Barn Days, Hot Songs, and MTV
Before Jeff left for Tennessee, his and Uwe’s roommate stiffed them on rent, so the cool band house on the beach was history. He called his mom from the motel room shortly after we arrived and learned that she sold his car while he was in Tennessee. He was infuriated. Apparently, she didn’t think he would come back; especially with me in tow. We had planned to stay with her, but they got in an argument and she kicked us out before we even unpacked a toothbrush. I called my parents and told them I made it, and the people are nice.
Cotati and Rohnert Park were neighboring towns; you cross a line and you’re in one or the other. Cotati had a hippie vibe leftover from the 60’s whereas Rohnert Park seemed like a displaced middle class suburb of San Francisco, but with a 50-mile commute. Not exactly your music mecca. Santa Rosa, just 6 miles north, was the larger of the north bay towns and the gateway to wine country. I wasn’t sure I was in the right place or made the right decision. I put my trust in Jeff, and now Nick and Uwe, and from the get-go held on to the belief that we were meant to do something big.
I wasn’t very interested in partying, chasing girls or site seeing. I wasn’t a tourist. This was a rock and roll mission and I was ready to get to work. The wine country, Redwood Empire and the majestic pacific coastline weren’t even on my radar. The number 21 was stamped on my brain. It was the number that symbolized adulthood, and a steady 9 to 5 job. It seemed far away and grown up but it was just around the corner. I had to be successful by the time I got there. There wasn’t a plan B; nothing to fall back on. I wasn’t taking a gap year in between high school and college like some kids do … traveling and experiencing life before it got serious. This WAS serious. This was my one shot. I was committed … and maybe a wee bit uptight for an 18-year old.
The barn was behind Nick’s parents house at the end of their driveway. It wasn’t like the barns back home. It was a little more modern. It had big sliding doors with a concrete floor covered with throw-rugs and strands of carpet. Still a drafty wooden barn. There were two old flower print couches, Uwe’s huge half-homemade drum kit and Nick’s bass rig, mixed in with lawn and gardening tools. The back wall was lined with 99 empty beer bottles Uwe had collected. Beers I’d never heard of from around the world like Guiness and Moosehead. Behind Nick’s amp was a black curtain hung from the rafters with a red symbol that resembled the pi sign sewn onto it. They called it “the flowing symbol of Nick.”
We didn’t have a PA yet, so Jeff sat and watched us play for the first few practices with a proud look on his face. Nick did his John Entwistle thing, Uwe did his Keith Moon thing and I did my Michael Schenker thing. Friends of the band were stopping by to check out the new Tennessee guitar player (“the secret weapon”). I felt like a blue ribbon pig at the county fair. I was the bashful ham and enjoyed the attention. My southern drawl embarrassed me, and intensified my shyness, so I didn’t say much. When I did speak, a pretty blonde named Cindy, wiggled and giggled on the couch in front of me. I could tell Cindy and I would have a future of some sort together. I’d also have a future with that couch she was sitting on, and not the good kind.
We had 5 songs. Two of them I stole from Secret Service back in Tennessee. I figured this was my revenge since they pushed me out of the band. Jeff and I played an acoustic version of the ballad he wrote for his girlfriend, Stacy, and she wept. After the visitors cleared out, and we worked on the hot songs, Uwe regaled us with a 30-minute drum solo … then we smoked some pot. I was hardly on the straight and narrow anymore. At the end of my senior year I had successfully gotten high again without needing to go to the hospital. I also secretly and successfully drank a beer in a closet at a party. The second time I drank, I successfully puked for about 8 eight hours straight. Everything was fine except someone failed to tell me that the northern California pot was famous for being the strongest in the world. All of the sudden I was in the clutches of paranoia and “the flowing symbol of Nick” looked something sinister. I looked at my bandmates, who at this point were virtual strangers, and remembered a fire and brimstone sermon from back home about how “Satan will come like a thief in the night.” Then Uwe and Jeff began speaking with British accents.
“Now that our secret weapon is here, we shall begin our world domination.” Uwe said.
“Yes, yes, but, first you must bow to the flowing symbol of Nick.” Jeff commanded.
I stood staring at the flowing symbol of Nick. Jeff must’ve noticed the blood had left my face.
“You’re not serious, are you?” I mumbled.
“What, you don’t think we’re some kind of cult do you? Jeff laughed.
I woke up to the buzz of the small portable heater on the floor next to the couch. My covers were pulled up to my chin, and my face and hair were cold. Jeff was snoring on the other couch. I could hear the muffler of Uwe’s Baha bug coming down the driveway. I opened my eyes to Uwe’s silhouette pushing open the door as a wave of morning chill and light hit our faces. His body was shaped like a question mark. Back curved at the top making his ill-shaped leather flight jacket stick out on the bottom. All his hair hung in front of his shoulders. “Morning, dudes. I brought some munchies.” I sat up, still fully clothed. Uwe had a brown paper bag with orange juice, chocolate milk, a loaf of sour dough bread, and a bong. I tore off a piece of the sour dough, my first taste ever. It was different, but I was starving, and probably would’ve eaten stale rice off a pile of cow dung. Uwe loaded the bong and Jeff woke up.
“Bong hit breakfast, Jeff?” Uwe asked
“Hell yeah.” Jeff said, sleepy eyed.
Jeff propped himself on his elbow, leaned over and hit the bong and laid back down. I thought, how can anyone get high this early!
We had been secretly sleeping in the barn. After practice, Nick would turn out the lights and put his finger to his lips as he slid the doors shut and locked us in. It was the rainy season and the nights were chilly. We’d place the heater between the couches, and speak at low volume until we fell asleep. The rain on the tin roof reminded me of back home. Uwe usually showed up with food after Nick’s parents went to work. Jeff and I didn’t mind our situation. We were paying our rock and roll dues.
Uwe took off to work and Jeff and I worked on songs. After a while Jeff called Stacy from Nick’s house to come pick us up. I decided to stay behind and practice guitar. After a few hours I took a walk down Old Redwood Highway toward town, stopping by Lombardi’s Market to get a “Bagel Dog” (a new fangled hot dog Uwe turned me on to) and a chocolate milk. I devoured the food on the sidewalk and then took a left. The Inn of the Beginning, a blues and singer/songwriter bar that supposedly Jerry Garcia and Neil Young used to haunt, was next door. A table of long haired thirty-something’s in tie-dyes having an afternoon beer nodded from the patio as I walked passed. They looked like they’d been sitting there since 1970, talking about the time Janis came through. The hippie movement seemed like ancient history, but my perception of time was skewed by youthfulness. I turned right and crossed East Cotati Avenue to check out a hipper venue called the Cotati Cabaret. It was a free standing stone building surrounded by unusual looking oaks. There was a poster at the entrance advertising “The Red Hot Chili Peppers from L.A. coming in February.” Funny band name, I thought. I headed down the sidewalk towards Rohnert Park when a car pulled in front of me and a man got out and blocked my path.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” he asked.
“I’m out of school.”
“Yeah, right. Do you go to Rancho Cotati High?”
“No. I’m from Tennessee. I’m 18.”
“You got an ID? You don’t look a day over 15.” he said.
All I had was the fake ID me and my friends got before we went to the beach after graduation. It said I was 24. I showed it to him.
“Interesting looking identification, but, I hear your southern accent. I guess you’re free to go.” He said, hesitantly.
We had only been a band for a couple weeks when a guy from San Raphael named Dan Cassidy wanted to invest in us and make a music video. A friend had recorded a practice and played it for this guy (I think it was some kind of drug connection) and the next thing we know Dan Cassidy pulled up at the barn in his BMW wearing an MTV jacket. He and his side-kick Reggie were crazy about one of the stolen songs called “Show Me.” They wanted to hear it over and over.
“How about we make a music video and get that Show Me song on MTV!” Dan said, excited.
We looked at one another smiling and shaking ours heads, yeah okay.
“But first, I think you need to change your band name. One is boring. You need something big sounding like The Stones or Led Zeppelin!” he said.
I didn’t like One very much either, but the band was named before I joined. It was three against one, so I just went with it. We said no to the name change.
Dan and Reggie came to a couple more practices. They were always chanting, “I want my MTV!” in a terrible British accent. They wanted to throw a party to celebrate their new video endeavor. Nick seemed skeptical of Dan and the whole video deal but reluctantly agreed to have the party at the barn. When Nick came home the night of the party his parent’s lawn was a parking lot and the barn was packed with people coming and going. Dan bought a keg of beer and we plugged in and played a few songs. Everyone was excited for the band. We couldn’t believe how fast things were moving. Even Nick’s parents popped in for a little while and seemed to enjoy themselves. I noticed that Dan, Reggie and some others kept disappearing behind The Flowing Symbol of Nick. I investigated and saw that they were snorting cocaine. It was the first time I’d seen the stuff.
Dan had a business called the National Scholarship Research Service. He found scholarship money for college applicants. His business did so well its first year that he had to drop out of med school to run it. His story was going to be featured in the December issue of People Magazine. He was legit! So I called my parents and said, “Hey, pick up the new People, we’re going to be on the MTV!”
A few days later, Dan and Reggie took us around to some music stores to shop for new equipment. I needed a bigger amplifier so we drove out to Mesa Boogie in Petaluma. I tried out everything in the showroom! Then we went to Bananas at Large in San Raphael to look at drum stuff for Uwe. On the drive there Dan asked if we had jobs. Uwe and Nick did, Jeff and I didn’t. I said “the band is my job right now; it’s just not making money yet.” Dan didn’t care for that answer, and said we’d have to get jobs if he was going to invest in us. Jeff retorted with, “A job? We don’t even have an address!” There weren’t any purchases made that day.
In the midst of all the MTV excitement, we submitted a tape for a county-wide battle of the bands. It was to take place over Christmas break at Rancho Cotati High…the bands alma mater. Our tape was accepted and we were of 4 bands selected to compete. The winner would receive studio time at Harbor Sound down in Sausalito. We started working on a 40-minute set of originals and a couple covers. Nick wanted to cover the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Southern Cross, which I vehemently opposed. “That’s not even rock and roll!” He also wanted a horn section on a couple of songs; I was against that too.
Nick had an eclectic taste in music and his idea of rock and roll wasn’t the same as mine. I felt he’d be just as happy playing jazz or cabaret. He played in an Entwistle style on a Rickenbacker bass with a thumb pick. His bass sound was bright; kind of anti-bass, really. He could put a lot of notes in one single measure, (as could Uwe) and he had an extra fret added to his bass neck. I guess he wanted to break a record on the worlds highest electric bass note which I think was a C. We didn’t have guitar tuners, and Nick insisted I tune to his bass. I realized a few weeks later that he was secretly tuning above standard to achieve the high note. But we were all nerds in our own special way. Back home, I learned the entire soundtrack to Franco Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet. I thought it sounded cool through a loud amplifier. I now incorporated parts of it in my spotlighted guitar solo. Uwe was a technical nerd. He made his own drums out of PVC pipe cut to different lengths and perfected a style he called “double and triple roll-offs.” Since Nick and Uwe wanted to be lead guys instead of a standard rhythm section, I tried to smooth things out on guitar. Our songs were for the most part musically ambitious. My pop sensibilities meshed well with their progressiveness.
After the failed shopping spree, Dan dropped Nick and Uwe off in Cotati and invited me and Jeff back to San Raphael. He took us out for Chinese, which I’d never had, and afterward we went to his office suite. There were rows of desks with Apple computers on top glowing in the dark. First time I’d seen one. Dan grabbed some beers out of the fridge in his personal office and we drank and talked about the goals of the band. He told us he would set us up in a recording studio after the holidays. Exactly what we wanted to hear! He then offered to pay for my plane ticket if I wanted to go home for Christmas. I didn’t want to go home. I’d only been gone 3 weeks! Besides, it was exciting times, and we had to practice for the Battle of the Bands.
By the time we got back to Dan’s apartment I was hungry again. Jeff said, “yeah man, Chinese food doesn’t stick. That’s why the Chinese are so skinny!” Dan’s wife made us a pallet on the floor. We drank a couple more beers and her and Dan crashed. Jeff turned on the TV and I raided the pantry. I found some canned tamales (more food I’d never heard of) and thought what the hell. I’d better get used to new foods if I didn’t want to go hungry. But the tamale, beer and Chinese combo made me sick in the middle of the night, and I puked all over the living room carpet.
The next morning Dan gave us the keys to his Datsun truck and a gas card to get back to Cotati. We couldn’t believe it! He said we should use the opportunity to look for jobs. Instead, we gassed up, bought some snacks and headed back to look for pot. We eventually picked up Stacy, hit another store for snacks and smokes, then drove up to a little park in the mountains to enjoy our lute. I got out of the truck and spotted a blackbird sitting in a tree about 100 feet away. I spontaneously picked up a rock and hurled it. The bird fell straight to ground. I felt terrible! That bird was minding his own business and then some asshole from Tennessee comes along. I dug a hole and gave it a proper burial.
Later that night we headed back to the barn. Jeff turned off the lights, put it in neutral and coasted the truck down the driveway. We slid inside and I turned on the lamp and heater, grabbed the acoustic, and quietly started working on a new tune. Suddenly, there was a bang on the door, it slid open and Nick’s dad was yelling at us in his pajamas in a mixture of Spanish and English. All I could decipher was, “get out, get out, and never come back!” We grabbed our blankets and the acoustic guitar and drove back to the mountains in the rain.
For the next few days we stocked up on Doritos and Mountain Dew and slept inside the trucks camper shell in the mountains. In just 3 weeks, we had gone from bus seats, to a smelly couch with springs poking our backs, to a steel truck bed. It sucked that we couldn’t have band practice, but we were productive in the old Datsun and wrote a couple songs. It was close quarters and soon the truck smelled of cheese, sweat, and Jeff’s Marlboro Reds, so we snuck into the barn to get a change of clothes and went to Jeff’s moms to shower while she was at work. When we got a hold of Nick again, we were relieved to hear that we could still practice at the barn. The new rules were: no music after 10pm and absolutely no crashing there. Nick also said Dan called looking for us, and his truck. Seems our camping days were over.
So Jeff swallowed his pride and called his mom, and we moved into her house the next day. It felt great to have some stability and a soft bed to sleep on, but, would it last? Jeff got a job cleaning carpet and was gone during the day. He was jogging in the afternoons, trying to stay in shape for the Battle. My parents were sending me a little money so I didn’t feel the need to work. I slept in and practiced my riffs. I was hanging out with Cindy a lot, too, who lived just a short walk away. She’d stop by and wake me up in the mornings, then when I started playing guitar, she’d get bored and leave. Sometimes I’d stay at her place. There was always plenty of food in their fridge. We slept in the den next to a cozy fire under the Christmas tree lights. Her parents didn’t seem to mind. After all, this was California.
The auditorium was packed for The Battle of the Bands! It seemed mine and Jeff’s botched gig days were over, and we finally got to perform. We were Page and Plant, Tyler and Perry, Eddie and Dave all wrapped up in one. Jeff did a Roger Daltry and wind-milled his mike so wide that it hit the light truss and shattered on the stage. For the cover tunes we played Van Halen, Uriah Heap and a Jerry Riggs song (which was a nod to east Tennessee). The last song in the set was “Show Me” with the horn section Nick wanted. It was a great ending and high point of the show, especially when Uwe trashed his drums. We won the battle that night. Our final score was 666.
Dan and Reggie didn’t show up. In fact, we never heard from Dan Cassidy again.