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Gallup, New Mexico’s Weird Darryl never achieved the same level of fame as other outlaw country stars, but he was perhaps the best of the bunch. Embroiled in a vicious contractual dispute with Columbia, Darryl was never permitted to release even a single album during his lifetime. But he didn’t let this stop him from doing what he loved. Along with his trusty backing band The Gusty Winds, Weird Darryl tore up the underground circuit throughout the 80s, thrilling audiences with his unique brand of not just one but both kinds of music, booking dive bar gigs from the road via payphone, frequently playing multiple towns in the same night. Along the way, Darryl befriended everyone from Darla Cross to Joe Ely to ex-Beatle Ringo Starr who enjoyed a brief stint as The Gusty Winds’ drummer in ‘86.
Weird Darryl is sadly no longer with us, but his music will live on forever in our hearts. Here, for the first time ever, is an oral history of the last days of The Gusty Winds, compiled by Freddy Keane, longtime curator of the world’s only Weird Darryl fanzine.
Larry Ford: We were touring all the time. I mean literally all the time. One year we played - I think - 392 gigs. I told Darryl I thought that was too many gigs, and you know what he said to me? He said, “Larry, relax. It’s a leap year. It’s not as bad as it sounds.” All I know is that it was still more gigs than nights. I couldn’t take it anymore. [Lead guitar player] Curtis couldn’t either. We called a meeting and told Darryl we were done.
George Maloney: When I heard that Curtis and Larry had quit the band, I thought it was over. The Gusty Winds had played literally thousands of gigs with the same lineup. They were a model of consistency. Sure Weird Darryl was the charismatic frontman, but to me, all the members were vital to the unit’s collective identity.
Chuck Benson: Darryl showed up at my office one day and said, “Chuck, we need a new drummer and a guitar player, too. Who should we get?” I said I’d look into it and set up some auditions, which I did. Of course, out of all the guys I auditioned for both jobs, Darryl refused to hire any of them. Instead he picked Jim [Eagle] to play guitar. Jim was a local kid who’d been sneaking into the band’s gigs for years prior to his eighteenth birthday. And of course we all know who ended up drumming.
Ringo Starr: I first met Weird Darryl in the early 80s. I had been roaming around, trying to find a label to release my latest album. I went to stay with a friend in Tulsa for a couple weeks and almost every night we’d go over to Cain’s to grab a couple beers and see whoever was playing. Well one night it was The Gusty Winds. I didn’t get recognized around Tulsa all that often, but I thought Darryl noticed me. I could just tell. Near the end of the set, he went up to the mic and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Ladies and gentleman...Ringo Starr!” I don’t think the audience really knew what was going on. Then the band went straight into “Act Naturally” - an old Buck Owens song which I used to sing in The Beatles. Darryl looked at me and gave me this little shrug as if to say, “Well, are you coming up here or not?” So I shrugged right back at him and went on stage and sang it with the band. We kept in touch and a few years later I ended up drumming for The Gusty Winds full time.
George Maloney: They tried to keep Ringo incognito at first. Darryl was absolutely adamant that this was not a publicity stunt. Ringo was his buddy and the best man for the job. That’s all there was to it. So the plan was each night Ringo would go out there wearing a wig and hat and sunglasses. It only took two or three shows for the cover to be blown. One night Darryl is introducing the band between songs and he says, “And on the drums…all the way from Liverpool...Pete Best!” Then he starts doing this ridiculous capella version of “Octopus’s Garden.” After another week or two they abandoned the whole disguise thing altogether and just accepted the inevitable media circus that came with it.
Jim Eagle: I was thrilled when Weird Darryl asked me to join The Gusty Winds. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been going to their shows since I was fourteen. I remember how Darryl used to refuse to sign autographs for anyone. As a kid, I thought that was maybe the most punk rock thing I’d ever heard of. Later when I was a little older and a member of the band, I realized that no one had ever taught him how to write cursive. Ringo and I joined at the same time, so we had that in common, but I still felt a separation from him. Some of us kind of resented having him around. We were a good band that didn’t need that kind of sideshow.
Chuck Benson: In ‘86, there was this growing tension in the group, but also this sense that a big break was on its way. And it almost happened. With Ringo in the mix, we were finally getting some press coverage. Neil Young got in touch with me and asked if the band would play Farm Aid. This was only the second year for Farm Aid and it was going to be at this racetrack in Texas. Neil hadn’t personally heard the band but he booked them based on a glowing recommendation from Joe Ely, who was also going to be playing. Of course, the van broke down on the way there and the band never made it to the show. One of the few gigs Weird Darryl and The Gusty Winds ever canceled - and easily the biggest.
Joe Ely: I was devastated when the band couldn’t make it to Farm Aid. I had put in a good word for them and I thought this was their chance. And then they didn’t even show up. Neil never let me play Farm Aid again.
Darla Cross: After the whole Farm Aid debacle, the label dispute really started to wear on Darryl. He knew he’d make it big if he could find a way to cut just one record. We both firmly believed that with all of our hearts. But the lawyers he talked to said there was just no way to maneuver himself out of it. I was visiting Gallup one night and we went out to Pizza Hut. Right after we ordered, he told me he was gonna call it quits. I tried to talk him out of it, but he went ahead and asked Chuck to set up one final show.
Chuck Benson: Darryl called me and told me it was over. He wanted me to book the last hurrah for the band in just two weeks’ time. Darryl worked harder than anyone else I’d ever met. He treated his band like a full-time job, which it certainly was. And he quit the band just like a regular job, too - on two weeks’ notice. That left me scrambling. I couldn’t book a large enough venue for the show on that short of notice, so we decided to just do an outdoor gig in Gallup and we made it free so everyone could come.
Ringo Starr: Chuck rented a generator and a P.A. from someone and we built a makeshift stage out at Crazy Creek. By the way, Crazy Creek isn’t really a creek. There isn’t any water in it. I grew up in England, not New Mexico, so I didn’t really know about this kind of stuff. We got out there and I asked Darryl, “Where’s the creek?” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re standing in it.”
Jim Eagle: That last show at Crazy Creek was really something. Tons of people, flags and banners waving everywhere. Everyone was tailgating and grilling hot dogs, throwing them to us on stage. No one believes me now - maybe someone who was there can confirm it - but I caught a hot dog with my mouth while I was playing the solo in “Both Kinds.” I took one bite and the rest of it fell to the ground since my hands were obviously busy playing guitar. It was the best damn set we ever played.
George Maloney: That night was as tight as I’d ever seen the band play. It was incredible. Darryl’s voice as smooth and resonant as the first time he ever sang. Jim’s guitar just blazing. Ringo holding it together like only Ringo could. Darla coming out to do “Chicken and Waffles.” Truly a moment in time.
Darla Cross: It was a hell of a night. A party like no other party I’ve ever been to and some of the best music I’ll ever hear. But at the same time, there was this foreboding sense of what could have been hanging over a lot of us.
Joe Ely: Darryl just never really got his chance, you know? Despite touring year round for nearly a decade. Despite singing duets with Darla Cross who had five gold records before her twenty-fifth birthday. Despite having a fucking Beatle as a member of his backing band. What more could he have done? I know life isn’t fair, but it still gets to me sometimes. I’m just not sure there will ever be another Weird Darryl.
Interviewees in order of appearance
Larry Ford - original drummer of The Gusty Winds
George Maloney - Albuquerque Journal music columnist
Chuck Benson - band manager
Ringo Starr - replacement drummer and former Beatle
Jim Eagle - longtime fan and eventual lead guitar player
Darla Cross - international country music superstar
Joe Ely - fellow musician and friend of the band