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Tributes to Gamble

"Dance For Gamble" by Margie LaRoe

The following story was written by Margie LaRoe as a tribute to Gamble Rogers, Florida and National songwriter, storyteller and folksinger, who died while attempting to save a drowning Canadian tourist at Flagler Beach, south of St. Augustine, Florida in October of 1991. The story was performed live at the 2001 Gamble Rogers Folk Festival and was awarded first place in the "I Remember Gamble Rogers Contest." The festival is held each year in St. Augustine the first weekend in May. The story is reinforced throughout by not only the names and expressions of the colorful characters he invented, but also with the many vernaculars Gamble used to deliver so eloquently in his performances; for example, the opening line is a direct takeoff from Gamble¹s line, "Is there a man amongst you who can tell me the meaning of nostalgia?" "He was my mentor, and I miss him."

Margie LaRoe

Dance for Gamble

I'M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT THERE IS A WOMAN amongst you who can tell you the meaning of nostalgia! Rememberin' Gamble Rogers always makes me smile, but there was one particular time when I couldn't build a smile - not on this face! I was bumper-to-bumper on I-295, circlin' back to South Jacksonville, headin' home late from work and listenin' to NPR. "All Things Considered" could pretty much settle my soul from the churnin's of a tempestuous workday no matter how fierce, but this time the news was bad, really bad. The words from the John Stewart song Gamble sang to stardom, "July, You¹re a Woman," sprang into my consciousness as I heard the dreadful news that October day in 1991 - "We¹ve just lost Gamble."

After my strangled gasp, my right hand jerked to the knob on the car radio as if to change the dreadful fact. Tears had welled in my "baby blues," and the hand still on the steering wheel was none-too-steady to compete with the aggressive "cosmic cowboys" in the lanes surrounding me. I muttered an epithet a proper southern belle never uses (Shit!) and gave in to my surgin' sorrow, pullin' ole Margaret Mustang over to the side of the road, oblivious to the blatant blast of some S.O.B.'s horn behind me. As the passing traffic rocked the small car, I lay my forehead on my hands grippin' the steering wheel, and let the anguish take me. Sure, all of us were cheated when Gamble left us so early, but for me...well, the news was personal!

My 64 & 1/2 Mustang laid some gravel as I jetted her back into the line of crazies a while later, working the manual shift with a vengeance, mascara and blush conjoined in a turbid shade on my tear-streaked cheeks. I settled into the long, slow drive over the St. Johns River.

It was a stellar fall day! 'Bright and beautiful!' Sunny, and still windy following the storminess. Pleasure boats moved below on the river and a crabber churned by, headin' home after settin' his pots. A heapin' case of "Florida Crackerness" swept over me then; windows down, freckled arm on the sill, wrist danglin' over the wheel, nose sniffin' the wind like a hound, searchin' for that trace of marsh sea scent.

Good ole Margaret was used to auto-pilot 'cause I'd driven her for 23 years, babied now at cautious speeds in her old age with an extra quart of 30-weight Havoline stowed in the truck at all times, just like my Daddy'd taught me. I let the breeze blow my red curls into a Lil' Orphan Annie "Do," and ignored the truck driver in the big 18-wheeler tryin' to get his rig beside me on the bridge, anglin' for a peek at my legs below the hiked-up skirt as I sat low in the bucket seat.

My thoughts remained on Gamble. Well, heck, it was a Gamble kind of day in Florida! No wonder he was goofin' off at the beach! And leave it to Gamble to charge in and try to help his fellow man... Damn! I must have somethin' in my eye...Would you just look at this day!

The rest of the drive home brought a flood of grand times to cherish and relish. Frenzied, crowded nights in Gainesville over some 20 years ago at roadhouses where the locals and the university students would try to crowd into the front seats for another "Gamble Gig!" Magical nights at the Tradewinds in St. Augustine, sportin' a sunburn, sand in my underwear, fresh seafood in my belly, suckin' on a Chivas n' water! 'So much laughter I'd drive home grinnin' and wake up dead the next mornin', nursin' a killer hangover. But I'd be goofy all day, laughin' out loud, rememberin' something Gamble'd said the night before.

He had an ability beyond the gift of gab! 'N much as I'd like to tell my stories like Gamble did, I know I'll just never come close! Besides, sly Gamble was not only shrewd and sweetly gifted in song and verse, but he was also one of those wonderfully bony, lanky Southern boys who could work a crowd with a cleverness and skill unbeknownst to most! I only knew that I had been bamboozled‹totally captivated by his charms! Hoo-o-o-o-o-boy! He had me in his spell, just like the Shiek of Araby! Only I was a proper married woman then, so...whew! I¹d hang on every word, every inflection, every punch line; and then, when his music flowed, and those bony fingers'd pick those strings, and he¹d sing about that woman named ³July,² and,... well, I'd just feel so-o-o-o-o-o good! Hah! 'N ole Gamble knew I did - me always sittin' on the front row - even if he didn't know my name! We'd exchanged those long, long looks more'n once! I knew that HE knew that he'd seen ME before!

I gently eased Margaret into her slot for the night, climbed the stairs to my tiny apartment, ignored the cat, and poured a Chivas and water. I stepped outta my shoes. Then, I got out the old Gamble tapes, and for the next few hours, I joined Gamble's famous characters - the wise Agamemnon Jones, the capricious Hell's Belles, the luminous and imperious Ms. Eulalah Singleterry, the law-abiding enforcer Hutto Proudfoot, and the ponderous Still Bill. I reveled in the antics of the gritty Narcissa Nonesuch and the testosterone-teasing Trudy Butram, and I watched the pre-pubescent Sky Lake Campfire Girls from that nest of poison ivy until I was laughin' and cryin' at the same time! I wandered through Gamble's "Oklawaha County" with grace and abandon, welcomed in my meanderin's by one and all because I was...well,...I was a "regular" in both Snipes Ford and Bean Creek, having visited for so many years. I'd walked down the painted centerline in the dirt road and lined up with the locals and their current "pelvic affiliates" to watch the Honeydipper flip the Port-O-lets. Much wisdom had been imparted unto me at Erindale's Purina Feed Store by the "Wise Old Men," and I'd found heinous merriment on numerous occasions at The Baby Grande Movie House!

Finally, I set aside my glass and took off my blouse and skirt. I washed my tear-stained face and combed my hair. I selected a worn record jacket from its safe haven amongst the oldies on my sagging shelf. I tenderly stroked the platter with a soft cloth, set it to circling on the turntable, and briefly lay the sable hairs of an artist's brush across the surface. I eased the phonograph needle down onto that special cut, swayed back from the spinning ebony disc, and as the Chivas and the sensuous sound lured my feet, arms, and body into motion, and the sweet strains soughed into the surroundings of my small sanctuary, my soul - graced by God and styled by the devil - slipped silently into the environs of the smoky Terminal Tavern that was my tiny living room. There, on the dance floor, I joined the enterprising Penrod and his creative and winsome girlfriend, Elfrieda. I was soon lost - swirling, swooning, and smiling, clad only in my silk slip; immersed, as it were, in the throes of a sensitive and transcendental evocation of my own interpretative "Dance for Gamble" as the one and only Miss Peggy Lee sang "Fever" ninety-seven times.

© Steady Arm Music.