The Gin Blossoms: Memphis in the meantime

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The Gin Blossoms: Follow You Down
The Gin Blossoms: Memphis in the meantime

Sometimes just getting to a gig can be a mission -- and I don't mean waiting for a cab to get you across town. My cab arrived exactly on time, it was the rest of it which was haywire.

Just as the taxi pulled into the driveaway to take me to the airport so did the courier with my airline tickets and rock'n'roll itinerary for a sprint around the US doing interviews and seeing shows. The first gig would be in Memphis and that was cool, I'd never been before and so it would be Sun Studios, Graceland, Stax if I had time . . .

It wasn't until I was on the plane with a drink in hand that I could read what the record company involved had scheduled from my suggestions (Ornette Coleman and Yoko Ono in New York, a gig by Black Grape etc).

I knew the first stop would be Memphis but I hadn't quite factored in how bad the journey there would be: Auckland to LA, two hours on the ground then fly to Minneapolis/St Paul (look on a map, it's waaaay north of Memphis) then sit there for a few hours and finally down to Memphis arriving at about 10pm. We were fortunately booked into a Memphis motel near the airport.

My partner and I looked at this trip, added some numbers together to get the flying hours + airport lounge figure . . . and then called the steward and got doubles. It was going to be a nightmare.

When we finally got to Memphis our motel, where we arrived at midnight to find the desk empty and had to wake the clerk, was mercifully close to the airport  -- but of course a motel directly beneath a flight path doesn't guarantee much sleep.

We were awake from about 5am when the really big jumbos rolled overhead.

No matter, we were in Memphis! So we grabbed a cab and went to Graceland for a while and then on to Sun Studios. The gig I had to be at wasn't until the very late afternoon at some university campus.

After Sun we ambled down the road, bought some cigarettes in a very cool old tobacco store from an even older black guy who coughed his lungs across the counter at me, and looked around for another cab.

There weren't any in this particularly run-down part of town. We walked and walked along deserted streets where broken glass from windows and rubbish was strewn across the footpath. No cabs nowhere.

Finally we went into a small store where the folks looked at us kinda shifty: we were white, bedraggled, tired and clearly out of our usual world.

Maybe it was our accents but one of the oldest of the old black guys was sympathetic and called a friend over who said he could take us to the university place for about $20. Time was running out and I had interview scheduled so we grabbed at it.

We got into a battered vehicle (c1956) with one door falling off (mine, he told me to just hold tight to the handle to keep it closed) and away we splutteredd -- to god knows where.

My partner in the back asked if she could smoke and he howled and grumbled.

"Nope, I don't want none of your caaaan-sirrr," he snapped then hunched unhappily over the wheel.

We drove for what seemed like an age through streets that weren't quite what I imagined a university district to be like but eventually got to our destination. Money and handshakes were exchanged.ginblossoms1

I arrived just in time to see the band take the stage and figured I could catch them later for the interview.

At a guess we had been either in planes, airports or cars for about 35 of the last 45 hours and had managed about six hours sleep. We were knocked out.

We drank beer to keep awake, listlessly watched the band and then later I had a chat to them backstage. They were feeling up after the gig but I could barely keep my eyes open.

I swear, at one point I forgot completely who they were.

They were in fact the Gin Blossoms and their sole New Zealand hit -- and a minor one at that -- had been the powerpop rocker Follow You Down.

By the time I got back to New Zealand a month later no one was interested in them or the story I had got.

I never wrote a word about them.

That, however was just the first day on what proved to be an arduous tour of duty in the service of rock'n'roll. The following day we flew to New York, crashed for a few hours, and then flew to Vermont to see Joan Osborne. But that's another story.  

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