Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rock Bottom Nation

Subject: Guitarist - Rock Bottom
Venue: Pop's, Sauget, Illinois
Friday, September 14th, 2007

The calendar continues to be filled for us, and that’s been both entertaining, and physically draining. Boy, we’ve been playing a ton of gigs! This past weekend at Shatzee’s in Belleville I think we saw a little strain, as moods were a bit testy amongst the group. Nothing nasty, but, just that edginess that starts to form like a crust whenever you’ve been spending a lot of time doing the same thing repetitively with the same people over and over.

But, in all honesty, the shows were a big success, we made a bunch of new friends and fans, and I heard nothing but good things and compliments on our song selection and performance. Some real ego stroking, which, well, is better than being told you suck!

The real treat I want to tell you all about was our opening slot at Pop’s for Chicago area Motley Crue tribute band: The Crue. We’d been given a large amount of comp tickets to give away, which we did readily. Still, I wasn’t sure how many people were going to attend an evening show at Pop’s to see a tribute band (and us) that they’d never heard of. I was in for a very big surprise!

Word was we were to show up for sound check at around 5 to 5:30pm. Yikes! On a Friday, that was a bit of a stretch; to get off work, get ready, and get there for that! Steve said from the get go he didn’t think he could make that. I managed to get cleaned up, and Rebecca got herself together (and looked dynamite, I might add…), and we pulled in to the back stage loading area around 5:30. Not to bad!

Several of our helpful road crew appeared from around back, and quickly we shuttled my rig out of my Durango onto the side stage at Pop’s as a sort of makeshift staging area. The Crue were still setting up their rigs, and the house sound tech, Jason, I think, was busy juggling microphones and directing traffic. Somewhat of a hectic, busy atmosphere.

I surveyed the “landscape”, and it was as I’d remembered. Pop’s is Pop’s. While I’d played the old Pop’s back before the fire burnt it down to the ground, I’ve never played this new Pop’s as a member of a booked act, but I have sat in with a couple bands, including Baywolfe on the main stage, and Those One Guys on the side stage. Last year, following the Biker Rally in Poplar Bluff, I showed up Sunday evening for a surprise birthday party for Bozer the Hoser of Riff Raff fame. In all, it all seemed strangely familiar to me, to be honest.

C.J. and Boozie were in attendance, milling around, waiting to get a chance to set the stage. I couldn’t really tell who The Crue were, and who were the crew! They all looked the same, and none of them really looked like anyone from the real Crue. It didn’t take me long to spot the accent, though. Within minutes, I knew where they had to be from: Chicago! Please don’t be Cub fans!

I even brought a book, Dan Harrington on Hold ‘em, Volume II, to read in the interim, as I figured there’d be quite a bit of lag time between sound check and our actual performance. I really don’t have much time to read, it seems, and I thought this might be a great opportunity. I was wrong. Never cracked it open. The atmosphere and anticipation prevented me from really sitting down to relax. I wanted to get my rig going, and get a feel for the stage and stuff. But The Crue were still setting up, doing their thing, and basically, I had to wait. I didn’t want to bury my nose in a book. I wanted to take it all in. It felt like the “good old days”, that fun anticipation of a big show!

I quickly found a nice AC120 power outlet off to the side to plug in my Blue Voodoo amp, letting the tubes warm, hoping for a nice, rich tone would be waiting for me when we took the stage. Donovan pulled my axes from their cases, sprayed them generously with Finger-ease, and set them up on stands off stage left, letting them air out and breathe.

“There you are, Mr. Deron,” Donovan announced to me, placing Black on the stand next to Bob, my Ibanez.

“Thank’s man, I appreciate it,” I told him. These guys do a lot of work for us, and really do it just for the thrill of getting a chance to do it. While I buy them a beer or a shot once in a while, I don’t have any money to really pay them for their efforts. So, I try to go out of my way to let them know they are appreciated, because they don’t really have to do it. And it does make my world easier, allowing me to concentrate on the show.

The Crue guitarist had pulled out his Explorer style guitar, and fired up his rig that was setup Stage Left. A Line 6 unit. Not too bad. He was a medium build, short haired dude, with kind of a hard core look to him. Not an 80’s hold out. More of a contemporary metal head. As he warmed up, he proved to be a decent player, with some good chops, some shredding arpeggios, and a metal technique. His guitar was an Aria II, which I remember in the day as a kinda cheap model. But, he played it well, so I guess it works for him.

As The Crue dragged on setting up their portion of the stage, C.J. was getting antsy. He still intended to race back to Granite and get himself ready for the show. And, he wanted to take the time to get everything right. And rightly so. Those kinds of rituals clear the mind, and focus oneself for “battle”, so to speak. When we got the call that we were to be at sound check at 5ish, we didn’t realize that meant BOTH bands. We figured they would be set up by now. Instead, it quickly became 6pm, then past, and we weren’t any closer to getting our stuff up there.

At one point, C.J had given up, and basically was going to let our buddy Zack check his rig, which came as a bit of a surprise for Zack! C.J. figured he’d just better bail out. We don’t really do sound checks, so, as long as his rig worked, that’s all that mattered.

About that time, The Crue fired up through the mains, and ran through a couple tunes. The singer did have a Vince Neil-ish type of voice, and it made me smile. They played some really cool old Crue from their first album, Too Fast For Love. Now yer talking! That used to be quite a popular album with Steve and I back in ’85 or ’86, tooling around town in Steve’s Plymouth Laser, cruising for high school girls.

It didn’t take long, though, and I could tell this guy didn’t have Steve’s range. Some of the high stuff eluded him. Aw well, we can’t all be the Steve-a! The couple songs they did sounded pretty cool, and I was looking forward to hearing what all they were going to whip out tonight. I love the old Crue, and it seems these guys were in that mold. Right on! That’s what I want to hear! The guitarist tone was loud and sounded quite good. Mick Mars was pouring out from the stage at Pop’s!

After a bit of tweaking and plunking, they finally seemed satisfied.

“All right,” the big, burly bass player bellowed, “let’s get off here and give these guys a chance to get set up, man.”

Seems he was down with our plight. They scuttled off and set things aside while their crew tended to moving shit out of the way for our crew to move in.

“I guess you can set your stuff here, man,” the guitarist said. “I’ll put some tape down marking where my amp was.” I was a little confused.

“Naw, I’ll just set up right in front, you don’t have to move anything,” I told him.

Before we could either make a move, Boozie’s massive drumrack rolled by, shoving us out of the way.

“All right,” the sound tech announced, “we’ll put this here.” Here being right where I was going to put my rig!


Before I could even protest, I began to see the problem. Boozie’s rig was so immense, that placing it in front of the Crue’s drumriser would have left scant room for Steve.

“Yeah, what I’m really worried about is the cymbals and all that coming through the singer’s mic,” Jason explained. I see. That too! So, Boozie gets shoved over to the side. Well, then where the hell am I going to put my amp? Eh, no big deal. I’ll just shove it off to the side stage, and point it across stage. That lets me really turn it up and rip!

We finessed things about, getting them into position. I turned to the soundguy and introduced myself.

“I’ve seen you play,” he said. I was surprised at this. “You were in Knucklehead.” Amazing! I guess that’s a positive thing. I guess he could remember me because I suck out loud, but that didn’t seem as likely. But, possible.

The Crue guitarist pulled me aside. “Hey, man, did my amp sound ok out there?”

“Sounded great,” I told him.

“Cuz it sounded tinny up here,” he said. “Must have been the monitor mix.”

“Could be. It sounded great out front.” I told him.


With that, he ducked out from the moving chaos that surrounded us onstage. With eager anticipation, I fired up the rig. Wow, not nearly as loud as I’m used to! That smaller 50w head in such a big room, let me tell you! It doesn’t come close to filling it up! I warmed my fingers up and got used to the room, the stage, and everything. Lost myself in the moment briefly. I’m going to have to be louder!

Drumcheck was tedious, as always. Bong! Bong! Bong!


Bung! Bung! Bung! (Beavis, he said Bung!)


C.J stood idly by, having decided to wait it out since we were finally underway. It still wasn’t happening fast enough for him.

We each checked our instruments and tweaked the monitor mix to our liking. Steve showed up in time after all (as it was around 6:45), and even he got a mic check. We stared at each other, then started off a song. Don’t even remember what it was. One that we weren’t planning on playing that night. I wasn’t really happy with my amp sound. Something didn’t feel right. He’d brought it up in the monitors, so I could hear myself just fine. But, ugh! It was off.

Three quarters the way through the song, the soundman broke through on the monitors.

“Ok guys, that will work. We’ll start about 8:30.”

The song ground to a halt, and C.J. was out the door. I turned and looked at my amp, but there wasn’t much to tweak. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. It sounded fine over by my amp, but… Wait! Exactly what the Crue guitarist was talking about! Kind of tinny! I’ll bet it rips out front. Too bad I can’t hear it.

It must have been sometime after 7pm after I crawled down from the main stage, as they were letting people in the front door. It didn’t take long for familiar faces to stroll by, many of them wearing Rock Bottom tee shirts. Along the side of the stage, Donovan set up our own tee-shirt vending “booth”, replete with black, day-glo green, and new hot pink Rock Bottom shirts!

I grabbed a beer (aluminum pint of Bud Light), grabbed my girl, and sat to relax before the show. People kept streaming in, most with Rock Bottom shirts, and most of them people I know! Wow, this is going to be interesting! A party atmosphere was brewing.
A couple members of Becca’s family arrived wearing their “Joe Dirt” mullet wigs and outfits! Hilarious! Hell, they looked like they just walked out of Eddie’s! Hard to tell it was a costume, it was that authentic!

“How did my amp sound?” I asked Becca.

“Awesome!” she said. “You guys sounded awesome!” Well, that’s what she’s supposed to say, right?

As the clock ticked down and the time drew near, I scanned the crowd once again from my side off stage. It was packed! I never imagined we’d have this many people! And so many of them were Rock Bottom faithful! I dubbed it “The Rock Bottom Nation!” It was incredible! Hmm. Almost a bit nervous! Can’t believe all these people came to see us! Got to give them a great show!

Jason played our intro through the PA, and we were off. First rate light show making us look bigger than life, concert sound pumping out our sound, mammoth stage for us to prowl on; it was pure heaven! I finally felt like a real BAND again, instead of just some bar stars in a rinky dink dump.

We obviously skipped any Crue songs (oh, how we’d like to have played one, though! But that’s just not Cricket!), we tore into the heart of our 80’s favorites, attempting to put on the strongest show we could. The dance floor crowded around before us, and everyone stared up at us in rapture! We had them all in the palm of our hands! My amp was blazing, and everything felt very comfortable, very smooth. I was able to put a lot of the nuances that I like to throw in: the chirps, the glissandos, the dive bombs. Real bombastic, over the top shit! It was glorious!

Many of the crowd that had gathered right in front of me weren’t familiar at all, but they were really digging it. They seemed really surprised to hear the kind of stuff we were playing, and it was just what the doctor had ordered. So many people love this old 80’s stuff, and frankly, I guess we don’t realize how hard it is to get anymore.

Each song we’d peel off was received with a “Hell ya!” or a “Fuckin’ A!” Heads bobbed, fists pumped, all of them screaming the words. Jesus, you’d think we wrote these fucking songs!

In what seemed like a flash, but was actually probably at least an hour, Jason chirped into our monitor mix.

“Couple more, guys.”

Wow! So soon! Hell, we want to play all night! We wrapped up with Crazy Train, which really let me step out and show off a bit. Besides the solo part that I’ve been playing for, oh, 23 years (longer than some of the crowd has been alive…), the end of the song we get to do a big “arena rock” ending, where I can jerk off, play a million miles an hour, and all that rigmarole. God, it went of great!

With the final crashes of Boozie’s cymbals, the crowd in front of me erupted. In an instant, I was whisked back to Stages, when we’d played for some huge crowds, all of them really rocking. Even reminded me of Poppa Don’s in Farmington (only there were even more people at that show!), when we tore the roof off that mother fucker on Halloween. It was that good. We’d scored!

People reached out towards me from the floor, and I was startled. Reaching up, waving, and calling out. That doesn’t happen. Of course, none of the places I play anymore are that far above the crowd. I leaned forward slapping them, giving them “five”. More hands poked from around the monitors, and I just kept slapping. It was intense. I guess it’s been a really long time since I’ve played and felt this way. Maybe 15 years or more. It was the reason I’d play, to be honest. To get people off. To let them enjoy themselves. To rock, for lack of a better word.

After the show was a circus. There was a tremendous buzz throughout Pop’s. There was little question: we’d kicked ass. Many of my friends’ faces were beaming. Not only were they having a great time, but they were proud. It was a real “hometown” feel. Like we’d all done it together.

I actually signed some autographs and drumsticks, which is always a bizarre sensation. I mean, I’ll never be rude and turn one away, because they do it out of admiration. But, what the hell you want my autograph for?

“Here’s my autograph of Eddie Van Halen, and my Ted Nugent guitar pick. Oh, and my signed drumstick by this guy who works at a hospital in Granite City.”

Good luck selling that on E-Bay!

The Crue took the stage, all four members having donned mullet wigs of their own. Three jet black wigs for “Mick, Nikki and Tommy”, and a platinum mullet for “Vince”. While I didn’t really have a problem with it, some found it a bit cheesy. Hey, that’s show business!

They tore into their set, and in all, I thought it sounded pretty good. But, the crowd was kind of skeptical. We’d won them over, that’s for sure, and when you come out to be a Crue tribute band, in St. Louis, you better damn we be the Crue! I was surprised how tough the crowd was for them.

Of course, I got several obligatory “you guys are so much better,” and “Fuck these guys, bring back Rock Bottom”. That’s kind of embarrassing. It’s not a competition! We’re just there to party, have fun, and get wild! We’re not there to be “better” than anyone. And I get embarrassed when it breaks down to that. I hope they weren’t getting that vibe. It will be hard for us to get more opening slots if we’re kicking the headliner’s ass off the stage!

Boozie approached me, commenting on the group.

“The Tommy Lee guy is really good!” Boozie said. I nodded. “I don’t know about the wigs, though…” He flashed a wry smile, a Boozie trademark.

I kicked back and reveled in the moment a bit, having pulled off a very memorable show. Accolades continued to pour in from friends, and just plain fans. It was obvious we’d made a real connection. None of that would have been possible without the great support from “The Rock Bottom Nation.” You people are wonderful. With that many people there rocking and having a great time, it was infectious, and helped us win over the crowd. As I say, we couldn’t have done it without you guys.

I stayed for the whole Crue set, and afterwards wished them well. They were very amicable. Seemed like a nice bunch of guys. We drove off to Eddie’s to catch Ivory Tiger (who’d also made it out for our set at Pop’s), relaxing in the afterglow of a wild party there at Pop’s.

I wish every show was like that one.