Six years into our relationship, Danny’s sixth album, and the fourth to ship platinum from L.A., acknowledged he was a star and nothing stood in his way. As far as I knew, nothing was askew either. Before flying back to Montgomery, Danny distributed expensive gifts and the future couldn’t have been better heading into the long Christmas/New Year weekend. The entire team at the label looked forward to 1970 and its promises.
Two days after Christmas, Danny didn’t phone the studio like he usually did. I got worried, called friends, no one had heard from him. About ten New Year’s Eve, after several unanswered calls to his home, I decided to forego a company party and chartered a flight to Montgomery.
I found Danny Mack just after sunrise New Year’s Day, sitting in the bed of that old truck, in his rocking chair, guitar slung across his lap. According to forensics, he apparently committed suicide by an overdose. The few friends he had in Montgomery had not talked to him, their alibis confirmed. The cops were satisfied with suicide and Danny was taken to the morgue. His death stunned us. Not one of the management company, nor his label saw that coming, neither did I. Why would someone at the height of his career… and popularity, throw it all away? I didn’t have a clue.
When I got back home., a packet lay on my hall table… “personal and confidential,” Danny’s Montgomery address scribbled in the corner. Inside, a very personal letter, expressing his sorrow, yellowed newspaper clippings, bearing the dates 1956-59, old photos of the ‘56 Ford pick-up in its heyday, all shiny gold, whitewalls, hubcaps, white interior… and him, standing alongside, an “I’ve-got-the-world-by-the-balls” grin on his face. Never could figure out why he loved that old truck so much and why he played so well in the bed of it, guess I won’t ever now. Below the snapshots were music reviews. One sub-head stated: Danny Mack pushes his group — The DynaTones — for their best sounds,” and gave them a very good review, ending with — “A must-see group.”
Near the bottom of the stack was an 8″ X 10″ black & white — an old promotional piece for The DynaTones — six members in all. Scribbled above their heads: Cecil King-bass guitar; Tom “Humpy” Wheeler-sax; Billy Brooks-drums; Lyle “Fingers” Morgan-organ/vocals; and Mark “Skinny” Schwin-rhythm guitar and bass. Standing off to the side of them — an aloof Danny Mack, holding his first love — a gold Fender Stratocaster. It was apparent, regardless of the B & W photo, he played it so much the lacquered gold color actually wore off the pick guard.
Stapled to the 1959 review, a color photo, the new “mansion” he was having built in Montgomery’s outskirts. There, in front of the stick-framed three-car garage, sat the F-100 pick-up. Attached to the bottom of the photo — a sticky note with an arrow pointing to a hastily scribbled red X beneath the truck. I looked. Even got a printer’s loop to magnify shadows… couldn’t see anything of importance. I tossed the stuff onto my desk. I had too much of everything else concerning Danny Mack to worry about right now.
As I tried to help sort out the legalese of Danny’s musical empire, his death bothered me, to the point I couldn’t work on it more than a few hours a day. Hell, I couldn’t even sleep more than two-three hours a night. I had nightmares… Danny haunted me, tried to explain why he quit, gave it all up. There was something about his sudden turnabout of fortune that got to him… and now got to me… something I missed over the past years… could I have been so blind?
Three nights later, after tossing and turning, I awoke in a cold sweat. Maybe I hadn’t interpreted his sticky note correctly. I hurried to my office. There was nothing any more obvious in the photo, except, the truck was in the same spot it had been when I first made Danny’s acquaintance… backed close to the garage door, facing the street… and in the 1959 build photo of Danny’s new country home. That truck hadn’t moved in years.
That was it…the truck…the damned truck played a bigger part in this than anything else. It hid something. Vaguely, the tires bothered me the most, I remembered its whitewalls were yellowed and weather-checked the evening I first met Danny… are they still that way after six years? I had to go to Montgomery… check it out…something about that truck held the clue to the mystery to Danny’s death.
“Please tell Sheriff Dalton I’ll be in Montgomery mid-morning. I’m certain we’ve got a bigger mystery than just Danny Mack’s suicide.”
Two hours later I boarded Flight 117 and touched down at 10:45. The Sheriff met me in the concourse. “That old pick-up truck is hiding something,” I said, holding the picture to his face. “I don’t know what but there’s got to be a reason for this red X.”
Our entourage arrived at Danny’s home about three. That old faded F-100 pickup was the center of attention. Took over three hours of scouring to finally notice tires weren’t on concrete — just barely above it and completely without air — flat. No one noticed, not even me and I was on my back under it. Holding the entire truck up were four iron bars welded to the frame, set into concrete and placed tightly against each tire. That truck wouldn’t have moved if a tow winch were attached to it. Why would an old pickup would be mounted like that? The cops left after finding nothing else suspicious. I sat in the cab and stared out the windshield, dumbfounded… no idea now what the hell that sticky note meant.
The whole sordid affair really pissed me off. I helped give him stardom… and he quit. Just up and quit! Tossed it away. Danny was a star, at the pinnacle of his career, he had everything he ever wanted, whenever he wanted it… didn’t make sense. I pounded my fists on the dash in an effort to rid myself of the demons that haunted me — What did I say? What did I do? Something Danny didn’t like? Was his suicide my fault? I was searching for answers when the glove compartment fell open and struck my knee.
“Ow. Knock it off, Danny. It’s bad enough you’re gone and now you’re torturing me?”
Hello? What’s this? A 4″ x 6″ piece of newsprint. Seems my pounding dislodged it. Ochre-colored cellophane tape attested it had been affixed to the underside of the glove compartment box. The small non-descript headline read: DynaTones Disbanded. The body copy didn’t say much more: Band member Mark Schwinn didn’t give any solid reasons for the break-up other than it was time to move on to new things and that each member was pursuing something different. Danny Mack, front-man for the group was unavailable for comment. It bore a December 30, 1960 date… exactly six years ago to the day he died.
A ton of bricks couldn’t have made more of an impact… Danny’s band didn’t just break up… or fade away… or go away… something happened to them. Bands with as much savvy as The DynaTones and playing power don’t just up and quit, even if they lose their leader. Many groups have gone on to greater success without their driving member. I had a feeling… what happened to The DynaTones wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Julia, please box up Danny’s letter, those newspaper clippings and over-nite them to the Montgomery County Sheriff,” I asked the secretary over the phone, adding, “Make sure the photos are enclosed,” and “I won’t be back home ’til we get this sorted out.”
In the morning, we enlarged the photo, studied the red X placement, again… and again… .and called an excavating company.
The F-100’s tires were aired up. It was torched off the bars… towed away. Jackhammers pummeled through four inches of concrete. The backhoe waited while the last of the detritus was removed. Ten minutes later and less than three feet into the earth it hit something. More concrete. A ten-foot wide section came to light when dirt was cleared. The backhoe dug alongside it — seven feet down, ten feet long… a veritable mausoleum. On the west side — a door — I shuddered. At times, seriously morbid thoughts invade my mind… I had half a dozen whirling around right now… and a good idea who was in there. When it was opened, the Sheriff concurred… Danny’s band-mates… holding their instruments… eerily positioned as if they were still playing… still in The DynaTones… playing for all of eternity.
Danny had murdered his band-mates somewhere along the line… to keep them together. I didn’t care to know how. I finally realized why he played such soulful tunes in the bed of that pickup… he played every day with The DynaTones… and sadly, I now knew why Danny Mack committed suicide. The price of fame… without them, was too great.