Although according to Wavy, that meant I probably wasn’t there.
At any rate, back during that hazy seventies decade I would’ve been in a band or two or three. I think my last band was the LaLa Blues Band or some kinda name like that, and I think the last gig would’ve been that particular New Years Eve Night to Remember in question. It could’ve been in ’72 or ’73. Yeah, that would’ve been the last gig. If someone saw us during those days, they might have said, “I know, let’s make a movie called The Blues Brothers.” But then, there were a lot of bands that could have inspired that film, maybe even hundreds. Maybe even thousands.
At any rate, pickin’s had become mighty slim as fall slid into winter in upstate New York that year. Our last job had been sometime in December at a very sleazy country roadhouse. We were kind of an R&B, blues sorta band, playing old favorites for any money we could get. That particular night, it was $50 and all you could drink. (At least that was the initial offering; later we found out that the bar tab was separate, and like Hank Williams, we’d just spent $100 on a $50 show.) This is all your typical Blues Brothers stuff, which I won’t bore you with.
The slim-pickin’s-country-roadhouse is not the night in question, however. The Night to Remember?, as stated earlier, would be New Years Eve. And that gig was a Very Serious Gig. Jim Wells, our lead guitar, had some connection with a Cornell fraternity. They were going to “try us out” for “only $300”, but if we were good, we could look forward to Regular Gigs at several hundred dollars a pop where all you had to do was get drunk and play “Louie, Louie” over and over for a bunch of students while they swam around in beer and fornicated on the floor. New Years Eve, though? There wouldn’t be any students in town. Don’t worry, said Jim, these were alumni who ran the entire fraternity and hired the entertainment for the whole year. Hmmmmm…..In our minds, we had already quit our day jobs. In the early seventies, that was serious change.
Having spent most of the day at the Royal Palms on Dryden Rd. getting ready for the gig, we loaded up the van and headed over to the frat house at around 7:00 pm. It would’ve been me doing an Elvin Bishop imitation (at least in my own mind), Jim Wells on loud-lead-guitar-that-hated-to-quit, Larry Tucker, formerly of McKendree Spring on bass and Larry Paciello, a water color artist, on drums. I’m not sure we ever really had a singer, but that night I think it was Dick Glatzer, who wasn’t actually a musician, but….
When we pulled up, there were a few women there setting up food, etc. One of them, I’d have to call the Bird Lady (glasses, kind of beaky and henpecky) seemed to be in charge. She informed us that we were expected to start at 8:00 prompt and play until 1:00 am, with 3 intermissions, during which the alumni and family would be be playing games (huh, games?). They had a keg of beer, and of course, we could help ourselves during intermissions, but please don’t get carried away. (A keg? As in One keg?) And furthermore, since we were obviously hippies, she was telling us up front that marijuana would absolutely not be tolerated. If she so much as caught a slight whiff of the drug, she’d have half the Ithaca Police Department dragging us away cuffed and chained like rats before we knew what hit us. I made a tentative inquiry about the uh, check, uh, but she had abruptly turned and left us to set up before I got any response. Jim had said earlier that he thought we could bring guests, so we had put the word out that it was a big jam session at a frat house. We figured we could use all the help we could get to land the Regular Gigs Job.
Unfortunately, looking back, I’d have to say our business sense was seriously lacking. We wanted to land The Regular Gigs job, and the lady in charge had just told us adamantly that she didn’t want any hippies smoking dope, but it was New Years Eve, and there was only one keg of beer for the entire party, and we figured she couldn’t smell acid……
We did manage to start on time, most likely with some old R&B favorites people could dance to. We were concerned with getting warmed up, tuning the instruments, etc. and didn’t really notice the crowd as it gathered. We were playing in a typical big basement of a frat house. Cement floor so the beer could flow easy without damaging anything. Bar in the corner. We set up on a small carpet that we brought for basement gigs, so that the amplifiers would be insulated from the floor. We played instrumentals for about an hour and took our first break. Glatzer hadn’t started singing yet, and to be honest, we weren’t looking forward to his debut. We hadn’t heard him or practiced with him at that point and the whole thing was very tenuous. When he heard about the cash and The Regular Gig, his ears perked up, and we really did need some kind of vocalist, so we figured what the hell(?). As we set our instruments down we noticed a what appeared to be a lot of little kids in Halloween outfits appearing among the crowd of moms & dads, alumni we assumed. The acid was starting to put a slight edge on things.
When we got up for the next set, it looked like the place had become overrun with little kids. Little leopards and witches and space aliens. (Or were the hallucinations kicking in?) The Bird Lady came over and said that everybody really liked our first set, but did we have a singer so they could hear the words to the songs? Also, she said, there were some “hippie-types” at the door who said they were part of the band. Was that so? Sure, let-em in, we said. As the night progressed, there were quite a few “hippie-types” showing up at the door. Yep, big band, we said, y’all are getting a good show here. The “hippie-types” were almost all pro musicians who had the night off. I forget most of the bands they were from, but they were all excellent. As a jam session alone, this probably really was a night to remember. A guy named Wells and some other people were there from Orleans, but most of the others are very blurry. A musician would come up and sit in, and one of us would sit down for awhile. Before long we had an entire horn section and a sax; it was garage band fantasy night. By 11:00 or so, we were really cooking, literally; this was not your typical La La Blues Band, and the Bird Lady came up demanding to hear our vocalist. Uh, he’ll be here pretty soon, we said.
Glatzer, all 350 lbs. of him was kind of rolled up on the floor in between a couple of the amplifiers staring into space and counting the various insects that would’ve been common in upstate New York in the middle of winter. He was a very, very long way from “home” and we were all counting on his “getting here” in time to sing some songs for the Bird Lady.
I remember Wells K. sitting behind the drums somewhere around then and going into a fast rolling intro. Someone had set the mike up near the drums and he had pulled it over close enough to be our first vocalist of the evening. The whole room seemed to stop in time as he went through the intro; he was a master, and was putting on a drum clinic like you wouldn’t believe. As his drums beat faster and faster, he rolled into:
“Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty pretty pretty, Peggy Sue. Oh Peggy…..” Acid or not the band responded with a new energy. This was the good stuff. People and kids in the audience stopped whatever they were doing and just stared at Wells; he was that good. I got to do the lead rif, as Jim had sat down, and I was all fired up and doing my best Buddy Holly & the Crickets guitar imitation. For me, that was the highlight of the evening. (unfortunately, it was pretty much the highlight for all of us, as we’d later find out).
Another intermission and Glatzer was beginning to join the living again. He still had a very glazed look to his eyes, but he was ready to start “singing some blues”. O–kay…. We started off the next set with Mustang Sally, one of my favorite instrumental parts. Our 350 lb. Glatzer, long greasy black hair with week old stubble and a dazed expression on his face started doing his best Wilson Pickett. “Mustang Sally, girl you got ta hack hack slow dat Mustang down….”
The little kids in the Halloween outfits (yes, I swear they were really there) started coming closer to the mike as Glatzer sang. This weird funny fat guy. He could’ve looked to them like a cross between Santa Claus and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He started getting into it and singing to them with a big wide Glatzer smile on his face “Hi kiddies, this is your jolly uncle Glatzer….” As he smiled and grinned, they’d get closer and closer until he made a horrible boogey man face and turned into a mean, decrepit pirate and they’d all run back to their parents. Then he’d be grinning again and they’d creep closer. The cat & mouse game went on for quite a while. We started doing basic blues improvs and he made up whatever sick words that happened to be crawling through his strange Glatzer mind at the time, “Hey baby, I’ll see ya a little later…..after I rip your face off with a potato grater..”
At that point, the room was spinning and I started feeling like I needed a rest. Some guy named Ken had a guitar and seemed to be motioning that he’d like to come up and spell me. At about that point, I accidentally stepped off the carpet and onto the cement floor. A definite no-no. Instead of holding my Guild Starfire semi-hollowbody with its perfectly aligned 6-strings, I was tightly gripping a surging conveyer of 110 volts of electricity. The voltage hit the acid with a predictable explosion. Somehow, mercifully, the guitar flew out of my hands and landed with a crash of horrible, grating feedback. I was blown off the carpet and landed in back of one of the amplifiers. Ken jumped up and plugged his guitar in as if nothing had happened and I huddled into a quivering mass in the back of the room with electrical discharges firing and mis-firing all through my brain. I pretty much sat there and shook for the next hour or so. I couldn’t talk, but I started watching the weird scene going on around me.
It was a scene out of Kafka. The incredible tight band made up of some of the finest musicians around, headlined by a drooling filthy fat pirate hopped up on LSD. Little kids in Halloween costumes creeping closer and closer to the fat pirate until he shook his head and waved his arms, scaring them away. Adults on the sidelines talking in hushed tones gesturing toward the strange band and the weird hippie musicians sitting around it. If they had any idea who those weird hippies were who had graced their little party, things might have been a little friendlier. As it was, I could sense the tension and expected at any moment to see the Ithaca Police bursting in the door. But in my clouded acid daze, I was also really getting into the music. This was definately not a La La band. They even made Glatzer’s wild-eyed ravings at the microphone sound good.
As midnight approached everything seemed to be coming to a head. Glatzer’s improvised rants had become downright disgusting, the murmers among the alumni parents on the sidelines were sounding openly hostile and I could swear I smelled a familiar whiff of marijuana eminating from the area where the hippie musicians were sitting. My acid paranoia had set in good and it seemed like the room was ready to blow.
At that point, the large wooden door to the basement burst open. Wind and snow blew in from the darkness outside and the music stopped cold. Everything stopped cold. Little kids in halloween costumes, conservative alumni, hippies, everyone stopped dead and looked at the open door to the winter outside. A thin figure in black started to emerge from the darkness. It was a very tall, thin man dressed in faded and worn black leather with silver chains hanging from it, his skinny hands covered with tatoos and snow. His skin & bones face was mean and dry. Very long, ratty, thinning blond hair hung past his shoulders. He could’ve been thirty; he could’ve been eighty, from years of too much speed and too much heroin. He stood there like the prince of darkness; the horrid biker from hell. It was Jim DeMott. In the dead silence, except for the wind and snow, he just glared. Then he spoke, “Hey Glatzer, you got my twenty dollars?”
Then all hell broke loose. A woman in the other room started screaming. The room turned into a pandemonium of screaming kids, distraught alumni and hippies on drugs. Glatzer seemed to have vanished out the back somewhere. The next thing I knew, we were getting a serious bum’s rush. Instruments and amplifiers were being tossed out onto the snow and people were pushing us out the door. There was shouting and screaming. I remember being herded out into the new fallen snow and seeing amplifiers and drum sets in snow banks. Musicians were carefully dusting them off and loading them into several vans parked outside. I was still shaking from the effects of the acid, the cold and the electric shock and ended up walking across the street and over the snow-covered Cornell Commons toward Eddy Street on the other side of the university.
There was still time to make Last Call at the Royal Palms and the stars were shining on the new-fallen snow as the group of us trudged over the commons. Bells were ringing in the distance. It must be midnight. The new year had arrived.
The Regular Gigs Job would have to wait. Maybe next time…..