An American Rock & Road Story (Pt.4)

Bill King 1970.jpg

The fourth part in a series Submitted Bill King

Author of Bill King’s“In Concert !” Essays, Images and Interviews

Spring and summer 1967 saw young Americans free themselves and travel by any means in caravans across of America in search of liberation; political, social and sexual. It saw the birth of ‘Love’ins,’ the power and influence of emerging musical super groups and a belief change was now in the hands of college-age activists. My account of that year starts with trips north to Hollywood by any means. At first with the Sabori Brothers of Westminster, CA, hitchhiking and walking. Throughout the series music is the backdrop to a summer of innocence, occurrences, mishaps and a final face to face collision with reality; an ending and a new beginning on the streets of New York’s Greenwich Village.

The concert hall was definitely a large mess area. Tables had been removed and everyone one was in a frenzy decorating for the night’s social event. We arranged instruments in a central locale near where our imagined adoring fans would gather. I thought – this ain’t so bad. Good pay – decent room and fair sound system.

After setting up, we were ushered into a nearby room the size of a foot locker and far from military personnel. There were rumblings we may be draft-dodgers or drug merchants, determined to inject liberal poison into the veins of our nations finest. I tried avoiding eye contact. What do you say to a three-bird colonel with two pounds of polished brass dangling from the chest and an angry disposition? I hope you like the tunes?

Night arrives without much aggravation. The room pulsated with corsage-chest damsels and stiff neck grunts.

“Hey buddy, I used to have hair as long as you – look at me now. They’ll get you one day.” Oh, man. Let the games begin. “Hey hippie, do you squat when you piss.” Yeah man! ‘Yo girls – what you doin’ with those  pussies? Come down here and sit with real men.”

Rick’s temper turned volcanic. ‘Shut the fuck up pecker head,” he screams, “or I’ll beat the snot out both you and your ugly date.” No, no, no I say to myself. This isn’t good. “Come down here turd-boy and I’ll yank that funny wig off,” yells another. “What wig, – this is real hair you grapefruit headed asshole.”Please – slow down Rick.

In real life Rick was one of those beer-drinking, anti-hippie flower child types. The get up was more for costume than commitment. We kept our distance even though a table of date-deficient troopers kept shoving a table back at us trying to bust kneecaps.

Time arrived for the big show and what a show it was. GWE quickly lashes into the Seeds “Pushin too Hard,” one of our endless jams. With a set of ten songs and not much variety; a twenty-five minute epic acid-jam was in order.

The girls were impatient – yanked the neckties off their dates and rolled eyes. No one danced. It was if we were playing to an audience of Formica tables.

“Play something we can dance to like, “Woolly Bully! How ‘bout something slow by Gene Pitney – I know, “Town Without Pity,” disgruntled voices from the crowd demand. My date wants to jump my bones; let’s get it going or no one gets fucked tonight you bunch of long-hair fairies.”

What a mess. “We’re from California and we don’t play that shit” says Scratch.

“Why don’t you guys take the night off and we’ll get someone to spin records, some real music. Deal?”

I’m counting and banking the two hundred dollars. “No, that’s just fine – we’ll keep playing. Here’s one I know you’ll really like. “Light My Fire” by the Doors, I say. We glide into the body of the tune without mishap then chairs start sliding and squealing. Before we got to the twenty-minute guitar solo, bodies shift at the back of room. I could see necks bend and whisper. Soon, a military representative draws near, “Could you guys just stop playing and leave? This is all wrong. For your safety we’ll help you pack up and find the highway.” Scratch looks the guy straight on and says  “We still have two more sets to play and need to be paid, we’re just warming up.” The guy pulls us aside. “Look, you’ll get your money just get out of this room, it’s a security matter now.”

“Hey, big-beak come over here and suck on this,” says this pork-face guy. What? Now Rick and I are in whip-ass mode. “Did you hear what he said,’ asks Rick. “Let’s get the one with the shit-eating mouth and pound him into ass pudding. I’ve been watching how he undress Carol all night,” commands Rick. “He’s got those insane eyes.” Suddenly, the house music began playing and couples paired off. We quickly become yesterday’s nightmare.

While packing, a diminutive young soldier waltzes near. “I loved you guys – I love acid – in fact, I’m so high right now I’m feeling electric – I may never come down – you want some?”

Just as we were clearing the entrance an invisible hand extends from behind and slaps the back of my head. I do a quick turn around and see three guys staring the opposing way, one giggling. I thought up a few rebuttals but left well enough alone. Then the catcalls and shoving start. A couple military police intercede and move the square-headed boys a distance away.

We were then escorted into a room where the officer in charge apologizes and confesses his love for anti-social music especially, Tommy James & the Shondells.  He then proceeds to write us a check. A check? What the hell?

We volley back and forth yet he insists its military procedure. He then suggests we return Monday morning and he’ll arrange to cash the check. The only hitch in this -- it’s Saturday night and what the hell does anyone do in Amarillo for a day and a half.

We took up residence in a roadside park. Our downtown zombie friends invite us to a party. And we drop by an hour or so but couldn’t handle the paranoia. Everyone was on a watch list – guys and girls. It was easy getting tossed in a police cruiser and even more challenging surviving a few broken bones and facial bruises; or maybe rolled into a tasty vulture wrap. Monday couldn’t come quick enough.

Early Monday morning we arrive at the front gates. Sure enough, the officer lived up to his word and paid us two hundred in cash. He was cordial and respectful, and down the road we headed, focused on the miles ahead. Next stop? Des Moines, Iowa.

It was a miserably long eight-hour drive from Amarillo to Des Moines, Iowa. We arrive late at an all-night diner inhabited by farm boys and preening girls. The boys were well-fed much like the live stock they tended by day, and as vocal.

“Look at those long-hair pussies –why they are as pretty as Betsy the heifer, the girl Hubert screws.” Oh my, more of the same.

The six of us dine on burgers and fries while the hyper farm boys close in and play for laughs. The louder the girls giggle, the more excitable the boys. Eventually we pay the tab and walk towards the old Pontiac and climb inside.

It was ten miles out of town and up the highway towards Minnesota when a suspect car high-beams the back of our heads. We couldn’t detect if it was a provocative gesture or just someone looking to pass. Scratch signals them around.

We could hear slap-back obscenities reverberate in nearby fields as car sped past.  What sounded like yodeling farm boys, suddenly turns quiet as lights fade into the horizon. Moments later and a few miles down the two lane highway, we spot a sliver of light edging towards us. Advancing in our lane at a high clip, it gradually spreads into harsh light. Farm boys call this game chicken. We held ground hoping they’d reconsider. It became apparent they play to win. A split second and quick turn off road and plough through wheat field saved us from certain death--a most terrifying moment. The farm boys stop; jump on the hood of car and monkey-shout more obscenities. I really thought they would invade the woods and commit serious harm, but as quickly as the theatre of the absurd erupted, the show rumbled back down the highway leaving only the fearful sound of six people breathing heavily. It took several miles for the body-trembles subside. We had flu-like shakes.

Middle America rarely changes. There’s always a demon to chase and in 1967 if it wasn’t black it was sporting longhair.

A six hour drive was still ahead, getting Carol safely to her parents. She was Rick’s love interest but that was fading. She was one of the fortunate few who didn’t catch a venereal disease or flirt with poverty. Starved for adventure, Carol’s parents trusted and knew she was in control. Replaying our lives, Carol and I spent hours in the U-Haul, stacked high on blankets between suitcases. Miles accumulate making the dreaded stretch easy passage. It did invite a bit of friction between Rick and I, but it was nothing more than two people comfortable in conversation. She was old country Swedish stock; hearty and good natured, and in control. I really appreciated the female company.

The drop-off outside Minneapolis went smoothly, none of the over–the-top dysfunctional stuff that flies about when a child stretches their wings. It was now time to focus and find work. Scratch was on the move; that meant locate the longhairs and art-types in Minneapolis.

We pass a head-shop on the way into town and realize every young face paused at one-time or another, especially musicians, for rolling papers and pipes. The odd thing about this band – no one did drugs. It was a no–no. We certainly looked the part but our backgrounds were similar and there was a heavy emphasis on work and Christian play.

Not the bustling music scene we’d been used to, Minneapolis was a business hub. As people went about work, Main Street was mostly silent. There was still a connection with the ‘50s and bands from that era that made an impact. The top club was a place called Danceland; not a venue for longhairs. It was still bouffant hairstyles and boys with close-cropped hair. Danceland was in transition, stopping short of Rolling Stone types or anything comparable.

Editor’s Note:
Read the previous parts to Bill King’s Rock & Road Story:
Rock & Roll Road Stories (Pt. 1)
Rock & Roll Road Stories (Pt. 2)
Rock & Roll Road Stories (Pt.3)
Bill King is the author of a new book “In Concert !” Essays, Images and Interviews. The essays cover the past 50 years from Bill’s summer scholarship to study with piano giant Oscar Peterson the summer of 1963 in Toronto, catching Eric Clapton and Cream at the Café Au Go Go, Stevie Winwood and Traffic at Fillmore East – Joni Mitchell at Luminato, Willie Nelson at TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2013 among many other unique moments. The interviews are with the icons of jazz; Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, Oscar, Betty Carter, Phil Nimmons, Don Thompson, Tony Bennett, etc. There are 110 images from concerts the past twenty-five years. The book is edited by Vicki Leon. Printed on top grade photographic stock.

To order: