Good morning, afternoon, or evening everybody,
I used that as a salutation this month because it occurred to me that I never know when you’re going to be reading this magazine. In fact currently, as I write this, it is late afternoon and I just got home from a nice long ride. But the REALLY weird thing about today is though you’re reading this in February, I’m writing it on December 13th and the temperature is in the mid 60’s. People are out in shorts and T-shirts! In December!
Ya know, we always begin our local ABATE meetings (and most state meetings) with the Pledge of Allegiance. We do this for a number of things besides just reaffirming our patriotism. One of the most obvious reasons is to urge people to stop talking, to bring everyone to order, and to allow them to focus on what is being said and done....it sets the tone for everyone to pay attention. But at a recent meeting I found myself unconsciously reciting a different sort of “Pledge” from my past, and when I realized what I was saying I almost burst out laughing.
My mind must have momentarily gotten lost in some sort of time warp because that former “Pledge” harkened back to when I was with a band called the “Freeman Sound”, the first truly professional band I ever worked with. This band rocked between the years 1968 and 1973 and consisted of a bunch of young and incredibly talented musicians who participated in all the free-wheeling craziness of the “long-hair” lifestyle while forging a successful rock band.
The members were: Jerry and/or John (at various times) on lead guitar, Kurt on rhythm guitar, Buster on bass, L.J. on drums, Ray on vocals and harmonica, with myself and a guy named “Swat” as managers who occasionally played with the band onstage in whatever capacity was needed. We called him “Swat” because his last name is Polish; it begins with “Swat”, and is unpronounceable.
Prior to this I played guitar and sang in a few high-school bands, and in later years I sang, played, and blew a harp in many other bands (most recently a laid-back blues band). But I think my favorite and funnest rock band experiences were when I was managing this band and I wasn’t onstage.
As managers Swat and I introduced the band onto the stage each night, ran the sound-board (the mixer), the lights, and provided the sound effects. We also repaired, updated, and even built some of the equipment and set it up each night.... similar to being roadies, but we also booked some of the gigs and even helped to arrange, write and perform the material. Because of all that Swat and I received full shares of the pay. Like many bands we were legally incorporated for various reasons, and I gotta tell ya it was one hell of a party.
Throughout those years the band had much success and many followers as we regularly played bars and everything from small festivals and events of many types; to high-school dances and college parties....whatever it took to pay for the truck, the equipment, the upkeep, and to give ourselves an income from the “corporation”. The band even had some local radio success with a 45 rpm record....I didn’t like the “A” side so much, but the “B” side was a kick-ass version of “16 Tons”. We even went on a sorta tour once (six separate gigs over one crazy week in upper New York State LOL).
But during the peak of that band’s success we were a phenomenal “bar” band and consummate masters of “The boogie”. I remember many, many nights when the floors would be packed full of hundreds of sweating, writhing and heaving bodies rocking to the heavy rhythm and pulsating beat, similar to huge “mosh pits” well before those were even known. One of our feature highlights was reserved for that time in the evening, usually the final set, when everyone was mentally in perfect tune with the band and someone would call out for “The Pledge”. Then the band members (including me and Swat) would solemnly approach the standing microphones and yell out in unison.....
“We smoke a reefer...To the flag,
Of the Divided States of America,
And to the Republic...For which it stood,
One nation...Under smog...Invisible,
With poverty and prejudice for all!”
And then the band would immediately break out into “Street Fighting Man” by the Stones, “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane, or some other similarly rebellious power song. The nights would usually then end with a half-hour long boogie featuring solos from each member of the group going well past closing time. More than once the owners would have to turn off the stage electricity to shut us down, and one time the crowd got so pissed they tore the bar apart! The owner took us to court over it.
Today all this sounds over-dramatic and silly, and I’m sure our “Pledge” would be too disrespectful for many. But ya gotta remember that this was the early 70’s; the draft and Viet Nam was still going strong and many of us who didn’t go had close friends who died in the jungles and rice paddies over there. Civil rights issues caused rioting and cities were burning. People who were little more than kids were being sent to jail for smoking a joint and to prison for not much more than that. “Easy Rider” had recently hit the theaters and “real” bikers were just getting out of that “mean and greasy” stage. Woodstock had just occurred and a few of us in the band were there. Less than a year after Woodstock, four students were killed at Kent State where I was going to school only twenty minutes from where the rest of the band lived. We were smack-dab in the middle of all this shit while we lived under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. The world was rapidly becoming “us and them” in the eyes of many young folk.
Well, time marches on and eventually most of us chose to leave that rebellious outrage behind us as we got real jobs, married, had families, and kinda settled into the mainstream. But in fact, when looking back, I often think that instead of us joining the mainstream, maybe the mainstream joined us. It was like there was a revolution and we won it without even consciously acknowledging the fact...even to ourselves. Or maybe we were just too stoned to realize it.
John the guitar player moved away, and last I heard he writes, records, and performs music for radio commercials in Cleveland....I saw him being interviewed about that on a news program about ten years ago.
Jerry went on to college and majored in classical guitar at Kent State. He plays blistering rock AND classical guitar (an odd combination) maintaining his skill at both while he works for the State of Ohio as an office manager. He and I still get together to jam often.
Kurt the rhythm player travels all over the country as a salaried representative of a manufacturing company, but when he’s home he often sits in with a few local bands for kicks.
Buster the bass player....well, Buster is a genuine mystery. I’ve heard that he joined the Navy and was badly hurt learning how to surf in Hawaii. I also heard that he either joined a cult, or that he was a stunt man in Hollywood. Or none of that stuff is true and he’s really doing just fine and living in Oregon. Who knows? Apparently he left Ohio over thirty five years ago without telling anyone, and then chose not to stay in touch for personal reasons. Nobody is quite sure what happened to Buster.
L.J. stopped playing drums some time ago and now plays guitar and sings as a soloist struggling to get by. He shares his creative (and somewhat “out there”) thoughts often with everyone on the internet as Freeman Sound’s archivist and historian.
Ray the singer changed his course completely and moved down south to become a minister, which is absolutely unbelievable and shocking if you knew our fun loving and over-indulgent Ray. But then he always did know how to work an audience LOL.
After opening a few businesses including a really cool health food store, a sandwich shop, and managing a few high-end corporate liquor establishments, SWAT now works for the US Postal Service. He volunteers his time and expertise and is very instrumental in developing a Green-way bicycle path which will pass through three counties when finished.
And me? I’m just an old guy who writes stories each month wondering how many of you actually read them. But that doesn’t really matter so much because I know a few of you do, and apparently enjoy them. At least nobody ever complains about ‘em (which is way-big when you’re talking about a few thousand bikers)...and that’s enough of a creative outlet for me. I still get some residuals from a book I wrote about eight years ago, but my novel-writing days are probably over due to the bullshit that comes with a publishing contract.
I consider my sons to be my best and most incredible accomplishments and I’m VERY proud of them both. I’ve managed to retire from General Motors without getting fired and I haven’t seen the inside of a jail or a rehab for decades, so I must be doing something right these days....I don’t owe anybody anything, I’m not pissed about anything or anyone, and nobody’s pissed at me. My father once told me that the most important success you could have in life is simply to be happy: Happy with yourself and with where you are in life....and I think I’m finally getting there. I’m working on what is left to work out.
I used to believe that rock n’ roll would never die, in fact a few songs to that effect were written long ago. And ya know... that music doesn’t have to die due to the recording process. We can access it whenever we want to...forever. It belongs to all of us permanently.
Sure, it’s sad that the young people who listen to most of today’s music might not feel the same about theirs as we did about ours; those feelings of joy, of going out with your girl and the music in your car is loud and hits ya right where it should. Of that intense, rocking, steady beat of a great guitar riff backing-up those often incredibly profound lyrics that made you wanna scream out, “Yeah!! Right on!!” because the song both told you how it is.....and how it could be. That music was thought provoking and told stories that we could relate to and be, well, “more” somehow. It spoke of love, emotion, excitement and human dignity. It was about pain, triumph, celebration, justice and injustice. It could be outrageously fun...or it was as sad as the worst case of the blues could ever possibly get.
But I’m finally realizing that what’s happening with today’s music is not my concern, nor should it be. Kids today have had exposure to the music we once loved and still do. If they choose to not literally crave it as we did, or to even carry on the tradition by inventing their own forms of “traditional rock”, well that’s their loss, not ours and we shouldn’t judge them. In fact, that’s what freedom of choice is supposed to be all about. Today’s rap, hip-hop, techno, or whatever kind of music they listen to, must inspire great passion in their hearts, enrich their lives, and I’m sure that it puts huge smiles on their faces too.
Nah..... Forget everything I said in that last paragraph. They’re a bunch of idiots.
Be talkin’ at ya next month,