Friday, March 12, 2010

Faded Glory

[I'm re-printing this because, this past week, I was contacted by - or contacted concerning - the guys I wrote about in this piece. We're all going to be attending the 50th birthday bash of the singer, and those of us attending are considering getting back together, as a band, and having some fun. We'll jam, at the least, and... who knows after that? I'm truly psyched. I loved playing with these guys.]

Fame is fleeting. That’s the old saying, but sometimes it depends upon what your definition of fame is - and how well-made your bumper stickers were.

I lived in Dorchester, right on the border of Mattapan, for 37 years. I moved to Watertown 14 years ago. If you walked up to everybody living in Dorchester and Mattapan today, showed them a picture of me, and asked them if they knew who it was, you might find a double handful that could identify me. There are probably a few folks who remember me running for state rep, and another two or three who bought grass from me (NOT while I was running for state rep, by the way) and perhaps one or two of my old friends still live in the area.

On the other hand, if you were to ask every resident of those areas if they knew who Jimi LaRue was, I’d be willing to bet big money not a single one of them would have the slightest idea. That’s too bad, because there is actual physical evidence still extant concerning Mr. LaRue’s doings during the year of 1981. Before we get to that, though, here’s some necessary back-story.

In 1979, I was 22 years old, unemployed, and rapidly becoming a decent bass guitar player. I spent the better part of every day stoned and banging on the instrument. As a result of the many hours invested in those pastimes, I had become very good very fast.

I had been in a band already – and you could read about it here and here - but as a keyboard player/vocalist. If you don’t feel like going to the links, I’ll condense the story of that band thusly: The band sucked and so did I. It was fun, though. And while I was in that band, I did what I always did in every band I’ve ever been in. I played everybody else’s instruments as often as possible. Whenever there was a break, I’d jump behind the drums, or pick up a guitar, and try to learn how to do something with them.

From the time I was a kid, I’d always been drawn to musical instruments. I could usually pick out a tune on anything with keys or strings. I was no idiot savant (well, not the savant part, anyway), but I had some innate talent for it. So, as I said, I fiddled (hah! fiddled!) with everybody’s instruments and got so I could at least fake my way on drums, bass, and guitar, as well as the keyboards, which I was already faking my way at.

After leaving that band, my girlfriend of the time told me about a friend of hers willing to sell a bass guitar for $10. I bought it. It was worth every penny of $10, too. It was a hideous instrument, and it was basically (BASSically! Hah!) strung with rusty cable. I didn’t really know any better, however, so I figured if I was really going to learn how to play it, I’d better just buckle down and get on with it. I played it and played it and made my fingers literally bleed. I built up mighty calluses on my fingertips. You can still light a match under them and all I’ll feel is a little bit of warmth.

Then, in 1980, I came into possession of a real bass guitar, which also happened to be a short scale. I was amazed at how easy it was to play. I had been used to stretching my fingers to reach notes on the long scale and pressing down hard on a fretboard that had frets I should have filed down. The strings, aside from having the texture of 16-grade sandpaper, were too tautly strung. This new thing in my hands was a bass? No. This new thing in my hands was HEAVEN! I came to the realization that I had given myself the equivalent of about 5 years training in the space of one year, simply because I had been teaching myself on such a hideous beast of an instrument.

Along about that time, a knock came on my door. It was opportunity, in the body of a fellow named Marty Murphy. I had never met Marty. He was the friend of a guy who lived across the street from me. He had been talking to this friend about how the bass player in his band was leaving to go to college. That friend told him about this guy across the street that constantly played the bass – loud enough for my neighbors to constantly hear it, apparently, and if any of them are reading this, I do apologize - and he said that this guy sounded decent. So, on the off chance that I actually WAS decent, and might be interested in playing with his band, Marty knocked.

I thought I was good enough to play in a band. As is usually the case with me in life, though, I didn’t really know where to take my talent to put it to use. I had vague notions about starting my own band, but no definite grasp of what to do to make it happen. About the only way I was going to truly get into a band was if someone knocked on my door and asked me to do it. Since Marty had done exactly that, I was thrilled.

Without so much as listening to me play a single note, Marty arranged that I’d meet the band the next night. I would go to where they were currently rehearsing, in the basement of the drummer’s parent’s home in Hyde Park. Their departing bass player would be there, playing a few numbers with them prior to leaving for college. Afterwards, they’d run through the same numbers again, this time with me on bass. Then they’d decide if they wanted me. Fair enough.

That night, I dressed in my best black t-shirt, boots and jeans. I drove to Hyde Park. When I got to the street, there was little chance of going to the wrong house. It sounded like someone was using the basement to land a squadron of F-15s, and not always right side up. It was loud, fast, immoral, and destructive. In other words, it was exactly the kind of stuff I liked to play.

I went inside and watched them perform. The name of the group was Live Wire. They were all 17 and 18 – four to five years younger than me – and they were all friends from high school and the neighborhood. It was obvious to me that I was a much better bass player than the guy I was being asked to replace. He wasn’t totally horrible, but he had made the right decision to go to school rather than try and make his fortune in music. I knew as soon as I got a chance to plug in and start playing, the gig was mine. And that’s what happened. They were all smiles while I played, and they offered me the spot immediately afterwards.

(I later found out they were worried that I wouldn’t want to play with a bunch of teenagers. They were afraid that I was going to tell them thanks, but no thanks. For my part, I was worried that they might think I was too old, and not want to play with a guy who was an ancient 23. When one of them asked me how old I was, I shaved my age and said 21. The dumbass I was going with at the time, who had accompanied me to the rehearsal, said, “Jim, what are you talking about? You’re 23!”

I shot her a look that said, “Do you have anything approaching a brain in your head?” but since she didn’t, the look meant nothing to her. Not having any other choice, I then blushingly fessed up to being 23. Aside from looking like a right idiot to my new bandmates, it didn’t hurt. As I say, it turned out we were all worried about the same thing, for opposite reasons, so no harm. We all had a good laugh, except for the girlfriend. She still didn’t get it.)

Me, on stage (possibly the Nu Pixie Theater, Hyde Park)

This was about as perfect a band as I would have imagined forming on my own. They were fresh, totally unjaded, wrote decent pop hooks, had some actual talent, and were all truly nice guys on top of it. They played some covers, but wanted to play mostly originals. Since I wanted to play nothing but originals, I was OK with that. I figured we needed the covers to fill out sets in bars – true – and that we could concentrate solely on originals (including my own) as time went on.

The band members, aside from myself on bass, were Ronnie Bower and Ron Frattasio on guitars, Steve Giusti on drums, and Marty Murphy (the fellow who knocked on my door) as the singer. Marty didn’t have the greatest voice in the world - not the worst, either, sort of like Bon Scott, sometimes - but he was a hell of a showman. People really liked him. He was also something of a jack-of-all-trades instrumentally, playing a bit of sax, flute, guitar, and harmonica on various songs.

This being 1980, and somewhat the tail end of the original punk movement – Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, et al - Marty had decided to take the stage name “Marty Sucks.” He explained that this way, when the audience might say it, instead of insulting him, they’d just be advertising him. Made sense to me. As we became somewhat popular, people would often shout it out between songs – “Marty Sucks!” - always with a smile and some sincere love. It was pretty cool, actually.

Now, my given name is Jim Sullivan, and I’m glad I was given it, too. It’s a good solid name. No problems with it, really. However, at that time there were at least two other people named Jim Sullivan with some small measure of fame. There was a guitar player with Tom Jones’s band named Big Jim Sullivan. Of more import to me, there was a local writer in Boston, doing concert reviews and such, named Jim Sullivan. I didn’t want to be sharing a name, and since he had gotten it into the spotlight first, I decided to change mine. I went with Jimi LaRue. I thought that it came off of the tongue nicely, had a slightly ambivalent sexual feel to it (I grew up listening to Alice Cooper and other such androgynous freaks, so…) and I had a mistaken understanding of French, so I thought that it meant “The Street”, which was certainly a decent bit of cred to shoot for. The affectation of “Jimi,” as opposed to “Jimmy” or “Jim,” was a fairly obvious rip-off, but what the hell. So far as I knew, I was the first person to rip it off, so it was somewhat original in it’s non-originality.

I could go on for quite some time with stories about this band, and I’ll definitely tell more of them someday for sure, now that I’ve given you the background, but right now I want to eat dinner, so I’ll get to the point of this post and then start cooking my macaroni.

We were solid, we developed a loyal following in the neighborhoods we came from, and we played some semi-big venues around Boston - The Beachcomber in Wollaston, etc. We earned a small-but-steady check as the sort-of house band at a bar/club in Mattapan Square called McCarthy’s. It was a decent-sized joint, holding maybe 200 when filled to capacity, and we did fill it whenever we played there, which was pretty much two weekends a month.

As we gained some fans, we decided to do some self-promotion. We had t-shirts made, the possible only surviving example of which can be seen on this rather large and dirty white teddy bear.

In case you can’t quite make out the lettering, here’s a closer shot.

The tag line is “High-Voltage Rock ‘N Roll.”

We sold a few. After we had done so, however, there arose an argument in the band concerning our name. It seems that one of the guys – I forget who – had come across an album by another group named Live Wire. They were no longer in existence, but they HAD been popular enough to have actual recordings, so this led to an argument concerning whether or not we should change our name. I was of the belief that it didn’t really matter. These other guys weren’t around any more, so who cared? In the end, though, the opposite opinion – that we should be totally original - carried the day, so we discarded Live Wire. We wanted to have something similar, with which we could use the same tag, so we finally decided upon POWERLINE.

Once we changed the name, we had bumper stickers manufactured. We gave these away at our first couple of gigs at McCarthy’s following the name change.

McCarthy’s – now defunct, in case you’re wondering - was located almost directly across the street from Mattapan Station, a trolley and bus terminal. Many of our fans, after seeing our show on a Friday or Saturday evening, did the right thing and took public transportation home, rather than drive drunk. So, they’d roll themselves down to the station and wait for the bus or the trolley. As you might imagine, some folks taking a trolley won’t have any real use for a bumper sticker, or at least no car to put it on. So, not wanting to waste it completely, one of them did something that has turned out to be the only remaining public vestige of our former semi-stardom. He (or she) climbed a pole and put our bumper sticker on a street sign at the River Street bus ramp to the station.

For the past 27 years, it has remained on that sign. Rain has beaten it, snow has frozen it, sun has faded it, and thousands upon thousands of people have passed by it, some on foot, some on busses, some in cars. These days, most have no more clue concerning who the group was than I would if asked about a Taiwanese oompah band. The most amazing thing, to me, is that nobody from the T (the Boston transportation system, owners of the station and, of course, the sign) has ever seen fit to try and remove it, or to even replace the sign. There’s at least one person who’s glad they haven’t. I find it comforting to know it’s still there.

Hey, you take your glory where you can get it. That person could have scrawled “Black Sabbath Rules!” on the station wall with a magic marker, or perhaps spray-painted “Ramones!” Instead, there’s our bumper sticker.

God bless you, anonymous despoiler of public property! You’ve made my day, more than once, for 27 years now.

By the way, just as the original bass player had given me an opening by leaving for college, in 1982 the drummer decided to go to college and that's when the group disbanded. Higher education giveth, and higher education taketh away.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Matt Conlon said...

Great story! I've mentioned once or twice that I'm a guitarist of fair talent, but lesser skill... I can pick out (Ha! Pick!) a tune, and play some simple songs completely.

I was in a band for about three months back in the late 90's. At the age of 19 I was the oldest by about four or five years, and the only member, aside from the singer, who never took a lesson. what with the lessons they were taking, coupled with my lazy shoot from the hip approach, they quickly became better than me, and we all sort of just went our separate ways.

We never did locate a bass player either. Still, some good times.

Michelle H. said...

Loved the reprint! Have a great time at the bash. Rock out, my soul brother! Bring the house down.

So, as I said, I fiddled (hah! fiddled!) with everybody’s instruments

You were young, so that's expected. While I'm sure the ladies enjoyed it, I hope the guys didn't slap you too much. Oh, wait! You mean actual musical instruments. Well, never mind my comment....

Cricket said...

Classic. I love it. Maybe some day i'll post a few war stories myself.

At that age, I played in a trio with two other guys named Chris. Seriously. Go figure.

Jinksy said...

Nostalgia, eh? I danced away my early years, then sang away a few more. Now I blog - static and silent - so I enjoyed your sound packed tale today! LOL
(love the word verification - COUTH no uncouth youth here!)

Daryl said...

Wonderful story .. Jimi LaRue .. given your hair color it works ... wasnt there a cowboy actor waaaay back in the day Lash LaRue?

Anonymous said...

What a great story! You actually got gigs? Mighty impressive.

I am the mother of one tween who truly believes he WILL be a rock star a la Joe Perry, Slash fame.

Time will tell.

So what should I tell him his real, erm, I mean OTHER job should be in life?


Eric said...

Great story. When I played piano as a young dude, I often wished I'd had the chance to do something like joining a band. Other than high school jazz band though (and trying out for the US Army band), I never did.

CiCi said...

Sounds similar to my hubby's musical beginnings. This is fun to hear more about your band years. Love the sign.

Suldog said...

Quirky - Seriously, Quirky? I'd say encourage him, completely, and don't even mention another job. Give him every chance to live his dream. However, try to steer him in the direction of training that will help with the gig - lessons, business courses, perhaps some technical courses that might pertain to his equipment or with sound production - and those will be useful for other careers. Be sure he knows that, as fun as it is to play music and be in a band, that doing it for a living is a job just like other jobs, and you have to be prepared for it. Other than that? Encourage, don't discourage. Really.

Linda said...

I hope you do get together with some of your old friends and play together, er, make music, have fun.

Christina RN LMT said...

Awesome story and pictures, Jim!

I've always wanted to be a singer in a heavy metal band, but (although I have a great voice and am a good singer) my voice and singing style is just not suited to that kind of endeavor. Doesn't stop me from having my rock star daydreams, though! :D

Hilary said...

I remember this story well and enjoyed it muchly. :) I love your advice to Quirky. My younger son has the music bug too (metal) and is currently doing exactly as you suggest. He attends Metalworks Institute to learn stage and sound production and is loving it.

Have a great time with your buds. :)

Unspoken said...

Got to love that hair and the sign!

Chris said...

"in the basement of the drummer's parents' house."

That should be the title of a CCR album or something. Or maybe a 70's rock retrospective. It's also the answer to the following questions:

Where did you stash all the weed?

Where did Mary Connelly lose her virginity?

Anyone know a good place to hide a dead body?

Hey, where does the bass player live?

You get the idea.

Sueann said...

Enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Great pics by the way. Where you trying to do the splits? Ouch!

Buck said...

In keeping with our policy of recycling comments, there's this:

GREAT pic of you on stage, Jimi! You sure as Hades looked the part... and I have no reason to doubt you delivered, as well. And the sign? Too, too cool. It ain't forever, but 27 years ain't chopped liver, either.

And for the newly added material, there's this:

Hey! If Townshend and Daltrey can play the SooperDooper Bowl, you can do a 50th birthday party reunion gig... easily. Take lotsa pictures, coz you KNOW your groupies want 'em.

Craig said...

Oh, man, you're bringin' back memories for me here, Jim. Right down to the shoulder-length, parted-down-the-middle hair (one of my kids came across an old photo of me with that coiffure, and said, "You looked like a girl!". . . Yeah, that's what my dad said, too. . .)

I played in a pickup band for a couple years when I was in college - I played keyboards and sang some. We mostly played our friends' weddings for pizza money and free beer, but we had a great time. . .

I had to laugh at your 'multi-instrumental-ness'; I started piano lessons when I was five, and taught myself guitar when I was 14. About 20 years or so ago, the bass player in our community's worship group moved on, and they asked me if I could play bass, at which I am now solid, if unspectacular. So I can share that bit of your space, too. . .

Unknown said...

Loved the old photos! Great story.

The Good Cook said...

Love it! So what did you do for the rest of your life? Do you still play occasionally? More, More...

GreenJello said...

Just bought two of the girls their first acoustic guitars. I hope they practice with the same enthusiasm you did, but not be high doing it. LOL.

i beati said...

androgenous you said it not me--??ahem -- but was Marty sexy .Jimi I want to know..groupies??

ahh the memories .good stuff...

Land of shimp said...

" Other than that? Encourage, don't discourage. Really.

Boy, do I ever agree. I know a ton of people who would truly have loved to simply have a passion in life. That's basically what I told my son when he told me he wanted to study acting. He's good at it, it makes him sincerely happy...oh, and find something to minor in that could make money, just in case :-)

I've very seldom met people who regret pursuing something they loved...and there's a ton of time to be responsible in life.

Anyway, what a fun post. Of course, I can't help but think of Spinal Tap whenever I hear people talk about their old bands, how's the drummer? Sorry, I'm in a weird mood Jim...because we have painters hear, and they are torturing me with the worst easy listening you've ever heard. Seriously, there were Beegees.

Where was I? Yes, have a great weekend...and get your band back together, to jam and have fun. That "lucky to have interests that are passions" thing applies to every age group.

I have to go kill a radio now. Transistor Murder. I'm going to the big house.

What is it with your blog and bizarre word verifications? "pustr" ...??? Hopefully there's a cure for that.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What a life you've led, Jim!!! Simply fantastic!!! Loved this memory...I could read your stories over and over great!!! Loved seeing the rocker pictures of Jimi as well ;-) Really terrific!!! Have a great weekend!!! Hugs, Janine

Karen said...

Love that red hair! Some nice memories there. I think it's way cool that the bumper sticker still lives!

Shammickite said...

That's a great advert for the bumper sticker manufacturing company. I bet they'd be delighted to know that their bumper sticker has lasted 27 years stuck on the road sign. Perhaps the bumper sticker has actually lasted longer than the manufacturing company?????

hee hee word verification is hipshire.... and you are so HIP!

Elaine Denning said...

That's a great story. Loved it :)

I think you should steal that signpost before someone removes it. What a great keepsake to have. You'd be gutted if you went back one day and it was gone!

Shrinky said...

Hey, I want your autograph! My 18yr old plays lead guitar in a band, like you, he can also play pretty much anything he puts his mind to, but guitar is his first love (picked his first one up at age 5)!

I can understand your thrill at the thought of reforming for a session (or two) with these guys, sounds fun - remember to keep us posted!

Char said...

Great story! I remember seeing Elis do that pose you were doing in that picture...way cool!

Who knew I was in the company of fame when I come here! Thanks for sharing the tale.

p.s.~I can't believe you haven't stolen that sign yet. Would be a nice addition to your den.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Smiling smiling!.... I've told the story before of how my younger brother asked me to come listen to his friends band in the garage and I declined - then he later began roadie-ing for them, then brought me a homemade cassette tape for which I listened to and thought, "I guess they're okay...."

Anyway, that band became Pantera - my brother's listed on an album or two ... he went on to other things, but tells stories sometimes about it...


Anonymous said...

I so love the stories of your ,misspent youth, Jim. My fourteen year old grandson plays Bass-in a band-heavy rock of course, he has the hair for it too.