Sunday, August 26, 2012

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts At The Obetz Zucchini Festival (Fuck Mumford & Sons)

Here was my rock & roll weekend: Friday evening I went to see my good friend Colin Gawel of Watershed play a happy hour solo set at the Rumba CafĂ© in Columbus.  He was great, truly great, it was easily the best acoustic set I’ve ever seen him do.  Solo versions of songs from Brick & Mortar (the latest Watershed record), some old favorites and a brace of brand new songs he debuted that night.  Quality stuff. 

Then Saturday evening I traveled to the Obetz Zucchini Festival to see Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.  Yeah, that’s right, Joan Jett of The Runaways has been reduced to playing the county fair circuit, and you know what?  She and the band rocked, Jack.  And fuck Mumford & Sons, there were easily 5000 people packed into an Obetz Community Center baseball field to see Joan and the boys.  And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Mumford & Sons drew 10,000 paying customers to the LC parking lot a couple of weeks ago, but let’s see the Mumford guys draw a crowd of 5000 in 2043, 30 years after whatever their last hit is gonna be.  By my computation that's gonna be about a year from now when their hipster indie street cred is runs out.  Not gonna happen, my friend, not gonna happen – Mumford & Sons will be bald somewhere in their English mansions in 2043, wearing smoking jackets, boring their latest trophy wives about how big “Little Lion Man” was in the second decade of the 21stth century.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, however, came blasting out of the gate with “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb,” released respectively in 1981 and 1976.  They continued blasting through “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” and delivered a tasty cross-section of newer tunes including one where Ms. Jett had to turn her mic sideways to face the drummer to get the timing at the end of the song right, that’s how new the tune is.  “I Love Rock & Roll” came just after midset rather than the requisite closing tune like, say, an oldies act like The Who would do.  (And it didn’t devolve into a Foghat-like 18-minute singalong extravaganza.  Joan and the band kept it lean, mean and tight, pal.)

Oh, and a few words about that 5000-strong audience: These were just regular people, a working-class crowd of Obetz mom & dads, along with their kids (from 5 year olds to 15 year olds), plus a weird smattering of hippies, bikers, and the kid right behind me with a nose-ring and a homemade Black Flag vest who couldn’t be more than 20.  Plus some little girls with short shorts and their hair dyed three or four shades of purple & blue who should form the 21st century version of The Runaways.  (Also the requisite contingents of 40-ish frowzy divorcees dressed up for a Girls Night Out at the local zucchini fest.  And more power to ‘em.) 

The former Joan Marie Larkin looked great, by the way, her hair long and dyed Jett-black again after her early-2000’s flirtation with the buzz-cut grey look.  The Blackhearts were also killer; tattoos and guitars slung down around their knees apparently being a prerequisite to getting into the band.  And playing maracas, tambourine & keyboards, plus throwing in great vocal harmonies, was Joan’s producer, mentor and the man who delivered Jett’s career salvation, Kenny Laguna, who now becomes the rock & roll performer I have witnessed the most years apart: I saw him with Tommy James & The Shondells in the 1960’s, down-the-bill at a Turtles show at Vet’s Memorial and now with Joan Jett in 2012.  (Previous record-holder: Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, first glimpsed by me, love at first sight, June 13th, 1970, and most recently last year at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.)  (Plus I’ve seen Ian Hunter a bunch of times in between those dates.  I’ve only witnessed Kenny Laguna these two times.)

Joan and the band finished strong with “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and the encores included The Sweet’s 1974 shoulda-been-a-hit lesbian anthem “AC/DC” from Desolation Boulevard, a song tailor-made for Joan Jett, that I bet warmed the cockles of the little 14 year old Joan Marie Larkin’s heart, if you get my drift.  And who was ever better at interpreting and enlivening this kind of 70’s glam-rock than Joan Jett?  It’s been oft-stated in this blog that the 1980’s were the WORST decade of rock & roll I’ve lived through.  Joan Jett helped make those desert days tolerable with her hits.

Biggest problems with the set: Where was Jett’s version of the Mary Tyler Moore show’s theme song “Love Is All Around” (by Sonny Curtis of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, no less) and the last encore should ABSOLUTELY have been Bruce Springsteen’s “Light Of Day” from that movie Jett co-starred in with Michael J. Fox.  (Not-so-great movie, but still leagues better than that Runaways debacle of 2010.)    

A couple of years ago my good friend Kyle (a man about whom no less an authority than Hamell On Trial has declared, “Kyle knows a fuckload of shit about rock & roll.”) and I had to stand and bear mute witness to a reformed Blue Oyster Cult looking like insurance salesmen and sleepwalking through a set of hopelessly lifeless versions of the band’s 70’s and 80’s tunes.  Joan Jett & The Blackhearts made that assemblage and just about every other “oldies” act (which unfortunately now encompasses anyone from the 1950’s to the 1990’s) look silly.

Thank you, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, for bringing the rock & roll to the Obetz Zucchini Festival.

© 2012 Ricki C.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The First Time I Saw The Stooges

I guess it had to be the autumn of 1969.  My online research tells me that The Stooges first album was released in August of 1969, so it had to be an autumn morning when my best friend, bandmate and overall musical mentor, Dave Blackburn (see Dave Blackburn blog, February 2012) met me at the doorway of Bishop Ready High School and told me, “The Stooges are playing Otterbein College in Westerville this Friday night.  We’ve gotta go.”  “Yeah, we do,” I said, then added cluelessly, “Where’s Westerville?  Will we have to stay overnight?”  “It’s Westerville, stupid, not Cleveland,” Dave said in the exasperated tone he so often found it necessary to employ in conversations with me.

That exchange points to a couple of the small-town aspects of growing up on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio.  The fact that I was 17 years old in autumn of 1969 and didn’t know where Westerville was (which, for the uniniated, is a northern suburb of Columbus, maybe 10 miles from the West Side) kinda illustrates the constraints of my travel and, perhaps, of my imagination.  Secondly, Cleveland (which is only 150 miles from Columbus) WAS considered an overnight destination, probably because no one in our little circle of rock & roll friends had a car that could travel more than 150 miles without breaking down and needing an overnight rest.

Dave and I had first heard The Stooges on, of all places, WOSU, the classical music station broadcasting from Ohio State University.  WOSU had instituted a Sunday afternoon “progressive rock hour” program earlier in the year wherein they would play two newly released records in their entirety, then the insufferably snobbish host would offer his oh-so-erudite comments on said records.  (It was kinda like CD-102.5’s Invisible Hits Hour if they only played two records a week, which sometimes, in fact most times, I wish they would.)  The week The Stooges were played they were paired with a Randy Newman album.  You can imagine the bloodbath that ensued when Mr. Grad Student In Music Theory Host praised Newman to the skies for his sharp, literate songwriting and wry sense of humor while deriding The Stooges for their puerile attempts at lyric-writing and pathetic guitar skills.  For Dave and me, of course, it was love at first listen.  (There’s a very (in)famous review of the first Stooges record where the reviewer says something like, “This album is loud, crude, tasteless, senseless, and infantile.  I kinda like it.”  If I had a better command of the internet I could probably find it to quote precisely, but the point is, that was Dave’s and my exact reaction to The Stooges.  Like almost every food product I now consume and cherish, we knew The Stooges couldn’t be any good for us, but damn were they tasty.)

Friday night arrived and we drove to Westerville in Dave’s mom’s car.  The gig was in a gym at Otterbein.  It was a junior/senior mixer but nobody paid much attention to the fact that we were obviously too young to be there.  There were maybe 200 kids there, the very large majority rather proper Otterbein college students, and a sprinkling of adult faculty chaperones.  (Otterbein was, and is, a pretty swanky school.)  The opening band was okay, some hippie conglomeration that the audience grooved to in a righteously mellow manner.  When The Stooges walked onstage, though, you could feel the entire vibe of the room shift.  The band moved like gunslingers.  They strapped on their guitars like they were six-guns, and just like townspeople in the Old West the Otterbein audience could sense that mayhem was imminent.  From Ron Asheton’s first Marshall-amplified Fender Strat chord the band was fucking DEAFENING.  You could almost FEEL the air move around you when Dave Alexander and Scott Asheton kicked in the bass & drums.  And when Iggy started to dance and spit out the lyrics to “1969” the crowd KNEW they were in for a long night, or a scary ride, or both. 

By the end of the second song there were 180 people at the extreme other end of the gym and maybe 20 of us left up front, leaning on the edge of the stage, staring up at the spectacle in front of us.  (And I swear a couple of those 20 looked like AWOL draftee servicemen.)  Iggy made a couple of half-hearted attempts to engage the frightened college students and faculty chaperones cowering at the back of the gym, leaping over the heads of those of us at the front, but the mike cord wasn’t anywhere near long enough for him to reach them.  I don’t remember how long they played, I don’t remember any specific songs other than “1969,”  “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “No Fun.”  I know at least two songs lasted more than 15 minutes, with Iggy dancing and occasionally moaning out improvised lyrics, Ron sawing out wah-wah guitar leads and Dave & Scott anchoring the blitzkrieg, serving as gravity, holding everything down to earth.  Man, do I miss rampant displays of raw power like that these days.  (And Raw Power was still one James Williamson and four years away.) 

The following video is the best example I have for you of what Dave Blackburn and I witnessed that night in Westerville.  It was shot at The Cincinnati Pop Festival, June 13th, 1970, exactly one week after I graduated from high school, and chronicles five minutes of The Stooges’ set at that festival.  The Cincinnati Pop Festival probably deserves a blog entry of its own: In addition to The Second Time I Saw The Stooges, it was the first time I saw Mott The Hoople and also featured Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Ten Years After, Traffic, Alice Cooper (the original band when they were living in Detroit and still ROCKED) plus little-remembered but great down-the-bill bands like The Damnation Of Adam Blessing, SRC and The Mighty Quick.  (Also down the bill was The Bob Seger System before Seger got all dewy-eyed and Van Morrison-ized.)   

Some pertinent facts about this video:  The charmingly clueless commentary by, if I remember correctly, a guy named Jack Lescoulie, who was either a sportscaster or talk-show host in Cincinnati, is priceless in its, “What the FUCK is going on here?” naivetĂ©.  Epic quote; “Since we broke away for our message Iggy has been in the crowd and out again three different times.  They seem to be enjoying it and so does he.”  I can guarantee you, the audience was NOT enjoying it.  It was hotter than hell that June evening and NOBODY wanted Iggy splattering peanut butter all over them.  (And how precious is that bespectacled arty little hippie girl sketching Iggy at the 1:39 mark?  How very 1960’s.  I knew and dated those girls.)  (Also precious; the girl who asks Iggy, "Are you all right?" at the 3:25 mark.)

Plus let me try to put some of this in context: The Stooges weren’t big in 1970.  They were just another down-the-bill act like Brownsville Station (whom Dave and I also worshipped), Savage Grace or Bloodrock .  And there was no punk-rock club circuit for them to play on like there was later for The Clash or The Sex Pistols.  They had to slug it out for gigs, competing with the likes of Uriah Heep, Foghat or the Edgar Winter Group for their slice of the rock & roll pie.  I consider it a small miracle this video still exists and I thank my rock & roll God that it does.

© 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

This post is maybe six weeks or so late.  It was supposed to come right after Watershed, The View From The Side Of The Stage pt. 1, but stuff happens, ya know?  Anyway, re-read that post and then come back to this one.  Also, if you haven't already, go out and buy Hitless Wonder, Joe Oestreich's history of the band, and Brick & Mortar, Watershed's new CD.  You won't be sorry, I promise ya. 

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

Olympic Closing Ceremony 2012 - Music Division

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

I Was Pissing Next To Johnny Thunders

  "In 1979 I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan
      I was pissing next to Johnny Thunders
      He was fucked on smack, I thought of the words of Jim Carroll
      I was filled with empty wonder."

    from "Thinkin' Of Going On The Road Again" - © 2001 Ricki C.

In 1979 I was working in the warehouse at Service Merchandise.  Payday was Friday, I didn't work weekends, so by 5:05 pm my thoughts had generally turned to rock & roll.  If nothing was going on in Columbus, those thoughts often turned to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I had idolized Detroit bands since 1969 - The MC5 and The Stooges, in particular - and Sonic's Rendezvous Band (containing not only Fred "Sonic" Smith of The MC5 and Scott Asheton of The Stooges, but also Scott Morgan of The Rationals and Gary Rasmussen from The Up!) played a bar called The Second Chance in Ann Arbor all the time all through 1979.  Ann Arbor was only a three-hour drive, so a lotta Fridays I pointed the car north and my buddies and I would make the drive to Michigan.  (I mention this partly because I sometimes now find it difficult to make it to The Rumba Cafe or The Tree Bar for shows I want to see and those bars must be upwards of six to ten miles from my home.)

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

Musical Epiphanies part one - Rosie, Richard & Linda Thompson and 1983

Musical Epiphanies will be a new feature in the re-launch of Growing Old With Rock & Roll.  They will recount Ricki C. rock & roll moments that changed the course of my musical history, the emphasis being on moments.  Not conclusions that I came to gradually (The Eagles suck really badly, I wish Pete Townshend had died before he got old, I hate all music recorded after 1979, etc.), but moments that crystallized an entire change of attitude or direction in my rock & roll history.

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 a personal 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 "Kicks" 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

The Friday Night Massacre: The League Bowlers Roll A Gutterball and Break Up Onstage

Hi folks.  Today marks the official re-launch of the Growing Old With Rock & Roll blog.  I took a month off to recover from the Watershed Hitless Wonder/Brick & Mortar tour, but wanted to get this blog online today, August 1st, 2012, because today is the fourth anniversary of the (onstage) breakup of The League Bowlers.  The League Bowlers were Colin Gawel of Watershed’s side project that largely played covers and roughly ten originals that either never made it into Watershed’s set or had been dropped from their repertoire. 

I serve at Watershed’s (and more particularly at Michael “Biggie” McDermott’s) discretion as a roadie, specializing in wrangling guitars and selling merch.  And, since Biggie seemed to have less than no interest in the job, I was drafted into the latter-day incarnation of The League Bowlers as “road manager.”  (I put quotes around “road manager” as we never actually went on the road and I think the band played maybe two out-of-town shows during my tenure.)  The band’s Some Balls CD has just been released on I-Tunes (see for details) so I thought I’d put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, for my account of the last night of the League Bowlers’ existence.  – Ricki C. 8/1/2012

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.

Hey, jump-cut to - almost - August 1st, 2017: I just ran across this video of the Bowlers from that infamous night of August 1st, 2008.  Apparently it's been kicking around on YouTube SINCE THE DAY AFTER THE SHOW, and I've never seen it before.  (note: it's been widely & easily available on the InterWideWeb for NINE YEARS and still has only 192 views, so what does that tell us?  This is one well-kept video secret, boys & girls.)  Anyway, it catches the end of the Colin tirade about the operations of The Thirsty Ear, so I thought: Why not immortalize it here?....... - Ricki C. / July 28th, 2017.