Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Fateful Fate of John Vandiver

We've touched briefly on the headliners for the '67 festival: Jimmie Driftwood, Mance Lipscomb, Pat & Victoria Garvey and Doc & Merle Watson. Now that we know the full lineup, I'd like to look at some of the other performers.

Someone named Jo Wright apparently played with Johnny Vandiver at the first Southwestern festival. They are listed as playing 'ragtime' but it appears that Vandiver's repertoire at the time leaned more towards a rural, acoustic blues. Were they afraid to call it blues because they weren't black? I'm not sure. I haven't come up with any information about Jo Wright, but the tale of Mr. Vandiver is well known throughout the Texas/ Colorado music scene. His brutal murder along with his girlfriend and manager, Debbie Davison in February of 1985, is another tragedy to follow the Texas curse that took Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly, Blaze Foley and most recently, Walter Hyatt, who was killed in the ValuJet crash in 1996.

When John Vandiver was in Winfield in 1967, he was an early disciple of Mance Lipscomb, and had been traveling as Mance's road manager, chauffeur and built-in opening act. Imagine, he paid his dues and played the blues at the same time.

Here's an excerpt from a story from the vast legacy of John Vandiver, written by his good friend, Dewey Don Lyon. It seems John was opening for Bob Marley, and two songs into his set the crowd began hollering for Bob ...

"... John was much man and not easily intimidated. He finished the song, pushed that arch-topped Alvarez to the side, and started laughing. He grabbed the mic with both hands, locked eyes with the audience, and said in that jolly sort of voice, “Hey, y'all! Nobody wants to see Bob Marley more than I do! Why do you think I'm right up here so close, anyway? Think about it. I got the best seat in the house! Now, here's how it is. I've been hired to play 45 minutes before the Wailers come on, and I'm gonna do it. Now, y'all can sit there and yell for Bob Marley, or you can kick back, burn one, and enjoy the show!” Deafening silence. Suddenly, the Hall erupted in delighted laughter and applause and people jumped to their feet and cheered! What a rush! And John? With a twinkle in his eye, he laughed that special Vandiver laugh, pulled the Alvarez back over his belly, said,“All right, then!”, and belted out: “Judge, Your Honor, won't you hear my plea, befo' you open up yo' court, ” The crowd went nuts! It was pure magic, and surely one of his best performances ever! When he finished the set, the crowd roared, “ENCORE! ENCORE!” They were pumped! He was pumped! He went back out and did “Against The Law” and had that crowd singing back to him in the way that only John could do it. It was 24-karat Vandiver gold! As a postlude, when the Wailers came onstage, the excitement was intense, for sure, but when Bob Marley himself came out to join them, it was absolute euphoria! It was certainly one of the sweetest nights I can remember! "

There is a wonderful video from 1981 of Vandiver playing with Shake Russel and Dana Cooper at http://www.livefromtexas.com/. Look for the link for "New Artists Videos"

I'm hoping that there's someone out there who remembers seeing Johnny Vandiver at Stewart Gymnasium or in one of the workshops in 1967.

Maybe he was playing a little ragtime back then.

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1 comment:

Casondra said...

Thanks for writing this.