So we’ve made some at least tentative progress at making this channel about more than just written content. If you missed our first podcast episode about cheapo recording rigs, you can still check it out here.
We were looking for ideas for Episode 2 and started chatting about doing something talking about the albums that kind of shaped us when we were in our first bands. When we settled on the idea, I started putting together a list of records. I think the original idea was to do two albums each which very quickly morphed into five as none of us could limit it to just two. I spent really just minutes thinking about that first band and the records we were listening to and, especially, the songs from said albums that ended up on those earliest set lists.
I had my list and was ready to go. Except for one thing. The morning of the day when we recorded the segment I had a sudden memory. I had done this whole exercise based on my first *working* band. And that meant working as in getting paid. but that wasn’t my first band. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered that there had been not just one but two bands that preceded that first one where I first got paid.
Which is really bad considering that I had written a little about the first band not all that long ago.
I was probably about 12, maybe 13. Back then, in my family, summer school was not optional or a punishment for doing poorly in school. It was straight-up child care. My parents both worked and summer school meant the five us us kids had someplace to go that was, at least theoretically, supervised. A family friend had gifted me a cheap nylon-string guitar and I took a beginning guitar class at Earnest Lawrence Junior High School in Chatsworth, CA.
While I had taken a trumpet class during the regular school year, I did pretty poorly. The biggest issue was that I just memorized all of the pieces we played. I mean, I had to read enough music to get it at first but then I stopped reading and played by memory which is not allowed outside of rock band circles. That guitar class was taught by the choir director, Mrs. Heckler and was my intro to that “side” of the music department. I ended up spending most of my time there including playing parts ranging from tiny to “star” in productions of Lil Abner, The King and I, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Amal and the Night Visitors. All that is something that few people know and totally a Story For Another Day.
I really don’t remember exactly how it happened, but a couple of years later when I was probably 14, me and three friends ended up playing music. And, again, the memory fails me, I don’t remember if we did it for the weirdest first gig ever or if the gig came along after we started playing.
The summer of ’74 was rough for my family. My younger brother, Brad, had contracted leukemia a little over a year before that. I remember the doctors gave him two weeks to six months. He made it 15 months and died on the last day of that school year. Back then, there was an organization that helped a lot financially called the Crippled Children’s Society of Southern California. The group is still around though the name was changed a long time ago and it is currently known as AbilityFirst. We had no medical insurance and I remember my parents saying they had gone through $15K in those 15 months. Using a handy dandy inflation calculator, I get the news that is close to $90K in current dollars. For an auto mechanic and a nurse with a “blended” family of five kids, that was real money.
A couple of months after Brad died, the local elementary school hosted a carnival event as a fundraiser for that group and that event was the first time I played in a band in front of other people. I touched on this before, but for those just catching up, the cool older kid from up the block—Chris Fogg—was not only a drummer, but he also had a real electric guitar and amp. And a vocal mic. Cheap pieces of crap, but real. I still had that first nylon-string guitar and we took the the mic for his dad’s Teac reel-to-reel tape machine, stuck it inside the body of the guitar and used the tape machine as the amp. Our friend Roger, from who I had taken a couple of guitar lessons before that class, got to play the electric guitar. We had no bass, but my friend Adam Alterman from the next street over played trombone and we figured that counted as low end. And we recruited our friend Mike Tweedy who was the only one not too terrified to even talk to a girl to be the singer.
Chris died in a motorcycle accident maybe two years later and I hear that Mike’s demons got the best of him a few years ago and he finally died after spending years on the street. No idea what happened to Adam or Roger. I also don’t remember for sure what songs we played. I do remember being a fan of the Guess Who and BTO II had come out that year and I know we all thought that “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Let It Ride” were totally bitchin so we probably tried those.
The next school year, things really started to change. I’ve said in the past that I was “raised Mormon” but that is really the less-complicated version. When I was born, my parents were both members of the church but they divorced when I was four or five and we stopped attending church. But losing a child is traumatic and it caused my mother to go back and take us with her. And that resulted in a whole new group of friends.
I met a guy named Ryan McKinnon at church and Ryan came from a musical family (I took a couple of vocal lessons from his mom) and played bass. And Ryan knew a guy from the JV basketball team named Glen Potts who played drums. So my second band was a power trio.
I should note that some time after Chris was killed, his parents gave me that electric guitar and amp. There was no way my parents were gonna spring for something like that, so I owe the Fogg family a debt of gratitude. I think I kept that amp for a while but I sold the guitar and used my paper route money to buy something better. No idea where I found it, but I do remember the first “good” guitar was a Vox Bulldog.
I remember that Ryan got one of those huge old “tuck and roll” Acoustic bass amps and we rehearsed in his backyard or the garage. But I remembered little more about that group. Until Facebook…
Ryan and I reconnected maybe 6 or 7 years ago and I had to reach out to him to even confirm if we were just a three-piece or if there was someone else I had forgotten about. Don’t laugh, I have forgotten much more about those days than I actually remember. When I got reconnected with another high-school friend here in Vegas, Scott Harris, he had to remind me that we had played in a band together and that I, apparently, fired him. To this day I don’t remember any of it.
My memories are limited even in the music we played. I remembered that we played “Suffragette City” and we probably tried to play “Ziggy Stardust.” I remember Suffragette because it was the source of an issue with Ryan’s mom who hated to hear us playing it.
I do remember his dad coming into the garage to explain to us what “wham, bam, thank you m’am” meant. Which, of course, just made us want to play it even more.
We played for other people exactly once. At a Halloween party at someone’s house. Probably Ryan’s. THis was probably late ’76 and we were—like most teenage boys with guitars—huge KISS fans. I remember we did the whole face paint thing and played “Strutter” which was always a much cooler song than “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
That one party was our entire history. Ryan and Glen figured out they stood a better chance of impressing girls as basketball players than by being in a terrible band with a much shorter and dumpier guitar player. That summer, Ryan’s dad got transferred for work and they moved to the Bay Area. Don’t really remember what happened to Glen. Just that things got weird for him and his family when it became known by most of our in-group that his older sister who had graduated maybe a year earlier had started doing porn. Really. Figures that is the one detail I would remember.
So, that’s it. My first two bands. But this all came about from an effort to figure out the music that had inspired me. When I reached out to Ryan, not only did he remember that we had, indeed, been a three-piece, he even could still rattle off most of the songs we had played. And most of them were songs I was still playing later that year when I got into my first “real” band. And if you wanna know about that, you’ll just have to check out the podcast episode.
I’m such a tease.