HANK AND MUDDY AND FAVORITE CHILDREN
Writers often get asked, which one of your books is your favorite? The safe answer is to claim your books are like your children—you love them all equally. However, when applied to either children or books, this is a lie. Every child you raise has a different personality, as does every book you write—they all need love, but in varying degrees and varying ways. Those children who are the most difficult need our love the most. It is the same with books. You always love your child, but depending on their phase of maturity, you might not like them very much. Books are no different…
I always say my favorite book is the one I’m writing next because it has all the promise of a child about to be born, hasn’t yet thrown a tantrum on the page, nor gone through the terrible twos, which is when you hit the difficult part of a manuscript—usually between page ten and ten pages before you can type The End.
Still, of the books I have written, I do have favorites. Some of my books are more personal, some perhaps carry more of my soul than others. I love them all, even those I’ve had to beat into submission, but one or two are special…
Recently, my writing pal Stephen Mertz stated, among his extensive output of novels, his favorite was Hank And Muddy—a novel in which he was able to use his writing skills to express many of his feelings about also being a musician, performing on the road, and a life he might have lived. Seeing an opportunity, I asked his permission to publish his thoughts on why Hank And Muddy is his favorite child…
I knew I wanted to be either a writer or a musician.
I was a working musician, blowing harp (as in harmonica) in Eagle Park Slim’s Mile High Blues Band—the house band at a black after hours club in Denver’s Five Points. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Five Points was considered the Harlem of the West, with bars and clubs where people like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday played. However, by the 1960s, it had suffered the same demise as inner cities across the U.S.
When I played there, Five Points was a rough part of town. Slim is a real deal St. Louis bluesman (who currently resides and works in Eugene, Oregon), and the Mile High Band was hot. I’ve got the tapes to prove it. The band’s gig was Thursdays through Saturdays, 11pm to 3am. The drummer and I were the only white boys in the place. I was living the life.
Trouble was, I was beginning to gradually sell more of my writing to the smaller markets of the day. No bread to speak of, but I was establishing a presence. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I could taste the dream of being a published novelist becoming a reality, that’s how close it was even though the rejections continued to outnumber the sales.
I was also starting to realize life as musician was not exactly conducive to the discipline of schedule and routine necessary to produce fiction. An earlier conversation with the famous blues harp player, James Cotton, also lingered in my mind.
I was in a band called Blue Tale Fly at the time, a bar band playing Allman Brothers and J. Geils covers and a few originals. We’d landed a four night gig as the opening act for Cotton at the old Rio Grande down by Denver’s rail yards. Cotton was a party animal. Plenty of drink and smoke and passing the time with small talk between sets. He’d just signed with Albert Grossman—Dylan’s manager—who had landed him a contract with Capitol. Star time! Except, Cotton added, for the last two years, he’d been on the road 50 weeks out of the year.
That sunk into me and stayed. I’d only been living the life with Eagle Park Slim for 18 months and I was already starting to burn out. I like to entertain and socialize well enough, but like most writers, I am by nature a solitary soul.
Then Don Pendleton stepped in to nudge me into my future with an offer to assist him in the writing of Mack Bolan novels (this was years before Don sold the Bolan franchise to Harlequin, where it flourished, scripted by a cadre of contract writers). For me, Don’s offer was the writing dream come true. No more smoky bars, bad food and crazy hours. I could sit at a keyboard and make a decent living. An apprenticeship! I could not say no, and so I said goodbye to Slim and the guys and to the musician’s life. I resettled on a country road near Don’s spread in Brown County, Indiana.
Well, the Mack Bolan gig lasted for six months (not Don’s fault; we remained close friends until his passing), but in the process, I had acquired a lifelong taste for what is called the writing life. I’ve lived on back roads ever since, writing short fiction and novels which, I’m happy to say, have been published for the most part to favorable reviews and reader acceptance. And guess what? Turns out being a writer is not so different from being a musician. Sure, the work conditions are more comfortable, but it’s still all about hustling up the next gig, about finding an audience by striving to provide something worth their while.
My novel, Hank And Muddy, is the account of a fictional meeting between two rough-and-tumble American music icons, whiskey-soaked Hank Williams and mojo man Muddy Waters, on a steamy summer night in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1952, and the misadventures that ensue. The title characters alternate as narrators. It’s a tale about music, race, sex and the other things uniting and dividing American society in 1952 and today. The a plot involves the Ku Klux Klan, crooked cops, the black underworld of Shreveport in that era, G-men and commies, a bank robber’s free-spirited daughter, and a quest for Hank’s missing songbook.
These days I perform around Tucson now and then, and finally, I’ve written a novel about the music I love. Who says you can’t have it all? Just wish I’d figured that out a long time ago...
HANK AND MUDDY
In steamy Shreveport, Louisiana, two musical legends-in-the-making come together: a whiskey-soaked country singer named Hank Williams and blues artist Muddy Waters. What they've got in common over several hectic days of drinking, singing and whoring is an interest in staying alive despite local mobsters, bent cops, and a truckload of Ku Klux Klansmen. Then there's the bank robber's daughter...
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