Frankie ‘Hats’ Pistachio Does KC
Frankie Pistachio woke up a little before noon in a cheap but clean motel some thirty miles outside of Kansas City, nursing a severe hangover. He laid there and listened to the voice of the colorful plastic clown just outside the window. “That will be $6.79. Please pull up to the second window.” The clown had an accent, and Frankie thought that maybe he came here from Mexico or one of the Central American countries.
He thought about the first window. Why didn’t anybody ever get told to stop at that one? You might imagine that the first one would be where you handed over your money, and the second where you pulled up to get your food. That seemed orderly. Sensible. But at all the clown drive-ins he’d ever ordered a to-go meal from, it was always “Please pull up to the second window”.
As he stared at the ceiling he tried to remember what the hell it was…whiskey, tequila or some of that two buck no-luck that came in a bottle when a carton would suffice. He blinked a few times, tossed the thin blanket off of his chest and remembered that he hadn’t had a drink in seventeen years. It wasn’t the alcohol that made him feel sick this morning, but the all night AA meeting he went to at the Crown in KC. Damn…these festivals or conventions or alliances or whatever the hell they called them these days were taxing on one’s sobriety. For a vet like him, who long ago lost the taste and had wrestled the demons off his back, one of these six hour sessions of sharing was enough to drive him to the nearest bar.
The day after was still the day after.
Frankie Pistachio played a mean guitar, and could muscle his way around a banjo, mandolin, lap steel, dulcimer, spoons, blues harp, keyboards and oboe. The latter was the last instrument available on the shelf at Kress’s Finer Music Shoppe on Biddle Street back in East Baltimore when he was still a kid, and his father and mother had insisted he learn how to play a ‘real instrument’. He actually didn’t mind, although he’d never let on and wouldn’t admit it to them. But then came that incident in his senior year at high school, when he was suspended for two weeks and almost sent away. He’d taken it out of the case one day and beat Henry Werstmueller with it, sending him to the hospital with a fractured skull and broken arm.
“Oh boy, oboe, oh no” his father kept repeating over and over again, while they sat on a hard wooden bench at the police station and waited for the assistant district attorney to decide if they’d take him to trial. Dad was lit. Thankfully, everyone knew the old man because he owned the last hardware store in that part of town, since every other retailer had long ago closed shop and moved to the suburbs. It was a gathering place for a certain type of man to stop, have a cup of coffee or an under the counter shot of whiskey, and talk for a spell. Men who carried guns. Men who used tools. Men who liked to look at his cousin Suzy who worked there a few days a week after school. They called it Middle East now; HBO filmed The Wire there a couple of years ago.
He sighed and swung himself out of bed. He pushed aside the plastic curtain to get into the shower, half expecting to find a man in a dress holding a knife and waiting for him. After cleaning up he got himself shaved and dressed despite the aches and pains of a sixty-two year old body that warned him every day of impending doom. Luckily, his fingers were still fast and furious, flying over, up and down the fret boards and making the sweetest sounds. Whether it was in a studio or on the stage, Frankie delivered. And he was well compensated. One of only a few in the folk and roots circuit that could skip the task of having a day job.
All the instruments were packed and locked in a rented van parked just outside the door, and they would have fit nicely into a Ford Crown Vic, save for two weathered steamer trunks he always took with him. Hats. He was a collector. And he was known to be the first multi-instrumental musician who wore them onstage every night. Some even called him Frankie Hats, and he was proud of the moniker.
If you didn’t know, and why would you, there are seventeen main styles of men’s hats which are baseball caps, beanies, berets, balmoral, bucket hat, bowler hat, boonie hat, capuchon, cloche hat, fez, fedora, cowboy hat, panama hat, newsboy cap, trilby hat, top hat and porkpie hat. There are probably hundreds of variations. Last night he wore a wool ivy cap from the Borsalino Doria line thats imported from Italy. Satin lined. Grosgrain sweatband. And today, with a little nip in the air, he’d be in his favorite ‘brown’. Nothing looks better onstage, even though these folk alliance gigs really have no stages, than the Stetson Inwood. A fur felt fedora with a bound 1 3/4 inch brim, satin lining and trim, and a leather sweatband, this baby was made right here in our good ol’ US of A.
Tonight, and longer if he desired and he did not, he’d be putting the sweetener into the coffee of two young but talented kids from Odessa Texas who pretended that they were a married couple but were in fact brother and sister. Titus and Rosalie fought like crazy but sang the sweetest two part harmony love songs you’d ever hear. They’d just Kickstarted’ a new album, and were headed for big things on the circuit if they could contain and restrain themselves.
Frankie sent Titus a text to meet him in the clown restaurant, and in a few minutes the three of them went over the set list. They’d only played together once before, when the kids got a spot at a regional country music radio convention in Shreveport, and they were like bread and butter from the get go. He didn’t think twice about taking the seven hundred bucks from their daddy for the twenty-three minute performance that hardly anyone paid attention to, and he wouldn’t think twice about the twenty-five hundred he’d earn this week. Frankie was your basic guitar slinger…he didn’t care where the money came from and what he had to do to get it. Give him the key, count it out and he was ready to soar.
The evening came and went like most others. Frankie laid back and let the kids do their thing, and every now and then when the moment was right he’d let those fingers loose and send out the sweetest notes. He’d decided from the beginning to just play the D-28 he bought years earlier from Tony Rice, but he also pulled out the 1907 Luigi Embergher mandolin for the last song, and the folkies who recognized it were bouncing on the balls of their feet.
For a day and a half of work, Frankie was pretty happy with the hundred dollar bills stuck in his back pocket. He took off back home to Heber Springs Arkansas with his gear, the steamer trunks with hats and the van. Titus and Rosalie did pretty well, getting booked for two tours. One took them from Seattle down to San Diego, over to Phoenix, Albuquerque and up to Boulder, and the other in late summer would be a series of festivals in Sweden, Denmark, Norway with a couple of weeks of traveling throughout Ireland and Wales.
If the kids don’t get too crazy and can keep a secret, people will listen to their love songs and harmony and fantasize a sweet home life back in Odessa, with some little babies runnin’ afoot one day. Or Rosalie will take her daddy’s rifle and put ol’ Titus in a grave. And sing murder ballads in prison for the rest of her life.
A Note to Readers: As you might have already figured out, most of the characters, places and this entire story is a work of fiction. Frankie ‘Hats’ Pistachio does not live in Heber Springs Arkansas, but that is indeed a real town where folk singer Almeda Riddle was born and raised. Thanks to the work of John Quincy Wolf, Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins, she recorded extensively and claimed to be able to perform over 500 songs. She was often known as Granny Riddle.
The Folk Alliance 2014 conference is indeed taking place this week in Kansas City Missouri, and we wish we were there.
A little bit about the organization: Since 1989, Folk Alliance® has served as the headquarters for Folk Music and Dance. With over 3000 members worldwide and an annual conference that is one of the five largest music conferences in North America, Folk Alliance continues to grow and mature while providing a unique range of member services to our community.
Here’s Granny Riddle: