Thursday, April 11, 2013

10- Shooting My Last Dallas Killing

Shooting My Last Dallas Killing

I have this pattern of quitting jobs in the spring or starting new ones, depending on how you look at it. By late March of 1973, I was ready to move on, leaving a marriage, a house, a career, a town and soon a way of life I’d embraced for almost 3 years. No kids, no touch, no foul. A clean start, I guess, for everybody.
Funny, if it hadn’t been for that divorce, I might yet be under the seductive spell of Texas. That can happen. I’ve seen the Lone Star State tighten her grip on others like that as life moves inexorably on. I had no intention of that happening to me.
There’d been a lot of stress at Channel 8; more so since the union had lost a recent vote to organize the photographers and editors. Morale was low and respect was nonexistent. I recall being told at one point that I was paid to shoot, not think, but that’s another story. Clearly my personal beliefs were at odds with the conservative TV station on more and more issues. With so many things going on in my life it was no wonder something had to give.
I was at Mother Blues one night where some friends in a band were playing and they let me sit in. I hadn’t played with anyone professionally for 3 years. There was something about jamming in front of a live audience that really made it special. The music just flowed. It was overwhelming.

Journal Entry: Sunday- March 18, 1973- 4:40am
       It was the closest thing I can imagine to time tripping. I mean, there I was, sitting behind this organ, eyes closed, a big grin boogyin’ from one side of my face to the other, and just playing my ass off, you know? When for a second, just for a second I began to drift…  I was in Memphis… and it was as real as I ever remember it being… but as always, I come back.

It had only been 3 days since my divorce was final and I wasn’t exactly happy with what “coming back” meant.
The next day, after rediscovering my soul the previous evening at Mother Blues, I bought a 1939 Hammond organ (with 1937 pre-amps) from Wells Music and quietly began looking for a band. Three months later, I was playing with Dave Norfleet on guitar, Gary Leggett on bass, and Bill Adams on drums. We called ourselves Freedom Street after an old Memphis band I’d played in. We started drawing a pretty good crowd in Oak Lawn at The Fog, later called Bobby McGee’s, several nights a week. People were beginning to notice.
Bill Adams, Gary Leggett, Chuck Richardson, Dave Norfleet
Dallas Mafioso Tony Caterine, owner of the Castaway and Losers Clubs, stopped in one night and was impressed by the band. He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse and signed us to a booking contract. Tony promised his talent agency would keep the band on the road from Hawaii to Georgia as long as we wanted the work. And in spite of a short stay in prison, where he still managed to conduct business, Tony did just that. Before long, I gave up my apartment and lived full time on the road while he managed the band. It was a killer at first trying to keep a day job while working so late in the nightclubs but I needed cash to live on until we got established. But the end was in sight. Tony fronted me some money. I gave notice to my boss, Burt Shipp, and was soon shooting my last stories for WFAA-TV.
It was no secret, I just wanted to turn in the gear and leave, but the afternoon call on the police scanner meant one of my last days at the station would probably be a late one.
I was only a few blocks away from a shooting at a convenience store, and already headed in that direction, when Burt’s voice crackled on the radio, “You on that Hoss?” He called everybody Hoss. “Yep. I got it Burt”.
More reports were coming in on the scanner; shooter down, multiple victims, ambulance and fire rolling. I pulled to the curb in front of the store. Two police units were there already and a third was arriving as I grabbed my camera from the trunk. I was using film and had to shoot very sparingly with only 3 minutes of film in the 16mm Canon Scoopic. Not like it would soon be with videotape cameras where I could start rolling, even as I ran up to the scene, with a whole 20 minutes of media to burn.
Two officers were tending to a wounded girl on the floor near the check out counter. Just beyond them the clerk lay dead. I stayed back and to the side hoping to go unnoticed by the police while I gathered a wide shot and panned over to the arriving ambulance crew. Through the lens, I followed them to the victim where a blue uniform, first blocked my shot, then ushered me outside the door beyond the newly established police line. There was time now to cross the street and shoot back wide at the whole area with the storefront and emergency vehicles jammed together outside. The girl had been secured to a gurney and I filmed her being moved to the ambulance. Police were now saying two more dead, besides the clerk, were in the store. The shooter had chased a woman inside with a gun. The clerk and a customer tried to interfere and were each shot. The woman ran to an isle but was cut down at point blank range in front of the store’s magazine racks. The gunman then turned the pistol on himself and fell on top of the woman. They died there together.
After the ambulance pulled away, I moved farther down the front of the store, ducked beside a Coke machine, and peered inside. Cupping my left hand to the glass, I focused on a policeman near the bodies and released the shutter. The officer was awkwardly straddling the pools of blood and piled bodies sprawled in front of the magazine racks. I could see he was flipping through a newly released copy of Playboy. He saw me but didn’t seem to mind I was taking his picture. It was an amazing sight but one I didn’t even realize I’d shot until I saw it back at the station after it came out of the processor. An editor pointed it out. Strangely, nothing seemed out of place, not the policeman checking out the new Playboy or me shooting him doing it, or the couple lying between his feet for that matter. You become pretty callused to this sort of thing if you see it enough. Before Dallas I don’t think I’d ever seen a dead person. Now I’d seen more than I could count. A violent incident like this was mundane. I felt nothing and that bothered me.
It was more than time for a change. Rock and roll and Mafia management may sound crazier than the news business and a bad marriage but it seemed a whole lot saner at the time. Especially when I later received a letter from Tony, still in his prison get-a-way, thanking me for repaying my loan and conducting myself in such a professional manner.
I didn’t owe anyone any money. I owned my own gear. The band was tight and on the road. And life, while unpredictable, was good again.

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