Voodoo DeVille Horns
grew up just south east of Chicago -- the home of the blues -- in a town called Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Stacks is the youngest member of Voodoo DeVille. But don't let his boyish good looks and young age fool you. His boyhood life in the coal mines and his path to the blues is some story to tell.
Like generations before him, Stacks dropped out of school in the 3rd grade to go to work as a "breaker boy" in the mines. The picture below shows Stacks along with other breaker boys during a their brief lunch break.
Life as a breaker boy was hard. His 12 hour work day started well before dawn. It took nearly 30 minutes to descend deep into the mine where he would spend his entire day, sitting on a bench in front of a stream of broken coal. His job as a breaker boy was to pick out the pieces of slate and rock from the coal. It was a miserable job, paying 25¢ a day, but Stacks kept at and soon he was promoted to "door boy," the dream of every kid in the mine. His job was to open and shut the door which the coal cars and miners passed through. The life of a door boy was much easier and paid more too -- 35¢ a day. But is was a lonely profession. He sat in the dark all day long by himself.
Stacks mentioned how lonely he was during the day to his uncle. His uncle told him he had the easiest job in the mine, so he'd better just shut his mouth and enjoy his good fortune. When he told Stacks this, his uncle could tell from the tears welling up in young Stacks' eyes that he'd hurt Stacks' feelings -- Stacks wasn't usually a complainer. So his uncle reached into his pocket and pulled out an old Marine Band harp in C. He wiped off the coal dust and handed it to Stacks.
"This sure is a nice harmonica, heyna?" his uncle said. "A man upda road give me this long ago. I use it sometime when I gets lonely. Mays well you should have it now to rid yourself of the lonelies down there inda mine." (They really talk like that in Wilkes Barre - honest!)
Stacks was beside himself. He couldn't thank his uncle enough. The harp became his constant companion. He practiced every day down in the mine as he sat in the dark by the door. He soon mastered all the beginner's favorites -- Oh Susanna, Red River Valley, Taps, Ode to Joy, Classical Gas, and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to name a few.
It was during this time of musical discovery and hard days in the mines that the young Stacks had his skull replaced (a true story).
Needless to say, Stacks' musical career took a giant leap forward when he quite serendipitously met up with the then young T-Bone, Rooster, and Delaware Destroyer. This was the beginning of Voodoo DeVille. The Stacks-man spent 5 great years with the band, contributing his vocal stylings and precision harp playing to many of the bands greatest hits. He wrote a number of original tunes for the band, including "Credit Card Shuffle" and the ever popular (particularly among parents of kids who just couldn't sit still, went from here to there, wouldn't pay attention, wouldn't listen, asked too many questions, and needed constant direction -- you know, kids being kids type kids), "A.D.D."
However, in the Fall of 2003, Stacks became restless. He knew there was more to life than endless blues gigs in bars and honky-tonks. He'd heard rumors that there were actually more than three chords and that the 12-bar blues structure was not a Federal law. He longed to stretch himself, to explore the inner Stacks. He was sure that his classic song creations "Credit Card Shuffle" and "A.D.D." were just the tip of his song writing iceberg. Realizing that since the rest of the band only knew three chords and that T-Bone had the 12-bar chord structure inextricably built into his DNA, Stacks knew that he'd have to go it alone. So, on Halloween eve, Stacks bid the Voodoo DeVille band a sad but fond adieu
. (Click here
for a few scenes from his farewell performance.)
Stacks was eager to explore his country side, so he straddled a Greyhound, rode into Raleigh then on across Carolina into Nashville, Tennessee. Armed with only his harmonica, a silk suit, and a suitcase in his hand, he launched his career as a country & western singer-songwriter. He knew it would be tough and tough it was. To make ends meet, he waited tables, mopped floors, delivered pizzas, and anything else he could do to pay the bills while he worked on his songs and went to audition after audition. His collection of name badges and hairnets grew to an impressive size. For a while, he was Dolly Parton's personal assistant but was let go when he was caught fashioning a harp case out of one of her support undergarments. He also tried his hand at being a Merle Haggard impersonator but that came to a halt when Merle himself sued Stacks for being just too good looking to play Merle. It was a struggle to say the least, but Stacks refused to let go of his dreams easily.
Stacks' big break came when he got a job on the rodeo tour as a singing rodeo clown. He would do the rodeo clown thing during the rodeo events and then sing his original compositions during breaks between the events. It was on the rodeo tour that Stacks first caught the eye of one of the cowgirls on the circuit who went by the name of Polk Salad Annie (and, contrary to popular rumor, we can happily report that the gator, in fact, did not get her granny). Annie was quite taken with his boyish good looks and his moving country & western compositions -- they were mini-epics of life in America, actually. Her cute freckled face and unbelievable skills with a lasso were not lost on Stacks either. The two quickly became quite close as the tour progressed and something of an item, sparking many rumors within the rodeo family. But in spite of the sometimes vicious rumors, the two were quite happy and Stacks was inspired to compose as never before.
Sadly, their happiness was short-lived. During a stop in Houston, both Stacks and Annie had a particularly good day. Stacks fearlessly saved an unfortunate cowboy from certain death when the cowboy was thrown and then chased by a particularly ferocious bull. Then, while singing his original songs during a break, the crowd just wouldn't let him stop. They kept cheering for one more song, and the ring was filled with panties, brassieres, and other unmentionables tossed his way by adoring female fans. Annie was equally successful that day -- she won every one of the cowgirl events and her roping skills were never better. She just couldn't miss. They were both truly at the top of their game.
So they decided to celebrate. First, they raided the mini-bar in Stacks' hotel room, emptying it of its alcoholic contents. They then emptied the mini-bar in Annie's room. Being still in high spirits and in need of more alcohol, they wandered down to the lobby and found that the Shapiro bah-mitzvah was going strong. So they crashed the party and took full advantage of the open bar. When the party ended, Stacks and Annie then made a decision that would change their lives forever.
Still searching for alcohol, Stacks spotted the Sterno burners that had warmed the selections in the food buffet. One by one, they blew out the flame on each burner and took turns knocking back the remaining Sterno. While the details are still fuzzy and uncertain, clearly events took a tragic turn for the worst at this point. Apparently, they two -- quite drunk, incoherent, and partially blind from the Sterno -- stumbled back to Annie's room. There, ignoring the certain danger, they engaged in a bizarre cowboy drinking game called "Lasso Mr. Johnson."
It was during this game that Annie's roping prowess, undoubtedly compromised by the Sterno-induced semi-blindness, let both her and Stacks down. Stacks (and his close friend Mr. Johnson) suffered a tragic and permanent injury. Shamed and embarrassed (and his singing voice now two octaves higher), Stacks slipped out of town unnoticed as soon as he was well enough to leave the hospital.
Where is Stacks now? Well, nobody knows for sure but there are stories. The one that most people believe is that he is now leading an all-girl country band touring in western Montana -- singing, playing harp, and, of course, writing the songs.
Here's the last known photograph of Stacks.
Good luck, Stacks! We still miss you.