John Hayes was one of the tallest kids in my class. In fact, I think he and Harvey Treat were the tallest dudes their age, although Harvey was built like a rock and John had chicken legs like me. It was debatable who was more handsome, Harvey’s young John Wayne or Haye’s young Kirk Douglas. Hayes was blonde and had this amazing chin dimple. Hayes lived on Delaware Street, right down the block from me, so I guess it was inevitable we’d hang out at some point. But after he formed the Knight Riders and I saw their debut at the Urbana Junior High sock hop, I made it a point to start dropping by. Hayes was highly entertaining and always had great new records to listen to. (He appears as a composite character in my chilling report from the front-lines of the Generation War, “The Steam Tunnels,” available on smashwords and written while the battles were still fresh.) One day Hayes played “Talk, Talk” by the Music Machine. We both loved the song and the black leather look of the band. Almost from day one, Hayes was encouraging me to get a bass guitar and amp, indicating I might be able to slide into the Knight Riders, as he liked my style better than his founding bass player, Donnie Perrino. I was so eager to get into a band I did exactly that, thanks to mom, who attended the auction where we purchased a brand-new 1966 Gibson SG bass and amplifier for the staggering sum of $500. (Today that bass would be worth a hell of lot more, but I insanely sold it off for $100 while in Sweden, desperate for money.) I removed the black-finger grip they put on all the SG bases back then, as I intended to play with a pick, and not a thumb and fingers like a lot of players were doing. The SG had come out recently, and it was a big departure from those huge Fender bases that had dominated the live-music scene for years. Light and super easy to play, anyone with moderate skills could sound like Jack Bruce!
Now why John had it in for Donnie Perrino, I had no idea, as Donnie was clearly the best musician in the Knight Riders and could probably play any of the instruments better than anyone else in the band. But John had some deep insecurities because, while he was fun, he could also be cruel and vicious, and he often made fun of Donnie behind his back, which is a big no-no if you want to have any decent chemistry in your band. At the time, the Knight Riders were even rehearsing at Donnie’s house and Donnie’s dad was a super-cool dude and a big force in Summer Youth Music, a highly-respected program a lot of us attended. In fact, Donnie’s dad Dan eventually created a hot jazz band called the Medicare 7,8 or 9, and they became a local legend.
But the last time we left this particular thread, Carp was on his way to give Frank Sowers a beating, and a bunch of us were following right behind. Carp knocked on the Sower’s front door and Frank’s dad answered. “Can Frank come out and play?” asked Carp. A minute later, Frank appeared behind the screen door. Carp asked him to come out on the sidewalk as they had something to discuss, but Frank said “no,” and made it clear he wasn’t coming out. This went back-and-forth for a short time, and then Carp and his entourage departed. So there was no big show-down. But we longhairs felt like we won, because Carp sent a message to every jock in school, if they were going to pick on longhairs, like Smitty was obviously encouraging them to, they’d they’d have to deal with him. And not even Frank wanted to deal with Carp. Carp wasn’t like a normal person. When Carp got into a fight, it was like a click went off in his head, and he transformed into a creature from another dimension capable of monstrous violence. Once you saw that side of Carp in action, nobody, but nobody wanted to fuck with Carp.
Here’s the rest of the original Knight Riders, John Knight in 1964, before he grew long hair, and John Wilson in 1967, after he grew long hair. To give you an idea of what “long hair” looked like in the fall of 1967, when we got back from summer vacation, (because that’s when all the longhairs really sprouted), Wilson’s blonde locks (left) were like really long at that time. Anything that went over the top of your ears was considered radical. Hayes had a real strict father, a lawyer, and devoted member of the John Birch Society (a real power in town since their leading propagandist was a professor at the University of Illinois), and Hayes had to grease his hair every morning and comb it straight back for breakfast with his dad. After he arrived at school, however, he’d wash the grease out in the boy’s room and put on his regular hair-do. Since three of the Knight Riders were named “John,” we usually addressed them by their last names. At some point, Hayes decided to get a lead singer, and he offered that position to Carp, and Carp gratefully accepted. But it wouldn’t take long for Hayes to realize he’d just lost control over his own band.