The First Five-Piece

So anyway, I worked the entire year of 1981 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. What a seminal experience that ended up being, leading to a lifetime career of writing about electronic music synthesizers. But after my boss, the noted composer Peter Todd Lewis, succumbed to cancer, I felt it was time to move on. I returned to 249 Norton Street in January of 1982. Simultaneously, I decided to get serious about finishing a Master of Arts in Mathematics. Somehow, I snared a munificent half-time graduate assistant position, teaching a couple sections of College Algebra or Trigonometry each term.

But the urge to make music, or more properly, to deliver bits was still nagging. It was inevitable that Riff and I would join forces again. We contacted Clancy to determine if he was available, and he agreed to come to Norton for preliminary discussions. I don't remember much of this, but according to Riff, he was able to sense that Clancy didn't much burn for what we were doing. After a little bit of vacillation, Clancy finally let it drop that he'd prefer to play music with another group and wasn't keen on our proposal. Too bad, for I really liked working with the guy, and as I've mentioned before, he was an exceptionally strong drummer and very accurate.

Riff and I tried an advertisement in the local paper and got a couple nibbles. I think we had a few tryouts, but no one really grabbed us all that much. Just about this time, Sticks O'Toole dropped by for a visit, remarkably expressing an interest. In short order, the original East Side Pharaohs were back together again performing in all the usual places: everywhere playable in Watonwan County, then Winona, and now the Kasota Legion.

One hilarious episode comes back to mind all these years later. I was going with Babs around this time. (We met in Mankato earlier, gravitated to Iowa City together, and returned to Mankato pairwise as well). You might remember Babs from her escapade of exhibitionism described in 249 Norton Street.  One night she decided to come along with us to our gig at the Ormsby Townhouse. It was some sort of "customer loyalty" party sponsored by a real estate agency. The ballroom part of the building in which we played was packed to the gills, standing room only.

Our dressing room was the kitchen out back, while the lavatories were in the front, a sardine packed crowd separating the two. The band was on break between sets II and III, and I'm chatting with Babs. She indicated that she really had to go to the bathroom, but when we opened the swinging kitchen doors, it was clear she'd never make it through that mob. I suggested she leave by the back door of the building and simply walk around to the front, and then to the powder room. But by this time she really had to go.

I stepped out back with her to keep watch for observers, while she sidled up underneath an enormous bush of some sort and dropped her trousers.

All of a sudden I heard some flustered gibbering mixed with giggling, as she duckwalked out from beneath the shubbery, pants awkwardly bunching up round the ankles. "Hey! What in the hell! What's going on!" Discombobulated, Babs continued to squawk about something which wasn't making much sense, finally emerging under the full light of the mercury alley light, stumbling over her dropped pants. Shrieks, laughter, waddles. And then I saw.

From beneath the bush, directly behind her, emerged a black labrador, tail wagging like crazy, following close behind the de-pantsed Babs, licking her bare arse like crazy. Black on black had made him completely invisible when she first positioned herself under cover for a much needed whiz. What a hoot! 

Incidentally, not many months later, Babs' Teutonic matriarch made it clear I was persona non grata and a break-up was expected. I never saw Babs again, but it sure was an insanely sultry experience while it lasted. She was a brunette, by the way. 'Nuff said.

Back to the Pharaohs. Along the way, I was growing weary of the grind, yet again, especially since schoolwork had really become intense now. Apart from classes and much more advanced mathematics to concentrate on, I was also cranking like crazy on my Master's paper which consisted of a couple dozen chained theorems to be made elegant and accurate.

I was seriously considering dropping out of the Pharaohs at this time.

One hot night we were playing the Kasota Legion. During a break, a young woman approached us from the crowd and said she was a singer. She delicately hinted around that our vocals sucked and that she could provide the missing link, wanting to join us. Well, we had heard that before and were dubious. In any event, I was still debating bailing out. So we told her this was to be one of our last gigs and we weren't interested. It's funny how memory can fade all the really important things but hang on to trifling inconsequentials. Two aspects stick in my mind: she was exceptionally cute, and was wearing light-tan corduroy trousers. Anyhow, she left a phone number with Sticks, apparently, in case anything changed.

The ravages of time have taken their toll on my sieve-like memory, but after some vacillation, we decided instead of evaporating, to go big-time. In particular, my roommate Flapper Tank Ball had become proficient at keyboards in the nonce, and a bit of organ and piano work would open things up considerably for new material. Simultaneously, we thought of the girl from Kasota, so Sticks got in touch with her again. We pulled all five together for a joint tryout at 249 Norton Street: Riff, Sticks, Flapper, me and the girl. It worked... 

back: Sticks, Riff, Pinkie, Studs; front: Flapper
The girl in question was Pinkie Jean, the Dancing Queen, one of the most important persons ever in my life, both band-wise and personally. And, oh, she was a brunette...

I could gush forever now. Pinkie was a superior singer, beautiful tone, wide range, dead-on accurate (the only Pharaoh
never to go sharp or flat), vivacious on stage, loved the costumes, the makeup, the bits, and was simply crazed in front of a crowd.  What more could you want! And she knew just about every fifties song ever recorded. Moreover, she was equally at home turning the spotlight on Riff or me to handle lead vocals, singing harmony, or coming to the foreground herself when the roles were reversed. And she instinctively understood stage movement, knowing how to use hands, arms and legs to apply emphasis to whatever was supposed to be the center of attention. She was highly accomplished and a born entertainer.

Pinkie was also the biggest nut I've ever known.

But let's not forget what Flapper brought to the group in this new quintet. All of a sudden we could start performing keyboard-rich tunes. It felt so good to finally be able to do justice to things like
Runaway (with its synth-like solo), or Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain, or Telstar. The latter was always one of my favorites, one of the few songs in our repertoire that I would anticipate all day before showtime.

Keep in mind that these were still the early days of keyboards, synthesizers still being bulky, expensive and not commonly seen yet, at least in our neighborhood. Flapper played a five-octave combo organ, dubbed "Organtua," that I had custom built for him, based upon a smaller design by Craig Anderton. It had an amazingly full and rich sound, featuring three banks of oscillators and all sorts of frills like percussive note attacks, natural phasing, vibrato and detunability. For piano and string effects, Flapper used a three-octave "Stringz and Thingz" keyboard from PAiA Electronics, really a pretty superior instrument in many ways for the time. Lush sounds were now at our disposal.

An East Side Pharaohs Dance Party on Norton.
And then there were the human voices; now there were three of us, so harmonies all of a sudden took on real meaning. Even better, we spanned the scale: I sang bass, Riff was a good high baritone, with Pinkie above that. Besides some of the do-wop stuff that we all loved, we finally were able to start adding in early attempts at the Beach Boys and other vocal groups. The humor and entertainment still mattered to me tremendously (I've written of that before) but for the first time I felt a desire to push myself to get better at both guitar and vocals.

There is only one known recording of the Pharaohs from those days at Kasota as it turns out. The crowd sounds really dominate it, and unless you know the material, it's hard to discern the subtlety of the music. I listened to it again while preparing to write this. I have to say with all due modesty, it made me proud. The four or five songs from the Beach Boys, the Tornadoes, the Monkees, the Rays, Dion and the Del Satans [sic], Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers, they're all there and more. In many ways, we were at the peak of our abilities. Music seemed truly rewarding for the first time then.

The culmination of all that would be
Georgy Girl, a half-decade later.

So anyway, this was the first five-piece version of the East Side Pharaohs, some time in 1983. It all felt pretty good. Pinkie was still just another member of the band. She would become much more later...

Next installment: Georgy Girl

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