Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Doctor Who?

The hits just keep coming, and the beers, the misadventures, and, uh, chicken strips...


Of course, this weekend was much anticipated after the wonderfully warm welcome back we received the last time we played 501. The club owners always treat us warmly, the staff is very friendly, and we always have friends in the crowd. Always a great time. Whether it was Knucklehead, or now with Rock Bottom, 501 is a fun place for us.

I must say though, in my long history of gigging (since I was 16), most places that we have a kick ass terrific first show, or something along those lines, the next time we return never seems to live up to the expectations of kicking the same amount of ass as the previous show. Something always seems to interfere, or conditions just seem to change on some level that makes it impossible.

Case in point, one of the most memorable, if not perhaps the most memorable show (apart from the High School talent show where I played Rush 2112 in a theatre for my peers) was a gig we booked in Bonne Terre, Mo at a sizeable honkey tonk called Papa Don’s, Halloween weekend, 1989. That was with Kid Curious, the precursor to Saturn Cats. Ah, the wonderful days of Thom Swain Booking Agency!

In fact, we were booked at Granny’s Rocker in Edwardsville, a sweet gig, but were bumped out by Baywolfe, the club’s owners, and they put us in their gig in Bonne Terre. We didn’t really mind, they were good friends, plus there was a local opening band, so we played only two sets, and were well paid for it.

It turned out to be a very memorable show, with probably a thousand screaming fans really getting into it and digging us supremely! It was the greatest rush I’d ever got from performing, at least other people’s music, up until that point, and since then, I haven’t had much to compare it to.

Needless to say, we could not WAIT to rock that place again. They booked us back, and as the days counted down on the calendar, we all talked about how we were looking forward to going there again and rocking the house.

We returned, to a triumphant crowd of – no one. Two factors played a role. First, most people showed up Halloween night to see Baywolfe, because they had a huge following down there. But, they liked us, and that probably wasn’t a huge factor. I’m sure we’d won some fans. But, assuredly, there were those who didn’t remember anything about us when “Kid Curious” was posted on the board a month later.

What really killed us was, and we didn’t really realize this at the time but found out as the night progressed, there were a ton of underage kids in there that Halloween night, and the week prior to our “triumphant return”, the St. François County Sheriff had been cracking down. Hard. Hence, no one under 21 in the club. Hence, we played to the rousing applause of crickets chirping.

So, while I was eagerly anticipating getting back to 501, past history told me to temper my enthusiasm, because I know how these things work sometimes. This started to take shape Friday morning when I read that Jagertyme, who was scheduled off that weekend, was in fact now playing down at Front St. in downtown Alton. A club now being managed by the 501 owners. From that point on, I figured there would be some kind of let down this weekend, compared to the last appearance. We would end up splitting our crowd with them to some degree; it was unavoidable.

But, no matter, that’s the business, and you deal with it. Still looked forward to getting back and having a blast, no matter who showed up.

My load in was quick and orderly, said my hellos, gave some hugs, and Lindsay brought me a Bud Light while I plugged in my rig. Dougie “Ramone” was spinning discs, and living up to his name, playing every punk and Ramones type tune he had. I was hungry as well, because I’d taken a slight nap instead of grabbing anything to eat, and really didn’t figure I’d have time to hit a drive-thru, as there aren’t any from Granite to Wood River. I ordered up my usual 501 chicken strips and some onion rings, shoving them down my gullet as I set up my gear.

I noticed something peculiar about my Zoom, and it reminded me of a similar occurrence down at Jolly Acres: it wouldn’t turn on. I continued to set the rest of my gear up, and at one stage, I glanced over at it, and noticed it had mysteriously turned on. Very odd. Have to keep an eye on this.

We haggled about what songs to start with. Chuck said he wanted to start with anything but what we had been. Just something different. I have to know what the first few songs are going to be, because that dictates what guitar I start with. For whatever reason, we settled on Cheap Trick, which meant Les Paul time, and I’d try to do more first set songs with the Black, before I switch to Violet. Always thinking ahead!

Time ticked down, all the gang had arrived, and as I stood waiting in the darkness to go on, I started to hear an odd hum come and go out of my rig. Very annoying. I started to track it down, and it seemed to be an issue with my wireless. Ugh, I hate my wireless, it’s so unreliable, but I just can’t afford a new one yet. I’d already changed the battery, but I tried another one just to see if that was it. No luck. Soundman Jeff approached, and fiddled with things as I searched for clues and answers

“You’ve got a bad ground,” he said. “Somewhere.” Instinctively I looked at the AC cords, and noticed my power strip wasn’t properly plugged in, the plug was hanging out too far as I’d stretched the cords along to supply the proper length I needed. I also knew it was a kludge job. I “borrowed” this power strip from Paul Joseph, who’d cut off the third end because his house in Granite didn’t have grounded plugs. Tsk, Paulie!

Was that all that was causing the issue? I’d never heard this ungodly noise before! Well, won’t hurt to unplug it, plug it back in properly. Perhaps switch the polarity, which often causes 60 cycle hum.

WRONG! When I unplugged it, moving it all around, my Zoom died again. This time it refused to come on, and we were starting. Now. Christ! I pretty much went into a panic at this stage.

As quickly as possibly, I turned off the effects loop from my pedal board, bypassing my Zoom processor. The guitar kicked on, albeit without any processing. It was kind of quiet, and dry, but it didn’t sound like ass, like I figured it would. It would have to do for now. One thing, the irritating hum had gone away! Small solace.

We fired off the first couple songs, and my guitar was barely distinguishable. Chuck would squint his eyes at me, and say “dude, I can’t hear you!” Yeah, I know Chuck. I can’t either. In between strums I’d clumsily attempt to fire the Zoom back up, but it resisted at every turn. Singing, playing, and fighting with my gear simultaneously was too much of a chore, and, as you can imagine, my mood was souring. This was not the start I wanted for “our triumphant return”.

I motioned to Jared, who promptly sprung up from his front row table.

“See if you can get that damn thing to turn on,” I ordered. He kind of looked at me with a puzzled look, and started to push the on/off button repeatedly. No dice. “Try the power cord!” Jared dutifully slaved away at the task, but it was of little use. The Zoom was winning the battle. All the while, I’m banging out songs, and trying to figure out what tune we’re going to play next, keep the flow, and not let this become too big a distraction.

As I tore into the heavy section of “Hate Everything About You”, I kicked the clean channel on the Blue Voodoo from clean to dirty on the pedal board, and inadvertently stomped on the effects loop switch with my gunboat sized boots switching it on, which killed my entire guitar. Complete and utter silence befell my side of the stage. DOH! Clumsy, clumsy, clumsy! I quickly switched it off, but it ignored me! Oh no! I stomped feverishly on the switch, but it was locked up, and there was absolutely nothing coming from my amp! Good God, why does this shit ALWAYS happen to me?

Now, at about this time, white hot pangs of rage began to shoot up my spine, and I was quickly generating the mood to break things. That would make a hell of a show! Pulverize my gear! It’s a thought! Visions of Jager Tommy’s “RR Jackson episode” flashed through my consciousness. Naw, I can’t do that. I’ve grown up. That would be pretty childish. I think there is a time when I might have, though.

Instead, I used as much Zen consciousness as I could muster to dissipate my burning anger and seething rage, and worked as quickly as I could for a solution. There seemed to be only one: unplug the effects loop and the foot switch, and cycle the amp on and off. It worked, and I was live again. I nodded to Jared thanking him for his help, and continued to play as though nothing had happened, but deep inside, I was furious. My mood to break things had hardly abated. I finished the rest of the set without a clean channel, signal processing, or any sense of calming peace that this was remotely amusing.

Steve made some wise ass crack to the crowd about my evening’s struggles, which further focused on my embarrassment and irritation. Hey, what are friends for! They always have to get their digs in during your moments of pain and discomfort! Kick ‘em while their down! I think I just glared at him, and he could read in my eyes that I wasn’t playing fucking games. I don’t think he could read that I was in my “breaking shit” mood. He might not have said anything then.

During the first break, I played around with my equipment, and discovered that the Zoom’s power adapter has a short in the AC cord a few inches from the adapter itself. I twisted and contorted it until the Zoom kicked on, and stayed on. The Zoom is a 14 year old piece of equipment, and I guess its nearing its life span. It’s served me well. Hopefully I have some more months use out of it.

While a frustrating episode, a strange calm came over me. I was happy to have discovered what was causing the malfunction, and hoped I could get through the night without it bugging out. My anger had past through me quietly, and I was no longer remotely considering breaking anything. Maybe I am growing up. I know I’m growing old. That’s not always the same thing, I’m told.

That had caused a bit of a train wreck of a first set, but we’d muddle through, and everyone was warm and friendly in the crowd. It wasn’t quite the size I’d hoped to see, but I knew that Jager had funneled some off, so it was expected. I talked with a real nice chap from Texas, who wore a Longhorns hat, and talked about how much he liked the bar, and our music. He was barge worker from Jasper in for a few days, and said that down there, there was a fight every 10 minutes! Wow! Lots of testosterone in Jasper, I take it. He appreciated how much more calm 501 seemed.

Second set geared up, and this time I had my full amplifier, Zoom and all. It sounded so, so much better. Plus, I guess Jeff had tweaked it in the monitors, so it was surrounding us on stage, and I thought it sounded great. Chuck agreed. That picked up my mood considerably, and the rock n roll gods smiled on me the rest of the evening. I didn’t have a lick of trouble from my gear from that moment on.

Both sets went off like clockwork, as I remember, and we turned in a solid night’s performance. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and while it wasn’t quite the raucous time we had at our last appearance, it was a solid night’s fun all the way around, Zoom misbehavior not withstanding. At the end, I packed up my guitars, pocketed my chunk of change, and wished everyone a pleasant evening as I headed out the door.

I stopped for a nightcap at Eddie’s, but The Undecided had long since wrapped up, and probably passed me on the way down Route 3. I did run into Kevin Kalka, our longtime drummer in bands like Kulprit, Nassty, and Kid Curious/Saturn Cats. He was also my roommate in Seattle. We reminisced a bit about the old days as we always do, and he informed me that he was wrapping up his Doctorate (Chiropractor, I think) this spring, and had been working feverishly towards it. Really kicking his ass. Have to say, that is quite an accomplishment. Dr. Kalka. When he left Seattle, he told our roommate Bart that he was going to college, and become a doctor or something, and they kind of laughed about it. Well, he has. Pretty cool, Kev.


Not much to report this night. It went pretty much the same as the night before. My gear worked, though, and sounded fine. I was happy with my performance, and thought the band played well. We’re whittling down a list for new songs, and I’m looking forward to that, as it will round out or sound some. But, the list as it stands right now is getting the job done. We had a wonderful response.

DJ T-Bone had the place kicking, and he also jumped up and sang his trademark songs “She Hate’s Me” and “Kryptonite” in the last set. Then, we got a guy up to play drums, and we played a couple with him. Not too bad. Another guy sat in on guitar, whom I’d seen before, but his name escapes me right now. We put him on guitar for “Man In The Box”, and Steve asked me if I cared to sing it. Sure! So, I belted that one out. We tune down in this band, which is the same key as the album, and that allows me to hit all of the notes. At least, it usually does. Tonight, I didn’t have any trouble early in the song, so when the really high parts came after the guitar solo, I crouched in my rock star stance, filled my lungs, and let it fly!

Later, Soundman Jeff had some nice things to say about my crooning, and that meant a lot to me, because not only does Jeff have years of experience in rock n roll, but he was something of a singer himself back in the 70’s, specializing in Led Zeppelin. He’d sing a medley of Zep with us back in Nassty, and people actually accused us of playing air guitar to a tape! I’ll never forget that one! Why they hell would we do that? Jeff would sing it from the soundboard, and know one knew where it was coming from. Ah, those were the days…

I saw Mere and her boyfriend Mitch pop in for a drink, and they were gone. Bar hopping. I suppose that’s what a great many were doing, with all the bands and entertainment out there this weekend. Well, it was nice to be a part of it, and glad those that showed stopped by. Everyone treats us great, and we think the world of that. I know I do.

Not much to claim performance wise. It all seems to be settling in nicely, and I’m quite comfortable with how I’m playing, and my two guitars are just playing like a dream; most of my phrasing is effortless. Well, let me temper that. Violet is having a little trouble with the high E string buzzing, almost a sitar effect, so I’ll have to take that back to the shop and have that addressed.

See, necks will move and settle, and since I bought this, changed the string gauge, and use the shit out of it, the neck is adjusting, and moving around some. It will take some time and work for the neck to settle in properly. That’s one of the beauties of Black. Its 28 years old, and the neck settled a long time ago, and J. Gravity has it set exactly as I like. They even told me that it’s a unique neck for the Les Pauls of the late 70’s era, in that it settled without too much twisting and the like which they are notorious for. Lucky me!

We played way over when we were supposed to as the clock was creeping past 2 A.M., but everyone seemed to have a really good time, and we were in the mood to keep it going. No one wanted us to quit, even T-Bone. We’d basically shut down after Home Sweet Home, when they begged us for one more! So, we whipped out Metal Health. An old standard, I suppose. Steve wasn’t really amused, because that is a bitch of a song to sing and he was spent. But, he complied, and it sounded terrific, in my opinion. Good to go out with a bang.

I wrapped up my gear and drank the last longnecks in the bucket under the drum riser. The bouncer was doing his best to clear the room, but most were reluctant to leave. Long after the ring of the guitar amps and pounding of the drums had subsided, that party atmosphere hung in the air, and no one seemed to want to relinquish it. Always a sign of a job well done on our part!

Chuck mentioned that I was welcome to swing by his place, as several of his friends were making an appearance. A small after party was developing. I decided sure, what the hell, I would, and in my travels south towards Granite, I swung by the Mobil station for a half rack of Bud Light to take over.

We partied into the wee hours at Chuck’s, and all was good. Chuck’s friend Darcy insisted on waiting on me, playing hostess, and I think I wore her out on numerous trips to the refrigerator, as she passed out eventually. That cold Bud Light went down smooth after a nice weekend’s “work”.

As always, I was last to leave, and when I stumbled out onto his front porch, I was greeted to a hazy, overcast February morning sky. Ugh! Party until daylight again. I thought I was too old for this. Apparently not.