As tomorrow morning my colon has an appointment with a camera crew, this has been a day of relaxation, quiet reflection and laxatives. So I’ve been taking it easy and thinking about my life and some of the silly, strange and / or dangerous adventures I’ve had.
I mysteriously recalled the improbable, but utterly true time that Redd Foxx saved me from the clutches of the Las Vegas Swat Team. I know that sounds like a bit of a stretch, but I swear it really is true. The timeframe was the early seventies and a period of wild and irresponsible experimentation with all the social eels from illicit drugs to spontaneous sex with strangers.
On this particular evening, I was doing a concert with, amazingly enough, Batdorf & Rodney. I had established a bit of a following at UNLV and B&R were home town boys, so we did this big show. After my portion of the show, I was heading out to Los Angeles and had a reservation on a midnight plane. As I was standing there doing the meet and greet, these two remarkably beautiful women came up to me and started complimenting me on the performance. I was entranced.
And while entranced, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some fellow dressed completely in a leather fringe outfit approaching me. The hippie days had passed us, but had not passed him. Long, long hair, Birkenstocks and a glazed fire in his dialated pupils. He pushed his way through these lovely women and told me my songs had changed his life. And then, just before he sped away, fringe akimbo, he stuffed something into the pocket of my jump suit.
Yes, I was wearing a jump suit, not white like Pete Townsend’s but denim, underneath which I was wearing a bright red T shirt with the word flash emblazoned on it in iridescent letters. I was also wearing flame red addidas…and a grey fedora. I have no idea who my tailor was then, but I am definitely glad I lost touch with him. So back to these lovely ladies who, at that moment, informed me that they would love to take me to the airport. You KNOW I said yes.
I gathered my guitar and bag and followed them out of the building, to the parking lot and proceeded to load everything into a beautiful two seater Mercedes Convertible. Guitar in the back, bag in the trunk and me on the console between these two gorgeous creatures, we drove off into the balmy, Las Vegas night.
Then one of them asked me if I wanted to get high. It was 1973 and people did things like that then…and I did too. So they took me to their friend’s home out by the airport, right under the Ceasar’s Palace sign. Nothing like the elegance of the Mercedes, this was more a student crash pad. We sat on the floor in a circle, me with my guitar, them with their perky personalities and some guy rolling a doobie. And what a doobie it was. I think I’m still a little altered. It was the kind of weed that could drive an orchid through an oak plank. I played some music, we were in some joyous trouble and time was standing still.
At least it seemed that way until I noticed the clock on the wall. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, my plane. We jumped up and raced out to the Mercedes, piled in, waved goodbye to the rolling gentleman and sped away to the airport. I was full of anxiety about missing the flight and so very very sorry that I was leaving at all, but, and he’s the shred of professionalism I still had left, I had a musical commitment in L.A. the next day. So I was going.
When we pulled up in front of the terminal, I noticed a beautiful red Mercedes convertible with this gorgeous woman getting out of the drivers seat. I know this seems like an inordinate amount of gorgeous women, but this was Vegas and it’s like that sometimes. Then I noticed the fellow getting out of the passenger side. It was Redd Foxx. I love that guy. And here he was being chauffeured to the airport in a Mercedes by a lovely woman.
I got out of the Mercedes and glanced towards him. He was grinning at me, probably because of the Mercedes and the TWO gorgeous women who were chauffeuring me. He must have felt we were kindred spirits. I smiled back and tipped my fedora. Then I turned and kissed these two fantastic women goodbye and raced into the terminal.
Now at the time, McCarran Airport was Y shaped with two concourses extending out towards the runways. Like a bolt of lightning, I sprinted down the left hand concourse, only to find, five hundred yards down, that there was a chain, floor to ceiling blocking the way. This concourse was closed. So now I am crazed. I only have moments to catch the last flight out. I don’t even know the last names of my chauffeurs, so I can’t go back to them. I’ve got to catch this plane. Like a madman carrying a guitar and overnight bag, I raged through the terminal and down to the very end of the other concourse.
I must digress here. I’ve been touring for forty years. I don’t know how many thousands of flights I have taken, but I’ve never been at the first gate…always the last. Every time. I even remember once getting Gate 1 and thinking wow, this is the first time this has ever happened, but when I got to the airport, they started the numbers from the last gate back towards the terminal. So Gate 22 was the first gate. Gate 1 was the last gate. Who gets those close gates? I see people there. Are they holograms? Is it a trick? Smoke and mirrors?
Okay, sorry. Back to me racing through McCarran Airport dressed in a denim jumpsuit, red T shirt and red addidas, fedora and carrying a guitar case and an overnight bag. I clamored up to the gate, gave my ticket to the attendant and made my way into the plane and sat down.
That’s when I realized how very stoned I really was. The sprint across both sides of the airport had sent my heart and blood pounding. I was almost useless as a being, so I sat there like a rock as the last of the passengers boarded. Then for some reason I remembered the hippie at the concert stuffing something into my pocket. I pulled it out.
It was a ragged piece of paper wrapped around a little tiny cellophane bag. The words read: “James Lee, your music changed my life, brother. Here’s two hits of windowpane acid”. As I read those words, I remembered what they do with drug offenders in Nevada. They put them under “observation” for six months, before there is any kind of arraignment or trial or anything. Six months! Mother of God!
And that is when I noticed the commotion at the front of the plane. Suddenly the passageway was filled with Las Vegas Swat Team guys. Helmets, glass shields, automatic weapons. And in a flash, I knew they were coming for me. I simply knew it. Fearing that they would find the “present” from my fan on me or on the floor, I did the only logical thing I could think of at the time. I swallowed the “present”. I figured that the cellophane would keep it together and I would just harmlessly pass it in the morning. NOW do you see why I thought of this today?
Before another minute had gone by, I was up against the bulkhead being roughly frisked by the Swat Team. They demanded to know why I was there. I tried to pull the check from UNLV out of my jumpsuit, but they freaked and grabbed my hands. I tried to tell them that I just did a concert at the university, but they didn’t want me to answer the questions, they just wanted to ask them. Weird.
Then my hero stood up and said, “Excuse me, officers”. We all looked up. Redd Foxx was standing by his seat. Redd Foxx. I hadn’t even noticed that he was on the plane and there he was, resplendent in a chartreuse suit, matching shirt and tie. “Excuse me, officers, but I can vouch for this gentleman”, he said in that great, gravely voice. And it worked.
The Swat Team backed off, apologized to me for the rough treatment and said that they were chasing a guy that just robbed the Frontier casino and they thought it might be me. What? I thought. Could there be someone else in Vegas dressed like this? But I smiled over at Redd, picked up my fedora, tipped it to him and sat down. I didn’t speak to him again during the flight, or ever again. But thanks, Redd, you’re a true gentleman.
When I landed in Los Angeles, the acid came on, but Avis still rented me a car. Even though I was laughing hysterically the whole time. Those were the days.