Monday, April 12, 2010

Last Stand

[Main characters in the stories that follow - Me, Steve, Ronnie]

Much like old soldiers, talk often turns to times past when old bandmates get together. Stories are traded concerning mutual experiences, and good laughs are often the result. Here are two tales that revolve around one of our songs.

When Live Wire worked a club date, our closer for the fourth set (the last set of the evening) was usually an original tune called Last Stand.

HEAR THE TUNE (The standard disclaimer: poor sound quality, but it's the only version of the song that was ever recorded, so far as I am aware. Unfortunately, Ronnie's ending solo did not get picked up very well on the tape, perhaps because of the cassette recorder being far from his amp. If you're a musician, you'll probably still hear the cues. Ronnie gives his after 32 bars, far from... well, I'm getting ahead of the stories.)

We worked strictly from head arrangements. After the final verse on this song, Ronnie Bower had an extended solo that varied in length. He'd launch into his solo while the rest of us kept the steady repetitious rhythm. When he decided he'd exhausted all possibilities for fun - after 24 bars, or 32, or anything else divisible by 8 - he'd play a certain run to signal me, then I'd play a specific bass line as cue to the rest of the guys that it was time to close it out. Then we'd all play the final 8 and (hopefully) bask in the tumultuous applause.

One night, Ronnie got it into his head to torture Steve Giusti, our drummer. The rest of us - rhythm guitar, bass, percussion - just had 4 chords to contend with. In my case, this meant fingering a simple line. Ron Frattasio strummed and Marty kept a simple beat on a percussion instrument of one sort or another. Steve, however, had to keep pounding the drums and, since this was the final song of four sets, he would sometimes be exhausted by the time this song ended. On the night in question, Ronnie just kept noodling around the fretboard with no particular goal in mind. He was making enough noise to keep it interesting for the (by this time of night) very drunk patrons, and every so often he'd peek over his shoulder to see Steve shooting daggers at him with his eyes. It was a summer night in a hot smoky crowded club. Steve was pouring sweat, his hands cramping, his bass foot going into paroxysms, and had it not been a paying gig with customers out front, I think he might have started flinging sticks at Bower to get him to stop.

Bower finally gives me the cue after perhaps 512 bars. I was tempted to ignore it, not playing the other cue for the rest of the band, just to see what Steve would do. However, he was my good buddy in the rhythm section, so I did the right thing and didn't allow the torture to continue. We closed out the song - to huge applause, by the way, as Bower had been circulating in the crowd while doing his solo and getting everybody to love him - and we left the stage. As soon as we got out of sight of the audience, Steve kicked Ronnie in the nads and then beat him to death with a ride cymbal.

Nah. Steve was way too nice a guy to do anything but smile about the joke, and that's why Ronnie did it. It's also why we all have such fond memories of being in that band. We were all nice guys, prone to pranking but never to outright shitty behavior.

The other story also has to do with Last Stand.

One of our bits of stage business was for Ronnie and me to stand back-to-back during his extended solo, leaning into each other (and, on occasion - if we did it right - both of us inching our way down close to the floor while we played. Then, still supporting each back-to-back, resuming upright positions. We'd then go our separate ways, working the crowd, until Ronnie gave me the cue to end, etc.)

Well, as you probably know, electric instruments and amplifiers have to be grounded. When they're not, or if the polarities are opposite, shocks may result. Unbeknownst to me, Bower switched the ground on my amplifier during the break before our final set. This made absolutely no difference during any of the other songs, as I had no reason to approach a mic or otherwise come into contact with anything else with a ground during the first 7 songs of the set.

We launch into his extended solo, with Bower and I making our way out onto the dance floor of the club. We give each other a visual cue - eye contact - and approach each other to do the back-to-back bit. We turn and lean into each other.

Jesus Christ! I get this huge shock! I almost stop playing, but I'm something of a pro and so I keep going. I have no idea what happened. Ronnie is looking at me like I'm out of my mind, and he sort of signals for me to lean into him again. Like an idiot, I do. ZZZZZAP!!!

This time, Ronnie can't keep a straight face, and the light dawns on Marblehead. I realize what's happening. I am NOT going to touch the son of a bitch again. Except now, Ronnie is approaching me with this evil gleam in his eye. So, I have to back away from him. Meanwhile, of course, we both have to keep playing, and the rest of the band is wondering why I suddenly appear terrified of Ronnie. I stopped, gave him this look of "If you touch me again, you bastard, I'm going to slam my bass over your head", and I think he got the message. He laughed, finished his solo - and then tried to get to me one more time, after the song ended, before I could switch out the ground. I was too quick for him, and powered down my amp before he could fry me.

Like Steve, I was too nice a guy to knock Ronnie's teeth out. And Ronnie was just too nice a guy to do it to, anyway. See, he could take a joke himself, so when he played one on you it was cool. He knew you might seek revenge of some sort later, and that was fair play. If he was the victim of something funny, he'd laugh at your joke. Of course, when the rest of the guys found out what had been transpiring during the song, they rolled on the floor laughing.


Went to the birthday bash for Marty (the singer) on Saturday and it was a blast. Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll see if I can put together some "before & after" photos to show you.

Soon, with more better stuff.

[Thanks to Knucklehead for initially triggering my memories of these incidents via this piece of his.]


Expat From Hell said...

Such great memories, and since you're writing about them now I would disagree with your title. Hey, you never know if a Reunion Tour is just around the corner, right? And on-stage shocks are difficult to "absorb"...I remember having the same polarity problem when I approached the mike once for a background vocal - nice to have all that voltage come through your lower lip. Nice to be back - please take me out of your "over a month with no posting" column, OK? EFH

Michelle H. said...

Sorry, couldn't help but bust out laughing over the "shocking" finale of your tale. Now those are some lasting memories! Can't wait to read about the b-day party.

Off to hear the song :)

Cricket said...

Great stories. You reminded me of one of my "best" shocks ever.

I was a kid, maybe 14, playing a CYO dance or something. In one song, I played a slide solo. Now usually, I'd just put the slide down on top of my amp after, as I needed my pinky to finish the song.

This one night, my amp was too far away. Not wanting the slide to roll offstage, I pulled it off with my teeth. There wouldn't have been more than a minute left to the song, y'know.

Anyway, I turned my head and the metal slide touched my mic. Owowow! Zapped, right through the teeth!

A most unpleasant sensation. Never did that again, I can tell you.

Brian Miller said...

oh man what the and cricket shocked through the teeth...yikes!

Tim Clancy said...

Hehe this was fun to read. I remember playing a backyard party, and it started raining. We were a trio, so we lumped all the gear real fast by the drums and threw a tarp over it. Worked like a charm, the equipment all stayed dry! But the rest of the area was soaked, and every time I tried to play something, I got zapped. After 5 or 10 minutes of electrocuting myself, someone watching the band that had paid attention in science class figured it out: my wet bell bottoms were acting as my ground, and thats what was zapping me! I rolled them up to my knees and finished the gig looking like a moron.

Suldog said...

Expat - This is the sort of stuff I love to hear in response to these stories; stuff from other musicians with tales to tell. Please, everybody, keep 'em coming!

Michelle - Glad you got a laugh! Wish I had VIDEO of these things. It would be even funnier.

Cricket - And here we go! Another hilarious tale! At first, I'm thinking you had a glass slide, and I'm wondering where the story is headed... then, yup, metal slide, mic, OUCH!

Brian - Yes, again, OUCH!

Tim - That's hilarious. First off, of course, the bellbottoms. That dates the story well, as I wore them while playing, too, back in the day. But, the mental picture of you playing with them rolled up... priceless!

(By the way, I knew Tim back in the days when I was in my first band, World's End - the early 70's. Tim is a heck of a player. Check out his stuff at his Facebook page -!/profile.php?ref=sgm&id=735873110)

Hilary said...

What a shocking but fun read. It sounds like you have so many fond memories and I'm looking forward to seeing the before and after photos. Hopefully by now, you've learned a better way to .. conduct yourself. ;)

Sandy Kessler said...

she loved it sound quality or not sk

Chris said...

"Beat him to death with a ride cymbal."

Perfect, especially the descriptor "ride".

Awesome war stories, Jim.

CiCi said...

Glad the birthday party was so much fun for you. I really like the stories of when you all played together. I have to tell you that the pic of you with the longer hair looks similar to my hubby and that is what he says too of when he was in the band. I am looking forward to more pictures and more pranks.

Suldog said...

Knucklehead - "Ride" - Yeah, I knew that would mean nothing to anyone unfamiliar with drum kits, but it had to be there. I vacillated between that and 'crash', but 'hi-hat' was never in the running. Some folks would just think I couldn't spell "high hat" and also that I was grossly overestimating the damage one might cause wielding a silk topper with vengeance in mind :-)

Buck said...

...shocks may result.

Live Wire, indeed!

Daryl said...

Oh what amazing guys you were/are ... and ToonMan loved loved loved your comment on his baseball toon...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

THAT'S REAL FRIENDSHIP!!! What wonderful fun and camaraderie you shared!!! I love the pranks...and sorry, like Michelle, I laughed spite of myself...sorry... I have thoroughly enjoyed this series of posts!!! What a life you've lived! A never ending source of rich anecdotes and tales!! Bravo! Hugs, Janine

Maggie May said...

That was a great trip down Memory Lane.
What pranks you got up to.

Nuts in May

Unknown said...

Sounds like you have great memories to share when you get together. Old friends are the best!

Char said...

Great story telling and fun memory. I have new respect for your abilities to keep playing through the shock....even more so
for performing in rolled-up bell bottoms! ha!

Anonymous said...

When are you playing Salt Lake?

Anonymous said...

A really funny laugh out loud read. That's what I call a truly creative buzz, putting the 'live' into Live Wire.

lime said...

ah the games musicians play. it is amazing the capacity for pranking that can be generated, no?

thanks for such an electrifying chuckle.

Shrinky said...

Is it cruel to laugh? Nahhh, you survivied, as did the others. What glory days Jim, wish I could have been a fly on the wall to have seen half the shananigans I'm sure you had. Great song, by the way, you guys rocked! Another terrific post Jim, you sure know how to tell 'em!

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Y'know, I think it's the electricity that causes post adolescent males to prank one another. I am thinking of seeing a fully charged capacitor left lying innocently on a counter where an unsuspecting individual would attempt to pick it up.

Craig said...

Great stories, Jim. You guys wuz quite the Band of Merry Pranksters, wuzntcha?

I've had the Expat voltage-thru-the-lip experience meself, and it's definitely non-habit-forming. . .

Unknown said...

So... I tried to comment with one of my own band-electrocution stories, but Blogger was acting up for me. (Turned out, I needed to clear my cache and cookies.) In any case, I instead posted the story on my own blog.


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