After the Christmas break I was ready to begin my final semester in high school. Friday arrived none too soon. The entire student body was fired up for the big conference basketball game that evening between us, Beloit Catholic, and the conference leaders, Marengo High School. The afternoon pep rally provided a welcome reprieve from classwork. A reprieve from the bitter cold that gripped the city would have been nice too. Weather reports pointed to a modest break, predicting cloudy skies with temperatures ranging from 5 to 15 degrees for that January 5th, 1968. Anything was better than the face-numbing, subzero wind chills of the previous few days.
Though loyal to my school, a lack of enthusiasm for the game could be measured in direct proportion to the excitement for my band, the No Left Turns, having been hired to play for the post-game dance. It was hard to tell whether some students shared my excitement for the dance rather than for the game itself. That was doubtful, with all the cheering and clapping between stirring speeches from Coach and one or two of his starting players. The rally wound down after we all belted out the fight song, accompanied by a raucous pep band. Someone, probably our principal, mentioned the dance during his closing remarks, much to my relief.
The No Left Turns had been practicing a few new songs and were restless to begin the new year with a gig worthy of showing them off. We loaded up the trailer with our gear the night before, holding out the more cold-sensitive guitars and drums. A Farfisa organ, various amplifiers, pedals, cymbals, lights and our P.A. system all were in there. The P.A. speaker columns were recently acquired in a horse-trade with a competing band. Whether the “new” ones were better than the speakers I traded away was an issue on which we didn’t all agree, and probably wouldn’t to this day. The speakers we bartered were mounted in boxes that my Dad and I constructed when the band first got together two years before. I’m pretty sure Tony was in agreement with me about the transaction.
The basketball game was wild. Our 6-3 cagers won it in a hard-fought battle, defeating the 9-1 conference favorite by a score of 76-60. As the post-game celebration diminished, individual members of the No Left Turns, along with a classmate, Tom, who helped haul and set up equipment, arrived separately to unpack the trailer. Jim and I were the only band members from Beloit Catholic. Cousin Mike attended Beloit Turner. Bruce and Tony were from Beloit Memorial. At that time, it was considered diverse just to hang out with guys from different schools.
We quickly emptied the trailer so it could be moved to a legal parking spot. I asked a responsible looking adult where the band should set up. He pointed to one end of the gym floor under a net and replied, “There.” So, there is where we set up.
“We’ll have plenty of room to spread out.” I said sarcastically.
“That’s for sure.” Mike chuckled.
Bruce discovered the gym floor was quite slippery. “I’m not sure I can keep my drums from sliding around,” he said.
“Where’s your rug?” I questioned, making no attempt to hide my exasperation.
“Probably in your basement where I left it. I’ll find one somewhere,” he snapped back, wandering off.
A few minutes later, Bruce returned with Tom, carrying a rolled up rug which they unfurled on the floor. They reset Bruce’s drums on it.
“Where’d you find that?” Tony paused for a second and continued, “Is that the rug from between the double doors?”
“Cool! It’s perfect!”
We played for the dance, pouring our hearts into every song we’d ever learned — The Letter, Incense and Peppermint, Come On Down to My Boat Baby, Light My Fire, and on and on — including a new one by Eric Burdon and the Animals, Sky Pilot. Ours was a shaky arrangement for the song, without the dramatic sound effects and bagpipes. But our stripped down version worked when we played it for our last number. It was a pretty good gig with lots of kids dancing.
What precipitated our breakup eludes me to this day. I can’t help but think it had something to do with an allegation leveled against us. The rug that Bruce borrowed from between the gym’s vestibule doors turned up missing. The Beloit police had been called. A uniformed officer showed up at my parents’ house Saturday afternoon. He wanted to talk with me and “take a look” inside the trailer that was now parked back in the garage. Having nothing to hide, I opened up the trailer doors. He asked me to move a couple of things aside while he aimed his flashlight, but no rug was found.
After the squad car drove off, my mother continued the interrogation, embarrassed about a police car in the driveway. I phoned Bruce to ask him about the rug. “What rug?” he snarled.
“The one you used for your drums last night, dumb ass!” Already I was seething.
“I left it on the gym floor. Why? Is someone pissed I didn’t put it back?”
“Not exactly. The cops were just here searching the trailer ’cause they think we stole it!”
Our conversation deteriorated into typical teenage arguing and obscenities. I got fed up and shouted into the handset that the No Left Turns were washed up. I was breaking up the band. Maybe it was the police searching our trailer. Maybe it was the unrelenting cold weather. Maybe it was a mistake.
The following week, equipment in the trailer was returned to each rightful owner. The trailer was conveyed to cousin Mike’s house. The P.A. system eventually was sold and proceeds were distributed among the original four band members. The whole thing hurt me deeply. These guys were my friends and family. A touch of teenage angst was evident in my letter to our agent, dated the following Monday.
The photos and posters I requested were not returned. The Aldrich Junior High gig already contracted for February 10th was fulfilled nicely by the Jaywalkers, our local competition for the previous two years. Ironically, I’d recently joined them as lead singer. Perhaps even more ironically, Bruce had joined as their new drummer. That’s me in the fringed boots, slapping a tambourine, probably singing I Second That Emotion or Spooky. And that’s Bruce directly in front of the hypno-wheel. The others were Mike (not my cousin), Dean and Stan. There is no rug in the picture.