This is my third 50/90. The challenge this year is to just get a few songs done right! .... I've been writing songs for half a century. I like to be surprised by new(er) things. Fifty songs right now seems way too many, but maybe not so bad…..It’s summertime and the back porch is ready for some good old slide guitar stuff.
So here's the story as far as i can remember: Born into a converted tuberculosis floor of a seventh day Adventist hospital a long time ago. Spent most of my life in schools. I was raised hearing opera and music by a band called “Quartets”. Heard Studs Terkel shows on WFMT growing up in the 10 – 11 am time slot every day. Lotsa blues, revolutionaries and trend busters on that show for a little kid. I remember Black and White TV's with channels 1-5 then FM band and continuing 6 to maybe 12 in an analog format where you "tuned in" for video and audio....memories of a fossil, I guess...
My father was tone deaf. Even non musical people could recognize this after a few notes. My mom played cello and violin and was the source of most but not all of my musical thing. My dad repaired Black and white televisions and occasionally had amplifiers that had 6L6 power tubes. These turned into my first gigging amp. It was embarrassing to have a junky open amp out there with a twelve inch TV speaker in a mahogany cabinet when the rich kids had Fender amps with Gibson guitars.
My dad repaired TV’s from the local RCA shop and recycled them for good cash back in the day. I remember putting an old white sheet over the face of many a TV and smashing the daylights out of the TV tube with a hammer or a brick. Sometimes we’d roll the tube into a fire. Color TV tubes were spectacular fire – color generators due to the f-group elements used for color generation. If an electric component didn’t work it met the vise.
Started playing the guitar in elementary school and started a band immediately. My first recording was on a wire – based Dictaphone which allowed multi tracking on the original recording. Later, I had a Teisco Del Ray three pickup guitar and a Silvertone amp with EL34’s and reverb.
The first album I ever bought was “Second Winter” by Johnny and Edgar. Second hand from the kid across the street. Two bucks. It was a three sided deal, the deeper grooves got more volume and bass across the needle. Highway 61 did it for me.
One Sunday night I heard the new group Led Zeppelin I album side – to - side on the new FM Radio station show WXRT called “Psychedelic Circus”. That led to a flurry of action at my monophonic tube record player. At that time, I soldered together two SN 222 transistors and about six resistors and a few caps to make my own fuzz tone in a box. It worked well enough. I had to borrow money to make the fuzz tone from a kid who had a 4 am paper route. I promised him 20% of my take at gigs for the loan of the money to buy the parts from Allied Radio and supply. The loan shark paper route friend of mine put together a light show with colored lights and a mechanical strobe light. Very cool stuff. I sat at the turntable with my electric guitar and learned all the riffs I could. I bought Ummagumma and learned all the riffs from Bare Trees that summer.
I would never wear my corrective eyeglasses and paid dearly for it. A line drive came to me in right field. At the age of 13 my left index finger was broken in three places. All I saw were stars…My hand was in a cast but the thumb and three fingers of my left hand were able to get around the Teisco Del Ray. So on new years eve after four months of a cast I played guitar with my index finger standing straight up. E forms, A minor forms, C chords with no index finger. Cool. I was “back”…Little did I know of the symmetry of the guitar was taught to me by a screamin’ 8” softball that last September.
My index finger learned the grand barre and I was off killin’ the blues. The Rolling Stone Lennon, Clapton interviews galvanized my fascination with R&R. Started borrowing and buying Fender amps. Rebuilding, selling and so on. The Live Peace in Toronto album came out as well that year.
I bought a Vox Viscount amp and a Hagstrom Corvette real cheap from a big store in Chicago with my hard earned cash. The Vox amp was the American version of the AC30 having 120 volt 60 Htz transformers, and the Hagstrom was and is the fastest guitar ever built. Period. A one piece through the body neck thing with 24 frets, and Corvettes from Sweden had, of course three pickups.
My first gig was playing on some kids back porch with drums and bass when I was such a kid. I think Pinky was there, old James Jennings who ended up a West Point and killed a lot of bad guys in his time. He was ritualistically beaten up by neighborhood bullies after school. I made sure I had lotsa friends in high places to avoid such a fate as Pinkey.
The fender bassman amps sometimes three of the heads were the mainstay of my guitar outings. Two Altec 15”s in a cabinet, and a pair of Bandmaster cabinets with 2 12” speakers made up the setup. The Vox wa pedal was an essential part of the rig.
That year after Live at Leeds and Thick as a Brick came out….
I remember playing with Randy Cooper, the kid down the block a year older who had a Rogers drum set. He eventually made some drums from clear acrylic plastic and bought his own hardware. Way ahead of his time. Ampeg had a clear guitar and that was cool also. Dave Heyman was a really intelligent kid who played bass and joined the mess in Randy’s basement. We made his parents nuts with our Rock and Roll, feedback based jams.
I was dealing Fender amps, buying and selling making a buck off the wanna bees and the less knowledgeable as to how much an amp should sell for. I remember selling blackfaced Bassman amp heads for 180 dollars back then.
We played the local youth center named the “Corral” on a hot September night. As the band had not played live before we needed as many amplifiers as we could find to bolster and help us be “the best”. Out of paranoia and any other youth related illness due to peer pressure, we had every kid’s amp ganged together on our stage with JBL’s, bassmens on ten, dual showmans and the likes. We played Jimi, Cream, Chicago, Iron Butterfly and originals by yours truly for our peers…what a sound, so heard three blocks away….! Fun remembrances of staging a gallon bottle of Vodka on stage with water. The security jerk never contested our display of the water filled Vodka bottle.
We got a driver who smoked a lotta stuff for a (yes) VW mini van to carry all our amps and stuff. We had another guy doing light shows with mechanical strobes, big colored lights, switches and fuse blowing fun.
At one gig, we played a set and took a break. During the break a bold guy reached up, disconnected the main microphone and slipped it in his coat pocket. I happened to be in view, and came down upon the thief. A microphone stand smashed down upon his hand as he sat on the side of the stage. The microphone was recovered with no further ado.
At another gig a certain Darryl M. played with us. After the gig a microphone was missing (again). As kids go, we arrived at Darryl’s home, met, sweet talked his mom and stole the microphone back to our possession. Jerks were everywhere….
Arriving at gigs and set up was fine, it was after gigs where the dirt went down. We’d be paid our cash, but in the parking lot in even the most rich suburbs there would be thieves, wanting to steal a guitar a cymbal, whatever they could get. We developed a strategy of “always someone covering the gear” in the van, on the stage, and in transit. In this way we avoided theft from our band.
Those Fender amps, the Bassman amps, were bought for 150.oo and sold for 225 or so. I’d have to sometimes open them up and fix a blown resistor, retube and get ‘em moving out the door. I sold amps to kids that couldn’t even play! Buying and selling, combined with gigs was a great job.