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Hometown Blues Band Resurrects

         The Old Red Carriage

The Lost Weekend

by Billy Barner    ©2023

In 1968 I joined the band Hometown Blues Band. The band at that time consisted of Doug on keys and vocals, Curt on tenor and alto sax, flute and vocals, BJ on lead guitar and me on drums and vocals. We had bass players come and go. We played all around the local area for the year of 1968 at places like The Evergreen Ballroom, Lou’s Place, The Fort Lewis and McChord Officer’s Clubs, The Bremerton Naval Base NCO Club, The Jinx Tavern, The Flame, The Exit, The Hi Hat, etc. but bookings were too far between and we needed something more steady and frequent.

 

We didn’t want 1969 to be as slow booking-wise. We were looking for a place where we could be the house band.

 

The story begins:

 

It is a warm spring day in 1969 when Doug and I drive by an old club/tavern on Tacoma Avenue in Tacoma, Washington, located directly across the street from The Tacoma Public Library. Though we’ve never been in it, we both know the place has been there for like a hundred years. The club is called The Red Carriage. We decide to go in and check it out. (Remember, this is 1969 and Doug and I are long haired hippy musicians.)

 

As we enter, the place is empty of people, except for the bartender behind the bar and one disheveled, homeless looking male patron sitting at the bar having a glass of wine. The smell of the place is that of a musty mixture of a hundred years of tobacco smoke and stale beer with the faint hint of Pine Sol. This place is a very old night club. The bar, with an ornate antique bar-back, is located just inside the front entrance and runs along the full length of the wall to our left. There is a small 1950’s style tube TV mounted to the ceiling in the far corner of the bar.

 

Just beyond that is a hallway leading to the restrooms, a closet and a back office. [Sometime later we find that at the very end of this hall is a rear exit door that opened out to a rusty iron staircase with multiple landings winding down three stories to the alley below.] (I digress, but there is yet another story that involves this stairway).

 

To the right, as we enter the facility is another large room. It is a cabaret room. This is exactly what we are looking for.

 

We head into the cabaret room and as we do, the bar tender shouts out in a loud voice ” That part of the bar is closed!” We just keep walking into that room without turning around or responding in any way. Eventually I shout back asking the bartender “Do you ever have live music in here?” He replies “ There hasn’t been entertainment in this place for decades and I’m not the least bit interested in having live music!” I ask “Well, why not?” He says “Because for one, I don’t do enough business to pay for a band, and two, the stage is too small, it faces the bar and live music would be too loud for the bartender.” I reply, “You mean live music might prevent you from hearing that ONE customer of yours ordering another wine?” He chuckles. We continue on in to this room, further investigating.

 

There is a ton of potential here! It has a large oak hardwood dance floor (the dance floor is in surprisingly good condition) and at the very back of that dark room we see lots of tables and chairs just piled up on top of each other. There is a small stage built on the far side wall facing directly at the bar across the way. There is another front entry door in the wall facing Tacoma Avenue that is boarded up permanently shut and locked. All of this is just sitting in this dark empty space gathering dust and going to waste. “Are you guys musicians?” he asks. “Yeah” we reply. I continue saying, ”Ya know, with the right band here in this room you could really bolster your business!” He reply’s, ” Sorry, but my ONE customer here and I can’t afford ‘the right band!’

 

We chuckle as we walked back toward the bar where there is a pool table. We introduce ourselves. He is the owner and his name is Dave Smith.

 

We order a couple of beers and rack up the balls on the pool table. We are both rotten pool players, but we are just trying to break the ice by breaking the pool balls. One of us break the pool balls as the one lonely patron pays up and leaves.

 

Dave asks about what kind of band we have. We tell him about Hometown Blues Band.

 

It takes two beers each and close to an hour to finally put all the balls in the pockets of this one 25 cent game, but we get better acquainted with Dave in the process and that is our purpose. It turns out that this was the beginning of a friendship that will last for decades to come.

 

We pay for the beers thank Dave and go back outside. (Not to leave), but to talk about a strategy to win this guy over and have him hire Hometown Blues Band as the house band. After about 20 minutes or so of strategizing we have derived a proposal we hope he can’t refuse.

 

We go back inside with our “brilliant” scheme.

 

We state our reason for being here and tell him we have a proposition to offer him.

 

Dave Smith is a friendly fellow, but sort of an odd fellow, too. He seems very suspicious of us, but he invites us into his back office to talk.

 

Now in the office, Dave asks us to have a seat as he walks around his desk and sits down behind it.

 

As he is seating himself, he simultaneously reaches down and pulls open the side desk drawer, extracting a nickle plated .38 Special and sets it on the desk while asking us what our proposition is. We are a bit taken back by the gun, but it is understandable being he doesn’t know us from Adam and this is a seedy part of town.

 

So we lay out our proposition.

 

Our proposal is that we will come in and clean up that old cabaret. We will dust off and clean the tables and chairs and put them in back place again.

We will demolish the old stage and build a brand new larger stage (of our design) relocating it to the wall at the front of the room that faces the back of the cabaret room instead of facing the bar, if he will hire us to play there on Friday and Saturday nights as the house band and allow us to be able to rehearse there one day per week.

 

VICTORY!  Dave bites!

 

We all agree that Dave will supply all the building materials, we will supply the labor at no charge and he will hire Hometown Blues Band and pay the band $100 per week starting out until we build the crowd up enough for him to afford to pay us more.

 

Doug and I start the work and complete it the next day or two. A beautiful large stage with a built in drum riser and fully carpeted. The room is fully lit up and the cleaned up tables and chairs are positioned in place just off of the hardwood dance floor.

 

Dave becomes down right excited when he sees it!

 

We start playing that weekend.

 

I remember at the beginning of each Friday and Saturday night coming in and ordering a small glass of MD2020 Loganberry wine, a small aluminum foil nut dish with a minuscule number of Cashews in it and a beer sausage. This miniature meal costs me $4.00. At $8.00 per weekend, that leaves me about $17.00 for the rest of the week.

 

Each Saturday night after we finish playing, Dave has us come into his office to pay us. And each time he pulls that .38 Special pistol out from the drawer and sets it on the desk as he doles out our measly $100.00.

 

We hit Dave up for a raise many times, but he always refuses. So one day we just QUIT!

 

Side note: We repeatedly quit and came back for a small pay increases numerous times over the next 3 years. Each time we quit, Dave would call a few weeks later and ask us back) The attendance on Friday and Saturday nights grew over time and our pay did increase, but not at the same ratio as the growing customer attendance we were achieving.

I don’t think we never got paid more than $300.00 per weekend for our whole 4 sometimes 5 piece band.

Red Carriage building in 2022 has been remodeled photo by Julia Barker.jpg

Photo of the entrance to what used to be The Red Carriage in the 1960’s through the mid 1970’s. The Cabaret portion is of equal size to the right outside the frame of this photo. It has since been remodeled and turned into offices.

Photo taken by Julia Barker in 2022.

Me (Billy Barner) at rehearsal, playing my drums on the new stage we built at The Red Carriage in 1968. Photo taken by Sharon Gibson. (Later to become Sharon Barner in 1970).

  The Lost Weekend

(Continued from Hometown Blues Band Resurrects The Old Red Carriage)

by Billy Barner

 

Preface: This is a warning to anyone toying with the idea of experimenting with drugs or starting to hang around with people who involve themselves with drugs. This story took place in Spring 1969. Back then, Sharon, now my wife of over 50 years and I had been courting since 1966. Sharon and I met in college that year. I was a musician, still living at home with my parents. I was clean cut , didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. I had just been sworn in to the Naval Reserves (to avoid getting drafted into the Army) and I was about to be shipped off to San Diego to Navy Boot Camp. Sharon was a really good and sensible girl, she did not drink, smoke or do drugs at all either. She was TOTALLY into her career to become a successful commercial artist. In 1968 I was diagnosed with being prediabetic and was Honorably discharged swiftly from the Navy for medical reasons. Now a civilian again, I got an apartment with a musician friend in an old Dutch Colonial Style Triplex across the street from University of Puget Sound. At that time the Hippy movement was in full swing. Everyone seemed to be smoking pot, taking acid, snorting coke. It was the hip thing to do (especially for Rock musicians) I stopped cutting my hair and started sampling some of these drugs like marijuana, LSD, speed. I never tried Heroin (thank God). Sharon was a tremendously talented artist. She loved fashion and the Hippy movement days were an artists dreamworld. Sharon (who always remained drug free) did not require the influence of anything but her natural artistic talent to design the coolest Psychedelic Posters for Local concerts featuring National acts like The Turtles, Moby Grape, and The Magic Fern as well as the most popular local bands like Emergency Exit, The Fabulous Wailers and The Sonics. Sharon would design and fabricate band clothes for me. Elaborate pants, shirts, even jackets. On the occasion of this story, I was wearing a pair of hip huger bell bottom jeans that Sharon had spent hours tricking out with colorful psychedelic appliques of fabrics and bangles and studs making them really hip looking. Sharon had graduated from college and was well established working as the commercial artist in the ad department at People’s Store in downtown Tacoma. Sharon and I had a date to go out on that Friday evening you’ll read about later in this story.

 

The story continues....

 

Okay, so we’ve quit! That means we no longer have The Red Carriage to rehearse in and besides, we need to rehearse more than one day per week.

 

During one of the weekend nights we are playing at The Red Carriage just prior to us quitting, we have a talk with three bikers we had met several months before scoring the Red Carriage gig at a biker bar we played at frequently called Lou’s Place out on Mountain Highway in Spanaway. One of these guys had previously worked construction with Doug’s brother. We mention to them that we are going to stop playing at The Red Carriage soon and we are looking for a new place to rehearse. They enthusiastically offer to provide their house for us to rehearse in. SWEET!

 

They are all single guys in there early to mid twenties. Their names are Electric Frank, Indian John and Rick Star. Electric Frank is about six feet tall, very thin and lanky with a big reddish blonde wiry Afro that looks like he’s stuck his finger in an electrical outlet. (I’m pretty sure this is one reason for the name “Electric” Frank. Indian John looks like the Native American actor Will Sampson that played Chief Bromden in the later released movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest only Indian John is more muscular and handsome. Rick Star is also a big guy with shoulder length blond hair and a bushy foo-man-choo mustache. Rick is the one who worked construction with Doug’s brother. As I said, we had met them at the biker bar in Spanaway called Lou’s Place. They love the band and come to allot of our gigs. So we know they are bikers. What we don’t know (but would later find out) is that they are possibly the most prolific drug dealers in the State of Washington at this time, with ties to the Hell’s Angeles.

 

The three live together in a house on top of the bluff in North East Tacoma.

 

The day we are to move all our gear out there and rehearse at the bikers house is a Friday. I have a date with Sharon this evening, so I plan on rehearsing till about 4 pm so I can meet Sharon for our date. Our gear is already packed up in the vehicles and we move it all out to the North East Tacoma house, arriving around 12 noon.

 

To get there, we have to turn left off from the main road and drive along very loooong twisting and winding dirt driveway that winds up and down a couple of steep gulches to the house on the crest of the 600 foot high Cliff that overlooks the tide flats and The City of Tacoma.

 

The house is a large rambler about 3,000 square feet with a flat tarred roof. It looks like someone started construction on it some years before but never finished it. It is a Hippy Pad inside. As I enter the house, the smell is a mixture of musty mold, tobacco smoke, wood fireplace ashes, marijuana and incense. Part of the interior walls have drywall but some just have studs with exposed insulation. It has a large kitchen with a huge island in it, a very large living room, a large bathroom and multiple bedrooms and an additional bathroom down the hall, which (that portion), is never seen by me.

 

There is plenty of space in the living room for our complete set up at one end. The Living Room has two very large antique Persian Rugs on the concrete floor. At the opposite end of the living room from where we were to set up, there is a large basalt stone fireplace with ashes spilling out onto the large stone hearth. There’s a huge stereo system next to the fireplace with gigantic speakers and a large, overstuffed rather broken down sofa is placed against a wall near the fireplace. A huge, low, very short legged polyurethane coated wood slab coffee table sits directly in front of the well worn couch. And the table has a mountain of melted wax built up from years of dripping wax candles forming a spectacular sculpture of melted wax drip candles at least a foot and a half tall and there are a couple of dozen candles lit, burning and dripping, adding to the sculpture. It is quite breathtaking. Oh, and there is a futon day bed/couch and a Conga Drum next to the stereo system.

 

As we are setting up, Electric Frank tells us they are squatting there and have illegally hooked up the water and power to the building.

 

He also says they are having some friends from Los Angeles coming by later that day to visit. But not to let that stop us from rehearsing.

 

We start in rehearsing our material when Indian John comes over with a joint and passes it and a bottle of wine around the band.

 

We each take a toke and a swig and kept playing.

 

Soon after this the thundering sound of a group of Harley Davidson motorcycles is heard and keeps getting louder and louder outside as they approach the house, so loud it actually drowned out our music. We figure the guests from Los Angeles have arrived, and we stop playing. The thunder stops as each of the three choppers shut down, followed by loud whoops and hollers from the reuniting of old friends. We go out to see who all the commotion was for.

 

As we walk out towards the front door which enters into the kitchen we see our three hosts walking in accompanied by three Hell’s Angels wearing their colors and their three “Ol’ Ladies”. These are some hardcore looking dudes and dudettes. They are carrying large duffel bags filled with something into the kitchen.

 

Electric Frank introduces us and tells them we’re a really good band, good friends and that we are playing there that day.

 

We are rather uncomfortable being in this situation, but feel relatively safe with our friends Electric Frank, Indian John and Rick Star as our “Chaperons” so to speak.

 

After the intro’s, we leave the reunion in the kitchen and go back in to the living room and start rehearsing again. Soon, Rick Star and a couple of the biker chicks come in with another joint, another bottle of wine and a large bowl of popcorn. They leave all of this for the band, they say “Enjoy, boys!” and they turn and go back to the kitchen. Continuing rehearsal, we pass the doobie and the wine around to each other off and on between songs, and start snacking on the popcorn.

 

Perhaps way too late, I’m realizing that to us this is supposed to be a rehearsal, but to them, this is a PARTY and Hometown Blues Band is the entertainment!

 

Now I notice I’m feeling really buzzed! More buzzed than from a few tokes of pot and a few pulls from a wine bottle.

 

I’m starting to think maybe they have laced either the joint or the wine with something.

 

As I am chewing on the popcorn, something that I think is a popcorn husk gets jammed between two of my teeth. I dig it out with my finger and as I do, a nasty bitter taste permeates my taste buds. I look at what I have pulled out of my teeth. It is a crunched up red white and blue gel capsule with bitter white powder coming out of it. I go into the kitchen and get a glass of water and rinse my mouth out and spit it out into the sink several times.

 

I ask one of the biker chicks what was in the popcorn. She say’s “It’s Tuinal, Honey!”.

 

I ask her, what is Tuinal and why is it in the popcorn? She says it’s a downer and it’s in the wine you’re drinking and in the pot you’re smoking, too!

 

I think, Oh, shit! How much of this do I have in my system? I wonder how many of those capsules I may have swallowed whole while gorging myself with that popcorn.? I know I am way too messed up to drive.

 

By this time I am becoming completely delirious.

 

The newly released Santana’s album self titled “Santana” starts playing on the stereo in the living room. I am now in a state of complete delirium. This drug is coming on stronger and stronger, faster and faster. I’m drawn to the music. I wonder into where the stereo is and the next thing I know, I’m in euphoria, sitting on the Futon with the conga drum between my legs and I’m hammering away like a madman with reckless abandon on the Conga drum to the loud Santana music, completely incoherent to the fact that I had made a date with Sharon this evening.

 

I don’t know how long I’m bashing my hands into this Conga drum, when I gradually realize something feels strangely wrong with my right hand. I stop playing the Conga and look at my right hand. I can’t believe what I’m seeing! I have smashed my Navy ring almost completely flat on my ring finger of my right hand! My finger is twice as thick as it used to be and it is so purple it looks black!

 

I see this mess of a finger, but because of all the Tuinal coursing through my body, I feel no pain. Just a very strange sensation that my finger was no longer part of my body. I realize that I need to get that Navy ring off of my finger! I stand up and stagger my way to the bathroom while tugging at my Navy ring. I get to the bathroom sink and soap up my hand with lots of soap and water as I’m fruitlessly trying to get the ring off.

 

I’m too stoned to be scared or panicky, but I know I have to get this ring off.

 

Suddenly this very large Hell’s Angel walks in to the bathroom. He says “Lemme look at that!” He grabs my right wist and pulls it toward his face. He looks at my hand! Then he says, I’ll take that off for ya!” ... I hear a sound... SHLIIIIINGGGGG! as he pulls a huge glistening Bowie knife from it’s sheath attached to his waist. He’s got my wrist and I’m thinking he’s going to cut off my finger. But I’m not worried about it because I’m stoned out of my freakin’ gourd on Tuinal and I can’t feel a blasted thing! I just say OK... He took that Bowie knife and put the razor sharp tip of that huge knife between the ring and my finger and POP! it went through that silver like butter. He pulls the bottom of the ring apart and my ring is off and my finger is still on my hand, although it still looks like hell.

 

I thank him, and that’s the last thing I remember. I pass out!

 

Sometime later. (I have no idea how long) I wake up, hearing loud female conversation and laughter coming from the kitchen. I’m laying on the Foo-ton and the rest of my band mates are nowhere around. I swing my legs off the Foo and realize I’m wearing nothing but my jockey shorts, my shirt and my socks. “WHAT THE F%#K!

 

It’s broad daylight outside and it takes me quite a while to remember where I am or how I got here, or what’s taken place up until I came to.

 

I feel pain in my finger, and as I look at my hand, pieces of events that had happened earlier slowly start floating to the surface of my memory. I figure it’s later in the day on Friday and I must have crashed out for a couple of hours on that Foo-ton. But WAIT A MINUTE! Why am I not wearing my jeans or my boots?!?!

 

I go out into the kitchen where the biker chicks are gathered.

 

Electric, Frank, Indian John and Jim Star have gone out on their Harley’s with their three Hell’s Angel’s buddy’s and the biker chicks and I were the only ones here.

 

I walk into the kitchen and see one of the Hell’s Angel’s Ol’ Lady biker chicks is wearing my jeans and my boots!

 

I’m groggy, I’m pissed, but I manage to politely ask... “May I have my jeans and my boots back, please?

 

Oh sure! She says. They’re REALLY COOL! You weren’t usin, em, so I tried em’ on to see how I looked in em. “I only had em on for a minute.”

 

She takes them off right then and there and I put them back on. Luckily, the keys to my 1968 Triumph sports car and my wallet are still in the pocket.

 

I’m still quite groggy, but feel I can drive and I want to get the hell out of here.

 

I drive away leaving all our band gear at the house.

 

I drive slowly and cautiously all the way back to my 6th Avenue apartment, (where I live alone).

 

As I unlock and opened the door, the phone is ringing.

 

I answer it. It is Sharon. She Says, BILL! ARE YOU ALRIGHT? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I’VE BEEN WORRIED SICK ABOUT YOU!

 

I say I’ve been at rehearsal in North East Tacoma. I got really stoned. I know we have a date tonight, but I’m not going to make it.

 

She says, “WE DON’T HAVE A DATE TONIGHT! WE HAD A DATE LAST FRIDAY NIGHT!

 

I say you mean today is Saturday?

 

She said NOOOO! Today is MONDAY! I’m calling you from work! I’ve been really worried about you!

 

I go on to explain what happened at the rehearsal.

 

She says she’s gotten a hold of Doug Skoog and he explained the ordeal to her also.

 

He said Curt was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup and BJ was at St Joseph Hospital in Tacoma. They had both driven off two separate cliffs in their cars. They are both in stable condition.

 

Skoog and I go back a few days later and pack up the band equipment. Electric Frank said the Hell’s Angel’s had delivered the Tuinal and a bunch of other drugs to them. I asked Skoog why he left me there and didn’t take me with him. He said when he left, I was on my hands and knees barking like a dog. I answered, you don’t think that’s a good enough reason to help me get the f@#k out of there?

 

We never went back to that place and we steered clear of that crowd for ever more.

 

THE END

 

Footnote: At some point after Sharon and I were married, Sharon told me she loved me, but she did not like me when I was stoned. Upon hearing that, I quit taking drugs of all kinds and never took them again.

billy   Pocket

 barner

Musician-Drummer-Singer-Drum Teacher-Writer-Author
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