Journey's End

I took up guitar in the fifth grade, inspired by the Ed Sullivan Show appearances of the Dave Clark Five. All these years later, I still consider Glad All Over to be a classic of rock and roll. My first guitar was a Montgomery Wards acoustic, and my parents arranged for me to take lessons from a college girl down the street. Unfortunately, as mentioned elsewhere, she turned out to be a Joan Baez clone--seriously, not only did she have the same tastes, she even looked like Baez. The material she presented brought bile up my throat, things like The Riddle Song ("I gave my love a cherry that had no stone..."). You know, the sort of tune which wants to make you want to snatch the guitar from the perpetrator's hands and smash it to smithereens. Hey! That'd make a good scene in a movie!

I bailed out pronto, and started to teach myself from records instead, with an occasional piece of sheet music thrown into the mix.

By this time, I had had enough of that acoustic, although surprisingly it played fairly well. I didn't want to be a folk singer; they're too wrapped up in good causes to ever get lucky. No, an electric guitar was the only way to go if I was to attract the babes. Guess what? Unbelievably, my parents stumbled upon a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Junior (sunburst finish) for $26 dollars at the local auction barn. They outbid the guy who would become my driver's ed teacher some years later, by one dollar. None of us knew it at the time, but this was an insanely good electric, at an astonishing price. Hell, that's the same model Leslie West played in Mountain some five years later.

My father, very gifted in the shop and at electronics, built me an enormous speaker cabinet driven by a fairly potent Heathkit tube amplifier. Later I moved on to a Sears Silvertone amp which was especially groovy since it sported tremolo and reverb. My old buddy Admiral Andy, a talented artist, painted a likeness of Neptune, god of the deep, on the speaker grill in bold acrylic colors.

Now I could get serious about some real music. I recall learning quite a few of the Dave Clark Five tunes, and then it was on to the Monkees, Paul Revere and the Raiders, some Ventures and stuff of that ilk. For whatever reason, I also mastered a few songs like The Girl from Ipanema and Dominique. That must have been my suave and debonair side peeking out.

But clearly, one needed to have a band in order to perform this stuff, so in junior high we started to assemble one. Our first attempt was a combo with me on guitar, Mark on drums, Armpit on bass and Phil on guitar and organ. We called ourselves Journey's End and even had my brother put together a poster. Unfortunately, the Doors had just come out at this time, and Mark's parents were horrified at the unbridled sex to be found in rock and roll. They were absolutely convinced that the lyrics invariably lead to coition. He was forced to resign. Just as well, anyway; he wanted us to perform some Elvis songs which we considered very square. Nonetheless, I liked Mark. His parents, snooty hot-shots in the academic crowd at ISU, but christo-nazis of the worst sort, so utterly crushed his will that he decided to become a truck driver instead of pursuing a Ph. D. A sudden flare-up of hyperthymesia just brought to mind the incident of the brown thrasher pecking him on top of his noggin when he was spying a little too closely to a nest. I've known quite a few voyeurs over the years.

We replaced him with Dugg Bedd on drums. Dugg was a super nice chap, highly talented at pranksterism, one of my best friends, indeed, and had a beautiful cherry red trap kit. We put together a couple hours of songs and somehow managed to swing a gig playing a Christmas party for the local unit of the Iowa Highway Commission. I guess it was Dugg's father who  arranged that, since he worked there. This was a crowd of people in their fifties and sixties, so we weren't received all that warmly, but at least no one threw foreign objects at us, the standard modus operandi in later years. In any event, I shudder to think what acts of violence we must have committed on the Association's Cherish. I've blocked it out from my memory. Like alcohol and tobacco, a youth should be carded before being permitted to purchase sheet music. I think that was our only gig unless there's some further amnesia of events so egregious even a hypnotherapist couldn't plumb them.

Something still wasn't quite right. Then we met Cuds. Cuds was an insanely great drummer. In fact, his parents drove him to Des Moines every Saturday for private lessons. Eventually, they shuttled him to Minneapolis weekly (a not inconsequential distance)  for additional lessons from some jazz great, and his style ended up remarkably like that of Buddy Rich. I am dead serious when I say Cuds was the finest drummer I've ever heard, anywhere. He was strong, dead-on accurate and could play anything in an extremely limber and fluid manner. We recruited him to replace Dugg, which was a little painful, the latter being such a good friend. But that's show-biz.

Now Cuds, Armpit and I ran with the same crowd, The Gang, and were always up to no good. Phil on the other hand associated with the Country Club set, snobs more interested in the Box Social and Christmas Formal than in pulling pranks like us. Moreover, Phil wanted Journey's End to include songs such as Snoopy and the Red Baron and Do the Freddie. And his affinity for neckties brought on the dry heaves. He got his pink slip and we went three-piece: drums, guitar and bass.

By this point, our tastes ran to Cream, Steppenwolf, the Young Rascals and more hard rock. Moreover, we had started to work in humor and bits, something that would stay with me my entire performing life. Way back then, I had already figured out that accomplishment on an instrument was not nearly enough. Hell, there were thousands of skilled musicians kicking around, going nowhere, not much different from one another. No, the secret, I felt, was to consider myself an entertainer first, then a musician. An amusing vignette illustrates this.

Many years later while playing with the East Side Pharaohs in Owatonna at a club managed by The Vampire (as we called him), a youngish guy approached me during the break. He was ogling my Les Paul, making many appreciative remarks on its great beauty and clarity, pining for the day he would own such a guitar. To which I responded, "Oh, this old thing? It's just a prop."

He wasn't impressed. But I meant it.

Back to Journey's End. By the conclusion of junior high we were writing our own material, including bits and announcements, and had also developed a feeling for what we would be and how we would present ourselves. It all started with Spike Jones and His City Slickers, of course, and in a couple years, the Fugs would inspire further. Rock and roll became much more than sound.

And then Woodstock hit...

Next installment: King Jupiter

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