Sunday, August 26, 2012
Friday, August 24, 2012
© 2012 Ricki C.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Watershed, The View From The Side Of The Stage, pt. 2; Fifth Of July and Ricki C. Joins The Road Crew
Plus, special thanks to Michael "Biggie" McDermott - road manager extraordinaire and the hero of Hitless Wonder - for giving me the laptop I've been cranking out these blog posts on. Without him, Growing Old With Rock & Roll would still be on hiatus. Thanks Mike.
February 5th, 2005 - Watershed opened a new Columbus venue, The Basement, for their The Fifth Of July CD release party. The place was packed and Watershed was fucking ON FIRE! First and foremost they played THREE set-starters non-stop to open the show - "Obvious", from the new record, "Suckerpunch" and "Star Vehicle." It seems a fairly obvious ploy now (on the latest Hitless Wonder/Brick & Mortar tour the band opened with seven songs non-stop before saying "good evening" to the audience) but Jesus was it a great way to open a show.
And after an opening that was truly and almost literally breathtaking they just kept getting better. Watershed already had at least three solid releases behind them and with the infusion of killer new material from The Fifth Of July, all of a sudden they had a live repertoire with no weak spots whatsoever. I buttonholed Colin after the show and blathered on like a 12-year old girl about how great the show was. "You think so?" he said, genuinely perplexed, "Yeah, I guess we played okay." And it wasn't false modesty, it was just the workaday, professional attitude Watershed takes towards its rock & roll that sets them apart from so many other Columbus (or anywhere else these days, for that matter) bands. Watershed REHEARSES their songs, they PLAN their sets, they THINK about their audience and take into consideration WHAT CONSTITUTES A SHOW. And then they DELIVER said show. What a concept.
A coupla weeks later I was working my day job at Ace In The Hole Music when Colin stopped in. I'd been serving as road manager for Hamell On Trial (see Hamell On Trial blog, January 2012) since 2001 and Colin asked if I'd be interested in selling merch at one of their shows that was coming up. "Absolutely," I said, surprised at the offer, as Watershed was pretty much a closed shop as I saw it. The band had been Colin, Joe and Biggie from the very beginning, with present drummer Dave Masica replacing Herb Schupp at the end of the 90's. And Rob Braithwaite had been Biggie's right-hand man on the road crew for ages. I felt honored even to be asked into such exclusive company. (When I made some mention of this to Biggie months later on a southern tour he deflated my delusions of grandeur with, "Yeah, Colin has a list of people he figures he can get to do things for him. You must have been next on the list.")
The show Colin was referring to was at a bar called Flanagan's in Dublin, Ohio, a ritzy Columbus suburb. Flanagan's was more suited to singles' pickups and volleyball than to rock & roll, but occasionally dropped their cover band policy for real music. The place was fairly packed with a novel mix of longtime Watershed fans along with a bunch of drunken young people who had never seen the band before. The Fifth Of July was still brand new, I had a good stock of the older CD's in place and I wound up doing $435 in merch that night.
When Flanagan's cleared out after the show and I decided there was no more merch money to be made I wandered back to where Biggie was packing up gear. "How'd we do on merch?" Biggie asked over his shoulder as he put Colin's guitar away. "Four hundred and thirty five dollars," I replied, as I counted once more to make sure. Biggie spun around, "Four hundred and thirty five?" he said, wide-eyed. "Yeah, is that okay?" I nervously asked. I had routinely done that much in merch on the road with Hamell, and some of those shows were in theater-sized venues opening for Ani DiFranco, but I still thought $435 was pretty good for a weeknight with Watershed in a Dublin sports bar. "Uh, yeah, it's fine," Biggie demured, regaining his composure. Months later, after I had solidified my position with the band, Biggie told me it was the biggest night of merch the band had done to that time.
My first out-of-town show with Watershed was Dayton, Ohio, which barely counts as it's less than 90 minutes from Columbus. Then Colin called me up and asked if I wanted to do a weekend in Marquette, Michigan, with the band. I said, "Sure," and later that night I went to my road atlas to look up Marquette. I'd been going to shows in Michigan since the 70's (see Pissing With Johnny Thunders blog, August 2012), I knew Ann Arbor and Detroit like the back of my hand. Plus I had played Saginaw, Lansing and a coupla other Michigan cities with Hamell. I thought Marquette must be somewhere around those but when I checked the atlas it gave me a location that I thought couldn't possibly have been right. Coordinates B-6 was NORTH of fucking Toronto, Canada, and on a line with Montreal. When my lovely wife Debbie mapquested the trip it was 13 to 15 hours driving time from Columbus. You can be in Tenafly, New Jersey, Debbie's hometown, right across the Hudson River from New York City in nine hours. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was mind-boggling. How could someplace, anyplace in Michigan be further away from Columbus than the Atlantic Ocean?
We went to Marquette April 8th & 9th, 2005. Lake Erie was still completely frozen over. That's how cold it stays in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The van broke down somewhere just north of Ann Arbor on our return trip. In fact, the first three times I left Ohio with Watershed the van broke down, stranding us in some cheap little motel within walking distance of wherever the van got towed. The third time – June 2005 in Valdosta, Georgia – Colin looked at me and said, “You’re not coming out with us anymore, are you?” "I don't know, Colin, I just don't know," I said, shaking my head as I surveyed the spreading puddle of brake fluid underneath the van.
I'm still here with the band in 2012.
Soon to come – Watershed, pt. 3; My Ten Most Memorable Moments As A Watershed Roadie
© 2012 Ricki C.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Pretty lackluster, and the closing segment is The Who limping through yet another medley of "See Me, Feel Me" and "My Generation." They could at least have smashed up the gear during the fireworks. The first word is "whore" is Who. (By the way, Pete & Roger got out-Who'ed earlier in the night by The Kaiser Chiefs powering through "Pinball Wizard" in a most Mod manner.)
Oh, and NBC couldn't be bothered to televise "Waterloo Sunset" as sung by Ray Davies, genius leader of The Kinks, that most British of all rock & roll bands. Pretty much in keeping with the network's clueless rendering of the rest of the Olympics.
© 2012 Ricki C.
Friday, August 10, 2012
© 2001 Ricki C.
One Friday night I was in the bathroom at The Second Chance and a guy stumbled up to the urinal next to me. He had to lean on the wall just to stay upright. The guy was a few inches shorter than me but with his hair teased way up high we were about the same height. I glanced over at him as he hacked up a lung while he was pissing and thought he looked familiar but I couldn't quit place him. Judging by the hair, I thought it might be somebody from either a Columbus or Ann Arbor band.
I made it back out to where my friends were standing. They were digging Fred Smith blazing through a guitar solo and when the guy teetered out of the bathroom I said to them, "Hey, look at this guy, do we know him?" "Jesus, Ricki, that's Johnny Thunders from the Dolls," my bass player said, "How fucked up IS he?" "Pretty fucked up," was my dejected reply.
For the next hour or so I watched as Thunders lurched around the bar, hitting up people for drinks or cash. I later learned he was in town forming a band (which later became Gang War) with Wayne Kramer, also late of The MC5 and also a junkie. I just couldn't get over that this was the same guy I saw live and on TV just five years earlier, cutting great wide swaths of rock & roll guitar noise next to David Johansen in The New York Dolls. My brush with Johansen was still a little ways off (see Exchanging Pleasantries With David Johansen blog, February 2012) but David was an erudite, hilarious gentleman next to the shambling wreck that was Johnny Thunders that night.
I've never really understood the concept of heroin addiction. I think I might be too simpleminded for it. My family always had cats when I was growing up. And since I grew up in the 1960's before spaying and neutering were a big deal, there were always kittens around. One day in 1971, when I was still living in my mother's house, before my ex-wife Pat and I were married, we were in my mom's basement watching the latest litter of kittens playing. It was just starting to sink in to me that almost all of the musicians I admired were fucked up the large majority of the time. I was a very naive young man. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin had already left this mortal coil and I was still very much in the dark. As Pat and I laughed at those kittens rolling around the basement, leaping ferociously on each other in the most innocent version of combat I could possibly conceive of, I said to her, "I don't see how anybody can be addicted to heroin when they could be watching this."
I still can't. I guess that's one reason I've been allowed to grow old with rock & roll.
© 2012 Ricki C.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
The choice of this story for part one is entirely arbitrary; by no means was Rosie and Richard & Linda Thompson either my first or a particularly lifechanging musical epiphany, but it popped into my head yesterday after I drove past Alrosa Villa, so I'm writing it down.
I didn't always have good taste in rock & roll.
Mostly I've been right about on the money: I knew almost from the beginning that the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album by The Beatles was an overproduced, pretentious slice of vinyl that was going to forever kill off the three-minute blasts of garage-rock nonsense that I SO dearly loved. (i.e. I'll take The Bob Seger System's "2+2=?" over "Within You Without You" any day of any week. And Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play" bw "Scarecrow" single is better than Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall COMBINED.)
But really, if you stay in rock & roll long enough, revisionist history is bound to kick in and make it look like you've always had good taste. I know for a fact I didn't like The Velvet Underground at the beginning when my high-school best friend & musical taste mentor Dave Blackburn tried to turn me on to them. I found them dark, frightening & icky and thus declined to see them at the (now legendary and soon to be reproduced as part of The Velvet Underground & Nico box set) Valley Dale Ballroom show in 1966. I fully admit it; The Velvet Underground SCARED me back in the day. I was physically afraid of them and of New York City. (Of course it probably didn't help that I read Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit To Brooklyn right around that time. I'm afraid of New York City TO THIS DAY from reading that book.) The Lovin' Spoonful was much more my speed as New York City bands went in that era. But now, here in 2012 I've loved the Velvets for so long it seems I always have.
I further admit that I fully championed such hippie ephemera as Pearls Before Swine. And at entirely the other end of the spectrum from Earth Opera and Hedge & Donna I also later loved Starz and other truly heinous hard-rock/candy metal bands of their ilk. (I sometimes think that was my over-reaction to the punk revolution devolving SO QUICKLY from The Patti Smith Group, The Ramones and The Clash to Joy Division, Black Flag and all those jag-off New York City art bands like Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. I was, after all, a West Side boy, born & bred, and I dearly LOVED me some Aerosmith.)
(Ricki, focus, the blog today is Rosie, Richard & Linda Thompson and 1983.)
Okay, okay, okay. So by 1983 I'd already lived through The British Invasion, Garage Bands, Psychedelia, Country-Rock, Heavy Metal, the Singer/Songwriter boom, Prog-Rock, Corporate-Rock, Punk & New Wave and had been deposited on the shores of bad English Synth-Pop. I had been either a performer or roadie in rock & roll since I was 16 in 1968. I hadn't stayed home on a Friday or Saturday night, I firmly believe, in all of those years. (Except possibly for a few weekends from 1974 to 1978 when I was married, before rock & roll ultimately ended that union.)
One of the places I spent a lot of those Friday or Saturday nights was a bar on Sinclair Road in Columbus called the Alrosa Villa. (National rock fans will know of it as the place Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and Damageplan was shot to death onstage in 2004.) The Alrosa had been a quiet Italian restaurant before starting to book rock bands on weekend nights in 1979 for some extra cash. I was there the very first Friday night to see Black Leather Touch, one of my favorite Columbus bands ever. If you ask any Columbus, Ohio, music tastemakers like Curt Schieber, Ron House, or anybody else who ever got drunk at Larry's on campus, they will tell you that Black Leather Touch were West Side trash and an affront to music in general. I would endeavor to remind those individuals that The West Side Is The Best Side and that BLT rocked like motherfuckers. (Plus they were funny to boot, kinda like The Dictators.) Someday in this blog I will rerun a review I wrote in a local Columbus music rag called Focus about Black Leather Touch blowing an enormously questionable edition of Steppenwolf (whose line-up did not include John Kay) off the stage at a place called Cafe Rock & Roll in 1978. (By the way, BLT bass player Jerry Blinn's daughter Erica Blinn is currently tearing up stages all over the eastern third of the nation with her own brand of "whiskey rock from the rust belt." You should go see her when she plays in your town.)
(Congratulations, Ricki, you've reached 767 words without yet getting to the point of the blog, I believe that's an Olympic record.)
Alright, alright, so by 1982 after my divorce was final I had moved to an apartment on the North Side of Columbus: partly to heal up, partly for a change of scenery, partly just to escape some of the more glaring "I was born in a small town / And I live in a small town / Prob'ly die in a small town" aspects of the West Side. I had quit drinking in 1980 but I was still smoking pot and because it was such a short drive away I found myself at Alrosa Villa way more often than I used to and way more often than I cared to admit, even to myself. The campus bars just seemed SO FAR AWAY all of a sudden and there weren't that many campus bands I wanted to see.
The kings of the Alrosa scene at that point was a band called Rosie. Rosie had been formed by guitarist Mark Chatfield of The Godz, Columbus' golden boys of mid-70's metal. (Think The MC5 with quaaludes, firearms & raunchy biker sex replacing acid, politics and free love - that was The Godz.) Rosie really weren't bad, they had one really good song called "Sorry, I Forgot Your Name." (Check YouTube, it's probably on there, along with every other song in the universe.) They also essayed a heavy-metal cover of "Hungry" by Paul Revere & The Raiders, the 1960's rock band that dressed like Revolutionary War soldiers, and I LOVE Paul Revere & The Raiders to this day. Rosie also had the distinction in Columbus of playing EXACTLY THE SAME SET FOR THREE YEARS IN A ROW at one point.
At that same time I had started listening to people like Richard & Linda Thompson, Billy Bragg and T. Bone Burnett. I had also started dusting off old acoustic favorites like Townes Van Zandt and Ian Matthews, artists I thought had been forever left behind and rendered irrevelant by the Year Zero onslaught of punk-rock back in 1977. So one Friday night I was supposed to meet a bunch of my rocker friends at Alrosa Villa and I was smoking a joint in my car at the UPS warehouse across the street from the club. (You had to be crazy or WANT your car to be broken into if you actually parked in the Alrosa parking lot.). I was listening to a cassette I had made of Richard & Linda Thompson's 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights, and a thought came very clearly into my head: "What the FUCK are you doing, going into that lunkhead metal bar to watch Rosie play the same set they've been playing for YEARS with a bunch of stoned, drunk assholes you don't even like anymore?"
I put out the joint, started the car, drove carefully home, put Richard & Linda Thompson on the turntable and fired the joint back up. I'm not saying there were no more Friday and Saturday nights out in bars to see the rock & roll after that night. (I believe at least a couple of ex-girlfriends of mine would attest to that.) But I am saying this: In my second 30 years on the planet there's been a lot more nights at home with quality rock & roll on the stereo than there has been lame live bands in bars.
© 2012 Ricki C.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
As I saw it, in my view from the side of the stage, The League Bowlers were never a band that was built to last: First because the band was largely a lark for leader Colin Gawel when Watershed was not recording or touring and secondly because the band was built on a generational fault line. When the last lineup of The League Bowlers – Colin on lead vocals & second lead guitar, Mike Parks on primary lead guitar, Dan Cochran on bass, and Jim Johnson on drums – solidified there was a marked rock & roll age schism. Colin and Dan were still in their 30’s and had largely come out of an existence in former major label bands (Watershed, Big Back 40) that played shows rather than gigs. Mike and Jim were in their 50’s and had come up (as had I) in those long-lost rock & roll dark ages when bands routinely played three 45-minute sets per night in clubs full of drunks. Throw in Colin’s general lack of interest in actually rehearsing any of the songs they played and it was essentially a recipe for disaster. But given all of that even I never imagined the band would break up onstage.
Nevertheless there we were at the now-defunct Thirsty Ear on Friday, August 1st, 2008. Sometime close to 8 pm the band started the first set late (has a Colin Gawel-led band EVER started a set on time?) to a typically lifeless early evening after-work drinking crowd. After about a half-hour, 35 minutes tops, Colin called a close to the first set, figuring to save the musical good stuff for later in the evening when there would be a bigger (and potentially, hopefully, more receptive) crowd. Colin wandered over to Guitar World where I was tuning guitars for the second set and we were shooting the shit about baseball or something when the club owner came over and started berating Colin about the length of the first set, professionalism, and how Colin had to get his ass back on the stage, NOW.
I was stunned, Colin was stunned. At first we thought club owner guy was kidding, then we realized he was deadly serious and we just looked at each other, silently thinking that we had never run into that kind of behavior at the Thirsty Ear EVER. And the guy just kept it up; getting right in Colin’s face, bitching at him like he was 12 years old playing his first gig in somebody's basement rec room. In an attempt to lighten the mood I interjected with, “We’ve been to high-school, Mr. Teacher, we know how to run a rock show, we’ll try to do better,” but that just pissed the guy off more, sent him into a further tirade. Colin finally said, “There’s nobody here, nobody is listening, do you want me to go back onstage right now and play to no one?” The guy replied that we were supposed to play three 45 minute sets, that he wanted three 45 minute sets and he wanted them RIGHT THEN.
The band shakily reassembled onstage, club owner guy was waiting at the side to make announcements about future gigs & such, but Colin completely ignored his presence and launched into the first song of the second set. Club owner guy was pissed but finally just had to slink away when it became painfully obvious Colin was not going to relinquish the stage to him. About three songs into the set Colin took the mike and launched into a rambling speech about how “The League Bowlers are not really a bar band, we’re not a punch-the-clock, three sets a night kinda band and that’s how The Thirsty Ear operates, so this is the last time we’ll be playing the club.” There was a general murmur of discontent behind Colin about this unilateral onstage resignation, glances shot back and forth between Mike and Jim. This was no longer a happy rock & roll band. In fact, as time went on, the set devolved into a full scale musical battle between the Colin & Dan and Mike & Jim factions within the band.
Tensions were running so obviously high onstage that my wife Debbie walked over to where I was hunkered down in my little guitar bunker at the side of the stage and said, wide-eyed, “Are they going to break up ONSTAGE?” I replied, “Oh yeah, they are, right now it’s just a matter of when.” “Do you think they’ll finish out the night?” she asked. “I can’t tell," I said, "They’re all pros so they might get three sets in, but this band is DONE.” Through the whole conversation neither of us took our eyes off the stage so we wouldn't miss a minute of the drama. It was like witnessing a bad car wreck: you didn't really want to watch but you also really couldn't look away.
After the second set lurched to a close (nowhere near 45 minutes after it started, by the way) the entire band decamped to the benches outside the Thirsty Ear and just SCREAMED at each other for about twenty minutes. I (and everybody else in the bar) could see and hear them through the big plate glass windows from inside the club as I dutifully tuned the guitars that Colin and Mike had all but thrown at me as they came offstage. I wasn’t going to get involved but figured it was too good to miss out on, so I eventually wandered outside. Sure enough, every little thing that had ever gone wrong in the band – every perceived slight, every missed practice, every time somebody was too drunk to play competently, every pay dispute, every missed opportunity – got trotted out and rehashed. I’ve had long-term romantic relationship break-ups that weren’t as brutal as that August summer night.
After that bloodletting the band actually went back onstage and played the requisite third set. It was kinda heartening, kinda unbelievable and, for all that had transpired, they really didn’t play badly. It was certainly spirited. I think the last song they played that night was Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (though I can’t swear to that). During the rave-up ending to the tune Mike Parks took off his official League Bowlers shirt (which he never liked wearing anyway), dropped it on the stage, and pointedly stepped on it before walking off. (In a neat bit of revisionist history Mike has conveniently forgotten that incident and now maintains it never happened. Mike, I have witnesses. Easily a hundred witnesses.)
That was all four years ago tonight. I’ve gone on to road-manage Colin’s new spin-off band, Colin Gawel & The Lonely Bones, and still roadie for Watershed. Do I ever miss The League Bowlers? Yeah, I do. There was something about watching Colin and Mike lean into the intro of The Georgia Satellites’ classic “Battleship Chains,” right before Dan and Jim would swoop in to anchor those guitars pounding that riff that was rock & roll prime. And nobody has ever played “Pretty In A Slutty Way” better than The League Bowlers.
© 2012 Ricki C.