Uncle Ed and I traveled every summer. We crossed the country several times. We even flew to London and sailed from Key West to Nicaragua. Drove across Canada a few times, too. He loved to see what was “around the bend.” I was his navigator.
He was the person who turned me on to music. Quite a harmonica player himself, he loved all kinds of music. He was a dedicated shortwave listener and we often listened to the live music broadcasts on the BBC. That’s where we both first heard 60’s icons like Jimi Hendrix (whom we would later see in concert in London and Monterey), the Who, the Kinks, the Beatles and many more.
Even though the BBC had strict rules about rock and roll, their rules for live music versus recorded music were even more strict. Britain’s musician union mandated that a majority of the music played on the radio had to be live. Failure to do so would have resulted in a nationwide musicians strike. Most bands in the 60’s were rock bands, so the BBC swallowed hard and broadcast the rockers.
We often went to Broadway musicals and concerts. I had the opportunity to see many classic musical plays during their initial runs. Also saw quite a few classical music concerts. Even went to the debut concert for Bossa Nova music at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Saw both Beatles’ shows there too, as Ed was good friends with Sid Bernstein.
Ed love to travel to Florida. We drove there from our home in New Jersey several times while I was a kid. He knew people wherever we went. I always chalked that up to his years as one of the biggest bootleggers on the East Coast. He flew the good booze in from Canada and had boats that brought in the same from Europe.
Since I always took my guitar, Ed warned me about playing too much blues music once we were south of Maryland. I made the mistake of playing a blues piece from Robert Johnson while sitting on a bench in Mississippi. “How come you playin’ that (N word) music?” I was asked by a burly Southerner in the early 60’s. I immediately switched to a country piece. I got it – country music in the South. Save the blues for Canada and the West. (People have always been weird!)
During a visit to St. Augustine, Florida, we stopped at the house of lady named Darla. She was very pretty for an older lady but I thought she was wearing way too much makeup for the middle of the day. She and Uncle Ed were obviously good friends. Darla had a huge treehouse (similar to the one in the photo) in her backyard. As a 13-year-old, it fascinated me. I asked her if I could check it out.
She hemmed and hawed for a few moments and asked Ed if it would be okay. I thought that was odd but Ed also hesitated before he said yes, but I should knock before I went in. I noticed a outside patio and thought it would be a good place to play my guitar. I walked up the steps to the treehouse carrying my guitar case and knocked on the door.
A really pretty-but-overly-made-up young lady answered the door. She looked shocked, I sure a lot of kids didn’t visit. (I was right!) I told her Darla said it would be okay if I came in and she motioned for me to enter. Once inside, the scent of lavender was overwhelming.
There were a couple more heavily made-up ladies sitting on a couch. We nodded at each other. One of them asked me to sit down and serenade them. Hey, at 13, when a pretty lady asked me to do anything I said yes (I’m the same today). Remembering the “no blues” rule, I played and sang a Hank Williams song. They clapped!
At this point, a big. Burly guy in a shite suit and cowboy hat came down the stairs (yes, it was a 2-story treehouse). He said, “Boy, do you know Hey Good Lookin’?” Like most Hank Williams’ songs, it was 3 chords, so I started to play. He started singing it. Put on quite a show as I recall. He was dancing around, sitting next to the ladies and singing to each of them like they were his long-lost sweetheart.
When he finished, he said something like, “I’m ready for seconds,” as he grabbed a woman and led her upstairs. He threw a five dollar bill in my guitar case before he left. The other lady smiled and told me I was good for business. Even at 13, I figured out that the place was a treehouse brothel. Pretty sure Darla, in the main house with Uncle Ed, was the madam. I knew these things since my brother had been giving me his old Playboy and Penthouse magazines for over a year.
I was getting overwhelmed by the lavender smell and excused myself. I asked if it would be okay to play my guitar on the patio. They said yes. I played for over and hour. My guitar case was open behind me, out of my line of sight. When I started to put my guitar in the case, I noticed several dollar bills. The Johns had tipped me, either when they were going in or coming out. Counting the $5 bill from the first guy, I made 17 dollars that afternoon. Not too bad a haul for a 13-year-old. It was my first paid gig!
I went back to the main house and Uncle Ed was sleeping in a lounge chair. Darla asked me if I wanted something to drink. Something to drink??? Hell, I was going to burn my clothes when we got to the motel. I’ve been a germaphobe for a long time.
Darla woke up Uncle Ed and we drove back to our motel. I’m sure he got his “ashes hauled” while I was serenading the hookers upstairs. He asked me if I had fun and I said yes. He laughed like he might have suspected I had my first sexual experience with a treehouse tart. Yeah, even when Panasonic sent me two “ladies of the evening” in Las Vegas to thank me for my efforts on QVC, I politely sent them away. Hell, I’ve got to know you for a year before I go to one condom.
Back to Florida. Ed and I visited many places in the state. St. Augustine was the only place with a brothel, at least with a brothel where he knew the madam. We went to Tarpon Springs and went out Tarpon fishing with Ed’s friend who owned a fleet of fishing boats. He was Greek and was surprised I could play many of his native songs while he and his crew sang. (Like Hank Williams, 3 chords). It was quite a sound. A boat full of Greek-American sailors raising their voices while the geeky kid with the guitar tried to keep up.
We went to Weeki Wachee Springs and got to see the ladies swimming while they wore mermaid tails. We also took a glass bottom boat trip with a guide who was so friendly with a 15-foot alligator that he swam right up to the boat when the pilot called his name, “Roscoe! Come here Roscoe!” The huge creature swam around the boat, like a morbidly obese person circling the salad bar, waiting for them to refill the macaroni salad. The other tourists thought it was charming. I kept wondering which one of them Roscoe would eat first. Luckily, Roscoe was satisfied with the leg of lamb our pilot threw him. (Damn, he ate better than we did on the road.)
I’ve detailed our trip to Key West and Nicaragua in another blog. Life was an adventure with Uncle Ed. I had fun, but, more importantly, I survived!