Back when I was a Future Rock Star—or so I thought—I occasionally interacted with musicians well ahead of me on the stairway to the stars. None of these is a Great Moment In Rock History. Just thought I’d briefly sum them up and have ‘em in one handy place. Perhaps you’re a fan of one or more of the name-dropped.
(Incidentally, the considerably longer tale of my encounter with The Kinks can be found at http://bit.ly/2aEKjYO)
Walk into the record shop where a bandmate works, and he tells me Lou Reed is at a nearby music store. I suddenly get an urge to buy another pair of drumsticks at that very store.
Lou had recently bought a guitar synthesizer, and the staff was helping him understand how it worked. No one seems to mind me silently hanging around after my purchase—although I’m a little leery, due to Lou having a reputation for being very nasty.
As the owner of a Moog synthesizer, I legitimately was serious about the new guitar-based invention, I also knew from first-hand experience, when you find a sound you really like, it is essential to record the exact settings of the multiple dials and switches, as there was no way you’d stumble upon the precise combination again. (At least not until you got very proficient with the machine.)
This is done by notating said numbers and positions on paper templates provided when you buy the synthesizer. Over time, a player accumulates a good number of these pages, each very easy to lose during the constant relocating a musician does.
Again, from personal experience, I knew Lou needed some sort of binder, leading me to finally speak up.
Me: Are you going to be here a little longer?
Lou (suspiciously): Why do you want to know?
Uh-oh, I poked the bear. I quickly explained about being a synth owner and the need for a binder, which appeared to satisfy his curiosity.
Dashing to a nearby stationary store and back, I was relieved Lou had stuck around. Still vaguely suspicious—not that I blamed him, knowing people constantly attempt to hustle rock stars—he asked what I wanted in return for the binder. When I told him it was a gift, he seemed sincerely touched and softly said “That was very nice of you.”
(So much for the reported ogre—a rep I came to believe was based on his notorious dislike for music journalists, who, in turn, vengefully made him out to be insolent to everyone.)
At that point, I added “Just have a good show tonight,” i.e. that would be reward enough. Didn’t bug him for a ticket, already having one in the front row, in the middle of the left section.
Flash forward seven hours, and Lou is indeed in fine form, performing some old favorites as well as songs from his latest album, Street Hassle. During one tune with a lengthy instrumental section, Lou roamed away for center stage as he strummed his guitar, pausing directly in front of where I was seated—and gave me a cool-guy head-nod “hello.”
Which pretty much made my entire day.
The late Seventies. The REAL punk rock scene in New York City. All Mohawks and moshing, right?
I’ll go into the gross misconceptions revisionists have concocted, some other time. Maybe. But for now, here’s the short form.
The original American punk rock–and its blood brother, the equally vibrant new wave—scene attracted a sizable percentage of collegiate types, drawn to the fresh energetic no-nonsense music being played in small venues by relative unknowns. Dress was comfortable. Men’s hair more Johnny Ramone than Johnny Rotten. And no stinkin’ most pits.
Dig up vid clips of, say, The Dead Boys and Television performing in NYC, and see for yourself.
In addition to the above and the leather jacket contingencies, there was a spattering of what I’d call stray weirdos. Guys, invariably by themselves, a bit on the nerdish side, likely attracted to the “alienated youth” theme of a scene that didn’t discriminate.
My bassist, George, had only recently gotten a drivers license (in his early twenties), loved to drive and didn’t drink. New York being a reasonable distance from our Philly base and us both being heavily into the burgeoning scene meant we’d hit NYC a couple of weekends each month, catching bands with a lot of buzz and maybe a small-label single playing on college radio stations.
George was especially taken by a new act called The Talking Heads, who were opening for former Velvet Underground member John Cale, in a small club. We were both familiar with the headliner, a gaunt Englishmen, from his impressive post-Velvets solo LPs. Cale rarely played out, making this a must-see double-bill. Off to New York we went.
Partway through the Heads’ set, a stocky “stray weirdo” with long hair, wearing an off-white jumpsuit, decided to admire the band by standing almost directly in from of me. He then opted to step back, at which point I gave him a good forearm shove.
Not because of his appearance. Live and let live, ya know? But because he was STANDING ON MY F’n FOOT!
He immediately turned his head and sincerely said “Sorry,” making an appropriate apologetic gesture before returning his gaze towards the stage. No harm done. Everything was cool. Back to watching David Byrne et al for me as well.
That was when George, who had witnessed the whole minor incident from a few feet away, came up to me, laughing hysterically. I was completely baffled, furrowing my brow as George pointed at my foot-crusher and mouthed “That’s him!”
George then informed me the “stray weirdo” I just gave the hearty shove was in fact the no-longer-thin John Cale.
David Bowie – a different story
Long story long, I was once on a first-name basis with David Bowie, our earliest encounters chronicled on this very blog at http://bit.ly/293BtGs. Some visitors here are already aware of it; but what you probably don’t know is that I was once a guest in the late-great’s hotel room.
Am not going into great detail about what transpired there, primarily because it would be in questionable taste and violate the trust that came with the invitation.
However, I will share one bit that is neither of the above. To quickly set the table, joining me were two local women I was friendly with, this being at the Holiday Inn in Center City Philadelphia, David having earlier performed a concert on the Station To Station tour.
Consider the following “joined in progress.”
When David casually mentioned having spotted me in the audience that night—my seat fairly close to the stage—my reaction was a very polite equivalent of “Yeah, right. Pull my other leg.”
I made my own performing debut at age five, had been in a number of bands and shows since, and knew that stage lighting practically blinds one from making out audience members.
Bluff called, David provided proof, replying “Yes, you stand like this,” mimicking the admittedly strange and subconscious way I slightly hunch over and cock my head when listening intently.
All I could do was laugh. Impetuous youth calls out rock star, places foot firmly in mouth.
Our host graciously let it pass…and I always suspected the reason I got approval to attend a band-and-friends-only party after the Young Americans tour stop and this eventual private audience in the hotel room—an honor most Sigma Kids never had, let alone fans in general—was exactly because I wasn’t a star-struck fawner who would hang on his every syllable.
I imagine it must be a great relief for someone in that position to be treated casually, what with the extraordinarily high percentage of zealots and angling hustlers a star of that magnitude must endlessly encounter.
So, yes, I made a slightly embarrassing faux pas. Nonetheless, countless people have imitated David Bowie; but how many can claim he imitated them?
The Hot Club was Philadelphia’s equivalent of CBGB. And if you don’t know what that implies, may as well stop reading this segment right now, as the remainder won’t make much of an impact of you.
Anyway…the long-gone punk and new wave club hosted virtually every East Coast act in both genres as well as breaking British bands with a newly minted recording contract and an optimistic label to foot the tour bill. That included everyone from future hotshot Elvis Costello, to, well, yours truly.
Formerly a modest corner café, a “packed house” at the Hot Club meant maybe 200(?) people crammed in, which usually wasn’t the case unless a hot NYC or British band was performing.
Bear in mind, this was when punk/new wave was in its embryonic stage and most folks would just give you a blank stare if you mentioned either term. So few true punk rockers in a city of two million should provide a clear indication of just how “underground” the movement was in the States at the time.
The Plasmatics were something of a hybrid: part punk, part metal, part theatrical rock a la Alice Cooper. They were getting bookings in the punk venues, went over well, and their stunts such as chain-sawing an electric guitar in two truly captured the punk spirit.
It didn’t hurt that the saw-wielding lead singer was Wendy O. Williams.
Simply put, Wendy oozed sex. A brickhouse body sparsely clothed. A little rough in the mug, well-suited for her snarling no-smiles delivery. She’d even done live sex shows and porn.
A genuine tough chick who moved her barely clad bod provocatively and couldn’t care less who approved, Wendy inspired a lot of impure thoughts. And women dug her because she wasn’t about to take any crap from pushy men.
Not surprisingly, the twains eventually met—The Plasmatics were booked to play the Hot Club.
Local musicians tend to befriend visiting ones, and vice versa. The small group of us who practically lived in and occasionally performed at the Hot Club because unofficial VIPs after a while, and were thus allowed access backstage, a tiny dressing room and hallway with about a half-dozen wooden chairs.
Somewhere earlier in the evening, my guitarist buddies Jay and Michael befriended a couple of Plasmatics. Ice officially broken, that mean the three of us were cool to hang with the two of them in said backstage hallway.
Chugging champing between snorting huge lines of coke as groupies serviced us, the party was on!!!
Naaah, if you believe that is traditional backstage behavior, you’ve seen too many Led Zeppelin documentaries.
What actually went down is as follows.
Before McDonald’s spread its tentacles in the Northeast, the far-superior Gino’s was the burger joint to visit in the Baltimore-to-Philadelphia region. The chain had a tie-in with another promising up-and-comer, introducing the area to a new sensation called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Plasmatics drummer Stu Deutsch evidently made his first Gino’s stop that day, and liked it. A lot. A whole lot.
Plas guitarist Richie Stottes—an imposing presence onstage, standing about six-foot-four, with a blue Mohawk (before anyone other than Travis Bickle wore one, regardless of color) and sometimes donning a female nurse’s outfit—sat quietly smiling, as though accustomed to Stu’s tangents. But here it was, hours after the latter’s visit, and Stu was still gushing over the greatness that was Gino’s.
Apparently, Stu’s burgergasm must have started while still at the fast-food establishment and been fairly demonstrative, as Stu was wearing one of the pointy hats that are part of the Gino’s employees’ uniforms!
(Am guessing either: the Gino’s personnel were so taken by the drummer’s display, they gave him the headware; or, he snatched it off a counter-person and they were too scared of the lunatic and his giant crazy-looking pal to object.)
I was seated in the lone chair facing Jay, Michael and the two visiting rockers, we three locals enjoying the antics of our new wild friend. Suddenly, a female shoe was on the edge of my chair, its wearer standing behind me. From the waft of perfume, I knew it was Wendy.
I’m unsure which bit of her tiny outfit she was adjusting, but will swear to this very day that slack-jawed Jay’s eyeglasses steamed up. (And this was a guy who was no stranger to women.)
My kingdom for eyes in the back of my head!
Prologue: Michael so enjoyed the band’s performance, he was keen on seeing them again a few weeks later, when they played CBGB. So off he, his wife and I went, up the New Jersey Turnpike to NYC.
By the time we got into town and found a parking spot, CB’s was packed, and the best we could do was squirm our way about halfway to the stage, off to the very far left. The view was okay and we were just glad we could get in; therefore, no tears in our beers.
Maybe ten minutes into the set, Plasmatics manager Rod Swenson, who we also met when the band was in Philly, spotted us and made his way through the crowd.
“Wow, you guys came all the way up here just to see us again?”
When we nodded to verify it, Rod waved us on to follow him, leading us all the way up to the stageside area—normally a verboten zone for audience members—so we could have the best spot in the house to watch the rest of the show.
How cool was that?
RIP Jay – RIP Wendy – RIP Michael
The setting: the posh Barclay Hotel, one of the rare times the staff took no exception to a non-guest (namely, me) sitting around the lobby awaiting David Bowie and his band, encamped there while recording Young Americans.
Although the Barclay was considered more of a permanent upscale residence for older Philadelphians with old Philadelphia money, the word must have gotten around that it treated guests regally. I say that because, much to my surprise, in walked the members of Wishbone Ash, who booked rooms at the Barclay during their two-night stint at the Tower Theater, 20 minutes away.
Though their music owed as much to electric British folk, Wishbone Ash is usually categorized as a progressive-rock band. For reasons unclear, “prog rock” has become an object of derision in the years since, but Ash filling the legendary Tower for two straight nights is a testament to the genre’s popularity at the time.
Furthermore, I was quite a fan of the group, becoming deeply enamored upon being introduced by a bandmate to Ash’s classic album Argus…which included three tracks we (half-)successfully covered.
As could be expected, going from playing the songs to actually meeting the musicians who wrote and recorded them was quite a treat for your youthful narrator. Although it didn’t start off very well.
Me to guitarist Andy Powell and apparent flunky, as Andy entered carrying his instrument: Wow, where did you get a flying-V case?
Powell: At the flying-V case store
…his cackle only topped by that of the sycophant. Okay, there’s drummer Steve Upton, who can’t possibly be as much of a creep.
Me: Hi, Steve. I play drums, too.
…well, I can’t tell you what he said, his accent so thick, it was obvious we weren’t going to communicate. At least he wasn’t rude.
Fortunately, bassist Martin Turner was not Strike Three. Just the opposite, in fact.
Martin was very attentive when I introduced myself and stood there conversing with him for about ten minutes. At that point, Bowie’s personal assistant Corrine Schwab entered the lobby, gave the bassist a big hug and said something along the lines of “I see you’ve met my friend.”
With me having Coco’s seal of approval, Martin then sat and chatted for another half-hour-plus, until he and a few of his crew headed out for the night for some post-show celebration.
Before he left, I asked “If I bring my copy of Live Dates (their latest release) with me tomorrow, will you sign it?” to which Martin kindly agreed.
Now comes my sheepish confession. Although I did put the album in my car, I no-showed the hotel the next night. Something big was brewing at the studio where Bowie et al were recording, and I got too caught up in the excitement to think about leaving for the Barclay.
So, if you somehow see this, Martin Turner, please accept my sincerest—and VERRRRY belated—apology.
As with so many other fans, the Ramones’ debut album was love at first listen for me. Such a sonic relief from the bloated over-produced rock albums of the time. And funny!
The punk movement was relatively new and I was all aboard, including venturing to New York to see The Ramones live, becoming even more of a fan.
Naturally, when they got booked to play a small auditorium on the Penn campus, I leaped at the chance to see them again within a brief drive of my home. Icing on the cake: the opening act, The Secret Kidds, was a local band I drank with nightly.
Concert over, I made my way downstairs, to what were makeshift dressing rooms. The Secret Kidds always threw a post-gig beer bash with all friends welcome, slightly raucous but never getting ugly. A group of musicians and their closest personals celebrating a good show. Lot of camaraderie, maybe some goofing around, everyone having a lively time.
I poked my head in to the next room, and The Ramones were essentially just standing around quietly by themselves. Yes, the same Ramones who would later conquer the world and even co-star in a movie named after one of their songs (albeit with a different drummer.)
Must admit I was flabbergasted. This is the freakin’ Ramones, American vanguard of a great new music movement. Hundreds just watched them perform. So where are the well-wishers, autograph-seekers and so on? You college kids afraid of guys in leather jackets?
I, a notoriously horrible icebreaker, walked into the room carrying a small brown bag. Went up to Dee Dee and presented him with its content–a T-shirt I got printed, reading “1-2-3-4”–and mumbled something about hoping it was the right size. He acted very thankful; but since it never turned up in a skillion photos published since then, I’m guessing it would up in a dumpster. (Dee Dee was quite a character.)
Gift presented, I momentarily became the fifth guy standing there speechless, before bidding the boys goodbye and returning to the beer bash.
The Kidds and all but a few of our crew were not punk rockers. And since it was not my band hosting the party, me being strictly a guest, it was not my place to invite four strangers to join in, though I would’ve loved to have hung out with The Ramones and strongly doubt they’d be treated disdainfully. If they even accepted my invitation.
Very awkward situation.
In hindsight, I regret not taking The Kidds aside and simply asking if they were cool with me inviting the other band. But that’s all beer under the bridge now. Fortunately, the Brooklyn quartet went on to massive global stardom and perhaps at time wished they could be left alone after a show.
I initially met The Doors while on a first-grade school trip to Los Angeles. They were quite literally starving musicians at the time, rarely booked and only getting paid $50 a gig. Their financial situation was so dire, they were considering breaking up, for the simple reason they needed but couldn’t afford a bass player, splitting their meager payoffs five ways being completely unaffordable.
I approached the singer and said, “Jimbo, why not have Ray play the bass parts with his foot pedals and a second keyboard, leaving the band free from hiring a bassist?”
Mr. Morrison gushed, “You are a Boy Genius! In fact, we voted on making you the fifth Door and cutting you in for five percent, if we ever do make any money.”
Not only would The Doors honor the agreement throughout their prosperous run, but also, when Jim faked his death, he lived with me for three years in the country house I bought with “Doors money.”
Okay, none of this is true.
Farthest west I’ve ever been is New Orleans. But I did drink bottles of Budweiser there, a beverage featured on the inside art of the Doors album Morrison Hotel, so, close enough.