Following the Lead

And Now the Junkyard Dogs

No, they are not real dogs guarding a junkyard but the name of a band I made up for Following the Lead, the next in Isabel Long Mystery Series. As I write this series, I have a great deal of fun coming up with names for the local bands who play at the Rooster Bar and Grille. That happens on Fridays, the nights Isabel tends bar because as Jack, its owner and her love interest, knows a band tends to draw a big crowd of thirsty music lovers.

The musicians are all local guys who have no serious aspirations. And as the author, I have had a great deal of fun coming up with names for their bands. Here goes: Cowlicks, Lone Sums, Potholes, Slim Jims, Hunters and Gatherers, Back Door Men, Country Bumpkins, Plowboys, Truck Stoppers, and Wild Fire.

And now we have the Junkyard Dogs, but more about that band in a bit.

Some bands that Jack hires are regulars. A few are one and done if their playing doesn’t pan out. Other times a band dissolves, one time because one band member made off with another’s girlfriend and I believe there was a chainsaw accident for one player in another.

Because this is a bar stuck practically in the middle of nowhere in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, the playlist tends to be country, rock, maybe a little blues, but frankly, most country. And the emphasis is on danceable tunes. Covers are the rule.

So, count on hearing “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Rambling Man” and “Mustang Sally.” When a band plays “Brown-Eyed Girl” or something by Patsy Cline, Jack will shut down the bar and get Isabel onto the dance floor.

And now for the Junkyard Dogs. Well, the name make sense since it’s lead singer, Annette Waters owns a junkyard. Her son, on drums, works there, and the two guitarists have their own garage. The Junkyard Dogs make their debut at the Rooster. Here, I will let Isabel tell you about them. This is a scene from Following the Lead.

“Who’s playing tonight?”

“New band. Called the Junkyard Dogs,” he says with a chuckle. “You might recognize a couple of those dogs.”

But before I can quiz Jack further, he’s striding across the room and shouting at the guy with the keyboard. 

The Rooster has a band playing Friday nights, with the one exception being during the Titus Country Fair when Jack wisely figured nobody is going to pass that up to listen to music. The musicians are all local guys and gals with varying degrees of talent but an unbridled enthusiasm for playing that familiar mix of country, rock, and blues. I remember when the Plowboys attempted semi-successfully James Brown’s “Papa’s Gotta Brand New Bag.” It took a while for the dancers to catch on, but they finally did to my amusement. Anyway, Jack pays the bands what he can afford and throws in a couple of beers. One of my jobs is to keep tabs on how much more they drink, so he can deduct it from their pay. I believe one night a hard-drinking band barely got enough for gas money.

I’m on my toes and leaning forward to see what’s what or rather who’s who I will recognize coming inside. A couple of Rooster Regulars who just came through the front door are blocking my view. I raise my finger as I scoot around the bar’s corner.

“Be right back, fellas,” I say.

Jack leaves the building, and then a very recognizable person does come inside. A grinning Annette Waters carries a guitar case and gives me a wave with the hand that’s free. Now I get it. Annette owns a junkyard. Her son Abe is behind her with a drum. He’s got to be one of the Dogs, as are the two other guys who are hauling speakers. I wasn’t aware the Tough Cookie, my secret nickname for her, plays music although earlier this summer when my mother and I were at Rough Waters Garage and Junkyard to have my car serviced, we heard Annette belt out that Tammy Wynette number “Stand by Your Man” inside her garage. She had a great voice although Ma and I joked whether the Tough Cookie had a new guy or she would actually do what the song’s lyrics say. 

Annette, who has dressed for the occasion with a sequined halter top, tight jeans, and a black Stetson walks toward me.

“You one of the band’s groupies?” I joke.

Annette slaps my arm, a form of endearment from the Tough Cookie, and laughs.

“Nah, this is my band. I’m the lead singer.” She tips her head toward the other side of the room.

 “Abe plays the drums. Those other guys work at that garage in Rossville. Rick and Rob.

Brothers. Don’t think you know ’em.”

“No, I don’t. What kind of music do you play?”

She rolls her eyes as if I really need to ask, but she plays along.

“What kind do you think?”

“Jazz?”

She sticks out her tongue and makes a gagging noise.

“Try again.”

“The usual?”

She grins.

“You got that right.”

I glance back at the bar. A line of thirsty customers has formed. Duty calls.

“Hey, I gotta go.”

“Any requests?”

I smile.

“How about something from Patsy Cline.”

Annette winks.

“You got it. I know just the song.”

LINK: If you pre-ordered Following the Lead, you don’t have too long to wait for its release on Amazon. That’s Kindle. Paperback will follow. Here’s the link: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

PHOTO ABOVE: A few CDs from our collection. Yes, I’m a big country fan. These are left over from pre-Spotify days.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Good Hearted Readers

I am fortunate to have a son who owns a microbrewery — Floodwater Brewing. Besides brewing great beer, Zack has created a community space in our Shelburne Falls Village for locals and visitors along with musical entertainment, games, and comedy. And I joke as his mother, I get free beer for life. Besides that perk, paperbacks of my Isabel Long Mystery Series are on sale. They even have their own shelf built by Hank.

Admittedly, the vast majority of my book sales are through Kindle as digital is the preferred way to read for so many people. I am also grateful that digital enables my books to be available to readers around the world. But then, there are those who prefer a book in hand, whether they’re old school readers or people who already spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen. So, for paperback readers, I offer them the books in my series at what I call the Floodwater Discount. I can do that since my son doesn’t take a cut, nice kid that he is. (He also named one of the beers and a tank for me.)

Sometimes it’s an impulse buy for a visitor to Floodwater. Sacha, one of the bartenders, recently sent me a text about a woman who came in on a Sunday afternoon and bought all five books. The woman hugged them — Sacha sent me a photo — and jumped up and down, excited to have the series. I am sorry I wasn’t there to thank her. 

There have been times when someone bought a book off the shelf, and then discovered I was sitting at the bar across from them. I went over to talk.

I have also done two readings at Floodwater and will likely do more.

Other times, people have bought the first, got hooked and continue through the series. That’s what’s happening with musician Scott Cadwallader, who performs at open-mic nights at Floodwater. On Sept. 2, he did a solo show. Scott plays the originals he has skillfully composed, no covers, but that night as a tribute to my series, he started his set with “Good Hearted Woman.” I believe Scott is onto book no. 3.

That’s Scott playing the tune in the photo above. 

“Good Hearted Woman” is a Waylon Jennings song about a woman who will put up with her man’s rowdy habits. The song is on the playlist for the bands that play at the Rooster Bar, where Isabel Long tends bar on Friday nights. It is the first song she and Jack dance to in Chasing the Case, the first in the series. It eventually becomes their song.

Here’s the first mention.

On the other side of the room, the Slim Jims gulp down beers before their next song. One of the Jims leans into the mike. “This is for all you bad hombres lucky enough to have a woman like this.” Then the crowd goes a bit nuts when the Slim Jims play the familiar opening to Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” Yeah, I bet all the bad hombres in this room would like one of those gals.

Jack drops a full tray on the counter and before I take anything, he grabs my wrist. He tips his head toward the direction of the band.

“Come on, Isabel, let’s dance,” he says, and then he announces loudly, “The bar’s closed. No beer until this song’s over.”

I let him drag me onto the floor. I haven’t danced in well over a year. Jack’s a bigger man than Sam, but I’m surprised by his moves. I can’t recall seeing him dance before, but then I might have just been having too good a night out with Sam that I didn’t pay attention. I let him have the lead, and he’s got me twisting and twirling on the dance floor. I hear myself laugh. Jack laughs, too. The other dancers move aside for us. He’s got that big Jack Smith grin going. He’s spinning me this way and that, and even ends the tune with a corny, little dip. We get a cheer from the customers when he pulls me upright at the end.

I’m a little breathless, but I manage, “Thanks. That was really fun, Jack.”

He chuckles.

“We’ll have to do it again soon,” he says, and then he jokes, giving me a loud but friendly, “Now, woman, git back behind the bar.”

So thanks Scott for playing that song and for everyone who stops by Floodwater and buys one of my books. Stay tuned, Following the Lead will be out Nov. 3. Here’s the link to preorder and magically it will appear in your device that day: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

Alas paperback readers will have to wait a little bit longer.

FLOODWATER: The brewery, owned and created by Zack Livingston, is within a short walk from the noted Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Here’s the link to learn more http://floodwaterbrewing.com

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Isabel Long Series, Redneck's Revenge

Music to Read By

My new mystery, Redneck’s Revenge, has its own soundtrack. Nothing fancy. Basically, it’s whatever the bands are playing at the local bar, actually two in this novel, the second in the Isabel Long series. I’d say it’s a mix of country, rock, and a bit of blues. Think covers of songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, Allman Brothers, and just about any country star or band that’s got a danceable beat.

There’s the Rooster Bar and Grille in Conwell, the hilltown where Isabel, a journalist turned amateur sleuth, lives. Then there’s Baxter’s, a biker bar in another fictional hilltown, where she goes to meet people connected to her second case. What’s that one about? A woman hires Isabel — for free mechanical service — to find out what happened to her father, an ornery SOB who owned a garage and junkyard. The cops say he was passed-out drunk when his house caught fire. His daughter says he was murdered.

Both the Rooster and Baxter’s are country bars and for their towns, the only bar. They attract folk who like to drink, dance, and socialize — and sometimes get into trouble.

In Chasing the Case, the first book in this series, Isabel took a part-time job bartending at the Rooster. When Redneck’s Revenge opens, she’s lost that job and a romance with Jack, the owner, for reasons I won’t divulge here.

Both bars host local bands. Often, they play Fridays at the Rooster, then Saturdays at Baxter’s as if they’re on a hilltown circuit. Some bands are good. Some are not so good. But if they play tunes that get people on the floor, they might get asked back.

Here is an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge. Isabel is at Baxter’s to do a bit of research for her new case. Isabel’s companions are the woman who hired her, plus the woman’s cousin. A man who was eyeing Isabel earlier that night asks her to dance. By the way, Sam was her late husband.

Oh, why not. I get to my feet and hold out my hand. “Ramblin’ Man” is not one of my favorite dance songs, but it’ll work.

I let my dancing partner take the lead while we make steps around the floor. If I were to rank him, I’d say he was on par with Jack but not as good as Sam. Actually, it’s fun dancing with a perfect stranger.

The song ends, but before the next one begins and I can escape, he leans in to say, “Name’s Dave. What’s yours?”

“Isabel.”

“Never seen you in here before.”

“It’s my first time,” and before he or I can say more, the Country Plowboys are working up Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock.” Now if there was ever a heart-pumper of a song, this is it. Heck, I’m not gonna turn this one down. Dave grabs my hand without asking. He knows what he’s doing, so I just go along, moving back and forth, a twirl here and there. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d spun me over his back, but thankfully, he doesn’t.

At the end, the County Plowboys call it quits for a short break. I thank Dave and before I can leave him behind, he says, “Maybe we can dance some more later.”

I nod and smile. Isabel, what the hell are you up to?

One song has a particular significance in this series: Waylon Jenning’s “Good Hearted Woman.” Jack originally coaxed Isabel onto the dance floor with that one. And although Isabel was amused — the song is about a woman who will put up with anything her bad boy of a guy will do — it becomes a thing between the two of them.

It’s unfortunate I can’t use the lyrics in my novels because of copyright laws. But my hope is that readers remember the tunes and just hum along with the words I wrote.

Redneck’s Revenge’s official launch is Sept. 26. Here’s the link to get your paperback or order a Kindle version: mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Buildings along the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls Village, where I live, are reflected in the Deerfield River. Floodwater Brewing Co., soon to be opened by our son, Zack, is located in the building painted yellow along with the one with the porch next to it.

 

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Dylan, Entertainment, poetry, Writing

Free Wheelin’ with Bob Dylan

For the past few weeks I’ve been on a Bob Dylan kick. I listen to Dylan on my short commute to and from work. I listen to him at home. I started on the early stuff and am working my way through most of his albums in our collection. I have my Dylan station on Pandora although I wished it played more of him and less of his musical kin.

I listened to Blonde on Blonde, twice, because I liked it so much. Now I am on John Wesley Harding. Next up is Nashville Skyline.

Do I like every song? No. And the lyrics of some of his earlier songs are undecipherable. But I can feel what he intended. As the salesman at the dealership said last week when he handed me the Blonde on Blonde CD I left in the car: “Dylan? He was a poet.”

Yes, Dylan’s music, at least in the stretch I am now listening, is poetry set to guitars and harmonicas.

And then, there are the lines where there is no mistaking what he meant. “You better start swimming or sink like a stone, cause the times they are a-changing.” “Heard ten thousand whispering and nobody listening. Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughing. Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter.”

I recall one time when I was in college, about the time that photo of me above was taken, when I stayed a couple of days in a cabin waiting for my boyfriend to arrive. He was my first real love but like so many boys then scared away. He took his time getting to the cabin because, unbeknownst to me, he was planning to end our relationship.

So I spent my time listening to Dylan — over and over and over. You know you know an album when you can sing the lyrics perfectly and predict the opening chords of the next song. I still remember.

I’ve stuck through Dylan through his many phases professionally and personally — well, I could have done without that embarrassing Victoria Secret ad — even to now when his voice has worn into a raspy growl.

Dylan’s produced an outstanding body of work. He changed the way people made music. He inspired change, too, in those who listened.

I have a long ways to go before I’m done with Dylan.

Now about that photo: My sister Christine sent the faded black and white photo and Katharine, the photographer at the newspaper, was able to work it up digitally. I remember the pink sunglasses and the shirt. I was in college but I don’t know who took the photo or who owned the car. I would say I look a little Dylanesque in that photo. And I like the curl at the top.

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