Rant ‘N’ Roll: Bar Band Horror Stories

So after almost three years of reviewing all kinds of music, the publisher of this newspaper made me Music Editor in 1977. I had never taken one journalism course in college and I didn’t know how to edit. I was very good, though, at getting high and going to see a helluva lot of music. I also had a righteous sense of indignation, a healthy sense of protest and a decidedly left-wing political sensibility that the publisher liked. I was 26, had worked as a door-to-door aluminum siding salesman, camp counselor, Blimpie’s sandwich maker, golf caddy and lead singer in numerous rock ‘n’ roll cover bands. At the time of the announcement, I was still singing in a band called Airborne.

Airborne had a female organist who doubled on flute, so we did a lot of Jethro Tull. And if they were going to make me screech out some Led Zeppelin (which I hated having to sing), I made sure to get in the stuff I loved: Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley. It made for an odd mix because they wanted to do fucking Renaissance. I hated Renaissance. I wanted to sing “Jailhouse Rock.” Needless to say, that band didn’t last long.

Before that, I was in a band called Lazarus out of the Clifton area whose lead guitarist, Roy, was locked up in a mental hospital for trying to kill his mother and ramming his car into a tree (in that order). We would visit him at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains and get him out on a weekend pass to play gigs. I remember bringing him back once and giving my Al Green T-shirt to one of the mental patients who really wanted it. Roy could nail every Duane Allman solo note-for-note. He was amazing. Our drummer was a biker who worked security for John Scher at the Capitol Theater in Passaic. He kept promising we’d be on that stage someday.

Before that, I was in a band called The Rock Garden. We all wore white Nehru suits, Beatle boots, love beads and peace signs around our necks. I had naturally frizzy hair like Jimi Hendrix but wanted to comb it over my forehead like everyone else in the band who had straight hair, so I went and got it “processed.” Big mistake.

I remember the guy saying not to move when I was in the chair “‘cause that shit could burn a hole right through your scalp.” It made my hair limp and lifeless and I always thought it weakened it enough to make it fall out prematurely. We were the house band at the Granit Hotel upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains for a whole summer once, where we played for the kids on the small stage at night and were forced to teach the old ladies how to boogaloo by the pool every day. We hated it but met a lot of girls and wound up playing a lot of Sweet 16 parties in Ellenville, NY. We even played my high school alma mater, Weequahic High, in Newark, but the gig ended on a rough note when someone threw a huge rock at us shattering the plate glass window behind us to shower us with broken glass.

Once we played a funky bar called Grandma’s Confusion in Brooklyn. Our agent told us to stop with all the Jefferson Airplane, Wilson Pickett and Animals songs and learn some Top 40 so she could properly book us. We hated it but we practiced “Shake Your Booty” and “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.” Halfway through the first set with our new Top 40 material, the Brooklyn crowd started booing us and yelling for us to go back to Jersey. They threw chairs and turned on the jukebox while we played. We were booked to do five sets, 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off. After the first set, we huddled out back.

“They hate us,” I whispered. “So what are we going to do?”

“They keep yelling for Hot Tuna songs,” said the lead guitarist. “Tell ‘em, ‘Here’s a song by Hot Tuna.’”

“But we don’t know any Hot Tuna!”

“Doesn’t matter, I’ll just play a blues in A and you sing whatever you want.”

With that, we started the second set. “Here’s a song by Hot Tuna,” I said. “Cheers.”

I wound up singing verses from “Sugar Mama,” “Stormy Monday” and “Rock Me Baby.” They loved it. We jammed on blues all night and made lots of friends.

The last band I was ever in was with a bunch of guys whose lead singer had quit, and they needed another singer quick for a gig at a gym in Union. They knew me from a friend of a friend, didn’t really like me, but I knew their material and did the gig. There were three people in the audience. In between sets, we went out to the van to smoke a big bowl of hash.

We get back in the gym and there’s almost a hundred kids sitting on the gym floor. We had to pick our way through them careful not to step on anybody to make our way to our set-up underneath the basketball hoop. We start playing “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks but I’m so stoned, I’m singing on the offbeat and messing up the whole song. That’s when the bassist pushes me to the floor and their regular singer, who had showed up and was sitting in the crowd, gets up to finish the song. To be fired mid-song? My lowest moment in rock ‘n’ roll.
Mike Greenblatt would like to make Rant ‘N’ Roll interactive. Send him an email at mg2645@ptd.net, and your comments, questions, complaints and complements will be part of this column.