Monday, August 14, 2006

Bad to the "Bone"

Subject: guitarist - Rock Bottom

Venue: Ten Pin, Alton, IL

Saturday, August 12th

Well, I’m back kids. Had some fun and sun (and a tropical storm) in Los Cabos, Mexico. I was Karaoke King at the resort; that was a hoot! Play That Funky Music was a huge hit in the Baja, I might add. I also had some older woman dancing with me while I sang some Elvis “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (uh, thank ya, thank ya ver much…). Mom has the incriminating evidence on her camera. It's a wild feeling to lay around the pool in a forgein country and have someone come up and say "hey! Nice job last night!" like they know me. Somewhat embarrasing, but cool.

I also spent a week in Springfield, Mo. Not by choice, really. My daughter had a big softball tournament that they won, by the way. An old, special girlfriend of mine, a high school sweetheart, lives down there now, married with a kid. We email from time to time. I told her I’d be in her neck of the woods, and the whole softball thing. I invited her out at her convenience to meet for the first time in 22 years, but she chickened out. Dunno why. What does she have to be scared of? I just wanted a friendly chance to say hey. Nothing more. I’m sure she knew that. Says she’ll drop by next time she’s in Granite. Hope so. It’s nice to see old friends. But, as always, I can’t seem to figure women out, even ones that are just my friends.

With all that, Rock Bottom hasn’t been playing that much this month. We did play at 501 after I came back from Cabo. My birthday, of sorts. I turned 40 in Springfield, playing online poker in a hotel room. Real glamorous, huh? That weekend before was as close as we were getting to celebrating it. Probably good for my liver, though. My thirtieth birthday party at my old “beer garden” was quite an affair. Half barrel, BBQ, drinking games 'til 3 AM. I was content to let this one go a bit more, um, relaxed. Maybe I am growing up? Nah!

501 was pretty much same old, same old. Good times, good drinks, good friends. And good looking ladies, to be sure. I brought the boys back some souveniers from Cabo and passed them out. Had a shot or two for my birthday. A good gig. Still, with all that has transpired since then, much of that weekend has faded into memory.

Which brings me to the past weekend. Somewhere on Wednesay, Derrick left a voice mail about jamming at Ten Pin with him. Floyd and Brad would be there too. I called him back Thursday and gladly accepted: I need the cash. Plus, Ten Pin means free booze! Can’t beat that for a Saturday night’s fun!

I hadn’t played the Ten Pin since probably New Year’s Eve 2004 with Knucklehead. I don’t remember if we booked any dates past that. For those of you that don’t know Ten Pin, it’s a tiny hole in the wall in downtown Alton, around the corner from Argosy, and 501 Front Street. The Jagertyme boys turned us on to it, and they get great crowds when they play there. It can become a pretty wild place, as an intimate crowd of friends can really ingite the atmosphere in there.

Or, it can be a ghost town. Which is pretty much what it was when Knucklehead played there on New Year’s Eve.

I pulled up to the front door, and “Saturday night: Bonehead” was prominently displayed across the marquee atop the overhang at the front entrance. So, tonight, I’m in “Bonehead”.

Everything was set up inside, but none of the band members were anywhere to be found. I loaded in, set it all up, but ran into one minor snag: no power. Derrick had used all the available power sources, and I wasn’t really sure what he was planning for me to use. So, I kicked back at the bar, had a beer with Jared who’d dropped by, and waited for Derelict, as we often called him these past 15 years. Without him, I couldn’t proceed.

Brad came in and was all smiles. He seemed to have an air of excitement about him, like he was really looking forward to playing. Derrick followed not long after, and we remedied the power situation by unplugging a box fan that keeps the power amps cool, and plugging in my power strip.

My amp soon began to glow that familiar mandarin orange, and I’d just hoped the tubes would warm up enough that my sound was decent. I’d turned my Marshall to face the wall so I could get enough volume and not have feedback killing everyone within a 10 yard radius. However, when I started to warm up and test the rig, my sound was affected, giving it a tunnel kind of effect. Muffled, and hollow. Ick! I’d wished I had a blanket or some padding to throw over it like Jimmy Griffin used to do in Broken Toyz, but no such luck. I’ll just have to deal with it.

Floyd was mysteriously absent as the clock wound past 10 pm, our designated start time. Brad shot him a call, and as he flipped his cell phone shut, he said “taking a nap” with a smirk. I had to smile.

Before long, Floyd burst through the door with a towel over his shoulder, and it was go time. I had absolutely no idea what we’d be playing tonight, but since I’d filled in a month ago, I was much more confident we’d manage through a good list of songs. And, I was always in a mood to stretch out and fake a song or two, play something different.

Well, I was about to get all that, and more!

We played through the first set, and I think I actually knew, or had played in the last 10 years, two songs! While I’d played with “them” (with Rob instead of Brad) a month ago at 501 Front Street, and had a sense of what we might go with, Derrick of course threw me for a loop, and with his enigmatic way, played whatever the hell he felt like, only glancing at me to ask “you know this?” To which, I replied, “No. What key?” And with that, we were off and running…

And, it was a hell of a lot of fun. Derrick carried it all, to be sure. Here he was singing, and then covering the guitar stuff, and that gave me enough to get the song under my fingers and fill it out. Usually seeing and hearing Derrick get going was enough to remind me of how the song went, and the additional parts would come to me. Yeah, I was using “The Force”, but that almost made it exhilarating! It’s a drug that I could never get enough of in Knucklehead, particularly the old days at Granny’s and that where ANY song was fair game, and the relationship I had with Paul Joseph and Scrappy made any song we wanted to bluff take shape. Derrick was from that same old school (inspired by Riff Raff), and I guess it just all made sense Saturday night. This was our game.

Friends came and went Saturday night, and then reappeared. It was a very fluid crowd. I was excited to see some attractive young ladies wander in, only to have them depart not long after. So it goes.

A young man approached me, and I thought it was Rusty Churchman’s cousin, Tim from Leadfoot. I spoke briefly with him, but didn’t say too much. I don’t know him all that well.

As it turns out, I was completely mistaken: it was Jay Rolens, Bobby Rolen’s son. Derrick said something like “hey Jay’s here.”

To which, I said “Jay who?”

“Bobby’s kid.”

To fill you in, Bobby was singer of Baywolfe, and co-owner of Granny’s Rocker. And a good friend. His son has become quite a talented drummer (like the rest of the family of musicians), and he’d stopped by to hang out. He’s involved in Derrick’s burgeoning project Bonehead, which is what I was in tonight. Acting guitarist.

“All we need is a guitarist,” Jay told me.

“Is that right?” I said.

I think he was probing me, seeing if I was interested, but I told him honestly, I was having a great time in Rock Bottom, and it’s hard to step away from a band with a singer like Steve in it. I enjoy these little diversions away, and in many respects, I’m simply a hired gun where ever I end up: a musician with honed skills and years of experience. I really don’t have a dog in any hunt, because I learned long ago I don’t have a song in my heart to convey. I have a passion to play, and to entertain. So, I go where my fortunes lead me, and they have lead me to Steve, which has led us to Rock Bottom. And I’m just fine with that.

Speaking of which, the gaunt, easily distinguishable figure of Chuck, our bass player, wandered into the bar whilst we were in the first set, and he staked out a hang out in back. Surprised me to see him this far north, outside of Granite! We had a shot of Hot Damn, and chatted on break. He stood sipping his beer, sheathed with his Cabo Wabo bottle coozie I'd pick up for him in Cabo, at Sammy Hagar's place.

I thought of asking him if he wanted to jam, but I get the feeling Chuck has more fun just hanging out, rather than put himself thorough what I put myself through; walking blind onto a stage full of people and be “thrown to the wolves.” Why do I find this so amusing? So exhilarating, so, well, so damn much fun?

Perhaps it’s the gambler in me. I suppose there is a direct correlation between my love of poker and this fascination of jumping onstage and playing what is thrown at me. Some of it is knowing your limitations, and what will and won’t fly. Some of it is using past knowledge and incorporating that into the dynamic flow of the situation around me on the fly, at a moment’s notice. Some of it is reading those around me and the interaction between us (while poker is antagonistic in nature, and performing is the opposite). And, without question, some of it is luck. Pure, dumb luck. Use The Force, Luke

Brad approached me on the break, and held an air of concern. “We need to get some kind of list together for the next set. Write some things down, you know.” Honestly, I was taken aback. Not only did I think that too time consuming, I thought it might be impossible. And kind of against the freewheeling side of Jagertyme. Did we even have enough songs to make a list?

I kind of flippantly said “why?”

“Well, I don’t want to be left standing there, staring at each other figuring out what we’re going to play.”

I could sense a feeling of insecurity, or, at least more accurately, tension from Brad. And, I had to agree with him. One thing I am in Rock Bottom is the “Dead Air Nazi”. I hate dead air between songs. Keep a flow, keep it moving; a professional feel and appearance. Now, it's the opposite; I’m standing here, wondering what the big deal was. Shame on me!

Brad had scribbled some stuff on a paper and handed it to me.

“Check mark the ones you can do.”

I looked at it, and thought “well, he’s right.”

While I thought things weren’t that choppy the first set, they were bound to get more static as the night went on and we delved deeper into our collective consciousness to play songs we knew. It would be a good idea to have a working list.

As I perused it though, I realized: I don’t know any of these damn things! Besides, no telling what Derrick would come up with on the go.

I told Brad before we went on unless I wave it completely off as a “no way”, just tell me what key it’s in, and let’s play. I figured I could get through it somehow. Anything. On that list, anyway.

”Ok,” Brad said. And he named three songs off, and said we should play them all without a pause. Was I cool with that? I didn’t really know any of them. Nor did the bands' names ring much of a bell. But I nodded, and we were off.

Once Derrick started them, however, I’d remember hearing them play them in the past, and I followed along. And with that, magic was made. Talk about “winging it”!

And, the plan was successful. We kept a good flow, and the mood around the bar was a party, like we actually WERE a band. Derrick took control, and we kept a good flow moving through the set. I hung on for dear life, and I don’t remember waving anything off, to be honest with you.

Friends kept coming and going like a revolving door. At times there was quite a few in the bar having a raucous time. Then, they’d disappear, and it seemed dead. Then, it would swing back, and the party was on again.

All in all, we avoided any real abortions, and it was fun to play songs I don’t normally get a chance to. And a kick to play with all three of them. As I say, without Derrick there to feed me the parts on the fly WHILE singing, it might have been ugly. Something to admire about Derrick. He made it look easy, but I know that it’s not. Years of experience at play there. For both of us, I suppose.

And the Jager did flow! Derrick managed to keep it down this time. Naturally, we found ourselves playing some very odd, silly songs. The recollections are fuzzy and vague. I can’t remember what they were, and I’m sure in some embarrassing moment in the future someone will remind me, but I know there were a few moments where I found myself saying “what in the hell sparked us playing THAT!”

One of the braver songs I attempted was Message In A Bottle by The Police. I think that’s the first time I ever played any Police song. Derrick literally made a quick sweep through the chord changes before hand to show me, and we were off! He carried the water for most of the song, and I had fun just filling out the guitar, putting some meat on the bones of the piece. What a kick!

The alcohol begins to take its toll on my memory, and after the second break, it was kinda hazy. I remember Derrick mentioned playing TWO more sets, as he anticipated a late crowd. Smaller sets. I’m not sure how short he was thinking, but something along those lines.

As we got going, several more friends popped in, and made their way onstage, including Tim from Leadfoot, who did actually arrive (a premonition?)! And Jay Rolens played a song with us. I got a chance to kick back, and get more wasted while Tim grabbed the Les. And let the pressure off a bit of having to keep winging it, although that pressure was minimal to begin with. Like I said, I was enjoying it.

Tim is a fine player, and my first chance to check him out. Funny, I definitely saw shades of his cousin Rusty in him onstage. The way he holds the guitar, the way he moved. But, maybe that was the shots of Jager I’d been shoveling down. They are certainly both talented players, to be sure.

As it stood, there was no break into two smaller sets, “we” (with help from our friends) played straight through. Once we wrapped up the night, there was a sense of accomplishment and relaxation running through me, as well as a sense of “Jesus, I’m kind of fucked up!” No night with the Jagertyme boys would be complete! I guess this is another aspect I live for, the camaraderie, the accomplishment, and on whole, the party. It’s a social event when we play, be it Knucklehead, Rock Bottom, Jagertyme, or even “Bonehead”. I love a good party!

I sat at the bar finishing some beers and decided not to tear down. I was planning on meeting a group of Mac N Mick’s friends in Grafton Sunday afternoon, so I could swing by tomorrow. I still owed Derrick for that Marshall cabinet, so I split my pay with him, so I’d have some spending money for The Loading Dock tomorrow.

“When you open up tomorrow, Mike?” I asked the owner.

“Oh, about 5:30 or 6”.

Yikes! Guess I’ll be stopping by after I go to Grafton.

I sat and talked with 501 friends that came by late, like Lindsay. I sat and talked to Chelly too as Floyd packed up his kit. Afterwards, we talked out front, and I assured them I’d be ok to drive home.

I packed my guitars, and made my way to McDonald’s to get some breakfast, only to find out they still served dinner until 5 or so! Double cheeseburger it is, then!

The next afternoon, with a slight hangover, I found myself with my Mac N Mick’s buddies out under a shady umbrella on the deck of The Loading Dock in Grafton, ducking out of the sun. Barges and boats rolled by on the Ole Miss, and the group was jovial, celebrating a birthday of one of the girls. You should have seen my buddy Mike from Mingo's take her out on his jet ski! "Naw, you won' t get wet..." He did everything he could to throw her off and dump her in that river!

Mutual friends of all of ours happened to show up, making the afternoon even more pleasant as we tried to choke down beers (we all had a long night before), and stay in the shade. One of the friends mentioned my old girlfriend Jodi, as she’s neighbors with Jodi's sister, and floods of pleasant memories overcame me. She said Jodi was very angry they didn’t tell her they were going to the last Rock Bottom show, and promise to bring her out sometime soon. At least she isn’t afraid to see me after all these years!

A biker looking fellow leaned over the railing next to our table from the main bar, and asked me, “hey! You’re in Bonehead, aren’t you?”

I was last night.