October 5th, 2019
On a chilly Sunday evening in the winter of 2014 my wife and I had the privilege of attending the Burrinja Cafe here in the Dandenongs (it wasn’t raining-only dripping off trees). A local duo transported us back in time to a smoking blues joint in New Mexico called the Golden Inn where Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were doin’ their thang.
In 2013 Blackmarket Music suggested to Hoboken born Doc Span, who has resided in sunny Queensland since 1987 and local guitar virtuoso Nick Charles to collaborate on an album honouring Sonny and Brownie. The suggestion met with the affirmative as they were both long time devotees. Doc penned a tune for the album entitled the Golden Inn, which encapsulated a night when his band supported the dynamic duo at the iconic venue.
Nestled between the Ortez and San Pedro mountains resides ghosts of Native Indians, Spaniards and ‘Musos’ of past glories in the New Mexico town of Golden. If pointed in the direction north-west of Albuquerque on the long and winding road of State Highway number fourteen, twenty miles on you will find the town of Golden, then take the Sandia cut off.
(Photo courtesy of Andy Curry)
On a weekday visit you were welcomed to a vista of a nondescript log cabin, but on the weekends it transformed into a vibrant roadhouse with a delicious cuisine of Buffalo Burgers and jiving live music. Lucky Oceans formerly of the band Asleep At The Wheel now a resident of Western Australia recalled the Inn and the journey in, “Wow! The Golden Inn-always a wild gig, the bus snaking up the mountain, bikers and witches in attendance and the air awash with psychedelics.”
Early doors punters were yokel locals, who on lazy Sunday afternoons enjoyed the sounds of Emilio’s Rancheros. In the early seventies the Last Mile Ramblers a popular Western swing outfit rocked the patrons of the Inn. In lyrics from their tune on the Inn the punters of the time consisted of “hippies, bikers, Sante Fe characters, college kids from Alberquerque, the curious and the lost and amazed and bewildered locals.”
By the mid seventies the Inn regulars were all shook up when it was sold and renovations began. New York businessman Scott Washburn introduced a new era of music with the likes of Asleep At The Wheel, Toots & The Maytals, Leon Redbone, Muddy Waters and legendary folk blues duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Huey Lewis played there for five bucks entry and even our own (or if you want New Zealand’s) Split Enz performed on the 20th May 1981 in support of their Corroboree album (Waiata in New Zealand).
Doc Span had based himself in Santa Fe during winter. He and his band would rush North to Alaska to perform, but also down the road supporting many of the Blues bands at the Inn. On one magic night in 1983 it was with Sonny and Brownie. I’ll let Doc retell the events. “They were constantly arguing with each other in the green room (back stage). They even had their own bottles of whiskey as they couldn’t even share that. After playing ‘Walk On’ Brownie walked off leaving a blind Sonny on stage all alone. When Brownie eventually returned he quipped, I was just tuning.” Their chemistry and music on stage would never be in doubt. That night they drove to their next gig in Texas (would have loved to have been a fly on the inside of the windscreen).
The following morning news had filtered through that the Inn had been razed to the ground. Concern had been alerted a month earlier when the owner Scott Washburn located a home made bomb on the roof. Its crude construction consisted of glass jars filled with gasoline and rigged to explosives with a blasting cap. The fuse burnt to an inch of igniting. After an extensive Federal investigation a man would be charged with arson. The Inn was never rebuilt.
Today, tumbleweeds blow through what once was a unique and proud music venue. If you listen carefully you can hear remnants of a Sonny riff amongst the cries of an Apache warrior, or was that Sonny whoopin’ and a hollerin’.
Thanks to Doc Span, a wonderful person and an extraordinary harp player. Check out an excerpt from my radio interview with Doc, a live abbreviated version of Sonny’s Riffin’ by Doc Span & Nick Charles and also The Golden Inn, which was recognised with the prestigious Chain award. Lucky Oceans, amazing pedal steel guitarist, for his contribution and interest. Check out Lucky’s new LP Purple Sky it’s a ripper. To Andy Curry whose band Used Parts warmed up for Sonny & Terry at the Opera house in Lawrence. In his words, “I’ll never get over how they rocked the place. Just the two of them!”
For your aural pleasure is the Last Mile Ramblers tune on the Inn.