Dave Thomas remembers Ben Dorcy, King of the Roadies

Ben Dorcy died on Saturday at the age of 92. He has worked with Willie Nelson since the early 1960s

by:  Dave Thomas

I stuck out my hand and one of the roadies — the one pushing 80 years old — took it. For a minute I was that close to John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Willie, Waylon and everybody who was somebody in Texas music for the last half-century.

But he shrank back when I introduced myself as a journalist, excusing himself to supervise the packing up of Robert Earl Keen’s gear. Not rude. But not interested in being a story.

That was Ben Dorcy, of course. “The world’s first roadie,” Willie Nelson would tell you. “King of the Roadies,” a documentary film states. “Lovey,” as named by the musicians who treasured him.

Dorcy died on Saturday at the age of 92, after 70 years of working the roads with musicians too numerous to name, but primarily with Willie Nelson since 1960. Yes, he was still working — I saw him in the heat of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic just a couple months ago.

If you prowled Willie’s Picnic the way I did, you’d see him, too. For several years in a row in Fort Worth, he’d be out and about among the crowd in a morning, getting T-shirts from the merch stands for VIPs backstage. Then in the afternoon, you could spy him backstage watching Kris Kristofferson or Billy Joe Shaver from the wings and smoking his ever-present pipe.

Dorcy might have started out as a “band boy,” but he ended up as a godfather of cool. His presence was a benediction, even if many fans were unaware of the blessing.

A couple years back, Texas Monthly ran an excellent article on Dorcy, talking about his start with country star Hank Thompson, his service in the Navy during World War II and his brief stay in Hollywood, where he worked for John Wayne.

Even as he became a revered part of the Willie Nelson Family over the past 50 years, he took time to work with some of Nelson’s contemporaries, as well as the younger generation of Texas musicians — including Pat Green, Cody Canada, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. The number and nature of the secrets that Dorcy took with him Saturday morning must have been quite something.

Dorcy didn’t quite get his due in Willie’s various biographies and autobiographies — the story where Willie’s first wife, Martha, brains Dorcy with a glass ashtray and puts him in the hospital is told a few times in a few ways — but Johnny Bush devotes a page to him in his autobiography “Whiskey River (Take My Mind)” and shares a photo of a tall, thin and clean-shaven Dorcy.

“To me there’s not another person like him,” Bush wrote. “Willie and I have talked about it. We think Ben has hustled the world and that one day he’s just going to turn around and laugh — ‘I had all you guys fooled!’ He’s that kind of individual.”

Dorcy will, eventually, we hope, star in a documentary called “King of the Roadies.” A few years back it was said to be in post-production. Even if we don’t see it, the trailer sure is something.

Houston Chronicle article about the movie shares some good details about the film, which is being directed by Willie daughter Amy Nelson and her cousin Trevor Doyle Nelson. A Rolling Stone article shares a quote from Amy Nelson that explains why Dorcy was so beloved.

“He has no living relatives, yet he is the patriarch of a family of artists, and fellow roadies who love him dearly,” Amy Nelson says of Dorcy. “They call him ‘Lovey’ and he calls them ‘Lovey’. Despite all odds, he shows up to work on tour after tour after tour.”


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