If anyone tried to tell me I’d be doing this for 36 years I would have asked them if they could get me a bag of whatever they’d been smoking. Here we are at another landmark: the Nightflying 36 year anniversary.
Fact is, the entire concept of NF was just something I felt like doing on the side. I was a solo performer…making music around North America in bars, college campuses and the occasional private party (those pay the best), and had found that the hardest thing about getting gigs was knowing which venues to approach. I missed the underground papers of my teenage youth in Seattle…they always told you the real news you wanted, stuff passed over by the mainstream media…where to party, what shows were coming, where to get concert tickets, how to find the trails to hidden beaches, and even where to get your weed (!)
While playing a week-long gig at a club in Colorado, and having extra hours to waste (since the hours were unusually early, 7 - 10 p.m.), I spent the dead-time in the motel room and dreamed up the concept of creating an all-music underground paper.
At the time, I was based on a mountain top south of Fayetteville, a booming college town in Northwest Arkansas, full of many nightclubs that featured live music most of the time.
After mentioning the idea to my musician friends when I got back home, they all said “Sure” and everyone agreed it would be helpful, I started making a list of the venues, gathering their phones and addresses.
At the time there was a wonderful underground paper in Fayetteville called The Grapevine.
I called the editor/owner Peter Tooker for advice. Being a musician himself, he took me under his wing and helped get Nightflying off the ground…telling me where to print unusual publications, where to call for supplies, and damn near answering all the questions about how to go to press and make it happen.
He did this at the same time realizing it helped me start his immediate competition, for we’d all be hounding these venues for ad dollars. One of his writers, Joe Neal, actually tried to talk me out of it, saying “Peter, this will become your main job, and cut into your time touring on the road making music. Don’t do it…”
(Kids, keep in mind that this was before the term “alternative media” was born…that came about in a few years when the notion pretty much exploded around the country…and people decided to create their own “people’s media”, which, of course, is predominant of the so-called media these days…I called it an underground newspaper…and still think of it that way…)
There was a wonderful magazine called Creative Loafing I had encountered while doing a gig in the Atlanta Underground. I later found out there were several versions of Creative Loafing in different regions.
On the night we were proofing the first pages for the first issue a dj on the radio announced that John Lennon had just been shot and killed. We pulled something up and did a quick article about the murder. We were scheduled to print early in the morning and I had told the people at the clubs I’d leave a bundle at their doors and they’d find them when they got to work.
They were to pick up the first issue and become dutifully shocked when they saw the news about John. Few of them had heard about it yet (there was no internet yet, and most of my friends didn’t pay any attention to the ‘regular’ media…)
I even got phone calls from people accusing me of writing shocking fake news to sell papers.
I didn’t have a clue about anything related to it. I was simply trying to create a work guide for the musicians.
Not having a clue was really the best part, actually. I hadn’t been trained in media, and there really were no rules, other than my personal life rules of being honest and friendly, and emulating the late great Larry Garrison, “hard work and plenty of it.”
As a working musician I’d encountered many colorful realities of the nightclub business, including having been fired from a club for having played the wrong song at the wrong time to the wrong audience…being told that I “lacked taste in material.”
How it happened: I got a job from a booking agent who knew first-hand I would have a tough time doing Bob Dylan and Paul Simon songs as the accompianist for the strippers of this club…without bothering to tell me it was a strip club. I was digging in my mind for any song I knew that might have a good enough beat for them to bump and grind to. Since they had a nice piano, I started banging out the Beatle’s song “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”…the owner of the club came to the stage and unplugged my sound system from the wall by the third verse, and told me in some really serious terms to pack it up and “get the hell out of my club.” “I have a contract!” “I’ll pay your goddamn contract for tonight,” (and he did.) I was 19 years old and the guy looked like an old-school mobster…I was scared to death that his minions were going to chase me down and break my fingers for good measure.
The next day I called that agent.
“That was totally inappropriate. Why did you do that?”
“Did you get paid?”
“I got paid for one night…it was supposed to be a 3 week gig…”
“I want my money…you owe me my commission.”
I said, “You haven’t answered my question: why did you do that?”
“I did. You are playing for money, and now I want my part of it!”
That, my friends, turned out to be one of the best lessons I ever had. From then on, whenever I tried to book a gig, I’d ask them what they were after and what they expected, to see if I was appropriate for the job.
But I degress. Back to the birth of this rag…
The premise: a work-guide for working musicians…including the mailing addresses, phone numbers and contacts. The hardest part of playing around the country was finding the venues and contact information.
I travelled coast to coast throughout North America. I’d get suggestions from everyone who to contact in the next city along the way and what venues to approach…and I gradually worked up my list…
That training proved excellent on how-to approach doing my own such media…and still is (even this many years later)…
After a year and a half of doing Nightflying solely around Northwest Arkansas, there were so many clubs throughout the state asking that their information be included we decided to take NF to a statewide level.
Then after three more years, we started getting the same requests from clubs near our borders, and we added Memphis and Clarksdale and eventually built the thing up to a regional approach. (The publication became recognized as a force to be reckoned with regarding music and club-hopping…with listings and concert dates in the mid-South…anywhere within a reasonable driving distance.)
We made it for free as it still is. Like the radio you listen to in the car, it is completely advertiser supported.
We’ve had subscriptions too, and always charged a reasonable fee to cover the mail expenses.
In 1982 we attended the US Festival, which was an enormous rock festival being put on by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. In the press booth were reporters from Time, Newsweek, and the Rolling Stone, and many other real publications.
“How did you get your credentials to be here?”
“Some really nice guy named Wozniak gave them to me.”
They all laughed.
I said, “Is that funny?”
Then one of them asked “Do you know who he is?”
I had no idea and told them so.
Put it like this: when I finally was ready to join the computer age, I chose to go with Apple. I felt it was a debt of gratitude. I’m glad I did, too, because in my opinion they pretty much own the “alternative” media.
In 1986 or so a guy named Bubba Sullivan called and asked me to help tell the world about his Blues festival. It was that year the King Biscuit Festival began in Helena, which of course, has become one of the biggest blues festivals in the world.
Also in ‘86 a musician friend I’d recorded with named Louis Meyers called me from his home in Austin, Texas. He told me about a music festival he was creating and asked me if I’d help. I went to Austin for 5 days, and we hashed out and dreamed up what has become South By Southwest - now the largest annual festival of its kind in the world.
I’m proud to say that Nightflying has been a co-sponsor of SXSW each year.
In 1987 I set up office in Little Rock...travelling all over the region, having a centralized location just made sense. Our business was doing well in Memphis, and before long the casino strip along the Mississippi River got in full gear.
Ultimately, the entire job had grown a great deal…there were private clubs with bands in the smallest towns throughout the region.
At the same time we grew even more into southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma, and essentially creating our region, lovingly referred to, of course, as The Altered State.
NF was based there for 7 years, until one day I heard some screaming outside and looked out the window just in time to watch a guy shoot and kill another guy. In the street. In front of me.
Having already bought my parent’s farm here near Petit Jean Mountain, I decided I didn’t want to pay more rent for this ‘privilege’ so we headed out here in the woods.
My life partner Dianne said “People shoot people out here in the woods, too…” I agreed, but reasoned that it’s not a bunch of crack heads killing each other…as it was very much so in the city. And besides that, out here in the woods it’s what we call mountain justice, and if someone is shooting someone they most probably dseserve it…
Through these 36 years there have been many contributors to these pages.
There was this one nationally syndicated and well-known writer who added to these pages, of course, under a psuedonym. His name, in our pages, was Tom S. Hunter…Doctor Tom S. Hunter…
Others who’ve contributed have been writers Amber Patton, Bob Boyd, Bob Lincoln, Bryon Knight, Michael ‘Burger’ Scoggins, Cindy Scoggins, Carole Ferror, Carole Haynie, Charles Ragsdell, Chris King, David Bogard, David Hughes, Dick Renko, Tommy Roeck, Harry ‘The Printer’ Brownley, Dori Colston, Doug Treadway, Terry ‘Gabe’ Gabrion, Gina Parks, Heather Crosse, Jacob T. Rake, Janice Laffoon, Jeff Weeden, Jennifer McClellan, Jim Gurley, Jim Rose, Sharon Cook, John Zimpel, Julia Udouj, Karen FitzPatrick, Kate Cross, Marc Turner, Meredith Mashburn, Jack Hill, Mike Hawkins, Mike ‘Mudcat’ Acklin, Nancy Paddock, Andy Briant, Peter Tooker, Polly Noble, Reillot Weston, Gorton Hitte, Reade Mitchell, Sharpe Dunaway, David B. Treadway, Sondra Goode, Stacy Copeland, Steve Barham, Steve Evans, Suzanne Renko, Curtis Copeland, Crystal Marshall-Copeland, Steve Evans, Tommy Roeck, Sondra Goode, Jessica Ellis and a boatload of pen-names by a boatload of un-named authors: Dear Flabby, Dear Ed, Dear Doyle, Eli Palasades, Gypsy Woman, Morton Downey Burger, Rona Burger, and of course PR Grunion.
In addition we’ve been blessed with several world-class photographers, including Meredith Mashburn, Jeremy Scott, Sher Spear, Rick Dipley, Sherree Hughes, David Hughes, Bob Dion, Jamie Seed and Martin Herlatcher, to name a few…
Our graphic artists have been very creative through the years, including Steven Fant, Steve Scallion, Terry ‘Gabe’ Gabrion, Amber Patton, John Deering, Lisa Stancil, Jessica Riley, Langley Osborn, Charles ‘Rags’ Ragsdell, Elaine ‘Pax’ Cook, Jeremy Reagan, and so many more.
(Remembering all these off the top of my head is a challenge. There are 36 years to look over…)
Throughout these years we’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know many of the industry’s very best musicians: People like Levon Helm (who was a paid subscriber for the last several years of his life), Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan (three different interviews), Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Jim Dandy Mangrum, Mac Rebennak (aka Dr. John), Judy Collins, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Seger, Steve Miller, BB King, Mick Jagger (and all the Stones), Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ann and Nancy Wilson (aka Heart), Lucinda Williams (back when she still was known as Cindy), Robert Earl Keen, Kinky Friedman, Sting, Coco Montoya (who I met when Polygram Records called and asked if he could come play at one of our Anniversary parties...I said “Sure...if he has to”...), Evanescence, Waylon Jennings, Bela Fleck, Joan Baez, Willis Alan Ramsey, Alice Cooper, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, Little Richard, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash...and countless other luminaries.
The list is as long as a wellrope…
The fact is, Nightflying has been the only music publication in these parts for, well, 36 years. This has given us the sheer privilege of running with the greats many times over.
We’ve print and distributed throughout this Altered State almost all these years. On average we’ve covered some 85,000 miles each year. (Our inside joke is that we’re helping put the Exxon kids through college…)
One year ago we went completely onlign due to health reasons. (My wife Dianne lost her left foot). This edition will be the first printed copy since then…and we are now planning to print at least 4 - 6 times a year…and fill up between them on our incredible web site: Nightflying.com and Nightflying.mobi, produced by webmaster extraordinaire Charles ‘Rags’ Ragsdell.
A recent development is the use of the QR code system. Throughout this edition you will find many of these bizarre web-based barcodes, to be used with smart-phones to take you to band’s websites, videos, actual music to hear while you read, as well as our own Youtube channel, produced by Sharpe Dunaway.
36 years of telling you where to go…sounds like a mantra or something…but the fact is that my original premises have proven to be true: Arkansas musicians, essentially, are world-class. The players are every bit as good as anyone anywhere in the world, if not better.
I’ll put Earl Cate’s guitar playing in the Eric Clapton class. And Tom Ware whips that fiddle as good or better than Charlie Daniels (and plays the hell out of guitar, too). Rachel Ammons is more capable of tearing up a stage than anyone I can compare her with…and she’s naturally beautiful too (fully dressed), more so than anyone you’d ever see in Playboy or Penthouse with no clothes on…and she can immediately play every instrument she gets her hands on. I’ve seen her do this time and time again.
And her partner, Smilin’ Bob Lewis, defines music with every instrument he touches.
Add to these hundreds of other players…in every town, and every club I go to…
Maybe it’s something in the water…?
Who knows what the future might bring?
If I say I plan to do this for another 36 years nobody that knows me would doubt it. (Mentally, of course, I stopped progressing at the age of 13 in 1967…the fact that I continue to feel like that must mean that I’m stuck forever in puberty…)
Looking back, perhaps one of the musicians I met back in the Summer Of Love said it right: “What a long strange trip it’s been…”
I think he was onto something…
"Nightflying down Hamburger Alley..."