Blame it on James Brown

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Note to reader: This story has a slow build, so if you are looking for a quickie you may want to read something else and come back later. Thanks.


September 1975, Denver

Daniel had a big decision to make. And he had to make it soon.

He was sitting in a lecture hall, lost in a daydream while waiting for the professor to arrive so class could begin. Daniel was beginning his sophomore year as an engineering major, and the fall semester was only three days old. His dilemma, and the big decision that was weighing on his mind, was whether he should have come back to college at all.

It had always been drummed into Daniel’s head that he would go to college, study engineering, get his degree, and then he’d have it made. His parents reinforced this thought throughout his young life. This was a time when engineers were in high demand and graduating seniors, even the mediocre ones, had job offers mid-way through their senior years and would enter into well-paying positions right out of school. No beating the shoe leather trying to find a decent job for an engineer, not in those days.

It all had sounded good to Daniel. Until he actually had to study that shit. It was difficult material, stuff that he was not particularly interested in, and stuff that he now suspected for which his mind wasn’t properly equipped. And he hadn’t even gotten into the real engineering courses yet, he’d only had a few introductory and prerequisite courses. He was more of a right-brain kind of guy. He’d rather be playing his guitar.

His father was a big wheel in the oil business, and had always pushed Daniel in that direction. Dad had painted a rosy picture of a future that Daniel was now thinking he wouldn’t want. Dad had also helped him get a summer job that he had just left a few days earlier to go back to school. That was another part of the problem.

“Is this seat taken, sir?”

Daniel stirred from his reverie and looked up. It was Chris, also now a sophomore. They had studied and partied together as freshmen.

“Chris, how the hell are ya?” Daniel said, as Chris took the seat next to him. “How was your summer?”

“Okay, man. Worked a lot. Drank a lot. Fucked a lot; my old girlfriend. Now back to the grind. How about you?”

“Oh, I worked a lot, too. Didn’t drink much, didn’t fuck at all.”

This surprised Chris. Daniel was a tall, slim, handsome, broad-shouldered guy, with long brown hair and sky-blue eyes, and usually popular with ladies on campus.

“Really? You have my condolences.” They laughed.

“Nah, just not much opportunity, I guess. I worked a ton of hours and got paid a lot of money. In fact, I’m wondering why I even came back to school. I’m thinking I shouldn’t have.”

“What? You gotta be kidding!”

“No kidding. I’m serious, Chris. I’m not cut out for this. I got mostly C’s and a few B’s last year, and I had to bust my ass to do that, and that was just the basic stuff. It doesn’t interest me and it’s not getting any easier. This summer, I made twelve hundred dollars a week, saved a small fortune. In Alaska, working on the pipeline. That’s more than twice what I’d make as an engineer, if I got a good job, which I would hate. And the foreman didn’t want me to go, said to call him anytime, he would hire me back at those wages, and it could last another two years. I could rack up a lotta dough.”

“Damn, Danny Boy, that’s good money. But what about your education? College…?”

“I don’t think this university is going anywhere. I could always come back later…”

Feedback squealed from the speakers mounted on the walls. A teaching assistant was adjusting the microphone and PA system. He went on to introduce himself, as well as a couple other TA’s, and discussed the course requirements. Finally he introduced the professor, Dr. Malarkey, and the lecture began.

Daniel wasn’t listening. His mind was preoccupied with other things. After about twenty minutes he got up, said goodbye to Chris, and walked out.

Daniel called his foreman and after a few tries, got him on the line. The foreman told him to get his butt to Fairbanks and check in at the company office there; he’d arrange transportation for him back to the site in the northern part of the state. He was already in with the union, so it would be treated as if he took a few days off. He told his father his intentions and was surprised when the old man wasn’t pissed-off like he thought he’d be. Make the big money while you can, he said, you can always go back to school.

He sold his car for cash to a dealer and bought a plane ticket. Over the summer, he’d put the car in storage because he would need it when he went back to school. But now he wouldn’t be needing it again anytime soon. He got into Fairbanks two days later, in the morning. By evening he was back in the construction camp in the same movable housing unit he’d lived in before. He went back to work the next morning.

Winter comes fast and hard sariyer escort in north Alaska. It was only mid-September but already cold and windy. Soon the weather turned bitter they were wearing Arctic clothing and woolen masks twelve hours a day.

The job might have paid well, but the work was hard, the days were long, and there wasn’t much to do otherwise. Life took on a certain monotony, day in, day out. Many of the workers would head into towns on Saturday nights to drink and raise hell, but Daniel only did that once. He didn’t find it to be much fun riding in an unheated van over a gravel road for an hour or more in sub-zero temperatures to get to some frontier town that was not much more than a block-long main street with three bars, a gas station, a market, general store, bank, diner and a Western Auto.

Daniel was a music lover. He hadn’t come to work with much baggage, but he did have his music: His guitar, dozens of tapes, earphones and his portable AM/FM cassette player. He fell into a routine of coming in at night, exhausted, would shower and then settle into his chair or his bunk with his music. He’d put on the earphones, listen to his tapes and blindly play along. He’d played in bands all through high school, sixties and seventies rock, but what he loved most was more traditional blues.

Being in the middle of nowhere, radio reception for the most part was nonexistent, and what stations he could receive on his little receiver tended to be semi-scrambled local stations from East-Outer-Bumfuck Alaska or Western Canada. But at night, there was one AM station that came in loud and clear. It was a blues station out of Chicago.

The evening disc jockey called himself Bernie Blue, and Daniel loved his show. He was on the air in Chicago five nights a week from seven p.m. until midnight, and played blues from all eras and areas, and would educate his listeners as he recapped the playlists, recounted the artists and backing musicians and told anecdotes about them. It was obvious that Bernie loved what he was doing. The passion dripped from the speakers as he spoke. Alaska time was three hours behind the Central Time Zone, so he left the air at nine. After work, this gave Daniel maybe two hours each night to listen, play along and learn. He started recording the shows so he could listen to them again and again.

There were a couple guys who would make runs into various towns as the camps slowly worked their way southward, and would take orders from the different workers for products and bring them back to them at camp. For a nice profit, of course. Most people ordered booze, beer, food items or personal products. Daniel got cases of blank cassettes from the Radio Shack or Sears or wherever.

Week after week, Daniel worked ten-to-twelve hour days, laboring with the music in his head, looking forward to the evening time when he could listen to Bernie Blue on the radio from thousands of miles away and play along with the masters. He recorded the shows direct onto sixty-minute tapes, and filled up at least two a night. He cataloged and labeled everything so he could find a certain tune or artist easily. He hated when a tape would run out in the middle of a cool tune or during one of Bernie’s discourses.

Sometimes Bernie would have theme shows: Chicago blues, Delta blues, Memphis, Texas, Zydeco. Or blues guitar, or piano, or horns, or certain artists, and explain it with historical perspective and tie it all together for the listener. For Daniel, every show was like going to class, getting an education he could never get in college. Gradually, Daniel realized a couple things. He realized that he was becoming very knowledgeable about the music, and very adept at playing it in all its styles. More importantly, he realized what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to do what Bernie Blue was doing.

Daniel wrote Bernie a letter. He told him how much he dug his show, how much he was learning from him, and how inspired he was to do the same thing in his own life. He described his situation, working in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness tundra of Alaska, freezing twelve hours a day, and what a treat is was to come in at night and listen to his show. He made some requests, and asked him to play them in the last two hours of his show if he could, because that’s all he was able to hear most nights because of his work schedule and the time difference. He thanked him and said he’d be listening.

A couple weeks later, at about eight-thirty on a Thursday night, Daniel was seated at his tiny desk listening to the radio, as usual. Outside it was twenty degrees below zero, and the gusting winds were rocking the house and making the chill factor another twenty degrees below that. He had just put a blank cassette into his recorder, and coming out of a commercial break, he got goosebumps when he heard Bernie’s voice.

“This next set goes out to an avid listener of the program,” said Bernie Blue’s lush baritone voice. “A listener eskort who’s way out on the edge. His name is Daniel, and he gets our signal way up in Alaska, out on the last frontier, freezing his butt off, working on the oil pipeline that hopefully someday soon will mean cheaper gas for all of us, and no more waiting for hours in gas lines. Thanks for listening, Daniel, and thanks for taking time to write in. And if you have any other requests, be sure to let me know.” Then the music kicked in. Bernie played all of his requests back-to-back. It took until the end of the show and Daniel got it all on tape. Daniel wrote another short letter thanking him, and put it in the mail the next day.

Daniel was very surprised when he received an envelope in the mail from the radio station. It was a short note from Bernie that told him to be sure to be listening a week from Friday night during the last half-hour of the show. He would be playing some tunes that, judging by his earlier requests, would knock his socks off. Daniel was listening that Friday, and Bernie was right, and their long-distance bond was beginning to set.

Thus began a correspondence between them that continued for fifteen months, during which Daniel had exactly one week off. In those days, long distance calling was very expensive and not always feasible or reliable, especially out in the outback of Alaska. So they became pen pals. Daniel liked having contact with anyone from out in the real world, especially someone who was taking the time and interest to serve as his far-off mentor. And Bernie liked having a listener who truly appreciated his work and was just as passionate about the music as he was.

Finally the time came when Daniel knew he had to get out. It was the dead of winter, and the project still had some months to go, but he couldn’t take it anymore. He was tired all the time, and frozen most of the time, and sick of wind chill factors of -50 degrees. A few times his balls got so cold he thought they were frostbitten and they burned for hours as they thawed out. He gave his notice. Bernie had told him more than once that when he came back to the Lower 48, to look him up if he ever was in Chicago. He planned to do just that. The last thing he did before he boarded his flight in Anchorage was drop a letter in the mail to let Bernie Blue know he would be taking him up on his offer.

Daniel was ready for some time off. He’d banked over $80,000, so he could afford it. He flew home to spend a few days with his family and catch up with some friends, including a girl he’d known back in high school. Her name was Suzy and he bumped into her at a local bar. They were both lonely and horny and went home to her place and fucked that first night, and for a few nights after that. There had been female workers on the pipeline, and he’d laid a few of them, but they all were older

and there wasn’t much of a connection. One gal, Wanda, had been a steady thing for a while. She was a skinny blonde from Texas, mid-thirties, divorced, and they hooked up once or twice every weekend for almost six months. She was the type to take control and give directions, do this here, do that there, suck on this, stick your tongue here, and she was a moaner, and she came like a fire hose. She loved to fuck and suck and he learned a lot even if he did pick up a few hickeys along the way. But they were convenience fucks. That’s what Suzy was to him, and vice versa.

He bought a new Volkswagen Westfalia. He thought that made sense because it was big enough to haul around all of his essentials, primarily clothes, books, music equipment and hundreds of tapes, plus he would never be homeless. He could live in it if he had to.

“But what about college?” the old man said.


He packed up the van, said goodbye to Mom and Dad, and headed for Chicago.

Daniel arrived in Chicago on a Tuesday afternoon and got a hotel room. First thing he did was take a shower, as he was pretty grungy after three days and nights in his van. He ordered some dinner. He set up his recorder and tuned in to the station. Bernie came on the air at seven and Daniel called him shortly thereafter. It rang for a while before Bernie answered.

Bernie was delighted to hear from him. He put him on hold for a moment while he put a long tune on the turntable so they would have a few minutes to chat. Daniel didn’t know exactly how to proceed because, even though Bernie had extended the invitation, he was unsure how much time he would be willing to devote to him.

“How long are you in town?” Bernie finally asked.

“No schedule, I’m flexible,” Daniel said. “I came here for one reason, to meet you. I’m looking forward to it. Whatever works for you will work for me.”

“How about tomorrow night?”

“That would be great.” That’s what he’d hoped Bernie would say.

“Okay, let’s do it. Come to the station at six-thirty. That will give me time to prepare for my show, and I’ll beyoglu escort show you around before we go on the air. How’s that sound?”

“That sounds great, Bernie. Thank you so much for taking the time.” He liked the way he’d said ‘we’.

Bernie said it was no problem and he was looking forward to it. He gave him directions to the station and told him to ring the bell and hold it down for a few seconds, and be patient, the staff leaves at five and the door will be locked.

The next evening Daniel rang the bell at six-thirty sharp. A couple minutes later the door was opened by a large man, perhaps six-four, with broad shoulders, huge arms, black skin and an Afro the size of a basketball.


“Yes. Bernie Blue?”

“In the flesh,” Bernie said, and stuck out his right hand, which was like a catcher’s mitt. They shook hands. “Come on in.”

The door latched behind them and Daniel followed him through a suite of offices and down a hallway to where the studios were located. Bernie gave him a quick tour of the facilities, and showed him all the music he’d pulled for the show. Soon it was time to go into the air studio. The drive-time jock had just wrapped up his shift and it was showtime for Bernie Blue.

Daniel had so many questions and didn’t know where to start. Bernie was smooth and it helped him to relax. Daniel marveled at how he made it look so easy, moving from tune to tune, the knowledge oozing out of him, playing commercials, and the way he’d comment about an advertiser every now and then, making you want to run down there right away and spend some money. No phoniness at all, pure sincerity, someone you would trust.

The five hours flew by so fast. Daniel couldn’t ask all the questions he wanted to because Bernie was asking him questions about his life: College, his family, Alaska, the pipeline. At midnight Bernie signed off. Daniel didn’t want it to end.

“Bernie, can I buy you a coffee or a beer or something?”

“Something sounds good,” he said.

Bernie led him to a bar down the street and around the corner. It was a small, neighborhood place with a jukebox and a TV on with the sound off. They took seats at the bar. Daniel ordered a bottle of beer, Bernie a scotch and soda. The drinks came and Bernie proposed a toast.

“To your future in broadcasting,” he said, and they drank. “So, you really think you want to get into this crazy business?”

“Yes, I do,” Daniel said. “My father is an engineer and he’s been pushing me in that direction my whole life. But that’s not for me. I had a year of it in college and hated it. I love music, I play guitar and piano. I worked the pipeline because the money was good. But I can’t tell you how desolate and lonely it was, especially in the winter. Damn it was cold. Thank God I found your show on the radio. I listened every night, and you are so knowledgeable and passionate, I could hear it in your voice. I soon realized it is what I want to do with my life.”

“Well, this business is hard on somebody starting out. No experience, you’ll need to start out in a small market, and it won’t pay much. Ya need an understanding woman because it’s a lot of hours, sometimes there’s groupies and you’re always picking up and moving somewhere else for a better gig in a bigger market. Tough on marriages, for sure.”

“Are you married, Bernie?”

“Was. Well, still am technically, but we been apart for over two years now. Great lady, I still love her, but a lot younger. She was a tiger in bed, though, let me yell ya. It was my fault really. I took her for granted, she strayed and had an affair. I got pissed, said some things I shouldn’t have and we split up. When I got my next job, I moved on and she stayed behind.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yeah.” He paused for a second, took a drink. “I still think about her.”

“Do you still talk to her?”

“Not for a long while now. She’s not coming here and I’m not going back. I miss her, but it’s old news. One of these days one of us will want to remarry and will file for divorce, I guess. Anyway, enough of that. First thing you should do is get a license.”

“License? I need a license?”

“Yeah, FCC requirement. It’s a piece of cake, study the book for a day or two, multiple-choice test. But you should get that, save you getting it later. The federal office is three blocks from here, do that while you’re in town. You don’t have a tape because you have no experience, so the best thing would be to identify where you want to work…”

“Anywhere but Alaska!” Daniel said, with a laugh.

“I hear that. But, I mean the stations that might hire you. Blues is not a mainstream format, as I’m sure you know. Chicago, and the station where I work, are exceptions. You’ll have to knock on doors, be relentless, and convincing and enthusiastic and charming. And it could take a while, you’ll have to be patient and have a thick skin, get used to rejection.”

“What the hell, I should be prepared. Girls have been blowing me off my whole life.”

Bernie laughed in his rich, warm baritone. They ordered another round, and then another. For two hours they talked, about the music and the artists and the business, until closing time.

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