Pat Nolan: Gift of the Elvi

Spring '14 TOC

            “What you talking about, Willis?”
            Bart Willis, the trumpet player, was the only white guy in the car.  He turned his shaggy auburn head to the side to answer Jermaine Tate, a young bass player from Cleveland with Bootsy Collins oversized shades known as Tater, squeezed into the backseat with two other musicians. “I’m just saying, this here used to be known as Klan Kounty USA.”
            “You think that police pulled us over when we crossed the county line was klan?” Elvin Richmond known to all as Richie, a youngster as well but already with the reputation as a rock steady drummer, posed in a voice low and mellow that belied his narrow frame.  The constant and barely perceptible nod of his chin spoke to his connection to the beat, the groove.  That he hardly ever said anything always added to the surprise of hearing him speak.
            “I think that his ‘stars and bars’ belt buckle might have been a clue to his sympathies,” Alonzo Spain, the guitarist, offered quietly.  Alonzo was the oldest of the group, and the most experienced.  In high school he’d fronted Lonny and The Spanglers, then working his way through college, a lounge act, the Alonzo Spain Trio, and soloing as the “guitar styling of Alonzo Spain”.  He was a round man with wire framed glasses and a little moustache that was showing signs of gray.  He hardly went anywhere without his colorful crocheted skullcap.
            The driver, a very large and very black man, ducked his eyes to glance in the rearview mirror.  “He still following like we getting a police excort.”  2Door was the youngest of them all and not one of the musicians. He claimed to be a rapper, a rapper for Jesus. When he was little everyone called him Tar Baby.  As he got older and larger, people were less inclined to call him that, to his face anyway.  Everyone said he came from a good family.  Now unofficial taxi service for the neighborhood, he was 2Door because he was about that wide.
            Willis pointed out the windshield.  “Up here past that old barn with the graffiti on the side, turn right.”
            “What’s that say?” Tater asked of the large black letters splashed onto the grey tumbled down shed.  “T-S-W-R-A?  Tisraw?  What the fuck that mean?”
            Willis twisted in his seat to give Tater a bug-eyed look, grinning, “The South Will Rise Again!”
            2Door turned where Bart indicated and followed the road down to where it paralleled a wide expanse of tilled bottomland.  The road was pitted with large pot holes and threw the occupants of the vintage Oldsmobile bone jarringly up against each other.
            “I got a bad feeling about this,” Tater said casting a worried eye at the unremitting desolation of the flat farmland.  A trio of dust devils sprang up from chocolate brown of the plowed field and shadowed them as they proceeded down the uneven pavement.  One of the tiny dirt tornados broke away from the others and splattered against the side of the Olds with the sound of buckshot.  The looks exchanged in the backseat called up ancient memories, and maybe some not so ancient.
            “Just wait till you see this guy’s setup,” Willis insisted, “you won’t believe it.  It’s like a fucking museum!”
            “You say he’s an Elvis impersonator?”  Alonzo too was having his doubts.
            “Yeah, and a state of the art rehearsal studio, all the electronics and gear.  We just have to show up!”
            As Willis had explained to them before they set off on their little odyssey, their man Dooley was a tax accountant and a rabid Elvis fan.  Willis had been steered to him by his sister as someone who could fix the mess of his years of not filing taxes.  When he found out that Willis was a musician, all he wanted to talk about was music, and not just Elvis’ music, though all roads did lead to that obsession.  Interestingly the tax accountant’s taste ran to Soul and R&B.  James Brown?  James Brown was just a black Elvis with a really tight backup band and some hot shit moves.  Curtis Mayfield, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett.  He loved all those guys.  Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Al Green. 
            Then last week Willis got a call from Dooley asking him if he could round up a basic complement of musicians to rehearse an Elvis act he wanted to take on the road.  Willis was reluctant at first but Dooley said he would pay union scale for the rehearsals with a guarantee of thirty days whether the act came together or not.  Paying rehearsals with potential for road gigs was an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. 
            He knew Alonzo from having played on a number of studio sessions with him.  Alonzo was connected to Richie through the local music scene.  Pepper, Alonzo’s go-to bassist, was in the hospital with a fractured pelvis sustained in an automobile accident so he scared up Tater, the nephew of a neighbor, lying low from something that had happened up in Cleveland.  He said he was a bass player but Alonzo had never actually heard him play the practically brand new Fender bass he toted around.  That left Bobby Birdsoll, Bird to everyone, the keyboard player who would be arriving on his own.
            “That’s it right there, the big cement pillar, turn in at the gate,” Willis directed 2Door.  The big cement pillar had a twin and they supported large rusty wrought iron gates with the ornate letter O on one and D on the other.
            “O, D?” Tater questioned with a worried expression.
            “Old Dixie,” Willis replied.
            “Oh dear,” Alonzo said softly.
           
At the top of the rutted circular gravel drive was what appeared to be a prefab version of a Southern mansion with pink aluminum siding.  A white portico with toy colonnades jutted out from the front at an angle slightly askew to the rest of the structure.  Parked on the scorched turf that had once been a lawn was a pink Cadillac convertible with whitewall tires, vintage 1957.
            The musicians extracted themselves from their ride and collected next to it, their suspicions and misgivings fairly obvious from the glances they gave each other and their surroundings.  Their attention was drawn to the large yellow oak door now opening and from which emerged a diminutive figure.  If Elvis had been zapped with a shrink ray and an ugly ray at the same time he would have looked like the man who now appeared before them, a man with an obvious dye job to his outsized pompadour and matching sideburns, a white wide collar shirt, upturned at the back, unbuttoned to the third button, a wide white belt with a large gold buckle in the shape of an E, a pair of white bellbottoms with rhinestones studding the outside seam, and white patent leather shoes.  And he was tiny, probably not more than five one, no more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.  His one redeeming feature was the smile, a broad beaming grin showing off Hollywood whites but all the same genuine and infectious that had the effect of allaying, at least temporarily, their collective reservations.
            Willis stepped forward to shake hands.  “Hey everyone, this is Mr. Dooley,” he said by way of introduction.
            Dooley nodded, still smiling.  “DeWayne Dooley.  Y’all call me Double D.  Glad y’all could make it.”  With that he went down the line and shook hands with everyone and asked them their names and what instrument they played all the while saying “good, good, look forward to working with y’all.”  When he came to 2Door, his grin grew wider, if that was possible.  The little man looked the large man up with an ascending gaze.  “Now what might your name be, Tiny?  And what instrument do you play?”
            “Everyone call me 2Door, but my real name De Vaughn Redfield.  I ain’t with them.  I’m a rapper, a rapper for Jesus,” he proclaimed with a certain amount of pride.
            “Right,” Willis said with an eye rolling aside to Alonzo, “Rap music, the C is silent.”
            2Door ignored him.  “And I’m the driver.”
            Double D brightened.  “Driver?  Now why didn’t I think of that?  Of course, y’all need a driver if y’alls gonna come out all this way to rehearse.”  He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to 2Door.  “You know that rental place over on E Street?  You go there first thing in the morning.  Show this card, tell them I sent you, I’ll make a call to set it up.  They’ve got a Lincoln Town Car that should fit y’all quite comfortable.  “And,” pointing at 2door, “I’m putting you on the clock along with these fellahs.”
            2Door’s eyes shone like a kid who’d just been informed that he’d be getting a lifetime supply of jujubes.
            “That’s awfully generous of you, Mr. Dooley,” Alonzo spoke not without a hint of concern, “seeing as how you really don’t know any of us.  Are you sure you want to go to all this expense before you’ve even heard what we can do?” 
            “Call me Double D.  Alonzo, is it?  I trust Bart.  He said he would find musicians I can work with.  If y’all don’t work out I’ll look for others.  As for the money, well. . . .”  Dooley gave another genuine smile with his fake choppers.  “I’m gonna tell y’all something I ain’t told nobody else.”  He polled them with his eyes, certain of their undivided attention.  “I am the winner of the Mega Bonanza Lotto Jackpot!”
            The musicians looked at each other not sure what to think.  Even Willis was taken by surprise. Screw ball? Nut job? Whacko?  Or worse yet, some evil cracker plot aimed at humiliating and maybe even murdering black men.
            Tater spoke up. “You mean that mega million dollar jackpot that still ain’t been claimed yet?”
            “That is exactly the one, Jermaine.  I will be going down to the State house on Friday.  It’s just a big show anyway, my lawyer’s been in touch with the lottery people.  By the end of the day I’ll be a richer than Scrooge McDuck.” 
            About then a dusty blue Toyota station wagon turned into the gate and navigated the ruts to where they were standing.  Bobby Birdsoll got out from behind the wheel and slammed the door.  A skinny black man, hair in cornrows and a pencil thin moustache in the manner of the artist formerly known as Prince, Bird was pissed.  He called out to the musicians gathered to enter the mansion.  “How many times y’all get pulled over?” He pointed at himself.  “Twice.  One peckerwood wanted to see a bill of sale for my gear, saying how did he know it wasn’t stolen.”  Then he paused and took in his surroundings, the pink mansion, the pink Cadillac, the obvious disrepair and neglect.  “What is this place?  Disgraceland?”

The layers of dust coating the assortment of Elvis memorabilia on makeshift shelves and piled against the wall said there probably wasn’t a Mrs. Double D.  Bobble-heads shared space with lunch boxes, life size cardboard cutouts were stacked against each other and large framed movie posters, place of honor being given to a blue sequined tuxedo jacket with white lapels in a glass case. At the far end of the hall was a totally different story. 
            Double D led them into a large living room area with dark faux wood paneling.  The space has been cleared of furniture except for a long table and chairs at one end to make room for the state of the art equipment and with attention as to where the grey baffle panels were placed to get the most out of the acoustics.  In short, it was a near perfect little rehearsal studio.
            Bird made straight for the stacked keyboards, nodding his approval.  “Yamaha Thousand Voices, unhunh, Knor Three Phase Synth, oh yeah.”  And with what might be taken for a squeal of delight, “And a Fender Rhoades for that funky groove!”  Then he spotted the mixer board and the digital recorders.  “Ok, this is. . . .”  He poked at the computer keyboard.  “Did this come with a manual?  Never mind, I can figure it out.” 
            Richie seated himself behind the drum kit and adjusted the two toms mounted on the bass drum and the floor tom to a comfortable reach, testing each drum head and the bright brass cymbals.  He worked the bass pedal and gave the snare a little pop.  And then he was off, channeling the beat, the groove, the internal rhythm that was his universal constant.            
            Meanwhile Alonzo unpacked his maple-top Gibson E345 and found an amplifier to plug into.  It buzzed before he adjusted the settings.  The controls were on a digital readout.  “I never worked one of these before,” he said peering at the control panel.  “I feel like I’m in a gas station.” 
            And Tater just could not get his amplifier to stop squealing.  Willis finally had to help him.  Bird was back at the keyboards.  “Hey, check this out!  Farfisa!”  And played the opening chords to 96 Tears.  Alonso laid a basic blues over Richie’s drumming, Bird found the Hammond mode on the Knor and pretty soon they were in the groove.  More or less.  Tater’s bass was way out of tune and that brought things to a halt.  Alonzo shot him an angry look.  “Bring that thing up, man!”
            Double D took the opportunity to call their attention to the paper work they needed to fill out before they got down to business.  He had them sit at the table and passed out a packet to each of them explaining the nature of their employment as well as a prospectus of what he hoped to achieve.  There was also a W-2, “Y’all will thank me when it comes tax time,” a sheet explaining the no drug policy that required a signature, an agreement that specified wages for rehearsal as well as live performances that also required a signature, and a check for the first week’s work in advance.
            The musicians were stunned, speechless.  Never in memory could any one of them recall being treated so generously.  And efficiently.  As part of his spiel, Double D explained the purpose of The One, LLC which was also the name of the band, minus the LLC of course.  Their repertoire would consist of Southern fried music with an emphasis on Elvis though he expected that they perform a variety of soul and R&B favorites.  His playlist was quite eclectic though definitely old school.
            Tater snorted derisively. “My granny listen to this shit.”  And lest he be perceived as biting the hand that would feed him, “Yeah, but no problem, I can cut it.” 
            Willis was appointed interim musical director until such a time as the group decided otherwise.  They were employees of The One, but as far as he was concerned that was just a technicality.  If they were going to click as a group they had to do it freely and equally.  With that he left them to go over the arrangements and decide which of the tunes they wanted to get familiar with first.  He still had lottery paperwork to deal with so he would be in his office down the hall and that they should feel free to come to him with any questions they might have, his door was always open to them.  Oh, and there was soda, beer and sandwich makings in the kitchen.  “Y’all help y’self.”
            Bird didn’t waste any time getting acquainted with the recording equipment.  Richie dabbled on the skins with varying time signatures.  Tater laboriously tuned his bass while Willis and Alonzo looked over the playlist. 
            “Bird, I thought you were bringing in a sax player.”  Willis was taking his position as musical director seriously.
            Bird looked up from the mixing board, distracted.  “Yeah, but he had to go back to the old country for his great grandfather’s funeral, dude was like a hundred and twenty years old or some shit.”
            “The old country?”Alonzo asked, laughing, “What’s this cat’s name?”
            “VeeJay.”
            The musicians all looked at each other and nodded in understanding.  “Oh, Veejay.”
            “Hey, there’s been musicians in his family for like over five thousand years.  This cat is like all living, breathing, sweating, pissing, shitting music.”
            “Sound like you in love,” Tater offered.
            “You in tune yet, motherfucker,” Bird shot back. 
            The remainder of the day passed routinely.  They covered a few tunes familiar to all of them, worked on the dynamics.  Yet there was an air of tentativeness, that what they were experiencing was too good to be true.  There was one thing they could all agree on, though.  When Double D dropped his smile he looked like one scary ass redneck. 

The week that followed had its share of surprises, mostly of a vocal nature.  They picked Suspicious Minds, Fool Such As I, and Blue Suede Shoes from the Elvis playlist.  Although it was music they would not normally play, it was rudimentary and pretty soon they had sketched out their parts and were beginning to mesh.  Except that Tater wanted to add too much bottom.  Bird offered some advice.  “Play it like a white woman’s ass, high, tight, and hardly there.”            
            Double D wandered down occasionally to listen and do his moves on the sidelines.  He had the Elvis choreography down, the karate kicks and the leg twitches.  He could also moon walk like Michael Jackson and do the James Brown shuffle slide spin and splits.  At first it just seemed like clowning and everyone laughed along, including Double D, but it was obvious that the little man had his finger on the pulse, that he was in touch with the groove, and like a bell bottomed metronome, he kept time.  Maybe not so surprisingly it had the effect of enhancing their appreciation for the music. 
            When Alonzo offered him the mike for the vocals, Double D demurred, saying that he would wait till they had the tunes nailed down and then all he would have to do was jump in.  Plus he still had plenty of paperwork to do, and that they were doing a fine job and he couldn’t wait to start singing with them. 
            Willis volunteered to do his Elvis impression but his voice was a little too thin.  Then as they came around to the chorus after the bridge, the perfect Elvis voice took up the lyric, “we can’t go on together. . . .”  Richie, as it turned out, had Elvis’ tenor down pat. 
            The next vocal surprise came at Alonzo’s failing.  They had been working on a Curtis Mayfield number.  Alonzo could not for the life of him sustain the high note.  It frustrated him.  “I used to be able to do that,” he complained.
            2Door had been sitting at the table with a soda and a sandwich.  He laughed and wandered over to stand by the mike.  “You mean like this?”  He hit the perfect high note and held it and held it until it looked like his eyes were going to pop out.
            “Where’d you learn to do that?” Alonzo asked in disbelief.
            “Choir practice two nights a week with the Reverend Dr. Alvin Byce, choir master of The Holy Church of The Sanctified Jesus, Redeemer, Amen, and I solos during services on Sunday.”
            Everyone burst out laughing as if relieved of some underlying tension. Their driver was welcomed as a vocalist and in charge of anything in the upper register.  He had one condition, that he be allowed to perform his Rap For Jesus as part of the act.  Willis agreed tentatively at Alonzo’s nod.
            The final vocal surprise came on Friday.  Alonzo had his suspicions but kept them to himself.  Bird might have had his doubts too.  They had mastered the Elvis numbers to the point where they could play them in their sleep.  Double D came down from his office and listened to their run through of Suspicious Minds.  Then as they were bringing it back around to the top, Alonzo handed him the mike.
            It was a disaster.  Not only did Double D not have a voice, he couldn’t carry a tune in a dump truck.  The music stopped.  Double D made a show of clearing his throat and took a deep pull on his beer bottle.  He had them take it from the top again, with the same results.  It was hopeless, fingernail on chalkboard bad.  The musicians couldn’t hide their disappointment.  All their practice came crashing down around their ears.  Alonzo was about to inform Double D that they had come to the end of the line.  There was no way they could perform the music without their singer, their front man, which Double D ostensibly was.
            “I know just the man who can help you!” 2Door piped up, “The Reverend Dr. Alvin Byce, choir master of The Holy Church of The Sanctified Jesus, Redeemer, Amen.”
            Double D admitted that he was a little rusty on his vocals and that maybe a tune up with Reverend Byce would do the trick.  In the meantime, they were to continue rehearsals, work their way through the playlist.  He, on the other hand, had an appointment at the State House to claim his mega million dollar jackpot.
            There was one other development to end the first week, one that almost everyone had seen coming.  Tater would have to go.  Otherwise, mild mannered and mellow Richie was going to strangle him.   When Alonzo got home he placed a call to Dallas for a bass player, his cousin Charlie.
           
Alonzo had not laid eyes on Charlie since she was All-City roller skating champ when she was twelve.  He’d heard that she played bass with an all girl quartet called Slave Quarters through the family grapevine, but he didn’t know what to expect.  Charlene Banks, Charlie to just about everyone, though she said she preferred Char because that was the color of her skin, wore a short version of the little black dress which not only accented her rather solid shoulders but displayed the multiple swirling designs of her tattoos as well.  Her hair was done up in an array of loose braids, the ends secured with strips of white cloth. Along with large gold earrings of African provenance, she wore eyeglasses, white framed and large, behind which her big brown eyes blinked in amusement at Alonzo’s expression.  She had a nose piercing, and nipple rings if the outlines of her tight fitting dress were any indication.  The sleeves of a man’s checkered shirt were knotted around her waist and shiny black leggings ran down to the tops of her dayglow yellow sneakers. 
            Alonzo chuckled.  “You certainly are making a lot of statements.”
            “And you still wearing that Easter egg shell on your head, cuz,” giving him a big smile to show off her gold plated grill.
            The musicians were skeptical until she plugged in and hit the first note.  And with each subsequent note there was no doubt that Charlie had it, low, down, and sexy, high, tight, and jazzy, and everything in between.  Besides she had a set of pipes that just wouldn’t quit and was an incredible mimic. She could do soulful Aretha just as easily as she could twang like Tammy.  She didn’t have a problem with the Elvis tunes though she thought some of the old school numbers they were working on could use some updating.  It would be an understatement to say that Charlie fit in.  
            By the end of the second week of rehearsal, the feeling that things were shaping up and coming together was shared by all.  Double D had made arrangements with Reverend Byce to work on his voice but since he’d claimed his jackpot, he was pretty much a top local news story and being mobbed by reporters from Atlanta and Jacksonville and Memphis so he didn’t seem to have time for much of anything.  He appeared as a guest on the Atlanta Morning Show where he revealed how winning the lottery would allow him to fulfill a lifelong dream of going on the road with an Elvis Tribute Band. 
            On the way back from rehearsal that Friday, Alonzo was curious.  “I saw you and Double D having a little powwow in the kitchen.  What was that all about?”
            Charlie shrugged.  “He was just sitting there looking sad, caught up in his head.  I thought I’d cheer him up.”
            “He has been looking kind of morose lately,” Alonzo agreed, “mega millions must be a big responsibility.”
            “So I told him his collection of Elvis kitsch was really something.  It’s shit, but what’s it cost to be nice?  Anyway, we got to talking.  He saw my tat of Dr. King.”  She pointed to the tattooed silhouette of MLK with the words “I have a dream” under the oval on her left inner forearm.  “He said he admired Dr. King, thought he was a great man.  Said had he lived he would have accomplished great things for the South.  And every time he hears the ‘I have a dream’ speech, it makes him cry.  Just thinking about it made him cry, and he started blubbering ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’.”
            “Oh my, what’d you do?”
            “I gave him a hug and told him it was ok.”
            Alonzo shook his head slowly.  “And to think that this man could be a distant relative, a cousin even, of the man who murdered Dr. King.”
            Charlie made a pistol with her hand and pointed it at him.  “What you said,” and sank back into the soft leather back seat of the Lincoln Town Car and closed her eyes. “Don’t think the irony got past me.”

The middle of the third week everything changed.  When they arrived for rehearsal that morning, besides the pink Caddy that never seemed to budge and Willis’s motorcycle parked in front of the pink mansion, there was a rusty white Capri and a large jacked up steel blue pickup with a stars and bars decal that took up the entire rear window,  Standing next to the vehicle were two large white boys with State prison haircuts and various racist and supremacist slogans tattooed on the outsized arms jutting from sleeveless denim jerkins.  Their scowls made their pug noses appear even smaller, eyes red like those of wild hogs.  A large lumpy white woman with a stack of bleached blond hair piled on her head wrinkled her snub nose at the musicians.  The little man with her could have been Double D but he wasn’t.  If ever there was an evil twin, this was him.  His thin upper lip rose in a sneer.
            “Y’all boys part of my crazy brother’s harebrained scheme?”  And when he didn’t get an answer from the stunned musicians, he continued, “I’m Wayne Dooley, DeWayne’s twin.  Now we may look alike, but that’s as far as the resemblance goes.  Ol’ DeWayne is short a few grits of a full breakfast.  And you boys are taking advantage of a man who ain’t in his right mind.  He’s just come in to a pile of money and every conman and grifter is gonna be trying to get their hooks on that money so I’m here to make sure that don’t happen.  I got a doctor coming over from Birmingham gonna declare the poor boy incompetent and name me and my family as conserve-ters.  We’ll make sure he gets the best care possible.”
            “He’s dull, uh, dullusionant,” the white woman blurted.    
            “Shut up, Kali,” Wayne said without taking his hate filled gaze off the musicians.  “You ain’t got no need to x-plain anything to these boys.”  He’d finally spotted Charlie, “And I don’t know what.” He placed his fists on his hips and for a moment looked very much like a lawn jockey.  “Y’all done milking this goat.  Git back in that fancy limo and go back where you come from, hear?”
            With that the white lumps shrugged their shoulders and pivoted their little pink necks as if to limber up for combat.  Right about then Willis exited the mansion, a worried frown creasing his brow.  He took Alonzo aside and told him that he would meet them back in town and explain everything.

First of all, Double D sent his apologies for this hiccup in the plan.  He knew that as soon as news of his winning the lottery got out to his relatives in east Georgia they would swarm him looking for a handout.  He hadn’t counted on Wayne being out on parole and living just across the State line with his wife, Kali, and her two boys, Kyle and Kenny.  Wayne didn’t have a prayer of declaring him insane, but he’d always been a bully and would only cause trouble so he had rented a rehearsal studio in Memphis.  The band was to keep rehearsing, they were still employees of The One, LLC, and they would continue to draw a paycheck every week.  He would have his hands full for a while, but he would join them in Memphis soon and they would begin working on getting bookings.
            No one had a problem with moving to Memphis.  And getting paid to play music was what they did even if it was only for themselves.  VeeJay joined them there, just back from India, a lanky lad with pale umber complexion, dark eyes, a sparse goatee, and long shiny wavy hair.  He was everything Bird said he was.  He played all the reed instruments, often more than one at a time, a la Roland Kirk.  He was also accomplished on the traditional instruments, tabala and sitar.  He immediately bonded with Richie, going so far as to bow to the drummer after a particularly intricate impromptu drum solo.  And Charlie knew she was going to have his baby because she wanted to have a child with hair just like his.
            A few weeks went by with no word from Double D.  Willis had been trying to contact him but he wasn’t picking up.  He might have changed his cell number seeing as how that now he was a super millionaire everyone would be calling him and looking for a loan, someone suggested.  And the musicians were in danger of becoming over-rehearsed.  Willis’ solution, and Alonzo agreed, was they needed to play to a live audience, and he got busy lining that up. 
            It was one of those good new bad news moments when Willis announced that he had set up an audition with a promoter who was looking for an opening act for a series of music shows he was putting on at the Atlanta Convention Center.  That brought everyone’s spirits up.  Finally, a goal, something to work toward.   Then Alonzo stood straight up from his chair like something had bit him, spilling his coffee across the newspaper he’d been reading, a Mississippi brown hurrying to the edge of the table to languidly drip onto the hastily vacated chair that Richie had been sitting in.
            Alonzo held up the sopping paper.  “Listen to this.  ‘Local Man May Be Victim of Foul PlayThe charred remains of a man tentatively identified as Mr. DeWayne Dooley were found inside the fire ravaged shell of a vintage Cadillac known to have been owned by Mr. Dooley.   DNA samples have been sent to the State forensic lab to confirm the identity of the remains.  The Bend County Sheriff and Coroner’s Office declined comment on the ongoing investigation.  Mr. Dooley was a well-liked local tax accountant recently in the spotlight as the winner of the mega million dollar lottery prize. . . .’” 
            Sadly, their gravy train had come to the end of the line.  Little did they know that they were about to board the Express.
           
It was pretty much a no-brainer, everyone agreed they would continue as The One and start booking gigs under that name.  It was Alonzo who suggested that they incorporate an Elvis medley into their repertoire.  That too was unanimous.  Bird even worked up the Thus Spake Zarathustra theme on the synth accompanied by some wailing sax from Veejay.  They would do Blue Suede Shoes and Fool Such As I, each sharing a vocal, no clowning but playing it straight, with respect.  2Door performed the gospel numbers, His Hand In Mine and Peace In The Valley with Charlie and Richie on the harmony.  Richie provided his uncanny vocal impression on the finale, Suspicious Minds
            The word on The One spread quickly. They were the most versatile group to come down the pike in recent memory.  Their combination of old school soul and original material, 2Door’s Rap For Jesus was singled out, made them an almost overnight sensation.  Before long they were a featured concert act, and then, after signing an album deal with Columbia, a headlining act.  They generated a lot media interest and part of it may have been their inclusion of the Elvis material.  It was always remarked upon in reviews and articles about the band.  Without a doubt, The One was too good to believe.
            Into their second year as a chart topping musical group, they were staying at an airport hotel waiting to catch their flight for the beginning of their European tour.  It was the day before New Year’s Eve.  Alonzo had popped into Willis’ suite and found him sitting on the couch watching an old movie on the big screen TV. 
            “I’m about to head down to get a bite to eat.  You interested?”
            “Naw, I’m good.”  Willis now sported a goatee.  Charlie teased him that it looked like a rusty ring around a bathroom drain, but it actually made him look older and distinguished, fitting his role as musical director and record producer for the band.
            Alonzo turned to leave.
            “Hey, Alonzo, I got a question.  You’re an educated man.”
            Alonzo rolled his eyes and tilted his head.  “Moderately so.  Why?”
            Willis pointed to the big screen.  A gang of Elvis impersonators were jumping from an airplane.  “When you got more than one Elvis, would that be ‘Elvises’ or is it more correct to say ‘Elvi?’”
            Alonzo let go of a chuckle.  “I see what you’re getting at.  I guess if you’re referring to more than one Elvis, then ‘Elvises’ is probably right.  But if you’re talking about all the Elvis impersonators and enthusiasts, worldwide, then collectively they might be called the ‘Elvi.’”
            Willis nodded.  “Watching this movie makes me think about old Double D.”  He was silent for a moment.  “You know if it hadn’t been for that Elvis runt we wouldn’t be flying over to Paris to play at the big New Year’s Musical Extravaganza.”
            “You’re right there,” Alonzo agreed.
            “He gave us all a gift by bringing us together to make music.”
            “Yes, a gift,” said Alonzo, and chuckled softly, “gift of the Elvi.”
           
And that’s pretty much the story of how The One came together as a group and their fairy tale skyrocket to stardom.  Their continued popularity eclipsed that of many big name celebrities and relegated them to opening acts.  They were honored at the Grammys and the MTV Music Awards.  2Door’s near operatic version of Curtis Mayfield’s We People Who Are Darker Than Blue shot straight to the top of the charts and was credited with renewing interest in Mayfield’s music.  As was Charlie’s sensational rendition of Sparkle, from the movie of the same name, performed on roller skates on the concert stage.  The choreographed roller ballet bass solo climaxing with Charlie doing a hockey stop at the mike and coming back in with the opening lines to the chorus, “I sparkle,” drove audiences wild.  It helped that the lighting crew had rigged a laser to hit her diamond studded grill as she held the note while sparks of refracted light appeared to burst from her mouth.  Their showmanship was unsurpassed.  They became the darlings of the entertainment media, especially after Charlie and Veejay had a big hit with the song they wrote for their baby daughter. 2Door was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Album in a new category for his gospel rap solo album, Tar Baby Jesus, as was Bart Willis for Best Producer.
            The One was nothing but news.  However, being in the public eye invites scrutiny.  An enterprising reporter for the big New York music magazine got curious about Alonzo’s opening dedication to the band’s Elvis medley and decided to find out more about this Double D.  Without leaving his keyboard he learned that DeWayne Dooley, winner of a mega million dollar lotto jackpot, had died in a suspicious car fire, DNA positively identifying his remains, and that investigators had concluded that the fire was a result of a leaky gas tank.  An interesting side note was that Dooley had willed a portion of his winnings to be divided equally among his relatives which had ignited a deadly family feud of Hatfield McCoy proportions.  The remaining millions had simply vanished.  The FBI and Secret Service would not comment.

So it was in Madrid a few years later, the afternoon before their concert at the soccer arena that Alonzo, in consternation and disbelief, demanded “What you talking about, Willis?”
            Willis was standing at the door to Alonzo’s hotel room, grinning like the cat what ate the canary.  He repeated, “Double D is back,” and with a tilt of his head indicated his room across the hall.  “Follow me.”
            Seated on the couch in Willis’s suite was a diminutive figure with a black Cordoban hat perched on the back of a head of messy grey curls.  Sparse sideburns trickled down to below his ears and a pencil thin moustache adorned his upper lip.  There was no mistaking the smile, though, it was Double D all right, just the shape of his face had been rearranged to make it not so long and thin. 
            When Alonzo got over his shock they shook hands and after a little hesitation, embraced.  “We thought you were dead,” seemed like an obvious thing to say but that’s all he could come up with. 
            Double D nodded, smiled, then got serious.  “I guess I owe you fellahs an explanation.”  He turned his eyes to the left as if looking for a place to start.  “I never told y’all how I came by that lottery ticket, did I.”
            It was an old friend, Aaron by name, a gambler and a fellow Elvis re-enactor – they didn’t use the word ‘impersonator’ among themselves – had him hold a lottery ticket as collateral on a loan, insisting that it was the winning number.  Nobody takes a lottery ticket as collateral, but he was an old friend.  Aaron was shot dead in the robbery of a high stakes backroom poker game a few days later.  Double D would have forgotten all about the lottery ticket but the radio and the TV wouldn’t shut up about how no one had come forward to claim the mega million jackpot so he went to take a look and sure enough he had the winning ticket.  He sat on that ticket for a couple of months wondering what to do.  By all rights, that money belonged to Aaron.  Then it hit him like a bolt out of the blue.  He would claim the prize and use the money to honor his old friend.  He would put together an Elvis Tribute Band.  And call it The One because Aaron always referred to Elvis as “the one.”
            “That’s where you fellahs come in.”  He said it with a big smile like he was remembering a happy occasion.  “I knew from dealing with other people’s money that there was gonna to be complications.  Right off, the revenuers took their bite even before I got my hands on the prize.”
            He was savvy enough to squirrel his money away in dummy nonprofits, and off shore accounts so that the feds would never touch his money again.  In fact, he would work it so that the government would refund the taxes they had withheld.  All the really big corporations did it.  The other complication he anticipated was his kin. Once they heard that he’d won the Mega Bonanza Jackpot, every Dooley from east Georgia to the Carolina hills would come swarming down looking for a handout. 
            But two things occurred that made him reconsider his original plan.  The first was that he had seriously overestimated his singing ability.  He felt that he had a passable voice when he sang along with his Elvis recordings, but singing with a live band was another matter.  Even with the help of Reverend Byce, the fact was that his voice was hopeless. 
            The other was a Yankee in a silk suit who had come into his office one evening and said that the jackpot belonged to him.  The way he told it, Aaron, whom he derisively called “Mr. Presley,” was to claim the lottery winnings as his proxy and put it in a prearranged bank account.  For his trouble Aaron’s gambling debts would be forgiven.  Well, it was bad enough that the government was taking his money, and that his relatives would be crawling out of the woodwork looking for their share, but here was a total stranger, a Yankee at that, coming around and claiming that the money was his.  The one thing nagging him the whole time he sat on that ticket, why Aaron had been so dead sure it was the winning number, suddenly became very clear.  Somehow the lottery had been rigged and sitting in the chair in his office was someone who probably had a hand in it.  But Double D knew enough to play possum when dealing with a man wearing alligator shoes. He told the Yankee exactly what he wanted to hear.  Considering the circumstances, it was best that he not get in the middle of Aaron and the man’s arrangement.  He would turn over the money but it would take time to close out all the accounts he had set up.  The Yankee gave him a week.
            And to complicate matters even more, his twin, Wayne, showed up with the ridiculous idea that he could claim all the money as next of kin by having DeWayne declared incompetent.  And Wayne was just the tip of the dysfunctional Dooley family iceberg.  Soon anyone even remotely related to the Dooley’s began arriving in their broken down campers and pick-up trucks with their crossed eyed brats and mongrels and set up camp on the grounds of Old Dixie. 
            After a week, the Yankee’s demands for the money started sounding more like death threats.  But he wasn’t worried because he was now protected by the Dooley militia and any stranger coming onto the property uninvited would most likely be hit on, barked at, shit at, or shot at.  Of course the squabbling among the kin who now suspected, and rightfully so, that Wayne was trying to grab all the money for himself was threatening to escalate into something more serious, like shooting.  And the fact that there were probably more outstanding warrants, parole violations, and child support delinquents per acre on the grounds of Old Dixie than in the entire State had everyone looking over their shoulder.  When the handout they were expecting didn’t materialize, the Dooley’s and near-Dooley’s pulled up stakes and headed back to the hills and hollars where they’d come from. That just left Wayne and his cockamamie idea about having his twin committed, drunk on everclear, bouncing around the now empty mansion, the departing Dooley’s, fond of souvenirs, having pretty much cleared out all the Elvis memorabilia along with most of the furniture. 
            Double D had already decided by then that he had to disappear. He felt bad about abandoning The One but he didn’t see any other options.  He certainly wasn’t going to be handing the money over to any Yankee.  His kin, on the other hand, deserved a share of his good fortune and the trust fund he set up in the family name was to serve that purpose.
            “I was already in my hotel in Montevideo when I saw the news item on the satellite TV that said I was dead.  I was traveling on the passport of a dear departed client I’d had kept on my books just in case I ever needed to change my identity.  When you do business with the government, it’s always a good idea to have an escape plan.  I felt bad about Wayne, but him being id’d as me effectively covered my tracks.”  Double D paused to purse his lips and wrinkle his brow.  “You know that old Cadillac hadn’t been turned over in years.  I don’t know how it got in a ditch five miles down the levee road. And whatever gasoline was in the tank had evaporated long ago.”
            Soon after that, Double D made a trip to Rio and had a plastic surgeon square up his jaw and tweak his nose. He got himself a Uruguayan passport under the name of Juan Del Hielo and kicked around South America and Asia for a while, establishing himself as a business consultant.  He’d been living in Spain, on the Costa Brava, for the last couple of years.
            “You know, I learned something interesting in my travels,” he said finally to break the stunned silence of his incredulous listeners.  “There are Elvis enthusiasts in just about every country I’ve been to, and they’re some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
            Willis put his arm around Double D’s shoulder, “Now, who do you think he looks like?” 
            Alonzo shook his head unsure of what was being asked. 
            “Somebody famous.  Take a good look.”  Double D beamed a big grin.
            Alonzo tilted his head one way and then the other and shook his head.  “If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that swashbuckling cat from the old movies.”
            “Swashbuckling cat?”
            “You know, the swordfighter guy, Flynn somebody.”
            “What you talking about, Alonzo? He looks just like Bob Dylan!”
            “Bob Dylan!  No way, Bob Dylan has hair all the way out to here!”  Alonzo held his hands a distance from either side of his head.
            Willis laughed.  “That’s the young Bob Dylan.  Old Bob Dylan looks like this.”  Willis held up his smart phone to show him the picture.
            Alonzo looked at the image and then at Double D and then back.  Maybe.  If Bob Dylan had been zapped by a shrink ray and an ugly ray at the same time, there might be some resemblance.
            The reunion with the original members of the band was joyful, to say the least. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, of course.  Double D told them he’d been keeping an eye on their rise to stardom.  He was right proud of their success, and truly humbled and grateful that they had included an Elvis tribute in their show.   Double D, now Senor Del Heilo, joined the band on tour whenever he could.  He might be seen in the wings or off to the side by a big amplifier with a tambourine or maracas dancing, in the groove, in perfect rhythm, and if it was possible, The One played even better when he was there.  Of course his presence didn’t go unnoticed.  Inevitably a fan with a smart phone would take a grainy video of the little man bouncing and dancing off to one side of the set and send it to the entertainment news claiming that here was proof that Bob Dylan was indeed backstage with The One. The news item was invariably followed by vehement denials from Mr. Dylan’s publicist.
           

 

::TOC::

Not Enough Night
Not Enough Night
© 2012 Naropa University