Weird Wilbur Rides Again was an album I put out in Nashville back in ’93. It was a real set. Real studio, real studio cats, real tuna fish sandwiches and beer. The session was “on the house.” I didn’t have no money, but hell, nobody else did either so I didn’t hold any special honors. The Grand Ol’ Opry didn’t pay much, and was referred to on Music Square as the ”Grand Ol Orgasm!”
I’d been doing lounge shows at Pennington’s, across from the Opry on Friday and Saturday nights. You didn’t get paid for that. You had to come up with “concession.” That’s where you set up a table and sell your records to the crowd. I didn’t really have any records worth a hoot, quality wise. Only the “Anthem” and if that football player ever heard MY anthem he’d REALLY take a knee. Back then Texans thought a racist was someone who got into NASCAR, but I digress.
Pennington’s was a trip. It was a moderate sized bar. Maybe fifty people. The upside was people who played the Opry would filter over after the show, and if you were playing you’d have a chance to expose your wares to some really “happening”people. Soon I was known around Music Square. Now, I wasn’t “somebody,” but my clumsy attempts at recording began to pop up on tour busses. I’d dragged a couple cassette efforts up from Austin I’d done at Lone Star Studios that weren’t much. Made for Texans in pickups with no air conditioner.
I had to learn the ins and outs of Nashville. I even had a manager, Michael. Of all the people I met there, Michael was my mentor. I was very wet behind the ears. He taught me “presence.” With a lounge filled with tourists, worn out from taking the kids around Opry Land in the sun all day, if you were the show in the lounge you simply MUST be a star! Once, when Mike had to fill in for one of his Opry contacts, he told me that I had to carry the whole show at Pennington’s. Normally I’d do a set or two, and Mike would carry the load with standards such as “MargaritaVille.” The thought of doing a four hour gig was, to put it lightly, a bit perturbing! Mike told me Hank never died, he does shows all over Nashville every weekend. I did a standard country and western show, and the public received it well.
Mike taught me about Nashville etiquette too. One time the venue was filled with college cheerleaders in town for some kind of national “jump off.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, they were drinking and most likely a few of them were under twenty-one. And, they were easy on the eye, if you get my drift. So anyway, during a break I went to the bar for a beer and two of these kids homed in on me. They wanted to know if I was in the music business? Well DUH! Did I know where a real studio was? I LIVED in one. Each morning I had to write, record, duplicate several cassettes, and hand carry them to various record companies around Music Square. People trying to shoot material at Nashville from OUTSIDE don’t get that. If you mailed a cassette, without local representation, the girl who checks the mail would just throw it away. Wouldn’t even open the envelope! You had to BE there, drink their coffee, eat their donuts, (which you REALLY needed) give your stuff to her, and it would get a listen. Wouldn’t get recorded. There’s about a one in one hundred chance of that, but they’d listen. That’s why you had to do it every day. All novices dream of crafting that one monster hit. Nashville isn’t interested in that. They want to see if you can do it every day! Can you do it on command? Does it “cook?” Mike’s training for me was to take one of my songs, copy each line separately on sheets of paper, for sixteen new songs then he’d took THOSE songs and did the same Thing with THEM! I also had to take a pencil and a Big Chief tablet and write the words to a hit song so I’d know what it “felt like” for a hit to come off a pencil. I “cooked” over three thousand songs using the very same formula I’m using to write this very article you are reading right now. Verse, verse, chorus, lead, verse, chorus and out! Don’t forget the “hook.” In an article they call it a “focus” word. That simply means the part that sticks in your head. Now, where was I? Oh yeah, the two chicks.
So, there I am with these two girls, starry-eyed, and half drunk, wanting to see a real studio after the show. I ain’t even gonna lie to you. By this time I’d forgotten all about Jesus, family and mom’s apple pie. They were in town for the ”Jump Off, ” and I felt it my civic duty to give them something to Jump ON, ” and take a memory back to the old Alma Mater! To this day when I give speeches in Austin, and UT co-eds talk with me I remember the song, ”Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” Before I began my next set I told Mike that these young ladies would like to accompany us back to Music Square and party. He cast his eyes toward a rather masculine woman stirring at a table in the corner. She had a freaking CREW CUT! “See that woman, Bill?” I nodded. “Well, that’s a Bull Dyke, and her job is to make sure those two cheerleaders get safely back to their room tonight. I’m not getting my ass whipped in the elevator!”
At some point Mike decided I needed a real concession. Something state of the art, on CD, not cassette for people to buy for around ten bucks. Now my stuff was different. You had to balance plates on a stick to even get the term “Gosh Darn” past Roy Acuff and achieve distribution. I cussed every breath! If I couldn’t figure it out, I was about to press up a bunch of skeet targets. Without going through the long, boring tale, Steve Jobs fixed all that. Oh, and Roy died.
So, we all met on Good Friday, 1993 at Berry Hill Studios just outside of Nashville. I had HUNDREDS of gag songs. Some good, some not so good, but they all “cooked!” Jackie’s dad, John set the whole thing up and little three year old Jackie sat on my lap through a lot of sets. When she was twenty-one she remastered the tracks, achieved copyright, and you can buy the album on iTunes today thanks to her. CPS said she was mentally challenged. Yeah, RIGHT!
We recorded Friday and Saturday. Recording twelve tracks is no nine to five kinda deal. It starts just before “can see,” and goes just past “can’t see.”Then you go and do your regular show at Pennington’s, return, crash on a studio couch, get up the next day, and do it all over again! The only thing I missed that weekend was my cassette deliveries to Music Square.
On Sunday you “mix.” We mixed on Easter, which added a special factor of blasphemy to the whole thing. The final mix only took eighteen years. You’re dealing originally with a recording tape, two inches wide, with thirty-two individual tracks on it. Name dropping is the unpardonable sin in Nashville, so I won’t do it, but you’d be amazed who helped on those tracks named, “You’d Better Not Tell Anyone I Was Here!”
The album was called “Weird Wilbur Rides Again.” You can purchase it today on iTunes, and God knows where else. I was actually formally published, and I think on iTunes alone there are about five knock offs. I won’t say how much money it made, uh, makes, but I will say the IRS hates me because none of my copyrights are in my name. I kept up with all this with little food, sleep, drunk, and certainly no company of cheerleaders. There! Now you have the formula to be a star. You don’t have to be crazy to try that, but it sure helps!
Bill the Butcher