Updated: Jul 4
This story kicks ass. Plain and simple. The story I am about to tell is pure rock & roll in a nutshell. It is youth. It is very much the garage rock story. It is freedom from fear personified, or at the very least a group of kids who didn’t know any better. It’s so punk rock.
In 2003 I was a senior in High School. In hindsight it had been a couple very tumultuous years indeed. A series of events had led me to “playing” a bass with a couple friends in a cottage rock outfit. (I will tell the stories of my introduction to guitar and bass in later blog posts).
It was May of 2003 and I had started jamming with my friends Andy and Neale. Andy played guitar and Neale played drums. As my memory serves, they had started playing together and asked if I wanted to come around. I was drawn to music. I wanted to be involved, I don’t know why. Something drew me to that music and them. I had no idea how to play a guitar. Andy mentioned that they needed a bass player. Somehow, he knew that. I didn’t even know that much about rock bands at the time or music really. Guitars were guitars to my young confused mind. Wasn’t certain what a bass was. I went to a music store in Mexico, MO and I bought a blue squire precision bass. My dad had bought me a little squire guitar amp I used with it. I still have this amp. (Smiles from the soul)
When I say I didn’t know anything about music I really mean it. I knew nothing. No notes, no form, no scales. Know nothing. I literally learned how to play bass playing in a band. Crazy in hindsight. Most people learn how to play and then join a band. I joined a band and then I learned how to play.
Andy and Neale knew several songs. Andy knew all of the common major and minor chords at that time, and he could pick a guitar pretty good too. Still can. He was and is a really good singer. Neale was the perfect drummer for the music we love. His personality and style were unique, and is what we always loved most about his playing. He makes that band. Ask Andy, without him there is no band.
Over a couple months Andy had managed to show me a couple notes on bass. I knew where a G note was, and maybe a D. I was terrible, but I banged on it hard. I head banged a lot. Hitting one note right was the equivalent of being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to me… Andy had a couple get-togethers and I would attempt to play a couple songs with the guys for our friends that had come over. I got my amp unplugged almost every time. For some reason I didn’t care… I had a sense of false confidence. I was just rocking out. I was that rock character then that I’ve grown into. At the same time, I had some friends in Monroe City, MO…
In conversation with one of my friends from Monroe City I had mentioned that I played in a band. (For the sake of said friends they will remain anonymous) I was then asked if we would want to play at the senior party that they were having for the class of 2003. I said Yes! I mean what could possibly go wrong? I didn’t care. I didn’t know a single song front to back. Spectacular.
I presented this idea to Andy and Neale. They both jumped at it. Andy mentioned that we needed another guitar player. My great friend Zac had played with us off and on. He still does btw. Badass. (I will tell more stories of Zac’s influence down the road) I asked Zac and he said he couldn’t play the particular night of the party… so Neale mentioned that his friend Lance may be interested in playing with us. Lance kicked ass too. He knew a lot of Weezer, and that made him a hero to me. When asked Lance said he would play.
We “practiced” a couple times and Lance had even brought over his brother’s bass cabinet. He told me I could use it for the time being. It was much nicer than the little amp I had, and much louder. So, when I hit that one correct note it would boom. I fell in love with playing bass using that amp. Of course, the other seven bad notes drove everyone crazy. I was a punk, and still am. I promoted us and had a couple connections. Hell, I was booking the gigs. I was invaluable. Laugh out loud.
The day of the party came and we all made a plan to meet at Andy’s parents house where we kept all of our equipment. Lance showed up driving an old Lincoln Town Car he borrowed from his grandma I believe. He had his girlfriend and our friends Kevin and Brad with him. Damn good dudes. They were always around with us. In time they ended up helping us move our equipment around. They were part of the road crew. I loved being around them for the laughs.
We started loading everything up in Andy’s truck and Lance’s car and realized between all of the people going and the equipment that we weren’t going to have much room. An executive decision was made to load most of the equipment in Andy’s truck and then most of the people in Lance’s car. I was going to ride shotgun with Andy and a truck load of equipment. Lance’s car was full of people, and inexplicably Kevin and Brad seemed to be the odd men out. (I don’t remember specifics of the people who rode in the car) In an unprecedented move both Kevin and Brad decided to ride in the trunk to the party. They wanted to go bad. We set out in a driving rain.
The party was somewhere out in the country between Monroe City and Shelbina. It was raining so hard. After a couple phone calls with said Monroe City friends I nailed down where it was. Andy and I arrived. There was mud everywhere. Standing water. It must have rained five inches that day. I got out of Andy’s truck and I saw Lance pull up. Kevin and Brad climbed out of the trunk of the town car. They didn’t even seem like anything was out of the ordinary or that they had even been inconvenienced. They were all laughing. They started to tell us that they had been pulled over by the cops on their way to the party for not having taillights. They had actually taken the taillight fuse out so that that could use it for the radio. Compromises. The cop came up to the car and the dudes ended up asking the cop for directions to the party. In the words of my friend Kevin, that's rock and roll!
The party was in an old wood barn. We said our hellos to everyone and the crowd had erupted with the typical yelling and screaming that you could expect from Northeastern Missouri youth in 2003.
Once we had walked into the old barn, we realized that about a third of the barn floor was mud and standing water. The crown had congregated on the other two-thirds of the floor, that was relatively dry. We started packing our stuff in and setting it up in the back where we could find dry dirt.
We didn’t have a PA system yet. Andy had an old mic and cable that he found at his parent’s house. Zac had mentioned that his grandpa had an old mixer, and he was kind enough to let us borrow it for this gig. Andy and I had fashioned a mic stand out of a broom stick taped and stuck into an electric cord spool. True story. This was our mic setup. Unbelievable. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. We did that.
As we had set that “equipment” up for Andy I looked around the room. A mass of Monroe City brotheren walking around with milk jugs full of keg beer and smiles galore. Loud yelling and whistling. They were generally amazed that a band was there. We were generally amazed that anyone would listen to us play music. I was nervous as hell.
I went back out to Andy’s truck to grab the bass cabinet. I grabbed it and carried it in to set it up. Once I sat it down, I realized that the whole cabinet wasn’t there. I looked at Lance. “Hey man where is the top part? I can’t plug this in.” Lance informed me that there was an amp head that was separate and that he had taken it apart for me to bring. He told me that if I had forgot the head that I couldn’t plug it in and that I was basically out of luck. (Now it should be noted that this is common sense. I had none of that at the time. I didn’t know much about music, and less of how to play it or use the actual equipment. Speakers have to have an amp that powers them. SMH!!!)
At that time the sinking realization that I didn’t have an amp to play out of hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember sort of doing that dry lump in the throat swallowing thing. Oh man. I turned to Andy and told him. He looked me straight in the face and said “Ah Beeeeaaaaamer what are you going to do babe?” Without hesitation I told him that I was going to plug the guitar cord into my bass and act like I was playing. I had nothing left to lose. We were just winging this whole thing to start with, and it was going off the rails more and more by the minute. We had no idea what we were doing. We were in way over our heads and I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell I got us into this in the first place.
I ran the guitar cord from my guitar back between Lance’s brother’s bass cabinet and Neale’s kick drum. If someone didn’t look too closely or actually listen then they wouldn’t notice I was playing an air bass. Acting. The end of the cord was on the floor in plain sight. I really didn’t care, I had rocking to do. I just quietly hoped no one would say anything. Laugh out loud.
I think that we played ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ first. I played that guitar like I was Flea. The crowd loved it. It’s comical now. Those other guys were actually playing their guitars with sound. I was just head banging and playing ghost notes. Fantastic. Lance was playing to my right and a real drunk dude kept screaming lyrics into Lance's face. After a couple songs Lance leaned over and said "That drunk dudes breath is killing me. Go scream somewhere else." He had that half smile on his face. After a couple more songs Lance’s guitar started shocking the hell out of him because his guitar/cord got wet. He had to back up off of it and set his cup down. He leaned his guitar up against the barn wall and I could just see it vibrating against the wall. We literally saw the electricity running through it. That had effectively ended Lance’s night. Now we had two guys not playing instruments in a four-piece band. Have I said train wreck yet? By this point the “show” had effectively went completely off the rails.
Andy and Neale saved the night with a couple Tom Petty classics. Those two played their hearts out to a crowd that couldn’t get enough of it. It’s a piece of lore and historical now. After we had stopped, I was talking to a couple of friends from Monroe and they were just like man we realized half way through that you weren’t even plugged into an amp. They were laughing in disbelief. I laughed and said “Yep, fake it till you make it.” I can’t believe the audacity I had.
So, that was our first gig. In all of its glory. It was a ramshackle rock and roll experience. Taped broom sticks and high voltage. Electrocutions and Broadway performances. It was like an AC/DC song. Only in a 2003 Monroe County. I put on a show that night old boy. Best I ever played bass in my life. I was all over that neck. I left it all on stage that night. Its legendary. My first gig I didn’t actually know any of the songs, or actually play an instrument that was audible. Crazy. Who does that? Who rocks that hard?
I think that story tells you a lot about my friends and I. We’re cut from the same cloth. None of us cared about having nice equipment, or being great musicians, we just wanted to play music together that night…. And some of us actually did!
Peace, Love, and Empathy-