Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stories About Grand Delusions

So, getting back to jobs I've held...

Oh, right. You might not have been here for the first few tales. Here they are, in the order I published them:


Paperboy - Part Two (this is the part with sexy bits, maybe)

Paperboy - Part Three

Blackjack Dealer

More About Dealing Blackjack (but mostly about eating a hippopotamus, and if that doesn't intrigue you...)

Barker On A Walking Charlie (and unless you read it, you'll never figure out what that means...)

Barker On A Walking Charlie - Part Two

Barker On A Walking Charlie - Part Three

Stock Clerk & Shoe Salesman (Wow! Sounds Thrilling!)

Garage Cleaner (as well as unintentional daredevil)

Once you're done reading all of those, it will be 2017 and I will have moved on to something else entirely. Meanwhile, we’re now more-or-less 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. Here are the names of all the bands I was in: World's End, Destination, Live Wire, Powerline, P. S. Wild, City Limits, Soldier, Squiddly Diddly and Assault & Battery. All were hard rock, some verged on metal, fun was had, friendships were forged, money wasn't made.

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 (and if you haven't read them, you'll get the opportunity soon when I re-post them, so don't sweat it.)

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 (or so I thought. Turns out there's a little bit of seashore in Massachusetts called World's End that a lot of people like and it's about as far from a heavy metal sort of place as possible, so some folks still thought we might play folk music. Boy, were they disappointed if they came to one of our gigs...)


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

(Me, around this time.)

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 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 - tight shirts that showed off what muscles we had, requisite tight pants to 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 reticense 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, God bless him. There was hardly a spot on his face that wasn't covered with some sort of pus-filled blemish. I took to the guy immediately - great bizarre sense of humor - but 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 painful dermatological treatments and was much better looking, but I'm sure he still carried some psychic scars.)

The first moment when we hit the stage at Brookline High - 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 paid 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 left the band and got 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 - literally, when we rehearsed at Grande's place - 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 a later band's 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. And so I did become (but more stories about World's End next time.)

Soon, with more better stuff.


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

Grand Delusions WBAGNFARB

Ericka said...

I can barely play a radio, so if you could fake it at all, you had more musical talent that I ever will. Happy New Year, Sully!

Jackie said...

What I'm especially impressed with as I read this is the self-teaching that went on.
I love that. There needs to be more and more of that....(AND self-confidence....that apparently all of you had.)

messymimi said...

Sometimes i wonder who enjoys it more -- those who think they are going to hit it big, or those who know they aren't and just enjoy touring and playing in their own little neck of the woods.

joeh said...

Most people I know that are successful never say they can't do something. They say they can and then quickly learn how to do it. Sounds like you and the keyboard.

I never had that confidence...or is the word chutzpah?

Daryl said...

please tell me you are going to put together a book proposal ... these stories are so well written and such a pleasure to read