Dennis Quaid wasn’t sure if music — or anything, for that matter — was registering during Harry Dean Stanton’s final days. But since the bond between the two actors was established through a mutual love of song rather than film work, Quaid thought a few tunes might reach out to his dying friend.
“When we would visit Harry was in the hospice,” Quaid recalled, “we couldn’t really tell if he was aware or what. I got into the habit of bringing my Bluetooth and just putting on some music that he loved. That last time we went to see him, I put on Marty Robbins’ "El Paso." We were by his bed picking along with it, and Harry started mouthing the words. He passed either the day after or the next day.”
The “we” in this instance included longtime Los Angeles musician Jamie James, whose friendship with Stanton predated the one with Quaid. For more than a decade, James and Stanton performed folk, rock and soul tunes in clubs with Stanton. When an alliance with Quaid was struck up, the group became the Sharks.
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This weekend, Quaid and James will visit Lexington with the Sharks to further establish a performance bond for which Stanton was a key inspiration and catalyst. Quaid and the Sharks will play The Burl Friday night as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, and the night before, James and his trio Mandeville will play the Green Lantern Bar.
“I was playing this little club down at Hermosa Beach on a regular basis called The Lighthouse,” James recalled. “Harry came in there a couple of times and asked me about starting a band. All kinds of people would come out to see Harry. Chaka Khan came down and played drums with us. John Densmore from The Doors was a Harry Dean fan. He came and played drums. Then Dennis came down.
“Harry had taken me along to a screening of a movie Dennis did called ‘Any Given Sunday.’ Harry and I sat in the very back row so he could go outside and smoke. Dennis came back and sat with us and Harry introduced us. So when Dennis came to the club, we started talking. He told me he was also a guitar player, but hadn’t been playing much. This was around the end of 1999 or early 2000. I said, ‘Well, if you want, you can get up onstage and jam with us. Dennis was saying, ‘Oh, I haven’t played music in a long time.’ But I think when he saw how much fun we were having, he wanted to be a part of it.”
Quaid met Stanton decades earlier on the set of the 1976 film “The Missouri Breaks,” where Stanton meets an especially gruesome end at the hands of Marlon Brando. Quaid wasn’t in the film, but older brother Randy Quaid was.
“I drove my brother’s car up to Montana,” Quaid said. “They were in Billings for ‘The Missouri Breaks.’ I stayed on that set for over four months watching Marlon Brando and (co-star) Jack Nicholson. It was the very first set I was ever on. I met Harry on his 50th birthday and became, like, his driver. We would joke about how I was Harry’s valet. I called him Mr. Stanton. I never really worked with Harry, which is funny considering all the time I hung out with him. I was close to him musically more than anything.
“Harry was kind of like my second dad. I think he was like that to a lot of people, as a mentor and friend. Plus, he was just cool. He was cool in a very Kentucky way, too.”
James agreed, saying the Kentucky upbringing served as the foundation of Stanton’s character and career.
“Listen, Harry never severed himself from his roots in Kentucky," James said.. "Ever. He never, for one second, forgot where he came from. In all the time that I knew Harry, and we became very close, he never severed himself from that humble, earthy upbringing. I really believe that’s what gave Harry his drive. I mean, he died when he was 91. Kentucky was a part of every note he sang, every word he spoke. He was the complete package. He was not some Hollywood phony in any way, shape or form.”
Quaid and James also agreed on Stanton’s preferred method of communication — the telephone. Both recall lengthy, late night calls with him.
“I was going through a divorce and would talk to Harry on the phone a lot,” Quaid said. “That’s the way he liked to talk. We would talk on the phone at night. We would talk for two hours or whatever. He did that with several people. I know he did it with Marlon Brando during the last years of Marlon’s life.”
James added, “It could be 4 in the morning. It didn’t matter. He’d wake up and if I started to strum my guitar, he would know the song. I’d start to sing a bit and he would chime in. Not once did he hang up the phone. It was never, ‘I’m sleeping. Call me back.’ That guy was ready to play music anytime, anywhere with anybody. Always. He had no kind of ego. I loved that about Harry.
“He was as real as anyone I’ve ever met in my life.”
IF YOU GO
Harry Dean Stanton Fest
Online: harrydeanstantonfest.org .
▪ Mandeville featuring Jamie James, Peach Reasoner and Gina Segall. The Green Lantern, 497 W. 3 rd . (8 p.m., $8). Tickets: showclix.com/event/mandeville .
▪ Screening of “Crossing Mulholland” followed by Q&A session with Tom Thurman, Jim Huggins, Jim Huggins Jr., Jamie James and Donnie Fritts. Farish Theater (7 p.m., Free).
▪ Dennis Quaid and the Sharks. The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. (10 p.m. $20). Tickets: ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1685935.
▪ Screening of “Young Doctors in Love.” Farish Theater (11 a.m., Free).
▪ Screening of “Private Benjamin.” Farish Theater (1 p.m., Free).
▪ Screening of “Repo Man.” Farish Theater (3 p.m., Free).
▪ Harry Dean Stanton Trivia with Local Trivia Action. The Burl. (7 p.m., Free).
▪ Donnie Fritts/Western Movies. The Burl. (9 p.m., $12). Tickets: ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1685937 .
▪ Screening of “The Missouri Breaks.” Farish Theater (1 p.m., Free).
▪ Screening of “Lucky.” Farish Theater (3:30 p.m., Free).
▪ Screening of “Char-ac-ter.” Kentucky Theatre (7 p.m., $10). showclix.com/event/characterscreening