|Deli Duo Gig taken June 2010. Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.|
There is no place on the planet like The Deli. I know that's a rather bold and cliche'd statement with which to kick this thing off, but in this case, its also a fucking true statement. Norman, Oklahoma has been lucky enough to exist around the Deli since the 1960's, back when they still served food and the rest of campus corner wasn't being bought up and decked out like every other trendy near-campus downtown area in a thousand college towns across this great, if a tad misguided, nation. The Deli is one of the few venues that still exists to present live music EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF THE YEAR. That's right folks and folkettes, no matter which holiday happens to be happening, no matter how shitty the weather outside may be, even if the world around it is engulfed in flame and misbegotten merchants of mayhem run amok and openly riot in the streets, you would still be able to catch a show at the old smelly Deli. It is a microcosm of maniacal music making, a haven for bands and songwriters to showcase their own (primarily original) material for whomever happens to be around and whomever they happen bring into the bar on their own merits. Acts from all over the world come to Norman to play a bar that only holds 90 or so people at a time to play on the stage that Bob Moore built. That's no colloquialism either. Bob Moore re-built the Deli stage with his bare hands sometime back in the late 80's, and it has since borne the weight of thousands of bands and songwriters from damn near every genre of music you can possible imagine...except bro-country...there's no place for that shit in the Deli. No place. For we Damn Quails, however, the Deli stage holds a very special place in our hearts and is DIRECTLY responsible for our very existence as a musical entity. It's also one of the only reasons we've become popular enough that folks like yourself actually WANT to read this blog.
|(Left to Right) Jon Knudson, Bryon White, Gabriel Marshall, and the man himself, Biggie at the Deli, early August 2010.|
Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.
|Reservoir Quails performing at Tiny Tom Skinner's Magical Mystery Tent at the Grape Ranch in Okemah OK|
July 2010. Photo by Gemma Harris.
So, it started with Gabe and I. Two singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars and a reasonably impressive catalog of songs between them, taking turns like we learned in kindergarten. I would play one of my tunes and Gabriel would back me up on harmonies and lead guitar, and then Gabriel would play one of his songs and I would back him up on harmonies and lead guitar, and so on and so forth until the end of the night when we were both hammered thanks to the strength of the Jagerbombs, the three and a half to four hours worth of stage time, and a stupid little game we came up with one evening...the Fuck game. Ready for the aside??? Of course you are...
So. The fuck game.
Did he really say fuck game? Yes. Yes he fucking did. The fuck game, for those of you that weren't around for the early years or don't remember enough from those days to recall it, was something we stupidly made up on stage at the Deli one night in an effort to keep the small (but intensely dedicated) group of regulars that attended to buy us and themselves as many shots as humanly possible in a four hour set. The rules of the game were fairly simple...
1. If Gabriel or I happened to use the word "fuck" over the microphone, either intentionally or unintentionally, the entire crowd had to take a shot.
2. If someone in the crowd yelled "fuck" at the stage, Gabriel and I had to take a shot.
A simple game, but wildly effective if you're trying to boost bar sales AND get royally schnockered by the end of the evening. We had to stop playing the fuck game just a few short months subsequent to it's initial creation because, in short, it got us waaaaay too wasted. I'm talking an apocalyptic level of wasted. How many months, you ask? I honestly can't remember. There's far too much bong resin built up and far too many piles of dead and discarded brain cells mucking up the place from so many gallons of hard liquor and deliciously cheap beer to accurately recall exactly when we killed the fuck game, but doing so saved us at least half of a decade of our already shortened life spans. Anywho...
|Adam "Biggie" Rittenberry doing what he does best at the Deli in Summer 2011. |
Norman, OK. Photo by Kimberly Brian.
Now, before I start name dropping all of the badass mofo's that would eventually come to comprise the Damn Quails Philharmonic, I feel I should mention the man that first recognized the Quails' potential for rock and roll excellence before said potential was even close to beingachieved. If you ever find yourself in Norman and decide to swing by the Deli for an infamous Big Red Cup and a few dozen cigarettes, you'll likely find yourself across the bar from one of the largest, most kindhearted people that will ever serve up your beverage of choice. Big Doug Millikin is a mountain of a man that's been tending bar at the Deli since long before my first performance at 309 White Street. Doug has been making drinks and slinging red cups since time out of mind, and, during the time of our birth and subsequent formative years, Monday nights were one of his usual shifts. My taste in cover songs ranged all the way from some wonky Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie tunes all the way up to Gram Parsons, Uncle Tupelo, and one of my personal favorites, the iconic and immortal Buck Owens. During one of our first Bryon/Gabriel duo sets, I picked and grinned my way through "Act Naturally", a cover that hung around in our repertoire for at least the first year or two that we were The Damn Quails. Four or five shows into the duo days, Doug pulled me aside as I was breaking down my gear post-gig. He put an arm around my shoulder, gave me a smile every bit as big as the man he is, and told me that what we were doing was had real potential and not to forget who called it the very first time. I still haven't forgotten, Doug, and one of the main reasons we've gone as far as we have is because of yourself, Tic Tac, Lori, Angela, Bill, Bob, Chris Davis, Laura, Satchel, Nooch, Tobias, Big John, Chris, and everyone else that once did or currently still has anything to do with the Deli. Doug Millikin called it, and I'll always remember that he was the first person to express the fact that Monday Night Madness was far more special than we realized at the time. Thanks to the entire Deli crew for always believing in us, even before it made a whole lot of sense to do so.
|From the tiny stage at the Deli to toasting the crowd on the big stage at LJT 2012.|
Stephenville, TX. Photo by Kimberly Brian.
|Giovanni "Nooch" Carnuccio III showcasing his marching snare talents AND penchant for hilarious t-shirts.|
Norman, OK. Photo by Morgan Jones.
|Bryon White, Adam "Biggie" Rittenberry, and Rita Ballou bringing us on at LJT 2012.|
Stephenville, TX. Photo by Kimberly Brian.
On the magical night at the Deli when the stars aligned and the mix happened to be just perfect for my recording purposes, Biggie's harmonica work in particular was absolutely and undeniably inspired. I was unaware of exactly HOW inspired until after the show, when he informed me that he had inadvertently consumed at least a baker's dozen worth of sweet tarts that were double dosed with some high-potency LSD earlier that afternoon. Someone living at whatever house he was crashing at neglected to inform him of the dosing of said sweet tarts until it was far too late to get off the rollercoaster. Regardless of the intense amount of hallucinogenic drugs that were raging through his system like magical mental blues juice, his playing was impeccable and highly entertaining to behold. How he made it through the set without freaking out is anyone's guess, but to play the show AND slaughter it with rock and roll excellence was a feat requiring a herculean force of will and a solidarity of mind that I'm eternally envious of. It takes a true warrior of unbending intent to even grasp the concept of the Plains of Infinity, let alone to quest upon them in a battle of power. That's one tough nut to crack, regardless of how in tune you are to the other side of your own consciousness, but the effects of the LSD didn't hinder his harmonica abilities in the slightest. In fact, it seemed entrench him firmly within the groove of the show and imbued him with super-human harmonica abilitiesabilities a display of magic that truly earned him the second title of "Goddamn Magic Man" in certain circles of particular people. This recording sits and hovers around the genesis of this entire world, a virtually undiscovered gem containing some of the most inspired and raw cuts of our songs that exist. It's impossible to find nowadays, and if you do happen to find it under some ridiculous name with an even more ridiculous excuse for an album cover, do us a favor and don't. You know why. I can't say it, but you know.
|Cover art to our first live record. Artwork by Kierston White.|
Around the time the Troubadours were really starting to hit hard, Nooch was replaced by our current drummer (and resident BMF) Thomas Young. Before he started playing with us full time, Tom was the go to drummer for any and every band in the Norman scene that needed one and played with groups like Resident Funk, Pidgin, Mama Sweet (after Nooch left) and many, many others. Tom was snapped up by Chuck Allen Floyd, a former lawyer and Nashville songwriter that had just moved to town and had a string of hits with some of his tunes on the Texas Music Charts. His touring band was impeccable and contained three guys that would eventually become part of the Quail lineup in one way or another: Thomas Young, Justin Morris on bass, and Jon Knudson on keyboards, lap steel, and fiddle. Tom was playing for Chuck Allen Floyd when he started bringing his snare drum and brushes to the Deli to sit in with Gabe, Biggie, and myself, and to this day I've never met another drummer that can fill up such an insane amount of sonic space with nothing more than a snare drum and a couple of ragged brushes. We played acoustic guitars for at least the first year and a half of the weekly Deli show, and when Luke Mullenix started bringing his stand up bass to the party, we were sitting on a full band acoustic setup that was nothing short of magical.
|Thomas Young behind the kit at the Deli, summer of 2011. Norman, OK. Photo by Kimberly Brian.|
I've decided to stop here and give your weary eyes and my weary fingers a much deserved rest. I'll continue this story and post it as soon as I get it done. There's still a whole lot of people to meet, including Steve Baker, Blake Lennon, and more folks you've seen playing with us on ranom youtube videos. I'll also get into some more of the special guests that used to grace the Deli stage with us back in proverbial day, guys like Parker Milsap and Mike Rose, John Calvin Abney, Kyle Reid, Derek Paul, and the list goes on and on and on and on. Thanks for reading my words and I hope I continue to do justice to the story. As always, take care and I'll catch you on down the road.