The Bunkhouse Boys — The Coming Of The Bunk

In case you missed the first three installments of this story, you can go back to these links:


St. Joseph, MO 1971-1973

As noted earlier, Craig was left handed (as was my mother. Dad and brother Bart were right handed, like me).

However, he played his bass right-handed, as you can see in existing pictures. Obviously, this is difficult, and later he did pick up some guitar chords playing right-handed.

There are factory-made left-handed guitars, although most stores (unless in major cities) don’t stock them. In the 60s and 70s you could buy them from catalogs, before the advent of the internet and online sales. Many guitarists would flip the guitar over to play it left-handed.

This entailed putting the strings in reverse order so that the low string (thickest) would be at the top, near the thumb when the hand rested on the strings, and the thinnest string would be on the bottom — nearest the little finger of the strumming hand.

Unfortunately, most guitars have the strings passing through a “nut” at the top of the neck — a bar of material (wood, metal or plastic) that has grooves in it to keep the strings away from each other, and the grooves are of different widths. You can’t just run a thick string through a narrow groove.

LIkewise there is a “bridge” at the low end of the guitar, another bar of material that also had a groove for each string to hold them up so they won’t rattle against the guitar body and to keep tension on the strings so they stay in tune.

As mentioned earlier, Jimi Hendrix just picked up a right-handed guitar and flipped it over left-to-right and played it that way — with the unchanged strings now in reverse order. That can really mess you up if you are right handed and trying to learn by watching Jimi play on video. His fingers aren’t a mirror image of yours — they are a flipped-mirror image that makes it hard to translate into what you wanted to do.

Craig obviously took the sensible, easy way and just played bass and guitar right-handed. No expensive custom left-hand guitar, no switching strings around, just pick up whatever guitar was handy and play it.

After Craig graduated high school in 1972, he decided to go to work instead of college — much to our father’s displeasure. He was sure that he wanted to play in a rock and roll band, and college was an unnecessary distraction.

He moved our of the family home and got an apartment in St. Joe. He worked as the maintenance man at the apartment building, which got him a free room and had relatively few demands, and found a job with a heating/AC company driving the furnace cleaner truck and going to houses that contracted to have their central HVAC unit cleaned. The truck was a large scale thing, maybe twice as big as an ice-cream truck. The entire back end was a huge vacuum cleaner, and stowed on the roof and in the side compartments were huge vacuum hoses that were about as big around as a record album — 10 or 12 inch diameter.

He would pull up to a house and run hoses to the central HVAC, most of which were in the basement, and then put the truck in neutral and put the gear shift into the PTO (power take off) position to start the vacuum. He went through the house first and closed all the vents (or sealed them by taping newspaper over them) and then went to each room with a huge, powerful blow gun (like a hair dryer but smaller than a leaf blower), opened each vent and blew whatever was in that part of the ductwork down to the central unit, where it was sucked into the truck. He could do 6 to 8 of these a day and I think he got $20 each (great money for that era).

I was now a junior in high school and Bart was in 8th grade. We still lived with the parents in Wathena, of course, but we would go over to visit Craig maybe once a week. It was cool to have an older brother living independently. I could smoke cigarettes and drink beer when I was there (of course I was a minor so I couldn’t do that at home). Bart was too young and wisely didn’t get into the vices.

I go into so much detail about these surroundings because this is where the Bunkhouse Boys were conceived.

During summer break between my junior and senior years in high school, Craig convinced my parents to let me come live with him and work as his helper on the furnace truck. My parents were not dummies, so I’m sure they knew by this time that I smoked, and I’m sure they could smell beer when I returned from visiting Craig. But I was nearly 18 and would be able to smoke and drink beer legally soon, and perhaps that’s why they didn’t make a big deal out of it.

However, they were concerned about us living together unchaperoned in a bachelor pad. Craig persuaded them, though and I started my first taste of adult freedom that summer.

Of course, we continued to come back to Wathena for supper on Wednesday nights, and I think I remember that we even took our laundry back with us. We did the laundry ourselves — we weren’t that inconsiderate enough to make Mom do it — instead of wasting money on the coin laundry in St. Joe.

During the day, I would go out on the truck with Craig. I would help him back up to the house — sometimes tricky getting into the yard close enough. We would use duct tape to connect various lengths of hoses to reach from the truck, through a basement window and down to the HVAC unit. He often had to cut a hole in the aluminum panel and then tape the hose securely to the unit to assure a tight seal for the vacuum of the truck.

Generally he would stay in the basement and superintend — mainly to see that the hose didn’t come loose. I would walk through the house with the blower and take care of the vents. Sometimes he would let me sit in the basement and he went through the house. It wasn’t real demanding work and the physical part wasn’t that strenuous. He gave me $5 per job.

But after work, and this was hot summer work, we would stop by the gas station and buy a six pack of beer for $1.15 (Pabts Blue Ribbon was the cheapest) and a pack of cigarettes for 35 cents. We had us a great time for a buck and a half. Ah … those were the days!

In the evenings we would usually listen to records. Craig had been getting more and more into country rock and then getting back to traditional country roots. A lot of that was because the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle be Unbroken” included a bunch of the ole-timey country stars getting together with the hip young musicians and exposing a lot of this traditional material to a new audience.

The Byrds had been dipping into the country music well during the late 60s and one of their members, Gram Parsons discovered a new young singer, Emmlou Harris, and cut a couple of albums with her before he died in 1973 at age 26 and became a legend.

Emmylou carried on the country diva genre along wth LInda Ronstadt, who had made new hits out of old Hank Williams songs.

But best of all was an exciting new band that really fused rock and country music into a palatable mainstream sound — the Eagles.

Their second album, “Desperado” was a concept album that used the metaphor of rock and roll musicians as gunfighters and outlaws. The songs were great, but the recording was gorgeous. British producer Glyn Johns made it into a “must hear on headphones” album. The band had beautiful harmonies and the instrumentalists were virtuosos.

This got Craig interested in forming a country rock band. While we sat around listening to albums and brainstorming in the evenings, he would doodle band logos. He had done this years before (remember the story about the Flipsides in part one?).

One night he showed me a sketch he did using letters that looked like rope. It said:
“The Bunk House Boys”

You might notice that over the years, we said Bunkhouse and Bunk House … and to tell the truth, I can’t remember what it was, officially.

Another group that caught our fancy was the Pure Prairie League. The group took its name from the cowboy film “Dodge City,” made in 1939 and starring Errol Flynn (yes — Errol Flynn). I remember it as having the biggest bar-room brawl (and funniest) in history.

I remember the group for a couple of nice songs, which we later played during the Bunk House Boys years. After the first two albums, they changed lineups, losing the people I liked best in the group. About three line-up changes later, the group actually had a top 40 hit, written and sung by their new member — a young Vince Gill. It was more of an R&B song, but that’s what it took to get commercial success.

TRIVIA: Al Garth played in the Dirt Band, Eagles and Pure Prairie League.

Craig and I had acoustic guitars in the apartment and we would work on the songs we were listening to on the albums and the “underground” FM radio stations late at night.

We also had a deep passion for classic rock and roll — the Beatles and all their derivatives. And we didn’t forget Alice Cooper. Our tastes were, to put it mildly, eclectic.

That was a magic summer for me — 1973. When it was over, I had to leave and go back to being a student and living with my parents. But it would only be for one more year, and then, I knew the Bunk House Boys would ride!