Mother of Pearl – The Movie
Got some comments from the “Dishin’ wid da Duke of Pearl” thing I put up two posts ago. Most of it was from people who got the joke pearl-paster Chuck Erikson (pictured here in full regalia) cracked when he inlaid “MOTHER OF PEARL” in mother of pearl (actually, it was pale pink Red abalone shell,” not MOP) in the neck of my guitar. But the story behind the story is at least as funny as the story in front of the story behind the story, or the story in front of the story, and here it comes.
I was playing guitar as a sideman in a band in a club in the San Fernando Valley in LA. This was in 1969 or ’70. In the middle of a set this drunk redneck comes up to the stage between songs and says, “Why does your guitar say ‘mother of pearl’ in the whaddya call it?—-”neck,” I say, “Yeah, neck,” he says.
And it does. The words “Mother of Pearl” were inlaid in the neck of my Gibson ES335 in big “Merle Travis” caps (pictured below in a publicity photo he gave me himself, but was too, uh, indisposed to sign). I laugh and say something like, “I guess they ran out of the real thing, so they—“
“Hey, asshole,” he says, “I asked you a question.”
“And I’m trying to answer it,” I say.
“You’re making fun of me,” he says, and he isn’t really wrong, but… “I asked you a question and you lied, you homo commie draft-dodging hippy.” That gets my attention.
Then he goes, “Now I’m gonna ask you one more time: why does it say”—it comes out, why duzzhh ish shay—“‘mother of pearl’ on your guitar throat, and you better answer, faggot.”
For not the first time in my shortish life as a ‘Sixties rock asteroid I am suddenly aware of what I look like, and not in a good way: long hair, striped bells, tank top with a picture of Che on it, etc.
“I don’t know,” I say. That is a lie, too, which I’ll get to soon. Meanwhile…
“You’re making fun of mother, aren’t you, you little motherfucker,” the redneck says. Now he turns to the small crowd of dancers and listeners and says, “He’s making fun of…,” raises his voice, “Hey, everybody, he’s making fun of everybody’s mother. Everybody’s! Your mother, too, asshole,” he says to a guy standing pretty close to the stage trying hard not to laugh as he waits for the next song to start. The drunk turns to the guy’s table. “What are you laughing at?” he says to the guy. “Don’t you care about your mother?! What are you, another chickenshit queer?” The crowd goes silent. The hum of tube amplifiers is the only sound in the whole club.
The guy doesn’t say anything. He’s about average height, but he looks a little scary now that he’s stopped laughing and taken his arm back from around the girl’s waist. He is wearing worn cowboy boots, but in no way is he a hippy.
“What’d you say, shit-fer-brains?” he says to the redneck. He shuffles his feet a little and lightly plants them, lets his arms hang loose, humps his neck and shoulders.
“I said this guy’s not showing respect for our mothers,” the redneck says, back-peddling a little. “See? He’sh got mother of-“ he turns to look at my guitar neck again, “pearl, ‘Mother of Pearl’ written on his guitar.” He turns back to the cowboy, reeling. “Why don’ we take him outside and kick the shit outta—“
“Whyn’t you shut the fuck up, dirtbag, and go back to your trailer,” the cowboy says, but relaxed now that he sees how wasted the redneck is. “If anyone’s gonna be kickin’ any shit, it’s gonna be—“ but the redneck’s legs have suddenly turned to Jell-O, and the cowboy reaches him just in time to break his fall. He sets the drunk down at an empty table with his arms and head splayed across it. The redneck will soon vomit without waking up. It looks like I will not be thrashed for dissing mothers tonight.
I stop hyper-ventilating. Everyone else in the band and I have been in suspended animation for the whole drama, and we slump in our places, almost woozy with relief. This is all happening about ten or fifteen feet in front of the riser that passes for a stage at the club, and I’m able to thank the cowboy profusely from there.
“Let me buy you a drink,” I say to him while the rest of the guys fuss with mikes and instruments to work off the tension that just broke. I’d really like to tell him I want to have his baby, but I settle for getting him a drink and asking him to make a request.
Now, I’m guessing he’s going to ask for some big C&W hit like Buck Owens’ “Looks Like I Got a Tiger By the Tail” or Porter Wagoner’s “That Was the Last Thing on My Mind,” while I hope against hope the other guys in this rock–not Country–band know it. It is definitely not cool to not know big Country hits in bars in the San Fernando Valley. But the cowboy comes thru for me once again.
“Louie Louie,” he says. Another sigh of relief from me and the band. Louie Louie is the Paul Revere and the Raiders song every band playing in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1960’s has to know, expects to play and totally reviles. But we play it now, and happy to.
Bom bom bom. Bom bom. Bom bom bom. Bom bom, goes the band on the unison line. “Louie, Louie,” goes the lead singer, please don’t ask me to remember his name. I played another week with that band before going back to ruining my career.
* * *
I know I said I’d get back to the story about how “Mother of Pearl” actually did come to be inlaid in my guitar neck, but I’m out of time. I’ll get to it in the one of my next posts, I promise. But please do yourpart and…
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