It was Sunday afternoon at the Casper Shrine Club and one person at the party whispered, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but have you ever seen so many wrinkles in one room?”
The wrinkles didn’t belong to Shriners, but to the old hippies, recovering alcoholics, still-functioning musicians and friends who gathered to remember Paul Huber and Spencer Bohren. Some attendees were so old they didn’t even have tattoos, just faces reflecting very lived lives and still-vibrant abilities on bass, drums, guitar, washboard and even on a suitcase used for percussion.
A common thread that brought the people playing music together at the event was time spent together as Wyoming teenagers 60 years ago. I imagined that the Shriners of the ‘60s wouldn’t have thought much at the time of these former teenagers who were jamming in their building on Sunday.
But, hearing the stories of the talented people who went on to have varied success in music and arts made me realize that Casper in 1967 was a hotbed of creativity and future accomplishment. I was languishing away in a rural Ohio college at the time, wishing for a big city life, but never imaging that here in Casper was where beautiful careers were being born.
Several of the old friends, including Cory McDaniel, had played together in a Seattle band called Butterfat.
An album of old photos showed them as skinny young guys with long hair and mustaches (looking very late Beatles-like).
They “reverted to a bunch of kids having fun” on stage at the celebration for the two former members Bohren (guitar, voice, trombone) and Huber (harmonica), observed Spencer’s son Andre, who joined them on drums.
And for Andre, who was himself a teenager in Casper before making a life in New Orleans, the celebration showed a real sense of Wyoming, featuring a “more realistic view of life and death,” in contrast with New Orleans, a place that “loves nostalgia.”
He described how the New Orleans music scene was “shocked and devastated” when 100-year old Dave Bartholomew died in June after a nearly nine-decade career producing and composing rhythm and blues hits, many with Fats Domino.
But in Casper, it was “Paul’s gone. Want some more gumbo?” said Andre of the gathering that was more of a jam session with good food and memories than a wake for the too-soon departure of two artists who died far earlier than 100.
Certainly, there was nostalgia and awareness of time passing. Some complained about the aches and pains of playing gigs and moving equipment in their 70s. “You couldn’t possibly piss him off more than he was when he got out of bed,” said the wife of one such complainer.
The lead singer, apparently a bit hard of hearing, kept demanding that the bassist’s sound be cranked up.
Regardless, for one Sunday afternoon, those Casper teens of the ‘60s gave the crowd a window into a lively time in the old town. It was billed as a celebration and that’s what it was.