On the occasion of Churchwood’s new release ’2′ Joe Doerr, leader & songwriter of the band took the Fox Questionnaire. Here’s the result.
Has a song ever saved your life?
Yeah, once. Back in the ’80s I played a show with the LeRoi Brothers at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. There are double load-in doors stage right that open onto the back parking lot, and since it was a hot, summer night those doors were open during our set. I noticed a tall black man with a good pair of walking shoes tied by the laces around his neck; he was carrying a duffle bag over his shoulder and peering into the club from those doors. He had just watched a couple-of-songs-worth of the show with a wide smile on his face when the club’s big hillbilly bouncer crossed the dance floor and told him to take a hike. The black man moved into the shadows and the bouncer took his place standing in the doorway and looking intimidating, shirtless in his backwards-facing gimme cap and faded overalls.
A little later in the set, I was halfway though Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway” when I noticed a ruckus coming from that doorway. All hell had somehow broken loose, and when I jumped off the stage to investigate, I saw the black man lying face up in the parking lot with the big hillbilly on top of him. I watched as the bouncer beat that man brutally and methodically with both fists; and I saw the man’s face become a swollen, bloody pulp in a matter of seconds. Whatever had happened, I figured the point had been made: the black man with the duffle bag sure as hell didn’t deserve the beating he was getting. So I intervened. I ran to the scene and shouted into the ear of a man who clearly outweighed me by at least two-hundred pounds “Enough! Get off him you son-of-a-bitch!” A circle of other big men had gathered around by then, and as the bouncer turned to confront his accuser, one of them shoved me towards him. He grabbed me by the collar and used me like a cane as he hauled himself off the black man, and when he’d finished standing up he towered over me like a tree with his right fist cocked behind his ear. It was aimed at my face.
He asked me what I’d said, and I told him I thought the black man had had enough and that he ought to be allowed to pick himself up and leave. The hillbilly bouncer looked at me with fire in his eyes and said, “No, that other part.” I knew what he meant, but I knew that if I called him a son of a bitch to his face he’d send that fist through mine. So I looked him in the eye and said, “If you’ll excuse me now, I’ve a got a song to finish singing.” At that point, his expression changed, and I could see recognition in his eyes. He said, “Was that you singing ‘Lost Highway’?” “Yes, sir,” I said. “That’s my favorite song, boy, and you were singing the hell right into it,” he answered. Then he straightened my collar, brushed me off a bit, and said, “Get back in there and do what you do best, boy, I’ll clean up back here.” I knew there wasn’t much more I could do to help the tall black man, but when I started for the load-in doors, I noticed that he was no longer on the ground, but he was wobbling drunkenly towards the railroad tracks. He had taken the distraction I had provided as his opportunity to escape, but he’d left his walking shoes behind. I picked them up and did an end-run around the circle of men and tried to give the black man his shoes. He waved me away and said, “You keep ’em.” I didn’t know what else to do so I took them with me onstage thinking that they’d find their way back to their owner somehow. When the band restarted “Lost Highway,” the shoes were still sitting there between the mic stand and the monitor. I like to think that that was the night I sang that song better than I ever had—before or since. In retrospect, it was also the night “Lost Highway” may very well have saved my life.
You’re an instrument, what are you and who’s playing you?
I’m a Wurlitzer tube model 112 with a side-mounted sustain. Ray Charles, of course.
Which song is stuck in your head right now?
“Satan is Real” by the Stanley Brothers.
What makes you mad, what calms you down?
Bullshit in all its forms makes me mad. Coughing “bullshit” through my fist calms me down.
What’s the most beautiful sound to your ears?
My wife’s voice telling me she loves me.
And the ugliest one?
Expressions of trust in and/or praise for authoritarians masquerading as progressives uttered by people who ought to know better.
You can ask anyone one question? What is it?
I’d ask Larry Silverstein what he really meant by “Pull it.”
Your best live memory?
Trying to do a running back flip off the wall on stage at Sixth Street Live in Austin back in 1983 and failing miserably. Though I’d never actually done a running back flip off a wall before, I was twenty-one, in great shape, and determined to make it happen in the middle of “Mean Woman Blues.” I took off at a dead run from center stage and hit the wall feet-first about four feet above the stage floor. I then broke through the drywall and continued through it till my feet hit the inner brick wall about two feet behind it. I was stuck in the wall up to my knees. Then gravity had its way, my knees bent, and my entire body from the knees up slammed against the wall below me causing me to hang there upside down for a few seconds.
I’m not sure how long it would have taken the weight of my body to break me free, but I knew the guitar solo was almost over and, again, I had a song to finish. I kicked as hard as I could and brought about two square feet of drywall down on myself, did a backwards somersault through the rubble and chalk dust, and managed to get on my feet and back to the mic stand in time for verse three. I kept my eyes closed for the rest of the song, but when I opened them and looked at the crowd of people who had been dancing, I saw that every one of them had stopped moving and stood looking slack-jawed at me. I guess they thought I’d meant to do that. I gave up $100 of our $500 guarantee so the angry club owners could get the wall fixed before they welcomed Three Dog Night to the same stage the following evening.
There were other moments, of course, but that one’s quite memorable. So, it was either that night, or getting to sing “Burning Love” at the Continental Club with the great James Burton backing me up on guitar. Coin toss.
The best advice you could give anyone?
Never willingly flex your articulatio genera with the intention of placing your gluteus maximus on a horizontal surface while closing the glossopharyngeal cavity into which the occasional fruit-filled pastry is inserted for mastication and deglutition—because pieholes question how the dice roll.