Pantaris and Velocity

The bottle came down on the table with a thump: Saint Pauli Girl. It was a very special night and the energy was high. The Gem Sisters, Pearl and Ruby, were playing and everyone it seemed needed to be there. Word was out all over Erosion Canyon and beyond in the hidden whereabouts that grace the wrinkles of Appalachian topography: the happening scene would be at Woodlands (pig-pickin’ and barbeque) in Blowing Rock, this Friday night. And what a fine scene the Gem Sisters put on with their homespun duet of sincere Americana from Steven Foster to Hank Williams sprinkled liberally with their own original compositions. Before the night was through, many a cross would be peeled from the bottle. (During deep tavern confessionals, the paper cross always gets peeled off the bottle; Miller and ‘the Girl’ respectively.) Pearl and Ruby always evoked a Mood.

Pantaris and Velocity would surely be there. They had been studying the Sisters for months, now; analyzing everything about their performance because they were singer/song-writers, too. Well, Velocity had written the most, while Pantaris fancied himself a lead player. And all this didn’t happen by accident; surely there was some Invisible Hand, guiding their destiny towards a big Future.

Pantaris met Velocity while working in the kitchen of The Tack Room (number 3 restaurant in the US, at the time; whose various incarnations include Fabian’s, and the Ruddy Duck. Fabian was quite a good guitarist, himself.). Fabian Botta’s father (Oscar) had given Velocity his nick-name (‘Velocito’, in Spanish). Velocity was going through a rough divorce from his former wife and was out of a home and Pantaris was recovering from a similar tragedy and looking for a room to rent, so the two pooled their struggling-artist resources and rented a trailer on the edge of Boone, NC. Pantaris had recently acquired his Harmony electric in a trade for his electric bass (with Bright Forward; see Mountain Rain) and also a Gibson amp (with tremolo) from Dean, a locally famous Dead Head who actually knew Uncle Tom (Dr. Thomas Hosicke), but that is a whole other, completely weird story that we won’t go into.

The Three of us (Pantaris and Velocity and Dean) were having toast and coffee at a local restaurant (the Mountain House Restaurant, near Southend: see this review, and here) one morning when Dean said, “See that elderly gentleman over at the next table?”. We all looked around, but nothing unusual registered; there were many elderly mountain folk in Appalachia. Dean continued, “That’s Doc Watson (here and here) and his family. (Wife and son, Merle). They drive up here about once a week from Deep Gap”. Man, Dean really got around. Dean taught Pantaris how to play Franklin’s Tower. And Velocity had a book of scales that he gave to Pantaris, who studied them religiously during that era of music-making. It had a picture of this lead guitar-player on the front with the coolest-looking ‘fro: who could resist learning from that book!

Now the trailer park was outstanding in the field of strangeness. For example, during a typically heavy Boone snow, Pataris built a snow-hive beside their trailer. How peaceful and quiet it would be to sit inside in muffled solitude and contemplate the wonders of Nature. Within an hour of its completion, millions of indigent Appalachian children swarmed the area (like ants at a picnic) staying at all hours day and night, hollerin’ and generally raising cane to the point that, sleep-deprived and irascible, Pantaris had to charge the youth and  stomp down the snow-hive into mushy powder before they all would leave (as Pantaris yelled at them, shaking his angry fist). Another thing that made that particular trailer-park special was that, for some inexplicable reason, Velocity turned out to be a Chick-Magnet. He was on special terms with literally scores of the lovliest, most fascinating women from all over the Watauga Valley. In puzzling over this feature, we decided it must be his irresistible charm, his knowledge of Dr. Who episodes, and his affection for Chocolate cake (which we lived off of with a steady diet: breakfast, lunch and supper; starving musicians that we were).

Velocity’s songs were deep and locally famous: Barlow (which was later developed into a sport), Yellow Flowers, Cotton Jenny, Mullah of Qintar, and Baseball Player. I ran into Velocity, arbitrarily, one day in Charlotte NC while standing in line at a movie theatre. Later on, he sent me a compilation of his latest work: a masterpiece featuring something akin to British Punk. Velocity told me one night on Hobo Hill (in Boone) that he had a disdain for playing the same old styles from bygone years and liked to continue his Intellectual growth, His new compositions reflect this Ideal.


Mountain Rain

In the early days right after college, or it might have been during the latter days of college -it was towards the end of Summer, possibly August- axamaxa was visiting some of his good college friends, and he was staying in a spare room in the back of a small house that they were renting. The house was located on the Southeastern end of a small knoll towards the back-side of Howard’s Knob; secluded and adjacent to the wild-wood. This location suited axamaxa because of its mysteriousness. We know that it was in late August because Virgin’s Bower was a-blooming ‘neath the open window to axamaxa’s room.

Axamaxa had already been staying on a site way, way back on the back-side of Rich Mountain near Tater hill. He had a motorcycle that he got around on in those days and he had met a Hippie Chick who drove her dirt-bike up the mountain to thehippie chick site. She was quite an Earth-People type of woman and they had a lot in common at the time. Boy, those were fun times. The Earth-People Community was a rich resource of interesting characters and inspiration for the arts and music.

There was a Co-Op (called The Mountain Food Conspiracy) down in Boone, NC which also served as the headquarters of Bean Mountain Soy Dairy. Bean Mountain made a lot of tofu and distributed it throughout the Southeast to places like Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, Georgia. Counter Culture types could often get a paying job at Bean Mountain that fit well with their membership duties at the Co-Op. It was a great meeting-place for the Earth People, some of whom lived in abandoned places such as Erosion Canyon, usually in large old houses that they could swap maintenance for in lieu of too much rent money. These were tiny functioning Communes (or kibbutzes) where the residents worked together to tend the bees and orchards and practice organic gardening methods such as French Intensive, and the like. From such a heritage grew Appalachian State University’s Watauga College Program (and here) which has of late grown into a regional sustainable energy initiative. Axamaxa lived in East Dorm (Watauga College) for a while, where he met many later residents of Erosion Canyon.

At any rate, it was while staying at the home of friends on Howard’s Knob, that he decided to form a small Musical combo with them. Axamaxa had an old Harmony Electric Guitar (the kind that Sears sold) which he had obtained from one of the friends, in exchange for axa’s old Electric Bass. And the Bass Player’s high-school sweetheart (later; wife) played the keyboards. They did not have a proper keyboard stand on which to put the keyboard, so they improvised by employing an ironing board instead. They thought this looked pretty cool, so the ironing board idea stuck.

Many of the Hippies of that era did Fabric Arts, whether Batik or Weaving, and of course the ubiquitous tie-dye; and axamaxa was certainly one of them: a little bit famous for his weird tapestries. So he worked up a Banner Tapestry to hang behind the band when they played. The Banner featured Nootka, Tsim-tsiam, or Kwakiutl Iconography and is quite striking. The name of the band was written boldly across the banner in Tsalagi script (Cherokee): DOh-duh-LANH a-GAANH-sskanh. It seemed like it had been raining in the mountains for a long time (as it often does in the Southern Appalachians), so, like, the new name was really apropos!

Ironically, this banner art has served as the basis of Musicosophy’s T-Shirt and Logo design artwork, to this very day.