Some For Him, And Some For Me.
|Sometime in the afternoon of Sunday October 27th, 2013, probably about the time I was playing the last set of a trio gig in Mandeville Louisiana, my friend "Terrible" Ted Harrison shuffled off this mortal coil.|
Ted himself was a Vancouver guy through and through. I never knew much about his early childhood, he never offered that kind of information. I did know that he had been a teenaged disc jockey at Vancouver's premiere pop/rock station back in the mid-sixties. He'd been a charter member of a "psychedelic" rock band called the Yellow Brick Road (along with future musical colleagues of mine, bassist Brian Harton and tragic/tortured-but-brilliant guitarist Mike Zunti) and had done a tumultuous, high-drama tour of Vietnam with them in 1968, which sowed the seeds of a lifelong off-and-on relationship with narcotics in him. He played in lots of other bands like the Black Snake Blues Band and rode the radio dial from major market Vancouver down to the "Country Ted" show in Salmon Arm B.C.
I first met the man in the late 70s. I got a call from Al Foreman about a project he was putting together with a recent arrival in town, a guitarist-blues singer named Jim Byrnes. It was going to be two consecutive nights, Friday and Saturday, at the presitigious Commodore Ballroom, and it was going to be a very ambitious production with 11 pieces, including three BG singers and three horns. Al wanted me to round up the horns and write the charts for them.
Amazingly, we actually had two nights of rehearsals for this. I think we got paid for that too, although not a lot, maybe 50 bucks. God knows where Al got the budget for this. Anyway, I remember riding over to the old Psy-chord Studios at Third and Burrard with Gordy Bertram, who was playing bari and tenor sax on the date, and discussing whether we should pick up a six-pack on the way to lubricate the proceedings a little. We ultimately decided no, because this was a big break for us. Al Foreman was kind of a big deal on the Vancouver music scene in those days, and we wanted to make an impression.
Of course when we met Ted, he had other ideas. He immediately started bustling around (Ted in his prime was a great bustler) taking up a collection for a couple of cases of beer, so that what was supposed to be a serious, intense rehearsal turned into a party, with more beer runs, friends and family wandering in and out of the studio and the engineers booth, and BG singer Gail Bowen accidently flashing the whole band when she pulled her sweater off over her head and her t-shirt came with it. When she finally wrestled the thing over her head there we all were, gawking like idiots. Ted promptly broke the mood by pinging a beer cap off the bell of my horn, a dead-on bullseye hit from thirty feet away in his perch in the drum booth.
That was my introduction to "Terrible Ted," the ultimate bad boy, bad influence, shit disturber and party instigator. Al Foreman and Jim Byrnes worked a cut down version of that band, the Foreman/Byrnes Band, for a couple of years and had a lot of success with it. No recordings (Al was still tied contractually to his previous project, the Foreman/Young Band) but lots and lots of club work. When that project went south, Ted eventually migrated over to former Foreman/Byrnes guitarist Kenny Brown's band, where I'd been holding down the tenor sax chair for about a year.
This is the point when Adventures with Ted really began for me. We roomed together on the road for almost two years. Most of the really interesting stuff is still so scandalous that I don't feel comfortable relating it here. Suffice to say that Ted knew how to keep the party going, local liquor laws be damned.
Post Kenny Brown Band we lost touch for awhile. Subsequent re-meetings were occasionally marred by acrimony, because in Ted World, the only thing that mattered was good times for Ted. He had a real knack for pissing people off, and for alienating those closest to him. It was almost like he viewed love and family as tiresome obligations, rather than anchors in an unstable world. He also had, like our dear mutual friend Danny Tripper , a real talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Both those cats, things started going good, a little success, they just had to put it in the toilet. After a totally ridiculous clusterfuck of a gig with Ted in 1993, I wound up walking off stage and not speaking to the guy for six years.
Then, in 1999, I was sitting at my desk in Vancouver, and the phone rang. It was Ted, calling from Athabasca, of all places, where he'd fled to escape non-returnable warrants on a number of minor, narcotics-related charges. He'd been driving heavy equipment on the Alberta Tarsands, enough to make major bank, and finance a big return to civilization in Calgary. Where he of course immediately got strung out like a fucking guinea pig, held up a gas station, got popped, and wound up doing a nickel in the federal system. Did a very nice pencil drawing of Ray Charles while in solitary there. It now has a place of honor in my home office here in the lower 9th ward in New Orleans.
A couple of years ago, Ted told me he'd been diagnosed with end-stage liver disease, no surprise, given his lifestyle. I got into the habit of calling him about once a week. Mostly, we'd talk about the old days. It's seemed a small gesture on my part, and it made him happy, so I was glad to do it. At one point I mentioned I was going into the studio to do some recording with my trio project with Rob Kohler and Geoff Clapp (the Real Cool Killers) and that I'd decided to put together a little "jazz funeral" for him, with a somber dirge followed by a joyous "second line" tune for dancing on the way back from the graveyard. What we wound up with was a really intense, Coltranesque thing in 6/8 (not exactly your usual time signature for a hymn) and a completely bonkers second-line that sounds like a combination of Kid Ory's "Muskrat Ramble" and Thelonius Monks "Straight No Chaser" that's been left out in the sun too long. I sent him the two tunes on a disc, and he was tickled pink. "Now all I have to do is die" he laughed.
Last Sunday, he finally did. It wasn't unexpected, but I was surprised at how affected I was. Part of it I'm sure was our weekly phone calls. I've had a lot of friends die on me, especially in the last few years, cause a lot of the cats I came up with lived pretty hard. Ted sure did. I'm not sure how much my grief is about Ted, and how much is about me. Ted's passing is a another man down, another empty saddle. I cried some for him, sure. But I cried some for me as well. Because the world I knew is dying.