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Q&A: Jerry Clayworth and Jeff Smith

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Jerry Clayworth

What’s your story with Taco Land?
I started going to Taco Land when I was roughly about 16 years old. This was in the mid-’80s. It was probably early ’84. I was still in school, and I went with a friend because we’d heard about this place and [there were] local rock ’n’ roll bands. We went in, and the first thing that happened was Ram came over to us and goes, “Hey, dudes, I need some ID.” We just kind of looked at each other, we’re just a couple of dumb kids looking for rock ’n’ roll music. We didn’t hang out in bars, certainly, at that age. So I remember my friend turned around and walked back outside, and I told him that we were there just to see the music and would it be OK if we stayed and watched the band? [Ram] said, “Yeah, as long as I don’t catch you with a beer. Don’t drink a beer in my place.” So that was it. The few times I went before I turned of age, never had any problems and never drank a beer, as I had promised him, until I was of drinking age. I think he understood that I respected that. He always treated me like I was a kid he had known for years, which is like he treated everybody. He gave almost everybody that shot. You’re a friend until you prove otherwise. Through the years I just went to Taco Land off and on for years and years and in ’85, ’86, I started booking some occasional shows at different little clubs. Eventually, that led to the idea of putting a band in Taco Land here and there. So I booked a couple shows at Taco Land along the way.

Which shows?
Oh, I did a little Southern Culture On The Skids in ’94, I believe. Around ’91 or ’92 I had a band called the Vomit Spots from Mobile, Alabama. … In fact, one of [Jeff Smith] old bands was on that bill, and that was maybe ’91 or ’92. … Anyway, that’s just where I started with Taco Land. I’d go in there any time I could. I’d try to go in the afternoon or early evening and just sit at the bar. That’s the time you could really visit with Ram, when there wasn’t a show going on and he wasn’t behind the bar doing business yet. He had a lot more time in the afternoons … You could sit at the bar and shoot the breeze with him. I saw so many shows there through the years, just great memories and great comfortable hangout — very much a family atmosphere. …

So you met Ram mainly at the bar?
Yeah. I never hung out with him, never was even at the little after-hours things that Ram was at or anything. Just knew him at the bar. The only family member that I knew or that I ever saw in there or that was ever pointed out as family was Tina Cruz. She was the wife. I’d see her in there every once in a while. I remember Ram called her “Buck.” That was the only name I ever knew her under. Tina explained to me later that “Tina” in Spanish is actually the word for “bucket.” But that’s all I ever knew. I’d see her, but I don’t recall that I ever had any conversations with her over those years. That was it. He would talk about his kids. Every so often he’d mention something about “his son this” or “his daughter this,” but I didn’t really know anything about his family life. You’d hear him say something about a son or a daughter, but I had no idea who they were or how many kids he had. I just knew that he had kids because he would bring up something about his kids here or there. He was going to fix his daughter’s car or one thing or another.

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