Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sadie's Personality Lounge

St. Louis is one of the most blatantly segregated cities in the U.S... The north side is predominantly black and until recently the south side predominantly white. I’ve lived pretty much my whole life somewhere in the central corridor (no rules).

When we were 16 or 17 Marge, A. and I were invited to a blues club way north on Union called Sadie’s Personality Lounge.

We were asked there by our friend Freddy Morrell who was sitting in with the band. The idea was that I would sit in at some point. I recently spoke with Augustino Patti and he can verify everything I remember.

I’ll never understand why Sadie’s wasn’t shut down for serving minors. We were as conspicuous as it gets. Not only were we the only white people there but we were obviously just babies. The apparent lawlessness was a major part of the appeal.

I’m sure this happens to everyone when they become legal age but on my 21st birthday Dominic and I went to Mississippi Nights to celebrate. It was an empty experience. Hell, they didn’t even card me!

Anyway, the girls and I went into Sadie’s and the first thing that happened was a total shock. What must have been a 300 pound male double amputee grabbed me with one of his steel grasping claws and pulled me into the dance floor. I looked at my friends and said, “well, guess I’m gonna dance!”

Somewhere in here Freddy got me up on the stage and handed me a guitar. I started playing and the band’s singer looked up at me and asked, “Boy, did you go to music school?” It was the great Tommy Bankhead and I would have many adventures with him in my 20s at The Broadway Oyster Bar. At this point I was totally out of my element and totally green when it came to The Blues. It was like being in the heat of sex with a beautiful woman and she stops to ask what you’re doing.

To this day I won’t spontaneously jump on a stage to jam. Unless of course, it’s safe. For example in the 80’s I sat in with bands like The Soulard Blues Band, Leroy Pierson, The Heaters and others with a Theremin. If you don’t know what this is, Google it. I was probably the only person in town playing one at the time.

My fear of spontaneity has come back to bite me. I passed up sitting in with Chuck Berry and a few others. I’ll always regret it!

I wonder where Freddy is now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sweet 16 And Never Been What?

When I was 15 Pam left me for God. I would hitchhike out to Webster Groves and spend the night under her window like some love lorn Romeo. For some reason she didn't call the cops and I eventually won back her heart. Somehow after this experience I was never the same.

This is when I met A. The coincidence was that A’s big brother Kevin had already been Pam’s boyfriend. I remember taking a short cut through her yard and seeing them with legs wrapped around each other on her trampoline. I thought this was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen.

This was the same Kevin I toured the East Coast with in the mini-bus. Kevin was seriously diabetic and wasn’t supposed to live to see 40. I believe he made it to 47.

A, Marge and I became inseparable at this time. Marge had moved into an old mansion A was living in in the Central West End. I pretty much lived there too although it wasn’t official.

I was a Central West End kid but I was new to the private street scene. A’s house had a huge leather sculpture above the fireplace and a waterfall that ran down the wall in an atrium connected to the dining room. At the entrance was a huge staircase with a landing large enough to accommodate the bands that played our parties. David Surkamp played Julia on his acoustic guitar. His band Pavlov’s Dog had just gotten signed with ABC Records and this song was getting a lot of air play. My attitude was, “who is this joker with the falsetto voice making all the girls swoon”?

A would warn the cops before a party so they could keep an eye on things. We were kids and I couldn’t believe she would be open with them about our intentions. This was an entirely different culture than I was used to; borne from privilege.

I remember one night A and I were sitting in front of the fireplace tripping and her mother called. She casually confessed we were doing LSD. Her mother came home around three or four in the morning asking about our experience. (She was a psychologist and was genuinely interested).

We were all going to alternative schools at the time. I went to Logos when it was still an urban school. I paid my own tuition - $5.00 a semester. My teachers were Jesuit priests in the making. They were serving their Viet Nam conscientious objection service with inner city kids.

I thought our school was tough because we smoked cigarettes and drank coffee in class. We had nothing on A. She went to Matrix which was a Free School. Our band rehearsed in the basement. A. told me one of her assignments was reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead on acid.

A went from 7th grade to Forest Park Community College. At graduation she scrambled to get a GED. From there she went to Vassar. She’s been a journalist ever since. She lived in Managua during the Contra years. She was in Lima Peru during problems down there. She’s even lived in Cuba.

I’ve always been very proud of her but never really told her.

When Marge turned 16 we had a party up in the attic at A.’s house. The theme was “Sweet 16 and Never Been What?” A. came up with that. My band supported Marge, A, and K as they sang Love Child by The Supremes. Pam worked with the girls on the arrangement. Pam was actually playing piano with us at the time and we had just gotten back together.

The party got out of hand and the last thing I remember was Pam opening a closet door to find A and me giggling like school children on the floor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Faces - East Side

During my suave period in the 80s I would often end up after hours at a popular disco in East St. Louis called Faces. We would go there after the Oyster Bar closed. No one had a 3:00a.m. license yet on the Missouri side. I remember leaving Faces and shielding my eyes from the glaring sun. We were always surprised by the length of our stay.

Faces had several dance floors, a drag show upstairs, and women weren’t allowed in the basement. I saw things in the basement that still creep into my dreams. The urinal in the restroom was a long troth and the boys would be looking down checking you out. This made it almost impossible to take a piss.

The combination of strobe lights and isobutyl nitrate threw me into an epileptic seizure on the dance floor one night. This was the period I had most of my seizures. Over stimulated I suppose. I’ll be 50 in January and I haven’t had one since my late 20s.

I do remember coming to and finding this gay crowd to be the most genuinely caring people I’ve ever met concerned only for my welfare.

My partners in crime were my best friends Sharon, Linda and Nancy.

One night across the dance floor I noticed an absolutely gorgeous six foot Amazon woman. It was Monica Reed. I had run into her casually at a few parties. She was a well know singer in the area. She had already been a back up singer for the Allman Brothers and was making a name for herself as a solo act. She later went on to sing for Sting.

Monica danced over to me and whispered in my ear that she heard I was vegetarian. I said yes and she told me she’d like to cook me a stir fry. I told her I’d bring the sake. We were off and running from our first date and I won’t say anymore about that.

Monica was six feet tall but wore two inch pumps which made her taller than me. I always thought she was too big for me in many respects.

One night at Faces she was chatting with a beautiful Asian woman. She later told me her friend asked why she always dated wimpy white boys. This crushed me.

I would go with her to penthouse parties in Clayton. Any club we walked into, she’d be on stage in five minutes.

One night we were going to a party at Gene Lynn’s penthouse apartment in the Central West End. I was excited because there would be music industry people I wanted to run into. As we were getting out of my car Monica slammed the door on one of her long finger nails. It broke and she was inconsolable. We left with Monica in tears.

By contrast to her music scene I was playing private parties at the St. Louis Art Museum. A writer from the L.A. Times would be lecturing about technology in contemporary music. We’d be the example. This was my band Delay Tactics.

Caviar, champagne, and people talking to you as you played, asking how you were producing that sound.

I did end up playing a few shows with Monica, The Heaters, and Blake Travis. One of these was to raise money for Monica to get to Europe where her career took off. We also played the VP Fair.

Monica came back a few years later to marry the bass player from Bad Company at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral at St. Louis University. Monica was beautiful. A horse drawn white carriage took the couple to a club on Debaliviere for the reception. The band playing there was The Heaters and we had a great reunion.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Beale Street

My buddy Tracy Wynkoop decided that our small circle of friends should get together every year for a road trip. He calls our group “The Manly Men”. Our first trip a couple of years ago just happened to coincide with his 50th birthday and my being thrown out of the house by my ex.

I was just getting off meds for depression and had a new girlfriend named Valerie.

Now I was on a snow capped mountain in the Rockies sitting in 100 degrees of spring fed champagne bubbles going up my butt, looking out at vast panoramic vistas. I was surrounded by my best friends. Life was good again!

One afternoon I decided to check my phone for messages. I found a spot on the mountain that actually had reception. There was a nice message from Valerie and another that I could barely make out.

It was from an acquaintance of mine from my I.T. days at Harrah's Casino named Jaime. She was calling from Memphis and the background noise made it almost impossible to hear her.

She was on Beale in the middle of a street party. She said she had to call because she knew I must have been there before. I think she believes I’ve been to every street party in the country. ---- Maybe I have. I never got around to calling her back, but I did have a story for her.

In the early to mid 90s I often went to a small airport about an hour from Memphis. We would camp out for the weekend and skydive. At night we would go into town to party.

As I’ve already stated I can’t really smoke dope but I was talked into it. Anyone who knows me knows when I’m intoxicated I’m not exactly shy or even polite for that matter.

We were on Beale Street and it was crowded. There was a band outside at the W.C. Handy statue. I bumped into someone who said, “Damn, it’s my bartender from St. Louis”.

Someone suggested we visit the police museum. We were amazed at all the drug paraphernalia that had been confiscated. I was loud and obnoxious. There was a window inside that looked through to what I thought was a police station exhibit. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the actor portraying a cop. To my stoned horror I was told we were actually in a functioning police station. My friends pulled me out of there before I got us all busted.

I had a lot adventures down there and I’m sure I’ll get around to some of them eventually.

As an afterthought------ It's hard to find time to make an entry let alone check for flow and continuity. As my friend Sharon keeps telling me, I should mention the music I was listening to at the time. It is important for context.

In the early 90s I was listening to Nina Simone, Kate Bush, Daniel Lanois, XTC, The Cure, Riders in the Sky, John Lee Hooker and others.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Road Trip

One evening, in the middle 70’s, Dominic, Kevin O’Connor and I were hanging out at Pizza a Go-Go at its original location on Grand Avenue. Kevin found John Muir’s Volkswagen Idiot Guide, had acquired an engine block in 2 halves and a mini-van shell. We made plans to tour the east coast.

Dominic and I handed Kevin tools while he built a mini-van from scratch in his basement.

Dominic and I had already hitch hiked to the east coast a few times and we were still teenagers.

Somehow we got the thing built and it actually passed inspection. (It shouldn’t have).

The van had a collapsible bed made from 2x4s and it was very comfortable. We had no cash and I’m not sure how we kept gas in it. Kevin had a Gulf credit card but we couldn’t find a single station.

We camped outside of a friend’s house in Larchmont, NY. From there we went to Cambridge, MA where we were rear ended by a local. We learned about an insurance system they had in Massachusetts called no-fault. Each party had to pay for their own damage. This left us screwed.

We traveled down the cape and ferried across to Martha’s Vineyard. One of Kevin’s old girl friends had an aunt that lived on the island. Her name was Cousin Ted and her grandfather traveled with Perry on the famous expedition to Japan in the 1800s. Her old house was loaded with artifacts. She took us in without even really knowing who we were.

They had just wrapped up filming Jaws and there were still signs all around the island.

We went up to Portland Maine where I fell in love with a one legged woman who wouldn’t give me the time of day.

I’m not sure how long we’d been on the road but Dominic was beginning to smell bad. We threw him in the ocean at York Beach in Maine. It was September and quite cold. To be fair, I should ask him, maybe we only threatened to throw him in.

As I was saying earlier the van shouldn’t have passed inspection. On our way home we got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. At the entrance stall our brakes stopped working. I wrestled the hand brake and got the van to stop just before the alarm went off. We threw the money in the basket and pulled over to the side. We had lost our brake fluid. We were able to refill the reservoir and went on our way. Somewhere in here we picked up 3 or 4 hitch hikers on the turnpike.

The next morning Kevin went into insulin shock. (I forgot to mention he was diabetic). He instructed us to find a candy bar quick. Panicked and speeding I pulled off the highway somewhere in Ohio. We were on a steep off ramp and its side went into a deep ravine. Kevin was in the back oblivious to everything. Our hitch hikers were asleep. We were traveling at least 60 mph down the ramp. Traffic at the bottom was in full rush hour swing against us at the light. We lost our brakes again. I knew if we went off the ravine we were dead for sure and the traffic at the light was against us. Dominic and I looked at each other. Dom said, “Nice knowing you, man”. As we reached the intersection the lights changed and we rolled up the other side. We finally rolled to a stop on the side of the highway.

If you’re from St. Louis and have been on the road, nothing is more beautiful than the Arch when you finally come home.