Highway 61 (4th installment of a 5 part series)

During the day Cheryl schlepped burgers and fries, tofu and bean sprouts to self-important guys in full beards, shoulder-length hair and wire-rimmed glasses who were patiently waiting for a befuddled world to recognize their genius. They were usually accompanied by humorless girls in ankle-length, tie-dyed muumuus, long, straight hair, sun-glasses and a world-weary, cynical attitude. It seemed like there was always at least on person in the restaurant reading Das Kapital as they waited for their food.

Though she saw through its pretensions, Cheryl liked this new place—everybody here was searching for something and at least had a vague idea what it was. Where she came from no one was looking for anything and they all seemed to like it that way.

At night Cheryl returned alone to the restaurant or with a few others to cover girl-group songs and folk rock artists such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. She earned ten bucks a set and less than a month after her arrival, had something of a local reputation. Frequently she was asked to sit in for a singer or guitar player absent from area groups—rock, folk-rock groups and the occasional country-western band.

Six weeks after limping into town Cheryl quit waitressing and devoted all of her time

to music. Playing 4 or more sets a day, 7 days a week she honed her craft to a razor-edge.

Her life had undergone enormous and rapid change—Cheryl was certain she was moving forward on her journey toward that shining moment when it would all come into focus

and maybe she would be happy—maybe not—but at least it would all make sense.

It was only a matter of time before a number of disaffected members of other bands approached Cheryl—who was now considered something of a prodigy—about starting a band of their own.  In late June of 1968, a new house band opened at The Celibate Stone—“Highway 61,” an homage to Dylan’s album, “Highway 61 Re-visited.”

Highway 61 did not “explode onto the scene” as Cheryl and the others might have liked but did quite well as a college-town house band and maintained a fairly steady play schedule around the Research Triangle area—Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. Everybody in the band was able to eat and pay their bills. With Cheryl playing lead guitar and singing lead vocals their reputation as a solid, entertaining, professional band grew steadily—they were even able to buy a van and trailer.

By January of ’69 Cheryl and the other members of “Highway” found themselves opening for promising groups on the east coast college circuit headed for the big time—groups like Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Alan Stivell.

Following the last set at Mitch’s Tavern, a small club in Raleigh, Graham Nash came out to the alley where the band was loading their equipment and expressed his appreciation for their performance. Nash asked Cheryl what artists influenced her (other than CS&N of course). Cheryl could not understand why she was instantly drawn to Nash—she had met a few other fairly famous musicians and didn’t react this way. A total stranger—she almost felt as though she loved him.

She said her performing style was influenced mostly by Judi Collins and Carole King but her creative energy and artistic inspiration came from Jim Morrison. The other band members were surprised to see their lead singer gushing, her eyes sparkling, like a school girl (which she really was) as she shared her feelings about Morrison with someone who might know him. Nash listened thoughtfully, nodding silently. He said he had to go but as he turned to leave said something like,

“I know Jim a bit—and if I may be so bold Cheryl—you shouldn’t confuse talent with its owner. Art and the person who creates it are not the same. Jim has his own trip through life—he’s chosen a tough path. You have your own Cheryl—only you can make your journey—don’t look to others.”

Cheryl was momentarily stunned—for a second she thought her knees would buckle when Nash said—“only you can make your journey…” Shaken and moved, riding back in the van—Cheryl realized it was not just Graham Nash talking to her in the dark alley behind Mitch’s—it was her uncle.


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