Long Story in a Shoebox
is a poet, songwriter, organic blueberry farmer and changed man. He was held at gunpoint in the bowels of the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. At eighteen, he had a shotgun pointed at his back and was told to walk down a starry midnight road in bumfuck Maine. He’s been tear gassed, had riot guns held to his temples and shot at twice – but then, his songs have been lauded by yogis, scholars and saints. He’s talked with the dead and seen spirits. His band was invited to play at the first Woodstock. Six years after that he held a young man, bleeding out on his 21st birthday – waiting for an ambulance in a spreading pool of blood. Sales thinks his performance that night may have triggered the behind-the-bar violence – it was too edgy, dark and experimental. The ambulance didn’t make it in time. (was too late)
At 83, his dad went to the barber for a haircut. “Make it good, Tally,” he said, “I’m going to die tonight.” Being a strong and respectful man himself, Tally finished the haircut in silence. It wasn’t suicide. The coroner suspected it was “…force of will. Uncommon, but I’ve heard of it.”
Sales didn’t break into the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that night. A side door was left open. He and two friends just walked in. The Rector (main priest) of the Shrine didn’t believe it at first, “Are you saying an angel left that door open?” he mocked. “You tell me, Father!” Truth is, Sales and his friend were quite drunk. They just wanted to lay on the main altar and hoot until God showed up. It appears God had other crazy fish to fry that night, so he sent the police and Rector to sober them up.
Musicians make music for the same reason wildcats and drunken pilgrims howl. It’s out of respect for the supernatural nuke burning inside them. Sales howled his way through high school, skipping roughly one year’s worth of school out of three. In his sophomore year (’64), he was asked to perform at the Sophomore Showoff. He played Barret Strong’s “Money.” The crowd roared. Afterwards, the smartest and most beautiful girl in his class approached him with a funny look. It was at that point Sales realized the absolutely miraculous power of music.
Five years later they were married. First stop on their honeymoon was Joe Bussard’s now legendary studio in Maryland to record for Joe’s Fonotone Records. His jug band headlined the Memphis Country Blues Festival later that year, which generated enough noise to motivate Michael Lang to invite them to perform at Woodstock.
Sales has no regrets about blowing it off. Over the following decades he was offered numerous record deals, but he considered the calls from heads of A&R, or even his friend John Fahey, a loving distraction. He wasn’t ready. For him, it was all about converting the volcanic blood mystery inside him into a song.
Even after fifty-five years of writing, the volcano continues. He now has roughly a tractor trailer of songs. The diversity of songs is staggering. He’s written songs for NPR that were enormous hits for them. He’s been written about in four books. Over the decades his family, friends and fans pondered how someone could be so one-track stubborn.
It happens! “Uncommon, but I’ve heard of it.”