Monday, March 27, 2006

Saturday Night's alright for fightin'

Same Old, Same Old

Subject: guitaristRock Bottom

Saturday, March 25th, Mingo's, Granite City, Illinois

Boozie rang me up and asked if I’d ever heard of a place called Mingo’s. “Sure,” I told him.

“Is it a cool place?” he asked. “Because some dude just called me up and wants us to play there.”

Wow, Mingo’s? I was familiar with it. Surprised they called Boozie and not me! Perhaps they didn’t know I was in this band now. I knew one of the bartenders down there, Mike. He would hang out at Mac N Mick’s, my hang out on my side of town. We’d ventured down there, some of us Mac N Mick regulars when Mac’s was slow, because Mike tended bar. It was a tiny place in downtown Granite. But, a nice place. The owners had fixed it up, and it was much like any local tavern or pub, intimate, cozy. But where in the hell were we going to set up?

There were other questions involved leading up to this as well. First off, we weren’t planning on any shows at all this weekend. Steve had requested that we not book any gigs, as he had plans. No problem. Well, Steve Tinnon and the Fat Cat’s boys came calling, and they were trying to work out bringing us up to White Hall, which we weren’t opposed to. We’ll get there soon, I reckon. But, in this instance, there were logistical matters to work out, PA, the like. Basically, it wasn’t confirmed. Steve Hall wasn’t really keen on changing his plans for a long ass drive to White Hall. That was a big factor.

Well, now Mingo’s called here in Granite for the same Saturday night. Good money, closer, two things that should entice Steve to join us. Well, he stuck to his plans, but the boys had Plan B. Mike from Chuck’s old band, Sinwater. Works for me! I needed the money, and I certainly don’t mind playing in Granite.

I passed the word to my various Mac N Mick buddies we’d be down there, and they promised to show up in their travels. I wouldn’t mind getting back into Mac N Mick’s sometime, but with our setup, I don’t think it’s feasible. Knucklehead had a much more compact light show and sound system. I wasn’t sure Rock Bottom would even fit in Mingo’s, which is much smaller!

To my surprise, I arrived at Mingo’s to discover they’d cleared the entire back room for our use. They’d slid the pool tables aside, which created a large playing area for us to set up in, facing the bar. There was much more room than I’d anticipated! Boozie rolled in and took one look at it, and muttered “well, damn! I could have brought my whole kit in!” He just glanced at me with resignation and said “well, something to remember next time, I suppose…” Boozie sure does take things well!

I stacked my rig and ran cords accordingly, uncased my guitars and tuned them, and fired up the amp, letting the tubes warm. I promptly grabbed the nearest chair, and collapsed in a heap. I’d partied big time the previous night with Jagertyme at Eddie’s, which actually followed an earlier “retirement” party for my partner Bill, who’d quit the steel mill after 20 years. We gathered at Mac’s for beers after office hours while his fellow mill workers poured in, and the beer doth flowed…

You can’t imagine how much I wanted to play hooky, and just sleep this one off! I couldn’t seem to find any energy. I convinced myself to wander over to the bar, and grab a Bud Light. Alcohol is fuel, you know! I stared at the open bottle for a time, feeling its coldness, but unwilling to take a sip. Finally, I plunged in, and drank. Surprisingly, it went down smooth and easy. As the clock neared start time, I gathered up the energy to strap on my guitar, and play.

I was briefly introduced to our singer du jour, and while he threw me a curve and told me he knew all kinds of Skynard, Bob Segar, and country rock, he smiled at my puzzled look and let me off the hook. “Naw, man, I know your setlist. Anything you want to do,” he assured me.


So, we plowed into the first set without a list (Steve has it in his microphone case). I tossed out songs by memory, and with a nod from Mike, we played together like we were doing this for a year or more. As I remember, there wasn’t too many he didn’t have a grasp of. While not blessed with the range and power that Steve has, he was still more than capable, and from early on I was very comfortable that we’d manage through the night without Steve.

A nice crowd had formed. My Mac N Mick pals kept their word, and a whole table of them showed up to see us. We brought in some other familiar faces, true Rock Bottom fans, and they sat down in front, cheering us on. A very nice beginning! It was a nice showing for our first time in Mingo’s, especially with such short notice.

As the young lovelies got up to dance, an older woman glanced up at me as she danced next to Darcie, and for a moment, I saw Darcie’s eyes, or a hint of her face. Who was she? Was she related to Darcie? Kind of spooky. Caught me by surprise. Later, Darcie introduced her as her mother. Ah! That made sense. I pegged her around my age, which kind of frightened me, because that means I’m probably old enough to be Darcie’s dad! No, really, I’m not that old! Am I? C’est la vie!

She was having fun, and really living it up tonight. Darcie had her hands full! It was still kind of endearing, mother and daughter out partying it up.

On the first break, I wandered over to my mates, and thanked them for coming out. Tad bought the whole band a round of beers, and all my Mac’s friends were profuse with their praise. Melanie demanded Motley Crue’s “Merry Go Round and Round”, and Boozie jumped up, ran to his MP3 player, and fired it up through the PA for her. She smiled, and asked “does this mean you aren’t going to play it live for me?” Uh, yeah, that’s exactly what it means, Melanie…

Second set went off, and everyone had a terrific response. The acoustics in Mingo’s were challenging, with an odd reverb effect throughout the room. A very lively hall. My amp sounded much to my satisfaction, and my playing seemed effortless. I was pretty happy with it all, and with an unfamiliar singer, no less. I mentioned on break to Tad’s friend, Barb, that we’ve had no rehearsal with this guy, he just showed up and played, and she was stunned. But, to me, it didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. Hell, I’ve never rehearsed with these guys!

We put Mike through our “Steve Hall” paces, and he did admirably. Some of the song selection though came at him too much, too soon. He was able to sing them individually, but the order that I structured them in took a brief toll on his voice, and he started to crack a bit. Steve had always stressed what songs he could and couldn’t follow with, but Steve has a way of not letting anyone notice it’s a struggle for him. I first hand witnessed what happens to mere mortals when we force them to sing like Steve! But, to everyone else, I’m sure they had no idea. Mike performed quite well under the circumstances, and given what we were asking him to do!

Chuck and I bailed him out with a couple selections of our own, and with a quick break, Mike regained form after suffering through an onslaught of Skid Row, double Motley Crue, Jackyl, Great White, and AC/DC. The crowd was loving it, and we were quickly feeling quite at home in Mingo’s, and with Mike as well. We wrapped up the set, and a chilling thought occurred to me: what the hell will we play now? We’d used most of our “money” songs, and we didn’t have the flexibility of Steve around to fake anything. This was going to get interesting…

On the second break, a good number of my friends bid adieu, and were headed off to Bindy’s. They’d started the day at Fast Eddie’s, in fact invited me to meet them at Mac N Mick’s before they went up there. Since I was recuperating from Mac’s and Jagertyme the night before, there was little chance of me joining that parade. I felt like ass the morning after, and starting at Fast Eddie’s at 3PM wasn’t a possibility!

I thanked them all for stopping by and staying for two whole sets, and they all loved the show, loved the band, and couldn’t wait to come see us again. Melanie was particularly impressed, and I think she’s going to be a real cheerleader for us, bringing in more people. And she hasn’t even heard Steve yet!

That left our group of Rock Bottom regulars to please, little else. A few stragglers wandered in, but the rest of the night was pretty much left to us. Chuck asked if I knew “American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad. I’ve heard of it, I told him.

“What key?” I asked. “A?”

“D, actually” Chuck corrected.

“Let’s do it!” I told ‘em.

We fired it off, and it seemed to flow effortlessly from me, as though I’d been playing it for years! That’s what growing up in Granite City and listening to KSHE all your life will do for you!

We had another “KSHE” moment when we tore into Foghat’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”. Now we’re having fun! We’re in my ballpark, just jamming tunes whether we know them or not, and seeing what the hell happens! Echos of Knuckehead!

I also rummaged through Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” by request, and they loved me for it. Our little group of Rock Bottom regulars has been demanding it, and after I teased them once with it back at Richard’s, it seems to be a popular request. I’m going to have to smooth it out, and make it a staple it appears!

All in all, the “Force” seemed to be with me that last set, and we navigated through some very interesting and classic waters, putting a smile on my face. I love the unexpected, especially when I’m up on stage. It can be magical. It can also be a train wreck (see Jessie’s Girl, last blog)! But, that’s what makes it fun: risk. I have little ego to embarrass myself with. I guess that can be a double edged sword.

We kept playing until way after 2AM, wrapping up with “Home Sweet Home”, and then “Metal Health”. Mike did a fine show, and everything went swimmingly. Chuck soon marched back over to us as I wrapped up my gear, doling out the evening’s payroll, and announced new dates back at Mingo’s to our delight. Next time, with Steve. And with Boozie’s full drum cage. This was only a beginning, I was starting to sense.

I wrapped up quickly, loaded the SUV, and sped off to Eddie’s to catch the end of Jagertyme. I had arrived too late, the “ugly lights” were up, and a solid crowd milled about, unwilling to relinquish the evening. I stepped up to the bar and caught a quick bottle of Bud Light, and said my hellos and good byes to a number of friends.

About that time, a hellacious brawl started over by the restroom doors. Fists were flying and people screaming! Wow! Just in time! Black shirted bouncers sprang into action, and it was pure bedlam for a few moments. They sorted out the fracas, tossing them out into the parking lot to awaiting police officers, whom I’d seen parked outside when I arrived, just waiting for something to start.

I approached the stage with a look of incredulity on my face, and most of the Jager boys just shook their heads.

“What did you call me?” I needled JagerTommy, starting a faux fight. He smiled and shook my hand, when another fracas erupted by the tables! Bouncers flew through the air and one of the long bench tables collapsed under the weight of the combatants! What the hell was going on here? Another Hurricane Katrina birthday party, or what!

I found Kat, and while she wasn’t remotely involved with what had occurred, she was still at the wrong place at the wrong time and had been struck in the cheek by a stray punch.

“I was just hugging a friend good bye when all of a sudden WHAM!” she said, applying ice to her swollen cheek. Saturday Night Fights at Eddie’s! Steve was there, and he quizzed me how the show went without him, and I assured him it went fine, and they are happy to book us back. “Cool,” he said.

I quickly exited that zoo as the police entered the bar, rousting the remaining patrons. There were several Granite squad cars there now, and an Illinois State Police rod showed up, too. This was getting serious.

I rushed to Quicktrip for a set of 2x4’s (24 oz. Bud Lights) before 3AM, as I was just in the mood to sit at home and polish off a beer and unwind. I ran into Steve and Theresa there no less, gassing up on their way home. Not long after, Granite Police stopped in at QT, quizzing us about seeing a bloody, beaten man wandering down the street. I knew both cops, as they often come into Mac N Mick’s for beers. Is this a small town or what? Good guys, and good cops.

“Yeah”, Steve said, “he was here. Just took off down the street.” The policemen shook their heads and commented they knew who he was, and he was a trouble maker, I took it. They didn’t stay to chat, they were hot on his trail.

Steve, Theresa and I said good night, and I cautiously headed home, minding my speed. I know the Granite Cops, but that State rod spooked me. The only State cop I know, one of my poker buddies, doesn’t work around here! I passed two Granite squad cars on the way home, having pulled over a pedestrian about 8 blocks from Quicktrip. Looks like they got their man. Next time I see them at Mac’s, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about!

The other side of the tracks

Once more, into the breach!

Subject - Guitarist: Rock Bottom

Friday, March 17th – Eddie’s, Granite City, Illinois

Playing at Eddie’s generates a number of different emotional responses for me each and every time I play there. Of course, it’s in Granite City, my home town, which is a convenience, to be sure! But, I must confess, there are two sides to Granite City for me, and Eddie’s does feel like the other side, sometimes.

Part of that goes back to time of the two high schools, Granite North and Granite South. I attended North out on the edge of the city, and we had quite a rivalry with our sister school downtown. I suppose I still carry some of that, despite the combining of the two schools my graduating year, twenty two years ago.

Part of it was growing up in a large, old farm house down the street from Eddie’s, across from the Kirkpatrick Homes housing project. The old farm yielded way years ago to a sprawling neighborhood of low income, depression era homes built to support the blue collar steel workers that worked close by at the mill.

I rarely felt safe growing up there as young boy; an only child surrounded by older, meaner neighbor kids to play with. The menacing, bustling traffic of Nameoki Road right outside the front door was daunting to a young lad like me. My parents were consistently warning me, cautious about letting me play anywhere near it.

Our house was broken into once, and they even stole my best, most cherished beer cans from my beer can collection, the bastards! (Yeah, a 6 year old with a beer can collection: explains a lot!). Once, a neighbor kid threw a rock through our kitchen window, and another time, some ne’er-do-well set the bushes lining our front porch ablaze! Looking back, I grew up with a certain level of fear about the people around my neighborhood, and what someone was going to do to me or my family next, simply out of malice, or a twisted sense of angry humor. I grew distrustful of that side of town. I took solace in late nights with my father, listening to music, and watching him play guitar and sing.

When we moved across town, I was relieved to settle down in a quiet, normal neighborhood, have a normal childhood, and pretty much put the nightmare of living on that side of Granite City behind me. My mother grew up a scant 5 blocks from the house my parents purchased. I met lifelong friends that I’m still in contact with today, and I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else, on this side of Granite. I have roots on this side. When it came time to settle down and buy a home, raise a family, and be the best father and husband I could, I moved merely 6 or 7 houses down the alley. Three generations, all growing up within a quarter mile radius! That’s “small town”, I guess, and one of the nice flexibilities of Granite City. Bigger than most small towns, but still cozy, and comfortable.

Eddie’s does have its good side, I must admit, much like the dichotomy of Granite itself. Eddie’s, to me, right now, is as close to the Granny’s Rocker Edwardsville atmosphere that exists. Yeah, there are tons of differences: lack of 19 year old girls getting wasted and sleeping with strange men; a much larger “mullet factor”, lack of an upstairs balcony, to name a few. But, it’s where we’re seeing good rock n’ roll bands again, and the camaraderie of the area acts coming in, kicking ass, and every one partying and having a great time. That’s I suppose what really made Granny’s special to me, and it’s carrying over here now more than anywhere else. Club 501 to some extent shares this, but Eddie’s really seems to let the late ‘80s/early ‘90s rock band vibe come back to life, and since I’m back in a stage in my life where I’m almost reliving that halcyon period of my life, I take notice in it, and even revel in it.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the bittersweet absence of my ex-wife when I play shows, namely Eddie’s. Much of putting Knucklehead back together was to share that experience with her, to do what I do best and make her proud of me, and to let her have some fun, get out and be social, and enjoy ourselves together. It was really hard to play without her the first months, into the first year.

Now with Rock Bottom, there are fewer ties, and more distance has grown between us and our failed marriage, which all softens the blow. The longing begins to fade. But every time I set up at Eddie’s, or sometimes look out across the crowd at the tables in back during a set, I expect to see her, like an after image, a ghost, an indelible imprint on my mind. My soul, perhaps. Words fail to express it. Probably because it’s not something I can put into words, nor do I care to. But, I’m not ashamed to share it. Its part of who I am, and I’m all about dealing with exactly who I am. That’s the essence of life, I’ve come to understand.

Didn’t know this was going to turn into a philosophical exercise, did you?! Ah, with my burgeoning sense of Zen understanding, I’m always taking the time to notice how things interact with me, and I with them. That’s when you understand you’re alive.

After grabbing a bite on the run at Jack In The Box, I rolled into the bar to throw up my rig, and prepare. Mentally, I prepare much less than I used to. Not that I had some ritual, or meditation. Nothing of the sort. But there was a small degree of, how should I explain it, “focus” I would go through, mainly to relieve the stress, and make sure I wasn’t forgetting something, etc. I do very little of that now, not consciously. I’m in a nice groove, comfortable with my playing and my role in Rock Bottom, and the boys in the band.

I did manage to run into a number of issues during set up, but none of it phased me, mentally or emotionally. My wireless crapped out completely. Something in the receiver unit. I will have to purchase a new one, which I’ve been meaning to do anyway. A cord will work fine for now.

Soundman Jeff was setting up the stage, and he seemed to be constantly under my feet. I was slightly perturbed by this. He sets up for hours, and the last 30 minutes I finally show up, he’s still slipping in and out, making me dizzy as I turn here and there, finding him beneath me, plugging something in, adjusting that, blah, blah. Get the hell out from under me! He also sets up all the lights and such on Eddie's cramped stage in such a way that I feel cornered, with little room to move. Hey, I like the great light show, but Christ! Can I have some room to move around here? I get to stand directly in front of my mic, and that’s it! No room to move before I’m tripping over a pinspot, or lighting truss.

After getting my rig ready, I popped down to the bar for a bottle of Bud Light. I ran into several old high school friends, some I’ve seen on occasion, a couple I hadn’t seen in 20 years. My buddy Greg D. was an old hockey chum of mine, and he brought out some friends. Lisa P. was there, and I’d run into her a few times at local taverns in town. Boy, she looks great. Greg and I were commenting that she’s our age, turning 40 this year, but we both swear she looks 29 or 30.

“Are you Irish,” Lisa asked me?

“I am tonight!” I quipped. Rather than bore her with a dissertation of my Celtic/Norwegian heritage, I turned the question on to her. “Are you?”

“I’m part Irish. The other half is Italian,” she said. Oh! I should have known! I have a soft spot for Irish/Italians. Something about that mix just always seems to attract me. Where exactly was Lisa when we were together in high school? Oh, yeah, I was that shy guy too afraid to approach a girl so he buried himself into playing guitar. That would explain it! Well, she certainly has blossomed.

Allyson showed up, who’d been absent from our little group of Riverbenders for a while. That’s what you people are up north. We’re Granite Hoosiers. You’re Riverbenders, I guess. I made that up. I’m not sure what to call people from the Alton/Godfrey/East Alton/Wood River/Roxana area. To a certain extent, to me as an outsider, it’s like one big community up there. Anyway, she told a tale of wiping out her car, and we caught up on things. The rest of the boys came in, and before too long, it was show time.

My amp sounded thin, and I wasn’t overly pleased with it. My playing was somewhat frantic, and choppy, and I zoned out on a couple phrases where I forgot the melody. The luck of the Irish wasn’t with me tonight. But, I didn’t mind. It happens. The Friday crowd was really big early on, as everyone had been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, it would appear.

I saw tons of green across the dance floor, from Shamrock Green derby hats, flashy beads, and festive Bud Light decorations. Hell, even the men’s bathroom was green! They’d recently remodeled it, and just in time for St. Pat’s with a fresh coat of foam green paint! They retiled the floor in green as well.

The crowd’s reaction was very positive all night, and we had a great time. Everyone was getting stinking drunk, it appeared! Between band members last week, we’d passed around CDs of tunes we want to try, and we struggled through a couple tonight with no rehearsal. Works in progress, but we’re making headway. Overall, my body felt stiff, and a bit sore. I'm starting to feel my age, not able to rock out like I used to, really get into the songs physically. Being hemmed in by the light show didn’t help either. Still, I consciously attempted to appear to be doing more than just standing still, like a statue. Just my body wasn’t cooperating very well! No "Angus" imitations tonight!

We celebrated a couple friends' birthdays in the house, and the whole vibe around the stage and the club was relaxed and festive. But, part in parcel with that was the fatigue factor, as many of these revelers had been partying since the afternoon in Soulard. As the night wore on, the crowd slowly thinned, the stragglers dropping off by the wayside after a long day’s drunk.

A friend named Sarah also popped in for a visit as she promised she would at our last 501 gig. It was “return of our Riverbender friends” tonight! We shared a beer on break and caught up with small talk. Geo from Ivory Tiger got off working overtime along with Rick the DJ, and Geo met up with his wife Kat, who had already been there, pounding Jagerbombs with me.

Geo got up to play some with us, and for what ever fucked up reason I tore into “Jessie’s Girl”. I don’t actually know that song, other than screwing around with it along with the video, back in the MTV days. I hear it enough, though. I didn’t think it went that poorly, but Kat later confided in me that it was a complete train wreck, and we were never to attempt it again! Thanks for all your support, Kat! Well, I guess the spirit of St. Pat’s was catching up with me; I must have been getting pretty buzzed. It was a condition that I shared with practically the entire crowd, to be sure!

At the end of the night, Sarah came to me and boldly asked “where are we going? Do you want to get something to eat? Waffle House?”

Wow! My eyes kind of popped out. Cute, young ladies inviting me to the Mecca of early morning dining? I like where this is going! There was no way I would refuse!

She moved up close to me and whispered “my ex boyfriend is over there, and he is trashed, and he won’t leave me alone…” Ah! It’s becoming clearer to me. I’m her wingman! Well, it’s nice to be wanted for something!

We hopped in my SUV and sped off to Waffle House. She explained that she would always stop in Waffle House late nights after working at a joint in Brooklyn. In fact, after we arrived and ordered, the cook recognized her after a time, and came over and talked with us and reminisced. We had a pleasant conversation and breakfast. The cook explained how he could meow like a cat in a ventriloquist fashion, and would drive the more inebriated customers crazy. We laughed, and Sarah confessed she remembered that. “Where’s that damn cat?”

My hash browns covered with everything and eggs over easy were perfect as always, and Sarah ate about half her waffle. Occasionally we’d hear a quiet, mysterious “meow”, and the cook would glance over his shoulder, flashing us a coy smile.

I dropped Sarah back off at her car next to the Eddie’s parking lot. She gave me a firm hug, and with that, my job was done; she was rescued from the pawing clutches of her wasted ex-boyfriend. As she pulled out of her parking space, from the corner of my eye I swore I saw the silhouette of someone passed out against the building laying in front of her vehicle. Startled by her headlights, this mystery figure leapt up and vanished! A stalker? Her inebriated ex? All mysteries to me! I followed her out of Granite to make sure she wasn’t followed, and it appeared she was clear. As her red tail lights sped away, I traveled home, anxiously awaiting crawling into bed, and falling fast asleep.