I just heard this amazing story by Benjamin Holmes on NPR’s Snap Judgement. To escape gang violence and a false, trumped up charge, he actually faked his own death and lived on the run for ten years, using his brother’s name until his wife unsuccessfully shot him for money. In the hospital he used his own name for the first time in a decade. Tired of running, he turned himself in to the FBI with a New York Times reporter and is now free and happy while his story helped the Feds in their efforts to clean up his city. His quote, “Her shooting me is actually what freed me”, struck a chord with me and I had to ask the question of you dear reader; What terrible event or even multiple events have shifted your perspective and have actually been a gift? One that comes to mind for me was my DUI.
Horrible having your liberty taken away, especially during that depressing time. I had finished an album with legendary producer Rick Hall of Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the bequest of Jerry Wexler. It eventually was released on EMI America with absolutely no push from the label and forgotten. And now, after my final tour with Dickey Betts and Great Southern, I had no new prospects on the horizon. My house had been foreclosed and I had developed a raging cocaine and alcohol problem. My father, Buddy Yochim, had just died and we really didn’t have our relationship together. I still grieve over being drunk and freaking out the entire time he was dying. Then all of his siblings, my aunts and uncles that I loved dearly, died in a row… it was like dominoes. During all of this time I wasn’t really singing or doing anything worth a damn and, even when I did, I was blackout drunk and belligerent, upset over having “ruined my life”, being taken advantage of, of trusting the wrong persons and/or not making the right decisions, not signing this contract, having signed that one and gotten screwed, you name it. I was pissed, and regretful, upset and fretting and worried, all the horrible feelings. Desperate to make something happen, I put myself in shady situations with shady people that left me broken, empty and depleted. Truly at my bottom, I thought. Until the lights in my rearview mirror.
I had gone to a 12-step meeting earlier that night, and told them I was still drinking but wanted to stop and on the way home, I was pulled over. I managed to toss the half full Four Loko out of the window unnoticed and was arrested. It hit the front page of the Herald and the Tribune the next day, with my horrid mug shot on the cover. The story ran in both papers and on SNN news for four or five days. The police report said I was singing gospel. Of course I wasn’t singing gospel, but I was singing, to myself, to calm myself.
That night I spent in jail (the screws are horrible to everyone, evil comes to mind), I was in a cell with four other girls my daughter’s age. Some had been in there for 9 months for possession. They asked me about myself and asked me to sing something. I sang Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” to them, one of my all-time favourites. I sang it soft and slow and, when I was finished, they were all asleep. That moved me. I knew that I had made my decision. I would use this experience and pull out of this black hole I’d been in. I had to help myself and others, no matter what. I was terrified, but as my brother Tony always says, “It’s just hard, that’s all it is, no one’s bleeding.”
When they released me the next day I had to walk a mile to the main road, because they don’t tell anyone that you’ve been released. I found a store, made a call to my brother, and spent my last change on a can of Foster’s. That was the last drink I ever had, almost five years ago. The terror of facing jail and not understanding what was going to happen to me, plus coming off of an addiction, on top of the shame and guilt that I was allowing to surface by not drowning it in alcohol, made that one very difficult week. But, I constantly said mantras of prayer and hope, I had the intense support of my brother (who I had put through hell, who circled the wagons and put this band together for me), a twelve step program and the wisdom of a legion of recovering alcoholics.
After I had been sober for a while I got a phone call. It was Sean Murphy from Eat Here. He had seen the story in the paper and he graciously wanted to hire us as the house band at his new place on Main Street. (Later he would set up an interview with the Herald. The editor told me that they had received so much hate mail after running the DUI story and that I had a lot of supporters who had threatened to cancel their subscriptions.) It was a great match. The band was able to play together all the time to an immensely engaged audience and the welcoming Eat Here staff high above Main Street in Sarasota, Florida. The people on the street could hear the music in the air and were drawn to the little upstairs bistro outside on the balcony.
We, (Lenny Brooks, Troy Parrish and my brother, Tony LeClerc), wrote the songs for our first album together “Rock Soul Radio” during that time. We perfected them in front of a live audience at Eat Here. A slice of Heaven for a while. From then on my life has been a series of wonderful experiences, because that’s how I choose to see them. Even when ”She whose name I won’t say here” hijacked my life’s work for a ransom that I can never pay, I tried to use it as inspiration; we wrote songs about it, rebuilding the body of work that was stolen. I feel like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. We have continued to create works that I am very proud of and played amazing concerts; Thunder by The Bay, Van Wezel, shows with Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws, Robin Zander (the night before he found out he was inducted in the Hall of Fame), Ambrosia, BB King’s NYC, The Hard Rock, etc., Not to mention our wonderful bread and butter shows at great venues like The Five O’clock club, Decoy Ducks, KaTiki, Ricky T’s, Hoosier, The Daiquiri Shak, Ringside Cafe, WOB, Cortez Kitchen and Stottlemeyer’s Smokehouse, and all the venues that champion original live music in the Tampa/Sarasota area.
My Granddaughters are here in the world now too, and all of us are healthy and happy. I feel connected to my community and my world in a deeper and more constructive way than I ever have. All because of the worst time in my life. My mother, Karen Yochim (the therapist), when I finally got the courage to call her and tell her about my DUI arrest a week later, exclaimed, “Twink! This is great, hopefully this will be your bottom, terrific, oh, I’m so glad“, or something to that effect. Mom is always great in the dark times, she raised me with wonderful tools, eastern philosophies and Siddha Yoga teachings, everything she’d learned she passed on to me. She’d say, “Always remember, out of the muck comes the lotus.” And I’d say, in all seriousness and confidence, “There’s no such thing as a problem without a gift in its hands.” I used to spout this in my younger days and now, after fifty years of life, I can tell you that it is true. And if you ever need help, please let me know, I’m easy to find.
photos by Vicky Sullivan / Rock the Lens Photography for The Sarasota Post