Jay Meehan: What I learned as a cosmic cowboy DJ
“Listen to the stories, man! Those cats really know how to tell a story.” ~ Charlie “Bird” Parker
Some of my best friends were country music fans. That just didn’t happen to be where I hung my hat. That is not to say I wasn’t totally enthralled by the Sun Records rockabilly of the ’50s, I just had yet to learn it was “Country.” As it turned out, there was much I had “yet to learn.”
I’d been a musical “snob” for most of my life and, in many respects, I still am. Whatever style I put next to my ear and know a bit about, to me anyway, is always the hippest thing out there. And, historically, it’s been a quite difficult proposition to convince me otherwise.
To my great benefit, however, while on the prowl for a jazz disc jockey gig, I underwent an intervention. The way it played out resembled a country song in itself. It took place down at the crossroads of Kismet and Serendipity.
The girlfriend of the general manager of what I have come to call “a low on the food chain country music outlet” down in Salt Lake had then recently turned him on to a preparation configured from the dried flower clusters and leaves of the cannabis plant.
In no time at all, the said gentleman began to identify with specific trappings of the counterculture, especially the vocabulary. He was now a “head” and, notwithstanding his double-knit polyester outfits, wished to associate with the same.
Well, as it happened, he also found himself on the prowl. He needed two new disc jockeys to fill his station’s airspace and, if possible, he’d like them to be “heads.” The girlfriend gave him a wink, picked up the phone and dialed the “Buffalo Grill” up on Main Street in Park City. Her friends owned the joint and had their fingers on the pulse of the street.
At the time, late summer of 1971, I was shooting the breeze with fellow Park City “boho” Dan Wilcox across the street on the sidewalk in front of the Alamo Saloon.
Virginia, my wife, always on the lookout to point me in the general direction of gainful employment, had been shooting the breeze in the Buffalo Grill when the call arrived. She wasted little time relaying the news, not without the help of a decibel or two, from their doorway to ours.
Suffice to say, Dan, a transplanted Texan with 10 years of country radio experience and I, who didn’t know Ernest Tubb from Kitty Wells, interviewed for the jobs and, after swearing we were both “heads,” got the gigs.
Well, not to worry. I was only in it to learn the finer points of cueing records and twisting knobs prior to entering upon what would no doubt be a stellar career dishing on Trad, Bebop, and that cool modal school.
The first set lived on a 33-1/3 rpm loop inside my brain. Satchmo would kick it off with “West End Blues,” followed by Thelonious with “Blue Monk” and Miles and Coltrane with “So What.” I would have to wait until 1980 and the advent of KPCW, however, to actually program that particular sequence on-air.
The wait was not without its positives, however. The more I bumbled as a cosmic cowboy DJ, the more help I got from northern Utah’s old-timey, bluegrass, folk and country music communities. By the time they showed me the door, I had received a graduate school’s worth of insight. ‘Twas a gift that could never be repaid.
This story, which over time has shown up in this space clad in various garb, received a nudge this time around due to many of the same friends contacting me to make sure I had tuned in to a live music show from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium celebrating Ken Burns’ latest PBS film “Country Music.” I had not. Big surprise.
For reasons that will go unexplained, my sole access to television is currently via streaming technology, a neighborhood in which I’m PBS challenged. After additional prowling, however, I located it in cyberspace and immediately immersed myself by way of the belly flop. Classic Ken Burns’ fare, I must say, which ain’t bad at all.
It’s going to be a bit difficult to bide my time until my next prowl, which is to locate the actual eight-part, 16 1/2-hour documentary online. I guess I’m just going to have to put on some Hank, Lefty, Hag and Rhiannon Giddens and hope Sunday morning comes down somewhat gracefully.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.