Another flashback of my garage band, the No Left Turns…
“I can’t be in the band any more.”
Carl dropped this bombshell on me during a telephone conversation one cold November evening. For a split second my “What, are you crazy?” alarm was triggered. However, I maintained composure and calmly asked him why. The details of his response remain as hazy as the cold night mist I noticed staring out the kitchen window. It was transforming before my eyes into a flurry of snowflakes shimmering in the moonbeams, and grew heavier as I watched. “Great,” I thought. “Now I’ll be shoveling snow in the morning.” I was good neither at enjoying lovely winter imagery, nor at listening to Carl. Instead, I obsessed about the overnight weather outlook. Oh. And what in hell the No Left Turns will do without a lead guitarist who can sing harmony! Guess it was time to hit the snow covered pavement and find a replacement.
Tony attended the public high school across the river. Bruce and I were listening to his band at our favorite hangout, the Pop House. Tony was their bass guitarist, but apparently he had other ambitions. In a conversation after the gig, he agreed to help us audition guitar players for the No Left Turns. Tony was acquainted with Bruce, our drummer, who was a grade behind him at the same school. Word fomented in the undercurrent of high school gossip, among the swelling ranks of aspiring rock ‘n’ roll stars wandering locker-lined hallways: “Wanted. Lead guitarist for band.”
Someone contacted Bruce and we set up an audition with a guy for Saturday afternoon in my basement. Our first candidate, Randy brought his electric guitar and amplifier that we helped unload from a big-finned Cadillac sporting a friendly adult behind the wheel, presumably his dad. He set up his gear in the basement. The guitar was a white, hollow-body style widely used by country and western players. That should have been our first clue. Getting down to business, we asked him to play something. Randy picked out a few twangy notes that could have been a song, but it didn’t sound familiar. He continued to noodle around on the fretboard until we stopped him. “How ’bout we play something together,” I suggested.
The difference between three-chord rock and roll and three-chord country music is measured in degrees of twangyness. Every song we tried with this guy contained flaming twang, an astoundingly bad noise when you’re playing Louie, Louie and he’s doing Ernest Tubb. He couldn’t sing either, let alone harmonize. Deeply disappointed, we mustered up an apologetic “Thanks, but no thanks.” He was sent packing back up the stairs, and into his chauffeured Caddy, doubtlessly headed back toward Nashville.
“Well…” I started.
“I didn’t like him,” Mike interrupted.
“Neither did I,” Bruce added.
“Did you see his cowboy boots?” Tony smirked. “Pointy toes.”
The tension broke and we shared a chuckle.
“Now what?” I continued.
An awkward silence filled the basement until Tony spoke. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I don’t like the band I’m in now and really wanna switch from bass to lead guitar.”
Our faces screwed up and while we began to ponder this statement, Tony picked up Mike’s Squire and ripped off a few cool riffs.
“Do you have a six-string?” I asked.
“Not yet. But I’ve got my eye on a used Telecaster and a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp.”
An audible sigh of relief and we enthusiastically agreed to let Tony join. He traded in his bass and amp for the new gear after school one day and was ready to rehearse the following Saturday.
The four of us — Mike, Bruce, Tony and I — learned more new songs that Saturday afternoon than any of us thought possible. Beatles, Monkees, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Rolling Stones. Nothing seemed out of reach. We were ready to round the first corner. In one flash of brilliance we pledged never to make another left turn, walking or driving, but dismissed it in almost the same instant. Really. We weren’t stupid. There was music to be played and cash to be made. And Beatle boots to buy.
To be continued…