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Road Band

A reminiscence from earlier days-

    The big Indian lunged at me, with a sudden wild swipe which would certainly have laid me flat like a busted reed, if it had connected. I am hardly built for such swipes, but fortunately I am built for speed, and I twisted backwards and away as the maddened lurch missed me by a whisker. As is usual in such cases with me, I then broke into hysterical, adrenaline-fueled laughter, which did nothing to soothe the savage breast of my antagonist. He fairly roared, and hurled himself after me, but his game was fled and he knew it; I was too quick for him. After a halfhearted lumbering attempt to catch me, he gave it up; his baleful glare being the worst damage he was able to do.
     Still grinning like an ape, but keeping out of the hostile perimeter, I resumed carrying the heavy amps and other band equipment off the bar stage, and out to our truck. The evening was over, and my band mates and I were roadies as well as being the main attraction. And in that part of Idaho in the 70's, drunk Indians, not to mention drunk cowboys, were just part of the territory for a road band.
    There was a large reservation out in the lava desert near by, Blackfoot and Shoshone, and everything around that was the wide open ranch country of the real Out West. On a Saturday night, the towns would see a large influx of men with nothing on their mind but to find a little excitement. Our job was to keep them dancing, and keep them drinking, and to remind them, don't forget to tip your waitress. And don't throw bottles at the band. Southern Idaho was a wild enough place for a kid from back East, just out of college, and it seemed like more fun than being a music teacher.
     This particular encounter with the drunk Indian was nothing; the hulking fellow had been trying to pick a fight with our lead guitar player, Kevin, for no other reason than that Kevin was a big man; this wasn't unusual. Kevin was trying to ignore him, but when the fellow resorted to shoving, I stepped in. I came up behind the man, reached up and tapped him on the shoulder and began circling my fists like an English pugilist, all the while chanting, "C'mon, c'mon!"  My intention was joking; I was half his size, and just trying to make him laugh and leave Kevin alone. But to my surprise, he exploded with rage and lunged at me. Yikes!  But no harm done, luckily, and he did forget all about Kevin. He kept his eye on me for the rest of the time we were loading out; each time I passed near him, he would swing his head around drunkenly, and make a feint or two to keep me alert, but he wasn't really mad anymore.
     This was one of many towns that we played in our circuit; bars were numerous and bands were few in those days. On a Saturday night in some of those places, driving on the sidewalk was not just a metaphor. At least once I actually did see a car bump up onto the curb, narrowly miss a building, and then reel off swerving back onto the road and away.
    A bar band in Pocatello in the early 70's didn't have to worry about much besides keeping the tempo upbeat, once the people started to dance. If you tried to play a slow ballad at the wrong moment during the evening, the people could get ugly in a real hurry. One night, early in the evening when the people had all left their tables and were just starting to get sweaty and rowdy, I decided that I was in the mood to play a slow number that we had just learned. My bandmates assured me that this was the wrong time for it; we needed to play another dance number, but for some stupid reason I insisted. About half a minute into the song as I was crooning, the people were standing and glaring at us with increasing hostility. We cut that nonsense very short and went back to what they wanted; boogie-tempo. Kevin gave me a significant look. I was learning who was making who dance, here.
    Our lifestyle was interesting, for awhile. We were a four piece country-rock band, working full-time. When we really got cooking on a night, and all the bodies on the dance floor would be moving frenetically to our rhythm, I would reflect that there were worse ways to be making a living. Here we were, getting paid for doing what we would probably have been doing anyway, right about then. The four of us shared a house in Pocatello; one hundred bucks a month split 4 ways, and the living was easy. When we weren't working, we were always practicing, and there were always people coming over to hang out at the house to listen, to party, to eat whatever food we had, to leave their empty beer cans lying around. I was the house maid (as well as playing 2nd-lead guitar, as we called it), and I was always trying to keep the house in a condition something like what a civilized creature would live in. When I grumbled about the constant mess I always had to clean up, everybody would protest, "Lenny, we'll help you clean the place up! Relax. We'll help you tomorrow." Uh-huh.
    There were some hard cases that would hang at our house. There was one guy that we called Klauser, who looked like he shouldn't still be breathing. He was a generous fellow, and would always offer to share whatever he had going, for instance the case of morphine ampoules he had just stolen from a hospital. I was a little too straight to appreciate this sort of generosity, but the other guys didn't mind it. One night I bought a mess of beets, turnips, spinach, celery, potatoes, and I cooked a huge pot of vegetable soup. Klauser gratefully accepted his steaming bowl of broth and vegetables, with a kind of awe and reverence. I don't think he had seen something like that since he had been a child.
     One night, Fleetwood Mac came to Pocatello, to play in the somethingDome at the local college. They were kicking off a nationwide tour in our little backwater town, and it was a really big event for the town. A great many people went, and since it was a night off for our band, we went too. I was excited that I would get to see Christine McVie, who I thought was very fine. The other girl in the band, Stevie Nicks, was actually drunk during the concert. She disrespected the audience; she didn't seem to care about the show, just because we were hayseeds or hicks or something. During the show, she kept leaning drunkenly on Christy, who shrugged her off several times, and at one point gave her a very angry look right on stage. It was clear that it was important to Christy to do a good show even if we were just ignorant cowboys, and I loved her even more for it.
    My friends and I didn't pay to get in to the concert; we just walked in during the long set of encores. And I have to admit that we had all had a few drinks ourselves that night. For my part, I stood transfixed by the sight of beautiful Christy McVie, live right in front of me. As they were taking their bows after the last song, I just started walking towards her, as the crowd was dispersing. I was only half-conscious of climbing over a barricade as I moved forward towards the stage. I only had eyes for her; I wanted to speak to her, touch her hand.
     As I dream-walked toward the stage, I suddenly felt myself become airborne. Literally. I was up in the air and moving sideways, my legs paddling the void like a turtle's when you pick it up by the shell. A giant security guard had come up behind me and lifted me up, and set me back down on the other side of the barricade with my legs still moving. So I just kept them moving in the direction he had put me, towards my laughing friends hooting and shouting at me. Christy never even glanced my way.
     So the boys and I lived at our house, and we rocked the little bars in town for three or six weeks at a stretch, before moving to a different town on our circuit, driving through great expanses of panoramic mountain scenery to get to the different towns we played in.
    In two years of driving around Idaho, I did see some interesting things. Our bass player, Kuta, was a local boy, and he knew the parents of Evel Kneivel, the stuntman. Kuta showed us their hometown once, and the parents' little grocery store, Kneivel's. We drove out to an awesome stretch of the Snake River Canyon, at the spot where Evel had tried to jump his bike over the canyon for his last big public stunt. (It didn't work, and he swung down on the emergency parachute, breaking a few bones as usual.)
    Awesome canyon views, and then we were off to Sugar City to play for another week in another local bar; another five nights of boogie-woogie all night long. As most boys in a band do, we had big dreams at first. Kevin and I had been best friends since 4th grade back in New Jersey, and we had had visions of glory since we were boys. Al Hat our drummer was also an old NJ friend, and we had often discussed the idea of getting rich and famous. But in reality, our present routine had gotten monotonous. We were always getting to another town much like the last one, staying at motels or campgrounds for a weekend, a week, or two weeks, and then we would be off again, down the long road to the next place. Not much pressure; not much satisfaction either.
     I started to miss my home. I would think of my old grandparents and my mom, still living near where the big farmhouse used to be, back in New Jersey. For how much longer, would they still be there?
    So much for rock and roll; I was lonely. We had had a few shining moments now and then, but it was going nowhere. So at last, having a few hundred frugal dollars in the bank, the fruits of my brief rock and roll career, I changed them to traveler's checks, and told my mates of my decision to leave.
    I gave my dear little Volkswagen bug a careful tune-up, changed the oil, and packed my guitar and few belongings into it. Then I pointed East, and was gone.

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