Back in '69 Deland played guitar and/or piano, depending on his mood, sticking with one all night or switching back and forth. My Uncle Mick, who owned this joint then, hired the band for one night that turned into years. Mick's joint: Moriarty's Last Resort -- like the final stop for villains who deserved better. Whether that meant ends or surroundings, no one really knows. Anyhow, Deland played this hybrid, sorta bluesy-jazz-rock. The thing about it was Deland always played something one of a kind. The tunes he called up with his fingers didn't come by more than once or twice. Like a musician might talk about using a mood to write a song, Deland only conversed with his notes; You could tell what kind of a day he'd been having based on the way he played. And never an explanation out his mouth. He left the vocal styling to Jim Palmer the bass player.
See, Jim Palmer had a gift for crafting several lyrics around Deland's way of playing. So the Honky-Tonk would wait to see what mood Deland's tune carried then Jim and the others -- Lefty Camino on drums, Jack Poulakis on rhythm guitar -- would jam alongside accordingly. Anyhow, Jim kept a set of lyrics on hand he could insert regardless of the way Deland played; The notes may not have been the same, but the lyrics matched the mood of Deland's tune. All Jim needed was to time out the rhythm and sing in step as it were.
Those boys always put on a unique show.
Of course, this is around when, people like myself, tend to think the corporate tentacles started creeping in, strangling the odd out of the business. If it couldn't get stamped, sealed up on a record, people didn't want to buy it. Or so the company would have you think. See, bands like the Grateful Dead may have given you a little twist during the show, but what they played is recognizable from the record. You couldn't really do that with Deland Moran and the Vista Cruiser Honky-Tonk. And I say that having seen record men come into Moriarty's offering them contracts and getting pissed when they couldn't hear the songs they wanted. It makes sense; people want consistency when it comes to things they enjoy -- no reminders of impermanence. So those boys just stuck to playing in Moriarty's.
My uncle, being a fan, hired them regularly, and I worked there more the older I got. From nineteen on I tended bar for bikers, chronic tourists, drifters, loners, traveling salesmen, Okies, Arkies, and all types of American gypsies -- regulars though they wandered, returning when they could. And every night, the Vista Cruiser Honky-Tonk played. (That being said one does have to allow for certain predictable and unpredictable occasions: illness, injury; Jack Poulakis might disappear for a while in avoidance of gambling debts, gun toting girlfriends, and benders. But at some point the band would be whole again, usually inside of a week.)
Around '74 my uncle got sick. Cancer. It didn't take long before he couldn't make it to Moriarty's anymore. So Deland says to me one night, "Your Uncle Mick has always been good to me. Me and the guys." I said thank you that's good to hear, and he added, "My cousin has got some equipment. I'd like to make your uncle a record."
That's how it came about, in the Autumn of 1974 Deland Moran and the Vista Cruiser Honky-Tonk recorded their one and only album. There didn't need to be any spacing between tracks -- the whole performance went off like one single song. Although, the grooves did get set pretty tight. But the band managed to pack forty minutes on each side of that record. A one of a kind LP.
My uncle listened to it twice before he died.
At the band's request I kept the record to myself. Since Uncle Mick left me the bar, I asked about putting it in the jukebox, to play during the afternoon or whenever they might not be around. The guys said that would be all right.
Only the regulars and I ever gave it a spin. I guess it takes a bit of a context to get into the tune. That record is for my Uncle Mick and in a way, for Moriarty's Last Resort. Jim Palmer barely sings on it. He only sticks his voice in a few times. Like when he sings, all gravely and raw, "I don't know the road you take to get home, but I'll follow you... even if I walk alone."
The Vista Cruiser Honky-Tonk broke up in the late 70s. Mainly, the guys felt old and just didn't have the fire to keep playing. Deland stuck around for a while, but it never really sounded the same. He didn't even try to find replacements for Jim, Lefty, and Jack. And I think that's just right. Eventually, even Deland disappeared. I have no idea to where exactly, though I recall he had some family out around Chicago. Or Florida. Maybe Aspen. I don't know for sure.
I still play the record, from time to time. People don't appreciate it so much anymore. We used to get folks, every now and again, who'd request it on the jukebox -- old regulars passing through. We don't get as many these days. The star is fading, but at least it shone.