Lucky Oceans

Born at the Women's Homoeopathic Hospital (nothing homoeopathic about it) on April 22, 1951, he began his life in that most derided city of brotherly love - Philadelphia, housed first in an apartment in Germantown, then into a newly developed suburb, an expression of post-war optimism, anachronistically called Wyndmoor. All the streets in Wyndmoor were named after WWII Generals - Patton Road was Lucky's address for 15 years.

All four of Lucky's grandparents were Jews from Eastern Europe, who had come to the U.S. around the turn of the century to escape the pogroms. On his mother's side, her parents Abe and Lena rose from dealing scrap and working in the garment industry to owning an aluminium fabricating plant. Lucky's dad Eugene worked as a salesman for the company, and his mother taught drama until they jointly started a restaurant when they were in their forties.

There are no known musicians among Lucky's ancestors, but a couple of his cousins, Danny and David were prominent in Philly's music scene in the 60s. So why did three of the four children become musicians?

Avery specializes in early music for the recorder, and is based in Milan; Anne is a modern composer and improviser on keyboards, based in New York City. Brother Josh is a visual artist, who does a lot of music connected work - cover art and video art direction. The answer lies in Gene and Phyllis' obvious love of music, which was their strong, shared passion. They loved the jazz of Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

Gene prided himself on being able to pick out players, even within sections, but he liked even better to slowly whirl around the room with his hands crossed over his chest, eyes closed and his face pointing to heaven, enraptured by a particularly beautiful solo. In this way, the kids would wake up every morning for a month or so, hearing Coleman Hawkins' 'Body and Soul' solo or Lester Young with the Kansas City Five.

Phyllis played her part, too. Whenever the kids showed an interest in music, she would gladly take them way across town, weeknight or weekend, day or night to see their concerts. A folk club in downtown Philadelphia, the Second Fret, was a favourite haunt. There, they saw Mississippi John Hurt, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, John Hammond (with John Littlejohn's impressively attired and processed band) and Skip James. Lucky showed an interest in the Country Blues and these people were touring regularly. She also took him to see Doc Watson, The Doors, the Band and John Cage as well as to the Philadelphia Orchestraâs concerts conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

It was the time of the great folk scare, so Gene and Phyllis bought Lucky a nylon string guitar and enlisted him in the 'hootenanny' group lessons/singalongs of a local folksinger, George Britten. Lucky's version of 'The Fox', after his voice broke and the key was wrong for him to sing was particularly underwhelming. Lucky learned to read music during his brief classical studies with Al Avayou.

About a mile away, Lucky's schoolmate, Ray Benson Seifert was studying with the same teachers, but was enjoying some success with his fledgling folk quartet, the four Gs (Guys, gals and Goya Guitars). In junior high and high school, Ray and Lucky began playing together, with Ray doubling on bass and guitar and Lucky on guitar and drums. Ray, who played tuba in the school marching band, convinced Lucky to join as a percussionist, much to the chagrin of the Music teacher, Mr. Byerly, who would go red in the face as Lucky would think of yet another creative place to put the cymbal crash in the Star Spangled banner, or would take the practice drum kit along to the band's rehearsals.

He went with Ray to a concert of a saxophone player he'd never heard of. This concert of John Coltrane's was to impress him deeply as to how deeply and spiritually a player could be involved in their music. Two concerts by Delta bluesman Son House affected Lucky in the same way. Son seemed to have such huge emotions to express and had no inhibitions about putting every ounce of his being into those expressions, wrenching the music out of himself.

Meanwhile, Lucky's expression in clothing and hairstyles got him into some trouble at Springfield High School. Disillusioned with academic life, he was accepted into an experimental public school in its first year. The Parkway Program accepted students from Philadelphia and suburbs and was called the 'school without walls' because there was no campus - art classes were held at the museum of art, science at the Franklin Institute... and so on. Lucky managed to spend a good amount of time in the Philadelphia Public Library's music section, discovering new musical worlds in his headphones.

Staying with the experimental theme, Lucky was accepted into a new branch of the liberal arts college Antioch in Columbia, Maryland, a built from scratch model city between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. He had the summer off before he was due to start, so, being touted as the 'summer of love', he got out on the highway, intending to hitch-hike to San Francisco. It would be several years before he'd make it there, because he got distracted in Chicago, where things were brewing in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention of 1968.

After spending a his first night there drinking wine with a total stranger and listening to Eddie Harris' 45 of 'Listen Here' repeat endlessly, he made his way to the Jazz Record Mart where Robert Koester sold discs and operated Delmark Records, a haven for blues and cutting edge jazz. The dark, crowded basement at Grand and State streets housed a living treasure, perhaps the last of the itinerant Delta bluesmen, Big Joe Williams. Before he knew it, Lucky was enlisted to drive Big Joe's Ford to various barbecues and house parties. Unbeknownst to him, this chauffeur job had been done by many others. Mike Bloomfield's book, "Me and Big Joe" is a fascinating account of Mike's experience at the same job, with the valuable lesson: copious quantities of cheap wine and hog snouts used as an alarm clock don't mix!

Tempers were nearing boiling point in Chicago in advance of the Convention. At a large gathering, confronting a hostile police force, Lucky picked up a bottle. Within moments, a plainclothes policeman had him in the paddy wagon and off to Cook County Jail. Lucky was released by a representative of the family company.

A few days later, he was hitchhiking because Chicago was in the midst of a transit strike, when the police picked him up for vagrancy. This time, Chicago's finest threw the power of the law at the young man, enlisting District Attorney Elrod in their attempt to incarcerate Lucky. Gene and Phyllis cut short a couples' workshop at Big Sur's Esalen Institute, flew out to Chicago, hired a lawyer, bought Lucky a bargain basement suit and got him off with a plea bargain, then brought him back to Philadelphia.

In the fall it was time to go to Antioch/Columbia. Lucky can't remember taking any courses there, but he did teach a course in country blues, for which he had leading archivist and Yazoo Records label boss Nick Perls come down from New York and give a lecture, complete with cost-price LPs.

Coincidentally, Ray Benson got accepted to Antioch/Columbia's parent campus in Yellow Springs, Ohio. One of the most important things that happened there was Ray seeing a ragged hippie/rockabilly band from Ann Arbor called 'Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen'. They made an indelible impression on Ray and he started thinking of forming a band with a similar approach.

He and Lucky corresponded (It was from a letter that he signed 'Lucky Oceans' that Ray started calling him that) and Lucky mentioned that a fellow student at Antioch-Columbia had offered the use of his father's apple orchard in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Lucky and Ray had jammed with a Vermont drummer/guitarist named Gene Preston while visiting Ray's sister's apartment in Boston.

Gene came down to join them in Paw Paw, exchanging his first name for his second (Leroy) in the process. The orchard was on a scenic hill, and the boys squatted in a log cabin straddling a creek. Because the cabin was quite small and had no electricity, the already resourceful Ray gained access to the apple packing shed, which had power and plenty of room, but was kept at a temperature just above freezing to preserve the apples. The trio built a room there out of apple crates, and huddled under blankets near a tiny electric heater for their early practices, which had Ray on bass, Leroy and Lucky sharing the drumming, Leroy on guitar, and Lucky on mandolin, guitar and a lap steel that a Houston born student from Antioch-Columbia had given him.

Before long, Leroy revealed his country roots and Ray figured that Lucky better get a newfangled pedal steel guitar to get those twangy sounds. The boys drove up to Manny's Music in New York, which offered a standard 40% discount on all musical instruments. Lucky bought a single neck Sho-Bud pedal steel guitar there. When he asked what it should be tuned to, they gave him the wrong information, so most of the strings snapped and Lucky had to go see a nearby steeler to get his guitar set right. When he met Wilson Kaufman, he thought that he'd never be able to play so well. After months of practicing 8 hours a day, he revisited Wilson and thought, "He plays a bit out of tune!"

Lucky learned a valuable lesson when he made the long drive across the state to Charleston, where Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmanâs steel guitarist, the 'West Virginia Creeper' lived. Creeper put the phonograph needle down repeatedly in the middle of a tasty steel lick on a George Jones record and gradually copied it. That was Lucky's introduction to 'copping licks', a pastime that kept him busy for the next few decades.

In the meantime, Mr Schaeffer, the owner of the Paw Paw property, happened to visit it in the wake of a visit by the 17 year locusts. He was outraged to find that the band had been squatting on his orchard, living in the log cabin and breaking into the main house on Sunday nights to watch Johnny Cash's television specials. The band had abandoned the packing shed by this time, running a generator for power in the dilapidated barn next to the cabin. An outhouse in this 'complex' was the site of the naming of the band. It was in a moment of shallow meditation there that Lucky hit on the name 'Asleep at the Wheel'.

Mr. Schaeffer gave the interlopers their walking orders, but by this time they were well integrated into the Paw Paw community. They had found friends in local boy Ralph Hinds, and New York transplant home brew specialist Richard Shaeffer (no relation). Another important link was formed with John Arnica (pronounced Ar-ni-key), proprietor of a roadhouse on the hill called the Sportsman's Club.

When the town found out that the hippies played country music, they soon warmed to them, and the Sportsman's Club was jumping again. Some memorable comments from those times: Oozle Moreland: "You guys are better than Nashville" ???? "Pearl!!!, t'ain't right for a man to have long hair."

The band expanded, adding bassist Gene Dobkin, who had gone to Antioch College with Ray (and is now nowhere to be found), and Ed and Truffy Angleton. Ed was also from Antioch, played keyboards and was a handy man to have around; Truffy sang and was the daughter of CIA high-up James Angleton.

The band moved into new digs at Levels, a big house with cheap rent because of it's proximity to the railroad tracks. Their stay there was a short one, though, because of another of Lucky's brushes with the law. He and Rayâs brother, Mike Seifert, were prowling around what they thought was the abandoned property next door, pulling some dusty, owl shit decorated chairs out of the barn, when the proprietor pulled up in his pick up truck. His name was Mr. Scanlon. He was about 70 years old, shaking and frail, but he made up for this by pointing a pistol at the boys and driving them to the local police station.

Once again, Gene made the trip to bail them out, this time accompanied by Ray and Mike's dad, Maurie. The boys were told that they wouldn't have to go to jail, but it would be wise to vacate the Levels house.

Instruments

Pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, national steel guitar, cajun one row button accordion, three row button accordion and voice.

Discography

Asleep At The Wheel "Comin' Right At Ya!" (United Artists, 1973)
Asleep At The Wheel "Asleep At The Wheel" (Epic, 1974)
Asleep At The Wheel "Texas Gold" (Capitol, 1975)
Asleep At The Wheel "Wheelin' And Dealin'" (Capitol, 1976)
Asleep At The Wheel "The Wheel" (Capitol, 1977)
"Served Live" (Capitol, 1979)
Lucky Oceans "Lucky Steels The Wheel" 1982
Dude Ranch "Self-Titled" (Independent, 1991)
Asleep At The Wheel "Tribute To The Music Of Bob Wills" (Capitol, 1993)
Asleep At The Wheel "Back To The Future Now - Live In Las Vegas" (Columbia, 1995)
Zydecats "Self Titled" (Independent, 1998)
Lucky Oceans "Secret Steel" (Head Records, 2005)
Zydecats "Live At Clancy's" (Independent, 2005)

Links

Lucky Oceans Myspace Site
George Negus Interview
Sydney Music Web Interview