Dick Damron: The Back Story

“Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). I sought, all right. And by dogged effort found. This is the story of what who and why. And of a ‘poetic ramification’ that unexpectedly occurred early on.

Amsterdam, 1985. I was in the second-floor studio at Ins & Outs Press (my long since lost 5-storey ’empire building’), doing this that and whatever. With the radio on, tuned to a Dutch country music station. And cassette recording any songs I took a fancy to. (Then, as today, they simply played songs, one after the other, 24-7, with no announcements in between, not even to tell you the title or the singer’s name.) Suddenly one song really grabbed me. So much so that I switched off the radio and began listening to the tape. But just that song, over and over. And whoever dropped by, I’d play it to them. Occasionally thinking, or saying out loud: ‘Dammit, I wonder who’s singing this?’ The title I could only guess at. From the lyrics, ‘A Lover Like You’ seemed likely. But as it turned out was wrong.

One visitor I played the song for was my lovely Israeli friend Ann Katmor. An artist in her own right (and a former Playboy model), she was also the wife of the visual artist and filmmaker Jacques Katmor. Not only did I play the song, I gave her a duplicate to take home. Once there, she played it for Jacques. Who went ballistic. A mad genius of sorts, Jacques was adept at reading between the lines. There was no doubt in his mind but that I was making a play for Ann. And worse yet, that she might be going for it.

That evening I was again in the studio, this time with my friends Bill Levy and Peter Edel. Not long after I’d played them the song the phone rang. It was Jacques. What ensued was beyond an argument, it was a mutual rant. Ann’s name was never once mentioned, Jacques was too smart for that. Instead it had to do with Divine Mother in the form of Mary and the Hindu goddess Maha Kali. As well as guns, gangster poets, and words as bullets, etc.

From the start Peter sussed this wouldn’t be an ordinary conversation, but rather something special. And so, unbeknownst to me, immediately switched on his pocket tape recorder. And the moment I slammed down the phone said, “You’ve got a poem there.”

“A what?”

“A poem. Listen,” with which he played the tape.

All you could clearly hear was my end of the call. Even though Jacques was often shouting, on the tape his voice came across as extended loud mumbles. Yet most of what I was saying did indeed have poetic qualities. (I later on made a copy with Jacques’ voice almost entirely eliminated.)

“Haha,” I said, “wait till Jacques hears this! I’ll duplicate it now, and pop the tape in their letterbox when I go out.” ‘Out’ meaning to a restaurant, and then up the road to the heart of the red-light district.

“I got your bloody Mary,” Jacques said right off when he phoned the following day. Which there and then gave my ‘telephone prose-poem’ a title, namely “Bloody Mary.” [See below for the link to that.]

So I had an audio poem. And after a while a text transcription. Now and then I’d perform “Bloody Mary” at poetry events. Even speeding up where the tape does, at precisely the right point: “It’s not my way. You see, I have a Gemini moon. Gemini is Mercury. And I was born on a Wednesday; Wednesday is Mercury. And my ascendant is Libra: I play both sides at one time. And as a Taurus I stand my ground…”

Halfway through taping the call, the battery in Peter’s Sony started running low, and hence was recording more slowly. But when played on a machine that’s working properly, the reverse happens. It speeds up! ‘What absolute magic,’ I thought.

The years rolled on. Every so often I’d play the mystery tune that in a roundabout way had engendered “Bloody Mary.” Each time vaguely wondering if I’d ever find out who the singer was or the title. By March 2004 I had been living in Devonshire, England for over half a decade. (Went there for love. And when the romance withered and in due course died, returned to Amsterdam. With certain lines from that still anonymous song haunting me more strongly than ever. Lines I would eventually use as an epigraph for one of the two long poems in my book about that failed relationship, Tsunami of Love: “You look like the kind of lady / Who could make a lot of dreams come true / But I just don’t know how to love a lover like you.”}

Living in Devon with a computer and internet and naturally email. And frequently tuning in to Nick Barraclough’s New Country show on BBC Radio 2. All of a sudden it hit me. Maybe they’ll know! I fired off an email. And followed that up with a postal letter accompanied by the tape. Dozens of correspondence exchanges ensued. Not only with Barraclough’s PA Vivienne Atkinson. But also Melanie (never did catch her surname) at Spirit River Distribution in Canada, and several others. Among whom my painter friend in Calgary, Norman Sjoman. The search was narrowing. The guy I was hunting for was himself Canadian. And his name was Dick Damron. The same Dick Damron who’d written and recorded “Jesus, It’s Me Again.” Subsequently covered by George Hamilton IV and Hazel-Marie Robertson. Lives in Bentley, Alberta. Spends his winters in Mexico. But how to get hold of him? Since I still didn’t know the title of the song or what album it was on. Then bingo, I had an address. So I wrote to Dick. And on June 9th 2004 he phoned me!

“Hi Eddie, Dick Damron here. That song is called “Lover.” The album is Last Dance On Saturday Night. Was only ever on LP, and to my knowledge never reissued. I don’t keep track of those things. Maybe some second-hand outlets have it, dunno. But I’ll get it to you. And oh, my “Burnin’ A Hole In My Heart” is a different song than Skip Ewing’s. Mine came first. But you can’t copyright titles.”

The next day Dick emailed me saying he’d gone to Red Deer to make a CD copy of the Last Dance album and would send it tomorrow. On June 16th I emailed him to say it arrived. The search was over. And from then on Dick and I have kept in contact.

“You really are dogged, woof woof, like a terrier who once having bitten onto something doesn’t let go. I like it.”

Bill Levy said that when I told him the news. Months earlier he’d played the song on his Amsterdam radio program, Dr. Doo-Wop, in hopes some listener would recognize it. As had Bart Plantenga on Wreck This Mess. Both of them drawing blanks.

Did Ann Katmor and I ever make it? One ‘afternoon morning’ (throughout the 1980s my days seldom began before 2 or 3 pm) Jacques phoned asking if Ann was there. When I said she was still sleeping, Jacques calmly replied: “She’s good, isn’t she?” They were both close friends, now sadly gone. Jacques having succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse, Ann to an overdose of cocaine while kicking heroin.

© 2014 by Eddie Woods

Bloody Mary

Eddie Woods Tribute to Dick Damron (YouTube)

Dick Damron Wikipedia

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