END OF AN ERA
HUNTINGTON — When it comes to the music business, there’s a handful of people on the national scene who only need a first name.
Say Dolly, Madonna or Bono and you know who you are getting.
On the regional music scene, say the name Don, and you know you are getting Don Duncan — the longhaired, metal T-shirt-wearing former Air Force man who has been taking care of business every day and in every way at The V Club for nearly 10 of the club’s 12 years of existence.
Part show booker, promoter, social media guru and door man, Duncan has just officially closed that chapter of his life after being the go-to guy for owners Patrick Guthrie Sr. and Patrick Guthrie Jr. during the live performances of what he conservatively figures has been 4,000 shows in those 10 years.
On Friday, Duncan, who is 45, did orientation to enter the Veterans Health Administration’s Compensated Work Therapy program. He hopes to blend his extensive knowledge of music and the nationally touring band scene with addiction recovery.
“I’ve been pretty vocal about sobriety,” Duncan said two weeks ago at a going-away party at the V Club. “I still am not sure if I am an alcoholic or not, but I do know that I get in patterns and have an addictive personality — whether it is playing video games or smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol,” Duncan said. “I have been going to the VA for that for the past two years.”
Duncan is going through the VA’s vocational rehab program for people with drug and alcohol problems, and for veterans with PTSD and who have trouble assimilating to civilian life.
“It is for multiple things, but they help you map out your goals and figure out what your goals are, and if you need funding for certifications or school, they help you get that,” Duncan said, “There are recovery groups and computer classes you go through. As of right now, I am probably going to try to certified in some kind of recovery field, like a peer support specialist or a recovery coach and see if I like it. I like helping people, and I think I made that apparent in my time here. I didn’t know what to do but somebody told me once if you don’t know what to do, just do something, and so I am doing something. It might work out and it might not, but I have always kind of went where the wind takes me, so I am sure it will take me somewhere good. It took me to this from a wrong phone number.”
Are you working tonight or what?
Duncan, a 1990 Fairland High School graduate who spent two years getting an electronics certification from the Lawrence County Joint Vocational School and four years in the Air Force, said he got his first job booking bands because of a wrong number.
“A buddy of mine, Adam Kazee, was doing an asphalt demolition derby at Ona Speedway and he wanted me to help him find a band,” Duncan said. “I had been out of the scene for a while, and I didn’t have a clue, so I hit up my brother, Todd, and was like, ‘Hey man who can we get?’ and he was like, ’Get
Bud Carroll and the Southern Souls/and so I hooked him up with that. Through that he had connections with a promoter who knew how much it cost to get ZZ Top, and so we went down to talk to Mackie Robertson (owner of the now-named Huntington Ale House) ... so I was coming back from Ona Speedway, and I get a call and a guy was saying, ‘Hey are you going to work the door tonight?’ And I was like, ’Who is this?* And he said (he was) Mackie, and that he had the wrong number.”
Robertson asked Duncan if he wanted to work that night. He did, and then Robertson asked him if he wanted to book some bands.
“I did some cool shows there. I did Nebula with Entrance Band with Paz from Perfect Circle and The Pixies, and I did the Gumby’s reunion show there with the New Duncan Imperials with the Karma to Burn reunion show,” Duncan said. “That was the first time I interacted with Pat (Guthrie) because we got into a bidding war.”
When Robertson changed Club Echo to Thirsty Whale, Duncan ended up booking one more show, which was a big one — the now Grammy Award-winning Americana artist Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit.
“I did Jason Isbell, which was awesome, and I was so green I didn’t know what I was doing. But the buyout was something like $15 or $20 a member or a home-cooked meal, so I made them spaghetti,” Duncan said. “According to Jason’s bass player, the last time they were here they were talking and laughing about it. I guess I am part of their back story here.”
Coming to the V Club
With Robertson shifting more of a DJ club and then a restaurant, Duncan went to the V Club, 7416th Ave., Huntington, at a time when it was being transformed from a neighborhood bar into an eclectic live music venue.
“I saw an opportunity here to do bigger shows,” Duncan said. “I came down here and talked to Patrick and started bringing in shows.
Patrick realized I had some connections with some acts that he wanted to bring in, and we became fast friends, and now he is one of my best friends and like a brother ... I think one of the first shows I did was birthday show and we brought in Bud Carroll and The Southern Souls and The Suede Brothers and The Wizards of Ghetto Mountain. It was such a weird line-up, but they weren’t doing a lot of heavy stuff and I was doing that and bringing that in, and also bringing in real mixed shows and trying to bring that old-school vibe back of mixed genre shows. Back in the day with Gumby’s and The Drop Shop, you might see Chum with Right Up Front and The Lab Rats — a rap band, punk band and a metal band.”
At the V Club, Duncan has worn many hats from booking bands and keeping up the club’s social media, to being the door guy.
“I think that has helped — you can call it the military in me or the OCD, but I like my fingers on everything — and because of that it has helped me do what I set out to do here a lot easier,” Duncan said. “I didn’t have to worry about telling the door guy or the social media guy how I wanted it done. I just did it.”
Stitching together a crazy quilt of bands and family
Duncan said part of reason he really dove into the music scene with the Guthries is he felt like he missed out on the ghosts of great bands past while he was in the Air Force.
After high school, Duncan joined the Air Force at age 17 and went to training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Duncan went to his technical school at the now shuttered Chanute Air Force Base near Champaign, Illinois.
For four years Duncan was stationed at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska, until he came home.
“I was jealous because all of my buddies were going through the whole Gumby’s thing here. I only got into the last six months, the tail end of Gumby’s,” Duncan said.
Duncan said venues there back then were few and far between in Alaska, where he did get to see Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and Testament in the 3 1/2 years he was there.
When he got back to Huntington, he was ready to dive into the scene and help mold it.
“I had a thing pop up the other day in my Facebook memories ... I said all I want to do is to create somewhere that nationals and locals can call home and basically create a family. I think we — the V Club — have done that, not only for the musicians but for customers too.”
Perhaps, for a guy born on Christmas, it isn’t too tough to realize how lucky he was to be at the club that drew in a mind-numbing number of national acts — and some local native boys like country music stadium superstar Chris Stapleton, a Paintsville, Kentucky, native who brought his rock unit Jompson Brothers to the club, to Lawrence County, Kentucky, native Tyler Childers, who Duncan saw and helped grow from an open mic act to an artist selling out the club twice in a weekend.
“Other than being in the military, these past 10 years have been the highlight of my life — it really has,” Duncan said. “I have gotten to meet people I have looked up to since I was a teen. I got to meet Cindy Wilson from The B-52s; I got to meet Jason Isbell; I got to meet Chris
Stapleton; I got to meet Phil Anselmo from Pantera; freakin’ Scotty (Ian) from Anthrax who was like a childhood god to me. I have got to
interact with some really cool people. I got to sit here with “Corpsegrinder” (lead vocalist George Fisher) from Cannibal Corpse. ... It’s not like I’ve been around a lot of super famous people, but it has been enough for me. It’s been fun.”
Saying goodbye for now
In the shadow of a giant Jimbo Valentine poster, folks from area bands rolled back to the V a couple weeks back to pay their respects to Duncan.
Marshall University jazz grad Craig Burletic cut his musical teeth the hard way — playing for PBRs and a fistful of dollars with Deadbeats and Barkers, the three-piece rock unit featuring drummer Rod Elkins and James Barker that are still his bandmates backing the Bonnaroo-level big Americana songbird Tyler Childers.
“Man when you talk about the face of a place that you come through over the years Don is definitely that guy,” Burletic said. “He handed down many lessons too, easy and hard, at the same time, and we spent a lot of trying to figure out the way things are here in the place that Don oversaw. For sure, it ain’t going to be the same.”
Ian Thornton, founder of the Huntington Music and Arts Festival and creator of Huntington-based booking and management agency Whizzbang BAM, said a burgeoning regional music scene like has bubbled out of Huntington doesn’t happen without workhorses like Duncan.
“Having someone like Don is a root in helping bands out and supporting the local music scene on the whole front at all times, and that is invaluable,” Thornton said. “I love him to death so a real void will be had. It was always really comforting to walk in the door and see him there.”
Two years ago, Thornton, Childers and Duncan teamed up to put together the West Virginia Flood Relief Benefit Concert, a 10-band concert that raised more than $14,000 in donations — one of the largest local efforts for flood relief.
Not surprisingly, on his way out the door Duncan did what he has done a hundred times at the V Club — book a couple benefit shows.
The first, set for Oct. 13, will benefit Honor Flight Huntington, which is part of the national nonprofit group Honor Flight that has flown thousands of WWII, Korean and Vietnam War veterans to see the Washington, D.C., monuments for free since 2005.
That benefit features a one-off reunion of Sasha Colette and The Magnolias, as well as seven other bands such as The Settlement, Dinosaur Burps, Feverwar, Cumberland, Chocolate Four-Wheeler, Flip-On-It, and Tony Harrah & the Fly Over States. That show starts at 7 p.m.
The next weekend, Saturday, Oct. 20, is a River Cities Bully Buddies (a pitbull rescue group) Benefit with nine bands including A Story Told, Sean Whiting, Zero Dark Thirty, Laid Back Country Picker, Signals, Ducain, Luna and The Mountain Jets, Friendly Fire and Sean Knisely.
Duncan, who was having a hard time ingesting so much love from his co-workers and band friends, said that in a very tough business, the V has created a family that he is going to miss like crazy. He thinks the club, which has dialed back to weekends only this summer to renovate, will be looked upon as purveyors of one of the golden eras of live music in the Tri-State.
“It is a major anomaly here to have so many people who have been here so long because this business — where bar owners and workers are around a lot of alcohol — can chew you up and spit you out,” Duncan said. “It’s not just musicians that it affects. It takes a lot of people to keep the wheels rolling here, and we are, I think without the shadow of a doubt, the longest running rock bar in Huntington in the same place with the same management. I caught the tail end of Gumby’s and was here for the whole Drop Shop, and a couple of the other incarnations down there, and it was awesome, and we didn’t know what we had when we had that. But you hear people talk about it, ‘Oh man Gumby’s and Drop Shop was so much better.’ Yeah, but you are going to look back at the V10 and 20 years from now saying this was better. You often don’t know what you’ve got when you are caught up in it. Thankfully, I knew what a good thing I was in during this whole time.”
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