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Music

Calamity Jayne, take two

She helped create a music scene. She served hard time in a federal penitentiary. And Las Vegas’ most infamous musical outlaw lived to talk about it all with the Weekly

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Calamity Jayne’s life has all the makes of a Hollywood movie, and at the center of it all is the punk-rock girl in cowboy clothes, Jayne herself.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

A quest for buried Japanese treasure. Low-flying aircraft loaded with cocaine. Three million dollars in the trunk of a Jaguar. FBI agents eavesdropping on phone sex. A cellmate with cannibalistic tendencies.

Savory ingredients for a zany Hollywood movie, packaged with a built-in soundtrack from Iggy Pop, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. Someday, perhaps, but for now the storyline replays mostly in the memories of the woman best known as Calamity Jayne, a curious case of life imitating art if ever there was one.

For a time, some two decades ago, the self-made country singer reigned as queen of the local music landscape, operating a bona fide rock club in the days of casino lounge dominance. She brought Depeche Mode, Sonic Youth and Iggy to town when folks said it couldn’t be done, giving refuge to a burgeoning counterculture in a city on the verge of a population explosion.

Then, as Calamity Jayne shone brighter than ever, she suffered her own calamity. Federal agents lay siege to her desert jewel and ripped it from her grasp. And Jayne, whose rough-talking exterior belied a soft-hearted interior, found herself in the harshest of predicaments, locked behind bars in a federal penitentiary.

“I talked for years about being the greatest outlaw in the Wild West, and I manifested my own reality,” she says. “But I believe there are no victims in life. I hung with people who were risk-takers, and I was a risk-taker. So I am guilty. I deserved what I got. Whatever laws there are, I’m guilty.”

It’s been 16 years since Calamity Jayne last set foot in Calamity Jayne’s—the concert house she owned and operated from 1988 until its 1992 seizure amid a federal investigation into charges of drug smuggling, trafficking and money laundering that would indict some 20 Nevada-based defendants.

She and longtime friend Craig Alan Boyle are lunching one spring afternoon, working up plans to revisit their old haunt. These days, the building located across Fremont Street from the site of the demolished Showboat Hotel houses Latin nightclub El Premier, and Jayne and Boyle are hoping to get back inside, if only for one night, to reunite Jayne and her old band, the Cowpunks. The date of the proposed show? June 20, 2008—15 years, to the day, since Jayne entered the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin, a medium/maximum security women’s prison in Northern California.

“Where else would you play? It’s gotta be there, to take the curse off the club,” says Boyle, general manager for most of the venue’s four-year run. “It’s still there for a reason. Everything else around there has been imploded, but this little club is still there. It’s even still purple.”

This concert schedule from Calamity's includes acts like Social Distortion, Warren Zevon and Agent Orange.

Calamity Jayne was arrested on April 10, 1991, as shown in this warrant.

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Calamity Jayne - Nashville Nightmare

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Calamity Jayne - Ballad of Cala Mighty Jayne

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Calamity Jayne - On the Cover of the TV Guide

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Calamity Jayne - Ooh Las Vegas

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Purple paint wasn’t yet in the plans when Calamity Jayne, born Claudia Rae on June 7, 1949, first arrived in town in the late 1970s. She didn’t even plan to set up shop here. The Southern California native, whose mother had played her Edith Piaf and The Beatles and whose father had exposed her to country music, merely wanted to see her name in lights along the Las Vegas Strip. “I remember coming here on a trip, standing under the Aladdin marquee and saying, ‘Someday I’ll be up there, too.’”

It didn’t take long. Jayne and her Cowpunks—a motley collection of country pickers as wild-natured as they were musically skilled—earned lots of work along the famed Vegas-Reno-Lake Tahoe “silver circuit,” including gigs at the Dunes, Flamingo, Caesars Palace and old MGM Grand. But it was a 300-seat lounge in the center of the Aladdin’s casino that became the first real home to the group and its wacky musical sideshow.

“They called me the Nashville Nightmare, and I truly was,” Jayne says. “I looked like a street prostitute, up there with ripped-up fishnet stockings, and we’d have the audience laughing and jumping out of their chairs, screaming every night.”

Before long, the raucous show had cultivated a loyal, youngish following, which expanded further when Jayne followed then-Aladdin owner Ed Torres to his new El Rancho Hotel just up the Strip. There, the Cowpunks presided over their own Western-themed showroom, serving up refangled country, pop and rock covers and a few originals while Jayne worked her rough-and-tumble magic with tales of excess and exes—nearly every member of her band, though she only tied the knot with one, guitarist Gary Cooper. (The marriage lasted two weeks.)

“Word had gotten around that there were these great players and this wacky chick playing at the El Rancho, so I went down there, and it was amazing, unlike anything I’d ever seen in Las Vegas,” Boyle says. “The later it got, the wilder the crowd got. By the time they started their third set, around 2, the crowd was smashed, and the band was pretty lit up, too.”

Despite her Strip successes, however, Jayne grew restless as the ’80s progressed. The band’s rowdy behavior hadn’t gone unnoticed by casino executives, nor had its predilection for playing loudly. When Jayne’s Nashville-based label, RCA subsidiary Vine Street Records, began prodding her to take the Cowpunks on tour, she balked, opting for another course of action. “I said, ‘Why do we have to tour? Everybody wants to come to Vegas. Let them come to me,’” she says.

And with that, a search began—one with consequences both marvelous and disastrous.

Chat with Calamity Jayne for an instant, and you’ll walk away positive you’ve encountered one of the planet’s singular souls. Her meandering speech patterns—peppered with new age-y eccentricity, from explanations of music’s close relationship with quantum physics to concerns over some impending-but-unspecified environmental catastrophe—seem scatter-brained at first, yet her stories always seem to make a sort of strange, sapient sense in the end.

“Sometimes she truly seems daffy,” says Jay Nemeth, a local cinematographer who shot videos in the club and directed Jayne’s late-’80s stint hosting local late-night movie showcase Calamity’s Asylum. “Sometimes you talk to her and she’ll say these things that don’t make any sense at all, and you can tell she really means them. But it’s like she can switch out of it whenever she really has to.”

Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright, who defended Jayne following her federal indictment, described her this way at her 1993 sentencing: “She’s almost childlike at times despite her introspection and intellect … Sometimes it’s like we’re on a different wavelength when we’re talking. I think we’re communicating … [but] I can’t figure out if she’s above me or I’m above her.”

Jayne’s perceived daffiness stands in sharp contrast to her business savvy—a shrewd recognition of the interests and desires of those around her that led to her successes first as owner of a health-food restaurant near San Diego, then as leader of a popular band and ultimately as operator of the club that laid the rock ’n’ roll groundwork for those that followed—the Huntridge Theatre, the Joint and the House of Blues.

She found her musical hub when the Cowpunks’ lead guitarist, Terry Green, took her to see an abandoned building that had housed seasoned country outlaws, including Merle Haggard and Green’s own father, as the Nashville Nevada club of the ’60s. Jayne spotted the room’s potential through its cobwebs.

Calamity Jayne: rocker, cowgirl, outlaw

“I knew if we put in a top-of-the-line sound system and a great stage, everybody would want to play in this toy box,” Jayne says. “Touring acts would want to come, it would give the Cowpunks a home, and it would also give locals a place to play.”

For four years, Calamity Jayne’s Nashville Nevada did all that and more, bringing sounds and listeners together without regard for genre or scene. It wasn’t rare, even, to hear classical student pianists from UNLV open for heavy rock bands. “One night we would have Juice Newton; the next it was Faith No More. One night we’d have a mosh pit; the next we’d be lighting candles for The Rippingtons,” says Lisa Goulston, a hostess for Calamity Jayne’s in its day. “You’d get people who wouldn’t have talked to each other on the street coming in and enjoying something together in the same room.”

At the center of it all was Jayne, a punk-rock chick in country clothing, whose decorating sense—lingerie hung from the chandelier, cozy booths provided seating (“She had a brothel motif, like Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke,” Boyle says)—was every bit as pronounced as her ability to inspire the staff. “I remember her taking us all outside and saying she didn’t have enough money to pay us that week, and I’d be like, ‘It’s okay, C.J. It’s all about the music,’” Goulston says. Adds Bob Ryan, who headed security for the club, “It might seem like she has a crazy, skittish personality, but she also has a way of motivating people … a way of talking to people and getting them to do what she needs them to do for her.”

To this day, Calamity Jayne’s concert calendar reads like a touring who’s-who for the era—club-level acts and beyond: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primus, Social Distortion, TSOL, The Smithereens, Devo, Concrete Blonde, The Lemonheads, Camper Van Beethoven, Debbie Harry, Warren Zevon, Donovan, The Byrds, Bob Weir, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker, Buddy Guy, The Blasters, NRBQ, Kris Kristofferson, Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, Toots & The Maytals and the aforementioned Iggy, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and Sonic Youth. The Black Crowes and Sublime were among the many fresh acts to play the room, as was Nirvana, which made its only Las Vegas appearance on August 16, 1990, more than a year before the release of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

To an undeniable extent, Calamity Jayne’s Nashville Nevada began to erode the “Las Vegas stigma” from bookers’ and promoters’ mind-sets at a time when most hip acts skipped Southern Nevada altogether.

“Bands were still turning up their nose at Vegas back then,” says longtime area radio DJ Dennis Mitchell, who caught Iggy, Clarence Clemons, Ian Hunter and others at Calamity Jayne’s. “Before [Calamity’s], Vegas didn’t have an established hall; we had roving, transitory places where you’d see a show or two before it closed, and some other hall somebody rented would pop up. Hers was the first quote-unquote club, and that helped us grow up as a market, as a viable place for these bands—and we’re talking about some major bands—to play. Iggy Pop. That’s not a mid-level club act. That’s Iggy Pop. Vegas might have taken that step eventually, but it probably would have taken many more years.”

Of course, bringing in top-flight names meant putting up big-money guarantees, and some weeks that was no easy task. “I had no problems paying the mortgage, but sometimes we did have trouble paying the bands,” Jayne says. So one day, Green, the same man who had introduced her to the club, brought her to meet the man who would ultimately bring it down, his godfather, Carl Ernest Whittenburg.

In the film version of her life, Whittenburg should be played by Dennis Hopper, Jayne suggests. She describes “Ernie” as a thin, lanky, polite good ol’ Texas boy who was humble in the company of women but a braggart around men.

A Las Vegas-based construction contractor with a license to pilot small planes, Whittenburg became something of a legend in the ’80s for his ability to fly in and out of tight spaces in Mexico and South America, and, Jayne says, he quickly became an integral cog in the marijuana and cocaine distribution ring in Nevada and beyond. “He was honorable and trustworthy and never stole from the people he worked with, so he worked himself up so high that he had become one of the top smugglers in the country. He would make $1 million a flight,” she says. “He flew more stuff into this side of the United States than anyone in those days.”

Whittenburg also became interested in the lore of “Yamashita’s gold,” a treasure trove many believe the Japanese buried deep in the ground in the Philippines near the end of World War II and which some insist was never recovered. According to Jayne, Whittenburg began spending much of his time in the Philippines during the late ’80s, aiding then-Philippine president Corazon Aquino’s quest to find the treasure. It was there, she says, he began to run afoul of the U.S. government, which she believes desired the gold for itself. A portion of the federal indictment against Whittenburg and his co-defendants asserted, “Whittenburg invested a substantial amount of his narcotics trafficking profits into … a search for gold … with a view toward ‘legitimizing’ his ill-gotten gains so as to avoid scrutiny by the IRS.”

Though the federal case referred to Jayne as Whittenburg’s “paramour,” she insists it was the other way around—he pursued her, but she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, at least nothing long-term. “I crawled into his bed and gave him one night of love, and that was it,” she says. “But that only made his crush on me bigger.”

Whittenburg began to offer Jayne money to aid the club, she says, with no strings attached or expectation of repayment. “He definitely helped a lot, especially when we needed the deposits for bigger acts,” she says. “Sometimes I’d say I didn’t need the money, but he was the type of guy who would throw a match on it and say, ‘Okay then, it’s gonna just burn if you don’t take it.’ And I’d wait for him to walk away and jump in and grab it.”

As Whittenburg—playfully referred to as “The Godfather” by Jayne and her friends for his relationship to Green—got more invested in Calamity Jayne’s Nashville Nevada, he became more jealous of Jayne’s male companions. Nemeth recalls being tailed by a couple of Whittenburg’s men one night, and remembers a day when Boyle came running into his office, dripping with sweat.

“He locked the door behind him yelling, ‘They’re right on my tail!’ And I said, ‘Who?’ And he goes, ‘The Godfather’s guys, and they’ve got guns!’ And I heard cars go whizzing through the parking lot,” Nemeth says. “Craig’s a real stable person, so this wasn’t some weird, drug-induced musician thing. This was genuine fear.”

As one ridiculous-enough-it-just-could-be-true tale has it, Whittenburg came to the attention of law enforcement when a petty thief broke into a local storage unit, discovered $3 million in the trunk of a Jaguar and snatched up the cash. Soon after, the thief was stopped for a routine traffic violation, during which police discovered suspicious Polaroids—photos depicting the thief and a female companion in bed, covered in money. Before long, the FBI, DEA and IRS were involved, and Whittenburg’s alleged network began to unravel.

Claudia Rae was arrested on April 10, 1991, and charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and investment of illicit drug profits. She was released the same day on her own recognizance.

She’s always freely admitted that the origins of her Calamity Jayne stage persona have drug-induced roots. During a 1974 performance in Del Mar, California, she took magic mushrooms and freaked out onstage while wearing a cowboy hat and boots and playing her guitar way down at her knees. “I kept alternating between crying hysterically and cackling with laughter,” she says. The band she played with in those days walked off, so she carried on alone, noting the empowering effect her performance was having. “The men in the crowd were pushing back away from me, but the women all came forward, and they had big smiles on their faces,” she says. The next day, the local paper reported the episode as a “calamity” and the unidentified woman at its epicenter as “Jane Doe.” Calamity Jayne was born.

Since then, however, Jayne swears she has been, for all intents, clean and sober. “I’m no saint. I’ve tried it all,” she says, “But even though I look wild, I’ve been clear all my life.” Adds Nemeth: “I never even saw her drink, she was so straight.”

Still, Jayne had—she says unknowingly, but federal attorneys contended otherwise—passed cocaine along to an acquaintance in Alaska. At the very least, she’d associated for years with known criminals. The federal government had been tapping her phones and staking out her home and club, popping into the latter now and again to have a look around. Jayne calls the months when the feds were closing in a “cat and mouse game.”

“I used to do the phone recordings for our concert line,” Boyle says, “and I’d receive quite a bit of joy from saying, ‘The feds haven’t shut us down yet. We’re still open, so come on down this weekend.’ We figured we might as well work it a little.”

And then one day, the music stopped, and the place went dark. Feds busted in while Louis Prima Jr.’s rock band, Problem Child, played onstage and confiscated all of the club’s currency. A couple of days later, Jayne and Boyle arrived at the club to find it padlocked, permanently. “It was surreal, like an era was ending,” Goulston says. “Some of us said goodbye that night and never saw each other again. Everything we’d all worked for just dissolved.”

Jayne says federal attorneys wanted information about Whittenburg, but she refused to assist with their case. “How could I sell out? That would have gone completely against what my music and my life are about,” she says. “Telling the truth is one thing, but snitching to save your own ass is another.”

Cooped up in her house on Sunrise Mountain, awaiting trial and in dire need of cash, a desperate Jayne began working the phones—1-900 sex lines, to be exact. “I had the kinkiest, weirdest people in the world calling me. I would literally scrub myself down afterward, and cry,” she says. “But at the same time, I had to smile knowing the feds were listening in. And after a while I figured out how to turn lemons into lemonade. I started doing it as a party line. I’d teach girls how to talk the talk with their lovers. I became more like a counselor, a therapist.”

Though Jayne says the government’s evidence against her was weak, Wright worried a jury might buy the conspiracy charge, which could saddle Jayne with a 20-year prison term. So, after Whittenburg had already been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (he died in the Federal Correctional Institute at Lompoc, California, in 2001), Jayne accepted a plea bargain. In exchange for her cooperation with the remaining investigation—“I told them about everything but [Whittenburg’s] involvement with drugs,” she avers—her own drug charges were dropped, and she was left with a lone count, laundering monies in the neighborhood of $250,000.

In actual movie scripts, money laundering always seems to involve funds coming into a business dirty and returning out the other end clean. “My concept of money laundering was that you have to give it back, and if any man gives me money, it’s gonna go circulate in the universe. It ain’t gonna go back to him,” Jayne says. Or, as Boyle puts it, “I used to laugh and say that if this money was being laundered through the club, most of that money got on a tour bus with these bands’ managers and left town.”

But Jayne discovered the charge of money laundering had another, less obvious application. In the view of federal authorities, she’d been accepting funds from an illicit source—period; whether they’d gone back to the original provider didn’t matter. “There’s not much question … that she was basically going to have the club regardless of how it was that she came to realize that dream,” U.S. Attorney Joseph Angelo Jr. argued at Jayne’s sentencing hearing. “But there’s no questioning, either, that the manner in which that was achieved or attempted to be achieved was clearly in violation of the law. There’s no getting around it.”

Wright countered that Jayne’s goals for her club were never for it to win her fortune or status. “She has lost what she worked 20 years for,” Wright said. “[And] while she’s devastated by these material losses, she’s not a materialistic person, so it doesn’t mean that much to her … The club wasn’t so that she could have money [or] fame … She had a vision and a dream that she was trying to accomplish.”

To an extent, presiding U.S. District Judge Philip Pro seemed to agree with Wright’s assessment of Jayne’s motives. “It is clear to me,” Pro said, “that you are an individual … who is spiritual, who is sincere, who in many ways is motivated to do good things.” But ultimately, the man determining Jayne’s fate ruled that, “The ends don’t justify the means. You crossed the line when you got involved with Ernie Whittenburg and allowed yourself to become involved in criminal activity. … Your conduct, directly to a degree and maybe to a greater degree indirectly, either benefited or resulted from the importation and distribution of controlled substances, and that’s a scourge in our society.

“There’s absolutely no way that I could disregard your conduct and impose anything but a jail sentence,” Pro concluded, and sentenced Jayne to 24 months in federal lockdown.

When Calamity Jayne arrived at the Dublin correctional facility on June 20, 1993, reality hadn’t yet sunk in. She showed up with her hair dyed purple, playfully announcing, “I’m here to check in.” But, she remembers, “No one else was laughing.”

A social psychology major during her college days at the University of Hawaii and San Diego State, Jayne initially viewed her prison term as an “opportunity to find out what it’s really like behind the wall, like a chance to be a journalist.” One crude cavity search later, she knew it would be nothing of the sort. “It was a very horrific reality, that, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not going to be an observer. I’m a participant,’” she says.

Jayne spent the first few months subject to bleak conditions, assigned to a cell with two other women—one of whom, rumor had it, had been incarcerated for chopping off her son’s fiancée’s fingers, putting them in a blender and feeding them to her son. “We had open toilets, the food was frightening, and there were people fighting with shanks,” she says. “Nothing was soft in that place. It was all coarse and cold and gray.”

Boyle, one of a handful of friends on Jayne’s approved phone list, didn’t hear from her for nearly a week, and was even more terrified when he finally did. “She was like a shell of herself,” he says. “She said, ‘I don’t know if I’ll make it out of here.’”

Over time, Jayne found ways to make prison life more manageable. “When she told me she’d taken Kool-Aid from the commissary to keep her hair purple, I knew she’d be okay,” Boyle says.

Jayne secured an English teaching position, with an assist from the judge who had sent her away. “Years later, I was walking down Fremont Street and [Calamity Jayne] ran up to me and thanked me for helping her get into the program,” Pro remembers. “You’d certainly rather have someone thank you than take a swing at you.”

With good behavior, Jayne earned an early release, getting out after 18 months, with four months house arrest and five years probation ahead of her. Despite the tough stretch at Dublin, she still tears up when speaking about the day of her release. “The hardest day of my life was going into prison, but the second hardest day was leaving prison,” she says unsteadily. “I was never going to see those girls again. Some of them are probably still in there.”

Above all, Jayne remains troubled by the prison system she observed. “There was no rehabilitation. It was strictly punishment,” she says. “Our society has the opportunity of a lifetime to help these women, but we’ve dropped the ball.”

When Jayne returned to Las Vegas in late 1994, she found a very different town waiting for her. Most of her old Cowpunks had relocated to Montana. The historic Huntridge Theatre was running a full concert calendar. The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel was preparing to open its doors.

And the Nashville Nevada? It sat empty, its reputation and accomplishments tarnished by its starring role in a sensationalized drug scandal. “There are still rumors that the walls are packed with cocaine and there’s money beneath the concrete,” Jayne laughs.

“The stories were amazing,” Boyle says. “Somebody once told me people were doing lines off the bar, and I was like, ‘Really? That’s unbelievable. I was actually there, and I never saw that happen.’ Because it was not some coke den. It was a special place.”

Despite the loss of her club, Jayne’s notoriety had only intensified while she’d been away. “You could say that in the crazy world she lives in, this was the perfect thing,” Nemeth says. “Like they say, negative advertising is good advertising, and the buzz and controversy made Jayne an even edgier person. She wasn’t just some musician. She was a real outlaw now.”

Jayne began to capitalize by recording a new album, which played off her prison experience with its title, Ballin’ Chain. (Previous recording attempts, under the supervision of former Bob Dylan engineer Neil Wilburn, had stalled with her incarceration after one VH1-embraced single.) She opened Calamity Jayne’s Unique Boutique in Boulder City, specializing in “hippie clothes, to help girls look like gypsies again.” She got back into the nightclub game, operating Calamity’s Underground & Fine Dining in the historic Boulder Dam Hotel (a business later purchased by the Matteo brothers, who ran it until it closed this year). And she started scanning the scenery for new venue opportunities in Las Vegas proper.

But in the end, Jayne’s interests took her elsewhere. Though she maintains a home in Boulder City, she has spent the bulk of the past three years in Todos Santos, Mexico, some 45 miles north of Cabo San Lucas near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. There she relishes her freedom (“My idea of wealth isn’t how much you’ve got; it’s how many choices you have,” she says), watches nearby surfers work the waves and scouts locations for a potential club venture in her adopted Mexican hometown. When she’s not plotting a return engagement at her old Vegas club, that is.

“Music Event of the Summer: The Las Vegas Return of Calamity Jayne and Her Cowpunks” screams the marquee at the El Premier on the evening of June 20. Jayne and Boyle have made it happen, renting their old digs for the night, and old friends and fans are lining up outside to see Jayne with her best-known band for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The interior has changed somewhat—the side opposite the bar has been bumped out a few feet, the stage has been shortened up, and a wall that used to feature signatures from Kurt Cobain, Chris and Rich Robinson and a slew of other performers has been painted over. (Boyle jokes about having a forensic team try to uncover the historic autographs.) But none of that matters to the assembled throng when Jayne hits the stage just after 8:30. For them, tonight is about old friends, good times and, most importantly, closure.

“Very emotional … some of these people I haven’t seen in 15, 18 years. This place was more than just a job. It was a home for a lot of people,” Ryan says. “Since it closed there’s been a lot of imitators, but it’s not just about the club; it’s about the personality of the staff and the personality of the owner.” Would he work for Jayne again? “Definitely, and this time she wouldn’t even have to talk me into it,” he says.

The Cowpunks’ act is as irreverent as ever, from Boyle’s “Straight from Dublin penitentiary …” introductory announcement to Jayne’s comic bickering with bassist Jesse Hamilton—he says, “Cooper’s all cleaned up. He quit doing drugs, he quit doing booze, and he quit doing Calamity” as she glares at him—to the updated lyrics for many of the songs. This from “The Cover of the TV Guide” (Jayne’s play on Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show’s “The Cover of the Rolling Stone”): “They call me cocaine Jayne because I like to powder my nose/They said I laundered money, but I don’t even launder my clothes.”

The musicians, packed horizontally in front of a video screen that occasionally flashes advertisements in Spanish, look grayer than they did in their Vegas heyday, but they’ve still got the old-timey country skills that drew fans in droves. And Jayne? She’s still uniquely Jayne, decked out in her trademark hat and boots with a long white boa draped across her shoulders as she strums her acoustic guitar, caterwauling “Ooooooh Las Vegas” in her famous untamed and untrained vocal manner.

And of course, what would a night with Calamity be without a dash of unconventional whimsy? “It’s so crowded here, it’s like you’ve all come to my funeral,” she declares as daylight approaches, before offering serious thanks to her band. “I owe everything to these guys,” she says before exiting her former stage one final time. “I hate to admit it, but it’s true.”

A couple days later, Jayne reflects on the emotional experience with a description as distinctive as her act: “I felt like I was a ghost walking in here, like I’m floating ethereally, getting a chance to look at everything,” she says. “It’s like jumping the space-time reality from one time zone to another, as if nothing had transpired in between.”

So now, having been reunited, even briefly, with the purple love of her life, what’s left for Calamity Jayne to accomplish? Nemeth, who daydreams about turning her artful tale into actual art, wonders just that. “Her story has all the elements of a successful film,” he says. “The only thing we don’t have is the ending. We don’t really have the character resolution.”

Jayne speaks of revisiting Dublin, as part of a prison tour with the Cowpunks. She imagines bringing her show back to town; “I believe I could come back and pack a showroom,” she says. And, every so often, she fantasizes about relaunching Calamity Jayne’s, be it in the old Nashville Nevada or someplace entirely new. Just as soon as some more important matters get resolved.

“This town is right about where it was when I first blew into town—it’s lost its soul again,” she says. “But I believe there’s going to be some heavy environmental changes in 2012, so I’d say a venue isn’t likely this year or next. But after that, who knows? Watch out for me in 2013.”

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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