Truck Driving Man (Paris Metro/Vince McCann)

That trip through Morocco in the winter of 1978 ended with my guitar being stolen, then a week in Agadir as guest of Rudy Leal Villareal, a Chicano hashish smuggler from San Antonio, Texas, with whom I traveled back to Spain. I went on from there to northern Europe, he went to Madrid, then jail, then was deported to France… and at some point I ran into him in Paris and he brought me to Le Mazet.

Le Mazet was the buskers’ bar, on the rue Saint André des Arts, down a passageway from the Odéon metro station. It was populated by male musicians from various countries and teenage French girls  who worked as “bottlers,” collecting the money. The musicians were basically lazy, and would play the trains for a couple of hours, then come back to the Mazet, change their coins into bills, and have a few beers. Some of the girls were harder workers and would do their two hours, then trade in a tired busker for a fresh one from the bar and head back to the trains. The money was split evenly, half for the busker and half for the bottler, so the busier bottlers were doing pretty well.

Le Mazet did pretty well, too, since it had a captive clientele — the only other place that would change a big haul of coins into paper money was the National Bank, which was open only for limited hours and didn’t serve beer. At the Mazet you would ask the bartender for a tray, arrange your money on it in ten-franc piles, and he’d give you the notes. Then, late in the evening when the banks were closed, the waiters from the nearby cafés would come to Le Mazet for change.

I spent many happy hours drinking, chatting, and trading tunes in the Mazet, and sent Van Ronk there when he had a gig in Paris, and he wrote a funny piece about it in his (entirely fictitious) notes to my LP. Almost forty years later, I’m still in some kind of touch with a couple of musicians who were regular habitues. In particular  Vince McCann, a tall, sharp-nosed, longhaired Irishman who took pleasure in being as insulting as possible and is a fine honky-tonk country singer. We teamed up with a bass player named Doug Ley, from Ithaca, NY, and worked the trains as a trio: Vince and I would sing something together with Doug harmonizing on the choruses, then one of us would sing while the other bottled the car. Doug played stand-up bass and we figured a lot of people paid us extra out of sympathy for him hauling it on and off the trains.

They were right to sympathize, since we maximized our profits by only working a short segment of the Metro, from Odéon to Porte d’Orléans and back. That route was perfect for our purposes, because it divided neatly into three segments with a major station followed by two or three minor stations, so you could do a eight- or nine-minute set for a captive audience, bottle them, change cars, do another set… and then you had to climb up and down the stairs to change directions, with poor Doug schlepping that bass. Le MazetOdéon to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, Montparnasse to Denfert-Rochereau, Denfert to Porte d’Orléans, then back again, over and over till we got tired and headed to the Mazet for another beer.

It was work, not art, and Vince and sang the same two numbers, train after train: “Good-Hearted Woman” and “Truck Driving Man.” Both were from Vince’s repertoire, the first learned from Willie and Waylon, and the second presumably from Buck Owens, though a lot of other people had recorded it, including a memorable version by Leon Russell. Neither became part of my solo repertoire, but we played them day in and day out for long enough that both are permanently wedged in my memory.