Karen Carnes

5475 Sarvis Avenue 

Waterford, MI 48327


On the Road to Maddog

By Karen Lankford-Carnes

Tess was hanging around her boyfriend’s music store after hours. Jim was a guitar player, she, a singer. It wasn’t an odd coupling and quite prevalent in the regional industry. She never felt anything close to passion coming from a guitar, it was her lot to date guitar players, and politely applaud their playing. This night would be different. Although the kismet and dynamics were certain to end the relationship in the near future, this night would act as a catalyst in such a way that would change the course of her life.

Jim was always to be found playing music, old and new, on the store’s stereo. She had grown used to it, sometimes appreciated it, sometimes winced at it, realizing that the 9 year gap in their ages was sometimes painful to her ears. He had something different on tonight. The CD was the latest release by a guitar player Tess had never heard of. Some guy from the south who amazed everyone and played “blues music.” The name of the CD was Steppin’ In. She stopped and held her breath as she felt every note from this “guy from the south”. 

“Who is this?!” Tess asked. “ ‘Maddog Blue’, new CD.” Jim answered. “Geez, I never heard of him!” Tess remarked. “And why would you...singer?” he grinned. “Shut up.” She laughed.                   

Tess was never one to do things in halves. Admittedly, she was at once impetuous and compulsive, given to obsessions of various kinds. Having been exposed to this “Mad Dog Blue”, she was off again, researching who he was, where he came from, his musical influences. She immediately purchased the new release , Steppin’ In , and searched tirelessly for each of his previous recordings.                

Maddog Blue soon came to a local venue and, although she and Jim had broken up as expected, Tess was determined to go to the concert. She opted for a single seat on the aisle. Two young ladies sitting next to her mentioned their admiration for Tess had come to the concert alone; she replied “I learned a long time ago, if you wait for someone to take you someplace, you ain’t going nowhere.”Tess thought Maddog was a brilliant musician. She knew the price that often came with such brilliance. An unbreakable curse handed down generation after generation. Tess’ father was also a brilliant musician and an alcoholic.She also struggled with addictions of another kind.She resigned herself to the probability that Maddog was “just another high-on guitar player.” Still, she was excited to be there to watch him live.“The proof  is in the pudding”, they say, Tess believed it. Anyone can be made to sound great in the studio. She wanted to see him perform.                   

As the concert began Tess' heart quickened, then felt like it would stop altogether. She felt something familiar, but unknown. She knew the music was hers. She had always known the music. Tess had always felt this music. She just never knew the name. Aretha 

Franklin, Elton John, and Elvis Presley; everyone who were her very earliest influences had it. They were each labeled within their own category. Yet it was all right here, and it was all part of the blues.

Eyes widened, and sitting as far up as the seat would allow, she could swear she saw something like a cloud, descending on the stage and around her as well. It wasn’t quite clear. Tess sometimes had these “weird” kinds of things happen; she just took them in stride. This time, she was also feeling  something. It was palpable. A voice she knew was saying, “Pay attention. This is for you.” Tess felt a sense of urgency to pray for the man known as Maddog. did. She felt foolish for doing it, but as a follower of Christ-she no longer believed the word “Christian” to be helpful in the cause-she also knew of the Holy Spirit and had learned that if she willingly refused a gentle nudge, she could miss the spiritual growth that she longed for. Tess prayed furiously for Maddog.

Soon she discovered that Maddog was to be part of a star-studded, “Blues Guitarist” concert. It was out of state.There were to be two shows. Tell was bent on procuring tickets for both.  Borrowing a credit card from her co-worker, she called for tickets. The first concert had already sold-out. Tess felt grateful to acquire a lawn seat for the final show of the Steppin’ In tour. She paid her coworker and thanked her again; this time making plans to see another band locally the night Tess was leaving for the Maddog concert. 

On the night of Tess’ road trip, Tess chuckled to herself at what she had become. It seems so surreal, what is this? And why? She arrived at the venue for the first concert, meeting her friend and settling in. All the while, wishing time would quickly pass so that she could get on the road to see Maddog. Tess never embraced twin kit drummer “solos” and the band she and her friend were watching used them unapologetically. During the third one, Tess thought his was her excuse to leave a little early. She was beginning to get a headache. “Hey Tori, I’m gonna scoot! I’ll see you at work!”

    Once in the borrowed truck, Tess inhaled deeply. She started toward what seemed like a pilgrimage. She felt the freedom of being on her own; she was always happier on her own, driving and listening to whatever music she chose. Tess knew that the concert was going to be magnificent. It was.                       

As usual, there were several opening acts before Ronnie Martin took the stage, and Maddog’s set was scheduled to be right before his. Martin was a player who had established himself as much for myth as music. Tess had seen him before, once with Jim as Martin stood firmly as every guitar player's inspiration. At the time, Tess didn’t find him particularly interesting. She had heard some of his songs, one would be hard pressed to avoid them, he’d been around for 30 years. Tragedy followed him like a drooling reaper, yet it always chose someone else. Someone close to him. Tess thought it cruel. The metaphor of one selling his soul had become synonymous with him as it had been with his musical inspirations. Tess thought on that, for a bit, but she was here to see Maddog.

Since there was plenty of time to kill, Tess walked around the area. She felt safe. The blues community, she would find later, was largely a self-contained family with similar goals, interests and aspirations. The music, the message of the music, the honesty of the message. 

She was approached by a man who wanted to trade a bottle of vodka for a joint. Tess answered honestly, “Man, I don’t do none of that.”  “Oh, okay, that’s cool.” he replied, walking away. Tess, laughing,thought,That guy was a cop

She started talking to some other people; you never know when someone might have access to a backstage pass. She ran into a couple of guys who worked on the lowest possible chain of security and they gave her a counterfeit concert t-shirt for the “Ronnie Martin Journey” CD tour that had been confiscated. 

It was a spiritual darkness. She could feel the conflict as he looked at her with contempt. He offered her a small, smooth stone. She politely thanked him, but did not engage in conversation. 

Although Tess thought she had planned this adventure down to the last detail, she hadn’t brought any food for the long drive there and back. She had brought some cash, but when Tess saw the Maddog merchandise booth, she decided to forego sustenance and purchase both Maddog  t-shirts that were available.                   

Since most of the concertgoers were there to see the Ronnie Martin, people seated all around Tess  turned and stared when she jumped up and began to whoop and holler as Maddog came onstage with his band. It was a muggy, sticky, August night, but nobody seemed to care. Tess always respected the request of “no cameras”, and she was disgusted by bootlegs of any kind. The set was energetic and Maddog played like she’d never heard before.

 He engaged the audience and once, dedicated a song to “people” who are in pain, “All of ‘em!”, he added. She found herself nudged into prayer during the concert several times.  There are guitar players who are technicians and others who are musicians. Once in a great while, an artist will connect with people on a spiritual level receive the message. 

Tess was now feeling even more certain that her being there wasn’t just a frivolous outing. No, she was certain she’d been called to pray for this man for a reason. That she was in attendance at this particular concert, his final show of the tour, two states from her own, with a given purpose she was unaware of. She couldn’t shake it. Sure she had felt stupid at first praying for Maddog, but here was the blessing of being able to attend this extraordinary concert! After Maddog and his band left the stage, Tess finally sat down, feeling a deep sense of joy and contentment.

    It was time for the “main event” for the majority of the audience, but for Tess, the main event had just walked off the stage. She wasn’t about to leave, though. She would just relax and enjoy the rest of the show. She already had the Ronnie Martin’s latest release, received a free, albeit counterfeit, concert t-shirt of his, and was taking inventory of his band. She knew of his second guitarist, who was not “famous”, per se, but well known for touring with such acts.

 Tess watched the backup singers with some envy, wondering if that might be an option for her one day. How exciting it would be to travel the world, being paid for what you loved to do. Tess knew something about the “being paid” part, but not at this level. At times during the  Martin’s set, Tess found herself bored, yawning...and hungry. She may have had a dollar left. Her mind was wandering and she was anxious to get back on the road for the drive home. She talked herself into staying put.                   

After the final guitar solo was played and the audience applauded in appreciation,  he and his entourage made their way offstage. You could feel the tension, and humidity, in the air as the concertgoers, including Tess, held their breath with the hope of an encore. They were not to be disappointed, as all of the guitar players plus special guests walked back on stage. Tess knew who they all were; she’d become quite capable of recognizing popular guitar players in the last few months.

 Left to right, she named Maddog, his older brother, Ricky, one of the legendary, Jonny Guitar Jones. Then Ronnie Martin, his second guitarist, and the player who opened the concert. They chose to jam to the classic blues song, “Sweet Home Chicago.” Tess knew the song and  sang along at the top of her voice and dancing along with the music as each guitarist “traded licks.”  

Knowing that Jonny Guitar Jones was one of Maddog’s early influences, Tess smiled to see both him and his brother bent over to watch him play, and then try to copy. Because he was the first to take the stage, Maddog was the last one off. He walked slowly toward the wings, but, before he left he stopped, looked out to wave to the audience with waved, and walked off  “That’s right, Maddog. That’s right.” Tess spoke aloud. She felt proud. She had no claim on him, but she felt a strong connection.                   

Tess was waiting for the traffic to clear before attempting to leave the venue. She was parked very near the front so it would be awhile. Before long she saw a helicopter rise from behind the venue. One final prayer for Maddog, then she stepped out of the truck. While she was speaking with the man parked beside her, there was a loud, metallic crashing sound. The man Tess  was speaking with heard it also, jerked his head around in the direction of the sound, and exclaimed “Shit!.” Tess, likening this venue to a similar one in her own state, assumed there must be a highway in the vicinity, and a high velocity car accident had occurred. The saying, “that car must have been flying” may have flashed briefly in her thoughts. She didn’t give it a second thought.

    When the traffic had cleared sufficiently, Tess began the drive home. She immediately knew it would be a challenge. Tess had never seen, let alone driven, in such dense fog. She could barely see the taillights of the car in front of her. It went on for miles. Still on the adrenaline rush from the concert she popped Maddog’s only live tape in the cassette player. She had driven more than once in snowstorms and knew her way around icy roads, but this was different, it had nothing to do with skill. She had to be patient. Tess proceeded with caution,  aware of two things; that visibility was almost nil, but she was starting to feel sleepy.               

The miles went by and so did hours. Tess was aware that she should pull off at the next exit and try to sleep, but her stubbornness overpowered the wisdom and she kept on driving. She wanted to get home and tell everyone about the concert! She pulled off for a cup of coffee that was too repulsive to drink. Tess tried to lie down in the front seat to sleep, but that proved useless. Her mind was wide awake while her body and eyelids were uncooperative. Back on the road, she thought, I’m almost to my state anyway. Once I’m back in my state, it’ll be a breeze!    As she finally reached her home state, she felt a victory. I’m almost home! ; that was not the first mistake in judgment she had made during the drive home. Tess was indeed in her home state, on the west side of it, and she lived on the east side. She started nodding off while driving, several times, and began to hear strange noises coming from cassette tape. Willing herself, and praying the entire time, she drove on, another 3 hours until she finally reached her apartment.

With a sigh of relief, exhaustion and a boatload of guilt in acknowledging the stupidity of what she’d just gotten away with; Tess picked up the phone and called the owner of the truck she borrowed.“Hey Tom! I’m home, the truck’s fine. Man, let me tell you about the concert!” “You haven’t heard?” Tom asked. “Heard what?” Tess asked. “Maddog was killed in a helicopter crash right after the concert, last night. Wiped out a bunch of Ronnie Martin's crew, too.” Tess went cold, then numb.”What?! NO!! NO NO!” She hung up with Tom, then called Maddog’s management hoping that it was a mistake. “We don’t have confirmation on anything yet.” was the rehearsed response that came with Tess’ inquiry. Tess spoke aloud, Oh you don’t have confirmation, yet?! Why don’t you look in his hotel room. If the mint is still on the pillow, you have confirmation!

Tess called a radio station. D.J.  “confirmed” it with a “look on the bright side” attitude. “Well, at least Ronnie Martin’s is alright!” “Well I didn’t go to see him.” was Tess’ curt reply.

She was frozen in place, trying to process the depth of this tragedy, compared to the joy she felt just hours ago. Tess was devastated in a way she couldn’t comprehend. Shaking her head, she looked at the ceiling as if it were God Himself, What was that all about?! And why did you have to drag me into it?! Tess felt bewildered, but at the same time, she knew she had done as she felt she should. She would find out sooner than she knew.                   

A friend of Jim’s, also a musician, had become Tess’ friend as well. Sharon had a 5 year old son, and was looking for an au pair because she was beginning a tour soon. After thinking about all that had occurred over such a short time, the epiphany she’d had about music, everything  that had happened with Maddog, she made the decision to leave her job to network with the local talent in the college town that Sharon lived in.

One day, they sat together on the porch. Sharon was half of a duet that would soon be recording a new CD. One of the songs would be Sweet Home Chicago. They sat on the porch together and Sharon began to play and sing. Tess began singing harmony in a bluesy call and response style. Sharon loved sound of their two voices together on the song, so when Sharon asked Tess to record the backup vocal on the CD, with tears in her eyes, she smiled and slowly nodded her head.  

The End

July 21, 2021 18:53

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