Fifty Years Ago: Volume One

I attended my fifty-year high school class reunion recently.  Another one of those “golden anniversary” milestones intended to make you feel grateful you’re “not dead yet.”

The best part of the reunion gathering was reconnecting with classmates who also were members of a garage band I was in fifty years ago.  The band was “Volume One” and our legacy will remain largely confined to whatever each of the four remaining members recalls about the experience.  To that end, here are my recollections.

Volume One formed in May 1968, rising from the debris of two splintered garage bands, the Jaywalkers and the No Left Turns.  Classmates Dean (bass), Mike (rh gtr/kb), Joe S. (voc/tr) and I (voc) along with two other guys, Tony (ld gtr/voc) and Dick (dr/voc) picked up the pieces of our collectively shattered past, met together in my parents’ basement and launched a musical endeavor that lasted only through the summer of ’68.  But what an amazing summer it was!

In addition to each of us working conventional summer jobs, the band rehearsed in my basement twice a week. By the end of June we’d honed a repertoire of songs in front of various siblings, friends and neighbors who would stop by to listen.  The set list took shape and included songs by Hendrix, the Animals, the Stones and Cream among others.

In July, Volume One debuted as the break band for the One Eyed Jacks from Champaign, Illinois at the E.J. Dalton Youth Center in Rockton, Illinois.  August found us in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin playing at the community center for a teen dance.  Some city officials there harped about our decibel level being too high and demanded that we “turn it down.” When I asked them them to produce a decibel meter, they threatened to unplug us.  The hiring agent intervened and argued that the kids loved us.  She handed me a check for the contracted amount and told us to continue playing.  We finished the show without incident.

Volume One played their third job at our beloved hometown Club Pop House.  It was the pinnacle of our short-lived career together as a band.  Our final gig was as a contestant in a “Battle of the Bands” at the Meadow in Janesville, Wisconsin.  We placed third, winning a twenty-five dollar gift certificate at the local music store.  I’m not sure what became of it before we finally split up for the last time, each of us going his own way.

On Monday, August 6, 2018 I’ll feature a segment of three songs from the original artists (People!, Cream and Vanilla Fudge) that my 1968 garage band, Volume One, played as part of its regular set list fifty years ago.  Tune in to Asheville FM (ashevillefm.org) Monday, August 6 at 2:00 pm EDT for “Life Out of Tunes” with Joey Books.

 

VolOne
Volume One (1968) Clockwise from left: Tony, Mike, Joe A., Joe S., Dean, Dick

 

 

The Annotated Playlist in My Head

Perhaps it’s a lingering librarian obsession within me.  A way to catalog and shelve that playlist in my head.  Or maybe it’s because I can’t think of anything else to write about.  Either way, here’s an annotated edition of the playlist from my January 29, 2018 Life Out of Tunes radio show.

  1.  Ernest TubbWalking the Floor Over You.  This tune was floating around in my head for many years as I reminisced about running playbacks of The Ernest Tubb Show in a previous blog post.  One thing missing from the radio broadcast was a visual of Tubb flipping over his guitar at the end of the show and displaying the word THANKS in big block letters stuck to the back of it.  My No Left Turns bandmate and cousin Mike, whose dad was a country music fan, would do the same thing with his electric guitar at our gigs.
  2. Chris ReaThe Road To Hell (Pts. 1 & 2).  Not only have I been a Chris Rea fan since the 1980s, but I have two friends, also Chris Rea fans, who would agree that we, as a country, are traveling down that road.  This one was for you, Mike and Brad.
  3. The FlockI Am the Tall Tree.  I always liked the Flock from Chicago.  I missed their performance at the Pop House, a teen club in my hometown, around 1966-67.  I have it on good authority they closed their show with, “We’re gonna play one more song, then get the flock outta here.”
  4. Umphrey’s McGeeForks.  I confess to enjoying jam bands.  The Grateful Dead have always been among my favorites.  UM elevates it with scorching, jazz-infused solos and time signature changes accompanied by smart lyrics.
  5. First FridayMaryanne.  A blast from my past, circa 1969-70.  While students at ND, these guys were talented enough to record an album.  I bought the LP new at that time and played it so often, the grooves wore out.  A favorite at parties both on and off campus, First Friday disbanded upon graduation.  Members of Umphrey’s McGee are ND alums too, separated from First Friday by three decades.  This must be where I say, “Go Irish!”
  6. The Rums & CokeGlad All Over.  Growing up in Wisconsin during the 60s, I knew many “garage bands.” but had never heard of this one until researching a recent post to Wisconsin Garage Bands 1960s, a Facebook page I admin.  A five-piece, all-girl band from south of Milwaukee, the Rums & Coke were popular in southeastern Wisconsin.  They recorded this Dave Clark Five song across the border in Chicago and released it as a single in 1966.
  7. Roxanne & Dan KedingLittle Drummer.  Originally from Chicago, this talented folk duo moved to Wisconsin, near the town where I was working and where we became friends.  I was invited to join them and four other musicians for a one-off fundraising gig, performing together as a 50/60s rock ‘n’ roll revival band, Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders.  That aside, the Kedings recorded an album of traditional folk songs, From Far & Near, in 1980.  It was followed by an album of children’s songs, In Came That Rooster, in 1981.  I had both albums.  They split up and eventually I split, leaving both LPs behind.  I regretted it (leaving the records, that is) until I found From Far & Near at a used record store in Asheville, NC, 850 miles from where it originated!  From far and near indeed!  An old Irish folk song about love at first sight, I selected this track for Frank, my Irish friend.
  8. The ClienteleLunar Days.  If you caught a glimpse of either the super-moon or the lunar eclipse last night, you’ll understand why I spun this tune.
  9. Van MorrisonMoondance.  See #8.  “Can I just have one more moondance with you?”
  10. The BroadcastBattle Cry.  Threw in something from a great Asheville band featuring an equally great vocalist.
  11. Hot TunaWater Song.  Sylvia (the one with whom I moondance) and I heard Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy (a.k.a. Hot Tuna) shred this guitar instrumental in concert a couple years ago.

Hope you enjoyed reading the stories behind each song on this week’s playlist!  If you missed it, you can still listen to this Life Out of Tunes show through Monday, February 5, 2018 by following the link:  https://www.ashevillefm.org/show/life-out-of-tunes/ and clicking on the “Play Archive” button.  Peace!

Asheville FM

I’ve hooked up as a volunteer with a local, listener-supported community radio station, Asheville FM (WSFM-LP 103). Their Fall Fund Drive has been underway for the past week. Yesterday (Thursday, November 2, 2017), I was honored to be a “pitch partner” for the first hour of a great Progressive Rock program, Closer to the Edge, hosted by Professor JD. I brought with me some classic Prog rock tracks by Touch, Yes, the Moody Blues, Renaissance, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Jethro Tull. We played the music, shared a story or two, and talked about the value of community radio while pitching for donations.

I stuck around for second hour of the show during which JD had invited Andre Cholmondeley, Asheville guitar legend and guitar technician for Steve Howe of Yes, Adrian Belew, and Derek Trucks among others, to share the mic.  Andre was also the guitar tech for Greg Lake when Sylvia and I saw Lake perform at the Woodstock Opera House in 2012.  I met and spoke with Andre.  I showed him some photos I’d snapped from that Woodstock, Illinois show.  Andre immediately recognized the Opera House and the city of Woodstock, mentioning the movie Groundhog Day being filmed there, of course, and also sharing some stories about the gig itself.

Volunteer extraordinaire Dr. Cat Ashe, host of Calling All Species, a call-in veterinary advice and discussion show for you and your pet, shared the third hour of the Closer to the Edge as a “pitch partner” with JD, presenting music of women-fronted and all-women Prog bands.  Some awesome selections!

We all had a great time and I invite you to have a listen to the archive of that show at: MixCloud (https://www.mixcloud.com/closertotheedge/).  If you enjoy the best in  contemporary and classic Progressive Rock, I also urge you to become a regular listener to Closer to the Edge on Thursday afternoons, 2:00 – 5:00 pm. Eastern time.

And while I’m at it, I urge you to take a look at the Asheville FM On-Air Schedule to check out other programs in which you might be interested.  Click on the name of the show to get a detailed description and playlists.  And while you’re on any Asheville FM page, please notice the DONATE link.  Community radio needs your financial support, in Asheville and beyond.

You can Listen Live on your computer at: http://www.ashevillefm.org/player/.  You can also stream it through an app like TuneIn Radio.

Happy listening!

The No Left Turns and Our Summer of Love

The moon was in its seventh house, Jupiter aligned with Mars, and the Age of Aquarius was dawning.  The No Left Turns recently had won a “battle of the bands” and bookings were on the rise.  Our agent put us on the road to gigs throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  And we were fast becoming a favorite at the South Beloit American Legion dances.

Our repertoire was changing too as we began to include songs not typically heard on the radio.  Always on the lookout for musical genres outside of top forty, I’d picked up a record album by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers titled A Hard Road.  We learned a moderately bluesy song from that album, You Don’t Love Me.  It featured a catchy guitar riff and a simple three-chord progression.  Simple was right up our alley.

One song that made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that spring was Light My Fire by the Doors.  “What a great song,” I announced at a rehearsal. “It would be really cool to play it!”  There was only one hitch. The familiar opening riff featured an organ, an instrument missing from our lineup.  That settled it.  We went in search of a keyboard player.  Following up on a classmate’s tip, our quest began and ended in one day when Tony and I drove to a large old farmhouse just outside of town to meet Jim.

Jim was finishing up his freshman year in high school.  He led us into his living room where against the far wall stood a Lowrey organ.  “Well, play us something,” said Tony.  Jim sat on the bench, made a few adjustments and suddenly we were listening to the organ solo from In the Midnight Hour. Impressed, I asked Jim if he could play Light My Fire.  Without a word, he looked at the keyboard and worked it out in front of us.  Then he asked if we’d like to hear the organ part from Good Lovin’.  Mouths agape, we could only nod like bobble heads.  There was one last question.  “How the hell do you move that thing?” I asked.  That’s when Jim told us about his portable Farfisa organ and said while he’s in the band, he’d leave it my basement where we rehearsed.  Traveling to gigs, we’d stow it in the trailer with the rest of our gear.

Hundreds of kids attended a dance we played at the Janesville YMCA, our first with Jim, on a stage that was large enough to seat a philharmonic orchestra.  We opened that show with our cover of (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet and followed it up with In the Midnight Hour.  What a kick it was to look out from that stage and see nearly everyone dancing and a few kids standing in front of it gazing up at us.

The No Left Turns

Our set list evolved and was enhanced with Jim on the Farfisa.  Not everything was rosy though.  We debuted a new song, Whiter Shade of Pale, at the Star Zenith Boat Club after rehearsing it only twice the previous week.  Located on a lovely stretch of the Rock River, the Boat Club was a beautiful venue.  Beautiful was not an attribute of the song we tried to render, though.  My voice cracked repeatedly, reaching for impossible notes.  Sufficiently distracted, I forgot what my fingers were supposed to do on the frets of that bass.  Tony and Mike sounded like they each were playing different songs.  Exasperated, Bruce stopped playing drums entirely.  The only one who “skipped the light fandango” tolerably was Jim.  But the song remained beyond salvaging.  We never played Whiter Shade of Pale or the Boat Club again.

The No Left Turns played for a high school graduation “after-party” one sultry night in early June.  It was a learning experience.   Like most clandestine beer parties, it was held in an old, red barn near a corn field, somewhere off a pot-holed county road, a safe distance from the school and unwary adults.  We arrived to learn we’d be setting up in the hayloft, a short climb up a steep ladder.  We quickly learned the mechanics of operating a block and tackle to lift our equipment up and onto the platform like stevedores.  After a while we learned the limitations of drinking beer while performing on a platform ten feet in the air.  I calculate those limitations were realized when Mike grabbed the block and tackle rope, jumped off the platform, guitar slung over his shoulder, coil cord still plugged into his towering amp, and began swinging Tarzan style out over the dancers below.

I’m not certain which occurred first, his amp toppling over with a thud on the platform, or the block and tackle brake releasing.  Mike dropped head first into the crowd on the barn floor.  You might say he was ahead of his time, body surfing the audience.  Or you might say he was three sheets to the wind.  Fortunately, he broke neither his guitar nor any of his body parts. The same couldn’t be said for his amp, which suffered minor contusions and a broken knob.  After the party, we loaded up the trailer and I drove us home while Tony tended to the other groggy members of our band.  We learned to stay away from gigs involving stevedore apparatus and unrestricted alcohol consumption.

We were honored with an invitation to play for the Miss Rockford Teenager fashion show and pageant.  As honorable a gig as it might have been, I remember very little about it.  I do recall we stood around for quite some time before actually performing.  Though our very short set closed with We Gotta Get Out of this Place, it was nonetheless an honor and a privilege for us to have been a part of the festivities.

Rockford newspaper ad excerpt

Another memorable summer gig involved a two-hour road trip to Savanna, Illinois with the five of us crammed into a Studebaker Lark and no air conditioning.  Loaded up trailer in tow, we headed southwest to the furthest destination we’d ever traveled to perform.  Walking out the back door of my parents’ house, I snatched a Polaroid Swinger camera off the kitchen counter along with a nearby unopened film roll.  I hoped my sister wouldn’t mind my borrowing it.  We snapped some goofy pictures along the way and watched them develop before our eyes.  We were destined to become proficient in selfies, snapping even goofier pictures with our smartphones fifty years hence.

The Savanna gig was in a second floor dance hall above a tavern on the main street of town.  Lugging half a ton of amplifiers, speakers and instruments up a narrow flight of enclosed stairs did little to exhilarate the band.  We were even less exhilarated upon learning a major rock ‘n roll concert was occurring that very night some forty miles up the road and across the river in Dubuque, Iowa.  For the dozen or so teens who stayed in Savanna for lack of a ticket or a ride to Dubuque, we played our hearts out.  Given the choice, we would have played all night rather than having to lug half a ton of gear back down that claustrophobic stairway, loading the trailer and then driving two hours back to Beloit.  With deep disappointment, I must report that no Polaroid snapshots survived the evening.

The Armory in Janesville presented yet another stairway to a dance hall. Not quite as narrow as the one in Savanna, but just as many steps.  To my knowledge, the kids who came to dance while we entertained there had no better concert to attend that night.

Janesville Gazette ad

Our best performance was for “Record Bandstand” at the Rock County Fairgrounds in Janesville.  The No Left Turns felt on top of our game that night, performing on a stage that had seen many regional and nationally recognized bands appear in previous weeks.  By then, the set list included Light My Fire and Incense and Peppermints.  Both featured longer organ solos.  Over the summer we’d built our own light boxes for stage lighting.  Wired with foot-switches for changing colors of the lights, sometimes I’d step on those switches repeatedly during a song.  That was the extent of our “psychedelic light show.”

At times we were as foolish as we were clever.  Once we spent hours cobbling together a Rube Goldberg mechanical strobe light out of old wooden box and electric fan parts.  Not surprisingly, it never quite accomplished what we had envisioned.  The No Left Turns were envious of our rivals, the Jaywalkers .  They’d found a real strobe light bulb with a control box.  The Jaywalkers also had a very large wooden and metal-framed wheel, painted with a black and white spiral design.  A motor would spin the wheel and the spiral would take on a hypnotic appearance, sort of like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  When the strobe light was switched on, band members and the wheel transformed into oddly psychedelic objects.

The Jaywalkers “Hypno-Wheel”

A dance in one high school gym we played had a psychedelic theme.  Even as the incoming Student Council president at that school, I still didn’t have enough influence with anyone in authority to loan us an overhead projector.  My plan was to get a clear plate to place on the overhead’s glass lens and have someone add drops of colored oils while projecting it on a large white sheet behind the band.  I’d read about it in a music fanzine, probably Song Hits Magazine.

Undaunted for want of an overhead projector, the No Left Turns borrowed an 8mm film projector and projected home movies from atop a scaffold on the gym floor onto a large white sheet which hung behind the band.  Our projectionist kept twisting the lens to keep the picture’s focus soft and mostly unrecognizable as family vacation movies.  Occasionally though, a waterfall or canyon gorge would clearly come into view as strains of Wild Thing filled the air.

Fall brought the return of school dances and more gigs at the American Legion Hall, all of which the No Left Turns relished with considerable enthusiasm.  That was our Summer of Love.  It had its ups and downs.  Some were in narrow staircases, some were in barns, but only one featured home movies.

No Left Turn Deserves Another

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?”
“Yeah.”
“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.

Dalton Youth Center, Summer 1968

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.

Masters of Mardi Gras

To most folks, New Orleans naturally comes to mind as Mardi Gras approaches.  To be immersed in a carnival of such profound excess must be something undoubtedly special.  However, I confess to having only experienced that celebration vicariously as a viewer of the nightly news whenever Fat Tuesday rolls around each year.  The New Year’s Eve that Sylvia and I celebrated in New Orleans with some friends years ago was great fun, but probably nothing like my imagined Mardi Gras parade where drunken revelers tear at their clothes and flail around in a Bacchanalian snake dance, strings of brightly colored beads flying everywhere.

For a while in the early sixties, my hometown Catholic high school would sponsor a “Mardi Gras” annual fundraiser.  Beloit Catholic High bore little resemblance to New Orleans.  The school gym, decorated in festive ribbons of crepe paper, featured an array of booths, each containing a cheesy carnival game like one you might have played at a country fair in the previous century.  Food and baked goods were both sold and offered up as prizes.  I remember parading around in a “cakewalk,” dutifully attempting to win some homemade sweets, confident my quarter entrance fee would positively impact the bottom line of the high school I’d be entering one day.

Mardi Gras wouldn’t be worth a hill of baked goods without music.  But it wasn’t the saints marching in for this event.  (Actual saints marching into a Catholic school would have been very cool, though.)  Instead, I heard a band playing rock ‘n’ roll as I wandered down the hallway toward a large classroom that served as the school’s sole study hall.  I wanted to be in that number.  The room was packed, not with wild Bacchanalian revelers, but with mostly tame high school kids doing the twist.  I paused for a second in the doorway, nodded to a couple of classmates from my grade school, then strode briskly to the front of a makeshift bandstand on which stood four guys in matching ties and vests, totally rocking out on two guitars, a bass, and drums.

MicsMasters0008

They were Mic’s Masters and they were deep into an instrumental number I didn’t recognize.  Three of them were swinging their guitar necks back and forth in time to the music.  All at once, they broke into synchronized footwork that got them moving left to right and back again, wailing guitars swinging along with them.  It was an impressive display of showmanship and one to which I immediately aspired.

I stood there mesmerized, listening to their set that included a spot-on cover of the Rivingtons’ Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and some instrumentals that showed off their guitar chops.  Mic’s Masters were the first rock ‘n’ roll band from Beloit to record in a small, private studio north of town and release a 45-rpm record containing two instrumentals.  The A-side was a cover of Sandstorm by Johnny & the Hurricanes.  The B-side, though, was their own composition, Rock-n-Round.  Either would conjure up images of surfing in California over carousing in Louisiana.

I won’t be parading through the French Quarter, carousing to the music of Professor Longhair or C.J. Chenier on Fat Tuesday this year either.  Even if I was, the image of twisting to Mic’s Masters at that small-town fundraiser would remain indelibly etched in my mind.  Beads or no beads, Bourbon Street or Beloit, you can bet I’ll let the good times (rock and) roll on Mardi Gras.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

(Special thanks to Jean Voss for graciously providing the Mic’s Masters memorabilia.  Click on “Rock-n-Round” above for the full effect.)