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Band trouble

We all took turns at sound check as I recall.

Now those last three words are key to everything that follows. It may have been Robin Williams who made famous the joke about how if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. And while what we call the ’60s was a kind of wave (as Hunter S. Thompson put it) that crested in 1969, what I’m about to describe took place in spring of 1971 while the tide was still going out. This left the flotsam and jetsam of a dream and me at 20, somewhere outside of Boston after the San Francisco (formerly Chicago) hard-rock group “Contact” I had been in had bit the dust. I was learning those first deep and blue lessons of woman trouble, car trouble, band trouble, and dream trouble.

I’m going to say we did our sound check first. “We” were “The Jerome Peters Group.” I was playing bass behind a skinny, handsome alcoholic named Jerome Peters with a voice close enough to Ray Charles to make me suspend reason and judgment over quite a few things. I don’t remember the drummer at all: his name or whether he was any good. He must have been pretty good because Jerome was a popular act for about 15 minutes in the Boston area and he could have hired almost anyone at the time. I came in toward the end of those 15 minutes. I met Peters while standing on an El platform in Chicago. He had come to Chicago to hire another bass player he liked but he couldn’t offer enough and he was out of time. He saw me with my case and a Fender Jazz bass and wanted to hire me sight unheard, as it were. He had a cassette of himself jamming with Otis Rush and his band the night before. He played it for me right on the spot at the Addison Street El stop overlooking Wrigley Field. His vocal on “All Your Lovin’” was enough to sell me. I wasn’t doing anything anyway except getting stoned a lot.

Andy Watson. Who had accompanied Peters to Chicago and helped to convince me, was our guitarist. He was an English kid with a red SG like Jack Black in School of Rock. A pleasant, slow-handed Claptonesque player, he left me a lot of room to do Jack Bruce–type fills of the sort I’d get shot for now if I tried it under any other player. A power trio with a Great White Hope of a singer every inch as good as Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Sam Cooke and Cooke’s famous, gravelly-voiced imitator, Rod Stewart. To this day I am convinced that the world would have heard a lot more from Peters if the bottle hadn’t taken him down early — just as it almost did me 25 years later.

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Oh yes, the sound check. I guess we were more or less satisfied. At least I don’t remember anything to the contrary and Jerome could be a screaming, scene-throwing tyrant with sound men. But where were we? I had little idea at the time and I’m going to say it was Lowell, Massachusetts, because that’s the town the band and me were living in, right behind the old Prince Spaghetti Factory. But it could have been Chelmsford or Pittsfield or Wackachapeck or some other alien, New England–sounding name for a town. For the life of me I can’t remember where I was that fateless day and I have to attribute this to half a dozen small bottles of local, cheap beer (and I can’t remember the brand either) and a steady intake of marijuana. So it must have been during the sound check in this gymnasium/VFW hall/town rec center that the members of a Boston area rock group who (it was soon evident) became somewhat more famous than even Jerome heard us play a few songs or fragments. I didn’t catch their name until later when their singer, Steven Tyler announced it and I remember thinking, good name for a band. And a Sinclair Lewis title, too...they must be literate.

Two years earlier, I had graduated high school. It would be several more years until I saw the band’s name in print: “Aerosmith,” not Arrowsmith.

As I recall, the sound check, which in fact might have been a pivotal event in my life — had it gone the other way, that is —without my knowing it, was uneventful. It was during the sound check, in the middle of the day, on a stage littered with the gear of nearly a dozen groups (I do remember it was some kind of marathon of rock groups for some kind of charity) that Steven Tyler, Joe Perry or both (and possibly other members of the band as well or their entourage) heard me playing bass guitar. What they would have heard, I’m guessing — and I’m trying to remember any songs at all that we performed — might have been a funk version of “Ole Man River,” or a guitar-solo-heavy “Twenty-five or Six to Four,” by Chicago, maybe a blues shuffle.

But it wasn’t until after our sound check that I noticed this new band that had arrived and their look. These guys looked like the Rolling Stones. They had great clothes, like tapered-at-the-waist velvet jackets; bracelets, I think, and scarves. Great Spanish and cowboy boots and for some reason it’s stuck in my mind that Joe Perry’s were snakeskin although that might be a short-circuited memory of them playing “Rattlesnake Shake” and watching Perry’s boots on the foot pedals. I swear I remember Perry (I had no idea what his name was then) playing a black Les Paul and not a new one. If he still has it, it’s worth a fortune I’m sure. I remember the cream border stripes around the body’s edges, the exposed double black rows of the humbucking pick-ups (two of them or three?). Did I say they had great haircuts? Overgrown shags and they may have been one of the first rock groups I remember wearing earrings. (Do I really remember that?) Our hair was to our shoulders or past a bit, ethnically wavy on my part and Jerome’s, straight and dirty blond on Andy. As for the drummer? I have no recollection at this time, gentlemen.

The Boston group had stunning females with them, groupies from out of fashion magazines. Jerome had two wholesome college girls infatuated with him and pretty much followed him everywhere. Andy Watson and I were expecting maybe a couple of bar slatterns to show up whom we had met at a bar in Lowell and invited.

When it was time for their sound check, I recall a few things for certain: they played “Walkin’ the Dog,” and the singer played a wooden recorder through a tape echo giving the song a jungly, voodoo mojo I might have described back then as, say, “Cool as shit.” They also played “Train Kept a Rollin.’” One element was missing in their band at this point and I’m going to say it was, like, 2 or 3 in the afternoon. They had no bass player. They were so good without one I barely noticed.

Some local bands began the gig at maybe 5 p.m. or so. I have no recollection whatever of anyone else who played. At some point, in between acts, their singer (and I remember marveling at his resemblance to Mick Jagger) approached me with one of those small bottles of beer everyone in Massachusetts seemed to drink. Can’t remember the brand. Tyler (didn’t know his name then) said something positive about my bass playing and I thanked him. I remember feeling underdressed next to him. I wore a small, faded red T-shirt, a black leather, hip-length coat, a pair of coral-colored corduroy bell-bottoms, and worn boots. I’m certain this is what I was wearing because they were basically all I ever wore for a year. He looked like some sort of Regency fop and I looked like a failed blackjack dealer from Atlantic City. He asked me if I knew the songs they had played and I said I did. He asked me if I knew any of the others on the set list and named some off. If I didn’t know them, I lied and said I did, suspecting where this was going. I was right. His bass player was a no-show and he asked me to sit in for him. I said sure. I might have said, “Hell yes,” they were so good. I did wonder what Jerome would think about it. By show time he was likely to be bombed and that would be a perfect kind of betrayal for him to seize on. He was constantly seeing betrayal everywhere he looked.

But by that time I was fed up with Peters. He had drunk up the band’s pay at a club called the Frisco East on Beacon Street in Boston just the weekend before. He owed each of us for a previous gig as well and Watson and I theorized we’d never see it. We proved to be right.

Tyler might have been fed up with something too because he asked me if I would be willing to fill in with the band for their next few gigs if things didn’t work out with their bassist. He named some college gigs and said they were doing an album, too, had a record deal. He did everything but flat out invite me to join the band. Jerome was a better singer than this guy, but this guy had great energy and a very high cool quotient and his band was way better than the one I was in. His guitarist, I thought after just hearing the guy for 10 or 15 minutes was every bit as good as Jeff Beck or soon would be.

The only words I exchanged with Perry were when he asked me, “You okay to do these?” and waved a set list and I said, “Yeah, yeah.”

It was still light out, maybe 7:30 p.m. when Aerosmith went on, joined by a guy who looked a little unsteady on his feet. The bassist was tall and kind of looked like Brian Jones without the bags under his eyes. His hair was blond and in a kind of pageboy cut above his shoulders. I assume that was Tom Hamilton but we weren’t introduced. In fact, no one in that band said anything more to me at all. They did an early set that completely ripped the roof off the place and left 100 or so kids in a rock frenzy that the next group inherited and blew completely.

When we went on, it was dark, about nine. Apparently we were the headliner. A deranged disc-jockey joked with Peters onstage. Neither Andy nor I knew that our act was the main attraction. Jerome was bombed. Neither Andy nor I had a heart attack over it. We could tell he was in that bad phase when he started doing Jerry Lewis on stage. He’d make every girl in the room cry and grown boys want to buck him up as he sang, “Drown in My Own Tears,” then splay his legs, go cross-eyed and honk, “Nice lay-dee!” at some 17-year-old chick who had no idea what had suddenly gone wrong with him. A week later he drank up the band’s money again when we played outdoors at Cambridge Common and later that night at some rock club, long defunct and forgotten by me where I slept on the pool table and the next morning hitch-hiked to New York where I met my soon-to-be wife.

Next installment in “Brush with Greatness”: MEATLOAF BEGS ME TO GO ON THE ROAD! Another true story.

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We all took turns at sound check as I recall.

Now those last three words are key to everything that follows. It may have been Robin Williams who made famous the joke about how if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. And while what we call the ’60s was a kind of wave (as Hunter S. Thompson put it) that crested in 1969, what I’m about to describe took place in spring of 1971 while the tide was still going out. This left the flotsam and jetsam of a dream and me at 20, somewhere outside of Boston after the San Francisco (formerly Chicago) hard-rock group “Contact” I had been in had bit the dust. I was learning those first deep and blue lessons of woman trouble, car trouble, band trouble, and dream trouble.

I’m going to say we did our sound check first. “We” were “The Jerome Peters Group.” I was playing bass behind a skinny, handsome alcoholic named Jerome Peters with a voice close enough to Ray Charles to make me suspend reason and judgment over quite a few things. I don’t remember the drummer at all: his name or whether he was any good. He must have been pretty good because Jerome was a popular act for about 15 minutes in the Boston area and he could have hired almost anyone at the time. I came in toward the end of those 15 minutes. I met Peters while standing on an El platform in Chicago. He had come to Chicago to hire another bass player he liked but he couldn’t offer enough and he was out of time. He saw me with my case and a Fender Jazz bass and wanted to hire me sight unheard, as it were. He had a cassette of himself jamming with Otis Rush and his band the night before. He played it for me right on the spot at the Addison Street El stop overlooking Wrigley Field. His vocal on “All Your Lovin’” was enough to sell me. I wasn’t doing anything anyway except getting stoned a lot.

Andy Watson. Who had accompanied Peters to Chicago and helped to convince me, was our guitarist. He was an English kid with a red SG like Jack Black in School of Rock. A pleasant, slow-handed Claptonesque player, he left me a lot of room to do Jack Bruce–type fills of the sort I’d get shot for now if I tried it under any other player. A power trio with a Great White Hope of a singer every inch as good as Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Sam Cooke and Cooke’s famous, gravelly-voiced imitator, Rod Stewart. To this day I am convinced that the world would have heard a lot more from Peters if the bottle hadn’t taken him down early — just as it almost did me 25 years later.

Sponsored
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Oh yes, the sound check. I guess we were more or less satisfied. At least I don’t remember anything to the contrary and Jerome could be a screaming, scene-throwing tyrant with sound men. But where were we? I had little idea at the time and I’m going to say it was Lowell, Massachusetts, because that’s the town the band and me were living in, right behind the old Prince Spaghetti Factory. But it could have been Chelmsford or Pittsfield or Wackachapeck or some other alien, New England–sounding name for a town. For the life of me I can’t remember where I was that fateless day and I have to attribute this to half a dozen small bottles of local, cheap beer (and I can’t remember the brand either) and a steady intake of marijuana. So it must have been during the sound check in this gymnasium/VFW hall/town rec center that the members of a Boston area rock group who (it was soon evident) became somewhat more famous than even Jerome heard us play a few songs or fragments. I didn’t catch their name until later when their singer, Steven Tyler announced it and I remember thinking, good name for a band. And a Sinclair Lewis title, too...they must be literate.

Two years earlier, I had graduated high school. It would be several more years until I saw the band’s name in print: “Aerosmith,” not Arrowsmith.

As I recall, the sound check, which in fact might have been a pivotal event in my life — had it gone the other way, that is —without my knowing it, was uneventful. It was during the sound check, in the middle of the day, on a stage littered with the gear of nearly a dozen groups (I do remember it was some kind of marathon of rock groups for some kind of charity) that Steven Tyler, Joe Perry or both (and possibly other members of the band as well or their entourage) heard me playing bass guitar. What they would have heard, I’m guessing — and I’m trying to remember any songs at all that we performed — might have been a funk version of “Ole Man River,” or a guitar-solo-heavy “Twenty-five or Six to Four,” by Chicago, maybe a blues shuffle.

But it wasn’t until after our sound check that I noticed this new band that had arrived and their look. These guys looked like the Rolling Stones. They had great clothes, like tapered-at-the-waist velvet jackets; bracelets, I think, and scarves. Great Spanish and cowboy boots and for some reason it’s stuck in my mind that Joe Perry’s were snakeskin although that might be a short-circuited memory of them playing “Rattlesnake Shake” and watching Perry’s boots on the foot pedals. I swear I remember Perry (I had no idea what his name was then) playing a black Les Paul and not a new one. If he still has it, it’s worth a fortune I’m sure. I remember the cream border stripes around the body’s edges, the exposed double black rows of the humbucking pick-ups (two of them or three?). Did I say they had great haircuts? Overgrown shags and they may have been one of the first rock groups I remember wearing earrings. (Do I really remember that?) Our hair was to our shoulders or past a bit, ethnically wavy on my part and Jerome’s, straight and dirty blond on Andy. As for the drummer? I have no recollection at this time, gentlemen.

The Boston group had stunning females with them, groupies from out of fashion magazines. Jerome had two wholesome college girls infatuated with him and pretty much followed him everywhere. Andy Watson and I were expecting maybe a couple of bar slatterns to show up whom we had met at a bar in Lowell and invited.

When it was time for their sound check, I recall a few things for certain: they played “Walkin’ the Dog,” and the singer played a wooden recorder through a tape echo giving the song a jungly, voodoo mojo I might have described back then as, say, “Cool as shit.” They also played “Train Kept a Rollin.’” One element was missing in their band at this point and I’m going to say it was, like, 2 or 3 in the afternoon. They had no bass player. They were so good without one I barely noticed.

Some local bands began the gig at maybe 5 p.m. or so. I have no recollection whatever of anyone else who played. At some point, in between acts, their singer (and I remember marveling at his resemblance to Mick Jagger) approached me with one of those small bottles of beer everyone in Massachusetts seemed to drink. Can’t remember the brand. Tyler (didn’t know his name then) said something positive about my bass playing and I thanked him. I remember feeling underdressed next to him. I wore a small, faded red T-shirt, a black leather, hip-length coat, a pair of coral-colored corduroy bell-bottoms, and worn boots. I’m certain this is what I was wearing because they were basically all I ever wore for a year. He looked like some sort of Regency fop and I looked like a failed blackjack dealer from Atlantic City. He asked me if I knew the songs they had played and I said I did. He asked me if I knew any of the others on the set list and named some off. If I didn’t know them, I lied and said I did, suspecting where this was going. I was right. His bass player was a no-show and he asked me to sit in for him. I said sure. I might have said, “Hell yes,” they were so good. I did wonder what Jerome would think about it. By show time he was likely to be bombed and that would be a perfect kind of betrayal for him to seize on. He was constantly seeing betrayal everywhere he looked.

But by that time I was fed up with Peters. He had drunk up the band’s pay at a club called the Frisco East on Beacon Street in Boston just the weekend before. He owed each of us for a previous gig as well and Watson and I theorized we’d never see it. We proved to be right.

Tyler might have been fed up with something too because he asked me if I would be willing to fill in with the band for their next few gigs if things didn’t work out with their bassist. He named some college gigs and said they were doing an album, too, had a record deal. He did everything but flat out invite me to join the band. Jerome was a better singer than this guy, but this guy had great energy and a very high cool quotient and his band was way better than the one I was in. His guitarist, I thought after just hearing the guy for 10 or 15 minutes was every bit as good as Jeff Beck or soon would be.

The only words I exchanged with Perry were when he asked me, “You okay to do these?” and waved a set list and I said, “Yeah, yeah.”

It was still light out, maybe 7:30 p.m. when Aerosmith went on, joined by a guy who looked a little unsteady on his feet. The bassist was tall and kind of looked like Brian Jones without the bags under his eyes. His hair was blond and in a kind of pageboy cut above his shoulders. I assume that was Tom Hamilton but we weren’t introduced. In fact, no one in that band said anything more to me at all. They did an early set that completely ripped the roof off the place and left 100 or so kids in a rock frenzy that the next group inherited and blew completely.

When we went on, it was dark, about nine. Apparently we were the headliner. A deranged disc-jockey joked with Peters onstage. Neither Andy nor I knew that our act was the main attraction. Jerome was bombed. Neither Andy nor I had a heart attack over it. We could tell he was in that bad phase when he started doing Jerry Lewis on stage. He’d make every girl in the room cry and grown boys want to buck him up as he sang, “Drown in My Own Tears,” then splay his legs, go cross-eyed and honk, “Nice lay-dee!” at some 17-year-old chick who had no idea what had suddenly gone wrong with him. A week later he drank up the band’s money again when we played outdoors at Cambridge Common and later that night at some rock club, long defunct and forgotten by me where I slept on the pool table and the next morning hitch-hiked to New York where I met my soon-to-be wife.

Next installment in “Brush with Greatness”: MEATLOAF BEGS ME TO GO ON THE ROAD! Another true story.

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