The first sign of trouble was when the chauffeur to the rich and infamous pulled into the Sphinx Hotel in Geelong West and the agitato artist dropped his lit cigar down the shirt of his guitarist.

'This is the one fucking town you know and you can't find the right venue," Richard "Big Dick" Friedman yelled as Washington Ratso fled a torched Tarrago and the star's flaming cigar.

"Just ask the guys at the liquor store. We don't need a tension convention."

The chauffeur wasn't fazed by a panic attack in a town where disappointment usually didn't come until September.

"Now we're at the Sphinx why don't we just lighten up and open a Geelong office of Little Jewford's Sphincter Records," the older man slumped at the wheel, retorted in a vain attempt to ease the mood swings.

It was a beautiful summer night with one small problem - two Bell Park Sports Clubs in sleepy hollow and we were close to the sibling where the lights were on but no-one was at home.

But with the divine intervention of the visiting Texan crime novelist we finally found the venue paying the bills.

A hilltop retreat with no flashing neon and about as much signage as a Taliban virgin.
It was just the beginning of this raw Renaldo & Clara reprise for the new millenium.

The cat land cultural cringe crept up a cog when the Country FM radio president told the expectant crowd neither Kinky or Billy Joe Shaver were well known in Australia but the club booked them anyway.

There were guffaws from sections of the audience who had heard both artists on high rotation on the rival community stations - including the now defunct Nu Country.


Or had read the massive print media coverage for the best publicised country music tour of the decade which peaked when it made Noddy Holder's Sydney Telegraph Confidential column six days in succession.

It wasn't clear if these dorks were born dumb or just got there by rectal osmosis.
So it was no surprise when a bucolic bazza at a stage side table choked when roadie Ben Welch bared his butt on cue as Shaver joined on stage warriors for the choruses of Asshole From El Paso.

A few more catalogue classics and it was time for the spiritual Shaver encore that was as much a family tradition as the Texas Mooning.

Just as the crowd was primed for their choral climax out came a few more words from the president - intro to an elongated chook raffle. So the encore went straight to God.

Some times the chauffeur had to imbibe and this was definitely one of them.

Drunk on the cheap booze and tempting fate and bears on Highway One.

And the night had started so well with a swift short cut to test the one working artery of joint headliner Billy Joe, 62, and holding on by a thread, for scheduled post tour quadruple heart bypass surgery.

I hadn't been on the Grand Prix track before and neither had any of the overseas and local passengers in the twin Tarrago convoy.

It was Barricades & Brick Walls on hot corners and cold shoulders but we made it safely out of Albert's park into Gazza's gaudy Geelong playground.

Well, the tour was never going to be an ornament to the fame game and it was as cool as the law allowed for the artists who had been coital celebrants of the redneck-hippie romance of the seventies and lived to sing the story.

Friedman, son of a decorated World War 11 air hero turned Professor Of Psychology, was the enfant terrible of the Texas outlaw country sub genre with his Texas Jewboys.


Shaver was raised by grandma and mother, and wrote poetry - nurtured by an English teacher, Mabel Legg, who recently turned 101 and still recites his works.

The severing of the top of three fingers and lust for the lost highway turned his poems to hits and his soul into a springboard of credibility that peers would kill for.

So when you wed a cowboy poet and country comic in a Vaudevillian travelling show you come out of the wash with a spectacular spray - a cosmic collage of surrealism delivered with delicious dexterity by a quaint quintet of rambling renegades.
Shaver's understated humour and passionate parables and Friedman's comedy, under- pinned with evocative social comment and love songs, are a potent mix.

Like those who soak up karmic classics of Willie Nelson without textbook or cyber signpost, you either get it or you don't.

The music industry has long been littered with philistine fuck wits who drown in the opiate quicksand of style over substance.

Lost in smoke and mirrors imagery plantations, they are babes buried in the wondrous woods of whimsy.

Even the Texas Mooning, using a perspex sheet daubed with a map of Texas, is a self- parody designed to amuse, rather than shock.

This prairie pastiche, embellished by the addition of two Texas flags bought for $8 at a road side stall half way between Austin and Houston on the chauffeur's first Texas sojourn in 1978, was first class farce.

This was a visual experience, originally designed to test Shaver's concentration, but later retained for audience inter-action.

It was necessary to follow the singing satirist Fred Negro - a perfect bill sharer - who dined out on his revelation that Kinky's stage rider was a jug of contact lens.

Negro, unafraid to borrow lines from tabloids, reminded fans that The Kinkster had indulged in a midnight swallow of his partner's spare eyes from a glass of water in a dimly lit motel room.

It was a cartoon panel that beat the gift to Shaver of his Shonky Tonk CD, with Billy, Willie & Waylon - the song penned by Negro about his closing acts on the 1994 tour by Waylon Jennings, Willie and Shaver.


But the real test for Shaver was not impractical jokes but news of mentor Waylon's death on Valentines Day.

The calls came from Melbourne radio personalities David Heard and Derek Guille as the Tarrago terrorists sped north on Highway 31 to the their gig at Newmarket Hotel, in Albury.

Promoter Rob Hall stopped the convoy to enable Shaver and Friedman, travelling in tandem, to comfort each other at an anonymous truck stop between Violet Town and Benalla.

Jennings, 64, was the catalyst for Shaver's late blooming career when his 1973 album 'Honky Tonk Heroes' comprised only one song not penned by Billy Joe.

And it was Waylon who joined Shotgun Willie, Tompall Glaser & Billy Swan in the choir on The Kinkster's original cut of the Willie produced They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore from his self titled 1974 disc.

But the show must go on and did when the troubadours dedicated the Albury soiree to Waylon with emphasis on the Shaver songs, cut by Jennings, already in the set.

It was only the next morning, standing in white-hot gravel at the Burvale Motel, that Billy Joe revealed an eerie on stage visitation during delivery of his songs.

"I felt the presence of Waylon and began singing in his voice," Shaver confided, "it was like he and I were singing together. I was sounding just like him."


When the cavalcade rode into national capital Canberra for radio interviews and book signing Billy Joe held a wake in Lubbockian guitarist Jesse Taylor's motel suite.

That was after Shaver and Kinky shared a Kinkster dream with Canberra ABC radio.
"Kinky had this dream just before the tour where he saw this long black limo," Billy Joe revealed, "he saw me pick Waylon off the back seat and carry him somewhere. So I called up Waylon. The fellow there said Waylon was napping so I said not to bother him. Just tell him Billy Joe called."

There was a pause from the interviewer and Shaver said "I don't know if I would be here now if it wasn't for Waylon."

It was only after Jennings' death that Billy Joe belatedly called his answer machine in Waco and found the voice of Waylon whose left foot was amputated before Christmas because of diabetes.

Billy Joe, conscious of his own mortality, kept his Waylon wake modest - just Kinky and Little Jewford and their partners, Ratso, Jesse and the chauffeur.

It was not a lavish wake, but a spiritual sprint, peaking in an exclusive syndicated live to air interview with Don Imus in New York City.

The nocturnal three-way tribute, with Billy Joe and The Kinkster on twin phones, was an anecdote-swapping bonanza with a gaunt gem about a gig where Waylon, Billy Joe and late Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein were stiffed by an American promoter.

As the trio sped away from the venue there was a dynamite explosion that lit up the night sky.

"What was that,?" Billy Joe asked his smiling mentor.

"Didn't hear a thing," Waylon laughed as they drove to the next town and gig.

With both Waylon and Shel - who wrote the soundtrack for a 1969 Ned Kelly movie soundtrack featuring Mick Jagger, Waylon, Kristofferson and Tom Ghent - now dead, it was an apt time to let the explosives out of the bag.

The heartland of America laughed to a bizarre midnight confession from room 163 at the Quality Inn on the cusp of the national capital's Trade Union club.

It was only half way though a tour where the best was yet to come in exotic locales such as Bowral, Pittwater and Sydney Harbour where history, love and lunacy lurked in hidden places.

CLICK HERE for Part 2 of Diaries.

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