I’d been hoping my fans would switch to reading books on tablets so we could save some trees, which is why I’ve been releasing nothing but ebooks for the past two years, and sales have been slow but steady, although some fans keep clamoring for print books, so I unleashed five today.
Did you know the world’s only hippie memorial is located along the Illinois Central train tracks in Arcola, Illinois? The town I grew up in was actually a hotbed of radical activity in the 1960s. The fledgling Students for Democratic Society (SDS) picked Urbana, Illinois, in fact, as the site for their 1965 conference, and hundreds of members arrived from all around the country. Soon, we had the state’s best garage band, The Finchley Boys, as well as the country’s greatest experimental artist, John Cage, both performing in our little community 120 miles south of Chicago. We also had the first landmark performance of a masterpiece called “MacBird!” which theorized JFK had been murdered and President Johnson was an accomplice in the crime.
Jim “Chef Ra” Wilson was my high school senior class president, the first black elected to that position. He organized the first black appreciation celebration in the history of Urbana High. It was held late at night and included free soul food and a series of performances by notable black musicians who were also students at the school.
My best friend Larry Green, recently arrived from Baltimore, somehow became one of the star attractions of the evening by commanding a gaggle of black girls around him at all times, all constantly cracking up at his improv performances. The alpha chick among them was also the girlfriend of the star of the show, who played keyboards and sang, among many other talents. I remember him from the stage suddenly stopping the show to ask his girl what she was doing with her arm around Larry Green’s neck? Somehow, Larry turned that all around into a big belly laugh and the performance went on. I don’t know if any long-term inter-racial relationships were born that night, but it certainly was a wonderfully healing ceremony for all who attended and I hope we left many of our fellow black students with a sense of our appreciation for their culture, despite the institutionalized racism that had afflicted the school up until then and the fact few of us would actually try the chitlins.
Jim’s ceremonies would continue to evolve and mature as he grew up. One of his best was his annual appearance in the July 4th parade, which wound its way through much of the town before culminating at the football stadium, where the state’s largest fireworks display would be set off come darkness. Jim could often be found in some wild, colorful outfit, roller-skating through the entire parade route and doing circles and stunts the whole way. He was well over 6 foot tall, and had placed third in the state high jump his senior year so his athletic abilities were unparalleled.
In 1968, someone applied for a permit for anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to march in the annual parade and the permit was duly granted on grounds of free speech after a brief court battle even though members of the town councils wanted it denied as un-American and inappropriate. We happened to be driving past Green Street when the protestors were attacked by a gang of men wearing hard-hats, some of whom wielded clubs and chains. Jim Cole, leader of the Finchley Boys, was one of the protestors and would later describe grabbing a fist aimed at his face and then realizing it belonged to someone he knew quite well. I really felt I’d missed out on something exciting, but I wasn’t much of a street fighter anyway. My time, however, was soon coming.
Later that day, I was hitchhiking with Larry and Carole. Carole, at this point, had become Larry’s girl friend. I’d already read “The Sun Also Rises” so the part of discarded ex-lover who hangs on for dear life had already been portrayed as a noble cause. Whenever I saw films like “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” I immediately recognized my role.
Anyway, a white car slowed to a stop. “We’ll take the girl, but we won’t take you,” said a dude in the backseat, whose mouth seemed full of marbles. He had a southern, redneck accent and was barely understandable. I looked inside the car and noticed some guys in uniform and thought I saw a hardhat on one of the seats.
“Would you like to ride with these guys?” I asked Carole, who, of course, said, “No.”
As I was explaining the situation, the dude in the shotgun seat reached down on the floor and produced a steel chain. He opened the car door and I began backing away from the car, while holding Larry and Carole behind me. But we couldn’t back up fast enough for the dude swung that four-foot chain and it whipped around my side while he began yelling about his contempt for long-haired hippies like me. At this point, my only thought was to get Carole out of there before the other three dudes got out of the car and tried to abduct her. She seemed to be the real center of interest in all situations, so I grabbed her arm and yelled, “Run!”
Meanwhile, Larry, stepped around me and confronted this dude. Larry had the supreme confidence he could talk his way out of any situation as well as being somewhat fearless. Larry probably began with some comment like: “Hey, now wait a minute, this doesn’t call for violence…” Meanwhile I was already halfway around the house wondering why Larry hadn’t taken off running with us when I yelled “Run!.” Although I couldn’t see what was happening, I soon surmised that Larry had been pushed into a large bush and beaten on his back a couple times with the chain.
Some guardian angel appeared out of no where, claiming to be a Vietnam War Vet. The dude beating on Larry was talking about the war while he was beating on him. And this Vet wanted him to know that all Vets didn’t feel like him and that he should leave Larry alone and let him go. Carole, meanwhile, refused to stay hidden on the other side of the house with me since she was delirious with concern over Larry.
Eventually the three of us re-united and the car drove off. Back at her house, Carole scolded me pretty harshly for running away from the scene and abandoning Larry like that after he tried to stick up for me. But we got over it pretty quick and headed back to Campus-town, where everyone was hanging out in front of Turk’s Head. Larry showed off his chain marks for all to see while we recounted the story of our adventures. Much later than night, while I was alone in the bathroom, I would finally notice the chain welts across my own back.
Even better than seeing a Finchley Boys’ concert was seeing the Finchley’s battle the one other famous garage band in town, the Seeds of Doubt, fronted by Urbana High senior Guy Maynard, a very influential figure in the twin cities in the late ’60s. I really need a higher resolution jpeg of this flyer for their first public encounter. Even at this resolution, however, I can tell this picture is priceless, revealing a very young Jim Cole, and somewhat more mature-looking Guy Maynard facing off, with their bands behind them. Within a few months Cole would have his growth spurt and morph into the local version of Bob Dylan/Mick Jagger rolled into one.
Guy was way ahead of most of us on a lot of fronts. He deplored the whole jock/longhair terminology, for example, as he knew the words contributed to the polarization taking place, a polarization that would erupt in violence in the fall of 1967, and grow worse the next semester following the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.
Funny, though, Guy had been a known conservative,and stanch supporter of Barry Goldwater his last year in Junior High, but when he moved to High School, he suddenly started looking and acting a lot like Brian Jones! Guy was following the first garage band in the twin cities, most, if not all of whom, were from Champaign Central High School. They were doing a version of “Gloria” before the Shadows of Knight, and Guy was their biggest fan. Eventually the band decided they wanted Guy to be their lead singer, and that’s when they came up with the name “Seeds of Doubt.”
If you like these stories why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, or my free eBooks, links at top-right column of this page. Please subscribe so you don’t miss out on future posts, and thanks for stopping by. Blytham Card courtesy Guy Marnard.
The first issue of The Tin Whistle included my endorsement for Larry Green for Senior Class president, our counterculture attempt to take over the political structure of a school that had always been dominated by the winners of the annual Daughters of the American Revolution awards. You’ll notice Larry wears the magic cross that was also the secret symbol of my elementary school streetgang (see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters”). I took both photos the same day, cut them up and glued them together to create the effect of Larry as teenage monster towering over Urbana High. The story “Tales from the House on High Street” is an obvious reference to Eric Swenson’s pad, our favorite hangout. After the Knight Riders kicked me out of the band for being an LSD addict (or so they thought), I toyed around with the idea of starting a band with Eric and we held a bunch of rehearsals at his house, but I soon came to the conclusion being in a band with Eric wasn’t really going to amount to anything real, as Eric was more than content to just jam in his living room and nothing more. He always had a cigarette in his mouth when he drummed, and used an overturned cymbal on the floor as his ashtray.
Meanwhile, The Finchley Boys were going through their own changes. Somewhere along the line, they started doing an Animals’ cover, “Outcast.” Actually, “Outcast” was originally an R&B love song Eddie Campbell and Ernie Johnson recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964. The Animals version was faster and they dropped the horn riff and replaced it with a guitar. The song rocked hard, had a powerful hook, and it instantly became a major highlight of the Finchley’s set, eventually becoming their new signature song. It was no longer a silly love song, either. Now “Outcast” stood for the position we longhairs found ourselves in, as we were not being accepted by the establishment. Faber was the lead singer on “Outcast.” Although Faber had started as the roadie, then played harmonica on one song, he was now singing the two biggest hits the band had. One day when the band was arriving in a car together at Urbana High, Faber and Cole got into a little dispute over some minor matter and Cole announced he was leaving the band so he could concentrate of becoming a guitar player. Cole soon left high school and moved into a room on the second floor of Eric’s house, right across the hall from the padlocked room Daddy Swenson slept in.
One day I brought Larry with me on one of my visits to Carole’s house. We were sitting on the floor of her porch talking, when Larry went into his imitation of Timothy Leary. Carole started cracking up. It was the first time she noticed how smart and funny Larry was. I had this idea we should cover ourselves with a blanket and pretend we were all in a womb together, about to be born as a set of triplets. I don’t know where I came up with this shit, maybe I was already aware of the Living Theater, because this was essentially an improv-exercise right out of a Viola Spolin handbook. We went to the back yard, threw a blanket over us, and curled into a ball, all spooning each other. I was on the outside, and, of course, Carole was in the middle. It was all very innocent, really. But I could tell right away from the way Carole was petting Larry’s hair, that she’d taken a sudden interest in him. When she went back inside, her mom was super pissed. “What are the neighbors going to think!” Carole stood her ground, however, saying we were just playing a game and nothing sexual had been going on at all, which was true.
I could see there were speed bumps ahead with my grand scheme to make Carole my girl friend, as she seemed to be easily distracted by other dudes.
I recently started listening to some old tapes recorded at my Upper West Side apartment back in 1986 when the band first started, and I was amazed at how great the band sounds using a Walkman Pro with stereo mike to record. One of the first things I did after forming the band was invest in a small PA system. If we were going to rehearse in my apartment, I wanted the singers to be able to blast over the amps and drums. And I didn’t want to rely on the crummy house PA’s that you always find in the bottom-tier of venues. On hot days we’d open the window and just let it blast! Saturday afternoons were our usual rehearsal time. I knew we had something when a bunch of people hanging out the windows in the building across the street on West End Avenue all started applauding and cheering after we finished a particularly rousing version of “All Night Long,” a ’60s garage tune from Texas that’s particularly hard to play. That first spring we actually developed a fan club in the windows across the street who knew our regular rehearsal schedule. Later, we moved the rehearsals to real rehearsal rooms and eventually to Giorgio Gomelsky’s, as my building started rattling sabers about the noise. It didn’t help that the super lived in the apartment next to me, or that we had clouds of marijuana smoke drifting into the elevators.
Bands and sports teams are very similar in that they rely on energy harmony and transference. Some days the energy and harmony and transference are working, and some days they’re not. Going into studios to record would always boost our energy, but it could never guarantee those transcendent performances. Flick especially seemed to do his best work when the band was alone, or even late at night when we were just hanging out drinking beers and smoking joints, when he’d suddenly bust into his Lil’ Miscreant cartoon character and start channeling the ghost of Elvis or anybody else he wanted to. But once Flick got on stage, much of that improvisational energy would evaporate, and while Flick always put on great performances, that special magic we knew existed deep inside him seldom surfaced full bloom in recording studios or even onstage. To give a little demonstration of this, in case people think I’m just talking shit, I just put an alternative version of “Scream,” the first rock song I ever wrote on bandcamp just so our fans can hear that other Flick Ford for the first time. I believe this was recorded the same afternoon as that rousing version of “All Night Long.” Certainly the performances are better on this than any other version I know. And this was the original version of “Scream,” before Gordon Spaeth told us my song sounded too much like “Have Love,” and I re-jigged the guitar riff and sped up the tempo. After Flick goes off you can hear Brandel step up to the plate and knock his guitar solo out of the park, and if you listen close, you’ll hear Brian do the same thing on his bass soon afterwards.
In case you just stumbled onto this blog, I’ve been telling the stories about the Finchley Boys and Knight Riders (and Seeds of Doubt) from central Illinois from 1966-69, while, at the same time, telling the story of the Soul Assassins, my New York City garage band from 1986-89. Check out my free eBooks, links top-right column. And thanks for stopping by.
It wasn’t long after Hayes brought Carp into the Knight Riders that he began plotting how to get rid of him. Meanwhile, Tim Anderson, the original bass player for the Finchley Boy’s, convinced his dad to let him re-join a band. You might remember Tim was the first member of the Finchleys to unleash himself at a rehearsal and help guide the Finchleys into the realms of real rock’n’roll—what Dave Aguilar of the Chocolate Watchband describes as: “An overloaded lumber truck coming down the mountain, riding two wheels on all the curves” (see “True Origins of the Finchley Boys”). Hayes (left) held a secret tryout with Tim and we were all very impressed with his passion. “Wow, we finally got a showman in the band,” said Hayes afterwards. Tim left thinking he’d just joined a band.
“What about Carp?” I wondered. There’s an age-old technique for getting rid of band members without any uncomfortable confrontations, and Hayes was naturally going to employ this technique by disbanding the Knight Riders and then re-forming a new band a few days later with Tim as the lead singer. Of course, this new band would require a new name and Hayes asked me to start thinking up possible new names immediately. I decided to split rather than stick around to see what was going to happen when Carp showed up for a band meeting and heard the bad news about his band disbanding.
I hitch-hiked over to the Union Tavern, in the basement of the Illini Union, one of my three favorite hangouts at the time, the other two being Turk’s Head and House of Chin. (This was before the Red Herring Coffeeshop opened in the basement of the Unitarian Church.) Bugsy was sitting at a table wearing a huge Cheshire grin. An older beatnik dude was with him. I started talking to Bugsy, but the older dude interrupted right away. “Bugsy’s tripping right now,” he said. Holy Cow! This was the first I’d heard of any LSD in my hometown!! That’s when I noticed Bugsy’s eyes were big as saucers. A buddy of Bugsy’s had just flown to San Francisco for the weekend (the round-trip ticket was under $300), purchased several hundred blue capsules of LSD (still legal at the time—150 mics each we were told). The caps cost $1 on the street in the Haight, but could be sold for almost anything in Urbana, so desperate were people for a taste of this new infamous drug. On an initial investment of less than $1,000 this dude was planning to make at least $10,000 in profit. I could see the calculator going off in his head. I was fronted four capsules for the special price of $10 each.
I headed over to Doug Blair’s new crib. After the baseball-bat incident with Frank Sowers (see “King of the Greasers”) Doug had left high school and gone straight into the University of Illinois. He was a straight-A student running his own radio station at the time, so it hadn’t been too difficult. Instead of moving into a dorm like most incoming freshmen, Doug had located approved-student-housing on Third Street. It was a giant old house and had two or three beds in most of the rooms, but somehow Doug (left) had scored a small private room on the very top floor all by himself. The first time I’d gone up there, Doug had been getting high by sniffing lab-grade toluene. I tried it and almost instantly had a frightening panic attack and couldn’t remember my name for about 30 seconds. It freaked me so bad, I never wanted to sniff glue again. The only earlier experience I’d had with glue was when a bunch of us decided to hold our own version of the Finchley Boy’s famous glue party (see “True Origins: Stairway to Heaven”). We were at Jim K’s house and after we got high, I ran out to his backyard, which fronted a local golf course, took off all my clothes and started running around naked. Of course, this greatly concerned my friends, who desperately tried the herd me back inside while trying get me re-dressed. They finally got me back into the house with my underwear on, when Jim K started chasing me around the house brandishing a huge kitchen knife. He wanted to stab me because he’d only hosted this party on condition that I behaved myself, which I obviously hadn’t.
Fresh Cream by Cream had just come out and Doug was listening to the song “I Feel Free” when I arrived. I showed him the blue capsules and we decided to take half right away. Twenty minutes later we both took the other half. Twenty minutes after that we decided to go to the Union Tavern. Bugsy was no where in sight. We started coming on just as we sat down at a booth and when the waiter came, we realized we had to split as we were getting claustrophobic. In a daze, we walked out on the terrace on the Union’s south side, where Doug bumped into a girl he knew named Spacey. She started flirting with Doug. I couldn’t communicate, so I pulled Doug aside and said I needed to return to his crib where I felt safe. I just wanted to curl up in a blanket and listen to records. Doug guided me back to his place but wanted to go back outside. “Don’t leave me!” I pleaded. Doug came up with the idea of me calling someone to babysit me via the telephone. I thought that was a great idea, and, of course, I called Carole. “Well, you can’t have kids now,” she said when I told her I was tripping. They were spreading a lie at this time that LSD caused birth defects. Funny how it took so long to reveal this connection with alcohol, but they prematurely jumped all over it when it came to LSD. Carole secretly tape-recorded my rantings while I described all my hallucinations and wild revelations. (She’d discover the tape many years later and tell me it all sounded so innocent.) Eventually, Doug returned, by which time we both had huge psychedelic auras around our heads. We stayed up all night listening to music. Doug always had the best record collection and stereo of anyone I ever knew.
Around 8 am, I left for school and arrived at the pavilion at Carle Park across from Urbana High (the same place where a snowball fight changed my life, see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters’). The pavilion is where all the longhairs smoked cigarettes before going to class. I unexpectedly bumped into the Knight Riders. Carp had thrown them down the basement stairs and threatened to beat the shit out of them if they tried to disband. So the Knight Riders still existed. I wasn’t surprised. Then I pulled a piece of tin foil out of my pocket, opened it and revealed two capsules of LSD. The Knight Riders seemed really dismayed and started acting like I was a heroin junkie or something. No way were they interested in anything as powerful as LSD! A few hours later, Hayes informed me I’d been kicked out of the band for being a drug addict.
The first glue-sniffing party at the Shirley’s barn may have inspired Phil Mayall to start a journal, but it also inspired Mark Warwick to write a song that soon replaced Jim Cole’s “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” as the Finchley Boy’s signature song.
You can tell from the artful pose that Mark had quite a lot of style. Those wide surfer-stripes were considered super-cool at the time. That’s about as long as his hair got back then, as he was the only member of the band who submitted to haircut rules. Mark was exceptionally talented and his psychedelic masterpiece, “Only Me,” expressed a firm belief in the intoxication of sacred substances as the true path to enlightenment. It’s hard to explain today, but the garage-rock movement was an intensely spiritual event, more powerful, in fact, than our exploding libidos. And while the Finchley’s were all about scouting the fun vibe, they also reached deep into their hearts on occasion. Sure, Cole could make the girls swoon with a Stones ballad like “Lady Jane” (a phenomenon Flick Ford would later call “the pooey meter), but when they rocked hard, the band was more like an icebreaker or Sherman tank, leading our forces into the battles of the Generation War. It was at those shows that our tribe first collected and realized itself. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking vibes are something individuals control, but actually the most powerful vibes are always group emanations. That’s why great artists initially emerge from tribes. The really great bands are injected with energy from the crowd and become reservoirs of that energy, which is why all the girls wanted to rub up against the Finchley’s so bad.
Remember I told you there were two paths at the birth of the ’60s? (See “Reflections on Older Brothers.”) Well, Faber and Cole represented those paths perfectly. Warwick was on a similar path as Faber.
Please don’t think any of this stopped those guys from being best friends, and nobody was aware of these energy fields back then, but Mark’s song was clearly suited for Faber, not Cole, and Faber would put an incredible spirituality into the song. He’d recently gotten a copy of a book on yoga, and was into health food and meditation. The song was so powerful it quickly moved to the encore slot, and Faber would start by assuming the famous “Tree” position. I was instantly transported to a most reverential church-of-my-mind. I’m sure any adults that might have been attending might have considered us hypnotized zombies, such was our devotion and zeal during this song.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t also point out that the drummer, Mike Powers, was a tremendous part of the success of “Only Me.” In fact, he opened the song with a drum solo on mallets, and eventually added a large gong. Mike would take a long solo with mallets at the climactic moment of the song. He was a important part of the song’s spirituality.
If you like these stories, why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, or my free eBooks, links at top-right column. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on future posts, and thanks for stopping by.