True Origins: Stairway to Heaven

Early in the ’60s, Lenny Bruce appeared on Ed Sullivan and performed a skit about some kids on the West Coast who were caught sniffing glue to get high, which Lenny found hilarious. Little did Lenny know, by broadcasting that story, he created a sudden interest in the effects of glue across America.

When the Finchley Boys decided to hold their first infamous glue party (and there were really only two far as I know), they naturally selected the barn at Mary Shirley’s as the appropriate location. Mary was a gorgeous rockn’n’roll blonde who designed and sewed her own outfits—hooded purple velvet cape and Carnaby-street miniskirt was a typical look. Plus Mary had two gorgeous sisters close to her in age.

I never really penetrated their scene but once, for a ceremony in 1969, but the Shirley’s undoubtedly captured the center of gravity on the Finchley’s social life for a while.  The two lead singers of the Finchleys, Jim Cole and George Faber, were dating the sisters early on. Mary was an accomplished musician on many instruments, violin probably being her best. She was also an asset selecting songs and helping transpose them, as well as letting them know which worked and which didn’t. Mary’s opinion was pretty much final.

Mary was a huge fan of the Yardbirds, who weren’t really all that super famous at the time, playing gigs in small clubs, and Mary would get her dad to drive her and her sisters hundreds of miles just to attend a show. The first time she saw them, Jimmy Page pulled her out of the audience to be brought backstage. They treated Mary as an equal and for years, Page would call Mary whenever he was in the Midwest. It wasn’t a gushy teen fan thing either. They weren’t looking for sex and Mary wasn’t offering (until later, that is). At 16, Mary could go toe-to-toe with the biggest rock stars and command their respect. After Mary was done hanging out at these after-parties, she and her sisters would head down to where her dad was sleeping in the car, waiting to drive them a hundred miles back home. It was at one of these late-night hang-outs that Page asked Mary to transpose a sheet of classical music (Chopin). He wanted to work the melody into a song he was writing. (It eventually became the opening to “Stairway to Heaven,” by Led Zeppelin.)

But in 1967, that hadn’t happened yet, and everyone was going to the Shirley’s to get high on sniffing glue for the first time. Glue wasn’t like the ditch weed we’d been smoking, it actually got you high—way high. It was probably the first psychedelic experience for most of us. The second glue party was a relatively small affair arranged by Phil Mayall and attended by the band and their entourage. Mayall was occupying an empty apartment that was probably rented out by his father. It was a second-floor apartment on Green Street that ended up getting trashed. This could have been the earliest signs of the destructo-mania movement that would capture Cole’s imagination for the next year or so. Mayall was becoming known as Dr. Pheeoo and already seemed close to a junkie on the stuff, sniffing morning, noon and night, and keeping a journal of his experiences. His dad got suspicious, found the journal left behind in the trashed apartment, and called the police.

Next thing the Finchleys know, they get a message that the cops know everything, and it’ll “be a lot better for you if you turn yourself in.” So the next day, George and a few others go down to the Urbana Police Station and turn themselves in for sniffing glue. George’s mom was horrified. “Glue!” she said, “you won’t even drink a coca-cola because you think it’s bad for you!”

It would take another year or two before Phil completely gave up his obsession. For a while, he even holed up at my place, the Den of Iniquity, and did his sniffing there. But the most lasting influence was on the Finchley’s lead guitar player, Mark Warwick. The experience caused him to write the first psychedelic anthem I ever heard, a song titled, “Only Me.” This is what raised the Finchley Boys to an epic level, and it sure looked like they might become national rock stars.

The Magic Hat

I guess you call this a pork-pie, but it wasn’t like any other pork-pies I’m familiar with. For one thing, it had a very wide ribbon. It was blue and matched my stovepipe cords and suede boots. Lots of people said I looked like a Native American in it, which was really cool by me since I considered Natives a lot more enlightened than Christians. It had been my grandfather’s Sunday go-to-church hat in Hepler, Kansas, until he’d bought a new one. I had access to one of those early letter laminating toys, and put the letters “LSD” on the front in black. The first time I showed up for PE wearing it, Smitty called me into his office. I tossed the hat into my gym locker before going to see him. I’d never been in his office, before or since. “Don’t bring the hat in here,” he said.

Smitty

“I put in it my locker,” I explained, not quite understanding his meaning. “Keep the hat in your hall locker,” explained Smitty. “Don’t bring it into my locker room again or I’ll confiscate and destroy it. This is your only warning.”  That hat was magic. It got a rise out of Smitty and right after I started wearing it, I found myself a member of the Knight Riders, one of the best garage bands in town.

Hayes brought me to officially meet Carp, the new lead singer. We were all going to get high for the first time. Carp had wild marijuana plants he’d recently harvested and dried and was ready to test. (Ditch weed was all over the county because a major hemp processing plant had been located near the railroad tracks in the North End. The plant later turned into a cap-and-gown factory. The reason we had blacks in our North End is because work in the hemp factory was so hard, they had to import their labor from Southern states). We smoked several joints with Carp and his then-fiance, a gorgeous goddess. (Carp would eventually go through many more, but they were both madly in love at this time and just engaged after only a few dates). After every joint Carp would look at us and say, “Feel anything?” I was pretty foggy just from being amongst these dudes. I can’t say for sure the weed had any effect though.

John Hayes and Bugsy on the right.

At one point Carp leaves the room with Hayes, and then Hayes comes back and immediately starts hitting on the goddess. Wow, was she surprised, since Hayes and I were both well-known virgins at the time. Plus, Carp had a vicious temper and she knew it, and even though Hayes was trying to get her to give him a “hello kiss,” she wasn’t biting. On the way home, Hayes told me Carp put him up to the whole thing just to see if she’d kiss him. I guess it was Carp’s way of testing if she really loved him or not. Most girls couldn’t resist Hayes’ movie-star looks, and Carp knew it. Hayes was laughing really hard at the idea he would do anything like that behind Carp’s back. Nobody fucked with Carp.

Carole

The next day, the Knight Riders (minus Carp) introduced me to Carole, and we smoked one of those joints in Haye’s car at a Uni High welcome-to-school picnic. I remember how surprised my brother and his friends (see “Smartest Kids in Town) were to see me show up with my new rock band! We all had fun hanging that day. I had a new mission now. Which was to make Carole my girlfriend, which might be a problem with Hayes and Knight, since I clearly detected they were both head-over-heels in love with her as well, and completely under her commands and control. I’d never been in love before and would spend hours staring at the telephone. After two hours, I might pick it up, lift the receiver, then put it back down. This could go on for a long time, but eventually I knew I would get up the nerve to call her.

One Saturday afternoon, I was pretty bored and all alone at home, when I put on my magic hat and walked out the door, vowing to do the first thing that stimulated me. A bus stopped in front of me. I had never ridden a bus in my home town before, but they had just created this new set of lines, all color-coded, that were crisscrossing the twin-cities and campus, so I hopped right on board just to see where it would take me. It took me to downtown Champaign, where I got off right in front of the big department store, where the Finchley Boys were having a show, right at that very second! I learned a big lesson about not sitting around doing nothing, but always projecting into the universe that day because, low and behold, Carole and two girl friends were attending the show and I quickly hooked up with Stuart Tarr and another dude and before I know it, a three-couple energy cloud is forming around us.

I’d already learned Carole was sort of seeing Larry Tabling, the Finchley’s bass player. That news just meant I’d spend the rest of my teenage existence avoiding any contact with Tabe, even though he’d be close to a lot of my close friends. But after the show, the Finchley’s disappeared, and one of the girls suggested we all go to Carole’s house and make-out in the basement. Holy cow! This was it! I was in hot band, I was with the greatest teen goddess in the universe! I was about to make out for the first time in my life! I was in love with Carole! Unfortunately, I was about to blow it all, big time…..

Carp Joins the Knight Riders

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.

John Knight.

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.

John Wilson.

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.

The Plan to Make Rock History: Phase 2

I guess you could say Phase 2 of the Soul Assassins’ plans to make rock history began in a rehearsal studio in the East Village, when I met four people for the first time, three of whom would become longtime friends. We must have been operating on a very high magic-factor, ’cause a Hollywood screenwriter could not have concocted a better set of characters for our script.

Where to begin?

Ok, Allegra’s friend, Abbey Lavine, she’s the super hottie on the left. Notice the Betty Page haircut (long before that craze took off). In fact, Abbey once played Betty in an independent film. She was a literary scholar and librarian. A brainiac. She was also semi-famous as the world’s greatest female 8-track music collector and appeared in a documentary on the subject. She was also a go-go dancer at a Queens strip club when she needed the money, but she vetoed the idea of me coming to see that performance once so I won’t be offering up any photos along those lines. Abbey was the first vegan I ever met and she knew garage rock history as good as I did! She hailed from Boston originally, and her crowd from Boston included Dino Sorbello, who was sort of the unofficial king of the garage scene at the time. He courted Abbey for years, and even won her heart for a while, and they lived as king and queen of garage rock on Sixth Street. Some of the best bands at the time were from Boston (Lyres), and the best after-parties were always at Dino’s, where the band could crash when the sun came up. But enough about Dino. Abbey had a very sharp wit, and sometimes put some camp into her go-go dancing. I particularly remember her “bunny” moves with paws outstretched. I do have video on that move.

Kimona 117 (above, far right) had a voice, though, nobody could fuck with. The second she started singing, the energy in the room shifted, with her at the center of gravity. We instantly hailed her as the female alpha in the band  just based on voice alone. She also had great style and a voluptuous figure. Kimona wasn’t comfortable and at-home with the music the way Abby was: she had yet to get her schooling in garage rock history, but that would come easy. You can see in the picture she has not yet assumed the regal bearing of garage rock goddess she would soon attain. Kimona was struck by many tragedies, unfortunately, and was struggling with a law-suit and bad-news boyfriend the day we met her. One of her best friends was on crack. So we quickly pulled Kimona out of that scene and she became our hang-out-every-day side-kick. We all knew instantly we had a diamond, not even in the rough, she was pretty polished even back then.

Drummer is always the hardest position to fill in any band. I got a whiff of the reason why when, for a micro-second, I was going to play organ and guitar in the Soul Assassins, before I figured out all the shit I was going to have to drag around to the gigs. Well, that shit doesn’t even come close to what a drummer needs to drag around to the gigs. Brian Morse had been the real thing, a former drummer for the Finchley Boys, the most famous garage rock band of central Illinois. But Brian could not shake a stick compared with the pad-pounding Dave Rodway! Holy cow, that guy had some crazy energy and the strength of Hercules! Dave was also an accomplished martial arts expert and his idea of a fun thing was to sleep on a bed of rocks. He avoided mattresses like the plague. It softened him up too much! Dave was a rock! I’ve never seen anybody so chiseled before or since. He was the dream drummer for any rock band, and of course, other bands instantly wanted to steal him away. Dave had a blast at the rehearsal, though. He had his pick of any band, any style he wanted to go for, but he went for us. He told me that day he loved playing off my rhythm guitar. That’s Mr. Brandel on the right. I don’t think he’s been properly introduced yet.

But the Joan-Jett lookalike in the middle (top photo)? That’s Kimona’s friend  Joia Morello, who left town the day after doing one gig with us. And wouldn’t you know it, Abby knew a garage rock goddess who wanted to join. And she was a blonde, which might go good with Abby’s black, and Kimona’s red. And she would actually evolve into the greatest of all the East Village garage rock goddesses, the favorite runway model for the top designers looking to achieve that magic “East Village” effect. But you’ll have to wait for the next episode of this blog to meet her.

If you like these stories please check out the Soul Assassins Greatest Hits on bandcamp, just click the link at the top-right. Also subscribe to my email alerts so you don’t miss any future posts. And please check out my free eBooks on smashwords. And thanks for stopping by. And….

My Plan for Legalization of All Drugs

Stopping substance use is a failed concept, and 80 years of the most intensive war in history—the war-on-plants—has been a miserable failure. While criminalizing users and treating drug use primarily as a law enforcement issue, we’ve exploded the prison population, created an out-of-control prison-industrial-piss-test-complex, and done little to stop real drug abuse.

Meanwhile, the most dangerous drugs in the world, prescription medicines, have been handed out like M&M’s to almost every child in America. One shudders to consider the long-term, negative fall-out from the over-drugging of our kids, a significant portion of whom have already been subjected to the tortures of privatized-prisons, which scarred them for life.

Marijuana, opium and coca leaf are the world’s greatest medicines, and you can probably treat almost any medical issue those three in your medicine chest. With great medicines, however, come great responsibilities. All medicines can be abused, and the line between use and abuse is often difficult to chart. But the most serious crime is that we have lost control over the world’s three greatest medicines, not to protect us, but to protect the interests of the chemical cartel that holds the strings of real power.

My plan is to immediately legalize all three plants and allow any person to grow marijuana, coca leaf and/or poppies. However, home cultivation would be limited to family-use and it would remain illegal to concentrate plants into white powder drugs. Any violation would simply mean confiscation of the white powder substances with no further penalties. Any money exchanging hands with white-powder black-market sales would also be subject to confiscation.

I ‘d encourage the creation and sale of products containing marijuana, opium and/or coca leaf, and also permit the commercial cultivation necessary to sustain such products, all to be regulated closely. Please put the coca-leaf back into coca-cola! It’s a far better stimulant than its caffeine replacement. All products containing these three plants would be available only through liquor stores and would require ID, age to be determined at the community level, not the one-policy-fits-all approach we have now.

Of course, legal drug recreational products would be taxed. But all three medicines would be available by prescription from an MD. In this form it would not be taxed, so if you show your prescription at the cash register—no tax, baby! Taxes on all legal recreational drugs should annually be determined by the cost of all down-stream negative fallout. Cigarette tax would cover the mouth, throat and lung cancer. Alcohol tax would cover the liver diseases. If you can find any health issues with long-term use of the main three medicines, though, then any problems from increased use would be covered by the tax, which would undoubtedly remain a fraction of the tax on tobacco and alcohol.

King of the Greasers

Frank Sowers.

Across the street from Urbana Junior High was the perfectly-named Hood’s Pharmacy, a one-story mini-mall with picture windows fronting an old-time soda fountain. Swivel stools, lots of chrome details, cherry cokes, and a rock’n’roll jukebox. It was your basic greaser heaven. I went in one afternoon after school, probably to pick up a candy bar, when I saw a greaser dude throw a dart right into another kid’s back, causing a greaser girl to scream, “what’s wrong with you?!” By the way, I don’t mean “greaser” as negative in any way. In England, that style is called “rockers,” and it’s your basic ’50s rock vibe and still exists today all around the world, centered on Elvis as the true Messiah. I stayed away from Hood’s after that. It was a hang-out for real hoods.

Urbana Lincoln Hotel (before the mall).

I was in the special class for trouble-makers and the most dangerous characters were in there with me, so I knew who not to fuck around with, starting with King of the Greasers, Frank Sowers. I had one encounter with Frank when Stuart Vyse and I were in Lincoln Square shopping center (which had destroyed the entire downtown vibe, replacing it with the first indoor mall in central Illinois). We went to the men’s room at the hotel, and while we were washing our hands Frank and another shorter kid came into the room and wanted to know if either of us would fight the short kid, who was smaller than either of us—and we were shrimps. Stuart and I both said “no, thanks,” and eventually, Frank and his friend turned and left. Under his breath, Stuart stupidly says: “Son of a bitch!” and Frank immediately says “I heard that!” and re-enters the room. Stuart runs into a stall, takes his pants down and puts new meaning to the word, “stall.” We looked for an alternative route out of the building, and swiftly left the area.

Speaking of tough dudes, I was having fun blowing spit-wads with Kenny Shackleford the day I met him. Eventually, I turned my aim on him and got him right on the nose. I was laughing so hard, I had to bury my head in my arms on my desk and try to compose myself. Suddenly, I feel this searing pain, and my chest collapses and I can’t breath. Kenny had punched me in the back, and he had one hard-ass punch! Finally, after I could breath again, I look back at Kenny, my eyes teared up, and I see him staring me down with this incredibly angry, hostile face. Then I knew Kenny was one of those guys….the guys you just didn’t fuck around with. Kenny went out for the basketball team, and Frank choose football. Kenny got killed in a North End shoot-out while still a teenager, and Frank became fixture at Rose Bowl bar and all-around local legend.

Kenny Shackleford.

But It was Frank who decided to defend Smitty’s honor. He followed Doug Blair home from school and cracked him over the head with a baseball bat. And so went the opening shots of the Generation War now being waged in public. Up until now, this war had been fought inside our homes, not in the streets and schools. But the peace in the streets was lost. Doug had the longest hair in Urbana High, and all the longhairs were plenty pissed Doug had a concussion and had to go to the emergency room. And there was really only one guy amongst us that you just didn’t fuck around with, and his name was Bob Carpenter (although we just called him Carp). And as soon as Carp heard what happened to Doug, he started looking for Frank, and when word got out Carp was looking for Frank, a bunch of us started following Carp around on his mission to see what was going to happen when these two titans actually collided.

Smitty and The Blaster

Warren Smith was the most famous high school football coach in central Illinois by 1958, an innovator of the Single Wing Offense originally created by Pittsburg’s Pop Warner. (Single Wing was the precursor of today’s shot-gun formation.)

In the early ’60s, Smith invented an ingenious training device known as “The Blaster,” used to teach running backs to slip-off tackles. John Cage incorporated a Blaster into a “Happening” at the Stock Pavilion in 1968 (See “The Importance of John Cage”). I don’t think the device is still in use at Urbana High, although they are available online for around $2,000.

Smitty ran his entire team through the Blaster and if somebody got stuck in the device, he got hit by the next guy running full speed, punching him through to the other side. This could be a somewhat painful experience. And it should be noted, the primary point of the Blaster was training backs to go low, avoiding the top row. (Today, however, emphasis is placed on spin moves over powering through every opponent.)

Coach Warren “Smitty” Smith.

Everyone called him “Smitty,” except his players who just called him “coach.”

Roger Ebert was a sports reporter for the News-Gazette in 1958, (which was then-owned by Johnny Roselli’s lover—see “Smartest Kids in Town”), when Ebert wrote: “…the royal coach turned into a pumpkin, and the Cinderella Urbana Tigers stumbled and fell…”: as the opening line for a story covering a game they unexpectedly lost.

Smitty blew his top and immediately confronted Ebert: “From this day forward, you are banned from all Urbana sports under my jurisdiction. You can’t buy a ticket to the games.” The ban didn’t stick forever, but it gave Ebert a schooling on Smitty’s explosive temper and somewhat fragile ego. Very few people had any clue of the combat missions he flew as a tail-gunner, and PTSD wasn’t even on the radar yet.

When I entered Urbana High after winter break in January, 1967, I was on top-of the-world. I had a cherry-red Gibson SG bass guitar and amplifier and was taking lessons with Jim Brewer. On our annual shopping trip to Chicago, I’d been allowed to select my own wardrobe for the first time. I was wearing blue stovepipe corduroys, only the welts ran horizontal. (I’ve never seen another pair of pants like ’em since.) They were severely-tapered to the knee, which was great, ’cause I had super skinny rock’n’roll chicken legs. The stove-pipe from the knee down made them look like bell-bottoms, which had not yet become popular. I was wearing blue-suede boots with Cuban heels and side zippers. My shirt was long-sleeved, white and navy stripes with a half turtleneck. Most important, however, was the black leather jacket, double-breasted but cut shorter than a sport coat. Bugsy had found this coat first, at Kuhn’s in downtown Champaign, and it cost around $100. Very soft lamb’s leather. But when I stepped into school on the first day in this outfit (expecting oohs and aahs from the multitudes), some chucklehead from a lower class pointed at me and yelled, “He’s wearing girlie pants!” This did not phase me, as I knew I was cool.

Larry Green and Doug Blair backstage at the UHS auditorium.

One day, however, I was walking past the library when I heard a loud voice and some commotion and saw Doug Blair backing up fast, running into the library and being chased by some huge jock from the upper classes. Nobody was helping Doug as he danced around the stacks and ran underneath tables, trying to stay out-of-reach. Finally Doug bolted out the door and out of school. What was that about? Well, I soon learned Doug had written a paper for English class called “Smitty,” and had poked fun at our school icon, who was already a commander in the Generation War—on the opposing side. For example: when Faber had showed up with long hair that year, Smitty had thrown him against the lockers and said, “What happened to you, boy?!”

“Maybe I found out there’s more to life than running around a track,” replied Faber calmly. But most people didn’t dare talk to Smitty like that, and George was probably written-off as a lost-cause from that day forth, even though he was one of the stars on the cross-country team. But Doug had really crossed the line with his English paper. And it was just a matter of time before one of Smitty’s devoted players would take revenge.

Not Like Everybody Else

Jim Cole stopped by Eric Swenson’s house and discovered this clean-cut kid (Mark Warwick) with a red guitar playing Beatles, Stones and Animals songs with Eric accompanying on drums. Since Cole already had experience singing along to some of these records in his bedroom, using a hairbrush for a mic, he convinced the two to start a band with him as the lead singer. Mark soon enlisted another guitar player (Steve Dyson) and a bass player (Tim Anderson) both of whom went to high school in Champaign.

According to legend as I know it, Tim was singing “Hey, Joe,” during a very early rehearsal when he started channeling some deep force inside. It’s a song about a murder, and Tim lost himself completely while rampaging through the house, standing on furniture and jumping around. It may have been the first inclination that these young kids actually had the power to become a real rock’n’roll force. Once Tim stepped up to the plate, others would quickly follow. Eric was at the end of a tortured love affair, having just been dumped, and he wrote a weepy ballad begging this girl to come back. Cole played drums on that one.

Right away, people who were dropping by began to take notice. Among the first were George Faber and Larry Tabling, who offered to build speakers for a PA system. They volunteered to be roadies on the spot. George had already tried to start a band with his friend Bob Carpenter, but Eric’s outfit was clearly on another level. Eventually, a student at the University named Bob Nutt came by to hear the band, and volunteered to be their manager after hearing one song. He booked their first gig in front of the Co-Ed movie theater on Green Street. I don’t know if they got paid, they were set-up on the sidewalk, and everyone was really nervous, but it was a huge success. Cole had tremendous sexual charisma, even at the age of 16 and clearly had the makings of a rock star. Eric, however, did not like the gig, and was not up for the rigors and realities of being in a band. He just didn’t have the personality, and his moods could be a big stumbling block, so Nutt quickly located the best high school drummer in town to replace him, Michael Powers.

Unfortunately, Tim was the next to go. I guess his grades weren’t that good so his dad made him quit as soon as it became obvious the Finchley Boys were going to take off. I’m sure that must have crushed Tim. But that opened the door for Larry Tabling to step in on bass.

The name of the band was lifted off the back of a Kinks album. (The original Finchley Boys were a street-gang in England who got into fights with the early Kinks.) That’s Jim Cole (above) in 1967, at one of the early gigs. His version of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” became the signature song of the group, and Cole sang it with a lot of passion. The lyrics spoke directly to all of us on the front lines of a Generation War that was already in full effect.

The Smartest Kids in Town

There were four high schools in my hometown but only one was really hard to get into. You had to be somewhere around 90% in math and reading to even get considered. I couldn’t get past the math, although I did take the test. My brother got in on his second try and soon found himself in a very special tribe.

Two of his classmates, David Goldwasser and Sam Levine, were my age; David and I had been in the fifth grade together at Leal. Those two were probably considered the brightest in the class, but those dudes weren’t just about brains. University High had long been the local punching-bag in sports—it’s players known derisively as the “Uni Punys.” But when my brother and his friends started winning track meets, those words rang hollow.

Uni High was really an Ivy League prep school plopped down in the middle of the corn fields. They staged elaborate Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, which provided an opportunity to showcase their voices. Tim Peltason was one of the ringleaders of this tribe, for sure. He’d grease back his hair and do amazing Elvis impersonations. He rounded everybody up one summer night for a long car-trip to see Johnny Cash perform live in some fairground in Southern Illinois. That’s Paul on the left and Tim on the right in a photo I took in 1967 (above).

Everybody knew these guys were the smartest kids to come down the pike in a long time, and many of them were expected to go on to great things. They really dug soul music and would venture into the North End to buy blazing hot barbecue sandwiches, the only white guys in the joint.

On New Year’s Eve 1967, they wanted to throw a grand party. Sam was transferring to Harvard in the Spring. (Sam still holds the record for youngest person ever admitted to that school. He’d already skipped freshman year of high school, and was now skipping senior year.) Of course, the gang wanted alcohol at this party, so, in his wisdom, Paul negotiated a deal with my parents. It ended up, Paul was given a gallon or so of lab-grade alcohol to make punch with on the condition everyone spent the night and especially that nobody drove a car that night.

Today, my Dad would go to jail, but it just shows the immense confidence and respect this tribe had generated with the older generation. They had located a huge six-bedroom, completely-private house for this party, so everyone could crash there, which turned out good because there was a huge snowstorm that night. When I found out about the alcohol, I convinced my brother to let Larry and me dress-up as high-class servants to serve the punch. Paul thought that was a great idea, especially after we showed him the marching-band outfits we’d just stolen out of a closet of a church on Green Street.

Larry and I got quite tipsy and had a wonderful time that night; it was probably our introduction to the positive side of alcohol. (The first time I’d been aware of people getting drunk I was in fourth grade and it scared the shit out of me. I fled that party and hid in my bed and started crying. I just wanted my 16-year-old cousin to stop drinking because I didn’t like the changes I was seeing.) The climax came when one of the hotter girls in the class began weeping hysterically. I guess news had gotten out that young Sam Levine was upstairs in bed with another girl.

“They are forsaking all human dignity up there,” sobbed the girl.

I was thinking,  “She’s upset because it’s not her up there, right? Otherwise this makes no sense.” I drunkenly bolted upstairs and peeked into the room but couldn’t see anything as they were buried under covers. “Shut the door!” yelled Sam. If not for all the interruptions, Sam might have lost his virginity that night.

Larry was way ahead of the rest of us in this regard, having lost his virginity in Baltimore at 14 or 15. He had a remarkable rapport with the opposite sex and wasn’t very choosey. He liked girls of all sorts and flirted continuously. I could see how having him as a sidekick might be an asset.

One last note about Davy. When he left town, he gave my brother his cushy weekend job at the News-Gazette and my brother handed the gig down to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but the publisher was a lover of Johnny Roselli, an enforcer for the Chicago mob who managed the Hollywood-mob connections. At the time I was a junior copy boy filing the AP wire tapes, and I had no idea Roselli was coming into town for liaisons with my ultimate boss at the paper, Marajen Chinigo. Today Sam is a world-class sax player in Nashville, Tim a leading Shakespearean scholar, Paul a biochemist, and Dave is famous because his son co-founded MGMT.

They  just held Unistock, a 50th anniversary celebration near Woodstock. Sam brought his sax and blew the roof off while Davy sang and played keyboards.

Larry and the Cross

I was sitting in the locker room putting on my street clothes when the new kid in school pointed at my Blues Magoos t-shirt and let me know how hip he thought it was. Their just-released album “Psychedelic Lollypop” included a psychedelic stencil that I’d ironed on the front of a plain white t-shirt. Psychedelic t-shirts didn’t exist at this time, at least not in central Illinois, and buying that album was the only way to get one. (I still have that t-shirt today, believe it or not, as well as the leather jacket I wore through most of the ’60s, although the stencil has all but disappeared and the shirt is now yellow.) I noticed something significant right away. Around his neck hung the secret sign from my Leal School gang days (see “From Violent Steetgangs to Merry Pranksters”).

We got to talking, and I discovered his name was Larry Green and he’d just arrived from Baltimore, which I could relate to having come a few years earlier from Boston, via England and Germany. Very few kids in the school were hip to psychedelic garage rock. In fact, I thought I was the only one. Larry introduced me to Doug Blair, who soon became famous for having the longest hair in high school. Much more important, Doug had started his own legal radio station from his bedroom and was broadcasting garage rock to a significant portion of the town of Urbana. The signal was easily reached from my house as well as Larry’s.

Larry Green and Doug Blair backstage at the UHS auditorium.

That’s them in the above photo, Larry on the left and Doug on the right. At the time, both Larry and I wanted long hair, but long bangs was as far as we’d gotten. It would take a huge confrontation for me to get control over my hair (see 1966). Larry soon became the first hang-out-everyday sidekick I’d had since first grade, when Bobby Davidson and I became best friends in Arlington, Massachusetts. Larry was a devout Catholic at the time, which I understood, since I was still going to Lutheran Sunday school and Saturday school. One day, however, I got to talking to my older brother and discovered he and his friends at Uni High (the smartest kids in town) had all come to the conclusion religion was a fairy tale. I remember I got so mad at my brother because he hadn’t told me immediately, and allowed me to continue wallowing in the darkness.

Pretty soon, I told my parents I wasn’t interested in going to church anymore, something that was greatly reinforced when the Pastor showed up at our house one night after dinner, attempting to arm-twist my Dad into making bigger contributions to the church. He wanted 10% of my Dad’s salary, and I remember how proud I was when Dad laughed that suggestion off saying, “No, I’m not giving you that much.”

I made a deal with my parents. Since my confirmation was only a month or two away, once I got confirmed, I’d never have to go to church again. And I didn’t. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Urbana High football coach, Smitty, was a member of that Lutheran congregation, and his only son was in my confirmation class, although we seldom spoke. Much, much later in life, Larry came to visit me and handed over the cross he’d worn in the ’60s, an icon both of us had invested magical powers into at one time. Larry felt it belonged with me for some reason.