Key To The Highway, Chapter 9: For Love Of Voodoo

In my second full year, my music began to take on a somewhat mystical – magical – quality. It was almost as if I could weave spells with sound. Musical voodoo.

Drum rhythms, unique to me, formed from the fusion of African, Native, and Caribbean sounds. Complex and mesmerizing, they wove an underlying pattern beneath the harmonies of the melodies that built the sound. All three cohered well. 

My guitar style, an eclectic mix of styles already being used in all the bands. Swampdog blues, a Cajun blues-rock style, was slightly more complex than the blues from which it had grown. Creole shaman’s blues, a mix of zydeco, voodoo drum rhythms, and blues, was just as complex…and a sight more psychedelic. Atomic blues, a blistering metallic blues, was darker and even more complex and fed off Native rhythms. Midnight blues, also a Native form of blues, was slightly less complex. Smokehouse blues was a wild raucous style that spoke of naughtiness. While, psychedelic blues was just that…a remnant of 1960s psychedelia that just happened to be more blues than anything else.

I combined them all into a sound unique to me. Voodoo blues. And I became the ‘master mage’, weaving my spells through my guitar. Or so it was claimed. 

My music was just the language of my soul. I had never intended it to weave anything. Except maybe a story. My story.

And a beautiful story it was. At least, in the beginning. Just a boy and his instruments. 

But Cajun, Creole, and Native sounds weren’t the only influences on my music. There was the Spanish, South and Central American, and the Romany…not to mention the Klezmer music of my Jewish friends who thought I was the bomb. In many ways, my style was a musical gumbo of everything I came into contact with. 

I suppose it was this fact that made it so magical. So hypnotizing. Spellbinding. 

At the same time, I was learning the finer points of the Voodoo religion. The nature. The concepts of magic. Its links to music, art, and nature. 

And the concept filtered into my music. Causing it to become even deeper. Even more magical.

***

Kisa w’ap fè?” Mama Tibideau inquired. (what are you doing?)

“jwe ak konsèp,” I replied. (playing with a concept)

“…ak majik?” She peered at me over her spectacles. (…and magic?)

“Wi,” I replied simply, “gaye zèl mwen yo.” (yes. Spreading my wings)

“Don’ know what I’m gon’ do wit’ you, Chile,” she giggled, “you be natural at it all. It jus’ flows from you. Like life itself desires you to cast a spell.”

“Wi, manman,” I replied. (Yes, mama)

“You gon be a formidable man o’ wisdom when you get older,” her thick Haitian Creole accent was both comforting and stern at the same time, “would hate t’ be de one who gets on yer bad side when you become a man. I have never seen such a chile, not one dat was a perfect union of body and soul and in such complete control of their abilities. My, my.”

Mama Tibideau had come to the States with Mac Tibideau back in the early 1960s after one of his successful tours. She was one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses in Louisiana and believed that all her children should know what she knew. It did not matter to her that I was a white child, I was her adopted son and that meant I was to be taught the same things as she taught her daughters. I was family.

Looking back, I am grateful for this. It taught me that we are all one race. We are all of the human race. Color, creed, place of origin, gender, sexual preference, and gender identification mean absolutely nothing. Never, in my life since, have I ever been in the presence of another person as beautiful as her…though my third wife would come close.

But at the time, I was just ‘Baby Jay’, the blond haired, hazel eyed boy child that was everything and yet none of them. I was an adopted member of all the families who raised me and an adopted son of Louisiana. 

And at that moment in time, we were backstage. I had been practicing a song I had played since the beginning of my career. And though it was not mine, I was determined to put my mark on the song. 

“I came, chile,” she smiled, “to remind you dat you have three minutes and dey wants you onstage.”

“Wi, manman,” I responded, getting up from the chair I was sitting in, “I will head that way now.”

“Come, chile,” she put her hand on my shoulder, “I’ll take you.”

***

I loved the stage. I loved the sound of the crowds. It was a rush just knowing that I gave them such pleasure with my music. 

I hated being in a crowd, mind you. But being in front of a crowd was different. At least back when I was too young to know the danger they potentially represented. 

The sound of fans screaming for their favorite songs put me into a state of euphoria. It drove my innovations and improvisations on those songs. It drove me to make them my own.

I came up with the concept of ghost notes, notes that sounded even though they had not actually been fretted. I could make my fingers dance on the strings so fast that most people could not see what had been fretted. Sometimes, it seemed as if I had a second set of arms that allowed me to play double what anyone else could. Or pound out rhythms on drums that were seemingly more complex than anything ever done before.

Academically, I had learned three times more than any adult could. My accelerated courses were far more advanced than any high school graduate who was at my level, Sophomore year studies, in college. Some involved in the research project I was participating in had even begun hinting that I was a born prodigy…a genius. But I knew I was no genius. Just someone who was extremely fortunate

As a musician, I had already been to Europe once. As a solo artist, I still had yet to get started touring. And yet, my solo music was almost more popular than the bands I was touring with. I believe that, even then, those who had taken it upon themselves to teach me had begun to realize that the bands they fronted had come to their end and it was only a matter of time before I would have to go on alone.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 8: Let The Laughter Begin

I have always had a sense of humor. Though it tends to be a little more cerebral than most people are able to handle, it has always been there. Sometimes dark, sometimes absurd. The darker seemed, at times, to be a bit sadistic but had purpose. The absurd was typical childhood humor without the cruelty that often gets called ‘practical jokes’. 

This isn’t to say that I didn’t play practical jokes. I did. And often at the expense of those who were too slow to catch on what was going on…specifically those so immersed in greed, hate, and ignorance that they had no clue that they were being made the rube. Wealthy men and women often fell to my pranks. Hatemongers too. 

Some of my more elaborate pranks would not be pulled at this time as I was too small and not willing to plan anything big. But it was not my pranks that would grab attention. It would be the comedy skits I would begin recording at this time. 

They started as asides during recording, something to get the other musicians to lighten up and laugh. They soon grew into an opportunity to show more talent. Another side of me. 

And so, ‘Baby Jay’ grew into the first studio-only comic who was both self-depreciating and irreverent all in one. Playing off my actual age, I began piecing together the ‘baby’. By the time recording was done, I had everyone in the studio rolling with laughter.

Singles were made, small animated vignettes of hilarity playing off the character portrayed. They went over so well that I quickly became an underground comedy favorite. Adding to my myth and mystique, the comedy helped build the legend.

I also began becoming adept at playing cards. All forms of poker. Solitaire. Rummy. 

I could also call where the roulette wheel would stop. And the dice. And the slot machines. My grasp of mathematics allowed me to observe and note, then accurately predict. 

And though I was too young to be a danger, I would be officially banned from all casinos simply as a safeguard. If I were unable to enter, no adult could use me as a ‘good luck charm’. At the same time, this would work to my advantage when I got older.

But, at the age of one, I was not allowed in. not even under adult supervision. Except as part of the entertainment. Not that we ever played in the casinos.

***

I had yet to prove myself in the home of my biological parents. This would be the first winter I would spend with them. It would be my first winter of being ‘normal’. Whatever that was. 

I was not really looking forward to it, as I knew that I had an older sister I would have to fool as well as my own parents. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull it off. Especially if she got too rough with me. Luckily, I would be able to walk and babble. After all, the average one year old could ‘talk’. 

I just had to be careful how elaborate I got with my words. At the same time, I could speak almost any foreign language and still be thought to be babbling. It would be interesting to see how they reacted. 

As far as I knew, none of their close friends were multilingual. That would keep most from knowing what I was saying. It would make the ‘babble’ effect work well enough to fool them. I could practice my linguistics and not be suspect.

I just couldn’t do anything else. No martial arts. No writing. No music. Nothing to tip anyone off.

Luckily, the first winter would be short. It would go from October to January or February. After, I would return to my beloved Louisiana. It was my first vacation. I would treat it as such. 

But the vacation was still a moth or so off. I could be myself until then. I could practice my music. I could act in films. I could make people laugh.

There was also the social events that I hated. And the stage appearances I loved. And the classes that I relished. 

Life would be good until I had to go. I would be more than satisfied when the time came. Perhaps I would be ready for a vacation.

At the moment, I sat playing guitar. But not just any guitar. David Bowie had given me a brand new guitar shaped like a skeleton key. He had called it ‘the key to the highway’, a sort of joke referring to how music was always the key to freeing the wandering soul. 

The neck fit my tiny hands perfectly. I could fret it with such precision that I could get the precise sound I wanted. I could hit all the right notes.

I had retired the ‘toothpick’, the guitar I had designed and had been using, upon the receipt of the key. It just seemed right. After all, ‘the toothpick’ was getting a bit worn. And the ‘key’ resembled a normal guitar where ‘the toothpick’ did not. 

***

Night always brought dreams. Sometimes, they were nightmares. Mostly, they were enigmatic dreams. Riddles without clues. 

Being raised with a spiritual grounding, I saw all dreams and nightmares as messages. Some were prophetic. Others were more warnings against a certain course of action. Or against getting too close to certain people.

And being spiritual made me less religious. In fact, it made me non religious. I was a child of nature. Not a child of the unnatural.

And religion was unnatural. It lacked soul. It still does. 

Nature provided all I needed. All I wanted. I lived in my soul. 

I still do. A concept that most have a hard time understanding. It is a concept man has strayed from.

I was a soul in a human body, not a body given a soul. I saw my body as the car that my soul was driving, not as its prison. The uniqueness of my view set me at odds with most religious people as they always saw their souls as their possession, not as their only form of being.

Religion always taught that the soul was your possession. Something you could buy and sell. I came to realize that we did not own our souls. They were on loan, so to speak, to us. They were ours only in the fact that we were to repair the fractures already in it over our lifetimes and leave it better than it had been when given to us. They were not ours to sell or barter with. 

I also realized that religion’s fixation with the souls of those around it was wrong. The individual was never meant to control their fellow humans’ actions, but was meant to learn how to control themselves so that they could change their view of those around them through changing their internal world. Only by changing what was hidden within could one ever change the outer world. 

I had also realized that the truth was not an exclusive commodity. It was not held by just one ideology. It was everywhere. In everything. 

There was no single book that held it all. There was too much of it to be contained in a book. Or even a set of books. 

Key To The Highway, Chapter Seven: More Mature Than Most Adults

Most adults prefer fantasy to reality. It seems the basis of their religious beliefs as well as their political convictions. Children do not have that failing. Their fantasy is less complex.

Being a tad different has its advantages. It strips one of all illusion. Thus, there is no fantasy.

That doesn’t mean that I did not have an imagination. I did. I still do.

It just means that being different put things into perspective. Makes one think logically. 

It also means seeing through the facades of those around you. The religious leaders. The actors. The producers. The musicians. 

For a one year old, I was rather mature. I thought little of playing with toys, though I often had spare time. I thought most of the business at hand, whether it was music or writing…acting or building new businesses. Or just about my studies. 

At my accelerated learning rate, I had already earned a bachelor’s degree in every subject I was studying. And I had top grades, too. From what I gathered from the discussions I had overheard, I had the highest IQ ever discovered, and at such a young age.

No child had ever exhibited such a high IQ at such a young age. None had ever matured as quickly, mentally, as I was. I could read beyond the level of most adults. I could work out problems, mathematical and scientific, that adults were still struggling with. And all before I could tie my own shoes.

But, then, I would always have trouble tying my shoes which was probably why I preferred boots and slippers. There was nothing to tie. Nothing to trip over. 

I had designed my own costumes for the stage. They had been intended to hide my age. My appearance.

As a result, I had added to the myth. I had created a personna. An illusion of being older. 

I was a renaissance child. I was multi talented. Even those who knew nothing of the truth could see that I was no ordinary child. No ordinary person.

***

Dōshite son’na koto o shimashita?” Haido Matsumuri demanded. (why did you do that?)

Sore wa tekisetsudatta,” I responded simply.

We had been in the middle of lessons on the ways of the samurai and I had made a move that had both surprised and delighted my Japanese teacher. 

“Sōdatta,” he nodded, “shikashi, yosō sa rete imasendeshita. Anata wa mada sore o shiranai hazudesu. Anata wa kesshite odorokanai.” (it was. But wasn’t expected. You shouldn’t know that yet. You never cease to amaze.)

“Yatte mimasu,” I smiled. (I do try.)

“Anata wa tameshite miru ijō no koto o shimasu,” he smirked, “Kimi wa seikō suru.” (you do more than try, you succeed.)

High praise from the master. He rarely praised. Still, I was his best student. I was far better than his older students. I learned quickly. He knew I could be lethal if the need arose.

“I think Naruto Agisaki should begin teaching you the way of the shadow,” he said, his Japanese accent bending his English, “though I would hate to see what you are like with real swords. You are very dangerous.”

“Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita,” I stated, bowing in respect, “Arigatōgozaimashita.” (Thank you very much, thank you, Master.)

“Dōitashimashite,” he replied, bowing in a very pleased manner. (you’re welcome)

He left the gym and I continued to practice. A short time later, Shu Won Chow entered.

Zhǔnbèi?” He inquired. (are you ready?)

“Shì,” I responded. (yes)

“Ránhòu ràng wǒmen kāishǐ ba,” he instructed.

Aside from the linguistics and philosophies he taught, he also instructed me in every form of Chinese martial arts. These lessons began with kung fu and ended with Tai Chi or Wushu. Strenuous to relaxing. 

Like Master Haido, he rarely gave compliments. Strict and austere, it took a lot to surprise and delight him where a student’s actions were concerned. But, as always, I was the exception. 

***

I had spent my morning and early afternoon learning to fight. Sarge, my military tactics, military statistics, intel, and history teacher, knew better than to be a drill sergeant when instructing me. He also knew that any attack on me would be futile. I was dangerous, even at my young age. I was a living weapon.

He had spread the word to avoid me. I was his boy. His pupil. No one was to bother me.

And for the first four years, there would be no attempts made to prove him wrong. That made it easier for me. It kept me free to explore my talents. My strengths.

With an education most could only dream of, I could play the struggling student in school once I reached the age to be in public school. It would be necessary. No one could know of my true intelligence level. I had to play the average child.

Strangely enough, I already had a normal education. By normal, I mean a high school equivalency. After all, I had tested higher than most college students on the SATs. I had tested high on the military tests as well. I had placed higher. Much higher. 

Thus, they had seen to it that I learned what most children 2 years older than I was learning. I flew through kindergarten level material, then through grades 1-8. I even found high school classes way too easy. 

Thus, within a month, I had completed what would take 13 years for the average child to acquire. I had completed in one year what took most young adults four years to acquire. And I did it with nearly every subject within the core of the collegiate degrees I was going after. Medical. Political science. Business. Mass media. 

I was a walking human computer. I was a consummate actor. And I was only a year old. 

But I was well on my way toward my second year. Deadly, extremely intelligent, and extremely talented. That was the best way to describe me. And yet, it kind of fell short.

I was more complex than I seemed. And yet, I was still rather simple. After all, I was a child.

 

Key To The Highway, Chapter 6: For Reasons All My Own

Twenty-four films in a year. Twenty-four. I would get no awards. No accolades. 

Not that I wanted them. I was, however listed on all under and introducing. They weren’t huge films, not what would make the Oscars, but were all seen in Cannes and the Cannes Film Festival and garnered much acclaim as indie films with much promise. At least, that was what I was told. 

I really didn’t care. I had been paid. And I had been paid well. Not that I cared.

The money had been put away for my future. It would earn interest. It would make people claim that I was worth more.

But I had been more interested in the experience gained in acting. The time was drawing near when I would have to begin acting like a normal child. I needed to know how a normal child acted. 

And I had found out. A normal child, a child not like me, had a rather dull life. I didn’t like dull. I loved excitement. Music. Learning.

With the help of my business administration professors, I began building the perfect business plan. The financial projections. The internal structure. The core management team. 

I also began putting together my signature business policies. High employee pay. Relatively low CEO and top management salaries. Zero stock market presence. Zero outside investors or loans. 

Affordably priced quality products would drive our success. Products priced so that even our employees could afford them. We would be driven by demand, not supply.

Supply, after all, did not guarantee that a consumer would want or need. It only guaranteed that you would be stuck with a supply of a product that no one wanted or needed if no one bought what you had. It was a hallmark of greed, and grees was a hallmark of ignorance. 

I frowned on ignorance. Especially willful ignorance because it was always embraced by the bearer. It was their religion. 

And most religions preached ignorance as being important to their existence, which was why I despised religion. Rejection of fact was wrong. It created fools. 

***

A few months before I had been discovered, a president had stepped down and had been pardoned by his Vice President. It was this that had also evacuated US troops out of Saigon. Many of those soldiers would find the States hostile toward them. Most of them would come and work for Jean, Mel, and those who surrounded me. Eventually, they would work for me.

Those that did not would eventually find their way in a country that had changed seemingly overnight. Some would commit suicide. Others would end up on the streets.

It was one of those veterans who gave me an idea. So many had come home after losing a limb. Or having lost two or more limbs. Some were scarred beyond recognition. Others had been poisoned.

All had horrible memories of their time in the war. All wanted to find peace. And they all needed work. 

There needed to be solutions to these problems. I wanted to be the one to find them. But for now, I would plan. I would put together the best plan for a business ever designed. 

I had to be careful. There could be no errors. No mistakes. It had to be flawless. Nearly perfect.

I poured into it all my medical knowledge. All my technical knowledge. All my business knowledge.

Again, it would remain off the market. Private. Debt free.

And I would pour half of my growing fortune into it. I would be its principle investor. I would owe no one. 

I had already reached the position of multi-millionaire and needed something new to pour investment money into. After all, it was my money. I could do what I wanted with it.

I had already started my own entertainment company and re-released all my works on my record label. I had also republished my own books through my own publishing house. My next target with that business was to release a first film. But that would not be for a while.

My company was, at this point, assumed to be more an imprint of the original entertainment companies I had been with and not a stand alone corporation. And I had meant it to seem so. At least until I was deemed old enough to run them myself. 

But this new company. There was no parent company. Nothing to adhere to. I was going into uncharted territory.

Medical research. Pharmaceutical research. Educational research. Technological research. 

I wanted to have my hands in all of it. And so, I planned it all out. I worked out every single wrinkle I could find. Every weakness. 

Once the plan was done, I would wait until the time was right to start the company. Perhaps a year. Maybe two. 

It all depended on circumstances and feasibility. Timing was everything. Timing and location.

Jean made the arrangements for the labs to be constructed on his estate. The mansion, after all, would be mine. That made the estate mine as well.

***

Julian Lennon stood in Argyle Studios waiting for me. He had heard of the boy wonder who could outplay any guitarist and wanted desperately to try his hand. It would be a friendly competition between brothers that would span a decade. He would try to one up me and I would beat him every time. 

But this was our first meeting and the very first incarnation of the band Mother’s Little Helper, named after a tune by The Rolling Stones. He had flown, with his mother, from England to meet me. Not that he needed his mother, but she had begged to come with him. She had also heard about me. After all, I was an oddity.

To me, Julian represented a chance to make another friend. A chance to play with the son of one of the Beatles on a project. A chance to possibly form another band. 

What resulted was three albums worth of material. Material that would be the start of an all star project that would include so many others. Peter Green. Marc Bolan. Tommy Bolin. All before I was five. 

Peter, Marc, and Tommy would work with me right after Julian. Others would be sprinkled throughout the years to come. Sadly, I would lose some of those I would work with. But all would be my heroes.

A month later, John Lennon came to the Tibideau estate to record. This visit was off the record. He had gone against his manager’s advice.

His intent was to record with me. He’s heard the work that his son Julian had done with me and had decided to try his own hand at completing a project with me. 

With each, three albums worth of material would emerge. That material would make our first five albums. 

I would only regret working with a handful of musicians. All would be mostly ego and very little talent. Ted Nugent would be one. 

 

Key To The Highway, Chapter 5: Daddy Dewdrop

“Do your lessons, boy,” the golden haired old man smiled, “Don’ let de res’ t’ git ahead on ya.”

“Yes, sir,” I responded in my small voice.

The old man, Jean Edivere, was better known as ‘Daddy Dewdrop’ for his silky smooth and sometimes dewy eyed jazz and blues. He had founded one of the bands I now performed in. His piano work could be heard in hundreds of uncredited recordings dating back to before the age of rock-n-roll. 

The lessons in question were my studies, not my piano lessons. The reason, we were now on the road and I needed to keep up my studies. I had already mastered the piano, so I had no worries.

They were slowly working me in. This was to be Jean’s last tour. He was retiring after this.

He was in his late seventies, after all, maybe early eighties. He was getting too old to do this sort of thing. Even he said so. 

He had met my grandfather in Europe during the Great War. they had become fast friends and Grandpa had renovated Jean’s estate in Louisiana. Jean’s son had, then, added the plumbing and electricity a decade later. 

But Jean’s son had died in World War II fighting the Nazis, something Jean had not forgiven the nationalist movements for. I supposed that was why he surrounded himself with the people he did. Creoles. Native Americans. Hispanics. Minorities of every shade. 

Aside from their ability to play music, of course. Besides. They were all friends. Almost family.

He was a hard man, stern, but he was also a kindly man. Completely grandfatherly. And yet, he was strong. Far stronger than anyone else I knew.

“Whut ya workin’ on?” he smiled.

“Statistical predictions,” I replied, “part of the military tactics studies.”

“Lessee heah,” he murmured, “mmmmhmmm. Mmmmhmmmm. They’s gunna be jealous wit’ dat un. Methinks ya got ‘er perfect.”

I blushed, embarrassed. I would never be able to take a compliment easily. Even in my success. 

“T-thank you, sir,” I stuttered.

“Ce n’est rien,” he smiled, knowing full well  that I was also very fluent in both French and Cajun Franglais…as well as Creole.  (it’s nothing)

The old Colonel had given me high praise, something he almost never did. I had done something perfectly. 

It had been six months since I began my journey and it was now my first birthday, June 4, 1975. I rarely spoke so as not to raise suspicions about my age. Not that it mattered, especially before a show in my dressing room backstage. Onstage was a different story. 

“Ready fer the crowd, son?” The Colonel saw me as a son of sorts and often referred to me as such.

“Oui, Papa,” I smiled, “certainment.”  (Yes, papa. Certainly)

“Dat’s my li’l chile,” he chuckled, pleased at the ease with which I had answered him in French, “dose uddah chilluns have nuttin’ on you. You speck trois languages, c’n count higher th’n any uddah…an’ could probably mix dynamite in yer sleep. I declare, you’uns gunna be big.”

I blushed, not knowing what to say. Though it felt good to have someone who believed in me, I was still easily embarrassed by open praise. 

“Naw, boy,” he grinned, “no need fo’ embarrassment. C’est bon d’être loué.” (It’s good to be praised)

“Pardon moi por…eh…” I began. (forgive me for…)

“Ce n’est rien,” he replied, then hugged me, “just know we all proud on you. You learn fast. Faster than those older than you.” (It’s nothing)

“J’aime la connaissance,” I responded. (I love knowledge)

“An’ so you should,” he nodded.

I went back to my studies and he left the room. That would always be our conversation. It was inevitable.

***

Being raised Cajun is a unique experience. Being raised Creole also. But being raised as almost every nationality was an amazingly strange one. 

You learn languages you would normally never be exposed to. Lakota. Ute. Navajo. Apache. Cherokee. South and Central American indios. African dialects not spoken by most. And Romani. 

And that was on top of French, Spanish, Creole, Cajun Franglais, Italian, German, Gaelic, among others. And I reveled in language and linguistics. Each became natural to me. 

And I learned to speak them all before learning how to write. At one, I was a chatterbox that could switch from language to language at ease, never missing a beat. Indeed, I was living proof of the researchers’ assumption that a young mind could learn easier than an older mind. Mentally, I was more nimble than those four years older than I…and they were more nimble than youths four years older than they. 

Onstage, I was quiet and mysterious. It added to my mystique. And though the band called me ‘Baby Jay’, the audience often believed that I was a midget adult that no one got to see. And though there were lines of fans outside my dressing room door, none would be allowed to enter–adding more mystery to my persona. 

And the idea of my being a midget rather than a child would remain until the visible signs of growth could be seen. By then, it would be a moot point. Until then, I enjoyed the ride. And the secrecy.

Band by band, I was eased into the lineup and a member retired. Guitar. Bass. Rhythm guitar. Drums. Saxophone. Fiddle. Steel guitar. Whatever was needed.

Up to this point, I had released twelve solo projects and founded one band. Each solo project had been released on a per month basis. All had been recorded at the same sessions. The first six had been recorded the year previous and released as a box set. Those being released in 1975 had been recorded in January and were being released one a month, but also as a box set at the end of the year.

As I was known as ‘one-off Jay’, I almost never had to redo a recording. Timing. Rhythm. Solos. Music was an extension of my soul.

Everything else never crossed my mind. I cared nothing for money. I had no concept of what fame was.  There was only music.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 4: The Wee Hours Of Sixpence

There wasn’t always a work schedule. Sometimes, recording lasted well into the night. Other times, it lasted only three hours. 

It just depended on how much we had to do. Concerts lasted well into the night. Small club venues also lasted into the night. 

I began writing stories and rough novels at this time. Not that they were really all that good, but I began experimenting with words. And at my accelerated mentality, they were a kind of oddity. 

Those around me, and especially Jean Edivere, ghosted on them rewriting them into better stories and books. The end results were…fascinating to say the least. And very profitable.

I suppose it was this fact that helped build the myth that I was a midget disguised as a child. But the adults around me did nothing to dissuade that notion. Instead, they seemed to encourage it.

In a way, I think the myth grew out of people’s inability to accept that a child – a toddler, really – could write such dark and terrifying books and short stories. Hell. Most could not accept that a toddler could write anything, let alone walk and talk.

I didn’t care. I simply wrote down my nightmares and dreams. And every little inspired piece of nothing that came to mind.

I also began experimenting with writing lyrics. These, I distilled down until they sounded professional to myself, then distilled them down even further until they sounded professional to the musicians around me. They were added to select melody tracks already recorded. 

The resulting songs would define my early work. Or, at least the more radio friendly portion of my work. After all, radio tended to dislike the instrumental. It tended to like the story song, the ballad. 

Mysteries. Horror novels. Action/adventure. Suspense. Science fiction. Fantasy. Dramas. Historical fiction. 

I incorporated everything I was learning into what I was writing. Nothing was wasted. Nothing was sacred.

My books became popular and each book and series began to grow a sort of cult following. Even though I never appeared for book signings, my books became underground best sellers. Not that I cared.

 

***

 

Oi, jovem,” Jair smiled, “O que você está fazendo?” (hi, young man, what you doing?)

“Nada,” I shrugged, “Falando com você, eu acho. E aguardando o início da sessão.” (Nothing. Talking to you, I guess. And waiting for session to start.)

“Veremos?” He grinned. “Você está fazendo alguma coisa!” (see? You are doing something!)

“Sim,” I nodded, “ você está certo. Eu acho.” (yes, you’re right. I guess.)

“Sim,” he chuckled, “Sim.” (yes, yes.)

I loved speaking to the Brazilian. It helped me exercise my knowledge of portuguese. 

“Eu tenho um filho da sua idade,” he stated suddenly, “Espero que um dia ele se junte a uma de suas bandas.” (I have a son your age. I hope one day he will join one of your bands.)

“Eu também,” I smiled, “ficaria honrado.” (Me too, I would be honored.)

“Eu também,” He smiled and nodded, “você seria um professor tão bom para ele.” (Me too, you would make such a fine teacher for him.)

“Você também,” I stated simply, “você me ensinou muito apenas trabalhando com você.” (you would too, you have taught me so much just working beside/with you.)

“Obrigado,” he replied humbly. (thank you)

“Não é nada,”  I responded. (It’s nothing)

I had touched his heart. But I loved working in the studio with him. He actually did teach me a lot. Especially about Brazilian music. 

Whether it was rhythm or guitar stylizations, I could rely on him to help me get it right the first time. He was a sweetheart of a man as well. He had three sons. Both of the older sons already worked in the bands as rhythm. His youngest was too young to do anything yet, though he was old enough to walk. Sort of.

 

***

 

I had auditioned for a part in a movie. All I had to do was act like a toddler my own age. It sounded easier than it really was, as I was no normal child. 

I was a born prodigy. The adults continuously used the word ‘genius’. But I did not think of myself as a genius. Just lucky.

Lucky enough to have an easy time learning at a very young age. Lucky enough to have my own career. Lucky enough to travel the globe as a musician. 

And now, despite my apparent lack of knowledge on how a ‘normal’ child my age acted, I was lucky enough to begin an acting career. It would be good practice for when I had to go back to Iowa. 

I was not SAG. I was not union. I was too young. Still, I was well enough connected that I could get parts. And I did.

I had over a dozen lined up, one after the other. I had dozens more waiting after. Each would be a two week workout. Each would make me more connected. More experienced. 

I would become part of many powerful families in Hollywood. This, alone, would make it imperative that I be a part of social events in Hollywood and New York. It would also make me dislike the very rich…and the very powerful.

But that was in the future. I was just beginning on my road to fame on the screen. I was still naive about much.

At this point, it was two films per month. The bands would perform where the films were being shot. I would pull double duty.

And I would observe all. How to direct. How to get the best out of an actor or actress. How to make it all come together.

I would learn the art from within. Producers would see me as one of their children. Or as the child they never had. 

Or most would. There would be some that I would learn to stay away from. Others would prove a bit idiotic. 

Key To The Highway, Chapter 3: Calico Jack And His Cactus Playboys

Calico Jack was not his real name. Nor was his band called The Cactus Playboys. That was the name they used when they didn’t want to be recognized. But they were well known country musicians. They had crossed paths with my mother when she was working in the west on a ranch. It was there that her father had sold them her lyrics out of jealousy.

But instead of stealing her songs and recording them as their own, Jack had seen the grievous wrong that had been done and had kept the notebooks in case he would meet up with one of her children. And he did.

He recognized her in me immediately.

“Well, now,” he smiled, “you must be ‘Baby Jay’. you look like your mother.” He paused and looked at me. “She is  Carla Starkie, is she not?”

“Yes,” I nodded, “that was her name before she married my father.”

“I have something that belongs to her,” He admitted, “or should I say several things. They were sold to me out of jealousy and vindictiveness by her father. I decided that I would keep them for you. You see, I would never steal the lyrics of someone else. No matter how good.” He looked at one of his band. “Will you go get the case with Carla’s things?”

The man left for a few minutes, then returned with a briefcase and handed it to Jack. He nodded to the gentleman and sat it on his lap. He opened it carefully. 

“These now belong to you,” he smiled.

“So,” I began, “I can do whatever with these?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

“Then I will record them,” I smiled, “and put the money aside for her.”

“That’s very noble of you,” he averred, “do you have anyone in mind to help you?”

“Perhaps you,” I admitted, “and various other vocalists. Or I might form a band specifically for these. Not sure yet.”

“Take your time,” he advised, “plan wisely.”

“I will,” I promised.

I immediately set about forming Supersticion to record the new songs. The final lineup of the band would not emerge at this time. It would take time. And much consideration. 

I would never see Jack again after that. I would learn later that he had died a short time after our meeting. His bandmates would retire from the business after his death and vanish into obscurity.

 

***

 

Disfrutando la musica?” Mario inquired. (do you like the music?)

“Si,” I nodded. (yes)

“¿Puedes jugar?” he pressed. (can you play)

“¿Por el oído?” I returned. “O una vez enseñado?” (By Ear? Or after a lesson?)

“Ambos,” he responded. (both)

“Si,” I nodded again. (yes)

“Dejame escuchar,” he demanded, reluctant to believe me. (show me)

I began playing the Cuban guitar riff I had just heard him play. His mouth dropped open. 

“¿Como es eso?” I inquired, smiling. (How is that?)

“¿Pero cómo?” he stared at me in disbelief. (But How?)

“No es nada,” I shrugged. (it’s nothing)

“Ah, Mario,” Mel Tibideau mused as he entered the room, “I see you’ve met James. What do you think?”

“Is not possible!” the Cuban exclaimed.

“James is a born musical prodigy,” he chuckled, “I assure you that it can and is possible. He also knows how to speak multiple languages. Very proficiently, I might add.”

The exasperated Cuban simply shook his head. Mel burst into a bout of uncontrollable laughter and looked at me.

“It’s almost time,” he announced.

I nodded and left the room. I knew what he meant. Recording would be started soon. I needed to get ready.

I headed for the studio down the hall. Once there, I would get my drums ready. First, we would have a short lesson. A sort of warm up.

After, we would begin to record. Drums. Bass. Lead and rhythm guitars. Piano and organ or keyboards. Then, vocals.

 

***

 

“Well done, my boy,” Mel nodded, “well done.”

“T-thank you, Grandpapa,” I responded, blushing.

“You’re welcome, son,” he grinned.

“Will there be more of the same tomorrow?” I inquired.

“Recording, yes,” he nodded, “visitors, no.”

“I don’t mind visitors,” I shrugged.

“No,” he grinned again, suppressing the urge to laugh, “I guess you don’t at that.”

“Bonne soir, Grandpapa,” I hugged him. (good night, Grandpapa)

“G’night, my boy,” he whispered in my ear, “now off to bed with you.”

I ran to my room and climbed in. I had done very well. No retakes had been needed. No note had been played offkey. All had gone as planned.

Mama Tibideau entered and began reading my nightly bedtime story. I sat back on my bed and closed my eyes. Life was good. Life was very good.

The story droned on for about an hour. She always read to me for an hour every night. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know how to read, it was just her little tradition with all her children. And I was one of her children.

When she was done, she closed the book and put it back on the shelf. 

“I heard you did very well, chile,” she smiled.

“Yes.” I averred.

“Then it has been a great day,” she nodded, “tired from the day?”

“Wi,” I nodded. (yes)

“Then lay down,” she admonished, “and let the night take it all away.”

“Wi, manman,” I answered sleepily. (yes, mama)

I laid down. She tucked me in, kissed my forehead, and turned off my light. I lay there, after she had gone, thinking of tomorrow. 

“That’s a good boy,” she whispered, her Creole accent lulling me to sleep.

I yawned and closed my eyes again. She was right. The day was done. Tomorrow was not yet.

In a way I couldn’t wait. The morning would be my daily lessons in everything from economics to creative writing. Those would be followed by martial arts and music. But music was always last. 

My last thought was of music. My play. My fun. My escape from reality.

Then, I knew nothing. My day was over. I was asleep. 

Key To The Highway, Chapter 2: Raising A Legend (the new ‘chapter 2)

I was introduced to my teachers over the first month of my new life. Izaak Berg would be my fiddle/violin teacher. He was an old German Jew, a rabbi in a local synagogue. He would also be teaching me my classes in Jewish theological studies. 

Father Malachi would be my instructor in the concepts of Catholicism, Thomas Creed would teach me an unbiased, nondenominational, non religious yet in depth course in Christian theology. In other words, he would teach me the truth. Not the lies used to pull poor saps into religion. 

Faisal ibn Awat would teach me about Islam. What it had been meant to be. What it had become. He would also teach me about Rumi and the mystics of Islam. 

Haido Matsumuri would teach me about Shintoism. Shu Won Chow would teach me about Chinese enlightenment. Lankahr, a special emissary from the Dalai Lama, would teach me of Buddhism. Mahmut Shivala would teach me of Hinduism. 

There were shaman and priests brought in from every known belief system in the world to teach me every known philosophy. But Mama Tibideau would teach me Voodoo. 

Professor Allen would teach me economics. Professor Loire would teach me political science. Professor Matthews would teach me ethics. Sergeant Acton would teach me military tactics and all things concerning the military. Several martial arts senseis were brought in to teach me their methods of self defense. The best known scientists, physicists, doctors, mathematicians, and historians were to be my instructors. I had the best teachers from MIT, Stanford, Yale, Cambridge, UCLA, and other universities. 

Not only me, but a handful of toddlers and young children as well. Some were of school age, but I was the youngest. The purpose was to see if a mere baby was able to learn or whether a child had to be older.

I would prove to be unique. A fluke. One of a kind.

I would be the only child who would be able to learn at six months. There would be no others. I would be a celebrity among celebrities.

Still, I would not see myself as a celebrity. I would be just ‘James’ or just ‘Baby Jay’, not some wickedly famous person who was known by everyone in Hollywood and New York. and I would grow to hate social functions rather early in life. 

I would learn to hate personal attention from others as well. Especially from adults. I would learn the evils that lurked in their minds. The darkness they tried to hide from their adoring fans.

 

***

 

“Isn’t he just the cutest?” I heard one actress say.

“Just makes you want to go have one of your own,” I heard another state.

“Girls,” I heard Cher say, “knock it off.”

I had grown close to Sonny and Cher, though I hated going to their social events. I was just getting to know Chastity, their daughter and saw her as a friend. 

In a way. I saw them as a strange part of my extended family, much the same way I would come to see others in Hollywood. But only away from the social events and fundraisers. 

Here, I was both ‘Baby Jay’ and James. It just depended on the reason I was visiting. When it wasn’t for something to do with society ‘responsibilities’, I was James. At social events, I was ‘Baby Jay’. 

A double life of sorts. The public and the private. But it was what it was. 

“So,” I heard a man’s voice say, “this is the much talked about ‘Baby Jay’ Tibideau.”

I looked up at the sound of the voice.

“Yes, John,”  Cher agreed, “this is Jay Tibideau. Jay, this is John Barrymore.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Barrymore,” I stated, bowing.

“Likewise,” he smiled, then looked up at Cher, “quite a charmer. You’ll want to keep an eye on him when he gets older. He’s going to be quite the beguiler.”

“He’s already quite the little actor,” she giggled, “he has to be.”

“Indeed,” John’s right eyebrow arched, “I wish my son and his…wife…would give me a grandchild.”

“Patience, John,” she replied, “all in good time.”

I would meet Robert De Niro, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, and many others those first six months as I made the rounds. Some I would find worthy of my friendship, others I would attempt to remain aloof from. But I preferred the company of children to the company of adults. Children were less likely to be…questionable.

 

***

 

Six solo albums. Six band albums with me in different positions within the band. Drums. Piano/keyboards. Bass. Rhythm guitar. Lead guitar. Saxophone. Steel guitar. Whatever needed to be played.

Those band albums would be released in 1975, just before we set out for our first tour with me on those instruments. Our first singles were released immediately, but no promotional videos. The mystery was intentional. 

My solo projects were released immediately, but I recorded an extra for release in January. Again my singles were released, but without the obligatory video sample. Again, the mystery was intentional. 

I would record the rest of 1975’s album projects in January. Twelve albums in all. Each with unique and original compositions. Some with lyrics sung by various vocalists. 

I was a natural. A born prodigy. I learned my instruments very quickly. Almost instantly. It was as if I had been born with an instrument in my hands. 

I would never be any good at ‘normal’ employment. I would never feel right as a factory worker or as a cook. Or anything else. 

With each future job, I would feel like a caged animal. They were so unnatural. So unnerving.

Perhaps some were due to my not being a people person. Or my total lack of interest in them. But most would be because I was never suited for them.

But those were still a ways in the future and I was still a budding musician. I had no clue, yet, what the future held. I was but a babe. 

Key To The Highway, Chapter 3: For Love Of Voodoo

In my second full year, my music began to take on a somewhat mystical – magical – quality. It was almost as if I could weave spells with sound. Musical voodoo.

Drum rhythms, unique to me, formed from the fusion of African, Native, and Caribbean sounds. Complex and mesmerizing, they wove an underlying pattern beneath the harmonies of the melodies that built the sound. All three cohered well. 

My guitar style, an eclectic mix of styles already being used in all the bands. Swampdog blues, a Cajun blues-rock style, was slightly more complex than the blues from which it had grown. Creole shaman’s blues, a mix of zydeco, voodoo drum rhythms, and blues, was just as complex…and a sight more psychedelic. Atomic blues, a blistering metallic blues, was darker and even more complex and fed off Native rhythms. Midnight blues, also a Native form of blues, was slightly less complex. Smokehouse blues was a wild raucous style that spoke of naughtiness. While, psychedelic blues was just that…a remnant of 1960s psychedelia that just happened to be more blues than anything else/

I combined them all into a sound unique to me. Voodoo blues. And I became the ‘master mage’, weaving my spells through my guitar. Or so it was claimed. 

My music was just the language of my soul. I had never intended it to weave anything. Except maybe a story. My story.

And a beautiful story it was. At least, in the beginning. Just a boy and his instruments. 

But Cajun, Creole, and Native sounds weren’t the only influences on my music. There was the Spanish, South and Central American, and the Romany…not to mention the Klezmer music of my Jewish friends who thought I was the bomb. In many ways, my style was a musical gumbo of everything I came into contact with. 

I suppose it was this fact that made it so magical. So hypnotizing. Spellbinding. 

At the same time, I was learning the finer points of the Voodoo religion. The nature. The concepts of magic. Its links to music, art, and nature. 

And the concept filtered into my music. Causing it to become even deeper. Even more magical.

 

***

 

Kisa w’ap fè?” Mama Tibideau inquired. (what are you doing?)

“Jwe ak konsèp,” I replied. (playing with a concept)

“…ak majik?” She peered at me over her spectacles. (…and magic?)

“Wi,” I replied simply, “gaye zèl mwen yo.” (yes. Spreading my wings)

“Don’ know what I’m gon’ do wit’ yoy, Chile,” she giggled, “you be natural at it all. It jus’ flows from you. Like life itself desires you to cast a spell.”

“Wi, manman,” I replied. (Yes, mama)

“You gon be a formidable man o’ wisdom when you get older,” her thick Haitian Creole accent was both comforting and stern at the same time, “would hate t’ be de one who gets on yer bad side when you become a man. I have never seen such a chile, not one dat was a perfect union of body and soul and in such complete control of their abilities. My, my.”

Mama Tibideau had come to the States with Mac Tibideau back in the early 1960s after one of his successful tours. She was one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses in Louisiana and believed that all her children should know what she knew. It did not matter to her that I was a white child, I was her adopted son and that meant I was to be taught the same things as she taught her daughters. I was family.

Looking back, I am grateful for this. It taught me that we are all one race. We are all of the human race. Color, creed, place of origin, gender, sexual preference, and gender identification mean absolutely nothing. Never, in my life since, have I ever been in the presence of another person as beautiful as her…though my third wife would come close.

But at the time, I was just ‘Baby Jay’, the blond haired, hazel eyed boy child that was everything and yet none of them. I was an adopted member of all the families who raised me and an adopted son of Louisiana. 

And at that moment in time, we were backstage. I had been practicing a song I had played since the beginning of my career. And though it was not mine, I was determined to put my mark on the song. 

“I came, chile,” she smiled, “to remind you dat you have three minutes and dey wants you onstage.”

“Wi, manman,” I responded, getting up from the chair I was sitting in, “I will head that way now.”

“Come, chile,” she put her hand on my shoulder, “I’ll take you.”

 

***

 

I loved the stage. I loved the sound of the crowds. It was a rush just knowing that I gave them such pleasure with my music. 

I hated being in a crowd, mind you. But being in front of a crowd was different. At least back when I was too young to know the danger they potentially represented. 

The sound of fans screaming for their favorite songs put me into a state of euphoria. It drove my innovations and improvisations on those songs. It drove me to make them my own.

I came up with the concept of ghost notes, notes that sounded even though they had not actually been fretted. I could make my fingers dance on the strings so fast that most people could not see what had been fretted. Sometimes, it seemed as if I had a second set of arms that allowed me to play double what anyone else could. Or pound out rhythms on drums that were seemingly more complex than anything ever done before.

Academically, I had learned three times more than any adult could. My accelerated courses were far more advanced than any high school graduate who was at my level, Sophomore year studies, in college. Some involved in the research project I was participating in had even begun hinting that I was a born prodigy…a genius. But I knew I was no genius. Just someone who was extremely fortunate

As a musician, I had already been to Europe once. As a solo artist, I still had yet to get started touring. And yet, my solo music was almost more popular than the bands I was touring with. I believe that, even then, those who had taken it upon themselves to teach me had begun to realize that the bands they fronted had come to their end and it was only a matter of time before I would have to go on alone.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 5: Daddy Dewdrop

“Do your lessons, boy,” the golden haired old man smiled, “Don’ let de res’ t’ git ahead on ya.”

“Yes, sir,” I responded in my small voice.

The old man, Jean Edivere, was better known as ‘Daddy Dewdrop’ for his silky smooth and sometimes dewy eyed jazz and blues. He had founded one of the bands I now performed in. His piano work could be heard in hundreds of uncredited recordings dating back to before the age of rock-n-roll. 

The lessons in question were my studies, not my piano lessons. The reason, we were now on the road and I needed to keep up my studies. I had already mastered the piano, so I had no worries.

They were slowly working me in. This was to be Jean’s last tour. He was retiring after this.

He was in his late seventies, after all, maybe early eighties. He was getting too old to do this sort of thing. Even he said so. 

He had met my grandfather in Europe during the Great War. they had become fast friends and Grandpa had renovated Jean’s estate in Louisiana. Jean’s son had, then, added the plumbing and electricity a decade later. 

But Jean’s son had died in World War II fighting the Nazis, something Jean had not forgiven the nationalist movements for. I supposed that was why he surrounded himself with the people he did. Creoles. Native Americans. Hispanics. Minorities of every shade. 

Aside from their ability to play music, of course. Besides. They were all friends. Almost family.

He was a hard man, stern, but he was also a kindly man. Completely grandfatherly. And yet, he was strong. Far stronger than anyone else I knew.

“Whut ya workin’ on?” he smiled.

“Statistical predictions,” I replied, “part of the military tactics studies.”

“Lessee heah,” he murmured, “mmmmhmmm. Mmmmhmmmm. They’s gunna be jealous wit’ dat un. Methinks ya got ‘er perfect.”

I blushed, embarrassed. I would never be able to take a compliment easily. Even in my success. 

“T-thank you, sir,” I stuttered.

““Ce n’est rien,” he smiled, knowing full well  that I was also very fluent in both French and Cajun Franglais…as well as Creole. 

The old Colonel had given me high praise, something he almost never did. I had done something perfectly. 

It had been six months since I began my journey and it was now my first birthday, June 4, 1975. I rarely spoke so as not to raise suspicions about my age. Not that it mattered, especially before a show in my dressing room backstage. Onstage was a different story. 

“Ready fer the crowd, son?” The Colonel saw me as a son of sorts and often referred to me as such.

“Oui, Papan,” I smiled, “certainment.” 

“Dat’s my li’l chile,” he chuckled, pleased at the ease with which I had answered him in French, “dose uddah chilluns have nuttin’ on you. You speck trois languages, c’n count higher th’n any uddah…an’ could probably mix dynamite in yer sleep. I declare, you’uns gunna be big.”

I blushed, not knowing what to say. Though it felt good to have someone who believed in me, I was still easily embarrassed by open praise. 

“Naw, boy,” he grinned, “no need fo’ embarrassment. C’est bon d’être loué.”

“Pardon moi por…eh…” I began.

“Ce n’est rien,” he replied, then hugged me, “just know we all proud on you. You learn fast. Faster than those older than you.”

“J’aime la connaissance,” I responded.

“An’ so you should,” he nodded.

I went back to my studies and he left the room. That would always be our conversation. It was inevitable.

 

***

 

Being raised Cajun is a unique experience. Being raised Creole also. But being raised as almost every nationality was an amazingly strange one. 

You learn languages you would normally never be exposed to. Lakota. Ute. Navajo. Apache. Cherokee. South and Central American indios. African dialects not spoken by most. And Romani. 

And that was on top of French, Spanish, Creole, Cajun Franglais, Italian, German, Gaelic, among others. And I reveled in language and linguistics. Each became natural to me. 

And I learned to speak them all before learning how to write. At one, I was a chatterbox that could switch from language to language at ease, never missing a beat. Indeed, I was living proof of the researchers’ assumption that a young mind could learn easier than an older mind. Mentally, I was more nimble than those four years older than I…and they were more nimble than youths four years older than they. 

Onstage, I was quiet and mysterious. It added to my mystique. And though the band called me ‘Baby Jay’, the audience often believed that I was a midget adult that no one got to see. And though there were lines of fans outside my dressing room door, none would be allowed to enter–adding more mystery to my persona. 

And the idea of my being a midget rather than a child would remain until the visible signs of growth could be seen. By then, it would be a moot point. Until then, I enjoyed the ride. And the secrecy.

Band by band, I was eased into the lineup and a member retired. Guitar. Bass. Rhythm guitar. Drums. Saxophone. Fiddle. Steel guitar. Whatever was needed.

Up to this point, I had released twelve solo projects and founded one band. Each solo project had been released on a per month basis. All had been recorded at the same sessions. The first six had been recorded the year previous and released as a box set. Those being released in 1975 had been recorded in January and were being released one a month, but also as a box set at the end of the year.

As I was known as ‘one-off Jay’, I almost never had to redo a recording. Timing. Rhythm. Solos. Music was an extension of my soul.

Everything else never crossed my mind. I cared nothing for money. I had no concept of what fame was.  There was only music.