All I’ve ever wanted to do – since I was 13 years old in 1965 – is to go see bands play. (Before that, all I ever wanted to do was to be a soldier in World War II, but since I was 12 years old in 1964 and the war ended in 1945, that goal was largely out of my reach by that point.)
The first time I ever saw a rock & roll band play live was when my sainted Italian mother – who, by the way, worked 35 years as a waitress and later a hostess at Scioto Country Club in Upper Arlington – called my older sister and had her bring me to the Club on a Saturday night because there was, in my mom’s words, “a rock combo playing.”
Looking back I now realize that the band was probably a group of Upper Arlington High School kids, at least one of whom had a father who was a member at Scioto. I wasn’t allowed in the main ballroom, of course, being just a child of The Help, but even watching from the door to the kitchen I was utterly mesmerized by these kids – probably only three or four years older than me – bashing out the rock & roll. To borrow a phrase from my former employer, Hamell On Trial, my brain exploded at that searingly close proximity to rock & roll music.
That was the night I learned to love live rock & roll music. (I also learned a lot about the distribution of wealth in the United Sates and the myth of the classless American society peeking out of that kitchen door, and having to duck back inside anytime a Scioto member or their kids happened to glance my way.) For right then, though, all I knew was that those four boys – in their paisley shirts & striped pants – were conjuring up a truly mighty din. Their teenage peers were dancing their little hearts out. Their parents – and many other adults – were holding their hands over their ears. Kick out the jams, indeed. It quite literally took my breath away.
I’d watched The Beatles and The Dave Clark 5 and Gerry & the Pacemakers and The Animals and The Rolling Stones and all of the other British Invasion acts on television, on the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace (I don’t think Shindig and Hullabaloo had even debuted by that time), but I had never seen a live rock & roll band up close and personal, had never shared an enclosed space with that electrically-amplified, brain-numbingly loud noise, drive & excitement.
I think I probably watched that band – who shall forever remain unknown to me – for at least 45 minutes, and I’m sure they played all cover tunes, but I don’t remember a single song except “Gloria,” which that Upper Arlington quartet NAILED but good. I don’t know for sure if my lifelong love affair with that Van Morrison/Them tune began that night, but I do know that “G-L-O-R-I-A” is one of my five favorite songs of all time, and rock & roll’s most perfect, most primal rallying cry. (Just ask Patti Smith or Willie Phoenix.)
After that night my dad – in his nighttime second-job position as ticket agent for Central Ticket Office – started getting me into national touring rock shows at Vet’s Memorial. I also started taking the bus downtown every Saturday afternoon to see bands, first at Lazarus and later at Morehouse Fashion – the two big Columbus department stores – when they started booking local rock bands in their Junior Misses departments to bring in the teen girl shoppers for groovy fashions and – by extension – the teen boys who would follow those teen girls pretty much anywhere.
I liked records and used all of my lunch & bus money (I’d hitchhike home from school, knowledge that would have killed my mother) and all of the money I earned working at the Dairy Queen across the street from our house on Sullivant Avenue to buy them, but really what I liked was watching bands play live. At one point in my life – fairly early on – I concluded that ALL records should be recorded live, because if the bands couldn’t cut it to record live, they shouldn’t be making records. In many ways, I stand by that notion to this day. It certainly would have saved us from a fuckload of bad music – starting with The Beatles after “Revolver” and ending with Mumford & Sons.
It has occurred to me recently that almost every single thing I’ve done in my entire life I did so that I could go see bands play.
I turned 62 years old on June 30th, and just started collecting Social Security, so this is not a particularly auspicious thing to realize; at least to most of respectable, workaday society.
I started playing in bands in high school so that it would be easier for me to go see bands play, including the ones I was in. (I also did it to meet girls, but that's whole 'nother blog.) I stayed in college long enough to stay out of the Vietnam War, but not long enough to graduate. And then for twenty years I worked in warehouses, unloading trucks, so that I had enough money to go see bands play.
I couldn’t begin to go into all the bands I’ve seen in the past 49 years: from Columbus bands The Dantes, The Fifth Order, The Grayps, The Godz, Black Leather Touch, The Shadowlords, Gunshy Ministers, Howlin’ Maggie, Mrs. Children, and probably dozens more. I saw Watershed dozens of times BEFORE I worked for them and dozens after. I saw Paul Revere & the Raiders, Bob Dylan's first electric tour with The Hawks, The Turtles, The Jimi Hendix Experience, The Doors, The Left Banke, Cream, Janis Joplin, and – most crucially, in 1969, the best live show I ever witnessed – The Who. I saw everybody in the 1970’s, from bands I loved – The Kinks, Mott The Hoople, The New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, the Patti Smith Group and Aerosmith – to bands I hated and later learned to despise – Styx, Rush, Triumph – to bands I loved then and hate now – The Eagles.
I saw The Stooges – the original band, with Ron Asheton on guitar – TWICE while I was still in high school. I saw Brownsville Station – the pride of Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the immortal Cub Koda on lead guitar – a dozen times between 1969 and 1972 with my high school best friend & bandmate Dave Blackburn, the person who taught me more about music and rock & roll and life than anybody else on this planet, and to this day Brownsville remains one of the five best live bands I’ve seen in my entire rock & roll existence. It was like seeing The Who every few weeks, like Pete & Keith and company were a local band. I saw Mink DeVille, Nick Lowe & Rockpile, and Elvis Costello & the Attractions all in one night in Cincinnati one time. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and Ian Hunter – both with Mott The Hoople and in his solo years – more times than any other national acts, and over a longer span of years – 1969 to 2013 for Ian, 1976 to this past April for Bruce.
I’ve had my head knocked sideways by the most unexpected bands in the weirdest places: by a band of teenagers called The First Ship that sounded like Fairport Convention backed by The Velvet Underground in a small town in Canada when I was on the road with Hamell On Trial; by 1970’s singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman, whose live performance at a beach-bar happy hour while I was on vacation around 1985 somewhere in South Carolina was so much better than her records that it made my heart hurt; by Pete & Maura Kennedy at the old Border’s Book Store at Kenny & Henderson at 11 am on a Sunday morning, with only 3 other people there, one of whom turned out to be Mark Segal, who I didn't meet until years later when I started working at Ace In The Hole Music, where he was a regular customer and became my good friend.
I saw the Jim Carroll Band, The Replacements, REM, The Del-Lords, Violent Femmes, Marshall Crenshaw and Prince – among many others – in the 1980’s. I saw five of my favorite singer/songwriters – Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Alejandro Escovedo – in the 1990’s. I didn’t see my all-time rock & roll hero, Elliott Murphy, until 1992, but it was worth the wait. Somewhere in all that I saw the three best live rock & roll bands that you never saw – Bronx’s The Dictators, Boston’s The Neighborhoods and Columbus’ Romantic Noise.
At the dawn of the 21st century – owing to a small inheritance from my mom & dad – I was able to stop unloading trucks in warehouses and to start working in record stores and being a roadie for bands. From 2000 to 2014 I’ve seen exactly three rock & roll bands I didn’t see in the 20th century who were truly epic – The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Avett Brothers – but I’m still out there looking.
Because all I’ve ever wanted to do is to go see bands play. - Ricki C. / The last day of summer, 2014.