Life in Powell, Wyoming in the winter of 1976 was a bit dreary. Tired of working in a gas station, I got some student loan money together and enrolled full-time in Northwest Community College to break the monotony. I wanted to get better – a lot better – at harmonica so I became a music major. One day I saw a flyer tacked to a board in the halls of the music/theater department announcing a casting call for the summer stock show “Paint Your Wagon” at Dirty Jack’s Theater in Jackson Hole. I was transfixed.
I borrowed a microphone from the music department and carried it to my little house near campus on 8th street. Having no car, I walked downtown to a store and bought a 15-minute TDK cassette. I was ready to record my audition tape.
Sitting on my couch and holding the old, heavy vocal mic between my knees, I plugged it into the cassette deck of my stereo system and carefully played some riffs, all hunched over like a monkey trying to fuck a football. I recorded a couple of melodies I’d heard on Charlie McCoy albums. Some of it was just train rhythms I thought sounded cool. All of it was solo… Just me and a borrowed microphone.
I scribbled my name and address on the cassette in my heavy handwriting, wrote up a little letter of introduction that pretty much begged pitifully for a job, and included a photo of me clipped from the local newspaper. The photo was from the college production of “Carousel,” in which I was shown standing next to a very short woman. I’m 6’6” anyway, but I looked enormous. I put the package in the mail and agonized. How the hell did we ever survive in a world without email?
A return letter eventually arrived. I was in! Happy, happy, joy, joy.
When I got to Dirty Jack’s Theater a month later, Jon Stainbrook was disappointed that I was not taller. I looked so gigantic in the picture that he planned to have me stand up when I played, poking my head through a trapdoor in the platform that covered the orchestra pit as a gag. Good grief! That was the only time I have ever been glad I was “too short.”
There was no audition when I returned in 1979, just a phone call and a quick invitation. I will forever be grateful to Jon and Nancy Stainbrook for appreciating my music and hiring me to play it in their theater. Looking back, that audition tape was mighty lame but they hired me anyway. Part of the reason might have been that Nancy was an aspiring harp player, and part of it might have been that Jon wanted me for a dumb sight gag that would have gotten real old real fast. Whatever. I got the gig and I was on my way. I was a professional entertainer.