The '90s were a wild, strange time. Billy Ray Cyrus sang about his "Achy Breaky Heart" from beneath his wacky tacky mullet. "Talk to the hand" was considered the height of wit. People actually gave Pauly Shore money to perform, not shut up and go away. And me? I thought it would be a great idea to write a mystery series about a scrappy, semi-retired Southern Indiana trucker. Crazy days!
Bill "Bass" Anderson first appeared in an unpublished (because it stunk) horror-ish story called "Road Hog," which I wrote in the heady days of Bill Clinton's first term. (Hmm. Perhaps I shouldn't refer to "heady days" when mentioning...oh, let's not go there, eh?) In the story, Bass has to pick up an abandoned load of pigs -- one of whom turns out to be an evil devil-pig hell-bent on his destruction!!! (Did I mention that the story stunk?) Next up for Bass came an unpublished (because it really stunk) mystery story called "Gearjammer," which was about god knows what. (It was so terrible I destroyed all trace of it. Really. You won't even find it in the folder I keep "Road Hog" and a few other stories in -- a folder labeled "Old and Bad.") But then came the story "Strays," which landed Bass in the July/August 2001 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. A few months later, he was the star of a Christmas crime story called "Special Delivery" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. More magazine appearances followed over the next several years.
I've long since forgotten how Bass originally came to me, but there are clues. His nickname, for instance, is an oblique reference to an old buddy of mine: Mike "Trout" Wiltrout. And "Road Hog" and "Special Delivery" (and probably the long, lost "Gearjammer") refer to a shady transport company called Boraborinski Brothers -- a creation of Mike's fondly remembered funk-punk-ska-rock-polka-rap band Johnny Socko. The Socko boys mentioned the Boraborinskis in several songs on their 1998 concept album Full Trucker Effect. (The concept: The album was a soundtrack for a nonexistent 1970s Convoy/Smokey and the Bandit-style drive-in flick. Like I said -- crazy days!) They even wrote a catchy theme song for the Boraborinskis, and an intentionally not-quite-as-catchy radio jingle, as well.
Eventually Johnny Socko stopped penning new tunes about the Boraborinskis, and I stopped writing about Bass. (The main reason I dropped him: Bass sounded way too much like Big Red Amlingmeyer from the "Holmes on the Range" series, and my oeuvre only has room for one folksy-chatty sidekick/narrator.) But now Bass is back -- and in the most perfect full-circle way I could imagine.
Though Socko is on hiatus (punctuated by the occasional reunion concert), Mike is still a busy entertainer-about-town in Indy. He fronts the lounge-rock duo The Leisure Kings and other bands, he does radio voiceover work, and he produces and narrates audiobooks.
That last credit is brand spanking new, by the way. Because the first audiobook Mike's producing/narrating is Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime by one...well, me. The full audiobook won't be ready until sometime next year, but you can get a sneak preview over at the Ellery Queen podcast. Click here, and you can take a listen to Mike's performance of "Special Delivery." (Calling it "Mike's reading of 'Special Delivery'" wouldn't do it justice.)
So Bill "Bass" Anderson rides (or, to be more precise, drives) again, courtesy of the man who helped (somehow or other) inspire his creation. It's like it's the '90s all over again...but without Pauly Shore this time.