Enjoy an early evening and intimate performance with the one and only, Ellis Paul at Brightside Music Room this Sunday April 14, 2019. It’s going to be a true Sunday Funday with doors opening at 5pm with food from Twisted Taco food truck, and music from 6-8pm. Cozy, early evening that is perfect for Dayton music fans!
Ellis Paul is a renowned troubadour, singer/songwriter, folky, and storyteller. He’s been inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor, and their spirits seem to occasionally grace his work. With an acoustic guitar in hand, he weaves intimate, provocative, and romantic tales of lives that were obviously witnessed by a most-talented voyeur.
Based in Massachusetts, Paul has been called the quintessential Boston songwriter more than a few times and has garnered the recognition and awards to back up that claim, including a shelf full of Boston Music Awards. Since coming onto the scene in 1993 with his independent debut, Say Something, Paul hasn’t slowed or weakened as a performer or a writer.
Spending two-thirds of most years on the road has helped him perfect both crafts, with a lot of practice on-stage and a lot of people whose stories he retells in song. Over the years and albums, his songs have gotten more personal. Paul is on tour celebrating his 20th and latest studio album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase.
How to Go?
Sunday April 14 at Brightside Music & Event Venue (903 E 3rd St).
It all began with a thought…
I grew up in the small town of Jamestown, Ohio. Jamestown is your typical small town-just about 2000 citizens. A McDonalds sits right between a Dollar General and the local pizza establishment, Bentinos Pizza. You have the two traffic lights that await you when you come to town. On Friday nights in the fall season, the Greeneview Rams take to the field that is located in the same parking lot of the old high school. On weekends, you grab a couple of cases of cold, cheap beer and drive out to the outskirts of the town, and into the never-ending acres of country land. If you have some buddies have trucks that have more rust on it than the paint on truck, strap the rope on the machine, and have a tug and pull shake down.
My family and I lived out in those fields that the hijinks and absurd behavior would take place. When the threat of tornados circled us, we would drive down the road to our friends of the family’s home. Mike and Liz Bentley would be ever so gracious and open their doors to us, and let us stay in their basement if the time came to take shelter. Of course, when you live in the country-tornados don’t scare you till they are knocking on your door. We would sit on the porch, and watch the movement of the storm in the dark skies. When the threat would move on towards another town, my folks would want to stick around and talk with the Bentleys. That meant that Mike would go to a small room which was connected to the living room, and put on some music on his record. The music room was incredible. On the wall, each shelving unit would stack across left to right, up and down, with records from all decades. It was a true sight to see. Any type of classic rock you could think of, Mike had it. The collection was impressive-still is in my opinion.
For hours, I would sit down at the kitchen table with my folks, and the Bentleys. They had daughters, so my sister would go and play with girl toys. Now, being young as I was-I didn’t feel like playing with Barbie’s, playing with dolls. I was a boy. I don’t play with those things. Who would do such a thing, I thought. I told myself that I would just sit in the kitchen with the adults, and watch whatever was on the small screen television that hung in the corner of the room. I would never
watch the shows that were being screened with the volume turned up. The music would be turned up to the farthest that the level that the volume could go. The walls shook with the sound coming blaring through the speakers. It was those nights that I would start the relationship that I have with music. It’s a small part of why I became a music writer.
As I mentioned in my article about open mics in town, I got to college and wondered what it would be like to pick up an acoustic guitar, and learn how to play. So, I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy. I received a guitar for my birthday, and soon enough from there I would start to learn. Well-that didn’t happen. I had a friend that would try to show me some chords to play, and my fingers would start to bleed. I was told that this normal, which never made any sense to me. Why the hell would you want to do something that was going to make you bleed, and you weren’t really do anything that you think would make you do such?
So there I was, trying to push through some of the pain that the fingers would feel, and play some. I learned how to play ‘Smoke On The Water’ from Deep Purple. Alright-I learned just to play the chorus. I would go to college parties, and try to impress girls with my pathetic guitar play. It didn’t work. Apparently, you needed to learn how to play songs about love, and also be a little better looking. I didn’t possess any of those traits, so I gave up playing. However, for some reason, I would never give away the guitar. Is it the best guitar to have?! Probably not, but I wouldn’t give it up. I have had it for over 10 plus years now. It’s always been in the black, nylon travel bag that came with it. It’s always sitting next to the dresser. I don’t know why I haven’t just hang it up or do anything with it-I just never wanted to give it up. That is till now.
Starting this past year, I have been going around the Dayton area and watching some of the best music that is played anywhere in the United States. I will go to show to show, meet up with the artists and bands that would be playing, and write about them and their performances. I have been going to open mic nights as well. Being able to live in Dayton, I notice thThe passion and dedication that these people have is incredible. It’s something that I want to be part of-this special group of individuals around the world that has taken to playing music.
I decided that this year I would dust off the guitar that have had sitting around for so long, and learn how to play. I would then sign up and play a set at an open mic night around town. I want to see how it feels to be able to perfect a craft that makes people come together. I wanted to learn how to play in order to show my appreciation to the people who go out there each and every night and show their talent off. I want people to read this and see that it’s in fact not the easiest thing to do. However at the end of the day, the experience will ultimately show that if you follow a dream, it will come true. I will be doing a monthly update here. I will discuss the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows. I won’t be holding anything back. If you have any comments or suggestions, please share them.
Here we go…
Dayton And The World Loses A Comedy Icon
Sifting through scattered memories, most of which are second hand recollections that occurred before my time, I find myself overwhelmed by a life lived with a manic exuberance. I found out about comedian Dow Thomas’ passing from a friend and regular customer of Wiley’s Comedy Niteclub who called to inform me of the news. I stayed up until around 2:00am poring over the condolences that poured out from all over the country, cascading down from Dow’s Facebook page and other social media outlets. I looked through pictures that I had of Dow, read through transcripts from interviews I had done with him and reflected on conversations that we had had in the past. While many around me knew Dow longer and were closer friends than he and I were, Dow possessed the ability to make you feel that you were the only one in the room. Even during performances where there were a hundred or more people in the room, he made you feel as if you were within his inner circle, that this was an intimate gathering of friends and not just a group of people watching a performance. Even beyond his unerring talent and exuberant imagination, this was his true gift.
Born in Chillicothe and raised in the Akron/Cleveland area, Dow moved to the Dayton area in 1971 to attend Wright State as a theater major, a fitting field of study for someone who had been familiar with the stage for much of his youth. Even though Dow was not a native ofDayton, he embraced the area with the fervor that a lifelong resident should have.
“I didn’t originally come from Dayton. I just kind of adopted the city in 1971. I moved to the area to go to Wright State and I just stayed.” Dow said during one of our conversations. “I ended up living in downtown Dayton. I used to hang out at the Arcade a lot there. I’m a downtown kind of guy.”
Dow was very active in the drama department while at Wright State, performing in several theater productions, such as Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet and a pair of Molière’s plays; That Scoundrel Scapin and as Cléante in Tartuffe. In the latter drama, he caught the eye of a fellow student, Rob Haney, which signaled the beginning to a lifelong friendship.
As his hair grew, so did Dow’s creative yearnings. He began playing music around town, playing at venues that are but a mere memory to most Daytonians.
“I started my shows at the Upper Krust on North Main St. for ten dollars a day. I liked being up on North Main because I liked to go to shows and Gilly’s used to be up on North Main and there was also The Tropics and Suttmiller’s, which was fun for me to go see supper club type comedians like Jerry Van Dyke or Pete Barbutti and those kind of guys.”
Even though many venues and stages were opening themselves up to Dow’s music and acting, this was still not enough to contain Dow’s imaginative energies. He started sneaking his oddly skewed humor into his songs and banter with the audience.
“I was actually doing comedy in 1972, but at that time there weren’t any comedy clubs, so I was just doing comedy along with music. I would get hired as a musician/entertainer and just add in the comedy in between songs.” Dow reflected. “I would always put on masks and stuff…I just can’t help myself from clowning around. I’d have the gig and eventually I had bands, but when I clowned around, everyone clowned around with me. What was always part of the show was me being stupid. It was what I said in between songs and me ruining songs, like singing like a dog and getting a ‘bark along’ going.”
In those days, you may have seen Dow tooling around town in his hearse, decked out like a Bohemian undertaker, black clad and sporting his ubiquitous top hat, running from gig to gig. He played with Astrid Socrates for seven years (creatively billed as Astrid & Dow) as well as drummer Doug Buchanan Tim McKenzie on lead guitar during yet another incarnation of his ingenuity. He was a featured act at The Trolley Stop, Clancy’s, the Iron Boar and Bogey’s.
Comics don’t need to spend actual time together to feel like brethren or family. We are constantly accruing that common experience that instantly bonds us all separately and continually. But, few of us are as pure, kind, original, and superbly funny as Uncle Dow. I feel forever indebted to him for making it possible for me to ever start and I know that anyone who knew him feels like they, too are some of the luckiest people alive. Uncle Dow made people laugh, but even more so he made them feel alive and always made them smile. ~Ryan Singer
“I’ll never forget the day Dow Thomas and my path crossed. I was part owner of a night club called Bogey’s onWatervliet Ave. in Dayton when Dow and Jeffro stopped in after buying guitar strings at Ace Music.” Mike Adams reminisced recently. “Things weren’t going very well at the bar and we couldn’t afford a barmaid or a cook so I was working. Dow Thomas ordered two drinks and asked for a menu and ordered a sandwich. Upon serving him he asked who owned the place and I confessed. He asked how things were going and I said not to well. He said he could tell. He asked if I had ever heard of Dow Thomas and I said yes but had never seen him and he told me I was talking to him. He offered to do a show one night a week for free as long as I didn’t interfere with him trying new material. I lost a lot of money owning that bar but memories like this makes the money seem irrelevant.”
Dow also frequently played in a bar onPatterson Road called the Iron Boar and becoming steadfast friends with the owners, Dan and Jodi Lafferty.
“We used to do a Gong Show at the Iron Boar and it was fun because we’d have some guy come up and go, ‘I’m going to do my imitation of a lobster’ and we’d go, ‘Good!’ So he’d put claws on and hop around like a freak…it was just so stupid!” Dow began chuckling to himself on the phone before going on. “I used to do a thing called Punt The Fish and I’d yell out, ‘It’s time to…’ the audience would scream, ‘Punt the Fish!’ I had this rubber fish and audience members would come up and kick this fish and we’d measure it off with toilet paper and the one who kicked it the farthest won. One night I had this woman up on stage and she kicked the fish and it went into the propeller of the ceiling fan and came back and smacked me in the face. Everybody was just laughing and I stood up and screamed, ‘Disqualified!’ It was all just so stupid, but you’ll never be able to have a moment like that ever again.”
In ’91 when I took over Jokers Comedy Café, Dow was running the open mic night. I’d never heard of Dow and looking at this man in a black trench coat and top hat, I have to admit my first impression was not great- he’s gonna be dark and sarcastic and egotistical, I thought. I could not have been more wrong! Dow loved being on stage and his joy radiated through the crowd. He would have an audience pounding their table to Power & Light, and tossing paper plates across the room as he sang Sail Cats. ~Lisa Grigsby
The comedy began usurping the music and Dan Lafferty began booking ventriloquists, jugglers and other oddball acts to fill out the shows.
“I used to have people like Jay Haverstick, who owned Jay’s Seafood, he would come and see my shows. So would Mike Peters. They would be out late at night and they would just say, ‘Hey! Let’s go and see what crazy Dow is doing!’” Dow said during another conversation. He went on, describing another huge change that was bout to occur in his life. “But there wasn’t a comedy club, so I left forL.A.I gave them (the Lafferty’s) a one year’s notice (laughing) and said, ‘In a year, I’m going toL.A.’ and that’s when we turned it into a comedy club.”
Eventually, the Lafferty’s decided to change not only the whole format of the club to comedy, but the name itself. In an unexplainable instance where someone could legitimately name a comedy club Lafferty’s, Dan decided to use his nickname instead, dubbing the newly restructured club Wiley’s.
Dow, true to his word, eventually left forLa-LaLand, seeking his fame and fortune, both of which proved to be elusive in the land of silicone and sunshine. He found that the venues that were available to him were less than conducive to his creative talents. At one point, he found himself doing sets between bouts at a boxing match and, towards his triumphant return toDayton, he was unceremoniously replaced with disco music at a Newport Beachclub. Yet the comedy scene was heating up nationally and Dow was riding the cusp of this chaotic wave. The shows were not the structured tight sets that we witness now in the clubs, but were given to more improvisational melees and surprise guests.
“There were these guys like Rich Purpura, who was a comedy/magician, and Tim Walko, a guitarist, and they were both fromChicago. We’d do a show, just packing the place, but at the end, we’d just get up there and jam and kept the show going and clown around with each other.” Dow said. “By then, we were just trying to make each other laugh, and that’s what the audience liked. It was kind of like. It was kind of like having the Rat Pack or something. It was that kind of feel, where everybody’s in the groove. Back then I could have Emo Philips come in and do twenty minutes and then I’d get a chance to go to the bathroom. Then maybe Judy Tenuta would come in and do twenty to thirty minutes and then I’d get a chance to go to the bathroom. For me, I thought it should go on all night.”
Another person that benefitted from the burgeoning comedy scene was Rob Haney, a newly touring comic and future owner of Wiley’s Comedy Niteclub.
“Rob Haney came up to me one time and said, ‘Can I get up and do some time? I just got back from The Comedy Store.’ He had just done some showcasing there…which surprised me because Rob was a bouncer in a bar I used to work at.” Dow recalled that, “When I first met him, he was a doorman at a place called The Bar inWest Carrollton. It was a rough little joint that ended up being Omar’s for a while. It was an old basement bar and the family that owned it was pretty rugged. I actually had guns pulled on me in that bar. I’ve seen him mace guys and throw guys out…he’s a pretty tough guy. He had like shoulder length hair at the time and pretty well built, so it was a different Rob Haney that came up to me with short hair and asked if he could do like twenty minutes and I said, ‘Sure!’ I let him up at the Trolley Stop and I had a gig there like six nights a week…it was crazy.”
Another iconic staple of the Miami Valley that Dow had a huge role in was with his friend Dr. Creep (Barry Hobart) and Shock Theater. The inception of Shock Theater was supposed to be actually scary, as an accompaniment to the B-rated horror flicks that they screened, but the campy ineptness and irrepressible humor of Dr. Creep and the people that worked on the show quickly made the show a campy carnival for all of those late night viewers.
“I ended up getting on just about every television show in Dayton, but I got with Dr. Creep in the late seventies when it was called Saturday Night Dead because they had him on after Saturday Night Live, so it was kind of a neat spot.” Dow went on to say, “So I wrote The Ballad of Dr. Creep and went on there with my girlfriend at the time, Astrid Socrates and also with a bunch of my friends and we did skits.”
“You know, what’s funny about that whole thing is that they became the number one, locally produced television show while I was writing for them. They would go, ‘Okay, we’re showing Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ and we made up the Bat Photo Studio and all of the prints would come out really dark, and customer’s would comment, ‘Wow! These prints are really dark!’ and I’d go, ‘Well, I am Dracula: Prints of Darkness! Sometimes I accidently cut their heads off!’ and I’d hold up a severed head. It was just stupid stuff like that.” With a tinge of regret, Dow added, “Of course, Joe Smith said, ‘No, you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ He was an integral part of the studio there, so I got censored quite a bit and got into a little bit of trouble. I remember John Riggi and I getting yelled at because we changed the weather map one time. We got up there and started putting a bunch of tornados around Xenia…they were just little magnetized things back in those days. We were hippies in a studio that had rules.”
Dow played some forty different clubs in the MiamiValley the years that he was here and developed a huge fan base locally as well as in other cities that he performed in. In 1997, he moved to Florida with his wife Kay and they took up residence at some of the local clubs near their new home. Even after his departure, Dow was voted Dayton’s Best Comedian for two year’s running. He would still make frequent sojourns to Ohio, usually performing at Wiley’s one to two times a year, creating comedic chaos with his skewed humor and especially with his song Sailcats, in which he would cajole the audience into throwing paper plates in lieu of flattened kittens as the song implied. The staff would usually find the last paper plate stuck in the rafter shortly before Dow’s next scheduled appearance.
I contacted Dow in February of 2011 to ask if he would perform at my upcoming Dirty Little Secret Sanitarium show in May. He was eager to do the show because of the variety aspect of the event, but was reluctant in some ways, feeling that it would be a conflict of interests with his Wiley’s appearances. Rob Haney assured him that there would be no conflict and he agreed to do the show. That evening became an impromptu reunion of sorts in honor of Dr. Creep as not only had Dow worked closely with him, but so had some of the other performers slated for that evening. Thomas Nealeigh from FreakShow Deluxe had worked with Dr. Creep as had A. Ghastlee Ghoul. Our emcee for the evening was Dr. Creep’s protégé Baron Von Pork Shop and some of the members of Team Void had recorded music for Shock Theater’s DVD’s. Dow had a blast at the show and had garnered yet a few more fans for his cult of comedy.
I contacted him again this past December to see if he wanted to be part of the Dirty Little Secrets Sick Of Santa Show and he readily agreed. We spent the rest of the conversation talking about old horror movies and other trivialities. On the night of the show, December 28th, 2011, his wife Kay showed up at the club saying that Dow was really sick and would be unable to perform. Seeing the look on her face and knowing Dow’s penchant for performing, I knew then that it was ore serious than she was letting on. The next evening, Dow arrived at Wiley’s to do his Thursday night set and we could all tell that something was wrong. The current owner, Rob Haney, and other staff and friends finally convinced Dow he needed to seek medical attention. He was admitted toMiamiValleyHospital and, two days later was released. He performed the New Year’s Eve show as well as the shows the following week.
His last show on January 7th, 2012 was astounding. Offstage, he seemed somewhat fragile, but as soon as he was on stage, that glimmer came into his eyes and the casual smirk shown across his face. He performed Sailcats and wheedled the audience into throwing the paper plates once again, daring any one of them to land one of them on his top hat. It was a picture perfect performance where someone actually landed a paper plate onto his top hat. The show ended with a standing ovation for our Uncle Dow, with audience members shouting out their approval and appreciation for Dow’s show.
After the show, Dow was surrounded by family and friends, well wishers and fans. It was the way of Dow: that feeling that you just needed to be near him and everything would be alright. You would be safely ensconced in his world.
Shortly after returning to Akron, Dow was hospitalized. He died January 18th, 2012. The outpouring of condolences and memories was immediate and Dow’s Facebook page became a makeshift memorial for a legion of stunned fans and friends to share their grief as well as their memories.
I think now of the boarded up Upper Crust, the warped wooden floors of the Trolley Stop, the comfortably worn carpet of the Wiley’s stage and I can hear the clank of glasses against the cascading laughter and see Dow with a mischievous gleam in his eyes as he dons a mask and unleashes a dialogue of absurdity in the voice of Lon Chaney. I can see him on stage doing what he did best: fashioning a world without limits, pushing the envelope until it bent and combining chords to nonsensical songs that bring laughter to all who are compelled to bang their glasses on the table and sing along. I see him smile down from the stage wearing a paper plate atop his felted hat, an improvised halo for our imaginative jester.
Read my previous article from 12/2010 – “Dow-Town Dayton”
An Interview (Of Sorts) With Movie Star, Billy Willy
The whole day began oddly. I received a phone call at around 3:00am and a quiet, muffled voice asked if I would like to meet with and interview a world famous comedian/actor/musician/bon vivant. After wiping the sleep from my eyes, I managed to mumble, “Sure.” After a few moments, another voice was transmitted through the phone which introduced itself as Billy Willy. In retrospect, I have to admit that the first voice sounded exactly like the second voice…just without a hand covering it’s mouth. Anyway, Billy Willy said that he loved my work and he was an avid reader of Rolling Stone Magazine. I was unsure of what the connection between myself and Rolling Stone was, but I was far too tired to care. We quickly set up an interview for the next day at Carmen’s on Second St. After hanging up, I rolled over and went back to sleep, quickly forgetting the conversation until I woke up the next morning and looked through my notes.
I arrived at Carmen’s several minutes before the appointed interview time and, after purchasing my lunch and walking into the back dining room, I found myself in the Twilight Zone. Well, the Twilight Zone if it had been written by William S. Burroughs and directed by David Lynch while they were both flying high on massive doses of mescaline. There, towards the back of the room, sat a lone figure, replete in a monstrously huge ten gallon Stetson, a powder blue sequined Western shirt, pegged slacks and cowboy boots…with spurs that jingled and caught the light every time the lone figure fidgeted. Assuming that the figure had to be the World Famous Comedian/Actor/Musician/Bon Vivant Billy Willy, I strode up and introduced myself…the first of many mistakes I would make within the next hour. The second would be asking him any questions, which was the next mistake that I made…
J.T.: How are you today? I’m J.T.
Billy: This doesn’t look like a French Restaurant.
J.T.: Well, I don’t think that it is…
Billy: Oh. Isn’t L’Auberge the best restaurant in town?
J.T.: Yes, but…
Billy: Well, this is a croissant, which is French, so this must be L’Auberge. I would have thought that they would have had a better wine list though…
J.T.: Well, this is…
Billy: Where’s Annie?
Billy: Annie Leibovitz.
J.T.: Annie Leibovitz from Rolling Stone?
Billy: Yes. I thought you guys shot all your celebrity interviews.
J.T.: I don’t…this isn’t…I write for DaytonMostMetro.com…
Billy: I’m not familiar with that column. This isn’t the first time I was in Rolling Stone you know…
Billy: Well, it wasn’t a cover story like this…
J.T.: This isn’t…
Billy: It wasn’t even really a feature article. It was more like an ad I placed to sell a guitar actually. It’s just as well that she wasn’t here. Now I don’t feel so bad about all the money I spent for professional headshots. (Hands me an envelope full of blurry Polaroid pictures)
J.T. : The only bio I could find of you, which was an old MySpace account, said that you were living in California, but that you were moving back to West Virginia. Why is that?
Billy: Well, my movie The Billy With The Dragon Willy in 3D tanked, so I’m back on the road. I don’t understand why it tanked because it was so well received on the festival circuit.
J.T.: Do you mean like at Sundance or the Tribeca Film Festival?
Billy: No. Like Clapper Gap, California’s Yam Festival and Possum Grape, Arkansas’ Jumping Toad Festival. I’m not sure where else it was shown. I think that it was actually a direct to YouTube release. Maybe the film will have a life. I thought that this film would be my big breakthrough.
J.T.: Well, speaking of your movies, it said in your bio that Billy With The Dragon Willy is kind of a sequel to your music CD Crouching Billy, Hidden Willy. I tried to locate a copy, but oddly enough, it was only released in the Shanxi Province of China.
Billy: Yes, that was my Chinese import. My single from that ranked 386 with a bullet on the Mandarin Hot 400.
J.T: Well, The Billy With The Dragon Willy isn’t your first brush with filmmaking, was it?
Billy: No. I read for the lead role in Brokeback Mountain, but Heath Ledger got it…and look what happened to him! I ended up as an extra and was also a technical adviser for the film. You know that thing where he spit in his hand? That was my idea.
J.T.: Being in the industry in California, you must have been able to meet up and network with a lot of celebrities.
Billy: I’ve met lots of people and met lots of celebrities, but now I’m heading back, across the country on my new tour which I’m going to be launching at the Dayton Funnybone…I’m not sure why I would have crossed half the country to start a national tour, but who knows what these booking agents are thinking. I’m in Dayton now and happy to be here.
J.T.: Well, has your celebrity connections helped you out career-wise?
Billy: Well, I was recently in New York City to try out for the new Folger’s Coffee jingle contest
J.T.: Well, you must have some interesting stories about your travels. Did you make any stop offs on your way to Dayton?
Billy: I did stop off in Las Vegas and did a show there.
J.T.: I thought that Dayton was the first stop on your national tour.
Billy: Well, it was a private party. It was a children’s birthday party.
Billy: I did get to see some of my friends while I was there though. I know Siegfried and Roy…well, Roy. It turns out that Roy loves traditional mountain music, but Siegfried likes trance. I met them years ago when I was playing a hot Vegas club called The Rusty Trombone.
J.T.: Well, you grew up in this part of the country didn’t you?
Billy: Yes. I grew up in a Pizza Hut in Friendly West Virginia. When my parents moved there, a vacant Pizza Hut was all they could afford because they were doing God’s work. It’s not a bad thing. Like I tell people, we had a big kitchen, lots of parking and a huge dining room. I’m looking forward to moving back to Friendly, West Virginia with my son Woody. The only thing that I am not looking forward to are the UFOs.
Billy: Yeah, we’re the Mountain State and that makes us easy targets for UFO abduction.
J.T.: How so?
Billy: Well, we are a little closer to the sky then you all are. I’ve never been abducted myself, which I don’t take personally because, being famous, if the aliens want to know anything about me, they can just Google me. I have had friends that have been abducted and sometimes they’re returned if they are not good enough for the aliens, and that’s sad. They become sad sacks and they feel sort of rejected.
At that point, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and, in the back of my mind, waited for Ashton Kucher to leap out so all of this would make sense. I scooted past the door to the men’s room, stepping up my pace as I reached the sweet relief of the back door that led to the alleyway. If you want to witness for yourself why Billy Willy is billed as “West Virginia’s least favorite country and Western musician, go to the Funnybone on May 12th at 7:30pm. It will only cost you $10 to see one of the most singularly bizarre acts this side of Friendly, West Virginia. Joining Billy on stage will be Michelle Metzner and Lady Jae Je. You may also be able to pick up one of Billy’s first recordings, Je m’appelle Billy Willy. Call (937) 429-5233 or go online at www.daytonfunnybone.com to make reservations.
Comedian Dow Thomas Reminisces About The Dayton Comedy Scene
It’s very rare for someone to be able to meet any of the people that were instrumental in warping the needle on their moral compass. For example, in the future, the odds are astronomically against my kids ever meeting up with Snooki, the creator of Grand Theft Auto or any or the Real Housewives of Poughkeepsie. I, however, was able to talk with one of the people who were instrumental in changing my vision and giving me the ability to see the world through laughing eyes: Dow Thomas. Dow is a musician, comedian and actor, who was, at one time, a script writer and musician for the notoriously wonderful local program shown on channel 22 and hosted by Dr. Creep called Shock Theater…a show that I was an avid fan of when I was a kid.
I was able to speak with Dow recently from his Floridahome. The first question I asked was whether or not Shock Theater was his introduction into the world of comedy.
“No. I was actually doing comedy in 1972, but at that time there weren’t any comedy clubs, so I was just doing comedy along with my music. I got with Dr. Creep in the late seventies when it was called Saturday Night Dead because they had him on after Saturday Night Live, so it was kind of a neat spot.” Dow reflected on the first time he was on Dr. Creep’s show, saying, “I wrote The Ballad of Dr. Creep and went on there with my girlfriend at the time, Astrid Socrates. I remember some of the early stuff. It was juvenile jokes and stuff, but that was what they (the television station) wanted because they wanted everything clean, stupid and quick.”
If there were no comedy clubs, what venues did he perform in? Dow told me that he would just play in the local bars, places like the Trolley Stop, The Bar and The Iron Boar.
“I would get hired as a musician/entertainer and just add in the comedy in between songs. I would always put on masks and stuff…I just can’t help myself from clowning around. I’d have the gig and eventually I had bands, but when I clowned around, everyone clowned around with me. What was always part of the show was me being stupid.” Dow said. “Sailcats was one of the early comedy songs I wrote which got people to throwing plates at me and that just started it all. We used to sing The Wonderful World of Toilet Paper and we used to TP all the clubs like Clancy’s and the old Wiley’s, which was The Iron Boar originally. But comedy was always a thing with me.”
Since this was predating the eighties comedy boom, I wondered how the comedy scene evolved inDayton. After talking with Dow over an hour, I got a sense of how paradoxically brutal and liberating the process was.
“I was doing The Iron Boar only on Sundays and Wiley had hired me to do it by myself and so I basically got rid of the band…but I still had jam sessions. I was primarily a single act and that’s when I went almost strictly comedy. Back then, I had to do five hours, like from nine to two in the morning, so you had to have a lot of material.” Dow added a couple of memories from the early days ofDaytoncomedy, saying, “We had a comedy night on Tuesdays…and people still bitched about the dollar door charge! It was just crazy. I remember D.L. Stewart came in and did a little bit one night and then wrote an article about the experience.”
Since he had seen the whole evolution of the comedy scene, I wondered whether he felt that it had become too rigid, too structured.
“Yeah…yeah I do. Back then I could have Emo Philips come in and do twenty minutes and then I’d get a chance to go to the bathroom. Then maybe Judy Tenuta would come in and do twenty to thirty minutes…and then I’d get a chance to go to the bathroom.” Dow related that, “For me, I thought it should go on all night because I had been out to the Comedy Store and all of these places. I mean, I had moved out toL.A.in 1983 and I spent a couple of years out there going to different clubs. Back then, nobody closed their bar after the show. A lot of times, we’d all be up doing improv.”
Dow was not a native resident of Dayton, having moved here to attend Wright State, but he quickly adopted the city as his own. He became a habitué of the Arcade, the local bars and the dinner clubs ofDayton. I asked when he had moved from Dayton to his current residence inFlorida.
“Uh…let’s see (yelling to his wife)…Kay! When did we move down here? What year was that? 1997.” Dow the related a funny anecdote. “After we moved, aDaytonnewspaper im
mediately voted me the funniest man inDayton…then they did it again the next year. They voted me the funniest man inDaytonfor two straight years and I wasn’t even living there!”
The paper in question used to be called The Dayton Voice…then Impact Weekly…and now it is known as the Dayton City Paper. Maybe we were just still pretending that our Uncle Dow hadn’t left our fair city.
“Droopy” Drew Discusses Donnie Baker, Motor Boatin’ And Fun
Hailing from the deep south (somewhere around the Franklin, Ohio area), “Droopy” Drew Donisi takes the stage brandishing a guitar to play his own originally warped southern rock tinged tunes. Drew’s approach to comedy is open, engaging the audience with his sincere bouts of storytelling interspersed with original melodies.
“I don’t want to complain and I don’t want to get on stage and bitch about anything.” Drew said during a recent interview. “I just want to tell a story that I may have made up, but it’s going to be a funny ass story.”
Headlining at Wiley’s brings this local comedian full circle as he had originally started his comedic career performing open mic sessions there.
“I did the open mic thing there on Sunday nights, trying out new material and ideas that I had and that’s where I came up with all my songs.” Drew reflected. “You know those open mic nights were just having fun.”
Fun seems to be the watchword of Drew’s performances. He seems to be more concerned about giving the audience a brief respite from their daily concerns and allow them the just let loose, have fun and possibly sing along to one of his many original songs. Some of his could be seen as purely sophomoric, but again, they are purely just for fun. I asked him about the process of writing the songs, whether the melody comes first and the words are hung upon it or if the tune is written around the words…and where did he come up with the ideas for the songs?
“Well, like that Motor Boatin’ song.” he said. “I saw somebody with big (globular mounds of flesh found on the chests of females)…I know you can’t write that in the article, but…and I was like, ‘Holy smokes!’ and I just started thinking that there are a lot of things that I like to do, but that is one of the things that I love to do, so I just made the whole song about things that I like to do, but the one thing I love to do is motor boatin’.”
And no, if you don’t know what motor boating is, I’m not going to tell you. That’s what the Internet is for. While this and some of Drew’s other songs are riddled with sexual innuendos, a lot of his material is extremely accessible by all audiences. His humor and prowess with the guitar even caught the eye of the Bob and Tom camp. Drew has opened for Donnie Baker on several occasion (the most recently being in Indianapolis in April) and has appeared on the Bob and Tom Show. I asked Drew to fill in the details on how he came to meet Donnie Baker.
“I featured for Dwight York at Wiley’s last year and Donnie came in and did two shows. Dwight moved down to feature and I moved down to opener.” he related, “which, as you know, when they bring somebody big in, the opener usually gets dropped. So Rob (Haney, owner of Wiley’s) kept me in the rotation. So, I hit it off with the band and Donnie was really easy to work with.”
Drew’s direct approach and unpretentious acceptance of what he wants his comedy to convey has made him a favorite son of not only Wiley’s, but many other venues around the country. His good natured demeanor reflects in the honest answer that he gave me pertaining to what he wanted audiences to take away from his shows:
“All I’m trying to do when I’m doing my comedy is to give the audience the chance to forget about the crap outside the doors.” he said. “When they come in, it’s just stupid humor. It’s nothing that you have to think about. It’s nothing that you really have to know any politics. It’s just a good time out with your friends and a guy that will make you laugh.”
(Writer’s Note: Sadly, Drew passed away suddenly on March 10th, 2012. You will be missed by many “Droopy.”)
The Guitarist for Lynyrd Skynyrd Speaks Out
May 9th, 2007
During a recent telephone interview, I caught up with Rickey Medlocke, one of the three lead guitarists in the current Lynyrd Skynyrd line up. Rickey was one of the original drummers for Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the early seventies who eventually went on to form the southern rock band Blackfoot, so named due to his American Indian heritage.
J.T.: Now, if I remember right, years ago you were in Skynyrd, but you were playing drums.
Rickey: Yeah, I was one of the original drummers, yeah.
J.T.: Do you ever miss being a little more in the background?
Rickey: No! No! No! No! Ha ha! Well, of course not! I was the lead singer and lead guitarist for Blackfoot. I mean, I love to play guitar, I love to entertain people. I just wasn’t…I guess I was a good enough drummer, but I wasn’t a great drummer.
Rickey: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah! Everything is going real good, man. We’re just taking it one day at a time, and so far so good. The crowds have been great, it’s a good package. I mean, Hank (Williams Jr.) has a little bit older fans and our fans are a little bit older, but we also get Lynyrd Skynyrd girls from fifteen to fifty-five now, so I think it works out O.K. The deal is, it’s going good, the crowds are great, they’re all pumped, you know. Hank is Hank and Lynyrd Skynyrd, you know…(Laughs)…what can you say, what can you say!
J.T.: Now, with the younger audiences, do you think your bringing something new to them as well as the presenting the extensive history of Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Rickey: Well, I think so. Last year, we had Three Doors Down out there with us and that was phenomenal. Like I said, the audiences range from fifteen to fifty-five, so, uh, what can you say?
J.T.: With some of the collaborative stuff you guys have been doing with younger artists as well as some of the tour billings with, like you mentioned, Three Doors Down, does that change Skynyrd’s direction at all?
Rickey: Well, that’s really interesting. We’ve been writing for a new CD right now and we’ve been writing with a lot of different writers. We’re involved with a guy that’s been writing and been involved with Velvet Revolver and people like that. We’re writing with a guy that is the guitar player right now for Rob Zombie. On the other side of it, we’re writing with people that’s been, you know, that’s had hits with…country (artists). We’re involved with a bunch of writers and what I think it does is, whatever we put our hands on, it comes out as Lynyrd Skynyrd. Because I think Skynyrd music has a broad spectrum anyway.
J.T.: Yeah, it definitely crosses boundaries. From rock to blues to country…
Rickey: Oh yeah! Sure does, man.
J.T: I know there was some controversy among Skynyrd fans when you introduced the Travelin’ Man duet, where Johnny VanZant sings along with the vocals from the deceased Ronnie VanZant. Is that still part of the performance?
Rickey: Well, this year…I’m not going to let any secrets out, but we’re doing some really different stuff. You know, that came about back on the Thyrty record, and we introduced that and we’ve used it every once in a while, but we’ve got some other surprises in store for everybody on this thing. You know, they’re going to have to come out and check it out.
J.T.: Along those lines, with the song Red, White and Blue, is there more of a patriotic reaction to that song now then when it was released?
Rickey: Well, I think that it’s about the same, maybe a little bit more. I mean, the one thing that I do know that’s going on in this world today is everything is so polarized, you know? It’s a damn shame, you know? It seems like our country is being pulled completely apart, and for Lynyrd Skynyrd, we’ve been the American band for all these years…and it’s really sad for us to see how this country is being so polarized and pulled apart. When, in reality, a few short years ago, you couldn’t break this country apart… it’s interesting. Now, it’s like everybody’s losing their damn balls, man, and nobody wants to stand up and do anything. So, you know, that’s the whole thing about it; instead of getting stronger, instead of having some damn balls about ourselves, the country’s getting softer, being weaker. I, for myself don’t like to use the band as a platform to talk about politics, because I think that entertainers should definitely stay the hell out of politics, you know what I mean? Because, entertainers…we got our own kind of gig and a lot of Hollywood, those people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when they get into politics. I mean, Ronald Reagan was a rare case, you know? Ha! That guy was a very rare case, you know? But the point of what I’m getting at is instead of pulling this nation apart, we should be pulling it together, you know? Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent or whatever, we’ve got one of the best countries in the damn world, and guess what? It seems like the damn thing’s being ripped in two.
Rickey: Yeah! Right! Also, its like, just think about it…guys have been cracking jokes for years and years and years and everybody kind of took it in stride. Now, you got to be real careful with what you say because you’re going to end up without a gig, your family is going to be broke, you’re going to be homeless, or whatever. It’s like, this country has become so politically correct, it’s sickening.
J.T.: Well, like what happened with the Dixie Chicks. A two-second comment cost them gigs and appearances.
Rickey: Yeah, I mean, I got my own opinions of the Dixie Chicks, man. You know what? We live in one of the greatest countries in the world, and that’s how they can become as wealthy as they’ve become. You know what I mean? By living in a place where they’ve had the opportunity to do that. But you know, man? At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, we live in a great nation and we should learn to appreciate what we’ve got. People…just take everything for granted, you know, and that’s a damn shame, man.
The prolific powerhouse that is Lynyrd Skynyrd rolls on, playing town after town with various acts such as Saliva, Hank Williams, Jr. and Kid Rock. The group has faithfully released new material, starting with the album Vicious Cycle in 2003 and the most recent edition to their eclectic repertoire, Gods And Guns, was released in September, 2009. While there are those fervent purists who believe that the real Lynyrd Skynyrd perished in a flash of flames in a swamp in Magnolia, Mississippi, the true tradition of Southern Rock has been loyally carried on, with still one more from the road just around the corner.