Le Mort Rouge - L'Amour Rouge

Back in the '60s we had a band, and we tried using a jug for a bass. The good news is that when you play jug you deprive your brain of oxygen and can get really blitzed really quickly. The bad news is that it doesn't sound very good, and when you are really blitzed you can't keep time or tuning in any recognizable form.

Our next effort involved getting a washtub bass. We were moving up, though slowly. Now we had wonderful tone, but there was no volume, and generally was not in tune - and often not in time. Little things, I know, but even at our level of musicianship such things were noticed. So we put out the word that we needed a real bass - a stand up bass violin.

Mind you, we had no money to approach this problem through rational channels.., we were hoping for manna from heaven I guess. As sometimes happens in life, our fervent and disordered prayers were answered. Some young lady at a party said "Oh, I know where there's a bass that ya'll can have!" So we organized an expedition: Clarke had a station wagon, one of the few vehicles in our circle of friends that had more than two wheels. It was a huge behemoth of a car that must have been a combination of Ford and Pullman. It could sleep seven - and also had room for a bass.

Now it turned out that the bass was not actually going to be given to us... It seems that it was in a sorority house at FSU. They had acquired it though some questionable machinations, and used it for a part of their Christmas (?) decorations. Now it was an embarrassment and taking up needed space. It needed to go away, but without anyone knowing about it. We apparently had been selected to help out.

Just like on "Mission Impossible" we were given a map and a very specific time. At the specified time we drove up to the back door of the seemingly deserted sorority house and nervously entered by the unlocked door. By following the map we quickly came to the upstairs room containing "the bass". We grabbed it and made our getaway.

Once back home we checked out our bass. It was red. By this I mean RED. As in fire engines, barns, Christmas decorations and spray bomb paint. The fingerboard was covered with glitter, and the peg head was gone. As I was the repair person, it became my charge. Richard Tolli named it " Le Mort Rouge" and we strung it up with nylon rope. I hope that none of you have tried this. While this product was within our budgetary constraints, the nylon never (ever) quit stretching. I was eventually able to up-grade with a set of real Golden Spiral bass strings which had been only slightly used for about 10 years and were being discarded by someone who had purchased new ones.

Yep, I still have it. It turned out to be a solid wood instrument, probably German from about 1900. It is now restored and painted - still red - but with a translucent violin varnish instead of spray bomb auto paint.

"Le Mort Rouge" has been retired from playing out for some time now and never leaves home. One of the reasons that I have kept it through the years is because once when I went on a journey I left it with my younger brother, a budding artist and musician. When I returned from my trip I found that he had painted a very 60's mural on the back of my bass. I was appalled. Craig was very proud. And in fact he had done a wonderful job...yellow sub, blu meanies, big Indian, flag... And after all, what else can be done with a RED bass? When I restored the bass I left Craig's artwork intact.

Postscript: For many years I have wondered if "Le Mort Rouge" should be masculine or feminine gender. At the Florida Folk Festival this year (2013) I finally remembered to ask a Real French person for critique. We were wrong; Regine assured us that it should be the feminine "La Mort Rouge". My apologies for this butchery the French language for the past 40 odd years. The good news is that "La Mort Rouge" can easily be morfed into "L'Amour Rouge". The Red Love is probably a most appropriate name change for our restored Bass.