Sunday, May 11, 2008

From The Beatles to The Blues, Chapter 6: Dayton Sound Jr. (1971)

6. Dayton Sound Jr. (1971)

I lasted, however, only one quarter at Ohio Northern. I had no academic problems, but I didn’t like living the dormitory life or being away from Bonnie, so I came back home at Christmas and transferred to Miami University in Oxford. After I returned to Hamilton, Hisey and I left our respective homes and moved into an apartment together. A few months later, he moved back home and I moved with our friend John Orme, Jimbo, and another friend, Lucian Muncie, into another hippie house, and then another. Eventually I ended up staying right back there in the Hiseys’ basement where we had practiced music so many times. Our psychedelic paint job was still intact on the basement walls where our young, innocent, and joyfully created bands had been born. Of course, we were not so good in those days. Were certainly were not the best young musicians in town. But those were the years when being in a band and playing music for people brought us the greatest pleasure and excitement. Those of us who have remained in the business would all probably testify that we never have and never will again experience the thrill we got simply from “being in a band” during our teenage years in the golden musical period from the mid-60s through the early 70s.

By this time, the Garage and the Dome had ceased operations. (It’s very hard for an entertainment venue to survive without the profit that comes from the sale of alcohol.) But a nightclub called Reflections had opened across the street from the site of the old Black Dome. Reflections featured the same local and national acts that the Dome and the Garage had. There we saw the Allman Brothers again. Other shows included a California white soul band called Cold Blood, Long John Baldry, Aerosmith, and even Genesis.

The big difference between Reflections and its predecessors was that the new place served liquor and thus was able to stay in business for a few years. The legal drinking age in Ohio then was 18 (for 3.2 beer), so Reflections, the new hangout for all the hippest Cincinnati characters 18 and older, became our new hangout for the next couple of years. The bands, the fans, the groupies, and the “wannabes” for all three categories could be found at Reflections, especially on Mondays, which were “quarter nights” (25 cents admission fee). Bonnie, of course, could not follow me into this new social stage of my life because she still lived with her parents and was held to very strict rules regarding her coming and going. Her father had bought her a car to drive back and forth to Miami in Oxford and to her part-time job in the evening, but she still did not have much freedom. Theoretically, I would drive to her house every weekday morning, then we would take turns driving up to Oxford for our classes. But I did not always make it.

So Bonnie was busy attending classes, studying, working, and planning for her future. (She eventually became an elementary school teacher and today is nearing the end of a 35-year career in one school.) Meanwhile, I was putting in token appearances at my own classes and hanging out at Reflections (I suppose I was a wannabe in the band category) many nights per week, carousing and philandering as most 19-year-old males would and still will if given the chance. And in 1971, there were a lot more such chances than there are today—certainly with the hip girls we came to know in Cincinnati in this era of free love, when blatant promiscuity was as trendy as “safe sex” is today.

If Hisey and I happened onto some kind of freaky party to go to late at night after Reflections closed, we had no curfew and were not likely to say no. The next day, however, I might be too exhausted—or maybe not even home in time--to go to classes with Bonnie in the morning. Thus I would have a lot of tricky explanations to make.

One Monday night, for example, I had spent some time at Reflections talking to a short, long-haired blond nursing student named Diane. She was always hanging around Reflections and going out with various musicians. After the place closed, she asked me to drop her off at a party somewhere because she had missed the nursing school dorm’s curfew and now had to stay out all night. Of course, I complied, but did not go to the party with her. This one night, at least, I made the responsible choice. I still had to drive back to Hamilton, where I would arrive in the wee hours, just in time to catch a few hours’ sleep before meeting Bonnie. Little did I know, however, that Diane’s path and mine would not only cross again, but actually run together for almost a decade in the future.

So, as a result of my new hip social life both in Clifton and at the apartment that Hisey and I shared (all our hippie friends who still lived with their parents had made our place their second home and crash pad), Bonnie and I began to have trouble. After more than three years together, we diverged and eventually broke up during this time. I also dropped out of Miami University and actually got a job. But it was a hip sort of job. I worked selling clothes at a freaky little boutique called New York Times in the Tri-County Mall. This gave me a discount on huge bell-bottoms and other clothes to help me look my coolest. Hisey also developed a more striking image at this time. He lost a good 15 pounds and grew his hair in a long shag and traded in his Buddy Holly glasses for some aviators like the ones Iggy’s guitar player Ron Ashton wore. We began to travel up I-75 to the Dayton Mall to buy stack-heeled, platform Rod Stewart shoes in white leather and purple suede, which we wore on our ventures to Reflections, where we rubbed elbows with Cincinnati musicians. We might not have been at their level musically, but we looked and dressed the part to the hilt.

Further inspired by hanging out with Cincinnati’s musical elite, Hisey and I vowed to get even more serious about our musical rebirth: Again we envisioned ourselves in a supercool four-man power band styled after Beck and Stewart, The Who, and The Stooges. Hisey had a job working with Warren doing lawn care and maintenance at a rest home, and he had come up with enough money to buy a genuine Marshall stack from Don Hacker, the bass player from northern Kentucky whom we had first seen in the band Rock, then later with Whalefeathers, and most recently at Reflections in a very cool band called Daphne, featuring lead singer West Davis, the taller, thinner, darker-haired Rod Stewart of Cincinnati, Ohio. Hacker was a born rock star. He was a good bass and guitar player, a natural entertainer who looked great on stage. Offstage, he drove around in a Corvette. (His girlfriend Joyce seemed to have good job with the phone company, as I recall.) We idolized him as one of the senior Cincinnati players and were honored to be invited to come and see the Marshall at the apartment he shared with Joyce over in Erlanger, Kentucky.

Jimbo Powell, our natural choice as drummer for our new band, was now living with a guy named Don Dickey and his wife Brenda. I think they had taken pity on Powell by reason of his homelife. (He was still required to watch his invalid grandfather and so, at 19 now, could never leave the house unless someone else was there to keep an eye on the old man, who was bedridden). Don and Brenda had a four-room apartment and let Jimbo stay there for a while. Don also happened to play bass. He had graduated from Garfield in 1969 gone to work at Fisherbody, so he had been able to buy some good equipment—a blue Mosrite bass like Bob Holland’s and a powerful Traynor amp, a perfect complement to Hisey’s Marshall. Jimbo had sold his blue sparkle drums to buy airplane tickets and run away to Florida with Don’s sister Sue, who had been married at the time. But they were back within a couple of weeks, and Jimbo had somehow come up with a gold sparkle Ludwig set he bought from Chuck Farkas, former drummer in Carmine Isgro’s band the Durations.

After more than three years of practicing in the Hiseys’ mother’s basement (thank you, Ruth; I don’t know how you stood it all that time!), we rented a rehearsal space above what had once been the Palace movie theater in uptown Hamilton. I think we paid about ten dollars a week. We learned to play the Who’s version of “Shaking All Over” and our own version of Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road, Jack” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Three-fifths of a Mile in Ten Seconds,” making creative arrangements that would de-emphasize the guitar solos. We also did our two original songs, “She Smiles” and “You Can’t Hide,” the latter of which required a fast and constant bass drum beat. Jimbo claimed that he just couldn’t keep it going throughout the song. It made his leg too tired, and his muscles threatened to cramp. I assured him that he could and would do it. If he slowed down, I stopped the song and we started over again. Eventually he did it just as it was supposed to be done.

We (probably I) decided that we once again needed a new name. I called Bob Smith, the former manager of the Dayton Sound, which was now disbanded. (Singer Danny Riley had joined the Rapscallion Circle.) I asked Bob if we might use the Sound’s old band name, since they were no longer together, and I had been such a fan. He said he didn’t see why not. So we called our new band The Dayton Sound. We had hardly ever been to Dayton, though it was just up the road, except on a few shopping trips. But I had always thought the name sounded very cool and wanted to keep it alive. Of course, this was presumptuous. The Dayton Sound had been a group with tremendous chemistry and stage presence. Everyone who heard and watched them was transfixed with a thrilling awe, not because their musicianship was so great. It was only adequate, but to see them play was always a great experience. We were not nearly as cool as they had been and didn’t last nearly as long

Our number-one goal was to move up into the ranks of the better Cincinnati bands. We knew that most of them were represented by AJaye Entertainment, an agency operated by “the two Stans,” Stan Silverman and Stan Hertzman. In Oxford, nearer to us, AJaye had some sort of affiliate office called L.P. Athens, and we got a guy from the Athens office to come and listen to our rehearsal, but I don’t think we sparked any interest. I remember playing almost no jobs while we practiced at the Palace.

One weekend afternoon, we heard there was some sort of jam session going on in a strip mall parking lot in Fairfield, and we went down there and played a Black Sabbath song (Ozzy and the boys had just appeared on the scene at that time) and something else—probably The Who’s version of “Shakin’ All Over.” That summer we also played one job at a Christian coffee house called “His Place,” which convened one evening per week at the new Fairfield YMCA. (Fairfield, which had really been only a semi-rural village in my youth, was now an up-and-coming small city, while Hamilton, the seat of Butler County, was beginning its long decline: the loss of business, flight of industry, and decrease in population that would make it what it is today, the self-styled “City of Sculpture” and not much more.)

The program at His Place was emceed by our friend Bill Williams. He was an athlete-turned-hippie-bass-player/singer who had recently become a Christian and was in the process of giving up his heathen ways to serve the Lord. This was before there was such a boom in contemporary Christian music, but Bill was one of the first in our area to have the idea of combining live music with a religious message, to make it more accessible to young people. (Bill would go on to write and record a gospel album and later to front his own band, The Reverend Billy Rose and the Soul Shakers.)

On the night Bill had asked us to play at His Place, the plan was that he would talk for a while about his life and experiences before his recent conversion. Then we would play a set of music. Then there would be some more preaching, then some more music to make things more palatable to the young people there and keep them around to hear Bill’s message. Now, we were not anything vaguely resembling a Christian band. If there were any such groups around, we didn’t know about them. We were a band that probably fit the His Place budget; in other words, we would play for little or no money, so Bill had brought us in to play. In terms of the religious aims of His Place, this turned out to be questionable idea. To explain why, I must digress at length.

Name bands from the Detroit/Ann Arbor, Michigan, area often came down the road to play in Cincinnati. Grand Funk Railroad had played (along with the James Gang from Cleveland) at the Eden Park amphitheatre and the Cincinnati Zoo. We had seen the MC5 at the Black Dome. This “Ann Arbor sound” appealed a lot to Hisey and me because these successful bands, like us, were not always the best musicians and singers. They succeeded with marginal talent and ability by playing good, energetic “power rock” songs and putting on a dynamic show. They were Ameican versions of what The Who had been a few years before. This was right up our alley. We could aspire to this level of performance, whereas we could not aspire to be like Cream or Hendrix, who were musically far beyond us.

Shortly before we were asked to play at His Place, we all (Bill Williams included) had gone to the Ludlow Garage to see the Ann Arbor band that would influence us the most: Iggy and the Stooges. The Stooges were the epitomy of what we hoped to be—three instruments and a front man—not particularly good musicians or singers (as Hisey and I, respectively, were not), but doing it all with good songs and lots of show—and so much more. The Stooges, in their black leather motorcycle jackets, spread their legs and pounded out the music while Iggy led us into his world of ultra-cool and unique lunacy. In his standard uniform of black high-heeled boots, tight blue-jean bell-bottoms, long brown shag haircut, and no shirt, he attacked the stage and the audience. His eyes popping wide enough to be seen at the back of the huge room, he commanded the attention of every person there as he growled and prowled the stage, often dropping to his knees and catching himself with the point of his triangular mike-stand base in his crotch. He dug drumsticks into his skin and sailed headfirst off the stage, diving into the audience and letting the fans down front deliver him back to the stage, from which he would dive again, landing in front of teenaged girls who sat paralyzed with awe and fear as he screamed “I Wanna Be Your Dog” right into their faces.

The following day, Hisey and I bought Iggy’s album, then went directly to Sears at the Tri-County mall, where we each purchased a black leather motorcycle jacket for $50. I kept mine for more than 25 years.

Sometime after his show at the Garage, Iggy had also played a big rock festival at Crosley Field. Other acts there included Alice Cooper, Mountain, Savoy Brown, and the MC5. But Iggy stole the show, climbing the PA stacks and smearing peanut butter all over his bare chest before diving into the audience.

So, when we went to play at His Place, we were reeling under the influence of our second dose of Iggy. We had had a volume-heavy four-piece group with a controversial stage show before we’d ever heard of Iggy. Now he had re-inspired us and given us permission to be as loud, aggressive, and bizarre as we could possibly be. To serve the volume gods, I had gotten hold of two complete blackface Fender Bassman amps—two heads and two 2x12 cabinets—to use as a PA system. The day of the His Place job, I went to Radio Shack and bought two big blue high-frequency audio horns, mounted them on squares of plywood, and put ¼” jacks on them so I could plug one into the extra speaker jack of each of my Bassman heads. Then I bought a “Y” cord to split the signal from my Electrovoice mike and send it to both heads to double my vocal volume. So the PA, for that time in that place, was monstrous. Whatever I sang or however I sang it, people were going to hear me. There was no doubt of that. Hisey, dressed like Ron Ashton in his black leather jacket, tight jeans, and aviator glasses, had his big Marshall, and Don Dickey had his big Traynor amp. So we wheeled a powerhouse of equipment into the Fairfield “Y” for our show at the Christian coffee house. I had on my high-heeled boots and tight green bell-bottoms that Bonnie had trimmed in some material that looked like a floral guitar strap. We set up our equipment, and Bill took the microphone to start off the evening with a little preaching. Then he introduced us, and we took the stage, intent on putting on the most Iggy-like show we could there in the Christian coffee house, which was full of impressionable young people. We actually had no idea of ridiculous irony of what we were doing: bringing music straight from hell into “His Place.”

We turned it up high and attacked the audience as Iggy had attacked us. We had learned some of his songs, like “TV Eye” and “Dirt,” and I had copied some of his stage antics into my show, which had already been on the borderline between dynamically scandalous and just in plain old bad taste. (Today, Bill Williams says were doing a tribute to the Stooges before anybody knew what a tribute band was.) Now I had certainly crossed over to the other side. I had carte blanche. No matter what I did onstage, there was someone doing something crazier, dirtier, and more unheard of than anything I might attempt: Iggy Pop.

Shocked by our incredible volume in a fairly small space, the audience sat, cross-legged on the floor, as I recall, open-mouthed and not at all sure what to make of us. Most of these young Fairfield Christians had probably been expecting a nice acoustic act—a couple of jangling guitars and the uplifting songs that would have been appropriate for a Christian event. They had not seen Iggy Pop and thus did not know whether we had lost our minds or simply taken large quantities of dangerous drugs.

I opened my eyes wide and cast my evil Iggy-like glare across the room as though I owned each body in it. At one point, I noticed a girl near the front who had her back turned to us and had the nerve to attempt to talk to her friends despite our fierce volume. Before seeing Iggy, I probably would have accepted her lack of interest as something beyond my control, but not now! Now I wasn’t having any of it. Like Iggy, I intended to make sure every eye in the house stayed on the band for the duration. So, between the end of one verse and the start of the next, I leapt from the stage, sailed through the air, and landed crouching right behind the girl in question. When she felt me there, she turned her head and found herself inches from my snarling mouth. One end of my microphone against my lips for maximum volume through the P.A., the other end all but touching her nose, I screamed the next lines of the song right into her face. In my true element, I had finally found a good use for all the evil, anger, venom, superiority, arrogance, and vanity that had characterized me almost since birth. That night, my fellow-band members were the poor man’s Stooges, and I was Butler County’s answer to Iggy Pop! The girl burst into tears, jumped up and ran out of the room. I stood up with a victorious smirk (a real smile would have been out of character), then I pranced through the cringing bodies writhing in fear on the floor, back to the stage to look for other potential victims, all of whom shrank back from us to the extent that space would allow.

On our break, while Bill was preaching again, one of the adult chaperones there, a pharmacist in whose drugstore I had been with my father, asked if we might turn our volume down from the unbearable to the simply ear-splitting for the next set. Dropping my Iggy-like stage persona and assuming my young intellectual tone (I was still a good student, in the Honor Society, and had a whole group of brainy friends at school), I explained that our particular type of music simply could not be played at a lower volume. The nature of the compositions required a certain level of amplitude in order to sound as they were intended to sound. So, no, unfortunately, we would not be able to turn it down for the next set. When the pharmacist pointed out that this level of noise (“noise”??!!) was potentially damaging to the hearing of all present, I think I shrugged to convey my complete indifference to the issue of the audience’s auditory health. I honestly couldn’t have cared less if they all walked out deaf. Oblivious to the fact that we were absolutely in the wrong venue for the type of show we were putting on, I felt very cool. We were playing on a stage in a room full of people, and we were “doing our thing,” which was unlike anyone’s else in Hamilton or Cincinnati or anyplace in Ohio at the time. We expected them to get into it, no matter how painfully inappropriate it was. So back we went to play an equally loud and obnoxious second set. At the end of the night, we collected our few dollars, packed up, and went home. Needless to say, we never graced the His Place stage again. But we were content with the musical strides we felt we had made that night.

I don’t think we played anywhere else with that band. Maybe southwestern Ohio just wasn’t ready to support a local tribute to Iggy and the Stooges. (I’m sure redneck Hamilton was not, anyway, and Cincinnati, though larger and more cosmopolitan, has always had a reputation for conservatism.) Don Dickey might have been switched to second shift at Fisherbody and thus been unable to practice. Jimbo might have lost his drums again. Somehow we gave up our Palace rehearsal space, and the band kind of fizzled out. But I had not given up my musical aspirations, and soon it happened that I, who had started out singing through the other channel of somebody’s guitar amp and had always had to borrow or piece together P.A. systems for every band job I ever had, was able to buy a P.A. worthy of Hisey’s Marshall.

During this time, while John Orme and I lived briefly together in a den of hippie lunacy, I let him borrow my car--a five-year-old red MGB I had recently purchased from a Cincinnati cop--one day when his was broken down. When John returned home with my car, he parked it at the end of our street, but forgot to put it in gear or to put on the emergency brake, so it rolled out into the cross street and down a steep hill into the back of somebody’s Ford Galaxie. The damage to my grill and bumper was estimated at $400, which John paid me in weekly installments from his salary at Nicolet, the asbestos factory where he worked second shift while attending Miami U. But I never got the car fixed. It still ran, with the partially crunched front end, and I had learned that the Lemon Pipers old P.A. system was for sale. It was a Sunn Coliseum PA, one of the absolutely top-of-the-line systems of the day. It had a powerful, 200-watt head with four mike channels, two tall, wheeled cabinets containing two 15-inch speakers each, and two “golden lens” sound horns mounted in cube cases to match the speaker cabinets upon which they sat. Its retail price was probably close to $1000 in the late 60s/early 70s. The Lemon Pipers had owned the system before signing with Buddah Records. They had then sold it to someone living just outside Oxford. This person now had it up for sale, and I had seen the sign in front of his house while driving up to Miami one day. The $400 John had paid me for my car was just enough to purchase that P.A. system third-hand. I bought it and somehow got it down to Hisey’s basement. (We either borrowed a van or enlisted Linda for the millionth time.) Now we had a Marshall amp and a Sunn Coliseum P.A. We had come a long way from our wall of Silvertones just a few years before when we’d been trying to grow our hair out in high school. Well-equipped, bone-skinny, and dressed to the teeth, we were now ready to rock the world! Ironically, though, Hisey and I never got the chance to put our impressive and powerful equipment to use onstage together. In fact, we never played another song together again.

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