I try to write stories, sometimes, about my family history. I want to make sure my kids have them. And I realized recently I’m the last one who knows most of the tales so I better write them down.
My first husband Vic Latham is a brilliant mess. He was also, it seems, a muse for some of the most famous and talented artists in American history, from Jimmy Buffett to Phil Caputo. He’s always had a cruel and elegant way of twisting the English language. Years ago, he came up with one of my favorite lines describing a smuggler friend, “he had that rich glint of lunacy”. He is a huge man, nearly six foot six, but I always thought Danny DiVito should play him in a movie.
In the 1960’s Vic was living in New Orleans, bar tending at The Kings Room. Now he’s gnarled and gray. Once a newspaper described him as a cross between Orson Well and Santa Claus. But back them he was something to look at. Towering over most men with black hair, a black goatee and a voice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
He had a friend named Jerry who was a drifter and street musician at the time. For several weeks in 1966 Jerry had been crashing on Vic’s couch and then he went missing. Finally, Vic found him, in jail.
After bailing Jerry out of jail for $52 dollars they went out and ate hot dogs. While they were eating Jerry pulled out a piece of yellow legal pad paper and said, “check out this song I wrote while I was locked up.”
Vic read it and said something polite. He was still thinking about his lost fifty two dollars. He knew he’d never see that cash again.
A year later Vic was in some dive, outside new Orleans and dropped his change in the juke box. There was a song called “Mr. Bojangles” that seemed familiar but he didn’t recognize the name of the artist. When the song started, Vic realized immediately what he was listening to. Jerry had changed his name to Jerry Jeff Walker and the song Mr. Bojangles was his first big hit.
Since that night Vic bailed Jerry Jeff out of jail he’s gone on to realease more than two dozen albums and is a legend in Texas and the world of Country music.
When Vic first told me this story I thought it was bull shit. Then one day, Jerry Jeff called our house in Key West. He wanted Vic to play golf with him and jokingly offered to pay back that $52 bucks. Well hell, that time the story was true.
“The rich glint of lunacy” ….that’s actually the perfect way to describe Vic.