The photo above was taken the first day I ever became a roadie for Willie Phoenix. It’s of Willie Phoenix and drummer Dee Hunt when they were in Romantic Noise, taken in May 1978 at a lunchtime gig they played at the Columbus Metropolitan Library downtown. It’s one of those photos in my picture books that makes my heart hurt every time I look at it. It makes my heart hurt because of how young we were; because of how light-hearted Willie looks in the pic; and because of how good (and how much like BANDMATES) Willie and Dee Hunt look in the picture.
I became a roadie for Willie Phoenix that day because Dee sported a double bass drum kit at the time and when the band showed up to the library gig in a ragtag assemblage of cars and bass player Greg Glasgow’s cab-over Datsun camper (visible behind me in the photo below), everybody thought somebody else had brought the two bass drums, thus nobody had brought EITHER bass drum. I was managing a 10,000 square foot K-Mart warehouse at that time and as I surveyed the disorganized mass of gear spread out in the library parking lot – minus both bass drums – I said to Willie, “Don’t you guys have a checklist of the equipment so that when you load it out of the rehearsal space you know you have everything?” Willie looked at me and said, “You’re the new roadie.”
Thus began my career as a roadie that continues to this day. I learned so much from Willie that first year I couldn’t even begin to tell you: watching Romantic Noise from the wings or from the lighting board at the old Agora was like a rock & roll PHD education. I learned how to sharpen my rather expansive songwriting down to a succinct precision; I learned how to rehearse a band; I learned how to pace sets. I learned about professionalism. I learned how everything – songs, how a band LOOKED & MOVED onstage, how that band was LIT – added up to a whole, to a presentation, to rock & roll. I had been in bands for 10 years by that point and it was like I was a rank amateur standing next to Willie.
I worked for Willie for the next 14 years: through Romantic Noise to The Buttons to The Shadowlords to The True Soul Rockers. I ran lights, I wrangled guitars, I published band newsletters, I set microphones back upright after Willie knocked ‘em over, I paid for people’s drinks when Willie jumped on their tables and spilled them, I did whatever Willie told me to do. Willie said, “Jump,” and I asked, “How high?”
My employment from 1978 to 1992 certainly wasn’t continuous: sometimes I quit, a couple of times I’m sure I got fired. Willie often treated me with the utmost respect, sometimes he yelled at me like I was a 12 year old girl. I often saw him as a kind, caring human being, I sometimes witnessed him as a petulant child. But here’s something I have never forgotten – and that YOU, gentle reader, should know – Willie Phoenix is the greatest rock & roll performer Columbus, Ohio HAS ever known, and – at this point – probably WILL ever know. – Ricki C. / March 10th, 2016.
Any Pencilstorm readers out there who are interested in a few thousand more words on Willie Phoenix should check out The Ballad of Willie Phoenix, parts 1-4 on Ricki’s old blog, Growing Old With Rock & Roll.
Ricki C., May 1978 / all photos on this page by one of The CookieBakers: Erin, Kim or Cindy.
Romantic Noise in full rock & roll flight at the library: left to right; Greg Glasgow, Dee Hunt, Willie, John Ballor
Not everything is ancient history: Ricki C. lends a hand w/ Willie, October, 2015, at the 6:30 mark. 37 years & counting.