The Bomb Shelter Boogie and Little Richard
One time years ago some folks were in from England. They were on a tour of N.C. and wanted to take in some local culture before going to MerleFest.
They must have had good contacts, ’cause they asked around and wound up at a place in Statesville called Perry’s Auction Barn. The owner, Tim Perry, used to play with a band called Carolina Crossfire.
The Auction Barn was on a spare budget; I recall old coffee cans rigged up to serve as stage spotlights. Instead, they put their money into the performers. Tim brought a lot of fine music to N.C.; folks like the Scene, Lost and Found, and Larry Sparks. One night Rhonda Vincent came through. She put on quite an energetic show. My wife thought her clothes were just a bit snug for a bluegrasser, though. Marfar didn’t raise no dummy Doctor; I agreed with her 100%.
The night the group from England was there we were the opening act. I believe it was for Sparks. Anyway, they asked Tim where they could find a good jam session. He pointed at me. “See that fellow in the shirt with the pineapples on it? That’s Dr. B. Ask him.”
They took his advice, and we struck up a friendship. I invited them to the Bomb Shelter, a bluegrass hangout I knew well. As luck would have it, Charlie Waller was there that night. Darin Aldridge was his mandolin player, and the Country Gentlemen had stopped at Darin’s house for the day. Darin invited the boys to the session. As you can imagine, our new friends decided they had hit the bluegrass mother lode. Charlie was elderly at the time, but his voice was as rich as ever.
Everything in bluegrass comes full circle. Not long ago it was the official last night of spring; the last session inside the Bomb Shelter proper before owner Jack Barber closes it for the summer, when we move outside to the Cabin. A lot of the same crowd was there. Charlie is gone of course, and he will forever be missed. What a voice.
I had a med student with me. ‘Little Richard’ as we call him, had tagged along for the night. Just like Dr. Peter Temple who mentored me, you can an ‘A’ in my rotation if you do right by the patients, but to get an ‘A+’ you have to do that and also take in bluegrass culture.
We parked the truck in the field, and walked down towards the Shelter. Jack and the boys had a bonfire going in a fifty gallon drum. The fire crackled and the sparks drifted up and disappeared in the night air.
“Still a bit of a chill, huh Jack?”
“Yeah, Doc. The last night of spring. Gonna move to the Cabin next week.”
“Ah Lawd.” Another winter come and gone. “The field is full. Lot of good pickers?”
“Yes sir, Doc. Good session sure enough. “Who you got with you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. This is Little Richard.”
“Some R ‘n B tonight?”
“Oh no, not the same one. He’s a med student. We want to get him to come back here someday.”
“What kind Doctor you wanna be?”
“You follow old Doc then. He knows all us country people.”
Jack threw a few more logs on the fire. “Good to have you, son. Before you leave, make sure you sign the wall. And if anyone asks where this is just say, “You can’t there from here.”
We ducked through the door and went inside. A doghouse bass thumped away. It was Sealtest; I knew his rhythm anywhere.
Moose Dooley kicked off ‘Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee.” I got my mandolin out of the case, tuned up, and caught the baritone on the first chorus. “Little girl of mine in Tennessee…I know she’s waiting there for me….”
Stacy flatpicked the opening lines of ‘Freight Train Boogie.’ Some well known N.C. pickers like Buddy Wrong and Dr. Dean Jenkins were there, along with national mandolin sensation Darin Aldridge. Sealtest, who has toured with several groups held down the bass. Moose Dooley wore out the five string.
I hadn’t picked with Tim Perry since the Auction Barn quit doing shows, but there he was along with his old bandmate ‘Fangers’ Lynch. Fangers played with Brushy Creek years ago, and the band finished second in the country to Radio Flyer back then in the Pizza Hut Showdown. Rumor has it they managed to outdo a very young girl named Alison Krauss, at least for that one day anyway.
At one point ‘Fangers’ did ‘Sea of Heartbreak,’ a tune I’ve loved for years. “You know, it’s hard to beat an old Don Gibson song,” I said.
There was some young fellow there learning the guitar under Fanger’s tutelage. He scrunched up his face and scratched his head. “Gee Doc,” he said. “I thought that one came from Carolina Crossfire.”
Bless Fanger’s heart, he gave credit where it was due, and told the young man they learned it from Don Gibson. It was good to see all those guys. We’ve all run in the same Carolinas bluegrass circle for many years. And as the song says, it will never be broken. God bless every one of ’em. My life was much richer for knowing them.
Little Richard signed the wall before we left. On the way home I asked him, “Hey man, you remember how we got to the Bomb Shelter?”
He lit a cigar and took a puff. “Can’t get there from here, Doc.”
“Son, you are gonna make one more fine country Doctor. I gotta get you to come back here and look after me in the Nursing Home some day.”
“Dr. Bibey, it’d be an honor. That Moose Dooley, he can pick the fire outta that banjo, huh?”
“And did you hear Fangers sing ‘Oh Lonesome Me?'”
“Good Lord have mercy that was the saddest thing I ever heard in my life….”
“Yep. I don’t think Little Richard himself could sing the blues any better than that.”
“Hey, that girl today with the negative mono test? How come you put her on Vibramycin? She didn’t recall a tick bite.”
“Her rash was suspicious. She went camping with her boyfriend two weeks ago. The Mama was in the room with her. I thought she hesitated. I wasn’t sure she told me the truth.”
“Why didn’t you just do a blood test for spotted fever?”
“Hell boy, by the time I get those tests back from the State I’ve either cured her or she’s dead.”
“Ain’t you worried she’s pregnant?
“Temple Law. Good work, son. She’s been reliable on the pill. She said her last period was two weeks ago.”
“Yeah, well she mighta fibbed about that too.”
“Maybe. But you know that urinalysis I ran?
“Yeah it was negative. No infection.”
“Look here, Mr. R ‘n B, I ran a pregnancy test too.”
“Negative I take it?
“Damn Bibey. You’re a sneaky rascal.”
“I haven’t stayed out of trouble in this business for three decades by being a dumba^^. Temple’s Law. Don’t forget it.”
“A woman is pregnant till proved otherwise.”
“Correct. You’ll never x-ray a pregnant lady. ‘A+’ son, A+.”
I stopped at the Quick Pik to get a Co-Cola and some nabs. “Want anything?”
“No thanks, Doc. I’m good.” Little Richard blew some smoke out the window and smiled. Maybe this country Doc gig wasn’t glamorous, but it sure was real.