ICYMI: Originally published June 7, 2017
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
There I stood alone at the bar with none of my friends on a Saturday night at the historic Horseshoe Tavern.
One foot on the brass rail, one hand on a Diet Coke --- light on the ice, please -- and head down looking my phone sitting on bar.
In the midst of trying to match wits with my son via text message, suddenly those circular bar coasters were flying past my head, hitting me in the chest and arm.
Looking up whom did I see at the corner of the bar some 10 feet away firing spinners at me -- with the aim of Jimmy Key or Mark Buehrle -- was none other than umpire Joe West, who had worked the plate that afternoon at the Rogers Centre as Marco Estrada outpitched Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers for a 3-1 win.
I slapped my hand on the bar and yelled “HEY BAR TENDER!!!!” Like the Johnny Lee song as in the old days when after a Montreal Expos game at the Olympic Stadium I’d run into John McSherry, Lee Weyer or West. It was only on those nights “when the Boulevard would beckon,” (usually Crescent or Bishop) to quote the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers ball scribes Gordie Verrell and Terry Johnson.
But that was in the 1980s when we were so much younger. We’re all older than that now.
I ordered another Diet Coke -- light on the ice -- and a round of teas for West and Andy Fletcher, who had a dusty day working first base.
West was at the Horseshoe for the same reason I was ... to see Jordan Gibbons, daughter of manager John Gibbons, and her band Southtown sing some country. But I had bad news for West.
“Hey Cowboy, about 10 minutes ago I heard a customer ask for tickets to see the bands ... the bartender said ‘Sorry, tickets were sold out two weeks, we may be out of luck.”
Quick on his feet as always he replied: “Well, (first base coach) Tim Leiper told me there was country music here tonight and if there isn’t any ... Gibbons is getting run in the second inning tomorrow,” joked West.
West and Fletcher were on the pass list.
I paid the $35 and in we went.
So how good was Jordan Gibbons when she sang at the Horseshoe we wondered? West knows the strike zone better than I do and he is better versed in country music as well.
After all, West has played at such country shrines as Gilley’s in Pasadena, Tex., Billy Bob’s in Dallas, the Handle Bar J’s in Phoenix and Bobby Mackey’s in Wilder, Ky., across the river from Cincinnati. We first saw him sing at the Hunter’s Horn in Montreal, which was an Irish pub. The man can belt ‘em out.
West has appeared at the Grand Ole Opry with Charlie McCoy and the Hee Haw Band, as well as performing with George Jones, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee. He recorded the Blue Cowboy album in 1987 and Diamond Dreams in 2008. His go-to songs are “Momma Don’t Allow No Music Playin’ Around Here” and “Memphis.”
He mentions names in stories such as country singers as Merle Haggard and Randy Travis the way he might mention Gary Carter or Dick Williams.
How good was lead singer Jordan Gibbons and Southtown?
“Jordan seemed relaxed and had great tempo ... and looked very professional,” West said, “Jordan was a cross between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris.”
That’s some high marks from a man with a keen ear for evaluating.
Known to his friends as “Country Joe,” or “Cowboy,” he has made a few enemies in his 39 years of umpiring in the majors, but keeps on chugging along.
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, West will become the third umpire in major league history to reach the 5,000 regular-season games. Working in his 40th season, he will join the likes of Hall of Famer Bill Klem (5,369 games) and Bruce Froemming (5,163). Both worked 57 years.
* * *
In the dressing room Joe West explained to Jordan and the band how George Jones would compile a song list: for a live concert: putting a series a fast-moving songs together, then some slow ballads and then firing up the crowd again with some toe tappers.
I have been in a lot of dressing rooms or clubhouse as they are called in baseball. This was the first time to speak to an entertainer since oh about 1981 in Hull, Que. Dressed in my pin-striped, three-piece, grey suit and grey Stetson, I covered a James Brown concert for the late Ottawa Journal.
I don't remember much about Brown except that he was outstanding and vice nice later answering my questions. I do recall the entertainment editor chewing me out for talking to the talent -- he said I should have just reviewed it. And secondly when Brown's assistant told me I could come in the room in five minutes, I waited outside. A reporter from a competing newspaper came up and asked.
"You Mr. Brown's manager?"
I just glared at him, didn't say yes, didn't say no.
"Well, will Mr. Brown be talking tonight."
Again I stared.
He left ... hey those were the competitive days of newspapers.
* * *
Now, a tour through the two sets.
Southtown, composed of Gabriel Acevedo (drummer), Colton Daniels (bass player), Dana Smith (electric guitar), Jenn Sawyers (back up vocals) and Jordan Gibbons (vocals and rhythm guitar) opening for Rheostatics, with Dave Bidini ...
This song was written by Jordaan for everyone who wants to quit day jobs, move to the beach in Mexico and drink margaritas all day long, without a care in the world!
2. How Long.
Every country band needs a cheating song and this is Southhtown’s. Smith’s slide guitar parts stood out on this one.
Jordan wrote this song while going through a break up. It’s about looking back on a relationship with fond memories and a deep respect for one another after it comes to an end.
4. Let You Love Me.
This into received the loudest reaction from the packed house as Jordan told the crowd how she “was watching a 60 minute special on Josh Donaldson last year when title came to me.” Donaldson’s high school coach was asked: “What do you love about Josh?” The coach replied, “Josh is the kind of guy that lets you love him.” Jordan explained how “it was such a cool way to describe someone and thought it was a great title.”
Jordan lost a childhood friend, Kameron, about a year and a half ago. When Jordan heard the news ... “I had no words, my heart broke for her, for her daughter, and for her family. She was such a beautiful girl with a beautiful spirit. I wrote this song the night I got the news. It was my way of processing and grieving what had happened.”
6. You’ll Do For Now.
A song is about settling in a relationship. A conversation with Jordan’s friend about his on-again-off-again girlfriend inspired the idea.
A love song, and just a feel good song. Jordan says, “I always love playing this one.”
* * *
While Saturday night was a list of original songs, the next day was singing in front of a much larger crowd.
Booked by the Blue Jays executive Kristy Boon and Marnie Starkman for Sunday afternoon on Country Day at Rogers Centre, Southtown sang mostly songs recorded by others ...
Set 1 (Ten Minutes)
1. Gun Powder and Lead by Miranda Lambert
2. Our Song by Taylor Swift
3. My Church by Maren Morris
Set 2 (Ten Minutes)
1. Pontoon by Little Big Town
2. Momma’s Broken Heart by Miranda Lambert
3. Kiss Me In The Dark by Randy Rogers Band
Set 3 (Ten Minutes)
1. Boot Scootin’ Boogie by Brooks and Dunn
2. How Long - Original Song
3. Automatic by Miranda Lambert
Set 4 (Ten Minutes)
1. Your Cheating Heart by Patty Loveless
2. Beautiful - Original Song
3. Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker
In Game Songs:
Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band
Take Me Out To The Ball Game
* * *
Southtown headed home to San Antonio and will make their EP -- extended play list of above five or six songs.
The Blue Jays lost that Sunday afternoon as Andrew Cashner beat Joe Biagini.
For Southtown, the group recorded a win on Saturday night and a win on Sunday.
When they hit Customs at Pearson International and were asked if they had anything to declare the answer should have been “two out-STAND-ing shows.”