By Kyle Wieters
Ben Dorcy was my friend. He had so many friends that he called most everyone by the name “Lovey.” I think probably because it was easier than remembering all of those names. But in return, everyone else called him Lovey. I wasn’t there when the nickname began so I can only speculate. I doubt I was even born when Ben Dorcy became “Lovey.”
He was born in 1925. I was born in 1978. An age gap like that isn’t typical for guys that consider each other buddies. But that’s what we were. I recall the first time I saw Ben. Possibly 2003. Actual dates don’t really matter for most stories: I learned that from Ben. I was backstage at Willie’s Picnic, which for a young roadie in the Texas circuit is pretty much the coolest place you could ever be. I was working with Jack Ingram as a guitar tech. I asked Jack who that old man was and he explained it to me as well as he could. I remember my intrigue and fascination with the whole situation.
I realize now there was a moment in time when Ben probably felt the exact same way I did that day. I imagine a young Ben Dorcy at Lee High School in San Antonio. Probably not a very good student or a very popular kid. He told me that he didn’t much care for school so I assume he was looking for a way out. He saw an Ice Capades show when he was 16 and more than likely had a crush on one of the skaters. I imagine they weren’t really looking to hire, but Ben can be very persistent. So he lands a job with the traveling Ice Capades show and away he went — far away from the bullies of Lee High School.
His next gig, or so later, would take him even farther — all the way to the South Pacific, serving as a midshipman in the Navy during WWII. After a year or so of that, he was eligible for military service and spent time in the Navy as a midshipmen during World War II. But the defining adventure of his lifetime wouldn’t begin until his return to Texas.
Coming back home from over seas with a little money in his pocket, he goes to Floore’s Country Store to see Hank Thompson play a dance — and somehow convinces Hank to give him a job. Not as a musician, but as an assistant. Persistence wins again, and right then and there, the roadie was born.
Ben traveled with Hank for many tours during that time period. One day last year he and I were driving out to Floore’s from New Braunfels and he told me some stories of their debauchery that I won’t repeat. More important than any of that, though, it was around that same time when he first met Willie Nelson and Jonny Bush and many other soon-to-be legends of Country Music. Ben saw it all, firsthand and in the moment, busting his ass the whole time to do his part to help it all happen.
And then came the Hollywood Years … Somehow in the late ’50s, Ben landed a part as an extra in The Alamo, starring John Wayne. He’s mostly just sitting on a horse in the background, but Ben would long consider it his claim to fame — and watch the movie every time he could find it on TV. Naturally, during the shoot Ben hit it off with the star himself, leading to his next gig as John Wayne’s personal valet for the next five or six years. The stories from this period involve driving Wayne, as Ben called him, along with Steve McQueen and Betty Page, from Hollywood to Tijuana Mexico and back. He always told that story with a certain annoyance that only a roadie understands. And then there’s the story of how he accidentally became the getaway driver for a mob hit after giving Sinatra’s “people” a ride home after a party. He rarely told that story, but when he did there was always a fear in his eye that only the truth can provide; Ben was a relatively obedient citizen, and didn’t like the idea of getting in trouble with the law.
After his Hollywood chapter, Ben went on to spend some time in Nashville driving for Johnny Cash. Those years provided some of his most-told stories of the road. My favorite is the one about the time Cash ran out of pills on a trip, so Ben pulled the buttons off of his shirt and handed them to Cash, who unknowingly “crunched those suckers up.” When they got to the hotel, the desk clerk asked Ben, “Sir, doesn’t Mr. Cash have enough money to buy you some new clothes?” You can imagine his frustrations.
Soon after that, having apparently had enough of Cash’s antics, Ben moved back to Texas. He certainly had no trouble finding work back home, what with Willie’s career taking off — and never really stopping. Between Willie and Waylon and the Highwaymen and who knows how many other outlaw country notables all hitting their stride in the ’70s and through the ’80s, Ben — by then already arguably the most seasoned roadie in the land — had plenty to keep him busy.
Fast forward a few decades all the way to 2010, the year I started working with the Randy Rogers Band as their road manager. Ben was already spending a lot of weekends out on the bus with the guys by then. Poodie Locke was Willie’s stage manager, backstage party coordinator and more importantly, Lovey’s best friend. Poodie passed away in 2009 and as you can imagine, Ben took it pretty hard. Poodie was real good to him as well as to us younger roadies and musicians. So we all banded together like a family does and with much help from Willie’s road manager, John Selman, we made sure that Lovey always had a good paying gig on the weekends. At that point he was still driving himself and getting around pretty well for an 84 year old. He would carry 20-pound bags of ice and cases of water up the stairs of the bus; sometimes it would take a while, but he always made it. He would fill the beer and ice coolers and sweep the bus, wipe down the counter top in the galley area, take out the trash — whatever he could do to help. Then he would report back to me to tell me all the things he did and ask if I needed anything else. He always wanted to earn his pay. And I could see on his face the happiness that brought him. To be needed. To be worthy. To be helpful. He had a wonderful smile.
As he got older, he had to stop driving himself and boy, was he pissed about it. He understood it was unsafe but the reality of losing a freedom like that wasn’t easy for a man of the road. At that point we had to figure out a new plan. So Selman, Randy Rogers and Joel Schoepf took the reigns and, with the help of Mark Mckinney and the Floore’s Country Store staff, created Ben Dorcy Day — concert to honor and benefit Lovey in order to pay for an apartment and his daily needs. It turned out to be a great success every year; with the yearly concert and the road gigs on the weekends, he had everything he needed.
Including a best friend. Ben didn’t have any children or nieces or nephews, but he had a Joel Schoepf. Joel actually hired me while he was the road manager for Jack Ingram in 2002. He moved on to work with Cross Canadian Ragweed and the Departed, who Lovey spent a lot of time with over the years, and eventually took a new job at Floore’s as the venue production manager. He also took on the job of assisting Ben while he was at home: driving him to the store and the doctor, moving him from one apartment to the next, answering the phone when no one else would, keeping up with his schedule and who he was gonna work with every week. And most of all, being there for him at all times, like best friends do. Joel’s wife, Robin, is the longtime manager of the Randy Rogers Band. They both have been the most selfless caregivers and provided Ben, in my opinion, the happiest of all of his years. Their daughter Lucy was his favorite. He always made sure to buy her flowers or bring her a gift from the store. Talk about an age gap for a couple of buddies! Lucy and Lovey were true friends.
In fact, when Ben passed away on Saturday at age 92 on Saturday, it was Lucy I immediately thought of first.
Roadies come in all forms. From highly knowledgeable technicians to just friends of the band looking for work and adventure. Either way, the main requirement for the job is devotion and dedication. Some aren’t cut out for the selflessness of the job. Some were designed for it. Ben Dorcy was designed for it. While he lacked the talent of a singer or the savvy of an engineer, he excelled in the art of friendship and loyalty. And if you were a loyal friend to him, he would repay the favor for a lifetime. That, more so than any of the often hysterically funny stories he could tell or all of his famous connections, is his legacy.
I’m guessing Ben took all of his many gigs over the years originally for money and adventure, but deep down, like all the rest of us, he just wanted the friendship and loyalty that only a family can provide. We roadies call each other brothers and sisters of the road. Which insinuates the idea that the road is our mother. If that’s the case, then Ben was her first son. And we all just follow his lead.
If there really is a pearly gate guarding heaven, my advice to Saint Peter is to just open it up and let Ben right in. Because Lovey already has lots of friends waiting for him on the other side, and as anyone of them could testify, he’s very, very persistent.