Welcome to The Adventures of Bill - Part I

Well, it has been awhile! 
A couple of misguided friends (bless them) have asked that I take computer in hand and write something. For those of you foolish, or kind, enough to read my ramblings, thank you. I feel honored that you will take the time to do so.
So what has been going on in Bill World? Well here is a brief (OK, OK, I know, I am never brief) recap of what has been going through my mind... what there is left of it. Today's ramble includes a look back into the deep dark past of H William Smith in an attempt to figure out what the hell happened. Yes it will probably read like the path of an Irish Setter on steroids but that is just the way it worked out. The only point of this self indulgence is this: I plan to write on a wide variety of subjects going forward. Some of my writings will be attempts at humor, others will be less so. At the age of 60 there are a lot of things going through my head as I try to remake myself yet again. I figure most of my audience is also going through stuff that challenges all of our ability to cope with what is increasingly angry and strange world. Here is my attempt at creating something of a baseline for why I think the way I think. PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS FROM MEMORY SO I MAKE FEW CLAIMS TO GETTING ALL THE DETAILS ACCURATE. THINK OF IT AS THE MEMORIES OF AN OLD VETERAN... OF SOMETHING OR ANOTHER. In an effort to do so, I have spent time going back through pictures and picking some that illustrate some part of why I occasionally scare the poop out of folks, make them laugh or say to themselves, "This Boy Ain't Right". Don't worry I scare the poop out of myself at times too.

But first, a commercial!
 If you live in Wise County, VA you know about "The Good Old Boys," or if you don't, you should. The Good Old Boys own and run the best local hardware store I know of. It is located in Norton and has been a fixture there for years. Occasionally strange beings can be found there. Pictured above is the elusive WOODBOOGGER. Rumors of the WOODBOOGER'S existence were made public by a television "Reality" show, Finding Sasquatch. Well, The Good Old Boys have found him. After some coaxing, and treats basically consisting of frosty beverages and Moon Pies, the WOODBOOGGER was enticed to Good Old Boys Headquarters where it settled into the rocking chair pictured above. It was also convinced that the Tee Shirt, also pictured above, was the perfect WOODBOOGGER outer garment for springtime in the Appalachians.
NOW YOU TOO CAN HAVE ONE OF THESE STELLAR GARMENTS!!! Drop on by Home Hardware in Norton to pick one up. They are only $15 and come in sizes from Medium to the Omar the Tent Maker version at XXXX. So go on by, get a Moon Pie or two, check out what may be one of the last true hardware stores on the planet and get a WOODBOOGER OUTER GARMENT for your very own. In addition to a great selection of WOODBOOGER outerwear, and other cool stuff like Septic Tank Treatment (my favorite) the Good Old Boys have consented to start carrying a new line of OTIS CAMPBELL SOCIETY merchandise. OTIS WEAR is a lot like WOODBOOGER outerwear only different. SO STAY TUNED!


Now, For Today's Ramble.

Earnest Hemingway hunting with my Grandfather, William Francis Smith in the late 1920s
I will start this with a picture that my sister Joey and I both treasure. It is a picture of my Grandfather and Earnest Hemingway. My Grand Dad was a tough old bird, one heck of a hunter and quite well known for it. As the legend goes, Granddad was asked by the head of South Dakota fish and game to take Hemingway hunting. According to my father's memory his father didn't think much of Hemingway as a shot. The Old Man was never one to hold back an opinion. I guess he figured that he was tough enough for just about anyone. He had been thrown out on the streets of the south side of Chicago as an orphan at the age of 12 in about 1900. Granddad had grown up a hunchback; made his own way by working on the railroad switching railroad cars carrying Coke (not the drink) into the mills of US Steel. He was honest, tough as nails, reasonably successful and really good at the thing he loved, which was hunting. My Granddaddy used to make me dance a jig while singing to me over the telephone. He died in 1954.

I guess I never really had a chance at "Normal". This is a picture of yours truly taken about 1956 during Christmas at my Grandmother's house in Chicago. Note the insane choice of my first instrument in the back ground. Yes that is a drum set, and yes I did drive them crazy. Mom was a big band singer when she met my Dad, a former athlete and combat wounded WWII vet. I was their first attempt at parenting. Dad loved sports and Mom loved performing. They got married in the context of post-WWII Mid-Western America. Both had wounds, physical and mental from the war (Dad almost died in a B-24 over Germany and Mom lost her boyfriend in the Battle of the Bulge) and the Depression. Like so many of the Greatest Generation, both of them wanted to get on with making life. Little did they know what was in store for them. 

My 6th Grade picture. Little did I know what was in store.
Really, my youth was relatively normal. I was raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin after being born in Madison, a town that would have a pretty major influence on me about 18 years or so later. Waukesha is outside of Milwaukee but was really a separate world in the 50s and 60s. I remember well that the Summer of 1967 ignited riots that hit many cities including Milwaukee. We were relatively safe but Dad had to sneak past the National Guard to get home from work that first night. Waukesha was  great arts town, growing rapidly and a great place to grow up. I come from Shanty Irish and English stock, what we know of it, that, and the influence of the upper Middle-West, defines much of how I was raised, and how I think. I have great memories of friends there and although I started leaving home at 15, I remember it fondly.

Music has always been a big part of my life. Here is a picture of one of my first bands, The Night Howls. Dixieland was one of my earliest influences and this was actually a pretty good band for a bunch of 15-year-olds. Ray Von Gunten, the sax player on the right, is still playing around Waukesha and Southeast Wisconsin and is a part of a band that was legendary when we were young, El Ray and the Night Beats. I have found several of these guys on face book and it would be great fun to play together again. I still have that bass. We were typical kids who were on the edge of changing times and didn't know it. Life was good.

Conne Cross Smith
This is a shot of my Mom, Conne Cross Smith, in the play "The Little Foxes," I think. It was in the early 1950s. Mom was nothing if not dramatic, and original. She was a tremendous actress, gifted playwright and wonderful teacher of theater to young people. She was completely unafraid of being on stage and afraid of most everything else. Mom had been orphaned twice in her life, once as a baby and once at 19. Living with her was an adventure and not always easy. But, I learned a tremendous amount about creativity from her and she paved the way for many talented young people to find their gifts. The last time I saw her conscious in the hospital she had the wizard's hat from Fantasia (my sister Joey has worked for Disney for years) on her head. She was truly one of a kind. Mom died on my birthday in 2003. She always knew how to make an exit. I loved her dearly and miss her. The funeral procession taking her body out to the cemetery was stopped dead in front of the Pix Theater, home of Waukesha Civic Theater on Main Street Waukesha by the funeral director without us knowing he was going to do it. He was honoring her for her work. I will never forget that.

My first of three times playing Earthquake McGoon, my seminal role in theater. I suppose Ole' Earthie made his imprint... or the other way round, pretty early.
The theater always was a big part of life at the Smith house, much to Dad's chagrin. Mom, along with several other folks, founded several theaters during her life. Nobody told them that they couldn't do that so they created opportunities for expression that had a huge impact on a lot of lives
The first theater company that they created was Waukesha Civic Theater, which is a story in and of itself and is still producing work after more than 50 years.  
Many of my earliest and dearest friends were involved in the arts. 
We also lived in an environment where we could be in plays and on the football team with little pressure to conform to any one group. It was a great way to grow up. This is a somewhat shop worn photo includes Ed Dwyer, myself and Betsy Folsom, who would go on to manage a number of theater companies including Waukesha Civic.
The second was Par-Cay Players, a theater for children and the third was Penny Players, a theater company of high school and college aged actors. Penny Players was created so that those of us who wanted to could continue learning our craft. We did summer theater in old Horeb Park, were rained out two years in a row and from then on did shows in a circus tent at the park. Several of us became "Tent Guards" at night and had several "first experiences" in the process. Dang it was fun. The Penny Players alumni includes a number of folk who are still in the business. Waukesha Civic was where I first learned how to light a show by carrying lighting instruments for Danny Scioletti (forgive my spelling) the lighting director. Danny was my hero. By the age of 12 several of us kids were hanging around the theater, doing odd jobs and helping out. It is also at this time that I got my first Bass and an old Kay guitar that I wish I still had. In 1993 the Milwaukee Journal did an article on Mom and figured that about 40 of us were still working "in the business."  I wish I had more contact with all of these folks but left Waukesha in 1972 pretty much for good and, sadly, have lost touch with too many of them. 

1969 at University Lake School.
Here is one of the first folk groups I played with. The girl on the left, Bobbin Beam, was a radio personality in Milwaukee and now does major league voice-over work on the west coast. The guitar I am playing is the first Martin I would ever play. It belonged to the lanky fellow to my left who was a teacher at University Lake School, the high school I eventually graduated from. I can remember his first name was Bill and sadly, I can't remember his last name. H truly was our teacher in how to play as a group. The bass player is Gary Greenburg, a gifted piano player and musician. The Beatle Bass was mine. Note the old Blond Fender. Boy do I wish I had that amp. That summer I got my first job in technical theater working for the City of Indianapolis as a sound technician for the Parks and Recreation Department. The head of the department was a dear friend and actor who had moved back to Indiana to take that job. I moved to Indianapolis on the train and lived with a guy who also worked for the city and whose job as a roommate was to keep me out of trouble. It didn't work. We lived in the summer home of Eli Lilly, of Lilly Drug fame, which he had given to the city. It is now the Eagle Creak Wildlife Preserve. During that summer I experienced my first riot. We were working doing a show at the Indianapolis Indians Baseball Park that featured a number of national  soul groups. Outside the ballpark a carload of fools shot a couple of young girls, as I remember it, and the whole place went crazy. We were on the infield with the stage and the crowd surged out of the stands, throwing chairs from the box seats and pinned us up against the sound truck threatening us with our lives. This was also the first time I saw true courage. The only Black Man on the crew, Thomas, stood in front of us and shielded us, saying that we were cool, not to blame and were with him. That took real courage. He was an amazing individual who by summer's end taught me not to be afraid of blacks by being a friend. I would go over to his house for dinner and visit his family. The riot was written about in Newsweek Magazine, I believe. Remember this was 1969. I was 17.

My 1971 promo shot. My how things had changed.
It is amazing to look back on this part of my life and think how lucky I am to be here at all. Any of us who were young then have our own stories. Mine, like most of us, certainly was complicated by the Viet Nam War. Between 1966 and 1971 I went through a transition from Young Republican (the party of my Dad) to radicalized and running around on the campus of the University of Wisconsin trying to buy dope and being a medic at the riots. My last two years of high school saw me leave Waukesha High, con my way into ULS (I was in lust of a girl) where I increasingly found my views challenged, changed and when I started hanging out with some Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, radicalized. I still don't talk much about this time in my life publicly. My parents'  marriage was on the rocks, like many post-war marriages. My Dad and I were increasingly not speaking and I was getting involved in a lot of things that I won't talk about. When this picture was taken one of the places I was spending nights was in an Opal station wagon. Safe to say that I made huge mistakes, learned a lot about people, politics and cynicism. I developed a distrust for blind authority that I still have. I also lost 11 friends in 12 months to various violent deaths. Several died in Viet Nam, most others in wrecks and one band member committed suicide. 
I was a mess but not alone in that. 
To be clear, I never saw combat and was never active duty military. I was in the US Naval Sea Cadets, a JROTC program during high school until I blew out my knee playing football. As guys graduated from school they went on active duty. By that time, however, I had become absolutely against the war. Again, it was 1970 when I graduated high school, not 1965  like many of my older friends. By the time I graduated, the Navy did not want me and I sure as hell didn't want the Army. It was a truly confusing time that in many ways I am still trying to sort out. Again, I am not alone in this, I believe. One thing I do know, with a son and nephew in the Coast Guard, and a lot of friends who have served in the Military, I now do every thing I can to make sure that our service men and women are supported. I don't always feel the same about our politicians, but that is another story.

Outside Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1970-71
This group of somewhat "alternative" folks collected around the house several of us lived at in Eau Claire, Wis.
The house, located at 609 Water Street, was also the home of the 609 Water Street Kazoo and Der-Der Band. For those of you who do not know what instrument a Der-Der is, the definition is a cardboard tube played by putting one's mouth to one end and going, "Der, Der, Da, Der, Der, or something like that. A Soprano Der Der is a toilet paper roll, Tenor is a paper towel roll and Bass is constructed from Christmas Paper rolls.  We played at a bar called "The Joynt". You get the picture. We were nothing if not inventive. Also, broke 99 percent of the time. But, we had a hell of a lot of fun. The fuzzy fellow next to me in the back was a Viet Nam Vet who kept dynamite under his bed in the basement. It was definitely a crazy time.

1973 Three Rivers California. Livin' on the edge.
This was probably as close to over the edge as I got as a young man. I had made my way out to Colorado, got quite unwell there after working as a medic at the First Rainbow Family Gathering in Strawberry Lakes, Colorado. Got Beaver Fever from bad water, went back to Wisconsin with a dear friend who really kind of rescued me. After a stint in the hospital I met a girl and headed out to California. Does that sound familiar to anyone. In Colorado I had connected with this group of folks, (yes I am being vague as to names) and moved first to Anaheim. I eventually moved to Three Rivers, outside Sequoia National Park, a place that had a huge impact on me.   This period of my life from roughly 1971-1974 was pretty blurry. It involved motorcycles, too many guns and about anything else you can imagine going on. I was a bit out of my league but was kept alive by a lot of really good people who admittedly would not be seen in the social register or at the debutante ball. Several of them would die within the next few years. It was a rough time all over America.
Well that brings us to the end of Part One of "The Life of Bill". I am sure anyone who has stayed with me this long needs a break from the self-indulgence as well. As I have been writing this, and looking at the pictures I have selected, it strikes me how fast life was changing even then. We were in a war fueled by bad political decisions,  our society was cracking at the seams and a lot of young people were adrift, wondering who, and what, they could trust. It does amaze me that this was 40 years ago because it sounds a lot like today. 
I am not sure when, or if, there will be a Part Two of "The Life of Bill." That will depend on whether the response is positive or negative. I make no apologies for its content, however. It was an interesting and scary time in my life and there was more to come in life that was equally interesting and scary as well. Luckily I survived. Many did not. I am sure there are a lot of similar stories out there. I am just crazy enough to talk about it. 

Until Next Time.

But wait there's more!
One More Commercial. Tyler Hughes, one of Southwest Virginia's finest young musicians will be hosting the First Saturday Coffee House at the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap on Saturday, April 7. Stop on by and listen to the future of music in our mountains. Musicians, come play your own tunes and join in the fun. 



Lisa Milanese
03/28/2012 12:24

Great blog! I enjoyed reading. You have definitely had some great life experiences (good or bad) ...and I hope you decide to continue with a Part 2!

03/28/2012 16:43

Most enjoyable, per usual. Much of the story, I was familar with; some I was not. We all have stories to share. You know me -- in the end, I don't much care what people have done or where they have come from. How they treat and relate to me is all that really matters, and you've always done a damned fine job of that. Write on....

03/28/2012 16:44

Oh, and I LOVE the photos.

Mark Rosenheimer
11/19/2013 15:03

Hi Bill, I remember racing you down a sidewalk in Waukesha, me in stocking feet, at an after-party of Waukesha Civic Theater in the mid 60's. I of course was loaded. I think I beat you. I'm Thelma Parris' brother if you don't remember. Great reading your blog. I can relate to your early 70's experiences. I spent those years in San Francisco, where I still live.

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I want to read the second part!)))

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    A Twisted Trail,
    A Blog
    By H W. "Bill" Smith

    Writing is something that I have always loved doing and anyone  who knows me knows that I have more than my share of opinions on a variety of subjects. 
    My goal is to write about the history, music, culture, life and events that shape the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains where I live... and anything else that tickles my fancy. Join me on this ride down "A Twisted Trail."


    November 2012
    August 2012
    March 2012
    February 2012
    January 2012
    December 2011
    November 2011