Sunday, August 29, 2021

Bye Bye Love

Early Everly Brothers, Phil standing, Don seated.

When Don Everly of the Everly Brothers died this week, it swept me back to midcentury America when the pop duo topped the charts from 1957 through 1962. It was a remarkable run that spawned a legion of schoolboy musicians like my singing partner John Ellsworth and me. More than any other act the Everlys propelled us into our five-year adventure in show business.

The Everlys' sweet harmonies spoke to us and soon we had covered all their songs. We'd sit in John’s living room, put a 45 on his record player and play a few bars, John would lift the needle and we’d hurriedly transcribe the lyrics and learn the song line by line. We’d find the key, hunt and peck for the chords and, voila, we had a new song in our arsenal. It was easy in the days of three chord compositions.

Steve, John and Toby Constance about 1962.

Whether in our short-lived rock period or in our three-year folk odyssey harmony was the heart of our music. That's thanks to Phil and Don Everly and later to the folk duo Bud and Travis. Bud Dashiell and Travis Edmonson had but one chart topper, On a Cloudy Afternoon, written by Edmonson. While the Everlys had 17 top ten records between 1957 and 1962. Bud and Travis's harmonies and mastery of the Mexican guitar inspired us as much as Phil and Don. From their songbook came much of our folk playlist along with a smattering of Kingston Trio hits and a handful of our own tunes. Even our stage name Kelly and John arose from our infatuation with Bud and Travis. At least one of us thought Kelly and John was more distinctive than Steve and John or, for that matter, John and Steve.

It’s hard to fathom that we were near contemporaries of Phil and Don Everly. Don was born in 1937 and Phil in 1940. My singing partner John and I were both born in 1941. With their musician parents the Everly Brothers began performing on the radio in the late forties. While still in high school they began writing and recording their own material. Then in 1957 at the ages of 18 and 20 they recorded their first hit Bye Bye Love. It was number two in the country. That was followed by 16 Top Ten Hits before the music stopped in 1963. The first seven hits were written by the husband and wife team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Problems at #2 in 1962 was written by Don Everly, the first by one of the brothers.

That’s Old Fashioned in 1962 was the Everly Brothers' last top ten hit. And the 1984 song On the Wings of a Nightingale by Paul McCartney was the last Everly Brothers song to chart at all.

Ironically, the decline of the Everly Brothers can be attributed in part to the British Invasion led by General McCartney and the Beatles. But it was preceded by simmering disputes between the brothers and the Nashville behemoth Acuff-Rose which managed them. In 1960 they changed record labels and lost access to the music of the prolific Bryants who had written their first seven hits. Then, inexplicably, in 1961 Phil and Don joined the Marines. So, their production slipped, they couldn't tour and they no longer had the prolific Bryants contributing songs.

They toured successfully throughout the sixties, each released solo albums in the early 70s and broke up in 1973 when Don arrived for a concert so drunk he couldn’t play. After butchering the lyrics to Cathy’s Clown, a number one song he had written, Phil and Don argued on stage. Don threw his guitar down yelling, “I’m through being an Everly Brother.” Phil played alone for the rest of the set and shouted back at a sea of hecklers, “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.”

Reportedly, Don had always felt upstaged by Phil’s sweet tenor voice. When, in fact, his driving rhythm guitar was as irreplaceable to the Everly Brothers sound as Phil's tenor and their soaring harmonies. He's reported to have said, “I’ve been a has been since I was ten.”

The Everly Brothers sang as if they were fused into a single body. Only one act other achieved that miracle, Simon and Garfunkel. Fittingly, when they played in London’s Hyde Park in 2003, Paul and Art interrupted their set by bringing Don and Phil on stage to sing. As Ray Connolly wrote in the London Daily Mail it was, “a generous homage to the sound they’d copied."

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The 80 Year Itch

The start line of the Transrockies Run

17 minutes till showtime

The afternoon that I arrived in Leadville to photograph the abandoned silver mines in the boomtown of the late 1800s I noticed a van with the words Transrockies Trail Race on its sides and a row of porta-potties in front of the town gym. A trickle of jocks entered and exited as I photographed Leadville’s handsome historic district. I nosed around a bit and asked what was going on.

“The third leg of a six-day stage race will start here tomorrow morning. It starts at 8am sharp. The start line is around the corner to the left.”

I thanked her and pledged to be there to photograph the start of the race Sunday morning. As an endurance athlete of modest accomplishments in the 70s and 80s I crave the hubbub, jangled nerves and good cheer that infuse the hours before a big race. I realized that I missed it though there was never a start to any triathlon where I wasn’t so nervous that I swore I’d never do another. Just writing these words gives me a major case of the butterflies. True story.

Anyway, I was downtown searching for good cup of coffee at 6:30am. I asked another worker where I could grab a latte and a pastry and she said, “Go to Coffee on a Hill. It’s right at the start line.”

Coffee on a Hill satisfied. It was arguably the lone bastion of sophistication in all of Leadville. That unto itself is a story. I can’t count the backwaters I’ve suffered but I found a good locally owned and operated coffee emporium: an oasis in a desert of convenience store java.

Pure joy

Couples therapy

As I watched athletes arrive at the start line, I was taken by the bubbling of good cheer, by the bonhomie and beaming smiles that surrounded me. The percolating goodwill and excitement were energies I haven’t absorbed since I folded my singlet in 1987.

I missed the feeling and dared to wonder if I could do a race like the Trans-Rockies. I'm pretty sure I can handle the cardio part. It's the cranky back that wouldn't cooperate. Doing the race isn’t a compulsion by any means. More like an itch.

The number one seed checks his watch

And they're off

Camp Hale here we come

Running through Leadville's historic downtown

The Trans-Rockies field was not a sea of anorexics. Some of the hardy 360 competitors were downright portly. I’m a wraith compared to lots of those folks. Does looking like you could finish the race count for anything? I thought not. Michael Duran, a Taos friend who has completed 7 of the last 10 Leadville 100 Mile Trail Races, told me that carrying extra weight could be an advantage. He said that in the Leadville 100, as in miles, they weigh you at every check point and kick you out of the race if you’ve lost too much weigh.

These days I don’t have any poundage to give up. So, I’ll have to fatten up before I do the Trans-Rockies Race next year. I bet I’ll be the oldest competitor.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Close encounters of the first kind

Hondo Valley overlook

Ben Ainsley

I arrived at the road to the John Dunn Bridge and spotted a 1980s Winnebago campervan at the vista point above the Arroyo Hondo Valley. After photographing the bridge and the Rio Grande I drove back up the hill to get a shot of the lush valley of the Rio Hondo. I parked next to the vintage camper and walked to the overlook. Seated on a rock, cigarette in hand, an older gentleman who was younger than I gazed north toward Cebolla Mesa. When I approached the precipice, he rose, walked toward me, and said, “Take my picture. I’m getting married today.” That’s one hell of an intro.

Portrait mode.

As directed

I said yes, positioned him in front of a juniper and took a couple of shots. He projected sadness and not the joy one might expect. I told him to show me the mood befitting the day at hand. We walked back to the camper, and I photographed him there. He boasted, “I bought it for $2,200.”

Ben and van

An homage to Lenny Foster's Healing Hands series. Lousy photograph but the spirit abides.
Father and son

Inside the van he had built a shrine to his son who had died “many years ago.” He pointed at his photograph, lit another smoke and poured himself two fingers of whisky.

He was getting married that afternoon and Bobby Duran was going to be his best man.

“Bobby’s my best friend. Do you know him?”

I answered that I knew of  him. He used to be the mayor of Taos. I didn’t add that he operates a non-descript secondhand store today or that a friend of mine named his jackass “Bobby” after the former mayor. They were archenemies. 

I took four things from our ten-minute encounter. Or perhaps, four truths were confirmed.

One, people are desperate to tell you their stories. They cannot wait.

Two, they'll tell a complete stranger the most important thing in their life in the first two minutes.

Three, you can form a complete picture of a stranger in a few minutes. The fictionalized life story of Ben Ainsley (not his name) would write itself.

Four, be there, be interested, and listen.

It’s a minor miracle really, what you can learn and appreciate in ten short minutes.

Take note of Ben’s Jimmy Hendrick’s tee. It’s the one his son is wearing in the photograph.


Sunday, August 08, 2021

Leadville or Bust

Unnamed mine with massive dump behind

When we drove to Bozeman a month ago, we passed through Leadville the once booming mining town between Buena Vista and Breckenridge, CO. As we neared the sputtering burg of 2,800 we saw an abandoned ranch of the west side of Highway 64 followed and then a shuttered mine. Eureka as they say. I had to return. The silver mines that flourished from 1880 to 1894 are my kind of subject. The silver boom bones of Leadville’s historic downtown were made the visit a necessity. 

The view of Leadville from the Denver City Mine

Part of the Denver City Mine Complex

The burned remains of the fire that destroyed part of the Denver City Mine. Ten miners working 300 feet below ground were trapped by the burning head frame. Workers from all the mines in Leadville quickly arrived on the scene and dropped air hoses to provide oxygen to the desperate miners. 100 rescuers used cables to pull down the simmering frame and lowered ropes to extract their trapped brethren. All ten were saved

Ore bin of the Denver City Mine

I could have used more time to see all the mines. I stayed at a hostel Tuesday night, I’d say “youth” but well. For $60 a got private room with a shared bath. The going rate for a standard chain motel was $150 plus tax. The difference more than covered an adequate filet, baker, salad and a beer at the bar at Quincy’s. That was $27.00 tip included. Who knew the tax on a restaurant meal in Colorado is 1.85%? It wasn’t good but it sure was cheap.

Once you leave downtown Leadville is a shabby mill town sitting at 10,153 feet. It claims to be the highest census designated place in the US of A. Nearby Fairplay vies for the mantle. So does Twining, NM the home of Taos Ski Valley. I’ll flip a coin and tell you my decision.

Anyway, gold was discovered in Leadville in 1859. That fizzled quickly and silver took its place in the early 1890s. It was the biggest silver camp in the world for a Nanosecond. Bolstered by a US Treasury silver purchase program that lasted till 1894 Leadville grew to 15,000, second only to Denver. When the government ended the program the price of silver plummeted to 60 cents an ounce. At that price it wasn’t worth extracting and Leadville withered. The Climax Molybdenum mine north of town, summer tourism and adventure sports keep the lights on today. The Leadville 100 trail and mountain races among many extreme sports contribute, too. In fact, the third stage of the Tran-Rockies Trail Run started in Leadville Wednesday morning at 8am. I was able to grab a latte at On a Hill Coffee which was literally at the start line. I watched 360 participants start their run to Camp Hale a mere 25 miles into the high mountains.

I admit to getting a little pre-race tingle and the slightest itch to try something like it. Relax. I may be stupid but I'm not crazy.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Talking Clouds

A big tipi under a big sky, Hondo Mesa.

Photographing northern New Mexico skies is a career path. A person could devote a long lifetime to capturing our sweeping, swirling, billowing, feathery clouds, and deep blue sky. It’s certainly been my story this year. In these parts if clouds are your muse days off are few.

Rio Grande bound, Hondo Mesa.

Crossing the Big River at the John Dunn Bridge.

Into another world, Arroyo Hondo

Otherworldly shapes, Arroyo Hondo.

The amazing sky phenomenon has been manifest of late as our monsoons started early and continue to anoint us with afternoon showers and thunderstorms.  While much of the West burns, we are blessed with stormy weather and the sweet smell of rain on the high desert. It’s one of nature’s visceral smells and another reminder that Taos may be the last best place.

These happened Saturday when I followed the clouds to Hondo Mesa and the Rio Grande. Point your car toward the most powerful part of the sky and she'll give you all you can handle.