Myron, Clancy and Betty-Lou

So we were gigging pretty heavily, Sticks, Riff and I. A year or two later, we were pining to play more melodic material featuring vocal harmonies, as well as augmented accompaniment. There's only so much you can do with two voices (Sticks didn't sing) and we were stuck in the rut of depending too much on simplistic crap from the fifties: Carl Perkins, Elvis, Bill Haley and His Comets, etc. There are only so many I-IV-V, twelve bar progressions a person can stomach before retching violently on the cheap shag carpeting of a southern Minnesota ballroom stage. For whatever reason, Riff and I developed this urge to perform songs like Earth Angel, Tears on My Pillow, Silhouettes, I Wonder Why, Rama Lama Ding Dong, and so forth.

We decided to add another member and become a four piece. A neighbor of the infamous 249 Norton Street hippie house introduced us to the fellow who would become the next Pharaoh.

Myron Morgan was a really nice guy and very talented. He was good on saxophone and fabulous on keyboards. And he was a fine singer. Even better, he had a strong musical background and understood harmony. Bit by bit we started to include more complex material, which gave us all a good feeling--we had come a long way from the Spiff Cool days of do-whacka-do, whacka-do, whacka-do...and shoe-box amplifiers.

I'm not entirely certain Myron was into the humor side of things, though. I really can't recall any bits or announcements coming from his lips, although he helped in a stunt which we only carried out once. We were playing some sort of street dance in Iowa, possibly Dunnell. The town had moved a flatbed trailer in for us to perform upon. Prior to appearing on stage, I wove a tuft of brown crepe hair into Riff's natural hair and patted it down. We just left it there, and all looked normal. Then, at some point during the night he and I got into a mock argument on stage, and I threatened to kick the crap out of him. I reached over to Riff's head, grabbed the ersatz hair, and with a bit of acting made it look like I was painfully ripping a tuft of his mane right from the roots. Everybody's eyes were on Riff and me, of course, and completely missed the fact that Myron was holding a piece of buckram cloth next to the microphone, slowing ripping it in two. The result: a multimedia demonstration. It looked for all the world like I had yanked a clump of Riff's hair out, accompanied by a dreadful tearing noise. Were we doing it currently in this day and age of stark realism, I would have dabbed some stage blood on the roots and let it drip while he winced.

We got that bit from the Three Stooges.

Really, the only other thing I remember about Myron was the trip down to Dunnell. Riff was driving his old aqua colored beater (the one we traversed North Dakota with) and I sat in front. Earlier that day, Myron had hooked up with a somewhat plump girl who went by the name of Teats--seriously. I'm not fabricating that! So, the two of them writhed in the back seat, making out on the whole trip, not a single word spoken. He apparently was quite infatuated with Teats. Riff and I pretended not to notice, ever the gentlemen, we. Incidentally, she giggled an awful lot and moreover shook while doing so.

Sticks, Myron, Studs, Riff
As nice as he was, we could sort of detect Myron wasn't all that fired up with what the band was doing, so he departed after several months. While he certainly added quite a bit of musicality, it just wasn't enough. We needed a good performer who additionally was crazed, lacking any restraint whatsoever. (That day would eventually come gangbusters in the combination of Pinkie, Hubert, Flapper, Riff and Studs, but I get ahead of myself).

By 1977 Sticks was sort of losing the fire, too. He dropped by the wayside, leaving Riff and I wondering what to follow up with. You might be surprised to learn that our next venture was into punk rock, which had just hit the airwaves with the emergence of the Sex Pistols. I'm proud to say our new band, Kristi Vibrant, was the very first punk ensemble in our town, and very likely in the state. But more about that another time.

After shucking punk rock, Riff and I decided to reformulate the East Side Pharaohs. Sticks was out of the picture, but we managed to locate a new drummer, Clancy Hayes, probably by means of a newspaper advertisement. Clancy was a super nice guy and an exceptionally strong drummer. Unfortunately, he too didn't sing, nor contribute much to the humor. So, it was back to Riff and I having to carry the brunt of the bits. But the music was certainly more than acceptable. The guy was fast, accurate and knew how to improvise when things got wild in the heat of a performance.
 
Clancy, Studs, Riff
Clancy was a real trooper. One night we had an important and high-paying wedding gig at some fancy Rochester motel, poolside, but earlier that day his teeth started acting up. By afternoon he was in absolute agony. We had to plead with him to follow through anyway; it's virtually impossible to dislodge a wedding gig or find a replacement on such short notice. And so he played that performance somehow, all four wisdom teeth in the process of exploding the entire night. I don't know how he did it, but Clancy certainly epitomized the old expression: the show must go on.

Our next attempt as a four piece was an interesting experiment. Clancy knew a female co-worker who expressed an interest in performing 50's rock and roll with us. We invited her over for a tryout, and it was a go.

Betty-Lou McVey was exceedingly attractive and really looked great sporting a pony tail, bedecked in an authentic poodle skirt. She also had a decent voice, was tone accurate and seemed to have no trouble mastering the lyrics and vocal harmonies. All of a sudden we were doing girl-group songs: He's So Fine, He's a Rebel, Leader of the Pack, One Fine Day and so on. Speaking of which, the highlight for me was doing that last song just listed, penned by Carole King. I loved the harmonies we created. In my entire musical career, it was very rare that I could hardly wait to perform any particular song, but this was definitely one of them.

Actually, we didn't have enough material with Betty-Lou to pad out an entire evening (it takes sixty songs to fill four sets). So Clancy, Riff and I would start things off, bringing her out from time to time, as though she were a very special guest star.

Betty-Lou had confidence on stage, wasn't a shrinking violet by any means when it came to singing, but it was hard to get her to participate in the humor side of things. During the comedic announcements which Riff and I were constantly making, she was essentially an ornament.

Except one night, when she startled the hell out of us. We were performing Johnny Angel, and the passage was supposed to be:
I'm in heaven
I get carried away
I dream of him and me
And how it's gonna be
Other fellas
Call me out for a date
But I just sit and wait, I'd rather concentrate
On Johnny Angel
Instead she concluded the penultimate line with a galvanizing and humorous allusion to auto-eroticism.

Riff and I, eyes big as saucers, stared at each other as though we couldn't believe our ears, while Betty-Lou just winked at us. It was hilarious.

We didn't do all that many jobs with Betty-Lou, but it was great fun while it lasted.

At the start of 1981 I left town to take a job at the University of Iowa. At the time, it seemed like maybe the East Side Pharaoh's run maybe had finally come to a close.

But not quite yet...

Next installment: The First Five-Piece

No comments:

Post a Comment