Saturday, March 7, 2015

Michael Grady and a Sort of Cotton Kings Shreveport Reunion

Michael Grady
Wednesday I got an email from Mike Grady:

HELLO MY SWEET,      HOW ARE THINGS THESE DAYS ? COMING WEST FROM MONROE EN ROUTE TO DALLAS. ARE YOU ALONG THIS TRAIL OVER THE COMING WEEKEND ?  G 

Michael has been in Playa del Carmen for the past few years, popping in and out of Monroe now and then to see his mother. The Carribean suits him; he looks strong and well.  He's not drinking and I'm told he quit smoking.  I've tried to keep up with him through the years and a while back I found a video of him playing in a beach bar in Playa del Carmen, did a blog post  or two about him, and still get emails and comments about where Michael is and what he's up to, and I get the occasional request for his email address. The post has become sort of a portal for people who want to keep up with Grady.  

I've not known Mike as long as a lot of people, only 38 years (damn, I'm getting old...), but he's the kind of fellow that makes an impression.  His distinctive music style has been the genus of several permutations of his original band and the music business is a brotherhood. Musicians that last and that people remember are the ones that take care of their brothers and mentor the up and comers in the business.  Back in the 1970s and '80s there weren't many people in the Shreveport music scene who didn't know who Michael Grady was. 

Robert McLane, Pat Austin-Becker, Michael Grady
Mike played his gig solo sometimes, he played with "Howdy" and "The Cotton Kings."  Around here they played The Royal Room and the infamous Lakecliff Club on Cross Lake, among others.  The Royal Room was a real dive, but that was part of its charm. The dingy beige walls, the red glass candle holders on the laminate tables, the metal & upholstery chairs you see in every dive bar....  There was a window unit in the wall behind the stage, mounted up high, pumping stale air and dripping water.  But nobody cared about the decor; that's not why you went there.  

The Lakecliff (or is it Lake Cliff?)  was on Cross Lake by the water plant; it's hard to find any remnants of it at all now.  But oh man, that place...; it was just a sort of road house, a big, barn looking place with a stage and a bar.  Elvis played there.  It was just a nowhere place that kind of sprung up and took off, but the musicians that played on that stage....

Anyway, so when I got Michael's email Wednesday, of course I'm "along this trail."  Let's get together for coffee, I said.  Then I decided maybe I'd invite David Shelton to come, Michael's drummer back in the day, and a fabulous musician and all around good guy today.  David was all in for a coffee date and suggested we call John Bicknell. Before you know it, we have a reunion on our hands.

David called me Thursday morning and said, "Hey, you know of any place we could get together and play a little while Mike is here?"  

No.  But my brother might.


Michael Grady, Bruce Flett, David T. Shelton, Robert McLane
So my brother gets to working the phones and gets Stan Hoffman in on it who eventually hooks us up with Gary Graves who was booked to play at Lee's Friday night with his new band Funhouse.  Gary is a class act and (see paragraph above) a longtime, well respected Shreveport musician who takes care of his brothers.  I sent Gary a text, told him Mike was in town, and asked if it would be okay if Michael played a bit? 

"Yes," he said.  No hesitation.  

Brothers.

"That's what its all about," Gary said.

So Friday we take over Strawns on Kings Highway. I'm sitting there looking at David Shelton, John Bicknell, and Michael Grady, wondering how long it has been since these three guys were in the same room together when in walks Bruce Flett.  There are cheers and hugs all around and I spent the next hour and a half listening to them all reminisce and tell stories. 

"Remember that time we played in...."

"I was on the bus with...."

"Havana is the place to go now, man!  You'll forget all about Mexico once you go to Cuba."

"I went to visit that sonofabitch ...he's laying in a hammock listening to all the Cotton Kings tapes...."
Micahel Grady and Bruce Flett

(I WANT those tapes!)

"I was sitting there with Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff and...."

I pulled out some old pictures from the 1986 reunion gig they played at The Royal Room and those were passed all around and we all marveled at our youth.  Looking at those guys, and listening to their stories, I remain flabbergasted at how much musical talent this town has produced.

"Oh hell, he probably has half of the remnants of the Lakecliff at his house...."

"What ever happened to Mike Coker?  Where is he?"

"Last I heard he went to Acapulco."

Looking at the pictures..."Damn, my beard used to be black!"  Mike said.  "I got my cataracts done a few years ago and looked in the mirror one day and said 'oh shit!'"  

David Shelton has a memory like an elephant and remembered every gig, every date, every place, every detail.  I'm going to get David and a tape recorder and we're going to write a book.  I'm not sure who our market audience will be, but we need to record all of it.


Michael Grady
It was a grand reunion.  Really.  

Later, I picked up my brother and we went to pick up Stan Hoffman and head to Lee's.  (Getting Stan's equipment into my Jeep, in the dark in the alley behind his house, along with the three of us is a story unto itself.)  

At the bar, the ever-gracious Gary Graves embraced Mike, they caught up, and after Gary's band finished their first set Mike Grady took the stage in Shreveport one more time.  He plugged in his guitar, settling his lean, lanky frame on a bar stool, and started to sing.  The bar-chatter stopped and everyone was watching the legend on the stage. He did three songs, which wasn't nearly enough but it was everything.  

"Who is that?"  I heard behind me.  

"That's Mike Grady."  

"I've heard of him, but I've never seen him play!"

"He's great!  I like it!"

He opened with his classic "Do Wah Ditty," then "Let Him Roll" and then "a song I wrote," he said which was perfect because the chorus is "this is my town, these are my people...".  And indeed this is, and we are.  

Here's a snip:  (sorry for the poor lighting)



And hey, if you guys every figure out what happened to the sparkly tip jar found under the Lakecliff stage that said "Elvis's tips," let me know!


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