Spiegle Speaks / Ask the Sommelier

Spiegle Speaks

The Gassers were very fortunate and privileged to have had a 16 year friendship with Spiegle Willcox and to have shared many wonderful moments on and off stage with him. As mentioned in my July, 2023 column, he was the legendary Emperor of the 1995 Sacramento Jubilee and the last living person to have recorded with Bix Beiderbecke. We last enjoyed his company at the1999 Bix Beiderbecke Festival in Davenport, Iowa. At 96, he still had his broad smile, retained a youthful alertness, loved people, and enjoyed reminiscing. Jazz fans and musicians throughout the world, exposed to his warm affability, considered him a friend. He passed away one month later.

Red Wood Coast

My Fond Memories

I frequently asked him to sing the tune, Somebody Else Is Taking my Place, because he would always insert his own vocal version which included the unique phrase, “While I was workin’, she let that jerk in.”

When asked how to live to age 96, he replied, “Don’t die.”

Hot Jazz Jubile

As I recall, he once told me that when he was postmaster of Cortland, NY, the only address needed to reach him was “Spiegle 13045.”

While doing the Bix Fest, I often heard him say, “I am so happy to be in Davenport—at my age, I am happy to be anywhere.”

And I will never forget the time he suggested that I ask him to name his favorite rock group. When I posed this question to him in front of the audience, he brought the house down with his reply, “Mount Rushmore!”

Ask the Sommelier

The band was being transported from our hotel to a gig at the 1979 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival in Davenport, IA when our banjo player (BP) came rushing down the aisle exclaiming, “Stop the bus, let me out!” The driver immediately pulled over and opened the door whereupon BP ran outside and into the adjacent field and began wildly running back and forth. As it turned out, this was the first time he had ever seen a ditch full of lightning bugs and wanted to become acquainted with them on a first hand basisfirefly mania!


It was also on this tour that we experienced an unusual culinary event at a highly recommended restaurant across the river from Davenport in Rock Island, IL. After we were seated, the waitress inquired if anyone wanted a drink while we looked at the menu. When asked if they had red wine available, the waitress paused, and then gave us her unforgettable reply, “Hold on, I will go look in the fridge and see.”


It was back in the mid-1980s that Santa Rosa hosted a wonderful jazz festival in the section of town known as Railroad Square. This renovated area in old town was a tourist’s delight featuring many shops, restaurants, bars, night clubs, and specialty stores. The festival had assigned the Gassers to play at a night club which usually featured rock & roll music so, of course, this venue was equipped with rock & roll necessities such as huge speakers scattered about the room and an elaborate sound board with technician in the center of the room.


This technician appeared to be a young, self-centered, un-cooperative, wannabe sound engineer who turned out to be a really big problem for the band and the roomful of traditional jazz fans in attendance. Despite multiple requests from the band to reduce the sound level, he insisted on turning the volume up to the point that the audience was complaining vociferously and the band was becoming extremely distressed with the situation. In essence, this one stubborn, insistent individual was in the process of ruining the entire afternoon performance.

It was at this point that our soprano saxophonist, Bob Murphy, demonstrated his Irish temper. He put his horn down and then, without saying a word, stomped around the stage unplugging every electrical device that he could find thereby completely silencing the offending sound system. The audience cheered, the band continued the set acoustically, and everyone enjoyed the remainder of the performanceexcept, of course, that lone, surly person sitting behind the now-inoperative sound board.

Hey, Doc


Because folks knew I was a dentist, there was the rare occasion that a jazz fan would approach me between sets and audaciously ask me about his personal dental problem. My stock answer was to inform that person that he simply could not afford me on jazz weekends. [grin]

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