Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tall tales from Alaska - Pt. 1

Our band Nitelife ended up in Ketchikan, Alaska on the recommendation of some friends in the band Earthquake and the Tremors (what ever happened to harp player Earthquake Anderson, anyway?). In the spring of 1980 we were hired to play for four weeks at the Fireside Restaurant, a very nice place downtown owned by a woman by the name of Punky. The Fireside gig was a good one; decent pay, free meals and booze, a terrific staff, and normal (9:00 PM-1:30 AM) hours. We played Tuesday through Saturday, usually to a half-filled house, although a party sometimes got itself worked up on the weekends.

It didn't take the band long to discover the Shamrock Bar & Supper Club, a crazy topless bar just on the fringe of downtown, maybe a 10 minute walk from the Fireside. The Shamrock was exactly the opposite of the Fireside - a tiny, dark bar with attached liquor store, wooden picnic-style tables securely nailed to the floor, not-so-fresh topless dancers imported from the Lower 48, and the latest Top 40 hits blasting relentlessly from a large jukebox. The denizens of the Shamrock included fishermen, loggers, dealers, johns, mental cases, fugitives, and the occasional lost Love Boat tourist. In other words, our kind of folks having fun! Hell, we figured, the only thing missing was a blues band.

The Shamrock was owned by a former deep-sea diver by the name of John C. John also claimed to have been a Navy Seal in Vietnam. Whatever else John was, he was one of Ketchikan's premier party boys, no doubt about it. He started coming to see Nitelife at the Fireside, dug the band, and hired us to play for two weeks at his joint as a trial run. The gig was six nights a week, from 10:00 PM to 3:00 AM. The bar's hours were from 8:00 AM to 5:00 AM, so there was plenty of time for interesting things to happen. Here's just a couple that I recall:

Can I buy the house a round?
Like most joints in Ketchikan, the Shamrock had a bell behind the bar that the bartender would ring when some nut wanted to buy a round for the house. On this occasion, our patron took a 9mm Browning Hi-Power out of his Helly Hanson rain coat and shot the bell, which caused the whole bar of deafened revelers to hit the deck like sacks of potatoes. This irritated the bartender no end, who then took the piece away from our boy and wouldn't give it back until the end of her shift, causing endless whining and sniveling from him for the next four hours.

Don't worry, it's only a flesh wound.
The aforementioned John C. would occasionally disappear for a couple of days for parts unknown. He showed up during the middle of one of our sets at the Shamrock after one of these trips, totally blasted, barefoot, and wearing a pair of bloody and torn khaki slacks. Turns out he had somehow accidentally shot himself while taking a leak at a bar on another island. But he didn't seem to be feeling any pain; in fact, just like Tony the Tiger, he seemed to be feeling GREAT! John insisted loudly that we play some Bo Diddley. So, as we played Bo's "Pretty Thing", John danced deliriously, barefoot, in a mess of broken highball glasses littering the floor from a previous altercation.

Happy birthday!
The "bandstand" at the Shamrock was really just a small plywood platform about six inches high stuck in the back of the place next to an ice machine. One night, one of the customers crashed onto the stand while we were playing, hitting my mic stand on the way down and jamming an SM-57 into my right eye. That's OK, accidents happen, but when he collapsed on the stage a second time, almost poking my other eye out, we both ended up wrasslin' on the floor. Shortly, our bass player, Mr. Solid, and our drummer, the Varmint, joined us and the dancing fool was soon sitting on the sidewalk in the pouring rain. He immediately raced back into the club, and the whole procedure had to be repeated. It turned out that that night was his birthday, and after ingesting a large amount of hallucinogenics, he proceeded to go on a drinking spree at the downtown bars. The Shamrock was the fifth and final bar he was thrown out of.

How do you like me so far?
There were several memorable Shamrock regulars such as Roy Boy, the Pee Monster, Uncle ZebCo, Priscilla, and my favorite, Terrible Ted. Terrible Ted was a red headed, gnarly, foul-mouthed artist whose main mission in life once our band hit the Shamrock was to piss in our tip bucket, a feat he never quite succeeded at, fortunately. Ted's behavior finally became so unbearable to the good citizens of Ketchikan that a local judge finally ordered him to leave town for good. Terrible Ted financed his eventual trip to Anchorage (where I heard he was working as a college art professor) by selling shares of the "Get Rid Of Terrible Ted Fund" for five bucks a pop. I guess he had the money for his plane ticket in no time.

The Shamrock finally became too much even for John C. He hired a giant (6'8") topless bar manager named Hoss to run the place. The first thing Hoss did was paint the Shamrock orange, for cryin' out loud. This at a place where in the past, you could drink free all day and night on St. Patrick's day as long as you drank Irish whiskey (this is a whole other story, believe me). There were a couple of mysterious fires, and the 'Rock finally burned down for good a couple of years after Nightlife's third trip there.



Blues Boss said...

Hey Mike... Can I speculate on the identities of Mr. Solid and the Varmint???

I may have to attend the Benefit on Sunday just to speak to the guitar player from Nitelife and verify these stories!

Uncle Ray said...


Great blog. Can't get enough of the Alaska stories.

Uncle Ray

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks, Ray. I'm cookin' up some more of 'em now. I've got a bunch of photos in the vault that I might have to dig out also.

Mike Lynch said...

Blues Boss - Mr. Solid is our friend J. Lee. The Varmint was our drummer, R. Howell, who passed away last year.

Tall Cool One said...

This is a classic, maybe THE classic "playing in Ketchikan" story, and I've heard a bunch of them over the years. I can still remember seeing the Playboy soon after he got back from one of these trips - about 20 pounds lighter than when he left, big dark circles under his eyes - not a gig for the timid!