O.K., so the guy plays in a bunch of garage bands, hoping to meet girls, and then goes away for a year to some East Coast private college. Large charge. Heck---does this narrative ever get going? Read on...
The year I was in Worcester, Mass., attending college, I had been replaced on bass in the form of Carl Patti, an older player with a 1956 Precision bass and a major attitude. Upon my return to Gainesville, to remain a Rock Godlet, I needed to learn a new instrument and how, so I borrowed a Hohner Pianette, a plunky-sounding electronic keyboard and I learned the Basic Chords of Rock in a few weeks. I began singing, playing keyboard and saxophone with our bold new four piece lineup
We developed a set list of 45 fine cover tunes (Allman Brothers, early Rock 'n' Roll, Traffic, Stones, some early punk songs like "Little Red Book" by Love and several Kinks songs).We also became friendly with another Gainesville band, Mudcrutch and began sharing gigs with them:
We would open for Mudcrutch, who could rock like hell, at various Gainesville venues: the Keg, where we alternated sets for two weeks the beginning of summer and the end of summer; Trader Tom's Topless Tavern, where we studied contemporary dancing trends, the University Auditorium, the Rathskellar, the Reitz Union lawn, the Plaza of the Americas, and other musical venues. Mudcrutch played originals as well as Dylan covers and hip oldies like Jerry Lee Lewis' "High School Confidential" and Chuck Berry's "Jaguar and the Thunderbird." "Slow down, little Jaguar, keep cool, little Thunderbird Ford..." The members of Mudcrutch included Tom Leadon on guitar, Randall Marsh on drums, Tom Petty on bass and vocals, Mike Campbell on guitar, and Benmont Tench on keyboards.
I often wonder what ever happened to Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. They showed great potential, especially Tom, who was already writing some good tunes, sort of country-rock, tunes such as "Silver Dagger," "Whatever Train," "Unheard of Kind of Hero," "Up in Misssissippi," and "Depot Street." Tom Petty had the potential to make a name for himself as both a songwriter and as a rock performer. Perhaps he continued to pursue a career in rock music.
I certainly hope so.
Shown below is an assortment of friends (including a very solemn baby) and members of Road Turkey and Mudcrutch sitting on an abandoned truck in a cow pasture in Gainesville circa 1973. Why, in a state with 100% humidity most of the year and summer temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s, did we all have so much HAIR? I'm the guy about to pop a shook-up beer all over Jim Lenahan, who is sitting on a toilet bowl. The guy in sunglasses holding his foot---Benmont Tench--- is inarguably one of the most accomplished and widely-recorded keyboard players in rock music. The blonde fellow to my left, also in shades, is this Tom Petty fellow I previously mentioned. We knew how to have fun back then. Throw a barbeque!
Shown above is a once-only gig we played at the ROTC Drill Field on the U of F campus that same summer we played the Keg, Tommy Homage (or was it Ohmage?) and the Torpedos (or was it Tornados?) ! Nothin' But Hits! L to R: Michelle Forester, Jim Lanahan, Dana, Nadine Roberts, Sandy Stringfellow, Dana's Friend, Stan Lynch (drummer), Randall Marsh, Tom Petty, [hidden behind TP: Carl Patti, Steve Soar], Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Nancy Luca, Danny Roberts, Marty Jourard.
But back to Road Turkey: we were the act that truly had it all: originals such as "Festival," "Tomorrow is Here," "Flash" and others. The playing was good and got better; my singing improved, but I still got a lot of grief from the other members claiming that I didn't practice enough. I had trouble concentrating on the mechanics of playing, but hey, let's see the other guys try and play saxophone, harmonica, sing lead and play piano, all with flawless perfection. I was trying my hardest, folks, to play four instruments, while my fellow bandmembers, content with playing one instrument, albeit well, sent down judgement from above.
From that day forward, those accusatory and judgmental remarks from my fellow bandmates drove me relentlessly onward, to be the very best I could possibly be---or at the very least, slightly better than I was, at least eventually. Many years later these same musicians came to me and apologized profusely, genuflecting and prostrating themselves before me, realizing rather late they had given me a ton of grief when I was at my most vulnerable.
I, in my keen sense of noblesse oblige, forgave them. Go in peace.
Road Turkey could pack all the necessary equipment to play out of town for three weeks into a U-Haul 5x7 trailer being towed by my famous bright orange 1969 Chevrolet van, with the 90" wheelbase and the 15" tires with Corvette beauty rims. Once I was walking toward my van in a parking lot and saw a rather partied-out-looking girl staring at it. I said hi and she continued to look, finally saying "I knew the guy that used to own that van. I had a lot of fun in there," she concluded wistfully, a faraway look in her eye.
How did we rent a U-Haul trailer for three weeks? We didnıt actually. We would check out a trailer from the U-Haul Phillips 66 station up 13th Street near NW 8th Ave. We would rent it for three days, keep it for three weeks instead, and return it at night. They never missed it.
In this portable combination of trailer and van (including a discarded school bus seat allowing two more passengers,seating for five if stretched), we worked the southern bar circuit, playing in Atlanta, Macon, Tuscaloosa, Athens, Tampa, Ocala,Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, and many other gigs. While we played various fraternities and clubs in the Atlanta area we also got a gig as pool party band for Gold Key Apartments (every Saturday afternoon, free apartment for the rest of the week). Me and drummer Stan Lynch would take repeated sauna baths and plunges into the pool. The sauna had a speaker inside and I distinctly remember the song "The Night Chicago Died" as being in heavy radio rotation, so this was probably August 1974.
Whenever I hear the song now my thoughts turn toward those memories, and of Nanu, a resident of Gold Key and a pretty-boy decked-out dude with a custom Corvette who had just opened a club, Nanu's, on the second floor of an old Victorian house in Atlanta, actually a drag queen bar in the lower level, Nanu's on the top. Our only customers were the cute drag queens that came up to watch us, including one named Leslie who was far prettier than most actual women. It was a decadent, kinky scene: male prostitutes, VD, random sex. We did no business, and soon sought work elsewhere.
Oh, Atlanta the summer of 1974! Drugs, amazingly casual sex, pool parties, irate apartment managers, our guitaristıs car/dunebuggy being impounded by the Atlanta Police for mismatching serial numbers, drinking Jack Daniels in the morning (that only lasted two mornings). We played at Alex Cooley's Electric Ballroom in downtown Atlanta, opening for Mother's Finest; we played the pool parties, fraternity gigs. Down in Florida we did a crazy 2am to 7am shift at George's, a Cocoa Beach all-night club that had a unique clientele of drug dealers, night shift workers and transvestites. We played in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in a jock bar. They hated us. Alabama was very rural and Southern back then. We had fun, made money, thought we were stars, and generally enjoyed the hell out of the whole experience. Another popular gig was The Whippin' Post, a roadhouse in Tampa run by a guy who looked exactly like Jeff Beck. Women, beer, lots of time off.
In December 1974 the band was playing a club in Gainesville called the Granfalloon (in reference to a Kurt Vonnegut book), in the same facility that had previously housed King's Food Host, a burger barn I recall as THE place to eat lunch for juniors and seniors back in '70--'71.
On Monday morning, December 2nd, 1974 my father died while working on his car in our front yard. He had jacked up the car without jackstands to repair the starter on his beloved Triumph TR3, and as he tightened the bolts attaching the starter, the vehicle fell on him, killing him instantly, according to the medics. My mother discovered him; we tried to pull him from under the car (we did); I dialed '0" and told the operator to send an ambulance, it took about ten minutes. Later that day I called my two brothers (Jeff in Colorado, Leonard in Miami) and told them what happened. My father was 48 years old.
This changed my life considerably. I quit the band (we were foundering anyway), dealt with the estate for six months, and enrolled at Santa Fe Community College, a junior college in the middle of a huge cow pasture just outside Gainesville. I fell in love with a wild Southern gal who drove me crazy (as only Southern women can) during a sensitive part of my life. I mowed the lawn a lot.
However, life went on. During this period, I played in a 1975 disco/lounge band called Southpaw.
We all wore white denim, scarves, and had a wild Alabama boy for a singer, with blue eyes and long shiny, curly black hair, called "J.R." I think his real name was Jerald Roberts, hence the initials. Now J.R. was pure Southern bantam rooster: he was little, he was cocky, and he was very, very tough. He would sing soul songs, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, "You Are So Beautiful" by Cocker, and Wet Willie songs like "Keep On Smiling." He was a loudmouth, he had a real pretty girlfriend. He used to tell this one story all the time: "Back in Alabama, one day this big redneck started picking on me, kept calling me a girlie, then calling me a queer, over and over. He wouldn't stop hassling me or calling me a 'queer.'. I finally got tired of hearing it so I beat him up. As he was laying on the ground with a bloody nose, I stood over him and said, "Now you go on home and tell your mama a 'queer' beat you up."
Not every little guy with long hair was a victim back then.
Southpaw played a club called Bobby's Hideaway, a few miles outside of Gainesville. Bobby's was a historically redneck bar famous for fights in the parking lot, a serious roadhouse that catered to a very rural clientele. We played cover songs. I remember doing two Average White Band songs, "Pick Up the Pieces" and "Cut The Cake," something by War, a couple by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Charlie Blade, a notorious Gainesville musician, booked us through his Blade Management, white Charlie of the Afro wig, who used to masquerade as black when he was playing with one of the acts he booked, the all-black Weston Prim and his Orchestra. Weston Prim; now that's a name you couldn't make up. We were a straightforward club band, when J.R. quit we got a sweet girl singer who did all the girl songs and female vocals. We played Captain & Tenille's "Love Will Keep Us Together," Steely Dan's "Rikki Donıt Lose That Number," "I Saw The Light" by Todd Rundgren, and so on. Although this was not the artistic highlight of my life, musically speaking, I was at least gainfully employed and learning even more about playing live.
For instance, one of Southpaw's gigs was at the Connection Lounge, a lakeside bar less than 100 feet from my house. I often walked to the gig and back. One night, I discovered from firsthand experience that if I ran home during our twenty minute break, ate an entire small Deluxe Pizza smothered with sour cream, then ran back to the club and started playing, I would immediately throw up.
But times were good. Slow dancing during the band break to the sounds of "Hot, Blue and Righteous" by ZZ Top on the jukebox, with a sunburnt Miami girl in my arms; ahh humanity!
New Years Eve 1975 was a jam with Petty, Ben, Sandy Stringfellow and Jeff Jourard at Bobby's Hideaway.
The time to leave the nest had come. I had stuck around Gainesville a year longer than expected, due to my father's death and my obligation to deal with the household and general maintenance and that pesky 1 1/2- acre yard to mow. But it was time to go to California. I had been accepted at USC, I made a cassette copy of Steely Dan's latest album, "The Royal Scam" but purposely didn't listen to it, saving it for the 3,000 mile drive to California in my Chevy Van, with a brand-new J.I.L cassette deck in the dash. Accompanying me on this exciting journey, in their own vehicles, were my two friends and fellow musician, also seeking their fortune in California: Steve Soar, guitarist, and Carl Patti, bassist.
We left January 19th, and arrived January 23rd, 1976. I enjoyed the drive, we caravaned it (me, Carl in his ailing Sprite Bugeye, Steve Soar in his dunebuggy from hell). Driving out through the scenic Western deserts, I sang, listened to Steely Dan, smoked, cried from excitement and anticipation, and wondered what would happen. As the trip progressed, the average speed of the caravan dropped to 45 mph as Carlıs car began running on 3 cylinders, then 2. By the time we got to Phoenix (note to self: use for song title), Carl and Steve opted for engine repair, so I said goodbye and drove 14 hours straight into Los Angeles, full of adrenaline and anticipation. Driving on Interstate 10 through Los Angeles to Santa Monica and then heading North on the Pacific Coast Highway when I realized I had driven through and out of L.A. so I turned around and returned to the City of Angels.
I registered at USC, crashed at my brother Jeff's tiny apartment for four days, then got a $60/month room at 27th and Vermont, a gnarly neighborhood indeed, where I stayed for the semester I went to USC and took all music classes, except one Bible as Literature class.
USC had a very good music department and I soon found that in order to keep up with the repertoire of the USC Concert Band, of which I was a member, I needed to study hard, practice every day, and dedicate my private lessons with Doug Masek to the repertoire of the Concert Band. I learned to play saxophone with a classical approach, a Selmer C* mouthpiece. I got laughed at the first day of band practice because I showed up with a metal jazz mouthpiece. Oh, you stupid little hick from Florida! I switched to the proper equipment and I learned a lot about technique from Doug Masek, who gave me one hour lessons for a half-hour fee. Great teacher and excellent saxophonist.
But mostly, I was In L.A!! Mecca, the Promised Land of the Record Deal, the Movie Star, and Hollywood record companies. Here are some snippets of my life in L.A. from 1976 on.
Went to a recording studio, saw Petty record "Louisiana Rain" with John Sebastian playing harmonica.
Played sax on Benmont Tenchıs demos at Village Recorders. These sessions were the roots of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
At A&M Records till 6am watching Petty record "Route 66" and "Mystery Man."
Saw The Runaways [Joan Jett was one of the guitarists] at the USC Noontime Patio concert.
Saw Pettyıs first gig at a Valley Recreation Center, billed as Tom Petty and Nightro. My brother Jeff was in the band at this time, and this was one of the few (maybe only ) gigs he played with them.
Tommy Bolin at the Roxy, a few weeks before he O.D'ed.
Went to Joe Cocker's house and met Carl Radle, his bass player.
Bob Marley and the Wailers at Santa Monica Civic. Incredible show; Marley was incredibly charismatic.
Jeff Beck at the Starlight Theatre. Fair.
Went to Malibu to visit Shelter Records president Denny Cordell. Also saw Leon Russell's house.
Played sax for a Dwight Twilley version of "One Night With You."
Played sax at Shelter for Danny Roberts sessions.
I began working at Betnun Music, a music store run by Sol Betnun, a pawnbroker from Salt Lake City who ran a funky, loose music store in an old house on Larchmont Boulevard, a street that time forgot, in Larchmont Village, an old Hollywood retirement old money neighborhood. I played sax for Sol, I played every sax that came into the store as sales person for brass and woodwinds. I learned a lot about dealing with people, about how equipment worked, how to run a business (and how not to run an inventory.) I worked there for 13 months and always had a good feeling about Sol, Lil, Mel, and even their tiny dog Hector. My brother remembers Eddie Van Halen coming in one day when he had just built his famous one-pickup-one-volume-knob guitar and wanted to go somewhere to plug it into a Marshall stack and check out how it sounded..and Betnun's was the logical choice, since it was an old an old house and had a "loud room" for this very purpose. Jeff heard insane guitar riffs coming through the door and went to check it out. This was before their first album.
Me and my brother Leonard drove for 20 hours straight down into Mexico to Ensenada. I bought a Tweed Fender Vibrolux in Calexico at a flea market for $35.
Saw J.J. Cale with Buddy Emmons at the Roxy. Phenomenal!
October 8-9, 15-16
Played sax at Molina's, a Nicaraguan Salsa club, via a customer at Betnuns called Renee Manitas, who played great guitar and had a wild band that played in odd time signatures, latin pop/salsa. This was like a visit to another world.
November and December I recorded a couple of songs I wrote at a studio called the Music Grinder, "Teenage Dream" and "This Was Love."
Joe Walsh and Don Felder come into Betnun's, seeking rare guitars. I can't help them. They leave.
I formed a band called the Best, with Steve Soar and Carl Patti from Gainesville, and a goofy guy on drums called Robert Williams. Here we are playing the Whisky au Go Go:
We played punky music, "Little Red Book" by Love, "Give it To Me" by the Troggs, "All Right Now" by Free, and some wild originals like "Summer Love" and "Billy Blows Away." We played The Whisky Au Go Go seven times as part of Rodney Bingenheimers massive Local Band shows, six bands a night. I'm the guy up front, wearing backwards black jeans with duct tape (not visible), no shirt, a long torn leather jacket, a feather boa, and strange sunglasses. I refer to this as my lost period. We had fun.
Quit working at Betnuns.
The Best played with The Quick at the Whisky. Two members of the Quick, Danny Wilde and Phil Solem later became The Rembrandts and had a massive hit with "I'll Be There For You."
For New Years Eve I played sax in Barbecue Bob and the Spareribs, a band that included Pete Anderson, my fellow employee at Betnun's, on guitar. Pete later became Dwight Yoakam's musical partner and a highly successful producer and guitarist.
1978 was the year that music became an even larger part of my life. Music! It felt so good to play that The Best drive to San Francisco to play Mabuhay Gardens for free. The Best broke up March 19, soon after a scathing review in Slash Magazine: "Left after a few notes from the Best. Oldtimers trying to act like punks. Torn T-shirts and sunglasses. So what?"
During the six months after I quit Betnuns I collected unemployment because my brother Jeff still worked at Betnuns and threw away all of the Unemployment board notices for Sol Betnun to show up and say whether I was fired or had quit. I claimed I was fired but it never came to a hearing. I had various gigs; posing for Hustler (seriously), I worked for six hours as a car salesman at Wilshire Volkswagen. I applied at Gucci and was accepted to work in Men's Wallets and Belts. I declined employment. I applied at a store called Chess & Games, where for $3.25/hour I sold backgammon sets and chess sets.
This was a dark period in my life. I was smoking a lot, and eating microwaved bear claws with extra margarine drizzled on top and a large coffee for breakfast. I asked for a raise and got raised fifteen cents an hour to $3.40.
This was a dollar a day raise. My first paycheck reflected a take home pay of $106.35 per week. This was not a good job and the commute was brutal. I quit July 13.
Well! That was quite a ride! I sure hope something memorable is coming.If you're still interested, click on the text below...
My Story: Part Three
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