The tension was palpable as I stepped out of my dad’s Studebaker and walked toward the double glass doors of a building that looked more like a church than a teen center. I’d already flicked my Winston cigarette butt through a rolled down window before pulling into the parking lot. The sheet of paper I was clutching, a partially completed, standard musicians contract, caught the warm summer breeze and fluttered in my hand. The guy in the brown suit and coke bottle glasses standing inside those doors was director of the Dalton Youth Center. His name has been erased from my memory, probably the better for both of us. We hadn’t yet agreed on a dollar amount for the gig he wanted my band to play there.
It was “my band,” because I was the one with a pad of blank contract forms. We called ourselves “Volume One,” named after a bookstore in Piper’s Alley off of Wells Street in Old Town Chicago.
When the No Left Turns broke up just after the new year, I joined rival band, the Jaywalkers, along with Bruce, our drummer. The Jaywalkers had just lost their drummer, Dick, to our other rival band, the Marauders. Dick had also been the lead vocalist. Suddenly we’d all become free agents. So Bruce drove the tempo and I took over the vocals for the Jaywalkers.
The new Jaywalkers played some pretty good gigs before two things happened. Stan, the lead guitarist, left to join the Marauders. They were certainly living up to their name. About that time I became more involved in the high school musical, West Side Story, so play rehearsals were impinging on band rehearsals . Upon announcing I couldn’t play any gigs over the next few weekends, Bruce threw down his sticks and abruptly quit, exclaiming “This is bullshit!” That was the end of the Jaywalkers and the last I ever saw of Bruce.
With the musical and graduation finally behind us, ex-Jaywalkers Mike, Dean and I wanted to play more music during that summer. We recruited ex-No Left Turns Tony, for lead guitar. Then another classmate named Joe, who played trumpet and could sing harmony joined up. Searching for a drummer, we learned that Dick (remember Dick?) had been “released” by the Marauders. So we asked him to join us. Now we numbered six, and four of us could alternate singing lead and harmonizing. Mike played rhythm guitar and organ, Dean played bass. Two Joes now fronted the band. And thus, Volume One was born. We played four gigs that summer. Dalton Youth Center was the first.
The brown-suited guy met me inside the double doors. We exchanged greetings and he invited me to his office where I sat across from him. Leaning back in his executive chair, he put his brown wingtips up on the desk, crossed at the ankles, and explained the gig. He wanted a “break band” to play between sets of the One-Eyed Jacks from Chicago, the night’s headliners. I told him we needed a hundred and fifty dollars to play three break sets. He laughed and counter-offered an even hundred. Thinking out loud, I said, “Look, we have six guys in the band and that’s not even twenty bucks apiece.”
“Oh,” he grinned. “If you want twenty each, then let’s make it a hundred and twenty bucks.’
Realizing my next counter offer of thirty dollars each times six would be more than what I’d initially proposed, I quickly agreed.
We shook hands, completed the contract and signed it. I kept the original and handed him the carbon copy. Leading me out of his office and into the dance hall, he pointed up to the balcony and said, “That’s where you guys will set up and play from.” Having recently graduated from high school, I was compelled to correct his grammar and advise him not to end a sentence with a preposition, but I held my tongue. It was a bit discouraging to discover we’d be lugging our gear up a flight of steps and setting up there just to play three, twenty-minute sets. On the other hand, we didn’t know many songs. So it all evened out.
On the night of the gig, we arrived early to carry our stuff up to the balcony and tune up. Then we watched as the One-Eyed Jacks set up and tuned. Before kicking it off, they invited us to compare set lists. After a brief discussion they instructed us not to play Purple Haze and Sunshine of Your Love because those were songs in their sets. Reluctantly, and a bit annoyed, we agreed.
The One-Eyed Jacks were pretty damned good that night. They even played Good Vibrations, the only band other than the Beach Boys I’ve ever heard play that song to this day. But their versions of Purple Haze and Sunshine of Your Love were no better than ours. That was the message our seriously bruised egos were transmitting to our ears. Given that we probably would never share another venue with the One-Eyed Jacks, we sneaked both songs into our last set, finishing with a blistering Purple Haze, overladen with fuzz tone and wah-wah effects.
Volume One never heard any more from the One-Eyed Jacks. We broke down our equipment, carried it out to our vehicles and convoyed over to the Hollywood Drive-In to spend some of that twenty dollars each on fish and chips dinners. By the way, the guy in the brown suit thought we were “pretty good.” So did we.