Crawling into bed with a very sore throat, I was aglow like a Christmas tree. I was so tired but so very excited to see what people were going to do when they found out what had happened with WILD BILL today all across the nation. Not only people who knew me, but I was thinking about folks I'd never met in my whole life. My picture was to be in 300 major newspapers in the next three days. Only seconds after I'd broken the original 16 hour record, an UPI press photographer snapped a picture that showed two of the Silver City waitresses standing on either side of me attempting to dry the perspiration from my extremely tired mug. One cocktail server was trying to give me a reviving kiss on my cheek, while I looked as if someone had disconnected my life support system two weeks earlier. However, I was still hitting those strings on that guitar so as not to disqualify myself from keeping that music continuous for the next two hours and fifteen minutes. This was the picture United Press International had sent out on the wire service coast to coast.
What I didn't know was that in the months to follow, over one hundred persons who clipped this picture out of their local papers would bring this historic photo to Vegas to be autographed. Here was another milestone upon which I had not counted. The newspaper and radio coverage was fabulous and I hoped it would never stop. Jerry Reed was correct in his hit recording when he sang "When You're Hot You're Hot!".
The Silver City lounge entertainment schedule had some guy named Wild Bill Cooksey written in to begin at 9:00 PM on Sunday, May 9, l976 only five hours after the finish of my marathon. Needless to say, there was no way I could have sang that night. So my good friend, Denny Fowler, graciously filled in for me. He does an excellent single musical act and surely saved my day! I was currently at home being re-introduced to something called sleep. Therefore, I was able to take off Sunday night and also my regular Monday night to start the healing of my injured throat. It would take a sensible person much longer than that to rest his golden voice box. But hey, Man, I had to make a living!
Foolishly, I hadn't made a dime on this promotion. I'm sure somehow I could have conned someone out of a few bucks for all my efforts, if I only had started planning in March. But believe it or not, after all the free exposure I'd given Silver City and the extra 12 hours of free entertainment I'd logged in, no one offered to give me even one day off. In fact, what really hurt was that I had to pay out of my salary check for Denny Fowler to substitute for me during the night shift, just a few hours after the marathon ended. I would have thought they'd at least have offered that much consideration. But alas, after giving all I had to make this day, a day to remember in this Las Vegas casino, I never received one Thank You. There was not even a letter of congratulations from Major Riddle's office. Though all these celebrities had acknowledged the event, the people I worked for merely passed it off as a cup of chicken soup.
I needed no brass bands, but I learned a good lesson. When you give any part of yourself and it creates business, be sure and have your name on the top of the pile. If you don't, You'll just be shoveled right in with the rest of the seasoned mixture. The management of Silver City had also promised to at least get my name on a marquee sign out front at the completion of the NO-COST-TO-THEM event that received national attention. But do you think that anyone offered to come to me and reassure me that plans for an Appearing nightly--Guinness Book World Record Breaker--WILD BILL COOKSEY sign was in the works? No! Remember these words of advice: When you start to make things happen because of your own initiative, those in charge will try and stifle ambition for fear they'll be exposed for not doing their own job minimally. Brand this to your brain! Why can't we all share each other's glory and not be so menacingly envious?
Jim and Sam had the recording tapes secured. Dennis Hamby and his staff had the videotapes all filed away. Ben Roscoe was starting a plan to get me on TV and lots of other national outlets. This week of May 10 was to be one of the biggest seven days of my life.
Ben had the Las Vegas News Bureau shoot still photos of the marathon and told me he placed them on file in their offices under ONE MAN BAND MARATHON. Someday when I get rich, I'm going to have dozens of all of those prints made and mailed to my great grandchildren.
Probably the most exciting thing I heard on May 11th back at work was that NBC TV had called Silver City. They had seen the newspaper story on me and were inquiring about getting me on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. I almost fell over! They were looking for me? This had to be a dream! Somebody please pinch me if this isn't true! Ben Roscoe followed up on the calls and tried to line it all up for my shot on the show. But I was already scheduled before the marathon to return to Florida for a gig at the end of this week. So Ben asked if we could set it up in three weeks. I wanted to cancel Florida and do it then, but Roscoe convinced me that the best move was to use common sense and do my club date. So Ben told the NBC representative that we'd have to reschedule for the first of June.
Joe Delaney, the noted Las Vegas Sun newspaper columnist and critic, as well as local TV and radio personality, interviewed me on his show. There were other talk shows and interviews which created a morning to night routine all that week. Along with my nightly performance in the lounge every evening till dawn, this whole ordeal was beginning to wear me thin inside and out. Joanne Toadvine and the charity people wanted to see if perhaps we could use some of the film of the marathon for their promotional campaign. So we had to hurry!
On Thursday, Dennis Hamby, Loretta, Steve, myself and a super dude named Billy were to finish shooting this whole TV program for Joanne's group. Our idea was to get enough footage to make an entertaining documentary promoting the charity and inspiring people to attain their own special goals in life.
Now Billy was a young black man in his early twenties, who had been an All-American high school athlete with great aspirations to pursue a professional sports career. Unfortunately, a freak accident occurred that resulted in Billy being shot. The bullet affected his spinal cord paralyzing him from the waist down. This would be quite a trauma for most of us, but Billy had adjusted beautifully. This man is an inspiration to all who meet him. Even without his mobility, he comes across stronger than ten men who have the full service of all their limbs.
Billy's hobby was participating in the VEGAS VAN CLUB which went on weekend trips to the desert in a caravan of paneled vehicles. Nevada definitely has the most beautiful mountains in the world to me and I am lifted up just at the sight of their majestic splendor. Billy was going to drive me out to an area called Red Rock Canyon in his specially designed van.
Dennis and I had planned to film Billy and me in an encounter comparing two individuals who took different roads in life due to a set of circumstances that altered their future choices. One person was a successful athlete as a young man and then crippled later in life. The other individual was sidelined from even walking at all during the elementary years and then twenty years later he broke a world record for physical endurance. The premise was a good one and the chemistry was even better.
On this hot, May day, they first filmed Billy and me riding along down the Las Vegas Strip in front of all the hotels. Then the camera showed us turning towards our destination outside of town. Billy and I were supposed to be talking about what a rough thing my marathon had been and now I needed to get away from the city to the quiet of the mountains to recharge my sanity.
Keep in mind, at no time does this footage show Billy's impairment. He's driving the van and I'm in the passenger's seat all decked out in my jeans and cowboy hat. We're just shooting the bull as two friends would while going out on a holiday to get away from it all.
Dennis was arranging the film so as to flash back during our conversation to show some of the wild things I'd done during the marathon. Laying on the floor, eating the eggs, playing all the instruments and the scenes with the crowd cheering me on, were all to be inserted at key spots for the next 25 minutes in the film to match up with our dialogue.
As we approached this gorgeous Red Rock Canyon, we were aware that Dennis, Steve and Loretta had already arrived. This next scene was to show Steve and Loretta scaling one side of a huge boulder on the other side of the canyon. Dennis wanted to give some real authentic flavoring to our dynamic epic with Steve and Loretta's climbing activity in the distance. Billy and I were to drive up, get out and take a look at the sights. Then we were to make a few comments about what we saw...basically, just two guys doing a bit of rapping back and forth!!! But little did we know what was in store! With Dennis in position focusing the camera on Steve and Loretta's expert use of ropes to scale the rocks on the other side of the mountain, Billy pulled the van into the designated area. Looking tacky and relaxed, I jumped out of the truck and started spouting out compliments of how impressed I was with this spot Billy had chosen for me to view.
"Quick, Billy, get out!", I exclaimed. "It's breathtaking! This is just unbelievable. Come on, Billy, hurry up!"
I kept on ranting while looking around and hitting on the side of the van with my hand to alert my cohort of the urgent desire I had for him to encompass this awesome scene. Keep in mind now that for 25 minutes no one viewing this film was to ever have one hint about Billy's condition. We were looking for reality, not pity.
????????????????????????????????????????? And then comes the shock of this half hour flick. The back doors to the van open and out comes Billy in a wheelchair on an electric lift. Slowly, the motor whines and lowers him to the desert's surface. His hands automatically spin those wheels around, dodging anything that may be in his path. Almost running circles around me, he moves into position to better view the two adventurers scaling this natural skyscraper. I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that while he was rolling around at will, I actually tripped over a rock and a little desert shrub, bruising my shin. I said this was a realistic account. Didn't I?
Finally, in line with the camera shot, we both winged the dialogue. We were just supposed to point at the kids climbing and then get back in the van. But something happened inside of me like never before in my life. I felt the presence of Someone greater than this world. I can't adequately explain it, but I truly believe the Spirit of God was down in that canyon on that hot, May afternoon.
"You know, Billy, those kids sure look as though they're having a good time!" I spoke as I raised my right arm and pointed in their direction. "I sure wish I could do something like that. Even though I can play lots of musical instruments and make people laugh, I'd be a total klutz at anything like that."
As Dennis zoomed in on young Billy's face with the strong wind blowing, this inspiring creature of God uttered the words that changed my whole philosophy on life.
"But, Wild Bill, that's not so hard to do. You know, someday I believe I'll get right up out of this wheelchair and I'll climb that mountain too!"
A feeling came over me like from another world. I trembled inside as perspiration beaded on my forehead. Just a few simple words had destroyed my mind. How true! What little faith do all of us have? When a permanent cripple says he believes he can climb a mountain, why are we whining about our trivial, everyday problems?
Dennis motioned for everyone to return to the van where we all celebrated with a cold drink. Happiness was in our hearts and a feeling of accomplishment filled our satisfied minds.
Driving back to Vegas in an overheated van seemed unimportant. All I could hear in my mind was Billy's words---"I'll climb that mountain". Over and over, it drove me crazy. Mountain! Mountain! Mountain! Get it out of your head, Turkey. You've got to go to work in four hours. You need a shower and some rest.
Dennis had already related that we'd need some special background music for the documentary. Suggestions for an earlier composition of mine entitled Suicide had been considered. That song is not as gruesome as it may suggest, but tells the story of a turnaround in the mind of a depressed human being. Wonder who I could have written that about?
Back in my apartment I showered, ate a cheese sandwich, drank a Coke and started putting on my uniform for work. Then came that voice again, "Mountain! Mountain! Mountain!" Dear God, give me a break! I've got to go to work. There's no time!
Please believe these next few statements are true and not just to make the story more interesting. I have never had an experience quite like this before. Certainly previous to the writing of this book, I have never revealed these details to anyone at anytime. Perhaps I had concern that some well meaning friends might send the guys in the white coats to visit me for a fitting. But now I feel I must share it with you.
With my uniform on, I sat down on the bed and picked up my acoustic guitar. There was a black felt pen and two pieces of yellow paper on my night stand which I kept there for jotting down weird ideas that spontaneously popped into my head. My mind was echoing that word again---"Mountain! Mountain! Mountain!" And my fingers went directly to an E chord on the guitar. I recall saying aloud the words Billy had spoken when he said, "I'll climb that mountain."
So help me God, I do not remember anything else clearly from that moment on. All I know is the next time I remember glancing at my watch, I realized that twenty minutes had elapsed. Time had not stood still. But rather twenty minutes had literally disappeared from my conscientiousness. Here I was sitting on the edge of the bed with my hands still on the guitar. It was like I blinked my eyes and lost one third of an hour. Before I could make any sense out of all this, I became aware of the yellow piece of paper next to me on the bed with words that rhymed and chord symbols written over the lyrics. I gently put down the guitar and picked up the paper. I began reading the words and became very confused. No one else was in my apartment. Where did this come from? Everything on the yellow paper was in my own handwriting, but I had no recollection of penning these lyrics. And why on earth were there chord symbols printed strategically over certain words when I had no remembrance of having created any melody line in my mind?
Are you ready for this? I wasn't ! As if I were singing something as familiar as "Happy Birthday", I picked up the guitar and began vocalizing this beautiful composition. There was no hesitation or bumbling of lyrics as in most new pieces of music I'd written in the past. This song came out of my mouth with the ease of a mother giving natural birth to her child. Even though I was puzzled, I sang it over and over again. It wasn't a pride in selfishly possessing this new composition that showed my expertise in song writing, but a relaxing peacefulness which came over me each time I released the melody from my lips.
Glancing again at my watch, I saw that time had really slipped away. I had to leave for work right now. But if you think I'm leaving this baby here, forget it! Late for work or not, I grabbed my cassette recorder and sang it one more time. There was no way I'd risk forgetting this tune!
At work I felt tired, but also serene and at peace with the world. By the time Dennis and the gang got to the club for closing, I had to perform as much of this new song for him as I could. I'd hoped it would meet his approval for use in the film.
As I sang the song, slowly and with feeling, a sort of magic fell over the entire, noisy lounge at 4:00 AM. I needed no applause or verbal response because the audience's eyes told it all. They couldn't believe it either. How long had I been working on it? Who helped me prepare the lyrics and music? How come I'd been holding out on them with material like this in my portfolio?
Just for the record, I believe with all my heart that, I'll Climb That Mountain was given to me by God. For 31 years I'd searched the world to find my purpose in life. My father and mother wished me to be a minister or a lawyer. However, it seemed that there was another course charted for me that was having a major influence on a large number of people. I believe that God will direct every person to the job He has selected as their role in His Plan for our world. It would be very rewarding for me to be able to use my God given talents to help others overcome obstacles in their lives. Maybe this new song would give me that chance to encourage downhearted folks that they could Climb That Mountain in their lives. Only time will tell.
To go to Chapter Seven
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