Sunday, March 17, 2024

Janis and Tommy in Truchas.

I may be at risk of turning this into a New Mexico travel blog, but there are so many things I find interesting about this underappreciated state that I've adopted as my home.

Here's one: In the hallway outside our office at the Roundhouse (that's the nickname for the New Mexico state capitol building) hangs a framed print of this photo: 

Stolen from the Santa Fe New Mexican
The caption reads something like, "Janis Joplin and Tommy Masters at Law Ranch, Truchas." (I should have written it down. Silly me!) The photographer is Lisa Law. 

Intriguing, right? I know who Janis Joplin was, but I had never heard of Tommy Masters. Who was he? And what were he and Janis doing in a tiny town in New Mexico?

So I asked Mama Google, and after a few false starts (there's more than one Tom Masters associated with the music industry...), I found an article from six years ago in the Santa Fe New Mexican. It's an obituary for Tommy Masters and his wife, Gloria, who died just a few days apart in October 2017. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Tommy and Gloria Masters were two old hippies who were mainstays in Northern New Mexico's commune scene, friends of counterculture icons, adventurers, and loving parents who built a marriage and raised two children in the midst of the free-love era.

They worked for Bob Dylan; hung out with Janis Joplin, Wavy Gravy, Lenny Bruce and Dennis Hopper. In some ways, the '60s seemed to flow through them.

The article goes on to quote the couple's two sons, who explain that their mom was born in Minnesota and their dad in Delaware. They met in Florida. Tommy Masters started out as a horse trainer, but then he got involved with the "beatnik crowd", according to one of the sons, and that's when the real adventure began. In the late 1960s, they bought property in Truchas, NM, which is on the high road to Taos, about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe. Their land was right near the ranch owned by Tom and Lisa Law. They and some other counterculture folks called themselves the Jook Savages. In 1969, they all traveled together to Woodstock in a white bus driven by Tommy Masters.

But what was Janis doing in Truchas? Lisa Law, who's no longer married to Tom Law, explained it to the paper this way: 

Law said Joplin had come to Taos to film a cigar commercial at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. At a bar, the famed singer, who would die in 1970, said she wanted to meet, well, "a mountain man."

Law obliged, introducing her to one at her ranch. Together, Joplin and her new friend went with a group to a bar in Truchas. While there, Law said, the mountain man claimed to have left a potato baking in the oven at his cabin, and Joplin tagged along.

"But I think she checked out a couple of other things because she didn't come back," Law said.

Eventually, Law said, a "very happy" Joplin returned the next day.

"So she sits down on the ground by the adobe wall. And Tommy, who happened to be there, had a hoe in his hand," Law said. "He sits down next to her, so there's a picture of him with the hoe talking to Janis and she's got this big … grin on her face …

"It's the last picture I took of her before she died."

Janis is among the pantheon who went to rock-and-roll heaven at the age of 27. A heroin overdose did her in.

Tommy continued to work as a bus driver when he wasn't farming. He started driving Bob Dylan's tour bus sometime in the '80s. 

The Masterses moved a couple of times as they got older, ending up in Santa Fe. When Gloria got cancer, Tommy nursed her, but apparently it took a toll on his own health. He died the day before Gloria was scheduled to be moved into hospice. Two weeks later, she died. They were both in their 80s -- a tolerable age for a couple of hippies.

But that photo lives on.


These moments of rock-and-roll blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!


Shawn Inmon said...

I know a fair bit about Janis - but I did not know this story.

Very cool!

Lynne Cantwell said...

Glad you liked it, Shawn! I've driven the high road to Taos a couple of times, but I never realized I was following in Janis Joplin's footsteps, lol.