The van was overheating. The temperature gauge hung just under the red, slowly climbing. Hank didn’t slow down. They were already late.
“Dammit, step on it Hank!” cried Dave, sitting in the back. He was wedged between a guitar and a bass drum. His bass guitar was sitting between his legs.
“Shaddap back there, Dave. I can’t go no faster ‘er else the old beater’s gonna blow!” barked Hank. He usually wasn’t a snappy guy, but he was angry with Dave.
“Well if it ain’t for you, then we’d be there already, Dave. Just had to follow your dick again, you shithead. You didn’t even share!” added Squall.
“You wish, Squall. You drummers never score. Ha ha!” laughed Dave.
Squall just scoffed. He knew it was true. He always got all choked up when he tried talking to women. He even pissed his pants, drunk, trying to talk to a girl once.
“Get your shit tuned up, boys. We just got into New Orleans,” Hank said “You know they’re going to be pissed off so don’t run your mouths. Just be cool.”
The Barking Blues Boys were rarely late. Hank, the singer, always made sure to get them to every gig on time.
Dave decided to stay late with a girl he’d met the night before in Houston. Apparently she didn’t want Dave to go, and rented a room at another hotel. Luckily, Hank noticed and followed Dave. It took a while to get everyone together after that, but he managed. They wouldn’t be heading back to Houston any time soon.
“These damn southerners better not chuck anything at us like they did in Memphis. You remember Memphis? Prit near got bucked in the eye by a beer bottle last time. I’ll be bustin’ heads if that happens again,” sneered Pete. He was a big burly guitar player who rarely spoke. He smoked heavy, drank hard and lived loose. His beard sometimes got tangled in his guitar strings.
“Don’t worry boys, they won’t say nothin’ to us when they see me,” Pete grinned. He drank the last of his Budweiser, and threw it out the window. The bottle smashed on the pavement.
“Dammit Pete. You’re gonna bust us another tire if you keep doin’ that!” said Hank, eyeing Pete up in the rearview.
“Next bottle’s goin’ up your ass.”
“Dammit I say, If we weren’t in a hurry, I’d pull over and smack that guitar on over your head, Pete,” Hank cranked the wheel, throwing the band members all sideways over the van. “Here we are, boys. Sorry ‘bout that, almost missed the damn place.”
Grawshanks Roadhouse sat on the northern side of New Orleans, down a lonely highway. The dust never settled at Grawshanks. There were never any regulars there, only drifters, vagrants, and the odd motorcycle gang. The Boys had never been this far south before, but they felt at home in the soggy, damp heat.
The California quartet met in Los Angeles, brought together by Hank. The four of them instantly gelled, and The Barking Blues Boys were formed. Now, on this muggy Saturday evening, The Boys had work to do.
The van pulled up to the back of the Roadhouse. Hank got out, and ran to the backdoor. Before he could knock, the door swung open and out stumbled a man so drunk, he collapsed beside the van.
“We’re just in time for the party,” said Pete as he climbed out, flicking his cigarette on the drunkard’s motionless body.
The Boys collected their gear from the van as Hank held the door open, and they scrambled inside to the back of the unforgiving Grawshanks. They were met by Bear, one of the owners.
“Who’re ya, and what do ya want?” He yelled at Hank.
“We’re the band. The Barking Blues Boys,” explained Hank.
“You sons of bitches are late,” Bear yelled, agitated. He was hammered, and obviously didn’t see the large, brawny Pete, as he lunged at Hank. Hank ducked, and Bear caught hold of Dave, who dropped his bass. Pete swung his guitar, narrowly hitting Squall square in the face, but connected with Bear’s back. Bear fell forward and cracked his head on the dirty cement floor.
“Uggh,” grumbled Bear, then he was out. He would have a headache tomorrow.
“Shit,” said Pete, unnerved by the sudden, unexpected attack.
“Holy shit Pete, don’t break that thing. You just put new strings on her, didn’t ya?” joked Dave, relieved that he was still alive.
“Let’s get this thing done, and get the hell outta here,” Hank said, looking down at Bear’s crumpled mass on the floor.
The Boys managed to set their gear up without much hassle. They ran into one of the other managers, Tim, who told them to hurry up. He also told the band they’d get paid based on their performance.
The thin curtain separating the band from the wild crowd in the bar provided some solitude to get prepared. They didn’t know what to expect. The later the show, the crazier and drunker the audience was. It was almost midnight, and The Boys were sure they’d be in for a show themselves once that curtain was drawn.
There was no time for a sound check. But there was time for a drink, to calm the nerves. Pete pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey, and The Boys each took a big swig.
“Let’s have a good one,” said Pete, turning on his guitar and letting out a bluesy solo as Tim pulled the curtain. The startled vagabonds in the bar all turned to The Barking Blues Boys.
One man in the bar yelled something incomprehensive at the band, and another joined in. Looks of surprise towards the sudden disruption filled the room. Somebody threw a beer bottle, completely missing the stage. Pete grunted something at Hank, who looked at Dave, who nodded at Squall. Another bottle hit Squall’s drums and shattered all over him. He yelled something at Hank, with a disgruntled look on his face.
“Do something!” Squall yelled again.
Hank stepped forward into the spotlight, nervous, and his knees were buckling. The Roadhouse was muggy, and his shirt was getting drenched in his own sweat. His throat became dry, and he couldn’t speak. He began to sweat as the drunks waited for something, anything.
“Hello, New Orleans. How you all doing tonight? We are The Barking Blues Boys,” Hank cried through the old microphone. “This one’s from our first album.”
Pete struck the first chord. A solid E-major, and Dave joined him. The sound was deafening, but beautiful. The E-chord always got the crowd going. Always.
“Oh mornin’ blues,” sang Hank as he swayed back and forth, trying to avoid eye contact with any of the males in the audience. He caught a glimpse of a cute brunette near the back of the place. She smiled at him, as the man beside her accidentally spilt her drink all over the floor.
The audience was getting into it. Another cute girl in the crowd jumped up onstage, and started to dance beside Dave, but Tim grabbed her, and pulled her off. As The Boys finished their first song, a young man came by with a tray of Budweiser’s.
“This is from a certain Missus down by the bar, sir,” said the young boy to Hank, “I think she likes yea.”
“Thanks, would you tell her that this next one’s for her?” Hank told the boy, flipping him a silver coin. The boy nodded, and ran off, trying not to slip on the slick floor.
“Hey! Grab someone and let’s dance!” Hank yelled into the mike. He took off his shirt. His throat was feeling better. The beer felt good. Pete pounded on his guitar, it sounded different since it’s encounter with Bear. He shrugged and started into the next number.
“I take a road out west, with nothing to do, gonna find me a girl, gonna do right to you. Bring me a whiskey, bring me a beer, bring me the music and grind me the gears, lets dance!” Hank screamed, all in one breath. Stepping back, he almost tripped on a loose cord. He went stumbling backwards into the drum set. Squall got up and pushed him forward. Hank caught his balance with the microphone stand.
Pete saved them with an A-chord. They could feel the energy coming through the amps, bouncing off the audience, and back through. The song ended with a solid bass groove, then a crash of the cymbals. The room filled with applause.
“Thank you, San Diego! New Orleans! Ah shit, let’s keep this party going!” Hank laughed, looking over at his band mates.
“New Mexico! I said let’s get this party started!” He grinned, and winked at Pete, giving him the signal.And only one thought overtook Pete. Guitar Solo. He edged back, holding his guitar high, the spotlight highlighting the greasy fingerprints smeared over the front. Pete let loose. Thousands of notes wailed from his guitar, all holding their own specially personalized acoustic. The guitar’s mahogany fret board held strong against the smooth silver steel of the strings, while Pete’s nimble fingers recoiled from each note, from top to bottom. By the end of the solo, the audience was captivated, staring into the colorful abyss of echoes around them. The night was still fresh, and The Boys were just getting started.
They toned it down for the second half of the show. They didn’t want to start a riot. Hank sat and played the old grand piano on the floor for a couple songs, before whipping out his harmonica to a few more blues tunes. Pete laid his guitar down, and it was completely out of tune. Nobody noticed, maybe because of the way he bent his notes.
Hank grabbed the mike, and spoke.
“New Orleans, home of the blues. I knew someday that we’d come here. I never woulda known it would be so much fun. Thanks for coming out. Now if you all don’t mind, I’m going to have a beer, and play you all a couple more songs, and we’re gonna come party with you.” The crowd accepted his speech with cheers, jeers and more beers.
For three more songs, Hanks and The Boys played their favorite songs. Squall brought down the house, while Dave brought it home. Hank himself sang one of his best shows, and Pete played flawlessly, as he usually does.
Finally, after a long night, there was time for some celebrations. The Boys packed their van in a hurry and ran back inside while Hank stayed back with the brunette and showed her his tattoos. Pete stopped at the door and looked back to Hank and the brunette in the front seats of the van. Hank gave Pete the thumbs up, and grinned as he leaned over and planted one on the lucky girl.
“He’s in for a good night,” Pete said to himself, as the back door slammed behind him. He noticed Bear wasn’t lying where he fell anymore. Pete dashed into the barroom and looked for his band mates. The first thing he saw was Bear with a bloody nose, holding a shotgun. Bear fired into the ceiling. Pete ducked behind a beam separating the stage from the floor. Women screamed all around as Pete saw his friends at the bar staring directly at Bear.
“Bastards,” Bear snarled as he clipped out the empty shell, “which one of ya made me bleed?”
Dave was trembling, and Squall wasn’t doing much better. A steady, warm stream ran down Squall’s leg and gathered on the floor around him.
“Look man, we don’t want any trouble,” started Dave. Bear cut him off.
“Where’s that big bastard with the beard?” he barked, looking around. Pete, playing it cool stepped out into sight.
“You don’t want a bloody mess in here,” said Pete as he lit up a cigarette. “Put the gun away. We all know you ain’t shootin nobody tonight.”
Bear laughed and lowered the shotgun. He walked over to Pete, who was standing defiantly with his arms crossed.
“Try me,” Bear said “Make one move and you’re gonna lose a leg.” Pete stared down at Bear, who was a good foot shorter than him.
“Ain’t nobody got time for these games, man. You put that gun away and lets settle this like men,” Pete said, staring boldly into Bear’s eyes.
Bear let out a hideous laugh, and as he looked away, Pete cranked him upside the head with his big elbow and grabbed for the shotgun. A shot rang out, and Pete fell back. Bear lurched forwards and fell onto Pete, sending the shotgun sprawling across the floor. Both men looked at each other, and Bear punched Pete in the jaw. Dave now lunged at Bear, pulling him off of the disordered guitarist. Pete garbled something that sounded like:
“Heffle Peff, cocksucker!”
And then another shot rang out as the brunette stepped through the front door, pointing a silver revolver at Bear.
“You big goof, never know when to stop,” She yelled, “someone’s gonna get killed here, and you’re gonna go to jail again.” Pete gave Bear a shove as he got to his feet and brushed the dirt off of himself.
“Thanks honey, I owe you one.” Pete smiled at the girl. She didn’t smile back.
“Get the hell outta here, you damn blues boys, and never come back!” she screamed. “And you leave my daddy alone, you big hairy bastard! Next time you be dead for hittin’ my daddy.” Hank came stumbling inside.
“Holy shit,” he said looking over at the brunette, “where’d you get a gun babe?” He got a kick in the crotch for this one. Hank fell forwards, and Pete came and swooped him up.
“Hillbillies,” Pete muttered before walking out the front door, “Lets go boys.”
The Barking Blues Boys took off with Squall still scared shitless, and they got the hell outta Dodge.