John Hayes was one of the tallest kids in my class. In fact, I think he and Harvey Treat were the tallest dudes their age for a brief time, having gotten their growth spurts early, although Harvey was built like a rock and John had chicken legs like me. It was debatable who was more handsome, Harvey’s young John Wayne or Hayes’ young Kirk Douglas.
Hayes was blonde and had this amazing chin dimple. He lived on Delaware Street, right down the block from me, so I guess it was inevitable we’d hang out at some point. But after he formed the Knight Riders and I saw their debut at the Urbana Junior High sock hop, I made it a point to start dropping by. They had opened their three-song performance with “Get Off My Cloud,” and since Knight played organ, and was dominating the sound, I didn’t even recognize the song. I just knew these 15-year-old kids were blasting real rock energy as pure as anything I’d ever heard. In fact, I think if the Stones had been there, they would have put an organ in their version as well, because it really fit the dynamics of the song.
Hayes was highly entertaining and always had brand new records to listen to. (He appears as a composite character in my book from the front-lines of the Generation War, 1966, written when the battles were still fresh.)
One day Hayes played “Talk, Talk” by the Music Machine. We both loved the song and the black leather look of the band. Almost from day one, Hayes was encouraging me to get a bass guitar and amp, indicating I might be able to slide into the Knight Riders, as he liked my style better than his founding bass player, Donnie Perrino.
I was so eager to get into a band I did exactly that, thanks to mom, who attended the auction at C.V. Loyd’s (one of the oldest music stores in the state), where we purchased a brand-new 1966 Gibson SG bass and amplifier for the staggering sum of $500. (Today that bass would be worth a hell of lot more, but I insanely sold it off for $100 while in Sweden, desperate for money.) I removed the black-finger grip they put on all the SG bases back then, as I intended to play with a pick, and not a thumb and fingers like a lot of players were doing. The SG had come out recently, and it was a big departure from those huge Fender bases that had dominated the live-music scene for years. Light and super easy to play, anyone with moderate skills could sound like Jack Bruce!
Now why John had it in for Donnie Perrino, I had no idea, as Donnie was clearly the best musician in the Knight Riders and could probably play any of the instruments better than anyone else in the band. But John had some deep insecurities because, while he was fun, he could also be cruel and vicious, and he often made fun of Donnie behind his back, which is a big no-no if you want to have any decent chemistry in your band. At the time, the Knight Riders were even rehearsing at Donnie’s house and Donnie’s dad was a super-cool dude and a big force in Summer Youth Music, a highly-respected program a lot of us attended. In fact, Donnie’s dad Dan eventually created a hot jazz band called the Medicare 7,8 or 9, and they became a local legend.
Here’s Donnie in 1968, after he started his own group, Blues Weed. Tom Thady was the lead guitar and Donnie played a Hammond organ. Those two were awesome musicians.
But the last time we left this particular thread, Carp was on his way to give Frank Sowers a beating, and a bunch of us were following right behind. Carp knocked on the Sower’s front door and Frank answered. Carp asked him to come out on the sidewalk as they had something to discuss.
Recalls Jim Cole: “Frank reluctantly came out of the house. Carp and I were facing him on his front lawn. The others that had come along were more of an audience than they were participants. There was a lot of tough guy woofing going on mainly between Sowers and myself. Suddenly Carp, who’d hardly said a word, sucker punched him with a right hook to the jaw. Frank flew back, knocked out, but still on his feet, barely. He ran/stumbled back to the front door and got back inside his house. Carp, myself and the rest on the entourage that were standing on the sidewalk got back into Carp’s car and one other car that was there and left the scene. Carp was a powder keg looking for a place to go off. We all knew that. Everyone in the car was grateful they were not on the receiving end of that punch.”
Carp sent a message to every jock in school: if they were going to pick on longhairs, like Smitty was obviously encouraging them to, then they’d have to deal with him. And not even Frank wanted to deal with Carp. Carp wasn’t like a normal person. When Carp got into a fight, it was like a click went off in his head, and he transformed into a creature from another dimension capable of monstrous violence. Once you saw that side of Carp in action, nobody, but nobody wanted to fuck with Carp.
Here’s the rest of the original Knight Riders, John Knight in 1964, before he grew long hair, and John Wilson in 1967, after he grew long hair.
To give you an idea of what “long hair” looked like in the fall of 1967, when we got back from summer vacation, (because that’s when all the longhairs really sprouted), Wilson’s blonde locks (left) were like really long at that time. Anything that went over the top of your ears was considered radical.
Hayes had a real strict father, a lawyer, and devoted member of the John Birch Society (a real power in town since their leading propagandist was a professor at the University of Illinois), and Hayes had to grease his hair every morning and comb it straight back for breakfast with his dad. After he arrived at school, however, he’d wash the grease out in the boy’s room and put on his regular hair-do. Since three of the Knight Riders were named “John,” we usually addressed them by their last names. At some point, Hayes decided to get a lead singer, and he offered that position to Carp, and Carp gratefully accepted. But it wouldn’t take long for Hayes to realize he’d just lost control over his own band.