Mid-September of 1974. I was meeting friends at the Bottom Line for a Waylon Jennings show. Yes, for a New York City boy, I was Country before Country was cool. Blame Buck Owen's lead guitarist, Don Rich, on the first season of Hee Haw. I had simply never seen or heard guitar playing like that in my life and he was using a Telecaster, just like the ones my parents had bought me for Christmas, 1966. I also lost my mind for Tammy Wynette that year, to this day my favorite female vocalist. That face, that voice.
Anyway, I hadn't dressed for a Waylon gig. I was in a sartorial phase that mixed Led Zeppelin with New York Dolls, NYC and Brit Glam. Close to, but, not quite outright transvestitism (see here for a full description of my look). Most of you have probably heard of the Bottom Line. Among the many stars who performed there, it was the New York City joint where Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Dire Straits, Tom Waits, along with dozens of others, got their launch -- a hugely important venue in New York City's music history.
To get the full flavor of this story, I should describe the joint. The Bottom Line was much wider than deep, maybe 40 by 100. It sat about 500. The stage was about 4 feet high, long and shallow. All the tables were set up like a family style restaurant. Long rows of perpendicularly (to the stage) lined up tables that held anywhere from 6 to 10 seats on either side, depending on where they were situated. The smaller 12 seat tables were down front. The longer 18 - 20 seat tables were behind the one parallel (to the stage) aisle that cut through the center of the club, the long way.
For reasons I can't recall, I've gotten to this Waylon gig late. The lights were starting to dim while I was still looking for my friends who were supposed to be saving me a seat. I found them right down front, but with no seat for me. They all shrugged apologetically, "We tried to save you a seat but management wouldn't let us." The guys who ran the club were hard-asses and the waitresses were even tougher. The place was flat-out wall-to-wall sold out. I was screwed! Waylon's band was walking onstage. The house lights had gone out.
Suddenly, I heard a loud piercing hail-a-cab-in-the-movies whistle directly behind me. I turned around and discovered that I was standing directly in front of a 20 seat table that was entirely inhabited by Hell's Angels along with about 4 or 5 of their mamas.
All the Hell's Angels were wearing shades, mostly mirrored. I gestured abject apologies for blocking their view and started to vamoose, but, the Angel who'd whistled, sitting at the only chair that faced the stage at the very back of this 20-seat table, gestured to me that he had the one last empty seat in the club, right next to him. "C'mon, bro," he waved toward the empty chair.
I gulped and gestured a polite and wimpy "Thanks, but, no thanks". He languidly lifted his sunglasses to the top of his longhaired head so I could see his eyes. Oh man, this guy was granite shark cold. He again gestured to the empty seat with what I can only describe as a command!
Oh, shit! I hesitated about a second and, then, realizing I really had no choice, slowly started making my way back to the empty chair, with the other Hell's Angels having to pull their chairs in to let me by. Their looks of incredulity and disgust were wide open.
The inviting Angel was clearly the main man, because he just held up his hand and they all backed off but continued to glare at me as I sat down next to The Man. I was now sitting opposite one of the Mamas, who was just stunning, looking like a sullen cross between Cindy Crawford and maybe Teri Hatcher. I clearly remember her fabulous face. Our eyes met, she smiled at me, I smiled at her. Her boyfriend Angel next to her saw this little exchange, leaned forward and growled at me, "What the fuck are you looking at?" I stammered apologies. The Mama shrugged and decided she was better off ignoring me. I started breathing again.
Waylon had just started his first song. The band sounded absolutely wonderful. Blues loose, digging in! Waylon was nonchalantly sending out waves of Ultra Macho Charisma. The head Angel next to me lit a joint, took a pull, and passed it to me first. I gestured that I appreciated the offer but... The head Angel put the joint under my nose, again, a command. I took it from him and, just to make sure I didn't offend him again, I made a small production out of taking a deeeep toke, and passed it to the Angel who had just wanted to kill me for digging his Mama.
As I was holding the smoke in, I became aware of the fact that my throat and all the way down to my lungs felt cold like I'd inhaled a menthol Newport or Kool. Oh... My... God... I had just been dosed with angel dust (no pun intended here), a wicked, wicked drug I'd had a few times, but had permanently and vehemently given up years before. In fact, I hadn't had an angel dust experience since the day I'd caught Pete Townshend's guitar at The Metropolitan Opera House four years earlier
Within 30 seconds, Waylon and his band were a mile away, two-dimensional, my visual perception shot to hell. If you have ever been dusted, you know what I'm talking about. I was completely blasted. Ripped to the point of feeling disconnected from the planet. I looked around the table and now at least four of the Hell's Angels were no longer watching the show onstage; they were staring at me with raw menace. I turned to look at the Big Boss Angel and he was now looking at me the same way.
I stood up (very carefully). Boss Angel demanded, "Where the fuck you goin'?"
"I gotta pee, I'll be right back."
I squeezed past the other Hell's Angels and wobbled the motherfuck outta The Bottom Line. But, I did really dig that one song I saw Waylon perform. I think.