News From The Woods - November, 2006


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published November 27, 2006

"The Big SIX-0"

I remember when I was young sixty was old. I mean, back when I was pre-twenty one even 45 sounded old to me. Many articles about age that I have read state that men who reach the age of 45 begin to go through their mid-life crisis stage. You know…. They do one thing or another to recapture their youth. Some divorce their wives of 20 years when some gold-digging young thing decides she would like the security of a successful (translation: rich) older man. The twenty-something (or younger) hottie plays up to the guy and tells him how "masculine" he is and all, and the years melt away for him. In his moment of weakness he actually believes the line. This is the worst case scenario. Some men quit their job and seek their youth in a newer, "hipper" career. Maybe they discovered after ten years that they didn't like their present vocation, and when the magic 45 rolls around they get antsy and decide they had better find a "better" vocation while they are "still young". This is a mid-level crisis. Many, many other men who are more well balanced or are just basically happy with their station in life choose the easiest route to find their youth and go out and buy a red Corvette or a restored classic car and that appeases them. Then there is the last group that still lives in their childhood.

I guess that's me. At 45 I was working for myself. I always worked better with people, not for them - still the rebel. Furthermore, I was still playing rock and roll music as a drummer and guitar slinger, still had long-hair (although in a ponytail), and still had very little money in the bank. Most of my free income was spent buying gear for the studio. With perhaps the exception of being financially responsible for my family and household, I was still living the life I began when I started in the broadcasting field in 1968.

They say that you're as old as you feel, and I have always felt young, always lived as if I were still 18, and have been lucky enough to be healthy throughout all of my life. I have always looked younger and hung out with younger people. My careers have always been youth oriented. Even though I first became a Grandpa over ten years ago people look amazed when they learn my true age. I suppose having a new son when I was 51 helped to reinforce that image. I can only think of a very few instances where someone assumed the young man accompanying me was my Grandson. So for me, 45 came and went with little fanfare.

But SIXTY! Sixty was O L D.

Just WHERE did those last fifteen years go!?

Do you know those month-at-a-glance reminders? I have been saving all my reminders since 1974. It wasn't by design. I am just a pack rat and keep everything I ever had. After the 80's I realized I could look up all the events in my life, from the mundane to the most life changing, and from then on I made a point to buy the same kind of book every year. So I looked back at the last fifteen books and sure enough……..There was my life!

On November 1st of this year I reached the Magic Mark. Sixty. Wow! It STILL looks weird in print as I write this. Sixty. I sure hope this year will be better to me than 59. I haven't had a very good year - compared to all the others - in the "health department". I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand - thanks to 40 years of banging the (snare) drum all day. Back and neck pain prompted some MRI's, which revealed bulging discs (I've always been overweight), bone spurs on my lower back (driving a jeep over a cliff in my youth turned out to be NOT a good idea), and some pinched nerves in my upper spine (courtesy of poorly placed computer monitors). All added of course by the bodies' receding ability to quickly stave off illness, sickness, and flu related symptoms. It all added up to a poor physical year for me and this was all leading up to the big SIX-O. It was like my body was telling me to get ready for the downhill plunge. It's hard not to feel the pressure of advancing age when your health takes a nose dive in the year leading up to the Big Event.

I had a plan, back in 2005, to "circumvent" the dreaded SIX-0. I had a dream one night in early November about a huge concert where I was surrounded by all my old band mates from three of my most favorite bands. It was all so clear in my dream, and the arrangements were planned down to the last detail. I woke up with a start and jotted down some notes on a pad I keep by my bed. It was to be a big concert, featuring my fist band (The Vipers), my favorite band of buddies from the Ft. Smith days in the early 70's (Whizz), and the band I was most hopeful about getting a record deal (Goldrush). I thought about it all for almost two weeks before I actually set about to pull it off…. Or to see if I could even come close. I knew Whizz would be no problem because we were already having reunions and jamming together, so I called them first. I told them I wanted to have a big birthday celebration concert in November of 2006 and wanted to donate all the proceeds to charity. They were immediately on board. Next, I chose to contact all the former players in The Vipers. This was crucial to the event, as I felt so many people around here who were the "old timers" would pay good money to see their hometown band from their high school days in the 60's reunited for a worthy cause. Even though two of the original members live out of state I got confirmation that if I was crazy enough to think I could pull it off, they would be there. Lastly, I contacted everyone in Goldrush. I felt this would be the defining moment. All of my friends and compadres in Goldrush were still living here in the area, with the exception of the bass player. I asked the remaining three members living here over for a get together, presumably to listen to the recently restored recording sessions from 1977. After the listening party and some catching up I lowered the boom on them. I think they were speechless for the most part but when it got down to it they signed on. However, it was agreed among all that the toughest part would be the bass player. I had already contacted him and he told me that it would be great to get together again, but that his ability to make it would hinge on if he could get off work. He promised to look into it, and I forged ahead and crossed my fingers.

Next, I contacted my good friend Phil Thompson, director of Hospice of the Ozarks, and asked him if I could put on a benefit concert for Hospice. I wanted to make sure that they agreed that a rock concert would be in good taste. He laughed and said he didn't care where the donations came from and that Hospice would be proud and appreciative of such an effort. He assigned someone on their staff to act as a liaison for the event. Next I contacted the local High School Auditorium as the potential venue. Dunbar Auditorium is the classiest venue in town and seats 999 people. I figured if I sold it out at $15 a head I could make about $15,000 for Hospice. I also intended to videotape the event and sell the DVD's with all proceeds going to the Pietz Cancer house. I figured I could persuade the local newspaper, radio, and TV stations to climb on board as I have a good rapport with all of them. I lined up local lodging from the Lake Norfork Inn for the cast, who would be arriving from all over the country to participate. I had PA and lights lined up and printers for the tickets. All those ducks were in a row.

All these pre-arrangements took the better part of six months to coordinate and secure. And of course I still had not been playing with my current band Split Milk due to my carpal tunnel, so I was edgy about all this to say the least, but I kept my nose to the grindstone. I was very determined and had to do a lot of persuading in a lot of areas. By June of this year I still had some hand problems, the bass player had not yet signed on, and I was starting to develop pains in my back and neck. I had not yet made any of this public. Back in my heyday as a concert promoter I had a hard and fast rule NEVER to commit to something unless you had everything down pat, and for this benefit there were still too many loose ends to make a public announcement. I knew I only had another month to make a decision because there would have to be some critical rehearsals with The Vipers and Goldrush in order to do this thing right and make it as professional as we could for a one-night stand. I will admit that this was a monumental task from the start but I felt I could see the light at the end of the tunnel (not carpal tunnel) and so I plodded on.

It was then that the results of the MRI's were coming back and I started suffering from some other ailments which I deem not in good taste to mention here. Suffice to say I made many new intimate doctor friends. In any event my health was not so good by July and I did not yet know the outcome of my current medical status. I HAD to made a judgment call. In good faith I could not say that I definitely could play rock and roll drums with three bands over the course of a three set performance. The two local bands had not had one rehearsal, although many CD's of old tunes were bandied about and discussions about arrangements had been made. But the final blow was when I got the fateful email telling me the bass player for Goldrush would not be able to get time off to make the trek to Arkansas. I thought about subbing in another bassist, but it wouldn't have been the same. Plus, it would have made the Goldrush segment all that much more difficult to put together. I was at an all-time low, both mentally and physically, and so I made the decision only I could make. I thanked everyone for their commitment, their participation to that point, and their faith in my abilities to make it happen, but there were just some last minute snags that could not be swept under the carpet. I told them all that this was not a cancellation. I told them that we got to this point and over the hardest part, which was actually getting the bands to agree to go to all the work for a one time deal. I told them that perhaps after I got through my difficult times with my wrist (it WAS slowly getting better) that we could still do the benefit in the spring of 2007 if everyone was still agreeable. And that was it. I still want to do the benefit, but the "cause" will not be a celebration of my birthday. It will have to take some other form, unknown to me as of this writing.

There was no more to say or do. I spent the next couple of months going through my medical ordeals and on the road to recovery and the next time I raised my head up it was October. All this time I was still busily involved with the "This Is Your Town" project and restoring the Paperkid masters, along with my regular daily workload. So here it was…..October….. and the Big SIX-0 was looming large, and I had no plans at all. It was then that my wife, God love her, took the reigns and said "Let's have a party anyway, right here at the house". I didn't want to discourage her but I really wasn't in the mood at the time for a party acknowledging my entry into old age. That was the one thing I was trying to avoid when I thought up the benefit idea. I wanted to celebrate my youth surrounded by all my music friends, not mark my surrender to admitting I was now a bona fide member of AARP. But she suggested that I email all my friends and tell them we were to have a party and they were all invited to come visit and jam. And so, with a hint of resignation, I did just that. And to my surprise, the confirmations came in like a flood. Some of my friends wanted to rent the Windjammer Club and have a big blow out there, but I nixed the idea as I did not want to have to move all the gear there and more importantly, move it all BACK to the studio and set it all back up. It just seemed too much trouble. Plus, Jane and I felt that if we had it here at the house it would be a more relaxed affair, clean up excluded. And so the wheels were set in motion in the eleventh hour. We set up the party for Saturday, November 4th, and hoped the out-of-towners could still make arrangements in time.


The big day had arrived and people started showing up early. And they continued to pour in from all over. Friends I hadn't seen in years showed up. There were friends upstairs, friends downstairs, and friends outside where we had a small campfire and chairs set up. Most of the pickers brought their own guitars and I had amps set up around the studio. For me it was a continuous line of greeting new arrivals for the first couple of hours. Family and friends from all over the area dropped in and out in a steady stream. All my "Henderson locals" like the Lally family came in force. Many friends from within in the business like Mike Millar and Sid Pierce came with their wives. My long time friend Joe Atkins, who is a professional photographer by trade, dropped in with his wife Bonnie and started documenting the party and even borrowed my camcorder to shoot some classic video clips of the party through the night.

Guys from many former bands like Larry MacFarland and Kevin Piepers showed up and sat in. Mark Rex arrived with his mom on his arm. Doug Deforest and Robby Springfield from former reincarnations of Spilt Milk made "special guest" appearances. Then a couple of my pals from Whizz, Mel Myers and Dave Hopkins pulled in from Oklahoma. After hugs they asked me to come outside and help them unload their gear. I dutifully followed them out back and when I rounded the end of the truck I was positively shocked to see Eric Dennis, who had secretly flown in to Oklahoma from Virginia and drove over with the boyz. I could not believe it! He said he was at home grousing so much the week before the party about not being able to come that his wife bought him a round trip airline ticket and presented it to him with a "get outta' here"!

The party turned out to be a great idea. There were so many players there! Everyone traded on and off all night long and I played drums on all of it except for about three songs when I got to play guitar and another longtime friend agreed to play my drum kit. He's a drummer but doesn't play for a career, he just plays for fun. He was kind of insecure around all the great players but I lead him through a couple of standards and he played like a champ! The smile on his face said it all for me. It was a night of camaraderie and fellowship. There were no egos, only smiles and a lot of laughing and dancing about. The house was full and we had a large receptive audience throughout the evening. Even the non-musician types present realized this was something special.

At one point someone dressed in a Gorilla suit made an appearance and presented me with an "old fart" gift (an old man doll singing "I'm Too Sexy For My Body"), and Iryna Waller - mother to Russian musician/composer Janya Sable - sang "Happy Birthday" to me with her Russian accent. I said that I felt like JFK with Marilyn Monroe paying tribute. The only phrase missing was "Mr. President".

After most of the well wishers cashed in, paid their respects and left, it got down to the "hard core" pals and we wound up jamming into the night, calling it quits around 3AM. Although I made it through the night without much pain in my left hand, I did a bit of suffering the next day, but at least it wasn't from alcohol! I was sure glad we hadn't staged it at the club because packing up and moving gear the next day would have been out of the question.

So now here I am……..Sixty. What's next? I don't know, but I don't plan on sitting around and waiting for it to happen. I intend to keep on going as long as the Lord is willing to let me run. I am still looking forward to putting together that benefit concert in 2007 and I can't wait for the next Spilt Milk gig or Whizz reunion. In the meantime I think I'll start devoting some energy towards some new songs.


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