OK—Mucho surprises here. Of course I knew when my 50th birthday was, but I had no idea that there were even one, but two awesome surprise parties planned courtesy of my friends and family! The first party happened in my hometown of Milwaukee, and the general plan was for Sandy & I to fly in and get together with a bunch of my friends and have a few beers, etc. but no big deal (or so I was told). Well, it turned out that since some of my close friends and old rock bandmates were in a band together at the time (see “Flashback” story), they decided to schedule a gig at a local bar called “Puddler’s Hall” in Bayview to coincide with me being in town for my birthday. Once we got to Milwaukee, I was told about the gig and naturally attended. Much to my surprise, it turned out that a major purpose of the gig was for me to do some jamming with my old bandmates! We hadn’t played together in 30 years, but the upside was that we were all better players than we had been in 1982 when we were only 20 years old. Here are some pics and a video, and I’ll never forget that party. It was a very special evening for me and many thanks to my friends for setting it up. I hope I didn’t annoy all of you with any much-too-long guitar solos—Hahahaha!!! I’ll blame Steve the drummer for the one in the video just below. I was trying to finish “Hey Joe” and he just kept pounding away! Click the link below and you be the judge…
Sandy & I came back to Phoenix after a great birthday week in Milwaukee and Chicago, and our friends Marc & Traci had another party planned a couple weeks after my birthday. They had parties all the time, and I had already had my big 50th surprise party in Milwaukee. I was told it was a small party and that it had a 60s/70s theme, and that all sounded good to me (I had plenty of wardrobe for it—Hahaha!). We arrived at Marc’s house and there were a few other cars parked outside that I recognized from our local group of friends, but nothing unusual. I should explain that Marc had the most awesome party house at the time (you can tell in the photos)—It was about 8,000SF and just made for entertaining. In fact, all Marc’s homes have been awesome party houses, and we’ve spent countless days and nights at them over the years.
As we walked in the door I honestly didn’t suspect a thing, and it was actually a little quieter than normal in the house. Sandy & I walked through the large atrium near the front door and nobody was hanging out except the dogs, but when we got to the main doorway to the main room, at least 50 people jumped out and yelled “Surprise!!!” as the music cranked up. I honestly was never so surprised in my life! After the party in Milwaukee, I thought that was it and wasn’t expecting this at all! Thanks Sandy, Marc & Traci for making this thing happen! You can tell from the pics that Sandy & Traci went all out on the theme décor, and we had another absolute blast as usual. Who else could be lucky enough to get not only one but TWO surprise parties for his 50th birthday? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! And who could be lucky enough to have so many close friends at both of them?
For most of
you, this story probably won’t mean all that much because you aren’t likely to
be familiar with my musical idol, Frank Zappa.
For those of you who don’t know who he is, I’ll offer my opinion that he
was one of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century. In his 30-year musical career he released
about 70 albums in every possible musical style known to mankind. He was known as a “rock” musician because he
played a mean-ass guitar, but any given album (or even song!) could contain
musical elements of rock, blues, jazz, classical, avant-garde noise, and a
bunch of stuff nobody ever thought of trying before. Lyrically, Frank was know for his sarcasm and
satire, but an equal amount of his work was strictly instrumental. He composed music for and led bands from your
typical 5-piece rock bands to a 110-piece symphony orchestra and everything in
between. I discovered Zappa in 1980 and
to this day own about 40 pieces of his vinyl.
Yes, I’m a true fan, so what follows was a HUUUUUUGE deal to me.
I moved to Arizona in 1983 and I was lucky enough to attend a Zappa show at the Celebrity Theater in 1984. I fact, there were two shows that night, and I attended both of them, fortunately for me! I took my girlfriend Cindy to the first show, drove her home, and went back to the theater to the second show by myself. Because I had only bought a single ticket, I was able to get an awesome seat in the second row on the end of a row with only about 5 seats total. If you’ve ever been to the Celebrity Theater you know that the stage is only about 2-3 feet high, so I was basically standing right next to the stage. Best $15 I ever spent!
Frank and the band were playing a song called “You Are What You Is,” and there was a background vocal track opposite Frank’s lead vocal in the third verse that nobody in his band was singing. There weren’t any actual words—(my line was “ma-ma-ooh-ma-ma-mao”) and Frank saw me singing this background vocal part and he jumped off the stage and stood next to me at the end of my 2nd row seat and gave me a look like, “You’re up, man!” I was standing right next to Frank and he whipped the mic back and forth between us so we could trade lines into his mic. We sang the second verse together, and then he jumped jumped back onto the stage. If you’re curious about the song itself, check out the link below. Like many Frank tunes, it expresses its message in what would be considered a rather “politically incorrect” way by today’s standards. But that’s just another reason I love Frank! Google “Frank Zappa ‘You Are What You Is'” if you’re curious to hear the song. I can’t seem to get the YouTube link to insert, but I’m working on it!
Damn—I wish we had cell phone cams in those days, but all I’ve got is these lousy ticket stubs and my distant memory—Hahahaha!!! But as an amazing, unexpected life experience to be grateful for–I’ll take it!!!
When I moved back to Milwaukee briefly in 1989-90, I had the privilege to get into a band with a couple guys who were waaaaaaay better musicians than I was. The bass player was Miko Montgomery (jazz icon Wes Montgomery’s nephew), and our drummer Steve was certainly no slouch. The only reason I passed the audition was that I knew how to play all the grooves (funk, reggae and ska) Miko was looking for, and apparently no other guitarist in Cheeseland had that figured out at the time!
We played a bunch of gigs at local bars (of which there are many in Milwaukee!) and even got to play at the famous Summerfest music festival once. For me, the real achievement was getting to record a couple of tracks with these guys and our guest keyboardist Jeff Stehr. I was also lucky enough to know a guy named Jeff Solper from work who had a full-blown recording studio in his basement! Jeff dialed in a guitar sound that made me sound waaaaay better than I was, and for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve attached our songs here in case you are curious, and if you like them you can download them in the links just below.
“Activator” is actually an instrumental ska/rock piece written by renowned Phoenix guitarist Donnie Dean of “The Effects” fame. I was a huge Effects fan, and Donnie taught me how to play “Activator” one day so I had to record it for posterity. I don’t think even Donnie has recorded it, but I’m sure his version would be better than mine. Thanks, Donnie!
The second song is a medley of Funkadelic’s “Standing on the Verge” and James Brown’s “Get Up/Sex Machine” and was Miko’s doing. Again, playing with people much better than I was made me sound much better than I was. Thanks, guys!!!
Try not to laugh too hard at the pics, and remember that I was never a real rock star–I just liked “playing one on TV”–Hahahaha!!!
“Back of the Bus, White Boys”
Most of our gigs were playing at local bars as you can see from the photos, but Miko got us a gig playing at the Wisconsin chapter of the NAACP annual awards banquet. As you can also see from the photos, we set up like a typical rock trio–The drummer in the center rear and the two guitar players/singers/front men out front on either side. Pretty typical. However, this was not to be allowed at the NAACP gig because a condition of Miko getting the gig for his band with two white dudes was that he had to be the sole front man and lead singer! Even songs I normally sang lead on and that I had brought into the band I would not be allowed to sing, so we reconfigured our stage lineup (and song list!) so that “Steve the Ghost” and “Cracker Eric” were on the rear of the stage left and right, and our “Bro Miko” was front and center all by himself.
When I first heard about these conditions, I must admit I laughed my ass off at the irony of it. Miko was cool and said that if we crackers didn’t want to do the gig, he would totally understand, but to be honest I was rather intrigued by the concept of being on the other side of “racism” or whatever the hell you want to call it, and I was also quite curious about what the vibe would be towards me on gig night. Steve pretty much shared my attitude, and we figured that it would be interesting to see what it really felt like to “ride in the back of the bus” so to speak, and whether the NAACP people would be cool to us (other than the initial conditions!) in general. Besides, the gig paid about $500 for the band, which was about double the going rate at a club in those days. I’m certainly no whiny snowflake (Ha!), and the most important color of the evening was definitely green for me!
The gig was in a mid-size hotel ballroom, and I think there were about 200 NAACP attendees. Of course, Steve and I were the only white dudes in the room, and I have to say that everyone was really very cool and friendly to us the entire evening. Like any event of this type, they of course had a catered buffet which was actually quite good! A really nice lady coordinating the event invited all of us to help ourselves to the fried chicken entree, a variety of tasty side dishes, and of course watermelon for dessert. The food was all quite good, and I honestly didn’t think there was anything unusual about the menu, but Miko sure did! He pointed out the irony of an organization like the NAACP promoting black stereotypes by serving fried chicken and watermelon, and he steadfastly refused to be seen eating either of those items! Of course Steve and I had no qualms about chowing down on the tasty fried chicken and watermelon, and we taunted Miko mercilessly by holding our plates out to him offering up the food while munching on it and saying, “Mmmmmm…Tasty!” and shit like that–Hahaha!!! We experienced a lot of irony that night, and besides the decent money, we (well, we white boys at least!) got all the fried chicken and watermelon we could scarf down. We made sure to eat Miko’s share as well!!
Courtesy of Bob again, we were able to take a stab at recording an actual Beatles’ song in an actual recording studio. Brian (pictured on left) was the driving force behind this and played a really nice lead that was close to Harrison’s on the original recording. Actually, I’ve heard a rumor that McCartney actually played the “Taxman” guitar solo, but I’ll let Brian the Beatles Guru weigh in on that one. Now if we could only sing like the Beatles… sigh…
I’ll also throw in a couple of Flashback originals here. I can’t take credit for writing “Valarie” or “Everything You Do” but the obnoxious Farfisa organ is all me. I think we did this in Bob’s basement after he took his recording class and got some of his own gear. I’m going to credit Brian and Steve with the songwriting, but I honestly have CRS and can only remember how much fun it was playing with you guys!
I wrote the music to this when I was a freshman in college at UW-Madison based on (believe it or not!) some “lyrics” written on the bathroom wall inside a stall on the floor of my dormatory. The “lyricist” (and I use the term loosely) was a guy named Roger we called the “Shithouse Poet.” Roger’s “poems” were actually pretty funny, so I had to come up with some music we could sing them to around our dorm. The SAC Man was the “Student Affairs Coordinator” of Witte Hall, and as the mega rule enforcer working for the University of Wisconsin needed to be immortalized in song. There never was a real “band” performance with the lyrics, but the jam wasn’t bad, so the other guys indulged me in the recording studio when our bass player Bob was learning to become a recording engineer. We were about 19 at the time. You can hear the music below, but only I remember some of the lyrics…
Dano–Your essay below is the inspiration and the catalyst for everything to follow in my blog. So you get the credit (or the blame–hahahaha!) no matter what the hell I post in here! Seriously, when you initially wrote your essay about 5 years ago, it brought back a flood of memories and made me examine a life for which I am truly grateful. Not only in the sense that I remembered the things we did together (like playing in a band and sharing a high school experience together), but I immediately realized I had dozens of similar life stories I wanted to tell about what I’m calling my “55 rock star years” on Planet Earth. I started making a list of my life stories on a legal pad whenever I thought of them, and I’ve amassed at least several dozen at this point. Now is the time to express my gratitude for this awesome life and hopefully inspire others to realize how lucky they truly are…
“Crickey the Rock Star” (OK–I was never a real rock star, but it sure was fun “playing one on TV,” especially with you guys!
I quietly strummed my guitar. It’s hard to do that when you’re all amped up, on a stage, and seconds from beginning a show. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, not yet, but I had this dreadful feeling something was wrong. Strummm…it was out of tune. Every. Single. Fucking. String.
In dreams, once you find yourself naked and in front of a crowd, you wake up. That is the difference between a dream and a nightmare, and there was no waking from that moment. A quick tuning of the guitar isn’t that complicated, but when you don’t have a starting point and you need to be in tune with your band mates, it gets complicated real fast. “Fucking road-eyes. Buck, give me an E,” I said to the bass guitarist.
The stage lights were still off, and the high school auditorium was dark so I couldn’t gauge the attendance. There were over one thousand seats, and it was surprisingly packed for a high school gig. It was “standing room only” packed we learned later. Every year, seniors would play in what was dubbed Senior Sound Waves. That year, it was subtitled ‘81 Overture’ and the poster had an apple shot through with an arrow. Buck was in charge of promoting the show. No doubt, it was he and the Roach who tied our 1981 graduation year to the William Tell Overture, hence the arrow and apple. Buck’s idea of promoting the show consisted of a promise and a flyer.
teacher in charge of the event, Mr. O’Neil, was young and enthusiastic enough
to believe Buck’s promise that the show would sell out at $5 a ticket. Buck
then printed out a bunch of flyers, pinned a few up around the school, and then
gave the rest to his girlfriend K.A.A. (pronounced ‘kaw’, as if you were
imitating a crow call) who attended the sister all-girl school. We thought
there was somewhere between nine and twelve hundred kids and parents. O’Neil was
ecstatic. K.A.A. had come through.
The crowd sat expectantly. That was the worst part. I felt that everyone stopped what they were doing just to watch me. To listen to me. To see if I could tune a fucking guitar. To watch, and to listen, and to see me fail. My hands began to tremble. If I had my own guitar, this would never have happened. This never would have happened to Jimmy Page. Jimmy had his own guitar, and plenty of them. He had that sunburst Les Paul; the double neck electric; the acoustic; the double neck acoustic; even a goddamned triple neck acoustic. Jimmy had people and they tuned his guitars. Jimmy had roadies, not road-eyes like I had. And, other than the fact that Jimmy wrote million-dollar songs, sold millions of albums, owned a castle in Scotland, and could hold an entire arena in awe with his mastery of the instrument—playing it with a goddamned bow for Christ’s sake—the only real difference between Jimmy and me was the fact that he had long curly hair. Mine was straight. Well, that and that I had a pack of stoned and drunken road-eyes chimping around with my guitar…and that it wasn’t even my guitar.
around ’74 or ’75, I rescued an abandoned catgut string guitar from my eldest
sister’s closet. I had no idea how to play, but I knew instinctively that I
could. My older siblings—sister, brother, sister—were each forced to play an
instrument. They could choose their instrument, but not whether they would take
lessons. I loved a picture of my brother when he was eight. He was frowning as
light reflected off the coke bottle glasses he wore. He had a mop of cow-licked
hair. He was sitting on a fold-up chair being crushed by an over-sized
accordion; his chin barely reached over the top. Soon after that photo was
taken, mom relented and he took up the trumpet.
My second sister played the clarinet. Sometimes, when she wasn’t around, I’d open the case. The body of the clarinet was mesmerizingly smooth. It was jet black and had silver keys that hovered an eighth of an inch over the holes. I couldn’t help but touch it. I knew I shouldn’t, I had been warned. I just couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t get one goddamned sound out of it, though, other than a squeak. No matter how many reeds I jammed into it, no matter how many sections I took off it, or twisted around, or tried to rearrange the order of, nothing made a difference. In the end, I would pretend and simply hum through the bottom, bell-shaped section.
It was my oldest sister’s guitar. They took lessons at Maus Music. I was too young, they said. In time, I was assured. I recall walking on the creaky wooden floor of the store as they took lessons in small rooms closed off by musty smelling curtains. I bided my time by looking at the cymbals and triangles and other instruments hanging on the walls. I would thumb through sheet music all wrapped in plastic and arranged in long, wooden racks. I couldn’t read any of it, but I could dream. One time, Mrs. Maus gave me a kazoo.
Something unusual happened, or should I say, didn’t happen when I turned eight. I wasn’t ‘forced’ to play an instrument. My mother had died, and my father, who was naturally a “Sit down, shut up, and study your lessons,” kinda father, simply had no patience for the unique racket my siblings made. Whenever they practiced, the house sounded like a grade school orchestra gone rogue; random notes flitting about, intolerable squeaks, and I swear every song died from arrhythmia. It was as pleasant to listen to as two fully laden glass trucks colliding with one another. When my time came, I was practically forbidden to play. But I did anyway—my sister’s old catgut guitar.
It took a couple of years of me begging, and the help of my step-mother, Diane, but my father finally relented. I was allowed to purchase a steel string guitar. It wasn’t some grand gesture on his part, more of an embarrassed acquiescence. There was more of a ‘you can play it in the basement when I’m not home’ feel, than a thoughtful gift meant to show confidence in my budding talent. “Beethoven could play any piano–He didn’t need a grand,” Dad said. None of that mattered though. I had my guitar and he was never home.
One hundred bucks didn’t buy much of a guitar. I kept the receipt in the cardboard case the guitar came in. It was a quarter-body sized Epiphone with a spruce top and mahogany body. I called it Epi. I felt like a troll playing a ukulele. It had something of a dreadnought body, but I always thought the body top—where the neck meets the body— was disproportionately small compared to the body bottom—the part you drape your arm over. I couldn’t sit down, put both arms over the top of it, and talk with whomever was in front of me without severely listing to my left. Normally that wasn’t an issue, unless I happened to have a few drinks or accidentally inhaled something—then it became problematic. My only hope was that any drug induced lean was to my right, then the guitar would actually hold me in a neutral position. The Epi produced a sound something like those iPhone-sized Japanese transistor radios from the ‘60s, and the B string was impossible to tune. I had to file the bridge down to lower the action so my fingers wouldn’t bleed. Of course, lessons did not come with the deal.
The key to our show was the trap door, and you must understand this point. Buck came up with the idea (I think he did, but he doesn’t recall). A typical high school band would subject their audience to a series of crashing drum cymbals, ear splitting feedback, and an endless, eye-glazing string of “test, test, tests” as they set up their equipment. After which, these amateurs would hack out a few cover songs, and then float from the stage on their over-inflated egos. We, on the other hand, intended to put on a show. I had visions of lasers dancing to Baba O’Rielly as an act opener, but I quickly shot that down myself. Who had lasers? Who could play the keyboards? Who was going to sing like Roger Daltrey? The Who, that’s who. No one else could possibly pull that off.
No, we needed a dramatic entrance, but, one that could work. We decided to have the trap door slowly raise each one of us, one at a time, and under dim lights. Then, the hooded road-eyes would carry us to our respective spots on the stage as if we were mannequins, or something. Then they were to hang our guitars on us. Of course, that meant entrusting my guitar to someone else, if only for a moment. I think my road-eye was drunk. I think he crashed my guitar into every wall between the dressing room below and the stage above. I think he dropped it down the steps a few times. Heck, I think he skateboarded it down the steps. I think he hated me. But, this wasn’t truly my guitar. This wasn’t the Epi. We were electrified. This was some nameless imitation Telecaster on loan from Tow Head.
Tow Head was of elfin blood; slight figured, white skinned, anime round blue eyes, and long blond hair that clung close to his head. He was a bit squirrely, and a reluctant student in freshman English class. Fr. Forey, a frock and sandal wearing Jesuit, who could easily have passed for ‘long since dead’, dubbed him Tow Head in a moment of bewilderment at some off-the-cuff answer the Tow Head once proffered in class. Fr. Forey himself had long, thinning, grey hair and a beard that he could chew on if he was ever so inclined. Though I never saw him do this, I often imagined that he did. He reminded me of Merlin. If you were dark haired, he would call you a horse’s collar. To be stumped on a vocabulary word was an affront. “That’s a good word,” he would sullenly say. “Learn it, put it in your pocket and use it…you…you horse’s collar!” Tow Head knew that he wasn’t going to play in the Senior Sound Waves, so he lent me his guitar.
in the crowd shouted “Dan-O.” Buck had helped me tune the E, A, D, and G
strings, but bass guitars only have the four strings. I was on my own for the B
and high E. The cheapness of the Epi had damaged my ear. To this day, I cringe
when trying to tune a B string—it’s one of the reasons I gave up the instrument
altogether. Since one naturally uses the B string to tune the high E, I had to
adopt alternate methods. I used harmonics to tune the low E and the high E
together. It sounded cooler, and made it look like I knew what I was doing.
But, that left the B to total guess work.
first attempt at electrification came at the expense of my family. We had an
old Garrard stereo cabinet as large as a buffet. The outer doors hid the
speakers. The inner doors covered a reel to reel tape deck, space for albums, a
turntable, and the control panel. I would plug the jack-end of one of those
cheap four-inch, black plastic microphones into the control panel, and then jam
the head-end of it into the body of my acoustic guitar and crank up the volume.
There was a lot of feedback, and you could hear the mic banging around inside
the body every time I moved and I moved a lot. I had to.
In order to figure out songs back then, I had to play a small segment of it on the album, lift the needle up, and then try to imitate what I had heard. It was a painfully slow and repetitive process, especially if there was complicated finger picking involved. My brother simply said, “The louder you play, Dan, the louder your mistakes are.” I was a bit downtrodden after that. I had reasonable talent on the acoustic guitar—I just never developed the corresponding confidence to pull off a one man show. But, then came the call.
original band, The Derek Small Band, was the brain child of The Stiff (that
wasn’t his real name, but given that he stiffed me on a business loan later in
life, I feel tagging this label on him appropriate.) Back then, I had no idea
who—or possibly what—a Derek Small was, but that didn’t matter. The Stiff said
it was a spoof, and had something to do with Jethro Tull. Of the twenty-six
members of Tull, none of them were named Derek or Small. Recently, Buck
informed me that Derek Small was the name of a fictitious character on the
cover of Tull’s Thick as a Brick album. Sometimes, I just wanted to beat
the Stiff like a drum. Anyway, back then it didn’t matter. What mattered was
getting a band together and jamming. Tommy played drums, Buck was on bass, I
played rhythm, and Stiff played lead and sang. Everything was based on Neil
Young’s Live Rust album and movie. Even the cinnamon colored, cloaked and
hooded, Jawa looking, road-eyes.
For this gig, Senior
Soundwaves, we brought on a special guest, Crickey. Crickey could play the
guitar. Though our decisions were made in the fog and smoke of adolescence,
many–surprisingly–turned out to be right. The decision to bring Crickey into
the band was one of them.
something of a bigot, which was odd given that he was full blown Mexican. My
Korean side had shown me the harm of bigotry long before. I was always the
Chink, the Nip, or the Jap or whatever because none of the pasty-faced blondes
at the parochial grade school I attended knew where Korea was let alone any
derogatory slang specific to the country. The Stiff’s racial slurs were
threatening to become the focus of the band.
Crickey, on the other hand, was somewhat anomalous. He was tall, thin (a bit pasty himself), but didn’t care at all what you looked like as long you thought right. Idiocy was his biggest -ism. The amount of weed Crickey smoked would make most men curl up in a fetal position, claw at the air, and shield themselves from people they knew were coming after them. Pot can have this paranoia inducing effect on people, or so I hear. But not Crickey. He scored in the top 3% of the nation on his ACT and SAT tests while stoned out of his gourd. He was a critical thinker, and loved to argue with authorities. But, more than anything, he could play the guitar. He taught me the scales and how to find the chords within them. With his help, and a Mel Bay’s Book of Guitar Chords, I was able to start figuring out songs for myself. By bringing Crickey into the band, we refocused on the music.
drove the bandmates insane at practices with my propensity to throw in
‘Wacka-chucka’s at inappropriate places. I couldn’t help myself. I loved them.
I was a Wacka-chucka-holic, in total denial, and in need of an intervention. A
Wacka-chucka is something akin to a muted ‘Fiebrantz’ and best played in an
empty, otherwise silent space, known as a rest. To put it simply, form a chord,
but then mute all the strings with a free finger, and strum down. That’s the
Wacka. The ‘chucka’ is the partial up-stroke on the strum. Once you know what
you’re listening for, you’ll hear them a lot. Jimmy loved them. He used them to
great effect in The Ocean. A full-blown Fiebrantz, on the other hand, is its
opposite. The ‘Fie-’ is a partial up strum and the ‘brantz’ is a wild hack of a
down strum. Instead of muting the strings, you let a discordant chord ring out.
One practice, they took me up to a bedroom in Tommy the drummer’s house. They sat me down. It was a small bedroom inside a small bungalow on the south side of Milwaukee. No words were spoken. I felt mildly claustrophobic. The bed had a white cover. Dirty clothes, lying on the floor, kept the closet bifold doors from closing. There was a turntable, the type with a built-in speaker, on a table in the corner. The speakers crackled. Soon, the song we had just been practicing broke the silence. They forced me to listen to it. Crickey kept repeating, “There, that’s where you Wacka-chucka, right there and nowhere else!” I felt humiliated. At one point, Tommy the drummer had to leave the room. The mirror hanging on the wall was of no use. I needed to look deeper. I was forced out of my denial. And, with the support of my bandmates, began the long and lonely walk down the road of Wacka-chucka-holism recovery.
the only thing I loved more than the Wacka-chucka, was the technical lexicon
used in the world of high school garage bands.
first thing we decided to do, was to rename ourselves. Actually, it was about
the fourth or fifth thing, but, whatever. The Derek Small band had played out
once, a charity gig at some Catholic school. We were well received, but it was
time to move on. We were sitting around the kitchen table at Tommy the
drummer’s house on the South Side. You couldn’t be in the South Side without
over spicing the conversation with ‘hey der,’ ‘ya know, hey?’ “wanna PBR?’ and
‘how bout dem (you fill in the blank.)’ Of course, ‘kielbasa,’ was pretty much
the answer to any question posed. Those who mock Wisconsinites’ vernacular,
always sound like Southsiders. Think Fargo.
The term South Side became pregnant with so many other words and concepts; we simply called South Siders ‘hey-ders.’ Tommy was a multi-generational hey-der and took pride in the car up on blocks sitting in his driveway. He worked on it over the weekends. All good Southsiders had a car up on blocks and a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on ice. He lived just north of Cudahy. Cudahy, the meat packing company (hence kielbasa), epitomized all things southside. Personally, I just liked the way the name contained a natural echo…’Cudahy, hey.’ So, we were sitting around the kitchen table, talking like a bunch of hey-ders, as we set out to rename the band.
sisters were members of the pom pom squad at their high school. Pom pom girls
were like cheerleaders on steroids. They held themselves to a higher standard
and were adored, or loathed, by the crowd. It really depended on whether you
were on the squad, or everyone else. There was arrogance and cattiness. Some
thought the whole thing so ridiculous they referred to the squad as the pompous
pompous girls. Often, practices were held at our house. It drove me nuts. What
seemed like hundreds, maybe thousands, of girls would descend upon the house
screaming and doing all that girlie-girl hugging crap. I swear if they practiced
at all I never saw it. Yet, at half time of every game, they would strut onto
the field, or court, in their short little skirts, pompous pompous poms
bouncing, plastered on smiles, and dance a dance they called the Highlander
Fling to a song called Scotland the Brave. Watching them was okay. It was the
song that kept my attention.
something about bagpipes that lifts me to a higher plane. Listening to bagpipes
is like eating a cumquat. Cumquats are micro-oranges inside out. The rind is
sweet, but the meat is bitter. You pop the whole thing into your mouth and eat
the rind, the meat, and even the seeds. At first, it tastes good, like you made
the right food choice for the first time in your life. But, that doesn’t last
long once the juices start flowing. When that happens, your face pinches up.
Your body shudders. I swear to God, the first time I ate one, I asked, “Are you
trying to kill me?” But, then I reached for another. And then, another.
It took time, but I figured out how to play Scotland the Brave on the Epi. I had to re-tune my guitar to an open G tuning, so I could get a nice constant drone like the bagpipes have. That freed up my left fingers for playing the melody. I thought it sounded pretty cool and that thought was what struck me when we were sitting around Tommy the drummer’s house talking like a bunch of hey-ders.
and Buck were at the breakfast table. Tommy sat on the counter and the Stiff
was hovering about. I sat on an upholstered chair a few feet away and had been
dreaming about I thought Jimmy would be sitting if he were sitting in this
chair inside this southside bungalow. But then, the vision: Scotland the Brave–electrified.
The song would begin with a dramatic prelude: a long drawn out, seat-rattling
droning in the key of G; multi-colored spotlights slowly illuminating and
circling a mist filled stage; a lonely, fuzzed-up guitar slipping through the
darkness. It would be haunting, think loon on a moonlit, woodland lake. Then, in
a few bars, the lights would blare and the rest of the band would crash in and
the song itself would begin.
I said, “How about Bagpipe Music?”
hey-der accents stopped. I was met with blank stares. Silence, himself, paused
to look. A chair scratched the floor as someone shifted in his seat. They
simply couldn’t access the wonder and awe of the scene inside my head. I blame
them not. Slowly, the scene vanished like fog burned away by the midday sun. My
head was empty, and I felt cold and alone. A solitary seed in a dried-up gourd.
The once brilliant idea, slowly and painfully, came to a rattling end, leaving me to wonder, what if
I had offered up The
The subject of sex was never far from the mind of a teenager, and so it was no surprise that that was what filled the vacuum created by my suggestion. The best way to get a laugh out of a teenager is with a sex joke. Someone cracked wise to break the tension. ‘Beaver’ was a big term back then when referring to a woman. And we all grew up watching Leave it to Beaver. Cleaver had become the pivotal word because–as Crickey explained his thoughts–it phonetically sounded like “cleave her.” Right there and then, The Cleaver Beaver Band was born. There was only one problem; the Jesuits who ran our school were smarter than us. We knew the name would never fly. We decided to ‘put that name in our pocket’ and use it for future, non-Jesuit, gigs.
We sat in silence for a while. I had read the book Equus in English Lit and we also watched the movie in class. It’s a story about a messed-up kid running naked in the night blinding horses with a spike all the while shouting, “He sees you, He sees you!” I couldn’t help but think, “Of course He sees you—you’re running naked in the night blinding horses with a spike, for Christ’s sake.” Since our show was a total rip off of Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse, we decided to play with the name. We were armed with the Latin word for horse, equus, all we needed to find was the Latin name for crazy. The Stiff knew the Latin teacher—a tall geeky guy whose only possible lot in life could have been a high school Latin teacher—so, it was the Stiff’s job to find out the proper Latin word. A few days later, we became Equus Daemons. Not only was the name fitting, it was sure to impress the Jebbies.
The show was broken down into segments. First, we all played together; a few Stones songs and one Dylan. That was the fun part. Buck couldn’t play bass and sing at the same time, so I got to play his Jet-Glo Black Rickenbacker 4001 bass on the songs he sang, like Live With Me, Get Off My Cloud, Jumping Jack Flash, and, of course, Sympathy For the Devil. For some reason I’ll never understand, while Buck couldn’t sing and play a four stringed instrument, he could jam on the piano and sing without a problem. The Rat Rickie, as he called it, had this full bass sound, but with a bright tonal quality. It could really shine through the full force of a cranked up, fuzzed up, curtain of music. Live With Me was my favorite. I started off the song, and for a few bars, it was just me. The same was true for Dead Flowers. Except, on Dead Flowers, not only did I start out the song, I actually used my own acoustic guitar. I couldn’t sing for shit, though. To quote Leo Kottke, my voice sounds likes goose farts. I was given the task of ‘who-whoing’ my way through Sympathy, and was the response to the call in Get off My Cloud.
After the Stones and one Dylan segment, everyone except Crickey exited the stage. He stayed on and played The Star-Spangled Banner ala Hendrix. He had this white Castillo, a Japanese rip-off of a Fender Stratocaster, which is what Jimi played. To watch Crickey, you’d think Jimi had been reincarnated into a pasty white suburban kid. At some point during his performance, I believe when he played with his teeth, Crickey cut himself. There is nothing as poetic as red blood dripping down the face of a white guitar as it bleeds out the Star-Spangled Banner. Of course, some of the folks there said it was blasphemous to play the song that way. They were probably old and white and had never heard of the young black man named Jimi. Crickey played behind his back. He played with volume. He played on his knees. Then, he collapsed onto the stage and let his guitar ring out with such dissonant discord, it eventually turned into a deafening hum of uncontrolled feedback.
Stiff walked on stage with his acoustic. He was going to do a few solos. Neil
Young. That was the start of the Neil Young part of the show. As he walked out,
he dropped a black rose onto Crickey’s dead carcass as the road-eyes prepared
to drag him off stage. Fr. Stang greeted Crickey right behind the curtain.
Stang was hairy and sloped like a Neanderthal. To some, he was The Missing
Link. To others, he was The OranguStang. Out of naked fear, I called him Fr.
Stang, my physics teacher. I saw him a few years ago, back at that school. I
was visiting, and caught a glimpse of him down a hallway. I couldn’t be certain,
though. It was all a blur. After gathering my courage, I went for a closer
look. He had disappeared. Vanished. No trace what so ever. His hair was still long,
but white. He still had that Neanderthalian slope. The Missing Link had become
Yeti. The receptionist confirmed my sighting, but said no more.
his prime, Fr. Stang had an egg fetish. Once, he made us wrap up eggs so that
he could drop them off the roof of our four-story school. After that, he lined
us up in the gym, two rows facing each other. One row was given eggs, and told
to throw them at their partners in the facing row. It wasn’t like dodgeball or
anything…at least it wasn’t supposed to be. I mean, after all, what could
possibly go wrong if you give a group of teenaged boys dozens of eggs and tell
them to hurl them at one another? We were supposed to throw, catch, take a step
back, and repeat. The point was to
see who could throw and catch the farthest without breaking the egg. Why that
ever amounted to a point I’ll never know. I’m not sure anybody won
either of those competitions. Certainly not the janitor.
Stang had no sense of humor. One day we got back from a liquid lunch and took
our seats in his physics class, the last period of the day. His head jerked
upward, he emitted threatening chimp-like grunts as he slowly sniffed the air.
He glared. “It smells like beer in here,” he said.
am positive we would all have been busted and expelled if good ol’ Murph hadn’t
jumped on the hand-grenade. Murph smirked, jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in
the direction of an open window and said, “That’s because Miller Brewery is
was. You could see the red Miller sign high above the main brewery right
outside our window. On windy days, the smell of hops filled the room. But Fr.
Stang didn’t smell hops that day and wasn’t about to take any nonsense from a
curly haired, bobblehead drunk like Murph. I think he is still in detention. God
bless him, though, he saved us all.
O’Neil was in charge of this show, however, the auditorium belonged to Fr.
Stang. He was not there, though, the day we mapped out our show. Unfortunately,
he was there as the road-eyes dragged Crickey offstage. He thought Crickey had
actually died, or passed out from an excess of drugs or alcohol. It was almost
a showstopper. I was on the other side of the stage behind the curtains.
Crickey was known to drink, but he didn’t that night (except for that medicinal,
half bottle of Jack Daniels—but I wasn’t witness to that.) As the Stiff began
playing “I am a Child,” Crickey told Fr. Stang that he was fine, it was part of
the show, didn’t he see the rehearsal? and, that he should go and leave him
alone because the show wasn’t over. There was a stare down, Cro-Magnon versus
the Neanderthal. Evolution rendered her verdict, and Fr. Stang silently slipped
away to where his lair lay. The show went on.
all met in the dressing room beneath the stage, while the Stiff did his thing.
He was singing Sugar Mountain or some such song, we sat tuning up and generally
being very quiet. The worst part about performing live is the wait. I had
vicious stage fright. I felt like an early Christian as the Roman Colosseum
announcer introduced the lion. Waiting to step onto the stage only to be scared
out of my wits wasn’t exactly what I thought of as fun. I kept thinking about
the Cat. The Cat was the debate and forensic coach. I wasn’t a member of either
team, but, he also taught the Speech and Debate Logic courses, both of which I
took. He said to wiggle your toes if you’re nervous because no one ever looks
at your feet. He said never to fold your hands in front of yourself when
standing and addressing a crowd because it looks like your hiding something,
like a boner or a pee stain. He said to adjust your cuffs, assuming you’re
wearing a suit, because it looks like you are meticulous. He said ‘Bust!’ in
his ridiculously high-pitched voice every time he stepped into the goddamned
bathroom because we were always smoking cigarettes in there. He said a lot of
things, none of which were helping me with my stage fright. But, I do know that
my guitar was tuned by the time Stiff was done singing, and the trap door was
idea was for the band to rise up onto the dimly lit stage, one at a time. Then,
the road-eyes would carry us to our spots. Mine was stage right, in front of a stack
of amplifiers. Buck came next and was stage center-right. Then came Tommy the
drummer, he was stage center-rear, Crickey was stage left, and Stiff was
already there in the center.
road-eyes were supposed to have rigged up small flashlights inside their hoods
to help them see around the darkened stage and to make them look like the Jawas
in Star Wars. This was a direct rip-off from Neil Young’s Live Rust tour. They
couldn’t manage the task. Their hoods were too small. Their flashlights were
too big. They weren’t exactly the road-‘eyes’ we had envisioned. Lenny, the
Roach, and Moys were the road-eyes. I don’t recall which two carried me over,
or who gave me Tow Head’s guitar, but there I was, nervous as all hell,
cursing, and begging Buck for an E.
thing about the Stiff, aside from being financially irresponsible and a bigot,
he could play Neil Young better than Neil Young. Neil Young had extraordinary
song writing abilities, but he was pretty much a hack guitarist. Stiff figured
out each note of every song, then smoothed out some of the rougher edges. He
played a 1958 Les Paul Jr. He called it a Les Paul TV, and said the TV stood
for Tone and Volume, because it was the first model with tone and volume
controls mounted on the body of the guitar. In truth, its color was referred to
as T.V. White. The guitar itself was beige, but on a black and white T.V. it
looked white. The same model was used in a Happy Days episode when Ritchie was
in a band. Either way, it had amazing harmonics and the fullest sound I ever
heard. But, until that night, I had only heard it through practice amps, or
other small amplifiers.
amps I stood before that night were part of a professional grade sound system
run by a trained team hired by the school specifically for this event. Mr.
O’Neil, the teacher in charge, saw to that. He was young, and wore a beard and
mustache. He was cool. The auditorium itself was not rigged for microphones and
speakers. It was designed to be acoustically perfect, and built for putting on
plays without the need for microphones. That night, we played through a tri-amp
sound system, with Altec-Lansing “Voice of the Theater” speakers. It had two,
seven-foot tall 3-way amp stacks—one on either side of the stage. Several
smaller foot monitors, interspersed between the foot lights, faced inward and
were supposed to enable us to hear ourselves. Until you’ve stood next to a seven-foot tall, Altec-Lansing amp stack cranking out rock ’n roll at full volume, you simply don’t know the meaning of loud. Those foot monitors may have been blaring The Sound of Music for all I knew.
is a wave—a disturbance that travels through a medium. Music is sound. Music
was my life. Waves I breathed, dreamed, and bled. The bars of a staff measured
my days. The sound that came out of that amp stack was a sound that cannot be
reproduced by any stereo, or any headphone set; the depth of the bass, the
richness of the midrange, the slicing trebles waxed in harmonics. The sound
travelled directly through me, it tuned me, so that my body vibrated in
synchronicity, thereby amplifying our music even more. I felt husked, and my
fragile soul laid vulnerable on that stage. I could feel my brain squirm—and I
Once my B
string came into tune, I gave the signal. The spots shone brightly. The Stiff
played the opening notes of Like A Hurricane. The crowd began to roar. We were
a group of kids, and we called ourselves Equus Daemons. I was a part of that. I
knew I was the least talented of the group, but that didn’t matter. For one brief moment, on a February night
in 1981, I was the music, I was the medium, I was a sound wave.