Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fischer
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Pallor in Lawler

Wick's World


Pallor: extreme paleness as in fear of death.

Recently a wave of pallor cast its shadow over the tiny Minnesota village known as Lawler. Although Dave Wilen wasn't one of its Founding Fathers, he was a recognizable Native Son. The small town with a big mouth is best known for a former historical event called "Holler in Lawler." If you ever had the fortune to look closely at the cartoonist caricatures on Davy's posters advertising the summer festival, you would recognize many folk heroes from this small town.

Nita, along with her sidekick Joanne, operated Nita's Hideaway where Roy Rengo could usually be found. Across the street, centenarian Charlie Spicola ran a grocery store into the 1970s. Charlie Holland would fill his overflowing shed with the leftovers from Cliff Saastamoinen's garage sale rummaging. For his tenth high school class reunion, Kenny Koski was prematurely listed as deceased, even though he was living in Duluth and had three more weeks of life left in him. You can't make this stuff up.

Classmate and lifelong friend Bob Marcum was always there for Dave. After his passing, Bob allegedly remarked, "I just as well move out of this town. I have no one intelligent left to talk to!" To be very clear, that was not a slam against the residents of Lawler. That was a deserving commentary on his highly intelligent, well read friend, Dave Wilen. Dave was a singer/songwriter who worshipped Jerry Jeff Walker.

The first week my wife and I rode into town, Davy's band "The Leisure Brothers" were playing at the old Lawler School where I first heard Davy belt out his repertoire of Jerry Jeff songs. His sister-in-law, Betty Wilen (never known for her shyness) approached me and said, "Oh, you’re wearing a Jerry Jeff Walker hat! He's my favorite musician!"

I soon met her husband, Dave's brother, Butch, with whom we have remained lifelong friends. Butch and Betty and us would see Jerry Jeff perform at the Minnesota Zoo. I later became acquainted with the man of Mr. Bojangles fame when our friend from South Dakota, Chris Gage, became Jerry Jeff's bandleader. We were always invited back to the Hilton following the show for drinks and Texas talk. When Chris disbanded The Red Willow Band I grew up with, he went on to star in Hee Haw with Roy Clark. After many years with Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, Chris too became a musical legend after joining Jerry Jeff’s band. In 2011, he was "The Texas Musician of the Year."

Butch and Betty also got to know Jerry Jeff. Butch said, "He's just like one of us ,Wick."

Jerry Jeff once told me, "Without this guitar and cowboy hat, I'm just another old man.”

Meanwhile, Davy had been spreading his musical entertainment throughout the Northland. He was elated when he caught wind of my relationship with Jerry Jeff.

One day he came up to me and said, "Wick, back in the 90s when I was touring the Black Hills, I was staying in Deadwood when I specifically wrote this song for Jerry Jeff Walker called 'Aces and Eights.'" He titled it after the day at the Old Style saloon when Wild Bill Hickock drew his infamous Dead Man's Hand.

I asked Davy, “What do you want for it., some of the royalties?”

Davy wanted neither the fame or fortune attached to it. He simply wanted it to be heard. I was fortunate to tell Dave, “Mission accomplished!”

While closing Davy’s life in Lawler, Butch and Betty found a treasure trove of songs and instruments, sketches and paintings and almost every “Holler in Lawler" poster of Dave’s. I wish I could say “Aces and Eights” went on to become Jerry Jeff’s encore to “Mr. Bojangles.”

At least Davy knew that his song got passed on to one of his many musical heroes. In a few weeks, Butch, Betty and I will sit down for an after-concert drink with Chris and Jerry Jeff. I will tell him of Davy’s passing and give him the rest of the cuts on the demo tape.

Davy painted his masterpiece years ago with an album called “Feast of Kali.” From the “Barcelona Blues” to “Up on the Old Saint Lou,” Davy highlighted this album with a bone-chilling song called “Siberia.” One could actually feel the verse “70 days and 70 nights, 70 below.”

The last time I saw Davy I got to tell him “Aces and Eights" had made it into Jerry Jeff’s hands. I also asked him a question.

“Davy, how did you become so worldly and well-versed living your whole life in Lawler?”

“I read a lot, Wick,” was Davy’s reply.

For me and countless others, Davy was a musical and artistic genius. Sure, he could have moved to the cities or even Seattle, but somewhere along the way he would have lost being Davy from Lawler. I think that is all he aspired to and we were the benefactors for it. A pallor has passed over Lawler and we just turned “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”


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