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The next night was at a different restaurant. Same chain. If you can get a couple of money gigs in a row, it will start to foster the illusion that you are actually making a real living. Hey, you will be... for a couple of nights. Kenneth booked the next weekend as well, at the same places. And a show at the Taqueria el Patron in between.

"The Tock", as it is known, is a local family owned humble yet nice eatery in a Houston strip mall where the plans of Flyin' Dog Records, with whom I have a one record deal, are often hatched. Most everybody on Flyin' Dog Records has a one record deal, because the label doesn't have enough of a budget to insure more.

On the jukebox at The Tock, you will find several of my albums, as well as selections by some of the other label artists, like Mark May and Brad McCool. Kenneth Dunn is the head of the label, though there are others affiliated with it as well. Chip Lazauskas, an insurance agent and occasional songwriter, is an investor. Other characters seem to kind of drift in and out of the picture. Hell, I don't really know much about Flyin' Dog Records, truth be known. They paid for my last album, and they usually pick up the tab for breakfast. And Kenneth puts me up at his house when I'm in town, and gets me work. What else could you reasonably expect from a record company? The whole industry peaked like twenty years ago, and it's just been a long, slow ride into the gutter.

The good thing about hauling your own p.a. is you can set it up anywhere they have electricity. So we did that at the Taqueria el Patron. Made up posters and tee shirts and such. Rearranged the tables and chairs a bit, and put on a concert.

It was the night of Barack Obama's first State of the Union address. The speech was on television with the sound down. About an hour into the show I mention on the microphone to Chip Lazauskas, who is in the audience, that he's missing Obama's speech. Just because he hates Obama so much. So I do this mock apology. Truth is, I wouldn't mind watching the speech, because I think very highly of Obama. But I'd rather be making music.

That night we have a pretty good turnout at The Tock. Pick up some tips, sell some merchandise. A good time is had by all.

Meanwhile, the van goes to a recommended mechanic to figure out what mystery fluid it's leaking. The mechanic says it's the vibration dampener seal which is shot. And he wants to pull the transmission and fix it. And, of course, charge me a bundle to do it. But it is pointed out to me by a friend that the van's transmission is manual, and vibration dampeners are only on automatic transmissions.

I call my mechanic in Los Angeles. I ask him if it makes sense to just refill the transmission fluid, put some of that stop leak stuff in there, and keep checking it. He says yeah, sure. The stop leak stuff seldom works, but it's worth a try. And as long as I keep checking the level, it should be fine. Regardless, the guy is definitely bullshitting me about the vibration dampener.

To check and fill the transmission fluid, you have to crawl under the vehicle, or get it up on a rack. And you remove this nut and stick your finger in there to check the level. So I tell the Houston mechanic to add the stuff and refill the transmission fluid. It costs me tens of dollars instead of hundreds.

One of the skills you develop when you travel is how to be a good guest. I always try to cook at least one meal for whoever I'm staying with.

For the Dunn family, I make arroz con pollo one evening. Partly because Kenneth's wife Evelyn is from Cuba, and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is kind of a comfort food all through that region of the world. And partly just because it tastes good.

Here's my recipe:

In a large skillet, put olive oil (quite a bit) and red wine vinegar (a little). Turn the heat to medium. Add a pinch or three of salt. Add a few pinches of oregano, and cumin. Add chopped garlic (several cloves) and a chopped onion. (Or two, depending on the size and how much you like onion.) A chopped bell pepper (I prefer red, but green will work). Saute this wonderfully pungent mess, adjusting the heat as necessary. Once everything is nice and soft, add cubed chicken breasts. Don't worry about the "cubed" thing... I use the term very loosely. Just cut it into more or less bite sized pieces. I use the filleted ones, so I don't have to mess with the bones. Six or eight of the little fillets, or three or four of the big ones. Let that cook till it's done. Ten minutes or so. Then add a couple of large cans of tomatoes. (You can use fresh tomatoes if you want to cook 'em down, but the canned ones work fine). Let that all simmer for awhile. Meanwhile, you've made a pot of rice, whatever kind you like. That makes the bed that you put the chicken dish over. Serve it on a plate or in a bowl... whatever suits your fancy. Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime over it. Garnish with sliced avocado.

I came by the dish honestly. My ex-girlfriend was from El Salvador, where arroz con pollo is pretty much the national dish.

Not long after we met, she and I moved from Phoenix, Arizona (where we had both been stuck for a few years) to Los Angeles. The year was 1980.

We drove across the Mojave Desert, her in her Volkswagen Beetle and me in my Datsun pickup. I had just lost most of my musical equipment in a fire. I had a few guitars that were salvaged.

Before the move, I had been contacted by a representative of BMI, who had heard some recordings I had floating around Los Angeles thanks to the efforts of producer John Flores. The guy from BMI offered to pay me a small sum to join that organization, with the stipulation that I use the money to move to California.

I was basically starting over with a few guitars, an old Datsun pickup truck, and a few hundred dollars to my name.

I continue to live in the Los Angeles area to this day. I have since gotten married, helped raise three sons, and own a house in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains. With that gesture, the man at BMI, whose name was Doug Davis, totally changed my life.

We stayed at my girlfriend's sister's house, in the barrio neighborhood east of Hollywood. A little shotgun style frame house that sloped from front to back because of earthquake caused shifts. You entered the driveway from an alley. There were a couple of chickens cooped up on the side of the house. And often arroz con pollo on the stove.

So I entered Hollywood through the Spanish speaking side of town. Through the servants entrance, if you will.

After a month or so, we got an apartment near Gower and Hollywood Boulevard. I had some income from selling publishing on songs, and got a job working as a second engineer at Criterion Studios. Criterion was located a few blocks from the apartment. The building has since been torn down.

Truth be known, I didn't know much about audio engineering. But I just kept hanging around the studio, making coffee, rolling joints and such, and eventually they put me on the payroll, since I wouldn't go away.

I always loved that studio. It had thick glass in the front window, covered by steel bars. And there was a bullet hole in the glass. And a sticker of a peace symbol above the bullet hole. It was in the heart of funky old Hollywood, before old Hollywood got gentrified. It was not a neighborhood for the faint of heart, believe me. How could you not like a place like that?

I put a band together and played the local showcase circuit. In those days, new wave and punk had come into vogue. There was no place I knew of to play acoustic music.

I met some wonderful writers and musicians during that time. Gene Clark and Chris Hillman from the Byrds. Jackson Browne. Rodney Crowell. The last incarnation of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Various members of Little Feat. John Marascalco, who co-wrote "Good Golly Miss Molly". Lee Hazlewood, who wrote "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'". Amazing studio players like Emory Gordy, Jr. and Larry London and Glenn D. Hardin.

Only years later, after the dust had settled somewhat, was I able to look back and realize what an incredible parade of talented and legendary folks I had gotten to hang out with and learn from.

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Comment by Jodie Ann Christiansen on March 11, 2010 at 6:13pm
soon, will try your shared recipe and will be telling my dinner guests some of your travel tales, complete with your dry ,well-said, humor.....
Comment by wiffledust on March 10, 2010 at 12:44am
this is fascinating. i'm getting to know you and the story of your life better....and who has a more colorful life than a singer songwriter? you are a wellspring of stories, david. thank you so much for sharing this. you are an american story. the best kind! and thanks for the arroz con pollo...can't wait to try it!

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