A tale of God, drugs, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This story appears in AdHoc 26. To subscribe to our quarterly zine—and receive other AdHoc-related goodies — become a member.
Back before he found Jesus, my uncle Carl played flute in a band with a guy who ended up joining Lynyrd Skynyrd. He and my daddy and my daddy’s sister and my daddy’s other sister all went to Dorman High with Toy Caldwell and Jerry Eubanks from Marshall Tucker Band, and Carl decided to name his own band Cannabis Jam because he and Jerry used to cut band practice and go out in the parking lot and smoke joints that they’d hide up their flutes. Back then Dorman was on the edge of Spartanburg, South Carolina, but in the ‘80s they put a mall next to it so in the 90s somebody bought the high school off the city so they could tear it down and put up a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Everybody stuck around Spartanburg after high school those days, so even after Toy and Jerry were all big and shit everybody used to see them out on Friday nights eating hamburgers at The Beacon, a diner where you gave your order to a blind man and he’d yell it to the guys in the back to make. He worked the register, too, and even though he was blind he always knew if you were paying the right amount.
Jerry was always real cool with Uncle Carl, like he wasn’t an asshole or nothing, and after Uncle Carl played him an 8-track with some Cannabis Jam demos called “Stranger On My Own Planet” and “I’m An Alien (But I Ain’t In Space)” he helped them get a record deal so he could quit his job at the mill and make music full time. Whenever Cannabis Jam wasn’t playing, Uncle Carl would take acid and drive his van around just to see what would happen. One time he was driving around in his van on acid and saw a line of lifesize toy soldiers blocking the road and it freaked him out so much he turned around and went home and wrote a song about it on the walls of his room in my grandparents’ house. When they found out about what he’d done they kicked him out so he rented a trailer on the other side of town and lived in that. But he didn’t really need his own place. Cannabis Jam was on the road so much that he was only home a few days a month. One summer they toured with Marshall Tucker Band, then went right back out with The Ozark Mountain Daredevils on a college tour once school started in September. On an off-day in Gainsville they got a call from Charlie Daniels’s manager saying they were in Spartanburg and the opening band’s lead singer got too drunk last night and was in the hospital and if they were around would they want to open for Charlie Daniels. So Cannabis Jam got in Uncle Carl’s van and drove 455 miles straight back to Spartanburg, did the show, then left to hook back up with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in Valdosta. They didn’t stick around to catch Charlie’s set but it didn’t matter, because when Lynyrd Skynyrd needed a new drummer they asked Charlie Daniels who they should hire and he told them the drummer from Cannabis Jam was real good and so they hired him without making him audition.
Cannabis Jam didn’t want to be known as the band who lost their drummer to Lynyrd Skynyrd so after they got a new one they changed their name to Space. They recorded another 8-track that sold pretty good, or at least good enough to book their own college tour, but that tour never happened because of something that happened before the tour. Space was playing a warm-up gig at a bar near Uncle Carl’s trailer when some guys my dad had played football with at Dorman came in with pistols and tried to hold the place up, but because Uncle Carl and everybody else in Space had smoked a joint their new drummer had sprinkled a little heroin on without telling anybody they didn’t realize what was going on and kept playing. Uncle Carl had finally remembered the lyrics to the song that had gotten him kicked out of my grandparents’ house and when he was at the front of the stage singing it in between his flute parts one of the guys who had a pistol got up on stage with him and put it to his head and said if he didn’t stop right then and there he’d blow his goddamned head off. And so, for the first time in Uncle Carl’s life, he decided to pray to God. He said he’d devote his life to Him if He’d just help him out this one time, and sure enough it turned out the bartender had a shotgun under the counter and used it to shoot the man with the pistol to Uncle Carl’s head until he put the gun down on account of him being dead. Uncle Carl got sprayed with buckshot a couple times and as he was coming down he told the doctors not to take it out because he wanted to remember what the Lord did for him.
After that he quit the band and got a job teaching deaf kids. Now, every chance he gets he tells us how the Lord has a heck of a sense of humor seeing as he wanted to be a rockstar but ended up spending all his time helping kids who couldn’t care less about rock & roll. Turns out if you’re deaf you can still feel low frequencies so all his students listen to is rap music, which suits Uncle Carl just fine.
Oh yeah, here’s what happened to the old drummer from Cannabis Jam after he joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. He played on “Saturday Night Special” and “Gimme Back My Bullets” and “That Smell” and pretty much every other good Skynyrd song besides “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird,” and he was with them on Aerosmith’s jet back in ‘77 when it fell out of the sky and crashed. Even so, he never felt quite like a real member of the band. They always made him carry his own gear even though they had plenty of roadies to do it, and they never let him write his own drum parts, and on the day of the crash he felt the most left out of Lynyrd Skynyrd he’d ever felt because they all went and died without him. So then he starts limping through this field covered in his and probably everybody else’s blood and when he finally finds a farmhouse the farmer takes one look at him and comes back outside with a rifle. Then twenty years later he got arrested for having an unregistered firearm and his defense was that he hadn’t registered it because he was the only one in Lynyrd Skynyrd who survived the plane crash, which was orchestrated by the unionist government to get back at Skynyrd for trying to stir southern revolution and he wanted to be able to defend himself just in case they came and finished the job. I never met him, and I’m glad for that, but I still think about him sometimes.
Uncle Carl might not have gotten to play on any Lynyrd Skynyrd records, but he got to tour with Marshall Tucker Band and he’s happy and sane and has a family and has the best stories when we all get together for Christmas. And so if I had to pick between staying in Cannabis Jam or leaving to join Lynyrd Skynyrd I’d go with Cannabis Jam every time.