Loading in at the Orleans Casino, 2:20 AM
Load-in is brutal, that cannot be denied. Especially after driving five hours through the desert. There are a few early-bird Wednesday-night rockabillies already getting their drink on, watching the guy load in carts of guitars and amps.
One thing they do here at the Viva Las Vegas weekend is pump rockabilly music through the casino, for a somewhat immersive experience (if you’re a rockabilly trying to get your bop on, there is literally nothing worse than hearing Celine Dion over the loudspeakers).
I heard Wanda Jackson—I backed her up many times. I heard Joe Clay—I backed him up a dozen times as well. I heard Gene Vincent. And I remembered doing gigs with ex-Blue Caps Dickie Harrell, Johnny Meeks, and Russell Williford. They played Janis Martin’s wild version of “Ooby Dooby,” with its over-the-top George Barnes guitar solo.
I remembered when the Dave and Deke Combo were first booked to back Janis up, thirty years ago, in 1993. I spent hours learning that solo. When we finally met rockabilly queen Janis Martin at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood for an afternoon rehearsal, “Ooby Dooby” was either the first or second song she called out. When I got to the solo, I played the George Barnes solo, note for note—or at least, pretty close. Janis’s face lit up, and she ran right up to me and yelled: “GEORGIE BOY!” I knew then I had gained her seal of approval.
It’s weird now that all these years have gone by, and most of these people I knew have passed on. But wow, do I feel lucky that I got to play with so many of them. Tons of great memories.
And who knows, maybe thirty years from now, there will be some middle-aged rockabilly guy telling about the time he saw ’ol Deke wheeling in carts of guitars at three in the morning, through the halls of the Orleans Casino, on a Wednesday night before Viva Las Vegas. Maybe. Maybe not.