Birth of The Tin Whistle

The first issue of The Tin Whistle had a picture of Gandalf I drew.

It all started when I got invited to this meeting to discuss a media project, I wasn’t sure exactly what. I think the meeting was held at St. Pat’s Church in Urbana, but I could be wrong. There were about eight or nine people there, including, maybe Stuart Tarr and Albie Fisher? If so, they would have been the ones to suggest I attend.

There was a dark-skinned dude, maybe his ancestors were from India or Iran, I can’t remember and if anyone can, please comment below. He spoke nearly perfect American as I recall. I believe he was a freshman at the University of Illinois. For some strange reason, he had an interest in helping an underground newspaper get started in the twin cities, and was looking for some people to take on this project if he provided the initial seed money.

Since I was the only one with any experience publishing anything, the dude eventually asked me if I was interested in running this new publication. I said sure, and he said, what name would you give it? I was holding a long, tin whistle in my hand, really just a prop for my hippie-hobbit persona, when I looked up and said, “How about The Tin Whistle?” Everybody loved that name.

I think the dude asked me how much money I needed to get started, and I said, “One hundred dollars.” He wrote me a check on the spot. I never really had any contact with this dude ever again. I can’t remember if I even paid him back the hundred dollars. I did have his telephone number because I called him for help one time, and he actually came running and saved me from a beating, a story I will get to shortly. However, he never expressed any interest in the content of my newspaper and just seemed delighted that he’d helped get it started. I’d like to find that dude today, just to see if any hidden agendas were in play. He looked like a total straight-arrow and it was hard to fathom his interest in counterculture journalism.

I heard the underground paper at the U of I, the seldom-published Walrus, had an office on the North End of campus, so I went looking for it. They welcomed me instantly, gave me keys to the building and access to all the art supplies. They also  hooked me up with a cheap off-set printer. I had the first issue out in a matter of weeks. The Walrus staff was astounded. I made them look bad in a way because I’d almost single-handedly published an 8-page underground paper, while all they’d done is sit around and talk strategies for weeks on end. Eventually they would start getting issues out as well.

Before I published the first issue, however, this big black dude named Charlie Geron came by my new office. He’d heard I was going to publish an underground paper and wanted to know if he could write for it. I said “sure,” not knowing Charlie would soon become my star columnist.

First Trip to the Haight

One night I was sitting in my psychedelic playground otherwise known as the Den of Iniquity, when my Dad unexpectedly showed up with another biochemistry professor from Berkeley, California. I guess he’d come to Urbana to give a seminar. My Dad had told him about me, and this dude wanted to meet me because he was a peace activist. He loved my paintings all over the walls, and pointed out that a peace symbol I’d painted over my desk was missing one of the spokes. That made me feel a little dumb. The amazing thing was, this professor invited me to come spend a week with him in the Berkeley Hills!

I was soon on a flight to San Francisco and I was reading all the Hobbit books at the time and was deep into Hobbitland, which today just seems like a boring remake of WWII done with magic and elves, basically war propaganda. The first book had been great, but the trilogy seemed bloated to me. One thing you have to give the Brits credit for, however, when it comes to magic, they rule. That goes for dark magic and white magic.

I spent the first few days hanging out on Telegraph Avenue when I got recruited to help out at a people’s church that a hippie pastor was setting up. There were two guys working on this project and I became the office assistant for a few days. My host seemed a bit dubious of the Christian-connection. He was an atheist and distrusted organized religions.  He’d drop me off on his way to his lab every morning, and pick me up at 5:30 every night to go home, where we had dinner prepared by his beautiful Swedish wife, and then played a game of chess or two.

One day while walking down Telegraph, this hippie started talking to me like he’d known me his whole life. His name was Jinglebells and he was originally from New York City. Jinglebells had really long hair and was wearing high-top suede moccasins with bells around his ankles. He wanted to know if I wanted to hitchhike with him to the Haight. He knew a place we could crash. This was too good an offer to turn up, so I soon found myself wandering around the Haight. After it got dark we went to the all-night church where all the runaways congregated who didn’t have a place to sleep. It was really crowded. Then Jinglebells took me to Page Street to visit a commune. There was a beautiful girl who seemed to be at the center of this scene. She said Country Joe had come over the night before and sung songs with his guitar all night while everybody tripped. Country Joe had led the Hari Krishna chant for hours, apparently. There was a guy in a Navy uniform and he was hitting on a plump hippie girl. Everyone fell asleep while this couple eventually had sex on the living room rug. In the morning though, the whole vibe changed and the beautiful hippie girl was mad at us. “This is not a crash pad!” she said. I also heard her say she didn’t know Jinglebells well enough to trust him. Pretty soon, I figured out she was surviving by buying bricks of Mexican weed and selling lids on the street.

Jinglebells decided to hitchhike on down to Big Sur. “It’s a beautiful scene down there,” he said. “You should come with me.” I was sorely tempted, but decided to hitchhike back to Berkeley and walked miles uphill before I found the house I was staying at. The Swedish lady was really pissed at me and made me call her husband immediately. I made up some story about how a friend had been arrested and I’d gone to the police station and spent the night trying to get him out of jail. “Why didn’t you at least call us?” they wondered. The visit was over in another day or two anyway. Things were pretty somber at his house after that incident and I guess now he understood why my Dad was so frustrated with me. But I couldn’t get that close to the Haight and not at least spend one night soaking up the vibes there.

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.

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.

Watch that Hand!

Here’s the Tudor house on Delaware where I grew up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we’d been desperately poor all our lives until my Dad was made head of the biochemistry department at the University of Illinois. Suddenly our lives got a lot more plush. Unfortunately, I got into huge confrontations with my Dad while growing up (see my eBook, “The Steam Tunnels”). I was headed down a counterculture path by the time I turned 15, and my Dad was really opposed to that direction. I had to run away several times before I could even grow long hair. Eventually, we worked out a truce of sorts, and I moved down into the basement and began transforming it into a psychedelic playground.

Right before I moved down there, however, I’d put an Eldridge Cleaver for President poster in the second floor window of the room my brother and I shared (left corner).  When my Dad saw that poster from the sidewalk, he flipped out and ran upstairs and destroyed it. I was wearing this blue hat that said “LSD” at the time, long before I actually took any LSD. I’d just gotten a bass guitar and met the most beautiful girl in town, a blonde named Carole, who lived with her mother and grandfather in Champaign. She was my age, a year behind my brother at Uni High (see “Smartest Kids in Town”). One week-end I found myself walking to her house after a Finchley Boy’s concert, with two or three other couples who wanted to make out. I’d never made out in my life, and neither had Carole, far as I know. It was her girl friend’s idea. When we got to the basement, we kept the lights off and everybody just sort of settled into a comfortable position in the dark. Carole said we could snuggle, but no making out. That was cool with me. I put my arm around her waist at some point and she said, “Watch that hand, don’t move it any higher.” I was a real stupid chuckle-head at the time, and when she said that, I immediately started inching my hand up toward her breasts. I wasn’t even trying to cop a feel to be honest, I was just trying to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. Carole erupted immediately, and threw us all out of her basement. She was steaming mad. I walked home knowing I had just squandered the best opportunity of my life. I learned an important lesson that night. See, you have to be super respectful of girls, otherwise they won’t trust you. Carole was shy and sensitive, just like me, and instead of building a foundation for a possible relationship, I’d broken all sense of trust. I hoped I could repair the damage, if I just kept working on her, which I would of course.

Photos of Carole back in the ’60s are hard to come by, but I did locate this one, so you get an idea of just how gorgeous she was. Is this not the classical face of an Alice in Wonderland archetype that inhabits our collective unconscious? Carole had the most incredible blonde hair that reached all the way back to her ass. Her father’s side of the family was from the South, and she had a real Southern Belle quality. She could really talk up a storm, and had a way of touching you while she talked that seemed like a come-on, but it wasn’t. She also made her own clothes and was almost as good at rock’n’roll fashions as Mary Shirley. Carole was a brainiac; her specialty was Russian literature and she was one of the top Russian scholars in the country at the time, which was great, because I loved Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov and a bunch of other Russian novelists. Only I was reading translations and she was reading all these books in Russian. Carole was always helping people out when she could. She spent several hours every week reading books to blind people. Her mom was super cool and liked me from the start, although her grandfather seemed highly protective of her. Unfortunately, he passed away right after I met Carole and that was another trauma she had to go through. The day after the funeral Carole had a vision he’d come to visit her late at night in her room to tell her he was all right. Unfortunately, very soon, an unexpected development would put an end to my fantasies of going steady with Carole.

First Visit to a Recording Studio

Unfortunately the Soul Assassins made only a few trips a recording studio, the first, in fact, with the original Assassinettes (Claudia, Helena and Mean Jean), as well as original drummer Brian Moores on January 2, 1988. Flick and Brian Spaeth found the studio in the East Village where we eventually did most of our recordings. I guess it was run by some coke-head because the sound we got out of that place was always terrible. The owner was going to record and mix us one afternoon, but after a few songs, he split and left some crack-head behind to do the mixing. Of course, that dude was being paid by the hour, so he kept us there all night, twiddling knobs, acting like he was souping things up. What a joke. Garage bands sound best with zero mixing. But you have to know how to mic and EQ the instruments, which these guys obviously didn’t have a clue about. Even the demo tape they gave me on a cassette tape had crazy levels, one track riding the red all the time and the other barely there at all. It was sad that we never really stepped into a competent situation in a studio or who knows what sort of records we could have produced.

Flick and Brian were masters at showing up at the studio armed with Brian’s ancient tape-recorder and a brand-new song they wanted to do. Brian would play some Bill Kelly Show taped off his equally ancient radio. It was like a game of telephone tag trying to decipher those faint and scratchy sounds. I’m hopeless at transposing anyway, practically tone-deaf, so Bob Brandel would always work out the chords for me. He was so amazing on guitar that it usually only took Bob a few seconds before he riffed off some major chunks that sounded just like the record, only better.

In fact, it was a testament to how great the band was that we could even learn a song and record it minutes later as if we’d been playing it all our lives. I just put up a new track on our bandcamp site (see link top-right column). It’s from that first session: “That’s the Bag I’m In,” perfect for Flick’s bulldog personality. We also recorded two originals I wrote that day, “Scream” and “Higher Ground,” as well as “All Night Long,” “Down at the Nightclub,” “”Have Love,” “The Assassinettes Theme,” and a few others. The reason we picked up “Have Love” is Brian’s brother Gordon (a member of the Fleshtones) told us my song “Scream” was a copy of “Have Love” (even though I’d never heard that song before). But once I listened to “Have Love,” I realized it blew my humble tune out of the water. Gordon would eventually teach Flick how to play the harmonica.

The original Assassinettes had no problem with “Scream” but their replacements did. At least Abby did. After she heard the song on the radio one day, she told me we couldn’t play it with her on stage because of the line that went: “If you got a gal that don’t know her place, all you have to do is laugh in her face, and just scream!” Abby didn’t dig that line, so we dropped the song.

Only Me

Mark Warwick.

The first glue-sniffing party at the Shirley’s barn may have inspired Phil Mayall to start a journal, but it also inspired Mark Warwick to write a song that soon replaced Jim Cole’s “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” as the Finchley Boy’s signature song.

You can tell from the artful pose that Mark had quite a lot of style. Those wide surfer-stripes were considered super-cool at the time. That’s about as long as his hair got back then, as he was the only member of the band who submitted to haircut rules. Mark was exceptionally talented and his psychedelic masterpiece, “Only Me,” expressed a firm belief in the intoxication of sacred substances as the true path to enlightenment.

It’s hard to explain today, but the garage-rock movement was an intensely spiritual event, more powerful, in fact, than our exploding libidos. And while the Finchley’s were all about scouting the fun vibe, they also reached deep into their hearts on occasion. Sure, Cole could make the girls swoon with a Stones ballad like “Lady Jane” (a phenomenon Flick Ford would later call “the pooey meter), but when they rocked hard, the band was more like an icebreaker or Sherman tank, leading our forces into the battles of the Generation War. It was at those shows that our tribe first collected and realized itself. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking vibes are something individuals control, but actually the most powerful vibes are always group emanations. That’s why great artists initially emerge from tribes. The really great bands are injected with energy from the crowd and become reservoirs of that energy, which is why all the girls wanted to rub up against the Finchley’s so bad.

Remember I told you there were two paths at the birth of the ’60s?  (See “Reflections on Older Brothers.”) Well, Faber and Cole represented those paths perfectly. Warwick was on a similar path as Faber.

Please don’t think any of this stopped those guys from being best friends, and nobody was aware of these energy fields back then, but Mark’s song was clearly suited for Faber, not Cole, and Faber would put an incredible spirituality into the song. He’d recently gotten a copy of a book on yoga, and was into health food and meditation. The song was so powerful it quickly moved to the encore slot, and Faber would start by assuming the famous “Tree” position. I was instantly transported to a most reverential church-of-my-mind. I’m sure any adults that might have been attending might have considered us  hypnotized zombies, such was our devotion and zeal during this song.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t also point out that the drummer, Mike Powers, was a tremendous part of the success of “Only Me.” In fact, he opened the song with a drum solo on mallets, and eventually added a large gong. Mike would take a long solo with mallets at the climactic moment of the song. He was a important part of the song’s spirituality.

Reflections on Older Brothers

Here’s my best buddy Larry Green in 1966 before he had long hair. Since I’ve already outlined my teenage iconography involving the goddess side of life (see “Origins of Stairway to Heaven” and “Goddess with the Dark Hair”), it might be useful to chart two major influences on the Yang side of life. My two best friends, Larry and Bugsy, both had extremely influential older brothers, both one-year older than us. While my brother was attending an Ivy League prep school (see “Smartest Kids in Town), Larry’s and Bugsy’s brothers were living in San Francisco, the coolest place in the universe in 1967. Having a super-cool older brother gave them both a leg up on me. But those two dudes, they were as different as night and day, and really represented the twin paths that confronted me. And I couldn’t decide which path I wanted to take and kept swerving from one to another.

Larry’s brother, Richard, had gone South during the Civil Right’s Movement and put his life on the line to help those less fortunate than himself. Somewhere along the line, Richard became a full-fledged Bodhisattva, devoting himself to helping people and spreading positive vibrations. Richard came through town periodically, and instead of Champaign County ditch weed, he carried real marijuana that actually got you high. Richard turned Larry on for the first time that summer and then started driving back to Frisco. He broke down around Carbondale, and a stranger helped him fix his flat. Richard gave that stranger a joint as a present for helping him and the stranger called the cops. Richard spent a few months in jail.

But then there was Bugsy’s brother, Don, who’d broken all the rules and walked the wild side since he was 14. His parents had shipped him off to Florida for a special program (probably a CIA mind control experiment—at least that’s what Don and I believe today). At the very beginnings of the ’60s there was already this dichotomy between the peace-love hippie vibe, and the punks who were living in the real world of pimps, prostitutes, pawn shops and pool halls. Don was a master of that world.

Brian Ravlin soon followed Don to San Francisco. Both these brothers, Richard and Don, would soon return to Urbana, however, and I would finally meet both legends in the flesh.

Turk’s Head

For over a decade I searched for a photo of the Turk’s Head building every time I went back to Urbana to no avail, but finally, some have arrived, thanks to the founder, Steven Simon and Bugsy. Turk’s Head was the center of gravity for the counterculture in central Illinois— until they demolished it around 1968. We assumed it was torn down just to destroy what had become central station for the emerging hippie culture. And the day after it was bulldozed, I went through the rubble in great sadness and found a silver ring with some Native-American-like etchings on it. That ring became my most powerful and longest-lasting magical possession. When I finally proposed at age 50, I passed it over as my engagement ring. That’s how much it meant to me.

It was an ancient 3-story hotel built far from the railroad tracks and downtown areas so certain people could keep a low-profile. Al Capone’s gang supposedly stayed there, for example, when they came down-state to hunt pheasant. There were two major gangs in Chicago back then, and once they crossed paths on Henry Sansone’s property and turned the shotguns on each other. My family was well-versed with the mob since my mom’s uncle ran the numbers racket in Gary, Indiana, and paid skim to Capone. Uncle Freddy wisely paid his way out of the game and went straight after the Untouchables came to town.

The Turk’s Head had a wide set of stairs leading up to a deck. The staircase and deck became the hangout (along with the balconies above it), and since the building fronted Green Street, which was the main drag through campus, just sitting on the steps was like being on display for all the passing traffic, and when you had a big group of hippies, there was a lot of rubber-necking going on. There was an advertising placard on the deck like the type used to update daily menus, only it said: “If I owned Champaign and hell, I’d rent out Champaign and live in hell.”

On the left side was Turk’s Head, a bohemian-style, beatnik coffee-shop that served food at people’s prices and often had free movies, like “The Wild Ones” with Marlon Brando, or a similar counterculture classic—with free popcorn. They also had a wide selection of exotic beers available. On the right was Mary Shirley’s business venture, In Stitches, and also Bob Nutt’s business venture, Blytham Ltd. (a name suggested by Jim Cole, for it’s British flavor). Downstairs was The Leather Shop, created by a jazz drummer who would briefly join the Finchleys. His name was Glenn Cronkhite.

Bob Nutt (wearing hat) and Irv Azov with long hair.

Bob Nutt had a business partner named Irv Azoff. Originally from Danville, IL, Azof was a fraternity brother of Nutt, and they decided to hook their wagons to the garage-rock movement to see if it would take them to the stars. Only one would make it. Blytham had the bands completely under their thumb because they invested thousands in equipment and paid the band members nominal allowances until the cost of the equipment was paid off. In Stitches was probably the most fashionable rock’n’roll boutique in the world at the time. Mary’s designs were always daring and spectacular. She was so far ahead of her time. The bands were all outfitted in her clothes (if they could afford it, that is).

Nutt would be yelling to someone on the phone, threatening to never let some venue book the Finchley’s again unless they took all of Nutt’s other bands, like the Seeds of Doubt, or the Knight Riders (the band I briefly played bass in), and they also had to promise not to book any band not affiliated with Blytham—since they had cleverly signed every competent high school and college band around. Blytham was establishing a virtual monopoly on live rock music in the area. Irv seemed like a nice guy. I bought some buttons from him and he was fun to talk to. Blytham had a huge collection of anti-establishment buttons for sale. Buttons were really big back then, as this was before t-shirts carried any messages.

Guy Maynard of the Seeds of Doubt was blossoming into a real revolutionary and had a big confrontation with Azof at the House of Chin. Guy evolved into a world-class novelist and will probably release the story himself some day, but the upshot was that the money from the rock entertainment business belonged to the people, not the rock stars and their managers. Irv really exploded when he heard that line. (I guess you know Azoff turned into the most powerful person in the music industry?)

Goddess with the Dark Hair

Chris Swing.

Despite her many accomplishments, Mary Shirley did have competition for greatest garage-rock goddess of Urbana, 1967, and that competition was a dark-haired beauty named Chris Swing.

I was walking down the hall one day when Chris and George Faber bumped into each other unexpectedly and began having an animated conversation with their immense sexual auras in full power.

Man, everybody in that hall just stopped what they were doing and froze in place so we could concentrate on what those two were saying. That was the main difference between junior high and high school, the sexual hormones were bouncing off the walls once you got to high school.

And having the Finchley Boys, the greatest garage band in the state, in my high school was a lot of like having the Rolling Stones hanging around all the time. Their charisma was that strong.

But the charisma coming off Mary Shirley and Chris Swing was just as powerful! I didn’t dare to speak to either one, as they were both way out of my league, although Chris was going steady with my bass teacher at the time, Jim Brewer.

I got completely plastered drinking beers in the parking lot at the Tiger’s Den one night. I’d just heard that Carole had driven off in some sports car with some rock’n’roll upper-class-man, and tried to drink myself into oblivion.

Jim found me passed out in the alley. Chris got down on the ground and put my head in her lap to comfort me. That’s how I woke up…with Chris stroking my hair, telling me how cute I looked.

At first, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But then I woke up and got really embarrassed. Chris wanted Jim to drive me home, but I waved them off and started hoofing it back to Delaware Street. When the sun came up hours later, I woke up again, passed out in somebody’s lawn half-way home.

Funny how Chris Swing lived out in the country, just a few blocks from me and the Shirley’s. Her mom Pat, remains a stunning beauty to this day, defying any effects of age whatsoever. Pat makes 80 look like the new 30. She had two daughters, but the little one wasn’t on my radar in 1967, although that would eventually change.