There is common theme you will see throughout my life… I grew up too fast!
I didn’t really experience the “innocent” years of jamming for fun, hanging in the garage with buds. Instead I went from experimenting with music at about 11 or 12 years old, directly into the business at 14. It’s just the way it worked out. I was not aware of anyway else then. It was just normal to me. One thing you must remember is everyone thought I was older. When you have a full mustache and work in a bar it’s easy to understand.
The way I thought about it was if people like what I am doing, and I love doing it, then jump in! I needed money just like everyone else. If someone wants to pay me to do this? What a country!
Shortly after sitting in with some performing bands, it was full speed ahead…Weird huh?
The first real band I was in was called “Chain Reaction.” The band was made up of 2 brothers that had just moved to Canandaigua, NY from Georgia. One was the manager and one was a pretty decent guitarist. I won’t use their real names. I’ll call the manager Jason and the guitar player Jack. The rest of the band was a bass player, a drummer from the local area and later on, a second guitar player. They were all in their mid-twenties to early thirties.
Jason had heard me sit in with a popular country band in the area called “The Mountain Ramblers.” He approached me to audition as a rhythm guitar player and singer. In one of my earlier stories I told you about that audition, they decided I should just sing. So there I was, a singer/front man without a clue!
My Father owned a restaurant called The Village Inn in Clifton Springs, NY. That became our main venue. The Village Inn booked country and oldies rock bands every Friday and Saturday night. We played every Saturday. (It did not allude me that the fact that my father owned a venue probably helped me pass the audition for the band.)
We played what you would call classic country now. It wasn’t classic then, it was relatively new! Hank Williams, Charlie Pride, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, John Denver, and so on… We also mixed in as much 50’s and 60’s rock as we could. Some Beatles, Bill Haley, Elvis, Chuck Berry and a few others.
It was in this band that I played my first PAID gig! What was the first song I ever sang professionally? Country Roads by John Denver! Who woulda thunk?
The Village Inn was always crowded. The folks in that area had never had REAL Italian food, so my father was pretty successful!
We would play in this tiny speck of an area near the front door where we could greet people as they came in. What a perk! (My musician friends are cringing right now at that prospect.) It was a sweet gig though because I was too young to drive and it was basically where I lived. The band was doing well there.
The problems would come when we started playing Jamborees and other locations. In these very small towns in Western New York, Country Jamborees were a big deal back then. They were concerts at rotating locations in the area. They were almost always on a Sunday (after church). There would be a host band that gets paid and then every musician in the area would come and perform a few songs. Also other bands would take the stage occasionally. If you were anybody or planned on being anybody, you had to play them!
The other problem was rehearsals. Rehearsals were in Canandaigua, NY. It was usually about 15 miles to get to these places. I had to thumb a ride to most of the shows and every week to rehearsals. That was when I first learned one of the benefits of being a singer. I didn’t have any equipment to carry!
Rehearsals were at Jack and Jason’s house. Also living there was Jack’s wife. (Once again for anonymity reasons, we will call her Jill.) I had not met Jack’s wife until after a few rehearsals, but, I could always see someone that I couldn’t quite make out, sitting on the stairway to the upstairs. I figured that was her and that she was just listening and didn’t want to interrupt. Until one rehearsal I had to use the facilities. They were up the stairs… I met Jill.
I honestly had never met a girl as beautiful as she was. The first time I saw Angelina Jolie on TV many, many years later I thought they were twins, or at least sisters. She was that beautiful. She had been Miss Teen Georgia at some time in her life. She was now 25 years old and absolutely georg… well I think you get the picture! (Honey, remember this was 45 years ago…) As I headed up the stairs she introduced herself and said she thought I was really good. I mumbled back with a thank you or something and headed to the bathroom. I really was afraid to talk to her. She freaked me out! Give me a break, I was 14 years old and had just met a goddess. What would you have said?
It was probably about a month after I had met Jill that things got out of hand. It started innocently enough. She was very nice and her, Jack and Jason and I hung out together quite a bit. Hanging out at their house one night we were laughing and drinking and jamming a bit. Just having fun. At some point I went to use the facilities. It was dark going up the stairs and in the bathroom. So I couldn’t see very well. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. When I turned on the light, BAM! …Jill was standing there…in the bathroom…she was waiting for me to come up. Before I could say a word she kissed me…and left the room.
Woah! What the hell was that!
I exited (stage left) right after that and freaked out all the way home. It was amazing and exciting for my young brain, but it was also scary and unnerving. She was married! I was a kid! I walked all the way home without thumbing. That kiss messed me up. I told myself I will never let that happen again damn it …but I wanted it to.
Things went on normally for a while. We acted like the kiss never happened.
After a while I started to see a little shadiness in these guys. It wasn’t anything big at first but just enough to set off my “spidey” sense. As time went on I could see the whispers between Jason and Jack, the unplanned announcements of gigs being cancelled. The “we didn’t get paid as much as I thought I had booked it for” excuses and a general secrecy when it came to business. Since we were playing every Saturday night for my Father, I didn’t worry much. They couldn’t mess with those numbers!
Jack and Jill argued a lot, especially if they were drinking. He was a bad drunk and she would only stand up to him if she had a buzz on. For the most part he ran the relationship and she kept quiet.
One night after a Saturday night show at the Village Inn, my father took me aside and warned me that the Jack and Jill situation is getting ugly and if it kept up he wasn’t going to deal with it anymore. He also told me he only tolerates Jason and Jack because of me. I knew that was true and I told him if he wanted somebody else on Saturdays, I would completely understand. He said, “let’s see how it goes.”
Yes, we packed the place but other bands would do just as well and there were plenty who wanted the gig.
That week at rehearsal I talked to Jason and Jack privately and in the best way I could. I told them we needed to cool it with the drama and be more professional. That went over real well! Jason started up with, “Who the hell does your father think he is, nobody is going to tell me what to do,” and some other ranting and raving.
I started to lose my cool a little also, of course, and told him if he had a problem with my father he would have a problem with me. He backed down.
The next week after that discussion we were playing at another location on the Saturday. Sometimes we would play at a private party or wedding and skip a Saturday at the Village Inn. This was one of those times. I was happy for that. It would give everybody a week to calm down and a break from the drama.
The next (and final) Saturday. Everything went ballistic. All I can tell you for sure is that Jack and Jill and Jason had been drinking heavy before we even started. On one of our breaks, Jack and Jill started getting loud. Loud enough to draw my father and my brother John’s attention. (Big Brother John tended bar). I didn’t see it, but Jack hit Jill. What I did see was my father and my brother flying across the bar, grabbing Jack and tossing him out the door.
My dad had this big house in Clifton Springs with a lot of bedrooms. I am not sure why, but we always had people staying with us. Sometimes a week or two, sometimes months! Some worked for him and some seemed like they were just passing through and needed a place to stay. They weren’t there often but would pop in and out.
The night the s* hit the fan between Jack and Jill. My father told Jill she could stay with us at the house until she figured out what she wanted to do. He, of course had no idea (I don’t think) of what would happen when he made that offer.
There was hardly ever anyone actually in the house. Most came in late and left early. I pretty much lived on my own there… until Jill moved in.
Ok, I’m not Danielle Steel so I I’m not going to write all the romantic details. Sorry folks, I couldn’t go there if I tried.
Jill and I lived together for a few months. It didn’t take long for her to figure out my real age. It might have been the getting up and going to school every morning that gave it away, but by then it was too late. We were together in every way.
A couple days after “fight night” at the Village Inn, I went to Jason and Jack’s house to get my gear. By then I had bought a few microphones and a little PA system for rehearsals. Jason and Jack were long gone, so was all their belongings and my equipment.
Jack called after a few more days and told Jill, he and Jason had gone back to Georgia.
A few months later I came home from school and Jill was gone. No note, no goodbye, just gone.
I was told she went back to Georgia. I have never seen or heard from Jason, Jack and Jill to this day.
It was tough to handle for a while. I think the hardest part, not trying to get weird here, but I don’t know how else to explain it. I was now used to having an everyday physical relationship! At 14! It wasn’t a switch that, in a normal life would get flipped on. Once it was. It wasn’t an easy switch to turn off!
My therapist has had much to say about that time in my life, as you can imagine. (Future stories Dear Reader.)
That was a long time ago.
So…yes, I just told you some firsts. They all happened in this short time. My first band, my first professional performance and my first… well you know.