The Band That Shouldn’t Be, Or A Tale Of Some Friends And Their Guitars

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I began playing music at an early age, about six if I recall correctly. My mother sent me to the fellow who was her high school band and orchestra director for piano lessons. I wanted to play, but never practiced enough. To this day, I can still sit down at a keyboard and pick bits and pieces of a tune, sometimes actually sounding as if I know what I’m doing. I should have stuck with it. Several years later, it was the violin. I became rather good; probably the best violin player in my high school (there’s one or two who might disagree, but I’ve not seen or heard from them in many years) and one of the better violin players at my college. While in high school, our new band and orchestra director was trying to improve our marching band. One day, after an orchestra rehearsal, I walked up to him and said, “I hear you are trying to improve the band, teach me a band instrument and I’ll help you out.” He looked up at me and said, “How about tuba?” Not knowing what I was getting into, I said sure and began a long career as a tuba player; still have a horn.

So, what, you might well ask, does this have to do with a rock and roll band? Good question. If you are thinking that I followed in the footsteps of Charlie Daniels or Papa John Creach, sorry that didn’t happen. I had wanted to play guitar for a long long time, but my mother, excellent musician, but a somewhat intolerant one at times, hated the guitar, with one exception. My father had played the Hawaiian guitar as a young man and she allowed that one in the house. Dad showed me how to lower the strings by removing a bar from the nut and which supposedly made it possible to play with your fingers instead of a slide. Wrongo! I spent a couple years wondering how strong one’s fingers needed to be to play bar chords or bend strings Fast forward to college and I became a proud owner of a Melody Maker and a nice little Yamaha acoustic (maybe sometime I’ll write about the Melody Maker) as well as a Univox Bass. We had an informal band in the fraternity but no bass, so I bought the Univox and an old tube amp and took over the bottom end. The seeds of the Band That Shouldn’t Be (TBTSB) were being sown.

Short dry spell after college, but in a few years, I met Bob and Vern. Vern was the boyfriend of a girl I went to high school with and Bob and I hung in the same taproom. The three of us were interested in hunting, shooting, fishing, music, and beer. What more could you ask for? We began to get together with other friends. For a while, Bob’s brother sat in on drums. After one rehearsal in a friends basement, he was grumbling about the load out, complaining that all the guitar players do is put their ax in a case and head for the cold beer while the drummer has to pack up his entire kit. “You see these amps and all the sound equipment,” I responded, “they’re all mine. I’ve got my own load out to do.” We developed a sort of kinship after that.

At this point, I’ve gotta interject one of my favorite jokes. What happened when the bass player locked his keys in the car? It took an hour to get the drummer out.

Back to TBTSB. We got that moniker because it always seemed that someone would approach us about a gig right after two or three members of the band had thrown in the towel. We went through a lot pf personnel changes over the years, but the core remained Bob, Vern and me. Bob played lead, Vern mostly played bass, and I mostly played rhythm, although Vern and I would occasionally switch off, for example, he had the guitar part to Brown Eyed Girl down pat, so he’d play guitar and I’d pick up the bass. My bass by the way. Although Vern had played bass for many years, some semi-professionally, he didn’t have an ax. He did have a 200 watt Sunn bass amp that really kicks, but he had to use my humble Univox bass.

One of my favorite moments in one of the early days of the band involved Kenny, an excellent guitar player who had one flaw, when he took a ride, it was never just eight, twelve or sixteen bars, it went on and on and on. We would often throw parties at Vern’s place, a little old mill house in a creek hollow where the was lots of space and invite everyone we knew for burgers and beer. We used to joke that was the only way we could get people to come listen to us. Sometimes, just to get people to show up, we’d invite another band, much better than us, as the “headline” act. We played with them enough that we would often sit in with each other. At one of Vern’s gigs, Kenny was sitting in with the other band, trading leads with their lead player and he started to take a ride, It went on and on, probably longer than a Jerry Garcia solo. With one exception, the other guys were too polite to do anything. The rhythm guitar player, probably getting tired, stopped playing, walked over to Kenny’s amp and simply unplugged his guitar.

As time went on, TBTSB evolved into its final incarnation. Alvin had joined us, he played acoustic guitar and sang. (one time we had a gig at a park on the Philadelphia border and only Alvin and I showed up. Luckily we had two acoustics and amps and mikes and were able to do a set, not the promised set, but we filled our slot.). Alvin also brought in a fellow whose name I can’t remember (I’ll call him Matt) who also played acoustic and sang lead for most numbers. Most exciting, however was that we got a full time drummer; Black Jack. Jack had played drums in the “other” band in high school; you know, the band that was never sanctioned to play at any school events, hair was too long, song selections never made the approved list, etc. Boy was I excited.

At that point we were rehearsing at Alvin’s place. He had bought a good sized Victorian in an older neighborhood and since he lived by himself, there was more than enough room to set up our equipment and leave it there for our Wednesday evening rehearsals. Jack was an excitement as we never had a regular drummer. The night he showed up and set up his kit we were in awe. He practically needed a crane to set himself behind the drums. His dad had been in the music business and had been friends with the Zildjian family and Jack had cymbals made by the Zildjians for themselves and close friends. Awright! We were gonna go places now!

We started rehearsal that night with a simple four bar rock and roll number, probably a Stones tune. We were AWFUL, worse than usual, especially the rhythm section. Vern and I were glaring at each other, ’cause no one was keeping a steady beat. Halfway through the number, we realized that Jack must not have played for some time ’cause he was following us. Par for the course for TBTSB. As time went on, Jack’s rhythm returned and for a brief shining moment, we exceeded our level of mediocrity. One of my favorite moments was when Bob asked me to play lead.

Both of us were Clapton fans and Bob was a particular fan of Wonderful Tonight. He showed me the leads and asked me to play lead as he wanted to sing the song to his wife (had to change one line to long brown hair) at our next gig. He and I worked on it for a week or two and at the next practice, we played it with the full band. We sounded pretty darn good, Bob playing rhythm and me playing lead. When we were finished, Bob turned around to the rest of us and said, with a smile, “You guys didn’t know I could sing, did you?”

My wife and I had lunch out at a nice restaurant yesterday and that song came over the sound system at the restaurant. It brought a tear to my eyes, I’ll explain why below.

Different folks sat in with the band from time to time with varying success. Perhaps the most memorable was a young black girl who worked with Alvin. Not a very big young lady, but she had a voice that could fill a concert hall without amplification. First number we did together, I was immediately reminded of the Crusaders and Street Life. This girl HAD a set of pipes. Unfortunately, she didn’t know any tunes we knew and we didn’t know any numbers she knew. She sang primarily rhythm and blues and we were playing Clapton, Pure Prairie League, Marshall Tucker, etc. Sadly, we bid one another good luck and went our separate ways. I often wonder what happened to that young lady; I hope she was able to advance her musical career.

Sadly all good things come to an end. The last gig we played was for my son’s first birthday. Everyone except Matt showed up. I think at that point, Matt had moved to Maine; he had plans to build a cabin in the woods and live off the land. Not long after that, Alvin began to work on his PhD and didn’t have time for the band. Jack just stopped coming to rehearsals, leaving Bob, Vern, and me. Back to the beginning, no?

Well, as time when on and the demands of everyday life took more and more of our time, we rarely had time to do much besides sit on the porch and jam. Work and family demands took precedence over being rock and roll stars. There were lifestyle changes too. Bob’s employer of 20 plus years was sold and he lost his job, plunging him into deep depression. He ended the depression with a nine millimeter cartridge. He should have called. I’ve have spent the entire night and all of the next day talking things out with him. Picking up a guitar or taking a trip to the big woods is just not the same anymore, knowing that Bob is not there to tell me what I need to do to get the song right, or that I”m squirming too much while he calls in the turkey. I somehow blocked the Wonderful Tonight solo from my mind, can’t play it anymore, but every time I hear the song, I see Bob, turning around as the last chord fades and saying, “You didn’t know I could sing, did you?”

Bad enough to lose Bob, but then it was Vern’s turn. Vern had spent some time in the service and was in and out of the guard and the reserves. He went through a divorce, remarried, and finally went to work as a civilian employee in the air force. As an aside, he worked in maintenance administration and we always found that humorous as he was never sure if you held on to the wooden end or metal end of a hammer. Anyhow, life was going good for Vern and his new wife, but he developed a chest cold that just would not go away. After a couple of series of x-rays, one of the doctors noticed something in the corner of the x-ray, a spot. Not on his lungs, but lower and in a frightening location. Further tests confirmed the doctor’s fear, it was a tumor on his pancreas. For those of you not familiar with pancreatic cancer, it is usually a ten month death sentence. Vern underwent chemo and radiation long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle. Afterwards, on his deathbed, Vern exacted a promise that I would look after his grandson for him, I agreed and have, but that is a story for a different time and place.

Being the last member of TBTSB standing, I am terribly sad that I’ve lost touch with those guys, permanently in a couple cases. I offered to pass the mantle of the band on to my son, but he politely refused; probably a good thing, he’s a much better musician than I and really needs a band that should be. Looks like the days of TBTSB are over. We’ve moved, died, or lost touch and, as the last member standing, I’m developing Parkinson’s and my previously mediocre playing is now really bad. My son has my Ibanez Artist series electric and has his eyes on my Stratocaster (he’ll have to wait a long time for that one).

So, in closing, I want to say to Bob and Vern, Kenny, Alvin Matt, Black Jack and all the others (Philsey and Brian to name a couple more) who sat in with or listened to TBTSB, thanks. It was fun and I miss it. Bob and Vern, I hope you’ve found comfort and are working on some of those numbers we never got right so that some day, when we meet up again, we can get out the chart books and get the numbers right this time. To the rest of you, I hope life is good and that you are still playing. Good night, my friends.

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

4 Comments:

  • GAA III: Somehow, the computer posted my initials, not my name. For those interested, the frustrated writer/musician responsible for this tale is George Albany
  • Sparky2: Beautiful story, George.
    A heartfelt tribute, and a really nice reflection on the band that most definitely should have been!
    Thanks for sharing that, and thanks for being a part of the family here now.
  • Vale: Thank you for sharing your story with us here! It sounds like you had some good times playing in TBTSB :)
  • bluesman: That was an amazing story about a great lifetime of friends and music that brings a tear to ones eye. And as Jimmy Hendrix said. If I don’t see you again in this world. I’ll meet you on the next one. God bless you always bluesman.

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