Hey – you may think I’m making fun, but to this day, I can close my eyes and hear ol’ Curly telling us all to “Call the good folks at Hardy’s Trailer Sales and they’ll fix you right up with the trailer of your dreams. Isn’t that right, Bob?” And there’d be some off-camera noise of gagging affirmation, Curly having purposely caught Brother Bob mid-swallow. Hey – if I can still remember the name of Hardy’s Trailer Sales 30-some years since the last time I watched the “Curly O’Brien Show”, then I guess he did a pretty good job at it, right?
Of course, there were the Sundays that never completely got over Saturday night, where it was hard going for Curly and the crew right from the beginning. Sometimes it appeared it would be a struggle to get through the show. But, you had to give the man credit: I can’t speak for the off-air Curly, but the man in front of the camera just rolled with the flow. Sometimes that cussed easel would try to get the better of him – upside-down signs, backwards signs, signs that fell on the floor and took the easel with them – but Curly would just laugh (sometimes, he’d laugh a lot) and press on.
But forget all that: the reason folks tuned in every Sunday was to hear the music, of course. The afore-mentioned Saturday>Sunday demons never kept them off the air, though it might have been touch-and-go at times. What needs to be said here and now is that these folks wanted to play: pounding frontal lobes and heads full of snakes be damned; they cranked it on when the cameras started rolling.
Off they’d charge into some rollicking number; Curly all show and flair, Doc stock-still like a Downeast version of Roy Orbison, Brother Bob’s guitar tone soaked with a bottomless-well reverb that no doubt inspired My Morning Jacket, and Fiddlin’ Harold making it all look easy. Oh, yeah. There may have been some unsteadiness, some bumped mike stands and missed camera cues, but once the Top Hands hooked onto the groove, they were chugging.
There were the occasional wipe-of-the-mouth-with-the-sleeve moments caught on camera, but there weren’t any flagrant displays of alcohol usage, as I remember. Cigarette ashes did tend to get longer, however (Brother Bob often spent the latter portion of the show sitting on his amp, head down, balancing a 3” ash while offering the occasional lead). There were the standard spotlight moments each week: Harold would get to tear it up on some fiddle tune like “Orange Blossom Special”; Doc would push his glasses up on his nose and let loose on “Paper Roses” or some equally teary number; and Jackie would give us a gospel song – or maybe treat us all to her signature tune, “Snowbird”.
By the tail end things, ad messages would start to take a beating (“… and remember, folks – I’m tellin’ ya right now – if you’re lookin’ for a quality automobubble, these are the people to call …”) and lyrics would go astray as the foreheads got increasingly sweaty and it was obvious that Curly had one eye on the clock, trying to hold it all together until the top of the hour. As the time wound down and things began to get really shaky, Curly would thank everyone for tuning in and made sure to mention the coming week’s appearances (“All you folks down in East Machias keep an eye out for us!”) and then cue Fiddlin’ Harold to take off on some blazing instrumental. It would be interesting to know how long some of those show-ending fiddle tunes were: Brother Bob throwing out quasi-surf guitar squawks while balanced on top of his amp; Doc strumming chords and praying his glasses wouldn’t completely slide off the end of his nose; Jackie holding down the beat with ladylike grace; and ol’ Curly trying to keep from tripping over the heap of ad signs and the collapsed tripod.
And they always made it. The jam would still be roaring as the camera faded. Week after week.
Perhaps some folks tuned in hoping to catch the seemingly-inevitable trainwreck; I know my father (who didn’t drink a drop) watched Curly and the band every week just because they were there to play.
And, where I come from, that counts for a lot.