Tuesday, September 14, 2010
When Arlene and I were first living together we were both 19 years old, going to school and working at typical low-paying "first jobs". Arlene worked at the Taco Bell in Oakland's notorious Eastmont Mall (they were robbed at gunpoint at least once a week) and I was working at a self-service gas station around the corner from our first home, a tiny lttle cottage behind an apartment building (Arlene had a rare talent for sniffing out little cottages to rent. During the course of our14 tears together we lived in 5 little cottages). Back then, self-serve was a fairly new concept and customers were constantly coming to my little window and demanding that I check their oil.
The gas station I worked at was owned by a guy named Joe Cockrum. Joe was a small-time entrepeneur who dreamed of owning a string of gas stations up and down the bay area. He had hired me because a high-school friend of mine, Bo Miller, was already working there (I discovered this one day when Arlene and I were exploring our new neighborhood). Bo was a motorcycle enthusiast who still lived with his parents in the Oakland hills. We weren't great friends, but we were friendly enough to be happy to find each other - and for him to recommend me for the job.
A few months after I started working at the self-service station Joe acquired a full-service operation down in Hayward and asked me and Bo if we wanted to work there as real honest-to-goodness pump jockeys. Bo refused, sying that he didn't want to commute, but I happily accepted. It meant more money, more hours and a uniform shirt with my name on it!
The station turned out to be a run-down little place on Mission Blvd. at the foot of the hill below the state college. There was no shelter over the islands so on rainy days I'd get soaking wet running back and forth from the office to help customers. The asphalt was old and uneven with more than a few large potholes. It was actually pretty crummy. But I loved it because it felt like a real job. The strip of road we were on was full of used car lots, bars, liquor stores and massage parlors. Directly across the street from the station was a storefront with a sign that read "Executive Massage". When business was slow Joe and I would stand in the tiny office and watch the girls from the massage parlor walk back and forth to a nearby liquor store or burger joint on their breaks. We knew they were hookers - they didn't try to hide it.
One afternoon Joe and I were standing at the window when a particularly well-endowed hooker came out of the massage parlor and sauntered down the sidewalk across the street from the station. We watched her for a moment and Joe exclaimed: "Look at the tits on her! Goddamn!" Then after a reflective pause, he continued: "Aw, but she's kinda fat, though...". Then he drew his conclusion: "Yeah, but I bet she fucks like it's goin' outta style!". The hooker continued her journey to the liquor store, blissfully unaware of Joe's devastatingly thorough critique. After a moment, Joe muttered almost to himself: "Big ass, short body, long body, long ass...big ass...". I knew at that moment that he had handed me the chorus to a song. As soon as I got home that evening I grabbed a guitar and wrote "Big Ass".
I have a short list of songs that I call my "Woulda shoulda coulda" songs - the ones that, given the right set of circumstances, could have made me rich and famous. Or just rich. Or just famous. Or maybe just comfortably well off and moderately well known. "Big Ass" tops the list. A simple 3-chord rocker with 3 verses and no middle eight, it's one of the simplest things I've ever written. It was 1973 so it was immediately incorporated into the Bonkeenie repertoire. It was one of the few early Bonkeenie songs that survived into the post-Mills Bonkeenies, simply because it was such a crowd pleaser.
I could not decide whether or not to include it on the Won Out album. Chris and I made an attempt to record it during the early '75 sessions, but it didn't work out. The version that would up on the album was recorded in '77 during the same session that produced "Trucks in the Sky" and "You Know Me Blues". I remember Steve Hanamura telling me that if I put it on the album I'd never be taken seriously as a songwriter. Everyone else I spoke to, family, friends and fellow musicians all said "Put it on!" My cousin Nick said it best when he told me: "It's the funniest thing you've ever written. Just put it on last so people won't think that's all you can do." And that's exactly what I did. Thanks, Nick. When I started getting playlists back from the radio station, "Big Ass" was getting the most airplay. I still perform the song with the Backorders.
Well, I saw me a girl walkin' down that street
She just the kinda woman that I wanted to meet
D C G D
I said "Hey there baby would you like to be mu lady friend?"
She had short little legs and a pretty strut
And hangin' 'round her waist was a mammoth gut
D C G
But the main thing that attracted me was her rear end - she had a
C G D C G
Big ass, short body, long body, long ass, big ass
C G D C G
She had a big ass, short body, long body, long ass, big ass
She said "Aw, now sonny dontcha waste your time
I got a good thing cookin' at the end of the line."
I said "Oh big mama dontcha know my love is real?
I'll go down to the railyards if you laugh
And let the 5:57 cut me in half
I'm gonna kill myself if you don't let me feel
Let me feel your...
Well, I let her go though it broke my heart
To see that big ass movin' off across the park
And I knew I was gonna have to find me another girl
Well, she's gotta be short and she's gotta be big
I'll break a skinny woman like I break a twig
I gotta find a big momma if I have to search around the world
And she's gotta have a
I've always been conflicted about this song. When we did the first Won Out CD in 2005 I left it off of the running order (it was replaced with "Lend a Hand") and included it as a hidden track. I rectified that when we did the 30th anniversary version - "Big Ass" was returned to its rightful place.
In the early 70's I was very much influenced by Frank Zappa's early work and a lot of the songs I wrote were clumsy political, religious and sexual satire. "Big Ass" is the last and the best of that era. After that I moved into writing Beatles-influenced pop/rock, like "Fall On Me" before being led by Steve Hanamura into writing more "meaningful' songs. But I've always been a big fan of British Invasion pop - straightforward no-nonsense 3 minute paeans to love - and even today is my default setting for songwriting.