daily grist; be careful of the health books you read. You may die from a misprint. Mark Twain
While reading a post from Randy Pitts on Facebook recently, he mentioned the name Clarence Van Hook. I said to myself; myself, I know that name from somewhere and then let it bounce around inside my memory bank for about two weeks until I remembered where I heard it, or rather when and where I met him. It was 45 years ago about this time of the year that my good friends Vern and Ray were booked to play the original freight salvage in Berkeley. You’ll notice that I said freight salvage instead of the current usage of freight and salvage when designating the venue. The original sign on the original venue plainly stated; freight salvage. Just a little tidbit thrown in there, because in my mind I can still see the yellow background for the red letters on the original sign. But back to the story.
It was a Friday night if I remember right, and Vern and I left Valley Springs California about 530 in the evening in his yellow Volkswagen beetle and headed over the hill to Berkeley to play some music.for the folks. The show didn’t start until eight o’clock, so we had plenty of time to get there, and arrived about 715. Ray was already there as was Rick Schubb, and his wife Markie, who played banjo and bass in the band. We were in the back room getting warmed up, ( physically and mentally. Physically due to a shot of Jack Daniels ) when into the room walked this black gentleman with a smile a mile wide ! Vern said out loud; as I live and breathe, that has got to be Clarence van hook ! Clarence said, it sho nuff is! How is .y’all doin’ ? After handshakes and hugs all around Vern said JD, meet a good friend of mine who is also an Arkansas boy like us, Clarence van hook. Vern told me that Clarence is also a hell of a good singer too, and I know he will probably get up and do a couple songs with us, right Clarence? You better believe it he said, I’ll do a couple of gospel numbers with you if you don’t mind. Anything you want to do with us is fine said Vern. So, it was show time and off they went to a packed house.
During the break between the first and second set we were all in the back room and Clarence magically produce a bottle containing honest-to-goodness Arkansas moonshine he said. Naturally we all sampled it and pronounced it as some of the finest quality “shine”ever produced by the distillers art. Clarence allowed as to how he brought back three or four jugs of good moonshine the last time he went back Arkansas to visit his folks. Said his cousin had a small hog farm, and a great big still to make shine. ( the smell from a hog farm covered up the smell from the still, which is very distinctive and once you smell it you know that somebody is making shine, hence the need for the hog farm.) in the course of the conversation Vern asked Clarence how long it had been since he had been back to Arkansas? Clarence replied, at least 10 or 15 years. Vern got this big grin on his face and said to Clarence; this”shine”tastes like it’s pretty fresh to me, I’d say about a month or so. Clarence get this sheepish look on his face, grinned a little bit, and said you sho’ don’t miss much buddy. To tell the truth Clarence said, folks out here don’t know what shine making smells like so I run off a couple of batches a year for just me and my friends.
That’s where I met Clarence Van Hook and got to sample some of the finest Arkansas shine ever made. And Vern was right too, Clarence was a great performer who could really sing a great gospel song, I have often wondered if Clarence is still alive and kicking. It was my pleasure to make your acquaintance my friend. Great memories of days gone by.