Beatles or Stones?

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Haven’t seen Not Fade Away yet, but I’m super interested in this just-released attempt at capturing the garage band movement of the 1960s, although the initial reviews are not great, so I guess it won’t be creating a new franchise for Sopranos creator David Chase.

Immediately after Beat Street, I tried to launch my own garage band movie, and even had a great script titled The Runaways. I have a habit of walking away from energy centers at peek levels, and could have had a successful career as a professional hip hop journalist, but, instead, right after Beat Street and my book Hip Hop came out, and inspired by my new South Bronx friends, I decided to return to the music of my roots. In both cases (garage, hip hop), huge creative vibes were unleashed initially by kids age 14-16, with no one else involved, except our inspirations, which, in my case, initially emanated from England mostly (although Amsterdam had a scene just as good as Liverpool’s or London’s). Yes, it was the Beatles who made me want to pick up a guitar, but when I finally got that guitar, it was Rolling Stones songs I actually performed on stage with the Knight Riders. I was still in junior high when I saw their first performance at a sock hop at the end of the school year. I had no idea a bunch of kids my age could engineer such a mind-blowing rock sound. They only played one or maybe two songs, but I was changed forever. I didn’t recognize the song at the time, but later discovered it was Get Off My Cloud, although it could just as easily have been Gloria, the chords are similar and that now famous garage rock anthem from Them and Van Morrison was actually picked up by a local band in my town before the Shadows of Knight covered it. Within a year I was playing bass in the Knight Riders.

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So when I talk about the 1960s garage band movement, I lived it, not as a star, but as a teenager struggling to take on a new cultural identity against intense resistance, mostly from my own father. They call it a “generation gap” today, but it was really a generation war.

Although I’d later learn to embrace non-violence, that wasn’t the way it started, and if you read my first short story (East Village), which is free on smashwords (and now illustrated with my art from the period), you can get inside my 16-year-old mind, and it was certainly chock full of violence, the love of which may have been initially planted by the mainstream media. Many teens of the era, me included, had to run away in order to become ourselves. And those adventures often led to big cities, like New York, where some freaky movies and weird shit always went down. After some of those adventures, we became jaded, cynical, old souls pretty quick.

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My next short story, also on smashwords, and also recently updated with photos and illos from the period, covers my climactic battle with my parents, which occurred in 1967. The cover photo (left), taken by Bugsy, reveals my regular uniform at the time: black double-breasted leather jacket, jeans and long-sleeve white shirt. I think every black kid in my high school coveted that jacket, and some even warned me never to leave it in my locker unguarded. The fact it was double-breasted is what made it so distinctive. If you want to experience the raw emotions unleashed during the era, you will find them here, although it will cost 99 cents, as I need to get something back from all this art I’ve created. The next one, however, is free.

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My final short story in this trilogy from the 1960s, is a dispatch I wrote while hiding out from the Vietnam War in Stockholm, Sweden, where I had a wonderful apartment and gorgeous girlfriend (left), and a brief gig as an extra in a film (Joe Hill), but still felt strangely empty upon being separated from my beloved homeland for such a long stretch. This was near the zenith of my nihilistic tendencies, and the story lapses back into the black humor of East Village, a much needed relief from the trauma of The Steam Tunnels.

Hopefully I’ll soon post my original garage band script that bounced around Hollywood for over a decade. I almost got a low-budget version done through High Times, and even had a cast assembled and a $100,000 budget drawn up, but then the funding fell through. The main thing about this post though is if there are any people out there interested in 1966-9, you might want to check out these three eBooks because they were written during the period. In other words, it’s the real deal. Us hippies were a lot tougher than you think.

Scream (West Side version)

I recently started listening to some old tapes recorded at my Upper West Side apartment back in 1986 when the band first started, and I was amazed at how great the band sounds using a Walkman Pro with stereo mike to record. One of the first things I did after forming the band was invest in a small PA system. If we were going to rehearse in my apartment, I wanted the singers to be able to blast over the amps and drums. And I didn’t want to rely on the crummy house PA’s that you always find in the bottom-tier of venues. On hot days we’d open the window and just let it blast! Saturday afternoons were our usual rehearsal time. I knew we had something when a bunch of people hanging out the windows in the building across the street on West End Avenue all started applauding and cheering after we finished a particularly rousing version of “All Night Long,” a ’60s garage tune from Texas that’s particularly hard to play. That first spring we actually developed a fan club in the windows across the street who knew our regular rehearsal schedule. Later, we moved the rehearsals to real rehearsal rooms and eventually to Giorgio Gomelsky’s, as my building started rattling sabers about the noise. It didn’t help that the super lived in the apartment next to me, or that we had clouds of marijuana smoke drifting into the elevators.

Bands and sports teams are very similar in that they rely on energy harmony and transference. Some days the energy and harmony and transference are working, and some days they’re not. Going into studios to record would always boost our energy, but it could never guarantee those transcendent performances. Flick especially seemed to do his best work when the band was alone, or even late at night when we were just hanging out drinking beers and smoking joints, when he’d suddenly bust into his Lil’ Miscreant cartoon character and start channeling the ghost of Elvis or anybody else he wanted to. But once Flick got on stage, much of that improvisational energy would evaporate, and while Flick always put on great performances, that special magic we knew existed deep inside him seldom surfaced full bloom in recording studios or even onstage. To give a little demonstration of this, in case people think I’m just talking shit, I just put an alternative version of “Scream,” the first rock song I ever wrote on bandcamp just so our fans can hear that other Flick Ford for the first time. I believe this was recorded the same afternoon as that rousing version of “All Night Long.” Certainly the performances are better on this than any other version I know. And this was the original version of “Scream,” before Gordon Spaeth told us my song sounded too much like “Have Love,” and I re-jigged the guitar riff and sped up the tempo. After Flick goes off you can hear Brandel step up to the plate and knock his guitar solo out of the park, and if you listen close, you’ll hear Brian do the same thing on his bass soon afterwards.

http://theoriginalsoulassassins.bandcamp.com/track/scream-west-side-version

In case you just stumbled onto this blog, I’ve been telling the stories about the Finchley Boys and Knight Riders (and Seeds of Doubt)  from central Illinois from 1966-69, while, at the same time, telling the story of the Soul Assassins, my New York City garage band from 1986-89. Check out my free eBooks, links top-right column. And thanks for stopping by.

My First Trip on LSD

It wasn’t long after Hayes brought Carp into the Knight Riders that he began plotting how to get rid of him. Meanwhile, Tim Anderson, the original bass player for the Finchley Boy’s, convinced his dad to let him re-join a band. You might remember Tim was the first member of the Finchleys to unleash himself at a rehearsal and help guide the Finchleys into the realms of real rock’n’roll—what Dave Aguilar of the Chocolate Watchband describes as: “An overloaded lumber truck coming down the mountain, riding two wheels on all the curves” (see “True Origins of the Finchley Boys”). Hayes (left) held a secret tryout with Tim and we were all very impressed with his passion. “Wow, we finally got a showman in the band,” said Hayes afterwards. Tim left thinking he’d just joined a band.

“What about Carp?” I wondered. There’s an age-old technique for getting rid of band members without any uncomfortable confrontations, and Hayes was naturally going to employ this technique by disbanding the Knight Riders and then re-forming a new band a few days later with Tim as the lead singer. Of course, this new band would require a new name and Hayes asked me to start thinking up possible new names immediately. I decided to split rather than stick around to see what was going to happen when Carp showed up for a band meeting and heard the bad news about his band disbanding.

I hitch-hiked over to the Union Tavern, in the basement of the Illini Union, one of my three favorite hangouts at the time, the other two being Turk’s Head and House of Chin. (This was before the Red Herring Coffeeshop opened in the basement of the Unitarian Church.) Bugsy was sitting at a table wearing a huge Cheshire grin. An older beatnik dude was with him. I started talking to Bugsy, but the older dude interrupted right away. “Bugsy’s tripping right now,” he said. Holy Cow! This was the first I’d heard of any LSD in my hometown!! That’s when I noticed Bugsy’s eyes were big as saucers. A buddy of Bugsy’s had just flown to San Francisco for the weekend (the round-trip ticket was under $300), purchased several hundred blue capsules of LSD (still legal at the time—150 mics each we were told). The caps cost $1 on the street in the Haight, but could be sold for almost anything in Urbana, so desperate were people for a taste of this new infamous drug. On an initial investment of less than $1,000 this dude was planning to make at least $10,000 in profit. I could see the calculator going off in his head. I was fronted four capsules for the special price of $10 each.

I headed over to Doug Blair’s new crib. After the baseball-bat incident with Frank Sowers (see “King of the Greasers”) Doug had left high school and gone straight into the University of Illinois. He was a straight-A student running his own radio station at the time, so it hadn’t been too difficult. Instead of moving into a dorm like most incoming freshmen, Doug had located approved-student-housing on Third Street. It was a giant old house and had two or three beds in most of the rooms, but somehow Doug (left) had scored a small private room on the very top floor all by himself. The first time I’d gone up there, Doug had been getting high by sniffing lab-grade toluene. I tried it and almost instantly had a frightening panic attack and couldn’t remember my name for about 30 seconds. It freaked me so bad, I never wanted to sniff glue again. The only earlier experience I’d had with glue was when a bunch of us decided to hold our own version of the Finchley Boy’s famous glue party (see “True Origins: Stairway to Heaven”). We were at Jim K’s house and after we got high, I ran out to his backyard, which fronted a local golf course, took off all my clothes and started running around naked. Of course, this greatly concerned my friends, who desperately tried the herd me back inside while trying get me re-dressed. They finally got me back into the house with my underwear on, when Jim K started chasing me around the house brandishing a huge kitchen knife. He wanted to stab me because he’d only hosted this party on condition that I behaved myself, which I obviously hadn’t.

Fresh Cream by Cream had just come out and Doug was listening to the song “I Feel Free” when I arrived. I showed him the blue capsules and we decided to take half right away. Twenty minutes later we both took the other half. Twenty minutes after that we decided to go to the Union Tavern. Bugsy was no where in sight. We started coming on just as we sat down at a booth and when the waiter came, we realized we had to split as we were getting claustrophobic. In a daze, we walked out on the terrace on the Union’s south side, where Doug bumped into a girl he knew named Spacey. She started flirting with Doug. I couldn’t communicate, so I pulled Doug aside and said I needed to return to his crib where I felt safe. I just wanted to curl up in a blanket and listen to records. Doug guided me back to his place but wanted to go back outside. “Don’t leave me!” I pleaded. Doug came up with the idea of me calling someone to babysit me via the telephone. I thought that was a great idea, and, of course, I called Carole. “Well, you can’t have kids now,” she said when I told her I was tripping. They were spreading a lie at this time that LSD caused birth defects. Funny how it took so long to reveal this connection with alcohol, but they prematurely jumped all over it when it came to LSD. Carole secretly tape-recorded my rantings while I described all my hallucinations and wild revelations. (She’d discover the tape many years later and tell me it all sounded so innocent.) Eventually, Doug returned, by which time we both had huge psychedelic auras around our heads. We stayed up all night listening to music. Doug always had the best record collection and stereo of anyone I ever knew.

Around 8 am, I left for school and arrived at the pavilion at Carle Park across from Urbana High (the same place where a snowball fight changed my life, see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters’). The pavilion  is where all the longhairs smoked cigarettes before going to class. I unexpectedly bumped into the Knight Riders. Carp had thrown them down the basement stairs and threatened to beat the shit out of them if they tried to disband. So the Knight Riders still existed. I wasn’t surprised. Then I pulled a piece of tin foil out of my pocket, opened it and revealed two capsules of LSD. The Knight Riders seemed really dismayed and started acting like I was a heroin junkie or something. No way were they interested in anything as powerful as LSD! A few hours later, Hayes informed me I’d been kicked out of the band for being a drug addict.

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.

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“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.

Enter the Knight Riders

It sure was nice of my Yankee Ridge buddy, Stuart Tarr, to recognize my first publication, the Cap’n Crunch Courier (CCC) in his dedication to my 1965 yearbook. Things would really change quickly the next year, as the Generation War heated up and eventually boiled over. I was stuck in a program for troublemakers and had few classes with my friends and intellectual peers.

One Saturday my family went hiking at Turkey Run in Indiana, and I cracked my knee while rock climbing. I smacked it so bad that an egg-like shape swelled up and they put me on crutches for a week. Near the end of the week, however, I found myself in the second fight of my life.

A girl in my class was making a huge deal about what adorable teddy bear eyes I had and was debating this with the teacher and a bunch of other girls. Now, I was super shy and I thought I was going through school pretty much unnoticed by the opposite sex, so I was way too embarrassed to respond. But I saw a frown on Harvey Treat’s face. And I soon heard him murmur: “He doesn’t need those crutches…it’s an act.”

Maybe Harvey had a crush on that girl; I don’t even remember her name. Later in the day, in shop class, I see Harvey has his crew all ganged around and I get this paranoid feeling Harvey is talking about me.

Thankfully, the bell rings and I head for my next class: band practice. I’m opening the door to the band rehearsal room, when I suddenly notice Ronald Dix standing right next to me. Ron kicks me in the shin. (Keep in mind, I’m on crutches.) Without hesitation, I kick Ron back about as hard as I could, at which point Ron lands a fist square on my choppers. I dropped my crutches, grabbed Ron by the throat, back-tripped him to the ground, and pinned on the floor. By this time, I noticed a crowd around us, some of whom were cheering me on.

“You beat his ass,” said Bugsy after everything broke up. See, Ron was smaller than me, but he weighed more. He was a jock, a wrestling champ. He wore a crew cut. He was a member of the Junior Red Cross. He was as goody-two-shoes as it gets and I had no idea why he wanted to mess with me…unless it was a dare Harvey had put him on. I’d never had any dealings with Ron in my entire life.

When I got to band practice, news of the fight had already spread, plus I had a split lip and couldn’t play my trumpet, so I got sent to see Mr. Walljasper, the school disciplinarian. While waiting on the couch outside his door, I started to break down. I was afraid I was going to be branded a rat and didn’t know what I should say. Although it was against my instincts, I ended up telling Walljasper the truth. He called Ron into his office immediately and expressed his disappointment that a exemplary student like Ron had behaved so badly. We shook hands and Walljasper escorted us both to the gym, where a pep rally or something was already taking place. I just remember the intense shame of having to walk through there knowing the fight was being talked about everywhere. I didn’t think I’d won or lost; I just felt sick at heart that I was making enemies without even trying. I was a super scrawny kid, and looked like a pushover to a lot of bullies, but the truth is, once they messed with me, they soon discovered I was a wiry son-of-bitch with a lot of heart.

The next day, the school held the final sock hop of the year, and it featured the debut of the Knight Riders, four guys from my class, one of whom was playing an organ, which was quite unusual. “Gloria” by the Shadows of Knight was my favorite song at the time, but they were playing something just as intense! I was instantly blown away and went to the very front row and bomped hysterically throughout the song. When their three-song set was over, I went backstage (the cafeteria) and let it be known I was a devoted fan on the spot and hailed them as true rock geniuses. I’d thought they wrote that song, but months later, while attending a rehearsal, I’d realize it was “Get Off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones they were playing. I dropped the Cap’n Crunch Courier and began plotting how I was going to engineer myself into a rock band.