Exclusive Interview with Mickey White, long-time musical companion of Townes Van Zandt and one of his closest friends, about his memoir.
Q. Mickey, your book Another Mickey: Ruminations of a Texas Guitar Slinger was published a few weeks ago. What have been the reactions so far?
A. Well, I’m pleased to say that the reaction has been fairly enthusiastic. I think for a lot of the people who lived through those times and knew me, or of me, it evokes some pleasant memories of a special period. I’ve had friends come out of the woodwork that I haven’t heard from in years to comment on the work or share related memories. I’ve also had positive responses from other authors and music scholars. I guess what’s really cool is that the response from people I don’t know is positive as well.
Q. In the book you tell a lot of larger-than-life stories about Townes, Blaze, Guy Clark and other familiar names. Are there any stories that didn’t make it into the book?
A. After Wrecks and I split from Townes and went out on our own as the Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys, we were forced into taking any jobs we could get. Some of them were not in the best venues. Here’s an excerpt that didn’t make the final cut.
We were offered another gig at a dive near the Strand called The Den. On the way to the job, we pulled the Big Blue U into a gas station on Broadway. A young Black kid came out and asked us how much we wanted. (There were still a few remaining full-service stations at the time). “Fifty cents worth,” Johnny [Guess] said. The Black kid looked up, somewhat incredulous and exclaimed, “Fifty cents!? In that!?” We laughed, then explained to the young man that we were on our way to a gig and just needed enough gas to get there. The kid asked what kind of music we played and we tried out best to explain our act. He asked if we wanted a drummer. Wrecks and I looked at each other and agreed that we would give it a try.
We got to the gig and started setting up, when the Black kid, whose name was Billy, came through the door with a big bass drum in hand. “Where do you want me?” he asked, and we suggested a spot. Wrecks and I both had some experience with drummers, so we had some idea of what we wanted the HRMBs to sound like with some cans. As it turned out, young Black Billy was not too bad, and we did a decent first set to the bikers and drunks that had trickled into the joint. On our break, Wrecks involved himself in a dollar-a-game pool contest with one of the ornery looking Hispanic patrons. After dispatching him in an eight-ball contest in short order, Wrecks guided the cue ball to the end of the table with his cue stick, readying for another game, singing “Like taking candy, from a baby…” Pow! came the crack of his opponent’s cue stick on the side of Wrecks’ head. The joint erupted immediately in a brawl. Bikers tended to be protective of musicians, so several of them rushed to Wrecks’ defense, while the loser’s friends jumped in. As with any brawl, non-participants get shoved, or bumped, or splattered with beer, so they start swinging. The owner, who knew most of the participants, got things calmed down, and emptied the club. Obviously, we were summarily dismissed from our position. We apologized to Billy, who packed his drums in good humor. We saw no more of our young drummer, but Wrecks and I both recognized how our sound would be positively impacted, and increase our versatility, if we had a third member on drums.
Q. You’ve met thousands of concert goers sharing the stage with the likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Richard Dobson, or Pat Mears. What made Townes’ fans special?
A. A big part of that is because his songs were so special. They affected people on a very personal basis. But as I’ve argued in the book, Townes was very cognizant of building relationships with his followers. He was great about taking requests, backstage he was very open and accessible. He made all well-wishers comfortable in his presence so he was able to generate a great deal of loyalty. He was also very adept at selecting venues that would accommodate his musical style. His fans were really into his lyrics, so they tended to be very respectful, which, in turn, spurred him on to perform well. He was great at reading his audience.
Q. Hand on heart what do you consider the best song written by Townes and who does the best cover version?
A. I think his “best” song was “She Came and She Touched Me.” Its musical rhythms are impeccable and the imagery is so powerful. It is a perfectly constructed song. It’s never been covered, to my knowledge. I love Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s version of “No Lonesome Tune.”
Q. After reading your book, I checked on some concerts on You Tube where you play with Townes. I detected one song I’ve never heard him do before dubbed “Get Down, Darlin’.” (Rockefellar’s Houston, 1984) Can you tell us more about this song?
A. Sorry, I don’t remember that one! I might note that that gig was a few weeks before I sobered up. A lot around that time is foggy.
Q. You changed your life completely and became a teacher at a public school. Do you miss playing guitar?
A. I actually do play guitar, but, obviously, not as much as I used to. I recently purchased a Taylor T-5 and have been working on that. It’s the gold standard of acoustic-electric hybrids. There’s stuff I can do on it that I just can’t do on acoustic. I still play gigs from time to time. Wrecks and I (with my son Jak on drums) are doing a Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys reunion show at Galveston’s Old Quarter on September 4th. I don’t really miss the grind of being a professional, but one of the things I really enjoyed about that life, that I hope I convey in the book, is the association with other musicians and artists. I always found that invigorating. That’s why I chose to close the book with the Epilogue on the Townes reunions at the Cactus Café. It’s great to be able to tap into that part of my life periodically.
Q. What is your preferred way how readers should buy the book?
A. For those who live in or around Austin, I would hope they would go to Book People downtown. Support your local bookstore! Amazon is fine, but I would like to see readers support my printer/ publisher, Book Baby. They did a great job with my project and do a lot to support self-published authors using “Print-On-Demand.” Here’s the link to my author page:
Plus, and maybe most important, I make more money if you buy it from them.
About The Author
Mickey White is a noted guitar player who spent two decades travelling, performing and recording with the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Richard Dobson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and his own band (with Wrecks Bell) The Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys. He is now a retired public-school teacher and lives in Austin, Texas.
About The Book
The memoir by Mickey White is the account of the author’s experience as a professional guitar player/ singer-songwriter during the 1970s and 1980s. Although never a star or celebrity, he had professional and personal interactions with a number of notable Texas-based songwriters, most significantly, the legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt. The up-close and personal account of Van Zandt provides a unique and compelling perspective from a person who accompanied Townes on guitar at hundreds of live performances, and contributed to three of his recordings. The author was a collaborator who saw Van Zandt at his pinnacle, was with him as he slid into periods of obscurity and despair, and accompanied him on his quest to re-establish his reputation and obtain notoriety. The book paints a portrait of an artist that was, as most accounts of Van Zandt have thoroughly addressed, tormented and anguished, but also a man with career goals and ambitions, and a friend who was a mentor, a confidant, and an inspiration.