Category Archives: Lexington-70’s

Just Act the Hell Out of It

In the theatre, I have been blessed to work with inspiring directors. Many of them seemed to enter and re-enter my life at times when they could fulfill dual roles; stage director and off-stage mentor. Just as I could not have become the on-stage kings, fools, lawyers, doctors, and errant knights required, so I could not have become the geezer I am today (for better or worse) without their genuine care and, at times, curious advice.

Perhaps preeminent among them, if for no other reason than my bewildered youth at the time, was Charles Dickens.

That was his real name.

Charles was my advisor at UK. On Tuesday, during the “advising” session required before classes began on Monday, Charles filled out my roster of classes (my input was restricted to an awed and tiny “ok”), and informed me that my part-time job at the public library wouldn’t impede my freshman theatre activities since they didn’t cast freshmen anyway…but that I should attend and participate in the Sunday auditions of the season’s opening show (which he was directing) for the experience.

I responded; “ok”.

Monday morning, at 9:00, I attended my first college class (Physics: 101 – we learned to bend water with a comb) and was cast in my first show (“Playboy of the Western World”). I was slack-jawed at my Physics classmates (“Is that real water?”), and dazzled by my sometimes shabby but always quick cast mates in rehearsal. My path was clear.

That was in the fall of 1969.

In the spring, Charles cast me in his elaborate production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”. By then, I was a complete “gym rat” in the theatre. Every day began and ended in the Fine Arts Building; the Guignol Theatre, the Laboratory Theatre (now the Briggs), the Green Room, the Scene Shop, the Costume Shop…even an occasional classroom. I lurked in every rehearsal I could find.

During “Measure”, Charles was deep into his Peter-Brook-THE-EMPTY-SPACE period. I may have learned half of what I know about the theatre listening to him coach actors in these rehearsals. One night, Bill Hayes, a nice actor and UK alumnus brought in by Charles to play “Angelo”, paused rehearsal to question the meaning of the line; “Let’s write ‘good angel’ on the Devil’s horn, tis not the Devil’s crest.” Charles sprang to the stage and took Bill’s script and they pondered…and pondered… Finally Charles handed the script back to Bill with the profound instruction; “Just act the hell out of it.”

Just act the hell out of it?

I had fallen in love with Shakespeare with “Measure for Measure”.

I knew what that line meant!

I could say that line!!

I could change people’s lives with that line!!!

I swore if I ever got the chance…

Well, of course, having sworn, I did, 23 years later.

In 1993, the uber-smart Ave Lawyer cast me as “Angelo” in her production of “Measure”. This production featured a remarkable cast; Eric Johnson, Sidney Shaw, Holly Hazelwood Brady, Laurie Genet Preston, Jeff Sherr, Joe Gatton, Glenn Thompson, Donna Ison, Karen Czarnecki, Spencer Christiansen… WOW!

I had my chance.

I said my line.

I acted the hell out of it.

I got up the next day and went to my day job.

Hoops and High Notes

I have listened to or watched University of Kentucky basketball ever since eventual mayor of Lexington Scotty Baesler was the “sixth man” on an early 60’s Adolph Rupp-coached team. My mom and dad and I would sit around our yellow linoleum-topped kitchen table in North Lexington listening to the radio broadcast. Mom would keep score on the pad of paper we used when people came over to play cards, and dad would cuss and slap the table. I kept score in my head and memorized my dad’s vocabulary for later practice when I was alone in bed.

It was a real good time.

Cotton Nash was a god to me until Dan Issel came along. Mr. Issel was a god to me until Jack Givens came along. Then Kenny Walker. Then the Unforgettables. Then Jamal Mashburn. Then Antoine Walker. Then John Wall. Then Anthony Davis. Then……Wenyen Gabriel?

Fifty-plus years of watching the same dribbling, running, screening, and shooting on the same hardwood floors — why?

Why keep watching?

Because of Wenyen Gabriel.

Because, at any moment, a young person could have a transcendent moment in their life and by watching, you could be a vicarious participant in that moment.

Especially now, with daily political news being so unrelentingly grim and disgusting, I feel a renewed resurgence of hope and possibility for fixing things. To see a young person succeed beyond the expectations of today’s alarm clock, to see them rejoice in that unexpected success, to see them exult in simply being young and capable, is enough to keep me progressing, persisting, and resisting.

It’s just a game.

I know that.

The meanings I impose on that game are mine – perhaps the foolish dreams of an unrepentant hippie of the 70’s. I would not want my priorities to intrude on today’s young people, but I will gladly accept the inspirational intrusions of today’s young people on my priorities.

That said…

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 10, at the Singletary Center there will be a gathering of 26 singers from around the world competing for scholarships to be part of the nationally-admired University of Kentucky Opera Program. This will be the next wave of remarkable performers to shape Lexington’s vocal music experience. These will be the singers we will hear throughout Central Kentucky in our churches, and schools, and public concerts, and operas, and musicals, and recitals, and national anthem renditions, during the next few years until they mature and grace the planet with their talent.

It will be a magical day, a day of hope and inspiration, a day every bit as startling as Wenyen Gabriel’s 7-for-7 from 3-point range.

It will be a real good time.

Tommy Hale – The Hawk

How do we just…lose people?

I’ve just learned tonight of the death of a high school friend, Thomas Hale.

Tommy was bright. Tommy was verbal and cheerful.

He knew more than I did about music in general and jazz in particular. By that, I mean he didn’t just love the music, but he knew why he loved it and he could share that knowledge.

Tommy DJ’d a Sunday afternoon jazz program on WLAP-FM.

This was in the late 60’s. At that time, FM radio was an afterthought. Most of the radios in the market didn’t even have FM reception and the owners of those that did were mostly uninterested. FM was where I went to hear Ben Story’s late Saturday night folk music broadcast (where I discovered Judy Henske, Phil Ochs, Patrick Sky, and the Limeliters – look ‘em up, — you can thank me later), or classical music and opera, or rhythm and blues (Gladys Knight, Ike Turner, Hank Ballard, and Carmen McRae – look ‘em up), and jazz…yes, indeed…jazz.

WLAP-FM’s format (this was before we knew what “format” was) was targeted to the African-American population of Lexington…enthusiastically so. I believe, at one time, it was rated #1 by Ebony Magazine.

It was trés cool.

<< “Well hello to you and salutation from the West Georgetown Street Blooooooz Association. Sink or swim, you’re in with them; WLAP…FM” >>

Totally exotic.

All the DJ’s had on-air nom-de-plumes. “Little Bee” assured that he was about to “put a little hep in your step, glide in your stride, and gut in your strut.” I was in my teens and needed every bit of that I could garner.

Tommy was “The Hawk”.

His Sunday program didn’t feature too many vocalists and it wasn’t “easy to dance to”. He tried to keep it lively but he was passionate about the music and he could tell you why.

A couple of Sundays he invited me to join him at the station for his show. I sat in the back, a goodly distance from the live mikes, and watched and listened. Tommy had to be his own engineer. He juggled tapes and lp’s and a myriad of dials and switches to deliver a seamless (to my worldly 16 year old ears) program of Brubeck, Tommy Hale, Miles, Tommy Hale, Prez, Tommy Hale, and Coltrane…and the Hawk.

Some of it all…

…not enough…

…but some…


To this day, I hear this music and recognize it and thrill to it instantly. But I can’t always tell you why.

Tommy could.

Tommy and I graduated from Bryan Station and went our separate ways. I have not seen him since.

And now he’s gone.

He gave me a treasure, a soundtrack for most of my life.

How do we just…lose people?

‘s not right.

The Mercymen — Ack!

I was the whitest and worst soul singer in the world with the best band in Lexington; the Mercymen. My muddled feelings of embarrassment and pride over that fact muddle me to this day.

It was the late 60’s and Lexington had a bunch of bands. They were all young and they all worked with regularity and enthusiasm…and occasionally, well. There was the Love Machine, the Torqués, the Mag 7, Harold Sherman’s group whose name evades me (they did great covers of The Kinks), the Exiles (they were plural then), and the Mercymen.

I claim at least temporary preeminence for the Mercymen because we won a summer-long city-wide “Battle of the Bands”.

In the late 60’s several city parks had weekly outdoor dances during the summer. In the winter, every high school, and some junior high schools had sock hops on Friday nights after the football games. There were also gigs at private parties at horse farms and country clubs, and night clubs willing to forget to check the ages of the members of the band.

For a couple of years the gigs were copious, the money was great (especially considering we all lived at home, attended high school during the day, and had no expenses). Since I was also driving my dad’s refurbished 1959 sky-blue Cadillac to many of the jobs in those days, life was pretty damn good.

Yes, life was good, the band was good, the money was good…

…I was not.

Oh, if you needed someone to intone the Mag 7’s opening to “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”; “Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for all-l-l-l-l night long…”

Or, if you needed someone to mush-mouth the non-existent lyrics to “Louie, Louie” and leer…

Or, if you needed someone to string out “Hey Jude” for 20 minutes so the band could catch a break…

Or, if you needed someone to plumb the psycho-sociological depths of Otis Redding’s “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa” (I think I got the right number of Fa’s in there)…

I was your guy.

But singing?

Well…after the first half of the first song, I was shrieking and growling in a vocal range of about three notes.

We all started out young. The band got older and better. I got older.

They were a group of young fellows that were as close to gentlemen as teen-aged rock band members could be. They endured my tenure as vocalist with glazed eyes and slumped shoulders, but encouraging words. The protests when I had to leave the band were unanimous, polite, and heavily laced with palpable relief.

About three months later, I saw the group at a big multi-band back-to-school outdoor dance at Lexington Mall. They had a new singer. They had gotten a whole lot better.

How dare they!

I see the Mercymen have reassembled all these years later. Some of the original members are still in the band. I see them playing with glee and as I watch, I see their young selves on drums and guitars.

They still sound pretty good.

How dare they!!!

The Crash-Test Dummy…My Hero

Did you ever envy a crash-test dummy?

This afternoon, for about 20 seconds, I did.

Then I smacked myself and came back to my senses (which, of course, a crash-test dummy, lacking senses, can’t do).

I flipped on CNN this afternoon expecting another episode in the 24/7/365 Trump Reality Show. I was curious to see if Turtleman and Honey-Boo-Boo might be opening for Stormy Daniels at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. Instead, a giant rocket loomed on the screen and an amplified voice droned; “ten…nine…eight……”

My happy assumption was that I had stumbled onto Turner Classic Movies during a surprise screening of DESTINATION MOON (1950, with John Archer and Warren Anderson). But no-o-o-o. This was another kind of reality show…real reality (imagine that)…heroic reality…not the fake kind.

I instantly became a fourth-grader again, on a morning in May of 1961, listening to the PA speaker in my classroom broadcast Alan Shepard’s 15 minute flight in his Mercury Freedom 7. Our school lunch that day featured Shepherd’s Pie in honor of the feat. It was an impressionable time.


And today, Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa was about to put the US back in first place in the space race.


Today there was no Alan Shepard or any other astronaut on board. Instead, Mr. Musk had loaded his cherry-red Tesla with a crash-test dummy in the front seat. I suspect if you Google “panache” you will find Mr. Musk’s bio there.


Whatta roar!

Like a spear hurled into the sky, that rocket ripped into space, and that dummy began his billion-year cruise around the sun and Mars. I hope they included a big playlist.

To be that dummy…


I’m OK now…well, maybe the concussion protocol might in order.

I had forgotten the thrill and inspiration of a US rocket launch and US space exploration.
I don’t want to ever forget it again.
And I still wanna be an astronaut when I grow up.


A Dream Cast…in a Nightmare

I read an article about Woodford County’s latest show; ENCHANTED APRIL. It looks like a dream cast. I can’t wait to see it next week. It reminded me of another dream cast.

Imagine, if you will, a show in Lexington with a cast consisting of Trish Clark, Jane Dewey, Eric Johnson, Kevin Hardesty and Paul Thomas.

Sweeter than sweet. If you’re the director of that cast your duties are basically to turn on the lights at rehearsal, yes?

Now imagine that show being not so hot.

In fact, imagine it being thoroughly shredded by the Herald’s reviewer.

As Tom Waits so elegantly says,

“Impossible you say?

Beyond the realm of possibility?


It can and did happen. I have the scars.

All it takes is a director with little directorial experience, even less experience with improvisational farce, and no real vision beyond “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” (I’m reminded of Mickey Rooney’s immortal query; “Hey! Why don’t we put on a show!!”).

If you’re lookin’ for a director of your production of BULLSHOT CRUMMOND with exactly that resumé, I’m your guy.

This was back in the early, early years of Actors Guild when they were performing in the basement of Levas’ Restaurant on Vine Street. The cast worked hard. Kevin played about eight different characters. Eric played two, including one duet scene with himself (a dream come true for him, I’m sure). Trish was ultra-sultry. Jane was innocent and dizzy. Paul was checking out the locations of the exits. All were trying to figure how to get new agents when they had no agents to begin with.

What can I say?

The show seemed funny to me. (BUZZER! Thank you for playing, Mr. Leasor.)

Then came opening night and we played our farce to an audience of seven (7) (VII)…plus the reviewer (Tom Carter).

It was a long night’s journey into sad.

(Fade to…)

The next morning I awoke to the devastating review. Tom summed things up by saying “Leasor has done his friends the disservice of casting them in roles for which they are not suited.”


My wife, Janie removed the poison/razor/gun from my hand and convinced me that though life was obviously no longer worth living it was still necessary to do so as we still owed a lot of money on the house.

Therefore, my next concern was how to help my cast through this undeserved (on their part) catastrophe.

I called an acquaintance who owned a t-shirt shop, set the wheels of foolishness in motion, and that night each member of the cast found, at their make-up station a bright red t-shirt that read “I am NOT Roger Leasor’s friend, please cast me”.

It seemed to help break the ice.

After that evening’s show, Eric went out for his post-show “snack” to Columbia’s Steakhouse (that Steak-for-Two and a Diego Salad always serves well when it’s time for a little something to take the edge off at midnight) resplendent in his new t-shirt. Guess who was standing at the bar…none other than the reviewer himself. Eric, of course, diplomat that he is, made sure Tom saw the shirt…less than 24 hours after the review was written!

Lexington’s a small town at heart. I saw Tom at lunch the next week at the Saratoga (the “Toga” always served well when a wedge and a chicken-fried steak was needed to take the edge off at noon). He was gracious and impressed with the alacrity of our response (if not our show) and life in our small town went on.

Sometimes it all falls into place, deserved or not.

What’s a Junesboy?

thoreau-01What’s a Junesboy?

I hear the question. It’s not a terribly important question, nor terribly interesting, but if ya wanna know…

Three answers leap to my mind. A Junesboy could be;

  1. Beaver Cleaver, the son of June and Ward Cleaver on television in LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.
  2. Timmy in the LASSIE television show (his mom was played by June Lockhart).
  3. Any young man whose father was named after his father and whose relatives couldn’t be bothered to pronounce more than one syllable.

Here’s a hint; answer #3 is the largest group.

I was ten or eleven years old and attending the visitation of a funeral of one of my dad’s relatives in Anothertown, Kentucky. I didn’t know who.

In Kentucky then, visitations could be as long as a flight to South Africa and feel as long as a flight to the moon to a pre-teen…with better food, though. I spent the eternity of the day wandering from room to room of the funeral home, simultaneously seeking stimulation and invisibility. Neither seemed available in this venue. Keep in mind these were horse-and-buggy days before the internet and smart phones. Instead, we had conversation.


As Socrates might query; “How’s that working for you?”

In those “good ol’ days” adults could lie, exaggerate, or just be wrong loudly with a pretty fair amount of impunity, and if caught, be politely ignored in their factual transgressions, especially if aimed at someone younger…or female…or from more than 30 miles away (20, if north)……and you could say any damn thing you wanted to a minority – what the hell were they doin’ there anyway?

This is how I remember visitations in the 60’s. Unlike much of today’s world, civility in today’s visitations seem to have improved. It occurs to me; talk radio, social media, and Russian bots have subsequently siphoned away some of this need to vent mendaciously, face-to-face. Just a thought…

Needless to say, “conversation” was not working for me on that particular day.

I spent the day having adults squint at me and say; “Yer June’s boy aren’cha?” I gaped in response. It was the only tool I had in the box at that age.

It was a long, long day.

I glazed over so much and so often I recall thinking if they made Glazing Over an Olympic event, I might have a shot at a medal.

On the drive home I related my experience to my dad. He explained that his father (my Papaw) was named “William” and that he had been named William, Jr., but growing up in Western Kentucky, everyone just called him “Junior” or “June”. Somehow that made me feel like I was part of some sort of a secret society of “June’s boys” who might rise up someday and force adults to tell the truth and get on with life a little quicker.

I confess to some disappointment with how that turned out.

Monday Night Football at the Saratoga

Pro football seems to me to be a fading proposition.

– We’re scrambling the players’ brains. Their brains! That can’t go on.
– Every third play is either a penalty or a game-stopping injury…or both.
– Replay review is running amok. Can you run amok in super-slo-mo?
– I will never again understand what constitutes a completed pass. “Surviving the ground” sounds like an ecological problem to me.

I have not watched a complete Sunday game in two years. And Thursday Night Football? Please. Isn’t that a fantasy like unicorns and the Easter Bunny……and massive voter fraud in Alabama?

But I have to confess to a persistent fondness for Monday Night Football. I attribute it to happy Monday nights of yore.

My Monday Night Football memories go all the way back to Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, Dandy Don…and Strat-O-Matic Football.

Before Dungeons & Dragons, and Atari, and Playstation, before Pac-Man and Frogger, and Pokemon, there was Strat-O-Matic football and baseball.

One season in my 20’s, most Monday nights would find me in my friend Davey Koenig’s apartment at his kitchen table recreating the reality of professional football with dice and cards and wits and luck all in the glow of the Monday Night Football broadcast on his TV (I didn’t have my first TV for another five years or so). I lost the tabletop games with disturbing regularity, but I won big with the company.

A few years later, Monday evenings meant a wedge of lettuce (with 4.2 gallons of blue cheese dressing) and a T-bone steak at the Saratoga in Chevy Chase, usually followed by a small financial speculation at the restaurant’s bar and watching the Monday Night Football kickoff and most of the first quarter on the single 10-inch screen over the bar. The screen wasn’t HD – it was ND – No Density. Then, home by ten o’clock since the “Toga” closed at 9:30.

Ah…Lexington night life…it ain’t no good life…but it was my life.

My First and Last Job Interview

It was spring, 1972, and suddenly I needed a job. Make that both of us needed a job.

My friend Chuck Pogue and I had written a musical. It was a sure boffo smash. It had everything, gangsters, gals, bumpkins (besides us), 20-30 songs (all stunners), and repartee (snappy, very snappy).

We had just spent the afternoon recreating the script and songs in Professor Charles Dickens’ (yes that was his real name) backyard. Charles seemed amused and amazed at the rampant hubris of two college actors whose musical education consisted of several years singing in a rock band for one and a teen years’ immersion in the films of Fred and Ginger for the other.

But the 100-page script and the sheer number of songs were undeniably real – maybe not real good, but real. How could Charles break the news to these aspiring Harbach & Youmans without also breaking their hearts?

He punted.

He promised he would mount a “backers’ audition”-style production of the show next fall if we would rewrite over the summer.



Chuck was from Northern Kentucky and my folks were living in Michigan. If we were to stay in Lexington that summer, we’d have to find a way to pay the bills. That meant getting a job.

Chuck got the bright idea of calling an acquaintance of ours who acted in local productions and owned a small chain of women’s sportswear shops. Our acquaintance gently pointed out our deficiencies for selling women’s sportswear, but mentioned his partner was just beginning to open a string of liquor stores and seemed to always need help.

Contact information followed and was followed up. There were two openings at two different stores. I got one interview, Chuck got the other. Off we went.

Chuck went to his interview impeccably groomed, coat and tie…and cape……and cane.
I went to my interview with shoulder-length hair, wearing jeans, moccasins, and my floppy leather Clint Eastwood hat.

I’m not sure which of us was more proud.

The store manager who conducted my interview was desperate. He had no other employees and was expecting a houseful of dinner guests in about 27 hours.

The interview consisted of four questions;

1. Do you know anything about liquor? Answer; nope.
2. Do you know how to run a cash register? Answer; never have, but I’m a pretty quick study.
3. Are you 21? Answer; yeah, my birthday was last week.
4. Can you start tomorrow? Answer; what time?

Chuck’s interview wasn’t quite as sanguine (I suspect the cane was a bit intimidating), but he soon got a job for the summer at Shillito’s department store.

My four-question grilling led to a job for the next 44 years.

It was a different time.

A Geezer Remembers; Bill Nave

I have a bunch of video tapes (I almost said “OLD video tapes”). I’ve been transferring them to discs off and on over the last five years. Occasionally I run across one that affects me a little too much.

The other day I picked up the tape of Bill Nave’s 1996 concert on the Guignol stage.


I miss Bill and frankly, as much I cherish living in present-day Lexington, it was an even better place when Bill was here.

Bill established two dinner theaters in Lexington; the Red Mile Dinner Theater (1970’s) and the Diner’s Playhouse (1980’s). There are still veterans of those theaters haunting Lexington’s theater scene today. I’ll let them raise their own hands.

Bill performed and performed well. The list of shows is long, but my favorite was his starring turn in MOST HAPPY FELLA (1983, I think) directed by Dr. Jim Rodgers in the Guignol. I was rehearsing THE FIFTH OF JULY in the Music Lounge (now the Dickens Movement Studio) next door. I’ve written about that experience in this blog before; “Hey, It’s What We Do”. During breaks and after rehearsal I would sneak into Bill’s rehearsals to watch.

Those efforts were important to Lexington theatre.

But the best was Café Chantant.

Café Chantant was his French restaurant. It was elegant, it was tasty, and it was civilized (“civilized” meaning it had a fine wine list).

It also had Le Cabaret in the basement. It was elegant, it was tasty, and it was civilized (“civilized” meaning the ghosts of Noel Coward and Cole Porter regularly materialized). It was open until the wee hours, an unusual thing for Lexington in those days. You could go to the theatre and finish the night at the Le Cabaret. Who knew such a thing was possible?

The company of Le Cabaret was witty, boisterous, a bit tipsy, and fiercely talented. Just when an evening seemed to be spinning into mayhem, Bill would unleash that voice and stun the room into gratitude for just being there to hear it. I loved those evenings.

In the concert on the tape, Bill explains that his first singing teacher was Nelson Eddy. His grandmother had a bunch of Nelson Eddy records (I almost said “OLD Nelson Eddy records”). Bill would listen to them and imitate what he heard. Similarly, my first singing teacher was Bill. He would perform around town in shows and at the Café Chantant. I would hang on every song like a groupie. I would imitate his sound and his demeanor. I never achieved either, but trying led me to far better places artistically than I would have ever found on my own.

Bill was smart, gracious, generous, and he sang like a dream. All of that was in full view on the concert tape.

I still miss Bill.