My Career as a Concert Promoter Begins

It wasn’t long after I created my underground newspaper The Tin Whistle in 1968, that I decided to become a rock concert promoter to raise money and publicity for the paper, which had become an instant success by selling out at four high schools in Central Illinois, even though it was banned at all of them, except Uni High, our local prep school for the best and brightest.

For my first concert, I asked Blues Weed to perform and they agreed.

Donny Perino (center, seated), the leader and keyboard player, had been my predecessor on bass guitar in the Knight Riders. I couldn’t understand why the Knight Riders wanted to get rid of Donny since he was the best musician in the group, however it didn’t take him long to start a new band using a couple of the best high school age blues musicians in town. Unfortunately, a few days before the concert, Blues Weed pulled out, leaving me scrambling to find a substitute band. Naturally, I wanted a Friday or Saturday night at a major venue on campus, but that turned out to be difficult and expensive. I discovered a hall I could rent on Sunday afternoon for cheap, although I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get people to a concert on a Sunday afternoon. At the last minute I got my former band, the Knight Riders, to agree to perform for around $100. The total budget on the event was probably around $200 and admission was $5, so I only needed 40 paid attendees to break even, and the hall easily held over 300. I set up 40 folding chairs in front of the stage and left the back of the hall open for dancing.

For some reason, I decided to drop acid shortly after the doors opened. This was not a good idea because as soon as I started coming off, some of my friends started playing mind games and decided to haul me down to the front of the stage and feed me to the speakers while the band was playing. I suddenly got real nervous about the cash in the money box, and inexplicably decided to leave the concert with the money in order to put it in a safe place. About four of my friends came with me, and we stopped by Chug Wyatt’s house so I could drop something off. My friends pretended to drive off without me as soon as I got out of the car. I could see them waving money from the cash box out the car windows as they drove off laughing and celebrating. Fortunately, they just circled the block and then picked me up and took me to my parent’s house, where I dropped off the cash box with my mom.

When we got back to the concert, the show was just ending, and the band wanted to get paid asap. They said they needed cash now because they’d borrowed the amps for the show from another band and needed to put $10 on each amp when they returned them. And they got one of the toughest black kids in town to intimidate me and make sure they got paid right then.

I was tripping pretty heavy while this beefy black dude was threatening to beat the shit out of me unless I produced the money for the band instantly. I ended up calling the foreign student who had bankrolled the first issue of the The Tin Whistle. He gave the band some money, which allowed me to leave with my face intact. But the incident really burned whatever bridges I had with my former band, and I never really spoke to any of those guys again.

Meanwhile Donny Perino turned into a hermit, possibly due to his addiction to marijuana at an early age. Far as I know, he still lives in Urbana, but no one has seen him in decades. I hope he’s ok.

The Chain Whipping Incident

Did you know the world’s only hippie memorial is located along the Illinois Central train tracks in Arcola, Illinois? The town I grew up in was actually a hotbed of radical activity in the 1960s. The fledgling Students for Democratic Society (SDS) picked Urbana, Illinois, in fact, as the site for their 1965 conference, and hundreds of members arrived from all around the country. Soon, we had the state’s best garage band, The Finchley Boys, as well as the country’s greatest experimental artist, John Cage, both performing in our little community 120 miles south of Chicago. We also had the first landmark performance of a masterpiece called “MacBird!” which theorized JFK had been murdered and President Johnson was an accomplice in the crime.

Jim “Chef Ra” Wilson was my high school senior class president, the first black elected to that position. He organized the first black appreciation celebration in the history of Urbana High. It was held late at night and included free soul food and a series of performances by notable black musicians who were also students at the school.

My best friend Larry Green, recently arrived from Baltimore, somehow became one of the star attractions of the evening by commanding a gaggle of black girls around him at all times, all constantly cracking up at his improv performances. The alpha chick among them was also the girlfriend of the star of the show, who played keyboards and sang, among many other talents. I remember him from the stage suddenly stopping the show to ask his girl what she was doing with her arm around Larry Green’s neck? Somehow, Larry turned that all around into a big belly laugh and the performance went on. I don’t know if any long-term inter-racial relationships were born that night, but it certainly was a wonderfully healing ceremony for all who attended and I hope we left many of our fellow black students with a sense of our appreciation for their culture, despite the institutionalized racism that had afflicted the school up until then and the fact few of us would actually try the chitlins.

Jim’s ceremonies would continue to evolve and mature as he grew up. One of his best was his annual appearance in the July 4th parade, which wound its way through much of the town before culminating at the football stadium, where the state’s largest fireworks display would be set off come darkness. Jim could often be found in some wild, colorful outfit, roller-skating through the entire parade route and doing circles and stunts the whole way. He was well over 6 foot tall, and had placed third in the state high jump his senior year so his athletic abilities were unparalleled.

In 1968, someone applied for a permit for anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to march in the annual parade and the permit was duly granted on grounds of free speech after a brief court battle even though members of the town councils wanted it denied as un-American and inappropriate. We happened to be driving past Green Street when the protestors were attacked by a gang of men wearing hard-hats, some of whom wielded clubs and chains. Jim Cole, leader of the Finchley Boys, was one of the protestors and would later describe grabbing a fist aimed at his face and then realizing it belonged to someone he knew quite well. I really felt I’d missed out on something exciting, but I wasn’t much of a street fighter anyway. My time, however, was soon coming.

Later that day, I was hitchhiking with Larry and Carole. Carole, at this point, had become Larry’s girl friend.  I’d already read “The Sun Also Rises” so the part of discarded ex-lover who hangs on for dear life had already been portrayed as a noble cause. Whenever I saw films like “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” I immediately recognized my role.

Anyway, a white car slowed to a stop. “We’ll take the girl, but we won’t take you,” said a dude in the backseat, whose mouth seemed full of marbles. He had a southern, redneck accent and was barely understandable. I looked inside the car and noticed some guys in uniform and thought I saw a hardhat on one of the seats.

“Would you like to ride with these guys?” I asked Carole, who, of course, said, “No.”

As I was explaining the situation, the dude in the shotgun seat reached down on the floor and produced a steel chain. He opened the car door and I began backing away from the car, while holding Larry and Carole behind me. But we couldn’t back up fast enough for the dude swung that four-foot chain and it whipped around my side while he began yelling about his contempt for long-haired hippies like me. At this point, my only thought was to get Carole out of there before the other three dudes got out of the car and tried to abduct her. She seemed to be the real center of interest in all situations, so I grabbed her arm and yelled, “Run!”

Meanwhile, Larry, stepped around me and confronted this dude. Larry had the supreme confidence he could talk his way out of any situation as well as being somewhat fearless. Larry probably began with some comment like: “Hey, now wait a minute, this doesn’t call for violence…” Meanwhile I was already halfway around the house wondering why Larry hadn’t taken off running with us when I yelled “Run!.” Although I couldn’t see what was happening, I soon surmised that Larry had been pushed into a large bush and beaten on his back a couple times with the chain.

Some guardian angel appeared out of no where, claiming to be a Vietnam War Vet. The dude beating on Larry was talking about the war while he was beating on him. And this Vet wanted him to know that all Vets didn’t feel like him and that he should leave Larry alone and let him go. Carole, meanwhile, refused to stay hidden on the other side of the house with me since she was delirious with concern over Larry.

Eventually the three of us re-united and the car drove off. Back at her house, Carole scolded me pretty harshly for running away from the scene and abandoning Larry like that after he tried to stick up for me. But we got over it pretty quick and headed back to Campus-town, where everyone was hanging out in front of Turk’s Head. Larry showed off his chain marks for all to see while we recounted the story of our adventures. Much later than night, while I was alone in the bathroom, I would finally notice the chain welts across my own back.