by Bobby Rock
On February 27, 1997, I almost died in an RV accident. Well, it probably wasn’t quite that dramatic, although the Texas Highway Patrol might disagree. At 1:30 AM—once my five other tour-mates and I had been carted off to two separate trauma centers near El Paso—an officer who had just arrived on the scene asked a few bystanders one question, as he surveyed the splintered remains of a motor home, strewn across the shoulder of the freeway:
"Were there any survivors?”
We were in the middle of a cross-country trek, driving from LA to Atlanta, to kick off what would eventually be a 140-city tour of clinics and club dates around North America. I had been doing a lot of this kind of touring in the 90s and had just taken delivery on a brand new Winnebago four days prior. I was on board with guitarist Neil Zaza, my long-time drum tech, Cubby, two other crew personnel, and an old friend we called Cobo, who had volunteered to help out with at least half the drive if we could drop him off in Houston en route. Our bassist, Bill "The Buddha" Dickens, had flown back to Chicago for a gig and was set to meet us in Atlanta a couple days later. (It turns out he was the lucky one!)
We left LA around noon. Cubby drove the first shift, then Cobo took over at some point in the evening. By midnight, the rest of us had turned in. Shortly thereafter, Cobo started getting sleepy, but was determined to make it to a truck stop in El Paso. Unfortunately, his determination wasn't enough to keep his eyelids open. He fell asleep at the wheel, jackknifed the gear trailer into a guardrail, and sent the RV rolling end-over-end four times across the West Texas desert. Not fun.
I had been sleeping in a bunk just above the cab and was thrown some 30 feet from the rig—catapulted, really—as everyone else, and all of our belongings, were scattered alongside Interstate 10. It was totally surreal, being jolted awake with all of that violent shaking and jarring, before soaring through the air like Superman… for a hot second, at least. Next thing we knew, fellow motorists were pulling over to help, and then a helicopter and an ambulance showed up to take all of our sorry asses to the emergency ward. Zaza and I were “fortunate” enough to wind up at a military facility, where one of my first orders of business was having a male nurse grab my johnson and say, “Sorry, dude,” before inserting a fucking catheter in me. Yoooowww! (Zaza wasn’t spared, either.)
Zaza and I, sorting through the post-crash wreckage
Miraculously, eighteen hours and a multitude of x-rays and evaluations later, we were all discharged. So we set up shop at a local motel and got to work. There was a ton of gear and personal effects to be recovered, and a full tour that had to be postponed for an undetermined amount of time. Yes, we had all escaped without life-threatening injury, but we were each dealing with varying degrees of "soft tissue trauma" that would require weeks, or even months, of rehab and recovery. Plus, we had some serious insurance company logistics to deal with, regarding a totaled RV and six separate medical claims. (I would eventually learn that this would be the largest single claim in the history of my provider!)
As it turned out, it would be eleven full weeks before we would hit the road again. (Figuratively, not literally!)
A full-page ad for the tour that ran in a bunch of different mags back then...
And while our original tour manager would only last a week out there, and Cubby would only be able to join us for the first part of the run (lingering back issues would send him home early), Zaza and I would be the only ones from the wreck to carry on for the full duration of the tour. Getting "back on the horse"—that is, back in the RV for those lengthy nightly drives between shows—proved to be quite challenging, psychologically. Trying to sleep in the back of a moving rig was tough. I guess we both had these PTSD-like symptoms that lingered, as our eyes would shoot open in our respective bunks with every bend or pop in the road. Eventually, we made our peace with tour life travel, although Zaza was never able to sleep in his bunk at night. Instead, he would sit up front in the passenger seat with his laptop or guitar, keeping constant tabs on whoever was driving until we reached our next destination... or until daybreak, whichever came first. Then he could sleep.
Residual anxieties aside, I know he and I both considered it a gift to be back in action, playing shows again. But the biggest gift of averting death is your renewed appreciation for life. Breathe in—Breathe out: Life is sweet… albeit never guaranteed from one moment to the next.
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Interested in more from this era? As a follow-up to my last memoir, The Boy Is Gonna Rock, my next book, Will Drum For Food, takes a deep dive into the Nelson era and beyond, covering the hard-touring clinic and club show days of the 90s, as sampled above. Stay tuned. Will continue to preview in the Newsletter first, so be sure and sign up for it....