera. And then, of course, how much did it cost? Ugh.
Once he digested that fact that I was driving a vehicle that was worth much more than his house, he informed me that he had to give me a ticket. I told him that I understood. He returned to his cruiser. And stayed there for a long period of time. My fear returned. Had I not paid a parking fine? Was my tag expired? He returned with ticket in hand, but was headed to the passenger side – closest to my contraband-laden backpack. He then proceeded to ask career advice for himself. Should he stay on as a State Trooper, go back to school, enter the private sector? I was pleased with my reply, and offered it with thought and sincerity. This trooper had not let power and authority go to his head, he was doing his job with courtesy and professionalism. I told him that advanced degrees were hardly ever supported by a cost-benefit analysis and that the corporate world was treacherous, especially if considered from the perspective of a public-to-private transition. I told him to stay for the job security and excellent benefits. He seemed very pleased to be receiving this analysis from some economist in an expensive car. He had written me up for 90 mph in a 70 mph zone. I asked him how fast I was really going and he said ’90 miles an hour, and you’ll be driving at the speed limit the rest of the way home.’
We shook hands and I thanked him for his generosity. I could once again breathe. As I carefully departed, I could only paraphrase Sammy Hagar: ‘I can’t drive 55! Especially in a Ferrari…’
— Beasts of England, September 2013
n.b. I have mentioned several activities in this post which are unlawful in our society: driving at a high rate of speed, driving while under the influence of alcohol and medications, and drug use. Per the high-speed driving, I can only offer this: I am a very good driver, having never been in a collision (other than backing out of my garage, but that’s another post for another day). I’ve also spent several hours behind the wheel at three-digit speeds; at least an hour of which has been at speeds north of 150 mph, and a good bit of that at speeds in the 170 mph range. I don’t drive in this manner on crowded roads, nor do I do it while truly impaired. With regard to drug use, I am a radical libertarian and find our drug laws are at odds with the central theme of our Republic: liberty. I’m a very casual user, and have never let any substance control me, nor been addicted to anything. Except golf.