Monday, August 23, 2010
Hear My Song. People Won't You Listen Now... (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 5)
I played in a band or three. I was and still am, a drummer. And of course, there was a band or two in each borough. We had basements and garages beneath and behind the houses on East 19th Street in Sheepshead Bay. In Manhattan, there were phone booth-sized studios in midtown, and basements with phone-booth sized rats on The Bowery. It didn't matter where I played, it always felt as if I was one step away from the big time.
If the two boroughs produced a half-dozen bands out of our group, Mike, Al, Marco and I seemed to be in all of them at one time or another. The rotating singers and material kept us on our feet. The most impressive was Night Flight, a band whose main function was to recreate Led Zeppelin's live show of 1977, with a few adjustments, the most obvious being the addition of non-Zep material.
Marco had the Sunburst Les Paul like Jimmy Page. Mike, who usually played guitar was on bass. Ziggy was on drums and hairbrush. (I'm pretty sure I witnessed him brushing his hair right in the middle of "Rebel, Rebel"). And then there was Bob, whose one and only stint on East 19th was as the singer in Night Flight. He also managed to talk relentlessly about Chuck Berry and his influence on the Stones. That quirk aside, Bob was a great guy and possessed the courage that was needed to stand out front and work the crowd.
What Night Flight pulled off in December of 1978 was unprecedented. This wasn't a 30 minute, 7 song set at some "Battle Of The Bands." This band of brass-balled teenagers pieced together an epic, 3 hour set, with guitar solos, drum solos, and even some dead-on mimicry of the bands who inspired its members, with Marco strutting across the stage, step for step, the way Jimmy Page did in the film "The Song Remains The Same."
The gym at the St. Marks School on Avenue Z took on the aura of the big rock concerts we had been attending. It felt like the holy ground that was Madison Square Garden. It was filled with screaming kids, and this band delivered, impossibly, a mostly Zep repertoire, with some Queen, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and even some Be Bop Deluxe thrown in, to prove they were indeed cooler than you.
I had two duties this evening. The first was running back and forth, pretending I was some important sound guy, throwing up thumb and finger signs throughout the set to indicate when something was "too loud," or if there was "too much bass," or simply to let Ziggy know he should "lose the hairbrush." None of these directives were paid any mind, but I sure felt cool. The second part of my job was to get on stage, take the mic as special guest, and sing the Sid Vicious version of "My Way." I could sing pretty well and I think I did okay.
Night Flight begat Eruption with Mike back on guitar, Anthony on drums and the other Sal on bass. Eruption begat Black Dog and then Whirlwind, with Al on bass, Mike on guitar and me on drums. Then there was a short-lived band with Marco on guitar, Al on bass, me on drums, and Fran on vocals. Fran lived on East 19th Street and had a powerful singing voice with a personality to match. She challenged us right out of the garage. I don't think this line-up stayed together long enough for a name, but boy did she sing the shit out of Heart's "Barracuda."
Across the river, I was trying something else---original music. First there was The Bandits with Frank on guitar and vocals, and Janet, who gave up a law practice to learn the bass and make it as a punk. Our rehearsal space, lovingly referred to as "The Pit," was shared with many of downtown New York's semi-legends, including John Spacely, Michael O'Donoghue and Cheetah Chrome. We managed a few well-received, if under-attended gigs at CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, playing revved up versions of Elvis, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers and Gary Lewis & the Playboys, as well as Frank's originals... before the implosion.
Frank & I had gotten to "The Pit" early one evening, poised to discuss and proceed with the termination of Janet. Unfortunately for us, she wasn't too far behind us and with great stealth, remained within earshot as we laughed like idiots and spoke inappropriately about someone who just a few days earlier was our friend. (We learn the hard way when we are young and stupid.) After a tantrum that borrowed sounds and visuals from Regan Macneil, Janet stormed out. The next night I found a broken chair over my drum rack, with little crosses made from the shattered wood, placed upon each drum. (Janet was upset.) I didn't sleep for a week, expecting a dead chicken under my pillow at any time. I would have deserved it, though I still don't know why Frank got off scot-free. (Story of my life.)
Frank's original tunes were quick and melodic, and just a small step ahead of what we had been hearing in clubs. Inevitably, the boroughs collided. Al from Brooklyn, with me and Frank, and now Carl, formed Pep In The Cat, based mostly around Carl's Todd Rundgren-inspired originals, some of Frank's better Bandits leftovers, and some choice covers. We were good, but we needed a lead guitarist, and found one in an East New Yorker named Mike. This guy had the chops.
This was serious stuff. Two rehearsals a week, a budget for recording, regular gigs, t-shirts and a mailing list. Even Marco got into the act, by engineering our first demos at Eras Studios where he had just finished working with Joan Jett and Al Dimeola. Pep In The Cat was "starting to make a little noise." Gigs were plenty, and the fan base was growing. This "noise" lasted for about 3 years before the proverbial band shit hit the fan.
Al got sick of Mike. Carl got sick of Al. Sal got sick of Carl. Carl got sick of Frank. Frank somehow managed to not mind anyone. Al finally handed in his pick. One of the more uncomfortable moments of Pep In The Cat's career was Al's last gig. He agreed to fulfill one last scheduled show at S.N.A.F.U. on 6th Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan. Mike invited Al's replacement, his old friend and bass player Richie to the show. Richie introduced himself to Al by extending his hand and asking, "What size shoe do you wear?" (I probably shouldn't have laughed. It's not easy being in a band.)
(Pep In The Cat Redux)
Pep In The Cat continued, making more demos, getting more gigs and even getting that cherished showcase at the legendary Trax on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
The feuding continued. Carl was getting more serious about his songwriting and in turn, less pleased with what the band was offering. Rehearsals were always work, but now had become the job you hated going to. I had had enough. By the end, Carl was writing my drum parts, hoping to create what he was hearing in his head. I, in turn, starting pounding the kit harder so I could drown out the voices telling me to kill Carl. Finally, I quit, but not before throwing a drumstick with the velocity of a Bob Gibson fastball, right at Carl. I missed, and instead, pierced Frank's Fender Twin Reverb amp. (Story of my life.)
We are almost all talking to each other these days, and fortunately, some of the music still holds up nicely. We could have been contenders. The problem was, everyone of us proved, you don't have to be 5 years old to not know how to play nice.
Here's part of a video that survived from 12/23/83. Pep In The Cat live at S.N.A.F.U..
Here are two demos from 1983 and 1984. You will hear plenty of Todd Rundgren, especially in "Inspiration," which is, as my friend Chris pointed out just the other day,"exactly like Todd's Healing Part 3, only slower."
TOO BAD BABY
PEOPLE & THINGS THAT WENT BEFORE
THEY DROVE YOU OR YOU DROVE THEM CRAZY
EAST 19TH STREET, BROOKLYN
I SAW LED ZEPPELIN TWICE. THEY SUCKED ONCE