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Readers Write: The Prince of Dogtown

Andy’s note:  Regular readers will recognize Joel’s name.  He is a frequent commenter and introduced me to the pleasures of GOOD Scotch whisky.  I count him as a true friend.  Good way to start out our guest author program as well…

The Prince of Dogtown by Joel


I met Charles seven or eight years ago at a house party. He and his band were the live entertainment for a graduation party in honor of the lady of the house, who just got her Ph.D. in English. I didn’t know the family well. Their daughter was a classmate of my daughter, and the mom—the newly minted Ph.D.—was a banjo student of Charles’.

Anyway, I hung out with the band, and was standing by when someone requested the old Grandpa Jones song “Eight More Miles to Louisville.” Fittingly, Charles, who was holding forth on guitar said he didn’t know that as a guitar song, but played it on the banjo. I volunteered to play it on guitar, so Charles handed me his Taylor and we played and sang it with him on his banjo. After we were done, Charles let me sit in for the rest of the set, and at the end, he asked if I’d join the band for a gig in Southern Illinois the next Saturday, and there was $50 dollars in it for me.

That was the beginning of a long musical friendship. I’ve played with Charles and the “Bates Street Folk and Blues Band” on and off since, and it has also gotten me gigs with others who need a backup guitar and clawhammer banjo player. With Charles and the band, I’ve played house parties on both sides of the river, at company picnics and a street festival, in back yards and churches, in barns and on a city street in downtown St. Louis. We played at a graduation party for his oldest daughter, then a few years later, for her wedding and for the reception. I played a gig with Charles last spring in a pole barn north of Godfrey IL, and was paid $60 and a half pint of moonshine. The moonshine was very much ethanol-forward, as the connoisseurs would say, and had a distinct lead and cadmium finish.

Charles has shoed horses, been a park ranger, and was once a social worker in North St. Louis. He grew up in Dogtown, and wrote a song about his childhood, waking up to the sound of the lions roaring at the St. Louis zoo. He sings loud, plays hard and enjoys food and drink. He has a wonderful wife and three kids who are either Ph.D.s or in Ph.D. programs. We agree completely on politics and religion, but sometimes argue about the use of minor chords and the merits of Irish music.

Charles is 67 and has already lived eleven years longer than his dad did. He is fairly fluent in German, and knows a little Russian. When he’s angry, he can be a tyrant, and I’ve seen him tear up while telling a touching story. He never exercises but  he’s trying to lose weight. He’s larger than life.

I know and work with an awful lot of very smart people. I’ve published with a couple of members of the National Academy of Sciences and corresponded with several others. But one of the people I’m proud to call a friend and a mentor doesn’t have a Ph.D. or a fancy title. He calls himself the Prince of Dogtown. I was over to his castle last Friday for an audience. We covered some John Prine tunes and shared a bottle of wine I brought over. When I retire, I want to be like him.


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1 comment to Readers Write: The Prince of Dogtown

  • Bob

    Excellent submission, and just the right length for old geezers like me with short attention spans.
    Thanks for that one.

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