Friday, February 8, 2008

Roots Rock

In the Fall of 1982 my oldest brother Deeb bought an electric guitar and a small amp. When he told me how much he had paid for the set I couldn't believe it. I had always figured that such things, being the accoutrement of demi-gods such as Hendrix and Clapton, were prohibitively expensive. Not so.

An invisible barrier had been breeched.

I was 16 and played tuba in the marching band, and my best friend Mookie played trumpet. We had both been into rock music for years, so it was natural that in our shared pipe dream of musical stardom he would play guitar and I would play bass.

That Christmas break I got ahold of a cheap Kay bass (that had black nylon strings!) and used Deeb's old 1977 Pioneer stereo to amplify it. Mookie got a guitar. The Toy, a good friend and drummer in the marching band, was a natural choice for drums, even though he didn't own any. A buddy from California rounded out the combo. We called him "BM" because those were his initials and they described his personality and we were rude and thoughtless teenagers.

At the time we were all totally into the 60's, and we were very thrilled when we had our first, uh, rehearsal at BM's house in Southridge. The house dated from that hallowed decade, which intrigued us to no end, and had a small detached building out under the trees in the backyard that had once served both as a storage shed and, as evidenced by the many psychedelic paintings and chalk drawings on the walls, as a sort of hang out for teenagers who had long-since grown up and moved away.

I vividly remember us all plugging in and noodling around individually and getting up the nerve to try something and, as noted, The Toy had no drums so he made do with what was available: a pot, a Sprite bottle, and his motorcycle helmet. The only legit part of his set up were his drumsticks! Still, he was musician enough to make that odd assortment of things work for him, and it was a real thrill to play with percussion. Mookie and I had fiddled around- just bass and guitar--- but the addition of the makeshift drumset added a whole new dimension. It started to sound "real".

Over the next several months the configuration of the band was this:
(Mookie = guitar) + (Po = bass) + (Toy = drums) + y
where y = any one of over a dozen people including, oddly enough, Pod!

At one point we played at a pretty big party in our neighborhood, at the home of a schoolmate who was sort of in the band. He had a Jim Morrison fixation and we would jolly him by letting him moan away incoherently as we struggled through "The End". He is now a plastic surgeon living in Dallas.

The house where the party was held was infamous for having to be kept up like a museum-- don't sit on the sofas lest you mess up the pillows, don't walk on the carpets lest they become worn, and don't even look at the paintings too hard. They might fade. The under 20 crowd understood perfectly well that they were fundamentally unwelcome in that home and were under constant suspicion of being potential sources of disarray. Just imagine our horror, that parentless evening, when we discovered that the bass drum pedal had left a big greasy stain right smack dab in the middle of an expensive Scandinavian carpet. To make matters worse, when our teenage host was kneeling down to assess the damage to Exhibit A, another friend grabbed a tall columnar candle that had been burning for hours and had accumulated a goodly quanitity of molten wax and poured it down the host's back.

We were rude and thoughtless teenagers.

At some point we finally found a permanent 'y' in the person of Jimmy Fred, who was much older than the rest of us (25 or 26, which now seems so very young) and had stage presence and a more-than-passable singing voice.

With a real singer, a growing songlist, and, by this time, real amps and drums, we counted this as our first real band. We called ourselved The Paisley Ascot.

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