Vince Ballew – April 2nd, 2009

GEDC0140I sat down with Vince at The Boonville Lodge last Friday afternoon with a pint of Guinness and Coors Light respectively and we began our chat with bartender Cindy Hollinger primed and ready to keep the beer flowing…
Vince was born in Ukiah in 1966, the third of four children to Pete and Juanita Ballew, who lived on Hutsell Road at the south end of Boonville, near to the junction of Highways 128 and 253. Pete is of Cajun descent whilst Juanita is predominantly Cherokee Indian. They had both grown up in Arkansas and then in the early fifties, during the logging boom in the Valley, they moved here to seek work along with many others from Arkansas and Oklahoma. “I think there were about thirty-two mills here at that time, “ says Vince, “And my father could make a lot more money doing that than at the gas station where he was working in Arkansas.”
“My Mom and Dad celebrated their sixty-first wedding anniversary last month – they had us four kids over a long time. My oldest sister is fifteen years older than me, and then I have a brother who is ten years older, and a sister seven years younger. They all live back in Arkansas now, my parents too – may be one day I’ll go back there permanently myself – I have seriously thought about it many times…My Dad was going to retire when he was sixty five but when his best friend and fellow logger Paul Hughbanks retired and then passed away soon afterwards before drawing one pension check my Dad said, “”Fuck it – I’m not going to work and then die so he retired at sixty-three and they went back to Arkansas – he had always wanted to go back home eventually… They live in a small town called Pearcy, not far from Hot Springs and my father, who can play anything with strings and was one of the best banjo players anywhere, now visits old people’s homes with his band and plays for the elderly, for free. He’s eighty-one and still going strong.”
Vince grew up here in the Valley and attended the kindergarten and Elementary School at the little red schoolhouse – now the A.V. Museum. He moved on to High School with contemporaries such as Jerry Mayberry, Brent Roberts, and Ricky and Kenneth Bloyd. “I didn’t like school too much,” confesses Vince with a raucous laugh, “I didn’t have any favorite subjects. I played some basketball in elementary school and football at high school, and some Little League baseball. My favorite thing at that time was the Youth Boxing Program that was run by Willy Roberts, who had come up here from Arkansas with my Dad in the fifties.”
Vince was “kicked out” of the high school a month into his senior year and went to the Rancheria continuation school. He was “kicked out of there too” and returned to Arkansas for a year and stayed with his sister and found a job working in construction for his brother-in-law…In 1984 he returned to the Valley and began to work in the woods with G & R (Guy and Ron Pronsolino) Logging.
During his younger days Vince loved to hunt and fish. “I grew up living on Robinson Creek every day, fishing for trout and steelhead – those were the days when they were still in the river. We’d hunt for pigs, deer, turkeys and I had my first small motorbike when I was about six or seven and then when I was a little older I got a Honda Trail 70. In those days we kids were outside all the time. My Mom would call me in when it got dark and I’d explain that it was fine outside once your eyes adjusted – she wouldn’t have it…. My best friend growing up was Willie Prather and I was real sad when he died in an accident a couple of years ago – we had a great time growing up together.”
“In those days we could ride up and down the road here on bicycles and it seemed like we knew everyone you passed by; everyone knew everyone else…You could go up into the hills and wander around, hurting nothing and no one – now the Valley is all fences. That’s too bad…Sure there had been problems with the locals when the settlers came here from the Arkansas and Oklahoma in the fifties but in my younger days that had all calmed down and it was a very tight-knit community. Don’t get me wrong, there have been good people who have arrived here since but I don’t know many of them and the Valley has changed for the worse overall – it pisses me off to be honest.”
In 1986 Vince got married and two years later he and his wife became the parents of a little girl – Dixie. “She was named after my Grandmother who never left the south in her whole life.” Shortly afterwards the couple split up. In the past few years Vince and Dixie have become reconciled and she has recently turned twenty-one.
Vince worked in the woods most of the time but, following in his father’s footsteps, he would also often drive the logging trucks. “I had been around them since I was a little kid – changing the oil, the tires, and working on the engines with my Dad. He worked for Bo Hiatt, Jerry Fillbrick, and was with G & R when he retired. My Mom was at home for most of the time but she did get a job at the June Apple Packing plant here in the Valley.” Most of the time Vince worked in and around the Valley but was unable to go for a beer at the bar after work because they knew how old he was. However, for about a year he was working near to Pt. Arena and the crew would stop at the “Sign of the Whale’ bar where they thought he was twenty-one so he could join the others for a few drinks each day. “When I was twenty-one I asked the owner for a beer to celebrate. He said, ‘Get the fuck out of here – you’ve been drinking here for years!’ He was irritated I guess but he let me stay. I could now also come in here, to The Lodge in Boonville, and became a regular – that was when the Pacheco’s owned it.”
After riding other’s bikes for years, Vinnie finally got his first Harley around 1990 and several years ago moved up from ‘Prospect’ to ‘Member’ of the Moloch Motorcycle Club. Many people in the Valley know Vince as a Moloch and I asked him about this. He was reluctant to talk about it and informed me that it had to be that way. I accepted this of course but I did ask him how many members there were in the Club. “Enough” was his polite but firm reply…
He lives in the same place as he was born and raised. “It was painted pink when we were growing up. My Dad said one day that he was going to paint it – he did, pink again!…I like to call it the Pink Pleasure Palace.” he added with a knowing look and grin…Vince has a favorite spot to hang out up behind the property where he can kick back and enjoy a little target practice and he always has his two dogs close by – Tank and Stash – a Jack Russell terrier and a fox terrier/pit-bull mix…As I mentioned earlier, he has thought about moving to Arkansas where his family all live these days but it’s a tough decision. “I just love the country around here and I still have a lot of friends here”. I asked if there was there anything he didn’t like about the Valley? “Yeah, but I’d rather not say.”
I asked Vince for his responses to various subjects that seem to be regular topics of conversation around here…The Wineries? – “Well, they have brought a lot of work and money to the Valley but personally I much preferred it when the land was wide open and we had sheep and apples instead of wine. The wineries coming here has also meant the property prices have gone way up – so much that regular working people here cannot afford to buy their own homes.”…The A.V.A.? – I don’t read it very often but I know Bruce Anderson has upset people over the years. He was my little league coach – a good dude. I’ve nothing against him – he’s straight up and speaks his mind. I like that.”…Law and Order here in the Valley? – “I think our sheriff does a real good job – he was my football coach. Scott Nordin, who died a couple of years ago in the motorbike accident, was a great small-town sheriff too. He knew when guys were just fooling around and then when some guys were acting like idiots.”…And whom would you want as Mayor of the Valley if such a position were created? – “Tony Pardini – he’s my buddy and we worked together for Charlie Hiatt. I’ve known him all my life and for me I think he’d be a good Mayor.”
Vince does have strong feelings about the way the Valley has ‘lost its way’ in some areas. ‘We used to have many events here that are no longer held. Yes, the Crab Feed is good and the County Fair too – although that seems to be less popular in the last year or two. But there was a logging ‘show’ where different logging skills were performed by teams from each logging company – that’s obviously not coming back. There were regular dances and live music too, and there was The Fireman’s Ball, The Little Reno Night at the Apple Hall, and The Woolgrowers Fair and BBQ, which is not happening this year. Then there were the Trap Shoots once a month – we kids would be in a bunker letting out the clay pigeons and then we’d get our turn to shoot at them…So lots of events for a section of the community which has been here for many years just don’t take place anymore The older ways of the Valley have gone…It also amazes me how hard it is to maintain a high school football team around here. That is a big part of a small community – we used to have a big rivalry with Mendocino and now they don’t even have a team. Our team was good this last season but you never know if there is going to be a team from one year to the next. The people in charge don’t seem to know either…The Pop Warner set-up seems to be going well though – I hope that can be carried on to the High School.”
‘I guess a lot of this was always going to happen. The Mexican community has arrived here and now they are the majority. These social events were not really for them I guess. I have many Mexican friends and their community does a lot of good work here – both in the fields and now on the logging crews too. It’s the gangster-types who hang around downtown who annoy me, and many others.”
“I do like the scene that Dave Evans has got going at the Navarro Store during the summer. The live music he puts on has been really good – bringing live music and a ‘scene’ to the Valley again. A community dance once a month, once every two months even, would be nice too. I have hopes this might happen…There used to be a horseshoe tournament down at The Buckhorn Saloon on Sunday afternoons, which was very popular, and the recent Pool Tournament here at The Lodge has got a lot of people involved. People will go to these things but someone has to organize them.”
Vince continues to hunt, mainly pigs, but it is getting harder and harder to find places to go. He also would fish more but “I don’t like to put them back – if I’m going to fish I’m gonna wanna eat what I catch…I remember as a young kid being on Robinson Creek with Bobby Mayberry – we were there every day. I had a crossbow and we came across a white Turkey. We thought it must be wild and I shot it. I took it home and my Mom shouted at me, ‘Whose turkey have you shot?’… ‘Nobody’s – it was wild’, I said… ’It is not wild!’ she continued, ‘Get it in the garage before anyone sees you with it’…A couple of weeks later we were down there again when we spooked a deer and it ran into a fence and got caught. We tried to free it but it starting kicking us so I took out my small knife and cut its throat. Again I took it home and my Mom came onto the porch and said, ‘What in hell have you been doing now?’ I told her what had happened. She just said, ‘Get it in the garage before someone sees you with it.’ She cooked them both up.”
Over the years Vince has also developed firm opinions about the anti-logging movements. “Who are these people to tell us we shouldn’t be logging? I’ve gotta make a living – like many others from logging families. If I don’t do the logging somebody else would jump into my job and do it. I worked for Ed Slotte for a time and we did selective logging – it’s all that way now. You take a few trees and leave the rest. The ones you leave then grow much better. Sure, L.P. was clear-cutting in the old days – it was ugly and I didn’t like it. But now the loggers are helping the environment with the way they select and cut. It’s like farming – there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. None of us wanted to see the clear-cutting continue – the woods are our future, we want to see them grow…Logging is a dangerous job for sure – I’ve only lost these two fingers (he shows me his left hand) but many guys have suffered much more, and I’ve known a few who have died in the woods.”
“I remember once when Tony Pardini and I made a big sign to take to the Earth First people who were camping by the Masonite Road past Navarro, protesting the logging. The sign said, ‘Fuck you Earth First’ and we drove down that way and had our baseball bats with us in case there was any trouble. C.H.P. saw us and pulled us over. They saw the sign and the bats and made us go back. We were in the bar here when some supporters of the anti-logging campaign came in. We were o.k. with them at first but one of them told us his job was building redwood hot tubs!?! Those guys lost some teeth that night.”
I asked Vinnie about his acting debut in Robert Mailer Anderson’s film, ‘Pig Hunt’ set here in and around the Valley. “Robert called me and said he wanted me to be in his film’ playing a character called Gasmask – a guy who hunted pigs and rode a motorbike. He left his number but I didn’t bother calling back – I didn’t give a fuck about being in a movie. They called me back a few times and then the Director, Jim Isaac, met with me and explained the part more and said that Les Claypool was in the movie and I’d be in a few scenes with him. Now I was a bass player and Claypool is the best bass player there is, so I said I’d be in the movie. I was on the set for a few days, hung out with Claypool – he’s a regular guy, a good dude. There was a lot of sitting around but I had a blast, a lot of fun. I saw the movie once but I don’t remember much about it. I was at the screening at the A.V. Film Festival a couple of months ago but I was partying before and it’s all a bit of a blur. I’d like to see it again and have more of an opinion after being in a better state of mind.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Vince from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “That would be ‘Boobies’ – you can’t say it without smiling.” (I did and I couldn’t)…”I also like “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!’ and use it a lot.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – Err, well I don’t like to hear ‘I’ll try’ or ‘maybe’. I don’t want to hear that. I wanna hear ‘yes’ or ‘no’…”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Women and motorcycles.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Women and motorcycles.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “Hot rod motors; bike engines, revved up car engines.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Other than this song we have to listen to now? (There was a Billy Idol song playing in the bar)…Let’s see…I guess it would be the sound of sirens behind me.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “You piece of shit.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “That would a song called ‘Flirting with Disaster’ by southern rock band ‘Molly Hatchet’ – women have told me the song reminds them of me.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Women and motorcycles.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A porn star.” Vinnie hesitated for a moment before adding with another hearty laugh, “Or maybe a gynecologist!”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A shit sucker – those guys who go round after concerts/festivals using a machine to suck shit out of port-a-potties.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I’ve had quite a few – may be the day I got my ‘Patch’ and became a full member of the Molochs.”

What was the saddest? – “The deaths of those close to you. The bad days are easier to remember, unfortunately…Willie’s death was tough. My old dog Hatchet, a blue healer and great pig hunting dog, died at sixteen – he was my buddy.” Was he named after the Molly Hatchet Band? “No, his dad was Hammer, his granddad Hacksaw, his great granddad Chainsaw – you get the idea”…

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I take a lot of pride in whatever job I’m doing. I learned that from my Dad – it was a big part of him, absolutely. My Dad is my hero. People have their heroes, my Dad is mine – to me he’s the best man who ever walked the earth.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “That’s something I’ve never thought about. If there is a heaven and hell I’m going to the other place – I wouldn’t know anyone in heaven!…Well, if I get to the gates I guess it would be cool if he said, “The strippers have prepared your bike – you’re ready to go!”

Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 1:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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