Local Bluesman Mending But Pocketbook Still Hurts

It has been nearly two weeks since a brutal attack on Tom (Cat) Courtney by a knife-wielding assailant almost put an end to the venerated, local bluesman’s career.

On Oct. 6, as he has done every Thursday night for the last 16 years, singer-guitarist Courtney was performing his standard repertoire of old blues classics at the Texas Teahouse in Ocean Beach. The tiny honky-tonk, where a pitcher of beer still costs only $2, is a lot like the ones Courtney used to play back in the late 1940s and ‘50s, when he regularly toured the South with such blues legends as T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed.

Shortly after midnight--just as Courtney and his band, the Blues Dusters, had finished a fiery version of “Mustang Sally"--the house lights came on and the bartender signaled the band to stop playing.

“Some crazy guy was messin’ with a couple of ladies in the back,” Courtney recounted in his slow, East Texas drawl. “And when the bartender told him to leave, he started cussin’ and screamin’ at everyone.”


Eventually, the man left--only to return a few minutes later, brandishing a knife. In the ensuing melee, speakers were slashed, instruments and microphone stands were thrown, and four people--including the 59-year-old Courtney--were stabbed. Courtney was rushed to UC San Diego Medical Center, where he was treated for two knife wounds to the left arm.

“One cut went all the way through my arm to the elbow,” Courtney said. “I was worried sick, thinkin’ I might never be able to play my guitar again.”

Courtney is expected to make a full recovery. But his arm still hurts, and so does his pocketbook. “My speakers, my mike stands--all that stuff’s ruined,” he said. “I don’t have insurance, so I don’t know who’s gonna pay for it.” The man who started the trouble was never apprehended.

Last Saturday, Courtney returned to his regular job as a fry cook at the Stardust Hotel in Mission Valley, where he works the graveyard shift. And Thursday night, he expects to be back at the Texas Teahouse.


“The doctor told me to lay off my arm a little while longer,” Courtney said, “but man, I can’t afford to do that . . . I need the money. The rent don’t stop, and when I get the doctor bill, you know it ain’t gonna be nothin’ too little.”

The Pink Panther is determined to get people pumped up for rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Roy Orbison’s Friday night appearance at the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.

The night before, the Bay Park tavern will present continuous showings of the 1986 movie, “Blue Velvet.” The film, in which Orbison’s songs--and his soaring, almost operatic vocals--play an important role in plot development, is credited by many as revitalizing the legendary Man in Black’s career.

Throughout Thursday night, deejays will chronicle Orbison’s rich musical history by playing his early-1960s hits, including “Running Scared,” “Crying,” “It’s Over,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Tickets to Friday’s concert will be given away, and tavern patrons are urged to come dressed as their hero: black slacks, black shirts, black jackets, black everything .

“None of this is out of the ordinary for the Pink Panther,” said co-owner Tim Mays.

It certainly isn’t. Since Mays and his two partners, Peter Verbrugge and Bob Bennett, opened the club in December, 1986, homage to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll has been their theme. The shabby bar, with its Formica counter, black imitation leather stools and two pool tables, is straight out of a ‘50s movie. Panther regulars include local rockabilly revival trio the Paladins, and Country Dick Montana of roots-rockers the Beat Farmers.

Accordingly, the jukebox fare, instead of the latest Top 40 dance tunes, offers the latest back-to-basics stuff by the Ramones and Siouxsie and the Banshees, plus oldies, such as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Kicks.”

Yes, Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” is in the stack too.


FREE RIDE: If you haven’t yet bought tickets to Saturday night’s Starlight Bowl concert by the Taxi Gang, Sly and Robbie, Freddie MacGregor, and Maxi Priest, don’t bother. The show has been moved to the Broadway Pier downtown, and there’s no charge for admission. The occasion: a birthday bash for radio station XTRA-FM (91X), which is celebrating the fifth year of its progressive rock format.

MY HOMETOWN: With so many first-rate San Diego rock bands struggling to find nightclub work, it’s hard to fathom why Mick’s P.B. in Pacific Beach will only book out-of-town Top 40 groups on weekends. Come on, guys. Just because a band is from Los Angeles (or San Francisco, or Las Vegas, or Seattle) doesn’t mean it can grind out the hits any better than a band from San Diego.

BITS AND PIECES: The Damned, the first British punk-rock band to record, chart and tour America, will be appearing Monday night at the Bacchanal nightclub in Kearny Mesa. . . . The Oct. 30 “Night of the Guitars” concert at downtown’s Symphony Hall, starring Alvin Lee, Ronnie Montrose and seven other illustrious rock ‘n’ roll axmen, has been canceled.