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Robbie Stokes: The ghosts of Hangar 9 and Shryock Auditorium
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Music Historicity

Robbie Stokes: The ghosts of Hangar 9 and Shryock Auditorium

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I felt it again today in Hangar 9, working on my sound system with my associate crewman and Hangar booking coordinator Blake Bledsoe. Was it the wind, or the long, lonesome moan of an Amtrak engine’s air horn, reverberating in the distance through the cold winter air?

Hearing that sound is distinctive at two very different places, both of which have been and still are key in Carbondale’s musical and entertainment history. All the notes we ever hit at that storied venue (Hangar) … or anywhere else, for that matter … where do they go? Into the interstellar medium via the solar wind, I spec, and, like space probe Voyager, those notes are heading ever farther away from the Pale Blue Dot.

Billions and billions of notes! Dotted notes, full notes, half notes, bent notes, grace notes, blue notes like dust motes wafting into the void. From the Amtrak trains’ tone to the black snake moan, the number of great blues artists alone who have played Hangar 9 (and Gatsby’s, also once a key player) is impressive.

A recent Facebook post by none other than the good mayor of Murphysboro and president of the Southern Illinois Blues Society, Will Stephens, reminded us that bluesman Matt "Guitar" Murphy trod the boards at the good old Hangar in 1982. I met Matt, and he was a sweet dude. Many will recall him in the "Blues Brothers" movie as the beefy restaurateur and husband of the character Mrs. Murphy, played by Aretha Franklin. Matt Murphy lived a long and fruitful life, passing away at 88 in 2018 (and thus missing the execrable year 2020).

Other blues music greats who have made the Carbondale run include Eddy Clearwater (1935-2018), Lonnie Brooks (1933-2017), Mighty Joe Young (1927-1999), drummer Clyde Stubblefield (progenitor of the James Brown funk beat, most-sampled drummer of all time in hip-hop. 1943-2017), Big Time Sarah (1953-2015), Koko Taylor (1928-2009), A. C. Reed (1926-2004, a sax player with local roots who once opened an eponymously-named club in Carbondale at the location of what is now the Buckwater Brew Works), Son Seals (1942-2004), and saxophonist Eddie Shaw (1937-2018). There were many others, many of whom are fortunately still active. Do the ghosts of these great blues folks, now entered in to that great juke joint in the sky, haunt our venues and streets? I like to think so!

As reported in The Southern Jan. 27, 2021, Cloris Leachman, the chameleonic actor of many faces and roles, has passed away quietly in her rest at the age of 94. The breadth of her skills enabled the Des Moines, Iowa native to perform roles as diverse as Timmy’s mom on "Lassie," Ruth in Peter Bogdanovich’s "The Last Picture Show" and as the inimitable Frau Blucher in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein."

Obit Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman is pictured in 1987. She performed at Shryock Auditorium in the 1990s.

Ms. Leachman called me "Baby" at Shryock Auditorium, and we hit it off well. We did sound for her show when she played a Carbondale date at Shryock on her one-woman "Grandma Moses" tour, back around 1990.

I get an eerie a feeling when I'm alone in that venue. It is hard to describe. I often feel it, 103-year-old building that it is, and because I literally grew up on our gorgeous campus here in Carbondale. So part of it is simple nostalgia. I get a satisfied feeling doing my PA setup work with no one there save for maintenance in their basement office, the TD (Technical Director) and crew having taken leave for the dinner break. I think of all the great performers who trod the boards before me in the august structure, and that I get paid to assist the performances of the greats who have plied their trades there.

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Did you know that Shryock is considered to be haunted? The stage safety lamp is called "Henry," for Henry Shryock, former (fifth) president of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Shryock passed away at his office inside the auditorium in 1935, and some think that old Henry still pays us a visit there on occasion. For more on Shryock, See Hannah Erickson/SIU Media Services’ "From Presidents to musicians to ghosts, Shryock Auditorium has hosted many in its 101 years." The article is available online.

It’s amazing to stand on that stage amongst the tools of our trade and look out while thinking of the fabulous artists of the past and present who have played there. From just my own personal sound engineer experience alone, that madly diverse list includes Old Crow Medicine Show, the Kingston Trio, Jesse McCartney, Lily Tomlin, Paula Poundstone, The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Vicki Lawrence, Lewis Black, Pete Seeger, Art Alexakis (Everclear), the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, The Uppity Blues Women, Tret Fure, John Prine, Richard Lewis (TV show "Anything But Love" with Jamie Lee Curtis), Travis Tritt, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Robert Earl Keen, Head East, rapper Young Joc, Garrison Keilor, and many others.

Some artists that played Shryock that came in with their own production or with different sound providers include jazz bassist Stanley Clark, the Psychedelic Furs, Ray Charles, the Pretenders, the Divynls, Joe Bonnamassa, And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Death Kloc/Megalopolis, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, French violinist Jean Luc Ponty, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Depeche Mode, Widespread Panic, the Avett Brothers, Ween, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Son Volt, Henry Rollins, Wynton Marsalis, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Goodman and Leo Kottke in a double-bill, the Smothers Brothers, and many more.

Avett Brothers

Seth Avett (right) and his brother Scott perform at Shryock Auditorium in 2011. 

Just today I read online that another great artist with whom we worked at Shryock, Hal Holbrook, has passed away (Jan. 23) in Beverly Hills, California at the venerable age of 95. He brought his famous one-man show that brought American writer and humorist Samuel Clemens' Mark Twain to life to the auditorium, and it was fantastic. Mr. Holbrook, despite the long and popular run of his Mark Twain character, was able to avoid typecasting, appearing in many TV, film and stage roles. A character actor nonpareil, he played roles in films as diverse as "All the President’s Men," "The Firm," "Into the Wild," "The Fog" and numerous others.

Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook performs as Mark Twain in 2009 at Shryock Auditorium in Carbondale.

An excellent chat with the redoubtable Carlos Santana can be found in the Guitar Player online magazine of Jan. 29, 2021. I was fortunate enough to have been in a position to jam with Carlos quite a few times at the legendary Tuesday Night Jam at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in the late '60s. I love Carlos’ commentary on playing through a Marshall amp for the first time, and that apt description in the GP piece certainly fit with my experience.

I bought a Marshall JCM-900 with a slant 4-12 speaker cabinet quite some time ago, used, from Mike’s Music in Carbondale. While I purchased the thing more for use as a "backline" rental item (backline is stage equipment: Drums, amps, pedals, instrument stands, even instruments if a given band is traveling REALLY light), I once dragged the Marshall rig into Carbondale club Tres Hombres for a gig with one of my own outfits, the Venturis. The band was like "what’s THAT thing doing up here?" I turned the amplifier on ONE (yes, one out of ten; and no, it DOESN’T GO TO ELEVEN!) and the result was loud enough for The Who’s Pete Townshend at the Enormo Dome. Just the sound of the tube hum at idle was ominous enough to scare you!

I am working on two records at two studios, playing on a couple of the tracks on a new Tim Crosby Album at Misunderstudio and a new Pate Blewett effort at Low Key Studio. Helmed by long-time engineers Mike Lescelius and Shadi Frick on the boards, respectively, these recordings will be available … soon!

Our other band, ‘Til the Morning Comes, is playing the Virtual Varsity broadcast from the East Room at the fabulous venue on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 27.

Catch you on the flip!

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