The Caravan was, in many respects, a party on wheels. It consisted of a group of co-conspirators who both enjoyed each others' company (for the most part) and shared a commonality of experience unique to a very small group - i.e. they were American Blues singers.
The day would begin with breakfast, usually a hearty affair heavy on the fried side of the menu. This would occur anytime between 5:00 and 9:00 AM depending on when we had a 'bus call'. The 'bus call' was a previously agreed upon time signaling the departure of the bus for the next gig. This call was inviolate and could not be missed. With very few exceptions, it was never a problem - most of the Caravan members were early risers regardless of when they got to bed the night before.
After check out and settled on the bus, the Caravan fell into a routine. Each member sat in their respective seat in the lounge of the bus (by the second date, each had claimed a favorite) and entertained each other as the miles rolled past.
One of the favorite pastimes was to play "the dozens" a rhyming put-down game where one member tried to top the other with a well-aimed jibe or an answer back in kind. The origin of the name of this game was something I wondered about over the years. Anyone I asked, including members of the Caravan, had no idea. The response to a casual insult was many times a curt "don't do me no dozens..." It wasn't until years later that I would learn where the term originated.
In the antebellum South, when slaves became old or enfeebled or otherwise damaged (they were chattel), they were put in groups of 12 and sold as a lot at auction. Being 'in the dozens' was a situation to be avoided at all costs and carried with it a sense of shame. In modern day, it had been softened to indicate mere discomfort at being "one-upped" by someone else. The king of dozens was, as mentioned earlier, Sleepy John Estes, the poet of the Blues.
At about 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon the call would go up to stop at a 'chicken store' to get some lunch. Simultaneously there would be a request to stop at the 'whiskey store' for fortification against the chill of the coming evening. The party had begun.
On reaching the gig, out first stop was the hotel. Check in was always an experience, both from the reaction of the desk staff, to the process of getting everyone sorted out and into their respective rooms. Red and Furry were 'roomies' as were the drummer and bass player from Joe Willie's band. Old partners for years, John and Hammy bunked together as did Stack and Joe Willie. Bukka and Clarence Nelson (Joe Willie's guitar player) had single rooms, as they desired.
After everyone was in their respective rooms, I would go over to the venue, Sound and lighting had to be checked out to be sure contract rider demands for production were met. I would also meet with the producer to see if there was any last minute press that had to be done (this was in pre-cell phone days when none of this could accomplished en route, as it can today). Soon it was time for a sound check. This would require the presence of Joe Willie's rhythm section - Joe Willie and Stackhouse, who were 'stars', didn't have to involve themselves with these details. Drums were set and mic'ed, lighting cues were discussed, the band would run through a couple of tunes to set levels and any last minute details were attended to. All this was usually finished about an hour before "doors" (when doors were opened and ticket holders where let into the house). As the auditorium filled, I went back to the hotel to round up performers and head back to the venue. We usually arrived about ten or fifteen minutes before show time.
Some promoters felt this was a bit too close for comfort but they never had cause for concern. The Caravan never missed a curtain time. If we were supposed to hit at 8:00, we hit at 8:00.
The 'opener' for the Caravan was always Piano Red. He took great pleasure in his constant reminders to the rest of the group that it we he who had the hardest job of the lot. He also suggested that any enthusiastic response that the rest of the Caravan might receive was due largely to the warm carpet that his performance spread for them. He was, more often than not, at least partly correct. Bukka White followed next, then Furry Lewis. No one wanted to follow furry.
After Furry's set we generally had an intermission and then opened back up with Sleepy John Estes and Hammy Nixon. They were followed, in many instances, by Ma Rainey (Lilly Mae Glover) backed by Joe Willie's band. Joe Willie and Stackhouse joined the band next and at the end of their set, went into 'The Saints' and were joined on stage by everyone in the Caravan.
After the show, it was party time in earnest. Backstage was usually clogged with people, a great many with guitars in hand, asking questions about everything from tuning techniques to the brand of whiskey preferred by respective performers. It was at this time that I had to be on my guard as well-intentioned youngsters badgered the performers with questions. The problem came when a few would try to cut one or two of the performers from the pack (usually Furry and/or Bukka) and spirit them away to some house or apartment for an after-hours songfest. Both performers were always game for an adventure of this sort but I had learned from experience that this meant trouble.
Though probably well intentioned, the hosts of these clandestine get-a-ways, did not have the best interests of the performers at heart. Fueled by copious amounts of booze and God knows what else, these get-togethers had the potential for real havoc. We didn't need any trouble, "a thousand miles away from home, standing in the rain..."
After the backstage shenanigans, we went back to the hotel and usually gather in one anther's rooms. The guitar would get passed from hand to hand, the bottle of Jack Daniels would slowly drain and by 1:00 or 1:30 AM, it was lights out.
The next morning we got up and did it all over again.