There have been a lot of crazy, nutty things I have lived through on the road, but this one has to be at or certainly near the top of the list, for sure! It happened during my 1975 tour with John Prine (many crazy stories came from this tour!), and it happened after we had been on the road already for around 4 months straight, all residing in the same tour bus. It turned out that Prine’s manager had leased the bus for the tour from a man named “Sam Sermons”, kind of a strange name considering he toured around with this bus doing Gospel shows throughout the country……guess it was sort of a religious “stage” name, perhaps?
Anyway, we were in the midst of the tour and were in Austin, Texas. We were about to play that night in a downtown theater, but the weather was so brutal that hail had actually crashed through the roof of the place, rendering the place un-inhabitable for a concert. But, on top of all this nightmare, our manager gets a call first thing in the morning with a voice on the other line saying “look out your window, AL….your bus is gone! We’re 100 miles outside of Austin, and if you want your personal belongings, you’d better meet us here to get them!” Well, to us players, it simply meant our bus had been stolen, and that we needed to get our “stuff” back from it! What we had no idea of was that Al had apparently not been paying Sermons for the leasing of the bus, and the owner decided simply to take it back and hold it hostage! As it turned out, we got our things back, but never the bus. I suppose they could not reach a settlement of this dispute, and Al probably just told them to get lost, and to take their bus with them!
So after that, we had to get a much lesser quality Winnebago “motor home” that wasn’t nearly as fun to tour with, nor as safe, and certainly not as roomy. But we somehow managed, and just kept rolling along, singing a song, and playing wherever and whenever we could. The upshot of the story is really something from “The Twilight Zone”, and to this day, none of the other band members, who were sleeping will ever believe; Being a night owl, I often used to ride “shotgun” next to the bus driver at night, and we used to just have a great time telling stories, and basically just enjoying each other’s company. One evening, when everyone else was fast asleep, me and Donny, the bus driver, were looking out the windshield as we were driving due south from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. As we were talking, there was oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway. All of a sudden, Donny yells out, “Sam….Sermons…..there it goes…THE BUS!!!!”And sure enough, we had witnessed our “stolen” bus, months later, simply passing us in the dark of night, in the middle of the country!!! It was like seeing ole “Phantom 409”, or some mysterious apparition like that! Of course, and literally to this day the other band members, and Al himself do not believe the story, but it’s as true as true can be, and was one of the craziest road experiences I have ever had, for sure! Sure had to be in the right place at the right time for that one!!!!