Tuesday, September 11, 2007

World's End

So, now we’re into the period of my life wherein I tried - many times – to become a rock musician. Actually, I was quite successful in my attempts to become a rock musician. It was getting paid enough to make it a living that was the tough part.

I'm going to write a bit about each of my bands, in rough chronological order.

My first band, World’s End, was truly a bad band. However, we had a decent following in the towns of Everett and Malden and, because we knew a lot of girls from there, Brookline. We were all high school kids and we played high school dances. I’ve already told you a few stories concerning some of the more memorable gigs.

(If you’re late to this party, go HERE to read about them - and don't be put off by the title. It IS about being in the band.)


You might be wondering how I joined the band. Even if you aren’t, I’m going to tell you. I started my “career” as a rock musician in the same way I’ve started just about everything else in my life. I faked my way through it until I actually knew a little bit about what I was doing.

I had been going to church in downtown Boston at a place called The Paulist Center. I became friends with another guy who went there and who played electric guitar in the contemporary mass each weekend. His name was Duane Sullivan. We both liked the same kind of music - Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, that sort of stuff. I had never been in a band before, but I figured I could scream and growl as well as the next guy; maybe even better. So, I lied to Duane and told him that I had been the singer in a band from my neighborhood in Dorchester.

To see how well I could sing, Duane strummed “Smoke On The Water” on his guitar and I sang along. As it turns out, I really could sing decently enough. I had always noodled around on every piano or keyboard I saw, so I told Duane I could play some keyboards, too. He bought it.

Duane’s brother, Mark, was a drummer. The three of us got together a couple of times in the church basement, had some fun, and the band was born. Mark and Duane went to Malden Catholic, and they knew another kid from there, Chuck Marotta, a drummer who wanted to join a band. We happily invited him in.

(We figured The Allman Brothers Band had set the precedent for two drummers in rock, so why not a metal band like us?)

We got our first bass player from among the kids who hung out at the Paulist Center. Oddly enough, his name was Kenny Sullivan. So, in the first incarnation of the band, there were four guys named Sullivan, with only Duane and Mark related in any way. The only non-Sullivan was Chuck. We briefly toyed with calling our group The Sullivan Brothers Band, but we decided it sounded too much like we might play Irish folk music. We opted for World’s End, from the title of a lyric I had written. There would be little chance of mistaking a name like that for anything but metal.


As the singer, I was the de facto lyricist. Duane wrote most of the riffs, but everybody was expected to pitch in with ideas. All of us had an unwritten agreement that, if we ever got a recording contract, all of our originals would be listed as group compositions.

I somehow talked my Dad into going halves with me on a keyboard. We chose a Farfisa. It really had too cheesy a sound for metal, but I hooked up a few toys - wah-wah, fuzz, etc. - and gave it some beastliness. I knew very little about actually playing the thing. I quickly taught myself how to make major and minor triads, and learned a couple of scales in some of the simpler keys. Mostly, I stuck to playing rhythm, with Duane taking 95% of the leads. The few leads I took pretty much followed the vocal melodies. I hadn’t really learned enough to improvise beyond that.

We were able to wrangle free rehearsal spaces at Malden Catholic High School; in the basement of one of our bass players; and even in an actual garage. That was Grande’s Garage, so-called because John Grande, a friend of ours who acted as our manager for a while, was able to talk his father into letting us use his company’s workplace to set up in on some Sunday mornings. Grande’s dad owned a construction company, so we set up amongst the tractors, forklifts, and backhoes. It was a fitting place for us, as our music in many ways resembled the noises made by heavy equipment.

(John was an interesting guy. He was one of those fellows who grew a full thick moustache by the age of 15. By the time he managed us, he looked like he was in his mid-20’s, so he was able to negotiate better deals for us than he would have if the bookers knew he was only 17.)


Before we ever played an actual gig, Kenny Sullivan left the band. My friend from Boston Tech, Sean Flaherty, was recruited to play bass. Sean was taking six-string lessons, but he bought Kenny's bass for something like 10 bucks and joined us.

(I own that bass today. It's a Kimberley, I believe. There's no marking indicating the maker, but I seem to remember it being called that. I played it in almost every other band I was in following World's End.)

Sean was with us for our very first gig, played at Brookline High School - see ticket above.

Sean was a weird one.

(Well, he's still a weird one. I love him dearly, and I still get together with him quite often, but he'd be the first one to tell you he's not Mister Normal.)

While the rest of us were living out rock and roll fantasies, and dressing the part - requisite tight pants, leather, spandex, show off whatever muscles you had, make your bulge look as big as possible, long hair, attitude - Sean was in love with baggy hockey jerseys. He always wore a hockey jersey on stage. And while the rest of us fought for the spotlight, Sean sometimes stood BEHIND his amp.

(Some of that retiscense was no doubt caused by Sean's acne. When I met him, in the cafeteria at Boston Tech, he had THE absolute worst case of acne I had ever seen. There was hardly a spot on his face that wasn't covered with some sort of pus-filled blemish. I used to marvel at his face. I always wondered how he shaved without cutting himself to ribbons. By the time he played in the band, he had been through many dermatologic treatments and was much better looking, but I'm sure he still carried some psychic scars.)

The first moment when we hit the stage - with Duane playing the opening chords of our original tune, "Feed Your Head" - remains one of the highlights of my life. It was an extremely powerful feeling. Duane chugged out the power chords, Sean laid down the steady bottom, Mark and Chuck pounded out the rhythm, and I stood there with a mic in my hand, feeling like I ruled the universe. It's definitely the highest I've ever felt without aid of chemicals. That feeling is why I continued trying to be a musician, off and on, for some 15 years.


A few months later, Sean decided that he'd had enough of standing behind the amps. He decided to leave the band and get serious with his six-string lessons. He still hung with us at many of our rehearsals because we were friends, but we had to find another bass player. Bruce Jarvis filled the bill.

Bruce was a very funny guy and probably the best bass player we had. I'm not quite sure how we hooked up with him - probably a schoolmate of Duane's or Mark's - but he was a welcome addition. Not only could he play, he also had a basement we could rehearse in and parents who didn't mind (too much) that we were making such noise.

The rehearsals in Bruce's basement were the most fun of any of our rehearsals. This was because, by that time, we had a whole bunch of females coming to every rehearsal. In the end, that's what most guys gets into rock for, anyway. They might love the music, but they all expect to impress the chicks. The grodiest guy in the world thinks his sex appeal has been raised seven notches when he joins a rock band. And, to a certain extent, it's true. The confidence you gain comes through in every other thing you do, and confidence is sexy.

Anyway, we spent equal parts rehearsing and posing for the girls. I enjoyed both, immensely.


In retrospect, we were horrible, but at the time we were doing it, we thought we were swell. We had enough other people fooled to make a few bucks at it. We were your basic garage band, but we wrote and played enough original material to kid ourselves into thinking we might graduate to bigger things.

I just sort of drifted away from the band a few months after graduating from high school. There didn't seem the urgency about it that there previously was. I still liked the guys, and I didn't have any immediate plans, but somehow it just became a back burner sort of thing. Bruce also left at around the same time, for reasons of his own. Duane, Mark and Chuck recruited a bass player and singer by the name of Wayne Shockley, who I actually ended up playing with within a couple of months time (that will be in the next story) but World's End never played another gig after I left.

Meanwhile, I bought a bass and started truly practicing in earnest. I wanted to be a REAL musician.

Next: May 24th, 1976 - R.I.P. Chuck Marotta


Michal said...

i have recently discovered your blog through deborah and david. i love the autobiographical nature of it, and something in it reminds me of the kind of blog my dad would have written if he had lived long enough for blogs to be invented! thanks for entertaining me and for sharing stories from your past.

david mcmahon said...

G'day Suldog,

Man, I keep telling my guitar-playing rocker son that I was actually born to be a rock guitarist - and he just shakes his head.

Keep smiling


connie/mom said...

I can still remember your convincing me that what you needed most for Christmas was a "wah wah". I had no idea what it was but I got it for you somehow.

Suldog said...

That's right! You gave me the wah-wah pedal for Christmas! You must have felt like a right fool going into shops and asking for it, not knowing what it really was.

Thank you again!

AliP said...

Oh man, Sul...you were so cool. I wanted to be in a bband too but for girls its a bit harder(back then anyways) AND my friends and I had no musical training. The best I ever did at it was jamming with actual musicians back in 2003. It was awesome. We wrote and recorded one song in Jamie's studio/livingroom and my husband pops the cd in once in awhile to see me cringe at my flat notes (take twelve after some serious strep throat)but he loves that song. :oD

Melinda said...

Oh - high school bands! I'm glad you got to feel like a rock star during that time - there isn't anything like performing on a stage. When I was in high school, all of my friends were into music and played multiple instruments. We never got anywhere, but always had the greatest time.

rock on, Sully!

Mushy said...

Whether or not you made it big in rock, I'm still envious. As you can see in my sidebar, I've always been an "air" rocker and longed to be the real thing. Alas...no ear, no talent!

Rock on!

Barbara said...

Wow, I read the blog of a rock star. Cool.

My cousin Cathy lived in Brookline and was a teenager in 1974.

Cath said...

This was good too. I have read loads about you now!

And how did you do the links to the post?That is what is bugging me right now! Please tell! Pretty please!