Saturday, December 3, 2011

Musicians' reunion starts at dusk on a song, a prayer

Tokio Store, Texas – Weekends on the prairie start slowly – dark comes early when the cold beer signs light up – and stay warm, even in winter beside a wood-burning stove emitting the slow-burning fragrance of seasoned pecan and cedar.

The floors are worn, they give under your weight and you feel like you're walking on a spring-loaded and rolling dance floor, one with license plates nailed down to cover the holes.

The geometry of a warm smile, a perfectly formed limb poised to drop a quarter into the jukebox, a quarter in the grasp of a long and elegantly tapered thumb and forefinger, a lady with an open and friendly face, who says, “I know your looks; I just don't know your name...”

Her name is Susan, a New Hampshire girl who rides a 2002 Fat Boy Harley FLSTF model with what kind of engine? “It's a big one,” she says, grinning. “I'm just learning.”

And it's on. Susan Zehler just wrote the first lyric of the chorus of a brand new song.

I know your looks; I just don't know your name
You know, darlin', that ain't no shame.

I like you, honey, always glad you came;
I know your looks, just don't know your name...

Al's place gets that way when the sun goes down and it's a musicians' reunion weekend in which Sunday is coming and folks are looking forward to that time of the day – 2:30 on Sunday – when you wonder who will show up and what tunes they will pull out of their hats, whose guitar they will pull, what songs will come ringing out in the afternoon jams.

There is no telling who will show up when that evening sun goes down and the honky tonk heroes start to strut their stuff.

Over the bar, an oil painting of Capt. Woodrow Call, Jake Spoon, and Capt. Augustus McRae hangs next to a photo of Billy Joe Shaver and his son Eddy, the cat on the strat, the strat that used to belong to Duane Allman, the cat who made the strat ring like a bell - after Dickie Betts taught him a few things.

Eddy. Just say Eddy; folks know who you're talking about. That's how you gonna know you done got on back home, back where people have some kind of understanding on themselves. Yes.

A compliment among jazz musicians, delivered after a killer solo, is “You were really going somewhere.” That kind of improvised performance, at its best, is not just a stack of impressive phrases or a show of virtuosity: It makes a shape in time, purposeful from beginning to destination. It discovers and reveals a feeling. - Robert Pinsky, "Slate" poetry editor

A legendary beer joint where everyone looks like a beat-up and weathered star from some old western movie that popped out of Townes Van Zandt's skull, like desperadoes waiting for a train – a ghostly combination that ran this way long ago along the top of a grade that crosses the Aquilla Creek bottoms and right in front of the store at the crossroads where the tall steeple of the church stands guard over the community.

West, Texas. Yes. Not only yes, but HELL, yay-us! Say amen.

Behind the bar, that infectious smile, those long, tanned limbs, that way of flipping blonde hair over gracefully tattooed shoulders and keeping the brewskis flowing.

I know your looks; I just don't know your name...

Al's Tokio Store, located at the corner of Old Railroad Rd. and Tokio Rd., also known as the Judge Jim Lewis Expressway, near the West Livestock Commission Barn - where they serve breakfast any time - just off I-35 at West, Texas.

How's that for a cattle drive? Ride your hog and bring a smile. It's considered de rigeur, and what's more, it's right smack dab on the way to Montana.

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