TUCKER: Where in the world is Corbin Ross?
I read Tucker’s text, chuckled then responded.
CORBIN: Today, Austin. Tomorrow, who knows?
TUCKER: Feeling inspired yet?
I hesitated, not wanting to admit the truth.
Tucker Benning was Point Break’s drummer and one of my best friends. He knew how restless I’d been feeling lately. How, despite the fact critics and fans loved us, and girls threw themselves at us on a daily basis, that buzz I used to feel when I first started playing the bass, that way the music used to sing in my veins as I thumbed the heavy strings, had been gone for a while.
I needed to get my groove back somehow, some way, somewhere. Which is why, when our band went on our post-world tour hiatus, Tucker had headed to Paris with Nikki, Liam had headed to Hawaii with Abby, Wes had headed back home to visit his friend Ben, and I’d taken off in my ’67 Pontiac GTO from L.A. and headed east, some odd notion in my mind that I’d find that buzz again, out on the road.
A few days ago, I’d stopped in Austin, figuring I’d check out the local music scene, something the city was famous for. But as far as inspiration was concerned? So far, no buzz in my belly, no thrill up my spine.
Still looking, I finally texted Tucker. Then I asked how Nikki was and smiled at Tucker’s response: Fucking fabulous.
It was weird. The other guys and I had always hung out even when we weren’t recording or touring. They’d been my best friends for a while, and in fact felt more like brothers now. Hell, I’d learned how to party hard from Tucker, and now my wingman was playing house with a fashion babe. He and Liam had found true love.
Everything was changing. Everyone was settling down.
Which left me, and I suppose Wes, odd men out. Only Wes seemed perfectly fine continuing the hard-partying playboy lifestyle.
I was a twenty-four-year-old rock star who’d had my fair share of women and didn’t intend to settle down anytime soon, but now I was having to fight this odd restlessness. This nagging feeling that maybe it was time to move on and do something different with my life. Or find someone different to add to my life. Someone amazing like Liam and Tucker had found.
Then again, part of me couldn’t help but figure it was all wishful thinking. In my experience, time with someone amazing always ended badly.
After a few more texts back and forth with Tucker, I pocketed my phone.
I glanced around Chappy’s, a combo nightclub and dive bar, where I sat alone at a back table in the dim light watching the crowd slowly fill the room. No one seemed to notice me, which was the way I liked my attention when I wasn’t with the band: non-existent. At the table to my right, a college kid talked a little too loudly to a fresh-off-the-farm Texan girl who seemed enraptured by his attention. To my left was a table full of young women, already close to drunk even though the evening had barely started. One of the women wore a cheap plastic crown—a bachelorette party in full swing.
A few months ago I’d have been all over the table of girls, laying on the charm, flirting until they wet their panties, taking one—or two—up on their offer for a little behind the scenes adventure. And yeah, I mean sex.
But tonight? I literally gave no fucks, my focus on the next band taking the stage. While there was a standard-issue drummer, guitarist, and a bass guitarist, there was also a dude carrying a violin—or would that be a fiddle?—a tiny woman with a big-assed accordion, and hand to fucking God, a guy who had a steel washboard tied to his chest.
The bass player moved sloppily, tangling up his cord, getting his arm caught in his strap and tripping over the monitor amp. The guy was either drunk or stoned—either way, no way he’d be able to keep the beat in his state. The accordion player glared at him when he wobbled into her.
Maybe it was time to throw back my beer and head out. I was here to listen to music, not watch a circus.
The guy with the fiddle got to the mic and squealed out a sound meant to start a hog calling or rodeo, then called out, “Name’s Daniel Bodine, and this group here is Bayou Beaux. So grab your beb and you better be a prayin’ you ain’t no grand beede. This here’s some zydeco!”
“Did he say zydeco?” I asked, leaning toward the kid at the table next to me. The kid didn’t blink. Good. No recognition. One advantage of having joined Point Break late and playing the bass—which meant I could hang out in the back and hide behind my long hair—was that I wasn’t as easily recognized the way Tucker and Liam were. They were the headliners and the ones people flocked to. I got attention, too, but give me a major haircut, add a hat and shades, and I had the anonymity I needed when I wanted to stay under the radar.
The kid flicked his gaze back to the band but answered my question, saying, “Yep. You’ve heard of it, right?”
“Sure.” I wasn’t quite lying. I’d heard of zydeco, but I couldn’t say I’d actually heard zydeco.
I guess my response was a little lackluster, because the dude raised an eyebrow. “I take it you’ve never been to Creole night at Chappy’s. The bands from Louisiana come over once a month. The music’s out of this world. You’re gonna love it.”
“I’ll love an accordion?” I asked dryly. The last time I’d heard an accordion played was when my great-uncle Bertrand forced me and my cousins to listen to polka after polka during a family reunion. I think I was about five. I’d been traumatized ever since.
“Bro, just listen.”
The band started up, and instead of a cacophony of sound the way I’d expected, something magical came rolling off the stage. I had to admit the music spoke to me. It was fast in tempo and sounded like bluegrass and rock had given birth to an unruly, illegitimate child. The accordion player burned through the keys with an almost inhuman speed, the drummer beat the skins like they owed him money, and the dude with the friggin’ washboard racked his spoons up and down with a gigantic grin that filled the room.
The only player who wasn’t up to snuff was the bassist, who stared vacantly into space, dropping the beat enough times to throw the tempo off. That kid was on some heavy shit.
After two songs, the band struggled so bad a few people in the crowd started to boo.
Something in that pissed me off. Everything else about Bayou Beaux was surprisingly rocking, even the sharp hiss of the washboard.
“Shit.” The kid at the table next to me caught my attention when he swore. “That bass player’s gonna ruin their gig. I’ve heard them before, and they can play a crowd like nobody’s business. But if they don’t fix the beat, it’s all over. Chappy won’t invite them back. And if you don’t play Chappy’s, you don’t get ahead in the Austin music scene.”
And if you didn’t get ahead in Austin, you were looking at the writing on the wall. I knew this. I also knew raw talent when I heard it, and Bayou Beaux had raw talent written all over them—except for the bass player, who clearly sucked and was about to take the band down with him in his descent into his drug haze.
Song number two faded away amid a few jeers, and the singer, Daniel, spoke into the microphone, a frown on his face. “Hol’ on, folks, we gotta fix a technical issue.” He turned his back to the crowd and leaned in close to speak with the bass player, who’d amazingly enough become more glassy-eyed and out of focus.
Technical issue, my ass. The only way to turn this around would be if the band got an entirely new bass player.
The thought gave me an idea.
My signature long hair was cropped short. I had on a ball cap. Jeans and a lightweight plaid button-down. I looked nothing like how I did when I was playing with Point Break. No one had recognized me, and no one would.
I threw back the rest of my now-warm beer and got up from my table, then carefully made my way around the side of the crowd until I reached the stage. I had to do something to help the band, I told myself, but in the back of my mind, I knew I was doing this for me. I wanted to hear more of this amazing talent that stood unleashed, right in front of me.
The accordion player nodded in my direction and Daniel turned around and noticed me.
“Whatcha doin’ on my stage?” he asked bluntly, scanning me up and down. No sense of recognition lit in his eyes, though.
“Looks like you might need a bassist.”
“If you don’ get off the stage, I’mma passe a slap at you.”
What the fuck was this guy even saying? “What?”
“I’m gonna give you a smack, asshole. Get off my stage.” He bit the words out, but cast a worried gaze over the bassist, who’d slowly slunk to the ground and now sat with his head hanging between his knees.
“I’m a bassist, promise. Been playing professionally for a while now. Haven’t played zydeco, but I can keep the rhythm better than your fucktard here.” I nudged the bassist with a foot but held Daniel’s gaze steady. No recognition flickered in his eyes.
I flashed my gaze over the other band members. None appeared to realize the bassist for Point Break stood in front of them. I jerked my thumb at the about-to-puke asswipe who’d been messing up the set. “I’m enjoying your music, but your gig’s about to die unless you have someone tying together the harmony and the rhythm.” I let out an impatient sigh, then qualified my statement by adding, “You’re in key of C, playing a twelve bar blues, and your accordion’s leading.”
The band exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. The washboard player’s face lit up. “Boss, let him up. Lawrence is on some heavy shit again. Couldn’t hurt.”
“If this feller thinks he can do better than passing on out, I’m a wanna see dis,” Daniel said. “Take it if you want. And someone get this peeshwank off my stage.” He gestured to the bassist who grinned before his eyes rolled back in his head and he keeled over.
As the washboard dude dragged the bassist off the stage by the heels, I grabbed the bass and slung it around my neck, then gave it a quick tuning. Mine would cry if it could see the mangled fretboard and the strings that needed to be replaced.
It wasn’t hard to pick up the riff I needed. Like I’d thought before, most of the beats were based on old times’ blues riffs. If you could play some basic shit, then you could hit these licks. But that wasn’t the magic of the night—the magic was watching the crowd. Once the band really hit its stride, nearly everyone in the joint crammed onto the dance floor. Men swung women around, girls twisted and shimmied as their partners grabbed and released them, and the energy grew. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
It was the most fun I’d had playing on stage since Madison Square Garden. But this was different. This wasn’t about the thrill of a massive crowd and a lifetime achievement. No. As the sweat poured down my brow and the whole bar became a raucous dance hall, I realized what I felt was free. A buzzing in my belly inspired by the raw love of the music that I hadn’t felt all spring.
For the first time in a long time, something in me felt alive.
I grinned and leaned back to back against the woman playing the accordion. Yeah, this was a hell of a gig.
The rest of the night passed in a blur of music and laughter. By the time the band finished, I was drenched in sweat and feeling more alive than I had in months. Along with the rest of the band, I headed out to the alley to help pack up their van.
I finished putting the battered bass into its equally battered case and handed it to Daniel. “Thanks, man, that was a blast.”
The accordion player, Cindy, the slight Asian girl with close-cropped hair and a nose ring, gave Daniel a pointed look. “It could be more than that. We won’t be letting Lawrence play with us again. You ever think of coming down to Pontmaison, Louisiana? We’re the house band at Daniel’s bar, Evangeline’s, just outside town. Pontmaison is small—about 3,500 total—and it’s a sober parish, where everything closes by eight, but come nine o’clock, the bar is always rocking. We play again on Tuesday.”
“Uh…” I prevaricated. It was nice to be asked, but hadn’t I just been thinking about returning to L.A.? “That’s sweet,” I said, “but I can’t.”
“Why not? You got another job? A woman who needs you here?”
“I’m not—” I stopped myself before I could say I wasn’t from around here, and before I could say I didn’t have a woman in my life. And as for another job? I had all summer off.
What was keeping me from saying yes?
“That music move you, eh?” Once he was off stage, it was obvious that Daniel Bodine was a lot older than I thought. Somehow, under the stage lights and playing the fiddle like the devil was after him, he’d seemed no more than mid-thirties. Here, though, as the night drew into the morning and we stood in the back alley under the crackling street lights the ancient calluses on the man’s fingers and the streaks of grey hair among the black stood out clearly. “Once zydeco gets under yo’ skin, t’ain’t no way back. You got the look of a man who’s trying to figure out his destination. Mebbe zydeco lead you there.”
His words resonated with me.
I had nothing going on in my life at the moment. Nothing to head toward. Point Break didn’t need me right now. No one did. And the fact none of the band members or anyone in the crowd had recognized me as the bass player for Point Break meant I could keep living in anonymity for a while longer. Damn, it felt good to be just a regular old guy. Mostly, however, it felt good to have music make my blood come alive again.
Maybe it would be nice to lay low for a while. Stay the hell out of the spotlight. Play music that lit up my soul. Hiding out in the bayous of Louisiana could give me all that.
I cocked an eyebrow at Daniel. “You really do need a bassist?”
Daniel’s dark grey eyes squinted back at me. “Lawrence be de’pouille.”
“Uh, meaning…?” I asked, thinking I’d have to find a Cajun to English app. Daniel was an amazing musician and seemed like a cool enough guy but impossible to understand.
“It means that Lawrence is a damn mess,” Cindy translated. “Look, our gig on Tuesday is at eight p.m. You’re welcome to play with us. You’d be doing us a huge favor.”
Daniel snorted and said something in Cajun that I figured was cursing from the tone. “You get to the stage on time and you can have the gig, I guarantee.”
I thought about it for a few seconds, contemplating my choices. Why commit to a gig three days from now when tomorrow, I might want to head back to L.A. or hell, party in Florida or New York. But still… Didn’t matter that I was a rock star and could travel anywhere. Something about the offer—the chance to play music and keep my anonymity—had my belly buzzing, and that didn’t happen often nowadays.
So I grinned and nodded. “I can’t commit to anything long term. If that works, I’ll be there.”