Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Dream

I’m 52 and I still want to be a pop star when I grow up. Sometimes I feel sorry for people that don’t have a dream to chase. Often the dream is a drug you can never get that first high from, an addiction that can never be satisfied.

When I was a child The Beatles set the bar. This was the almost unattainable height that could be achieved. I’ve never had a self-image problem and was undaunted by all obstacles.

Like most kids I decided a band was necessary before I even learned to play. Fortunately I was surrounded by talented people.

I think I was in 8th grade when my buddy Dominic picked up a beautiful vintage Gibson electric guitar, began to play and was joined on drums by his little brother Benet. Benet was 12.

They were great. Benet had just gotten a real trap kit. Before that he played on trash cans. He still used one for his drum stool.

Dominic had learned a bunch of songs from his older brother Daniel. In fact a couple of years later when Dom picked up flute I think it was because his sister had one he could use.

I don’t think Dominic owned anything he played for years. I’m still pretty sure I got into the band because Dominic could use my amp.

The years went by and our egos wouldn’t allow us to be a cover band so the material improved. We were convinced we could outplay The Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and Jethro Tull.

The one thing we never got past was our vocals. Dominic did most of the leads because he was the least shy.

We even brought in vocalists. The most notable was our buddy Theo Johnson. Poor Theo! He had absolutely nothing to work with but man; he gave it the old college try. I spent a year with him just getting him into the psychology of the band.

After Theo left, Dominic and I started singing. We got more comfortable and the band started to gel. Punk Rock happened and it made us reevaluate our music. We became less pretentious and even started paying more attention to melody. We started writing songs instead of compositions. It was in no way selling out, we were growing.

We developed a following. At first it was friends and then friends of friends. We got roadies and a large truck we named Zsa Zsa.

We released a few singles and a couple of LPs. We got a lot of college airplay and everything was looking good.

No one could quite figure us out. The punk bands were our friends but couldn’t figure out our music. We were a little older than them.

The KSHE crowd thought we were a punk band. KSHE was the classic rock station but that phrase hadn’t been coined yet. They just weren’t open to anything different.

One of their DJs threw a battle of the bands at a rock club near Hanley and Highway 40 called The Animal House. The bands all sounded like Sammy Hagar. When we went on we brought down the house. It seemed the judges had predetermined the winners but the response to us was so enthusiastic they called it a tie and scheduled us to come back in a week for a showdown.

Our crowd scared the Hell out of them. Punk rockers The Ooze-kicks were fans and they showed up in full mohawk-skin pierced regalia. There were also members of a band that would become The Urge.

All the bands were plastering St. Louis with flyers in those days. Some were pretty good. The art was getting written up in the papers because it could be even better than the bands. We had a friend who worked for an offset printer and got free posters. I remember the flyer for the rematch was designed by him. It boldly proclaimed Wax Theatricks (formally Earwacks) will play…… It should have said formerly and it bugs me to this day. We covered the whole city with them too.

Our friends made sure the house was packed the following week and we were even better than before. There was no denying we’d won. The band we were playing against was managed by the KSHE DJ. He announced over the din of the angry crowd that the other band had won because someone had sabotaged their equipment and they won by default.

We weren’t part of the club and it was obvious we were going to have to make it on our own. Now everyone has to. That was the beautiful thing about the Punk movement. The bands took back their industry.


Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

Very cool post, David! I wanted to be in a band too, but quickly figured out I was a better listener than a performer. So I've contented myself with hanging out in bars listening to more talented people than me.

Tony Patti said...

The timing of the band (meaning all the names) was the essential tragedy. Too late for the 70s, too early for the prog resurgence of today.

The vocals could have been better, but the recordings sound fine today. I always felt that you heard something in your head that you never figured out how to perform. I always wished that you had the jazz flexibility to play with vocals more, to move the melody lines around until they fit better as vocals into the song, which is hard work and requires a great deal of experimentation to achieve. As you once said, great vocals come from someone who loves to sing, and for you it was never a love.

Being a pop star is a foolish dream. Being a influential elder statesman is better, though, as David Johannson says, you can't put influence in the bank.

If you guys had had a champion in 1975, everything would have been different. You were ready then, and everything would have played out the same, only better, with support from a label in the old-school way. I will always like your band better than Pavlov's Dog, for example.

Dominic said...

yeah, when whatever happened with Theo happened and we were left without it just made more sense to DIY and to hell with what people thought. If they weren't "buying" our music in the first place- a great vocalist (and Theo was really good!) wasn't gonna change their minds. Doing it ourselves seemed more organic and direct.

Doggie said...

Hey Dominic do you remember which KSHE DJ was responsible for the Animal House fiasco. I originally put Mark Klose but I remember he was very kind to us at the Six Flags Old Glory Theater gig.

Tracy said...

David, it's funny that you mention you got in cause you had an amp. I got in the same way and way back when I was with Chuck and "The Blue Mist" We met this girl who had a really nice amp she had got at Grandpa Pigeons. Chuck kept using it and assuring her she was really in the band. I was the bass player at the time without an amp or even a bass I think. So she and I stood there on the side and watched him play. She would say, "when do I getta play?". We'd both say. soon soon! Finally I think Chuck got an amp or something and she was kicked out. That was kinda mean. She played better than Chuck. In my case with you guys, you came over and I had this big ass Acoustic amp with a graphic EQ that I had no idea what to do with. I didnt really know what to do with the bass either for that matter. For my "audition" with you I think I just lay the bass on top of the amp, cranked everything full blast and let the thing play itself. You and Dom looked at each other. "Well he's got an amp..."

Doggie said...

Trace did you get into Blue Mist before Don? When I was in the band he was the bass player. You must have been there first considering your friendship with Chuck. Don got me in after he turned me on to my first $25 guitar out of a grab bag cardboard box at Mel Bay. Back in those days you were older and a little too cool to hang with me.

Doggie said...

I think I mentioned this earlier but that guitar was green sunburst, had 5 pick ups and 10 knobs, One of the knobs was literally the size of a door knob. The thing had a peculiar odor too!

Tracy said...

Yeah Dave, me and Chuck started the Blue Mist. At the time (68-69) Chuck wanted to call us "The Cherry Drops" cause he liked "yummy yummy" by the Ohio Express. I wouldn't go for it. Christ, he thought The Archies was a real band. So we took "Blue Mist" from "Yer Blues" which was pretty new at the time. I was the bass player who had never touched a bass. I finally got one and later sold it after it continued to bloody my fingers, then Don came along and he had longish hair and later that wood colored bass so the idea was he would replace me on bass until I got a bass and he got a guitar, then he'd switch to guitar, so I was still the official bass player with no bass. Later we did each get a bass and guitar and then we kicked Don out and hen I kicked myself out to join you boys. I remember meeting you and that green guitar that looked like something Will Robinson would play. I was like. "what the hell IS that thing??" But I was always impressed by anyone who actually owned an instrument. They were totally foreign to me.

Dominic said...

oh and hey "Formally Earwacks" was correct- may have been a mistake but it was a correct one.