Bob Dorough at the Deer Head Inn

by Matthew Crain

Those far away places with strange sounding names. Like, Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. What’s there? A 4-story building called The Deer Head Inn. What’s inside? A bar, a dining room, and a bandstand with a piano, a drum kit, and a bass leaned in the corner. Yes, they have music and have had since 1962 when a John Coates, Jr., was hired to play piano. Since then some of the biggest names in jazz have played there.

Tonight is Bill Goodwin and his All-Star Quartet. Composer and bassist Ray Drummond has played on hundreds of records. Saxophonist Adam Niewood wears the face of Don Martin from Mad magazine and doesn’t do much except play his ass off. Pianist Alan Broadbent has won 2 Grammys and produced Paul McCartney’s latest CD. Drummer Bill Goodwin has won 3 Grammys and been playing for 50 years, and he loves his little drummies and his drummies love him and they sing Cock-a-doodle-doo with every rimshot and cymbal splash. Tonight is special–not just because it’s Bloomsday 2012 and Molly will soon say yes; tonight is special because of Bob Dorough.

I never thought I’d meet the man who wrote and sang “Three is a Magic Number”, “Lucky Seven Samson”, and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here”. But since 1969 he has lived in Mt. Bethel, and there he sits at the corner of the bar drinking a mug of beer. To my generation, Bob Dorough is a god. Why? Same reason a samurai keeps his sword sharp by “cutting in the space between the bone and the flesh.” Bob Dorough knows that space: he slides through, doesn’t struggle, he’s got Beginner’s Mind in spades, and that’s why that 88-year-old joker is younger than you’ll ever be. Just look in his eyes.

It was a night of standards–“Evidence”, “Along Came Betty”, “Speak Low”, all my favorites: Jesus, that band can play. And as for solos, Ray Drummond laid it down. I don’t know how they wind history into a bass string, but they do. Africa. Cuba. New Orleans. Jelly Roll and Yardbird and endless nights of shaking cocktail shakers and Monk off to the side turning counter-clockwise.

Bob Dorough came on. “This is an extravagant love song. It’s the longest damn song you ever heard in your life.” He counted off, and they did “Nothing Like You” that he recorded with Miles Davis on Sorcerer. And what killed me was watching him watch Adam Niewood solo: a jazzman full of years listening to a jazzman just approaching midway. One day you’ll look and there won’t be that peach shirt tucked into khakis amongst the crowd at the Deer Head, smiling, snapping his fingers, waving his arms like a French traffic cop, and people will know it and say, Man, do I miss that spark.

Finally, the applause died down. Then they did Alan Broadbent’s “Heart’s Desire”, and that put me over the edge. Dream your dreams, the song says, but remember: it can break your heart. God, did Bob Dorough pour his guts out in the last line: You’re luckier than most you know, lucky to be alive and living for your heart.

He’d added a word. Throats swallow lumps, people start clapping and cheering before the song ends. Bob gives the mic back to Bill standing up behind his drums and, smiling, begins shaking outstretched hands. “Bob Dorough, everyone. Bob Dorough. Our boy singer for the evening,” Bill says over the p.a. He glances at his watch. “Stay put. After a short break, we’ll be right back for our next set.”

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