Front row view

I've been honored within the courts of kings and I've also been to jail many times. My first experience in the pokey was in Jacksonville, Florida, back in 1969, while touring with Albert. I was wandering in the wrong part of town looking for trouble without my draft card and, despite having a hotel key, without proper identification the local police deemed me a Yankee transient, a damned one. I shared crowded quarters with some pretty ugly characters for the night. A very inebriated 400-plus pound Native American gentleman wet himself, created a puddle and had the floor all to himself as he lay there sound asleep. Not my idea of ideal poolside room accommodations.

Many years later, after packing up and preparing to move and drive back to New England from Minneapolis the next morning, distraught from losing my dearly beloved girlfriend, as well as my budding record company, I tried to find solace within a fifth of vodka. Especially the bottom part. Lonely and drunk, I called my buddy Brad and he invited me to spend my last night with him and his loving family. Brad and Sonya Borg have two beautiful daughters who always called me Mr. Levy, at Brad's humorous but stern direction. He also taught them how to curse properly while driving, much to the dismay of his lovely loving wife. He wanted his girls to know how to do it properly, just like him. He loved to mimic my Boston accent while in traffic. "You Ahs-hole!" Then a moment later, he'd turn to me and smirk asking, "How was that?" Anyway, while en route to the Borg's home in the 'burbs, someone cut me off. I swerved and one of St. Paul's finest pulled me over and invited me to stay with them overnight instead. I quit drinking for two years after that.

In between these two embarrassing solo episodes, B.B. King also invited me to go to jail with him and his band, but as honored guest performers. Cook County Jail was and probably still is one of the toughest jails in our nation or any. Jerry Butler, the famous singer with the Impressions (and on his own), was now Illinois State Representative Jerry Butler. He arranged with B.B. and Sid for us to do a special concert there. It was recorded and B.B. won a Grammy for it.

The warden, a strong and tough barrel-chested black man, was a gracious host as well as a political trailblazer, and very smart. There weren't too many black wardens in those days, we all assumed correctly, and were all somewhat surprised when we met him. He and a Judge were booed unmercifully when introduced during the show. They enjoyed that. Everybody inside was either a pale gray or dark black, mostly black. All were rough and hardened. B.B. definitely 'knew' the Blues, and he 'knew' this 'captive' audience had them, too. He sincerely felt for them and made them feel better for a little while.

"TALES of a ROAD DOG" - 'The Lowdown Along the Blues Highway' by Ron Levy
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