Title: The One Thing I Know
Series: B-Sides, Book One
Author: Keelan Ellis
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: Aug 14, 2017
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Historical, romance, gay, bisexual, historical-1970’s, California, musicians, rock star, drugs/alcohol use, enemies to lovers, road trip
Talented studio musician, Henry Cole, is offered the dream job of touring with popular rock band, the Vulgar Details. Things aren’t all rosy, though, as he is hired to replace Dell Miller, creative force behind the band, who recently flamed-out in a car accident.
Henry is all too aware that he’s no replacement for someone like Dell. He’s not the only one who feels that way, either. Terry Blackwood, band front man, has been giving him a hard time even before the tour start. He seems to resent Henry’s presence beyond all reason. What Henry doesn’t know is that Terry and Dell’s relationship was both intensely close and fraught with conflict.
Terry’s grief over Dell’s death is overwhelming and threatens to destroy not only the band but his life. It doesn’t help that the new member of the band makes him feel things he doesn’t want to. Worse, when he sings, Henry sounds just like the man Terry cared so deeply for.
With so much at stake, everything could come crashing down around them and mean the end for the Vulgar Details. Or, just maybe, Henry and Terry will find the one thing they need most.
Sometimes redemption comes from the last place you expect to find it.
The One Thing I Know
Keelan Ellis © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Henry woke up to the sound of the shower turning on in the bathroom down the hall. He got up and sorted through the clothes strewn around on the floor, separating his from his guest’s. The two pairs of white briefs were, unfortunately, the same brand and size, so he took his best guess and tossed one of them on top of the pile he was holding. He set the whole thing down outside the bathroom door and went to the kitchen to make coffee. He lit a cigarette and opened the window above the sink. The shower shut off just as the coffee finished brewing, and a few minutes later, his previous evening’s date appeared in the doorway. His name was Danny, and they’d been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. He was as cute as he was dumb, but Henry was fairly certain one night had been enough to satisfy his curiosity.
“Morning,” Henry said. “There’s coffee if you want it.”
“Thanks,” Danny said. He poured some into a cup and leaned against the counter. “Hey, I’m going to the beach later. You want me to stop by and pick you up?”
“Nah. I have work.”
“Oh, right. On the Details’ new record, wasn’t it?”
Henry nodded. He was slated to play pedal steel and Dobro on six tracks for the Vulgar Details’ upcoming album. It wasn’t the first time he’d played with those guys. The band counted on Henry to fill in the gaps whenever their songwriter and pedal steel player, Dell Miller, was off taking peyote in the desert or barricading himself in a hotel room shooting up with whoever he’d brought home that night. Henry had never met Dell and still thought of him as more myth than man. “I should get in the shower pretty soon,” he hinted.
Danny either didn’t pick up on it or didn’t care, and he poured more coffee into his cup. “You think it’s going to be a good one?”
“I think it’s the best one yet.” He rinsed his cup out and put it in the drainer. “I need to get ready. Thanks for coming over. It was fun.”
Danny raised his eyebrows at him, and his lips turned up with wry amusement. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as Henry had thought. “Sure thing. You got my number. Call if you want.” He set his cup down and gave a little salute before he left. Definitely cute, Henry couldn’t deny that.
Henry got to the studio early and ran through his parts before the band arrived. The songs that Henry had learned for that day’s session were, hands down, the best work the band had done. The new songs were dark and personal, explorations of loss and hopelessness, set to some of the loveliest melodies he’d ever heard. The Vulgar Details had come so far from their beginnings as a brash blues rock band that they were almost unrecognizable. Henry had never thought of them as anything special until their third album, Heart’s Desire, was released back in ’69.
Henry had been lying by the pool at his friend Richard’s house, passing a joint back and forth with him, when he first heard that record. Henry was twenty-four then, and Richard was ten years older, with family money and a beautiful house he’d had built in Laurel Canyon. He threw amazing parties attended by young musicians and hippie hangers-on who were there for the free food, booze, and drugs. Richard didn’t care why they were there. He loved the beautiful boys and girls, the music, and the easily available sex. When he wasn’t partying, he liked having Henry around. Sometimes they fooled around, but Richard never made it seem like a requirement. That day, when he put on the new Vulgar Details record, Henry scoffed.
“I thought you had more interesting taste than that,” he said.
“You’re getting too old to be such a snob.”
Henry stretched and grinned up at him. “Probably getting too old for you, then, huh?”
Richard smiled, shook his head, and sat back down. “Give it a chance. You might be surprised.”
It started out sounding much like all of their previous stuff, but somehow better. Previously, their songs tended toward aimless, slightly silly rip-offs of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or juvenile rock and roll songs about pretty girls. These were something else altogether. They dealt with love, anger, and desire—the subjects of most rock lyrics—but with a depth almost never heard in popular music.
“Jesus, this is great,” Henry said. “Where the hell did it come from? Did Terry Blackwood get a brain transplant or something?”
Richard laughed. “Not quite. They got a new member. Don’t you follow this stuff, working in the industry?”
“Must have missed that one.”
“His name’s Dell Miller. Actually, he was at that party you came to last month. Skinny, pretty, long-haired country boy? Walked around with his shirt open the whole time?”
“Oh yeah. I think I remember him. The girls were all over him. He wrote all of these?”
“All the good ones,” Richard said.
The last song on the album, “Traveling Abroad,” was the best one, and Henry insisted playing it three times in a row. It had an entirely different sound from the rest of them. It was almost a traditional country song, but the arrangement was complex and the lyrics made him want to cry. There was so much yearning in it that it was almost hard to listen to. When he left Richard’s house that afternoon, he went straight to the nearest record store to buy his own copy.
That was three years and two albums earlier. The Vulgar Details had only gotten better, despite Miller’s increasingly unreliable presence. The band’s sound drifted more and more toward the mellow country- and bluegrass-influenced style Miller had brought with him from Tennessee. A few of the blues rock numbers that were Terence Blackwood’s bread and butter still remained, but these no longer represented the bulk of their output. This new album took that even further, and Henry had to wonder how the rest of the band—Blackwood in particular—felt about that. In most bands, a shift like that would have led to at least one angry departure. Somehow, the Details had managed to keep it together without any public drama, unless you counted Miller’s multiple rehab stays and a short stint in jail for public intoxication and possession.
They weren’t planning to record any vocals that day, so Blackwood wasn’t around. The lead guitarist, Steve Smith, and drummer, Kenny Sailes, had entered the studio in the middle of a contentious but good-natured disagreement over which one of them would be harder to replace if they went into rehab. Alex Benton, the bass player, shook Henry’s hand and gave him a one-armed hug.
“Maybe you can settle that argument, Cole,” he said, grinning.
“They can both go, as far as I’m concerned,” Henry said. “You’ll have to tough it out, though, Benton. I don’t like playing bass.”
“You heard him, you assholes. Cole here is gunning for you, and he’s a man of many skills. Watch your backs.”
“Not me. I don’t want to be a rock-and-roll star. I prefer to work for a living.” They all laughed, and Henry said, “So, uh…how is Dell doing, anyway? Rehab working out, I hope?”
The mood turned slightly somber, and they all glanced down at the floor. Finally, Smith shrugged and said, “Terry said the place looked pretty nice, and Dell told him he was actually going to try this time. Who the fuck knows.”
Benton sighed and nodded. Sailes snorted skeptically and muttered, “I think we all pretty much know, Steve.”
“Sorry,” Henry said. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Benton said. “It’s not your fault. You gotta understand, we’ve been on this ride a few times, man. Dell is…Dell.”
Henry cleared his throat. “Well, anyway—the new songs sound great.”
“The fucked-up hillbilly bastard sure knows how to write a goddamn song. Can’t take that away from him,” Smith said, smiling again. “It’s going to be the best thing we’ve ever done.”
The session went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for, and Henry left the studio on a serious high. He wanted to get laid, but the thought of calling Richard to see if he wanted company left him restless. As soon as the idea of going to a bar occurred to him, he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. He rarely went out to bars alone, and rarely with the express purpose of finding sex. That night, he felt like a different person.
Henry’s usual haunt, the Westside Clubhouse, was a relatively laid-back place. Guys went there for the same reason they went to any other gay bar, but mainly because it was a place they could relax and be themselves. The drinks were generous, the bartenders were cute but not intimidating, and they all knew Henry. But that wasn’t the kind of place he was in the mood for. Instead, he went to the Hammer and Nail, which he’d heard about but hadn’t yet ventured into.
He stood in line outside the club while the bouncers checked everyone out at the door. While he waited, a couple of guys got turned away for not being fit enough, young enough, handsome enough, or for not fitting who-knew-what other criteria. Henry had been confident when he first queued up, but by the time he got to the front of the line, he was nervous. The tall, blond, muscular bouncer eyed him up and down and motioned him inside without a word, smacking him on the ass as he walked past. The whole process was fairly disgusting, and while Henry was opposed to the attitude in theory, he couldn’t deny that it felt good to know he passed muster.
Inside, the bar was dark and loud. At least half the guys were shirtless, and all of them were beautiful. He bought a gin and tonic and walked through the throngs of sweaty men. He’d need at least two more drinks before he’d be able to get on the dance floor, so he didn’t wander too far from the bar.
Henry turned around to see a sound technician at one of the studios where he regularly worked. “Hey, man,” he said, searching frantically for the man’s name.
“Pete, right, of course. I’m sorry. From Blue Door Studios, right?”
Pete nodded. “I didn’t know you were…” He motioned vaguely around the room.
“Yeah, well,” Henry said, smiling lamely and shrugging. “I don’t usually come here, though. It’s not exactly my scene, but I was in some kind of mood tonight. I had a good day.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Laid down some tracks with the Vulgar Details,” Henry said, striving for casual, as if it was the kind of thing that happened every day. “Great stuff.”
“Oh, cool. Was Terry Blackwood there? He’s so sexy.”
“Nope. No Blackwood, and no Dell, of course. He’s the reason I got hired.”
“Right, the drug thing,” Pete said. “Too bad you didn’t get to meet Blackwood though. I bet he’d think you’re cute.”
Henry rolled his eyes. “I have met him. He treated me like the hired help, which I was. And I think those rumors are all bullshit anyway. Just because he partied with Lou Reed or got a blow job from some drag queen—supposedly—doesn’t mean he’s into guys. I think he wants people to think he’s interesting, like Bowie, instead of a second-rate Mick Jagger.”
Henry gave him a sheepish grin. “I was unaware I had any opinion of him whatsoever until just that moment.”
“Well anyway, a boy can dream.”
The following is an excerpt from a 2017 interview with the Vulgar Details, by Richie Denmore, for Rolling Stone. The entire issue is devoted to the iconic bands and pivotal moments of 1970s rock. Denmore met with the Details on their 1972 tour, and his tell all piece revealed more than Terry Blackwood and the band may have wanted.
45 Years On, The Vulgar Details Open Up About THAT Tour
By Richie Denmore
Gathered in Terry Blackwood and Henry Cole’s beachside home, the members of the 1972 lineup of The Vulgar Details joke around with each other, shooting the occasional wary glance at me as we get ready to do this interview. Everyone looks pretty good, all things considered, and by all things, I mean their legendary past debauchery combined with their--let’s face it--advanced age.
Kenny Sailes looks nothing like the rock star he once was. Having left the band in 1976, he now sports a comfortable belly and is indistinguishable from someone’s irascible grandpa. He spends his days overseeing operations at his vineyard and, yes, playing with his grandchildren. Though his rock and roll days are behind him, he seems at home with these guys still, interacting with them like the brothers they all consider themselves to be.
Of the group, Steve Smith is the most representative of the so-called “elder statesman of rock.” He’s tall and still thin, his hair snow white but still full. When he smiles, all teeth, he looks fifteen years younger than his seventy years.
Alex Benton is clearly the middle child of the group. He’s the one who deals with me, making sure everything is as it should be. He keeps tabs on everything that’s going on--you can see him doing it--monitoring the situation.
Terry and Henry, of course, are the ones everyone wants to hear about. The story of the tour is the story of them. They sit beside each other, occasionally touching each other in a seemingly unconscious way, as if checking to make sure the other is still there, even when they’re speaking to other people.
As for me, I should give you some background. The Details and I have a little bit of history of our own, and it started on the their 1972 tour. I was twenty-three, and it was my first big assignment. I met up with them in Denver. The day began with the fateful sound check--the first time anyone had heard Henry Cole sing. It ended with a hell of a scoop--something that seems almost unremarkable today, but at the time was a bombshell.
RD: I wanted to start by asking you guys how you made the decision to go on with the tour, despite the death of Dell Miller not too long before. Was there a debate?
Sailes: The record company made it sound like there was no debate to be had. So did Barry Stein, our manager. It was in our contract, although I think we probably could have gotten out of it. We didn’t know about that shit back then.
Benton: I guess I thought it might be a good thing for everyone, at the time. That way we’d be together and we could deal with that grief as a family. It was naive of me. I realized that pretty quickly.
Smith: It was a mess.
Blackwood: I think you mean I was a mess.
Smith: (smiles and shakes his head at Blackwood) Nah, man. We were all a mess that year. You were just so messy that no one noticed how fucked up the rest of us were. Except for Henry, of course. When I look back now, I think it could be he was the only thing holding us together.
Cole: That sounds like some hindsight bullshit to me. You were all looking out for Terry, despite how pissed off you were at him. You’re the one who told me to go check on him that night. I wasn’t trying to hold anything together. I was just there trying to fucking play some music, man.
Benton: Yeah, and I think that’s exactly what we needed. Someone who wasn’t embroiled in the ongoing fucking drama of Dell Miller. I think seeing someone else doing what he did, you know, gave all of us a little perspective on the situation. Well, all but one of us.
Cole: No, no, no. I never did what he did. Jesus, what are you doing? Trying to make Terry throw a glass or something?
(everyone laughs; Terry rests his arm along the back of the sofa and puts his hand on Henry’s neck)
Blackwood: Not sure I could hit the wall these days.
RD: That was clearly a source of contention between you back then. Do you think Terry saw you as an interloper?
Cole: Maybe that’s a question for Terry to answer.
Blackwood: Yeah. He was an interloper. I hated how good he was, how easily he slid into that space. I even hated how much easier it was to have him there instead of Dell. At least, at first.
RD: You had a close relationship with Dell.
Blackwood: I’m sure you saw the documentary, mate.
RD: The documentary, yes. It was hard to tell sometimes, whether you and Dell loved each other or hated each other.
Blackwood: (laughs) It certainly was.
There’s a silence in the room at this point, everyone looking lost in memories. Finally it’s broken by Kenny Sailes, who holds up his glass of iced tea--he’s sober now too, for almost as many years as Terry Blackwood--and shouts, “Fuckin’ Dell!” Again, everyone laughs in a familiar way, as if this is a very old joke among very old friends.
(full interview available at Rolling Stone Online)
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Meet the AuthorKeelan Ellis is an author of romance and detective fiction, who is always seeking to expand her literary horizons. She is a lover of music and food, and has an intense love/hate relationship with politics. Her stories reflect her passions.
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