Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Elvis, Rhonda and Conway Twitty
I’ll never be able to listen to Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fitting Jeans” without thinking of the McCloud River Inn, where I heard it for the first time.
When I woke up that morning in October of 1984, I had no idea I would be at the McCloud River Inn that night. My friend Paul De Lay and I were going on a long fishing weekend, and the plan was to camp at Ah Di Na Meadows along the McCloud River, twelve miles up a dirt road from the last trace of civilization. But as we drove north on Interstate 5 that morning, menacing clouds were moving in from the north.
Heading into the mountains outside Redding it began to rain, and as we gained elevation, it began to snow. By the time we reached the turnoff to McCloud, it was clear that camping, or even getting to Ah Di Na Meadows on that treacherous road was out of the question.
Mid-afternoon, driving gingerly to stay in the tire grooves through a couple of inches of snow on the road (it was so early in the season I hadn’t thought to bring chains) we made it to the town of McCloud and rented a cabin at a deserted motor court. After a couple of restless hours, we decided to walk through town and see where we could have dinner.
Which is how we ended up being half the population of the bar at the McCloud River Inn that night. As we had our pre-dinner drinks, the place was still as a tomb, and the music came through loud and clear. When “Tight Fitting Jeans” came on, Paul and I looked at each other, and we knew. This was the song that would define the trip.
Another country song forever associated with a time and place is Barbara Mandrell’s “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” In September 1978 I was doing a photography trip in the western prairie section. For three days, as I drove from the Texas panhandle into Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, the one station I could get clearly and consistently was the megawatt KFDI Big Country, Wichita. They played Sleeping Single all the time, and more than 30 years later, I can still sing most of it by heart.
About the time I was hired at the newspaper where I worked for two decades, the Eagles came out with “Witchy Woman,” a huge hit. The Salinas rock/pop station I listened to at the time seemed to play it almost every morning between 7:40 and 8, as I was driving to work. Every time I hear it now, I feel, for a few seconds, as if I am 22 or 23 again, with my life in front of me. If only that could be bottled.
Last week I got a new car (how it happened is another story), with Sirius Radio, which I’d never had. Saturday night I went out to run a couple of errands and tried Sirius for the first time, checking out Cousin Brucie’s Sixties music show.
On the way to the gas station, Rhonda from Saskatchewan called in and requested Elvis’s “Rubberneckin,’” which Brucie played. Before he did, he asked, since Rhonda was calling while on a road trip (I hope she was the passenger), that everyone driving a car or truck honk twice. Traffic was light, so I did, and that imprinted this song as well, as the one that will be forever linked with Sirius and the new car.
Thank you, Rhonda. I’ll never forget you.