THE STORY OF A SMUDGY, STAINED OLD PHOTOGRAPH
It’s the summer of 1966. John F. Kennedy and the good Pope John XXIII are already a few years dead, Malcolm X was assassinated the year before, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are still alive, the Viet Nam war is revving up into full gear and I am sixteen years old. Much to my father’s consternation, I have missed getting two or three of my normally scheduled and much despised “shave it all off” haircuts. I am very happy about that. As Frank Zappa, in the song Who Needs the Peace Corps? would later say, “Oh, my hair’s getting good in the back.”
I have been in my first band with three friends for about a year now. We call ourselves The Lost Soles. Quite appropriate I would think. We are one lead guitarist, two rhythm guitarists and one drummer and I’ve been given the task of playing bass on my six string Harmony guitar over a Sears Silvertone tube amp top with a cabinet containing six ten inch speakers because neither one us rhythm guitarists has the money to buy a bass or really wants to be the bassist. If nothing else, I am loud. The drummer has an ancient inherited 1940’s Ludwig jazz drum kit with a huge bass drum. Our main sources of musical inspiration are the Beatles, of course, and then the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Byrds, along with most of the pop standards of the day like Louie Louie, Dirty Water and Wipeout. We’ve been playing primarily at clandestine beer parties and at a gig my father got us at the Service Club on the nearby Army base, where we played on a big stage to a nearly empty auditorium. Like millions of other teenagers across the country we spend our weekends practicing in a small cramped cellar and stake our hopes high on becoming successful musicians and stars. But that dream is at the end of a long tunnel and we haven’t seen the light yet.
Later that summer in August we go on a local radio station sponsored bus trip to Washington D.C. to see the Beatles in concert at D.C. Stadium. We are excited about that and blissfully unaware that this will be their last tour. On the bus trip up we put on our poses and generally misbehave. Once we have our seats in the stadium, people patiently wait out the opening acts until the Beatles stroll out to the tiny stage in the middle of the ball field and begin to play. Their concert is basically tens of thousands of hysterical teenage girls all screaming at the top of their lungs while having sloppy wet orgasms on the bleacher seats. The Beatles play about thirty five minutes of their standard repertoire, the sound of which every now and then manages to drift through the non-stop screaming. Then they dash across the infield and are gone. Later that month, with one last concert in San Francisco, an era would come to an end. But all that concerns us is the fact that we have seen and heard our idols play, giving us even more of a consensus to reach for the stars…
Eventually by the end of the year the lead guitarist and the drummer, who were brothers, moved away as did the other guitarist and The Lost Soles went the way of most youthful dreams and vanished as our lives began to chart their courses. As I look at this photo taken 48 years ago in one of those instant photo booths in an amusement park, you know, the kind that spits out your series of four photos in little metal frames after about a ten minute wait, I think back across the intervening time and where our paths have taken us. I know that John, the lead guitarist, after going to a community college and a doing stint in the Navy, ended up working for a large company in West Virginia, found the love of his life, got married and then lost his beloved wife early on to cancer. We have been occasionally in touch over the years and I know that he has continued play music and perform, recently recording his own CD with a fellow musician. His brother Charles, who was the drummer and the ladies man of the band back then, and who was always a talented artist and very good in woodworking, got married, had a family, found religion along the way and eventually established his own custom made guitar manufacturing company. He makes excellent guitars. Whatever became of Steve, the other guitarist, I know very little about. The two e-mail addresses I had for him a few years ago no longer exist, so I have lost contact. But I can imagine that he also continued playing through the years.
As for myself, well after playing in another quite chaotic high school group with the unlikely name of The Seeing Eye Mole Band that never amounted to much, I went off to college where I performed in the Freshman Talent Show with a beautiful young lady who then, the next semester, promptly transferred somewhere else. Eventually in the fall of 1969 I hooked up with three musicians and we formed the band Sage and once again looked to the stars. Mostly we played college parties and dances, doing a mix of covers and original material. We even ended up taking a dismally recorded reel of tape of our original songs to the Elektra Records office in New York in December 1969. A month later it was returned with a letter saying politely that it was not quite what they were interested in, with a handwritten remark at the bottom by the A&R director Shelley Snow, critiquing the songs, saying “nice, a little down, but groovy.” It was not unexpected, but I had been hoping that those songs would catch someone’s ears. A side note: we were supposed to re-unite after all these years in October of 2011 for a one up performance at a college reunion which I was really looking forward to, seeing as how we’re no longer spring chickens and this would probably be the last time in our lives to get together. I hadn’t seen them since 1972. I made a special trip back to the States, but unfortunately only the lead guitarist showed up. I don’t know why the bassist didn’t show, but I was told that the drummer apparently had another gig which he considered more important than one last reunion. For him, that sounds like par for the course and made the whole trip, as far as the band reunion was concerned, a waste of time and money. Thanks a lot guys.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah, I spent the summer of 1970 in Philadelphia with a second incarnation of Sage, living in a ghetto, staying poor and starving while trying to get gigs that never quite materialized. I ended up walking around wearing a sandwich board advertising for a job agency for $2.00 an hour to earn enough to eat. The summer after that I worked with a lady college friend as a duo, playing Holiday Inns and supper clubs around the Tidewater area under the name of BARBERIK. She was very talented and the gigs were good but our manager, who always seemed to get us gigs, seldom paid us and ended up absconding at the end of the summer with what was left of our earnings. Bummer. I spent the rest of the 70’s in various frustrating formations getting absolutely nowhere. Small wonder, my voice didn’t really find its mark until I reached my early 30’s and became an expatriate.
Financial necessity became the impetus for taking up street music, both when I traveled in Europe in 1979 and when I moved there in 1980. In 1984, when I finally was able to bring over my two electric guitars, I joined a blues band and I began organizing blues sessions in local clubs and bars. I spent a few years paying my dues and working on my voice. Since then I have been performing semi-professionally in various blues groups, in two world music ensembles, in an earlier and the present Doors tribute band and in a jazz and poetry formation, along with numerous one up jazz, rock and folk performances. For me at least, the music has always moved me ‘further on up the road’ from all those many years ago when, as The Lost Soles, to paraphrase George Harrison, we were so young and the times were indeed fab…
(Footnote: This is the first in a series of posts that I will be doing here in the future from time to time. Years ago on MySpace, before it went down the tubes, I had a personal musical history section on my profile that featured a lot of photos of the many good bands and musicians I have played with through the years and a short synopsis of the who, what, when and where. Because they all contributed so much to my musical creativity I think that they merit mentioning here too.)
The Lost Soles, summer 1966 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This photo, taken in one of those amusement park instant photo booths and was in a metal frame that rusted over the years, took a lot of cleaning up in Photoshop to bring it somewhat back to life.
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