From the Vaults: Live Shows Revisited
Time to dig into the past and reminisce about some of the live concerts I have been privileged to attend. The list is too long to talk about more than a few at a time. The wheels really started rolling when I did an internet search under the subject line ‘my favorite concerts’. Before we get too far into my experiences, I am going to open up the discussion with a ‘Part 2’ in mind and ask for your input. If you have a favorite concert experience or two and would like to share, please drop me the details at email@example.com . Having never done this kind of info mining before, I can not begin to guess how many responses I may receive, if I will get any at all, or exactly how they will condense into an article. If the stories are nearly as entertaining as some of the tales people have shared with me in person, I think this could be a fun way to interact with readers who follow us online or in print.
Having never been able to answer the question, “What was your favorite concert?” (too many great shows), these memories will not be presented in any organized order. Whenever I start thinking about the past, the dusty files in my attic fly open and one thought leads to another. With that said, I am going to go way back to the beginning and cite one particular show because it was my first experience with a live combo playing the music I was hearing on the radio. Back in the 1960s, the Marquette County Harvest Festival was always held at the National Guard Armory on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Wright Street. Before Northern Michigan University built the Gant – Spaulding Hall dorm complex across the street from our house, the only thing separating me from the Armory was an old farm field. I had heard music from wedding receptions coming from that direction, but I had never seen live music performed by a small band.
I began drum lessons in fifth grade so my first encounter with a live band can be pegged to the fall of that year, 1963. I remember wandering across the field to the Armory with my mother and father as they liked to check out the displays. When I heard music coming out of the garage area attached to the back end of the Armory gymnasium, I went to investigate. They had a little makeshift stage set up and a four piece combo was running through some hits of the day. What captured my attention was the drummer who was perched behind a gold sparkle drum set. I was now completely drum obsessed and my folks got me a red sparkle snare drum and stand for Christmas. “Surely,” they thought, “this will satisfy his need to be drumming on something other than an overturned trash bin.” Little did they know my first encounter lit a fire under me to get a complete drum kit. Oh, I played the snare drum, but in my mind, I could see an entire kit to go with it. I appreciate now what they had to go through for the next couple of years as I dreamed and pestered.
In the spring of 1966 (near the end of seventh grade), I did indeed get my own silver sparkle Ludwig drum set. My parents fronted me the money for it, but I piled a lot of wood, washed many a car, and mowed too many lawns to count to cover their investment. To this day, I can not tell you what songs the band at the Armory played, but I can still recall the feeling that came over me that day. I attended many teen dances and a class reunion in that same Armory over the years. Each and every time I drive by the place, I still remember it as a great ‘concert’ moment at a venue with a good live sound which we enjoyed at a wedding reception Sledgehammer played for in 1975.
The second entry on my list of memorable concerts is Vanilla Fudge at the Hedgecock Field House at NMU. For some reason they could not use the larger arena on the south side of Hedgecock so this show was staged in the double size gym on the northside. My dad was working for NMU’s security department that year. Even though my buddy Nick and I had tickets, he pulled us out of line and told us to meet him at the back door of the Field House. We got to go in and wander around while the road crew set up the equipment. I had never been up close and personal with a huge P.A. system before or the banks of amps and speakers the band employed. Drummer Carmine Appice had a maple wood double bass drum Ludwig set that looked just awesome. His arm flailing, cymbal muffling style of playing was both solid and bombastic.
Young and green around the gills about concerts, we decided to stake out seats in the top row of the bleachers as far away from the stage as possible due to the volume. We happened to be standing in front of one P.A. column when a roadie tested the mic levels on the drums. The gym was hot before the crowd was let in. Half way through the show, it got so uncomfortable that keyboard player Mark Stein left the stage. A threat of ‘no pay’ brought him back and inspite of the sauna-like conditions, they put on a tremendous show. I did not realize it at the time, but these New York boys were one of the most sought after bands around. On December 26, 1968, they played a show at Denver’s Auditorium Arena. Their opening band that night was a new band from England called Led Zeppelin. You may have noticed John Bonham played Ludwig drums manufactured in the United States. Fudge drummer Appice said Bonham liked the sound of his kit so much he arranged a meeting between Bonham and Ludwig so he too could become a Ludwig drummer.
If you are seeing a pattern here, you probably are not mistaken. Many of my favorite concert moments involve drummers. I have been a Ludwig guy since April of 1966 so it is part of my DNA by now. With that said, there are concerts on my list that go beyond ‘just the drummer’.
Pure Prairie League would be one of them. When The Eagles, Jackson Brown, Poco, and the like made so-called ‘country rock’ the next big thing, there were some bands that took the genre on a different fork in the road. PPL came to radio via their hit single Aimie so when they were booked into NMU’s Hedgecock Fieldhouse, I was there. One could not escape Aimie on the radio, but beyond that song, I didn’t know what to expect. When they opened the show with the steel guitar punctuated Kansas City Southern, I was hooked. As soon as I found their album Live – Taking the Stage, it was in my collection. Taking the Stage was recorded close enough to this concert to be pretty much a song by song compilation of the show I saw. I later found out Vince Gill (currently touring with the newly reconstituted version of The Eagles) was a founding member. By the time I saw PPL, he had departed the band and was replaced by Larry Goshorn. The band is still out there playing but the last time I checked, the member-go-round had spun enough times for me to not recognize any of the current members.
Pure Prairie League is not the only band I got to see with a live album closely resembling a show I saw at Hedgecock. When Frampton Comes Alive hit the stores (and radio), it became apparent it had been recorded on the same tour that brought Peter Frampton to Marquette. Second guitarist / keyboard player Bob Mayo was absent from that show (his absence was never explained) but Framptom stepped up and used the opportunity to display some of his noteworthy guitar chops. In his skinny leg jeans, one could not help but notice Frampton’s legs looked almost as thin as the neck on his Les Paul. Listening to Frampton Comes Alive today puts me right back on the balcony at the Fieldhouse.
A list of my concert favorites would not be complete without mentioning our friend Al Jacquez’s bands Savage Grace and Measured Chaos. Until I saw an old poster for one of the events at Hedgecock, I had forgotten I had actually seen Savage Grace twice. The first time, they were one of two support bands opening for one of the midwest’s best kept secrets, Detroit’s SRC. SRC was a good band with solid players but their preening lead singer made much less of an impression than their Hammond B-3 player. Savage Grace appeared second on the bill but I knew nothing about them. They kind of got lost in this multi-band bill as one of Marquette’s favorite bands, Walrus, was the opening act. This may have been a Greek Week Festival as it took place in May of 1970.
The second appearance in Marquette by Savage Grace took place in the fall of 1970 and it was the only rock concert I ever attended at Kaye Hall. I had seen both the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Youth Symphony there, but both times I was seated in the balcony. The Savage Grace concert found The Twig (my high school band) occupying seats no more than ten rows from the front of the stage. This was a much better venue to hear and observe a band that was criminally under-promoted by their record label, Reprise Records. As label mates of Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, they could have used a better PR push for the two great records they put out. Now a part of Warner Music Group, Reprise was originally founded by those notable rock and rollers, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (but I digress). Gene, Mike, and I were duly impressed. Mike bought their first album at the concert. We were just beginning to play paying gigs so we were learning songs to the tune of 2 or 3 per rehearsal. The next time we got together, Mike had worked up Savage Grace’s 1984 and to my knowledge, we were the only band in Marquette performing any Savage Grace tunes. 1984 always went down like gangbusters, especially on the frat party circuit. We had a great gig at the old Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of Third and Bluff Streets – they wouldn’t let us quit until we played 1984 a second time.
To help me learn the vocals for 1984, Mike loaned me the album so I could make a cassette tape to sing along with. The tape more or less lost the will to live in the late 1990’s so I began looking for a copy of the actual album on the internet. The first one I ordered arrived but somewhere the wires got crossed – an album by a soul-funk band I had never heard of called Savage Rose arrived instead. The company made good and sent me a copy of a used Savage Grace album labeled ‘good’, but it was unplayable. About the time I was going to give up the search, I found a website for 33 1/3 Records where both Savage Grace albums were on sale in a two CD set. I ordered it in the summer of 2003. I can be sure of the timing because I was looking forward to hearing it upon returning from helping daughter Elizabeth move to Boulder, CO for grad school. When I got back, the CD was not in my mail but there was an email from Al Jacquez asking how I was enjoying my new CD. I had to tell him, “Ah, I am not. It didn’t arrive.” Al apologized and said he would get a replacement in the mail ASAP. He also asked if he could send a copy of his new band’s live CD as a bonus.
Until I got the double CD Savage Grace packet, I hadn’t put two and two together. The ‘Al’ I had been emailing was ‘Al the bass player and vocalist from Savage Grace’. His new band was called Measured Chaos and almost as soon as I heard their live album, my brain went into high gear: “Hey, Al . . . how far north do you guys travel for gigs?” This didn’t happen overnight and the conversation about Measured Chaos making a trip to Ontonagon didn’t really get going until well into 2004. Once we figured out this was something we both were interested in pursuing, we started to bounce ideas off each other about putting on a Measured Chaos concert at the Ontonagon Theater of Performing Arts in the summer of 2005.
My previous experience putting together a non-school related concert at that point could be counted on one finger. A dual bill of Ontonagon’s Yvonne Blake and Bruce Rundman from the Copper Country was a challenge, but it did not involve housing them for a couple of days. The four members of Measured Chaos (plus two of their teenager sons who came along for the ride) meant figuring out the finances to pay the band, cover some of their millage, a small stipend for food, and a place to sleep six. As with other times I have bitten off more than I could chew, I leaned on friends and acquaintances to make it happen including John Cane (who helped with the housing), a generous donation from our then art teacher Melissa Hronkin’s art club fund, and some of our operational money from WOAS-FM. Added to the ticket sales at the gate, we were able to bring a great blues band all the way from Detroit and not bust the bank.
Again, I can put a tack in the calendar for that time frame because Elizabeth had graduated from UC Boulder that spring and was home making preparations to move to Los Angeles. Measured Chaos guitar player Mark Tomorsky, like the rest of the band, had roots in the Lower Peninsula, but was now commuting in for their gigs from, you guessed it, L.A. When I mentioned I would be out his way in the late summer (and why), he asked where she would be living while attending U.C.L.A. I replied, “She will be in a new grad student dorm in Westwood,” and to my surprise, he said, “Oh, that is a nice place. I have been driving by there on the way to my kid’s dentist for the last two years.” With my experience working with musicians from big cities (none), there was a sudden realization that these weren’t prima donna big shot musicians. All of them (including bass player Mark Gougeon and drummer Bill Gordon) were down to earth guys who just happened to be great musicians.
Measured Chaos concert number one was a modest success. The band played great but the lack of name recognition kept the audience down to a half full house. Before I introduced the band, I was worried about the empty seats until Al peeked out from behind the curtains and said,”Oh yeah, we can play for this crowd!” And play they did. This concert is not on my favorite list just because I had something to do with getting the band here (well, maybe a little), but because it was a great show.
The band spent a good deal of the day before the show recording during their sound check. I played ‘gopher’ – as in, whatever they needed, I would ‘go for’ it. Their bag of microphone stand bases got left in Detroit, so I raided the radio studio to find enough. Mark T needed an extension so he could move his effects switch farther toward the front of the stage. He didn’t believe I would find one at Pamida until I produced it. Headphones for monitoring the mixing board? Another trip to the radio station. Need some local P.R. about the concert? A quick call to Kenny Lee got Al on the air the morning of the concert. Al got a call in the afternoon asking if they could do another early morning radio show before their next gig in Traverse City scheduled for the next night. This meant departing Ontonagon after they loaded up and driving overnight to Traverse City. We packed them cooler full of sandwiches, drinks, and goodies we packed for the midnight drive. We bid them ‘happy trails’ and planted a seed about a return gig in the Western U.P. in the future.
Okay, now it is your turn. If I can collect enough of your favorite concert stories, they would make a great ‘part two’ of this series. You may note I already left a teaser for ‘part three’ two paragraphs above by calling the 2005 Measured Chaos show “concert number one.” As this goes to print, Al Jacquez confirmed he will be playing a solo gig at the Ontonagon Theater for Performing Arts in August of 2022. Look for more information on this gig to be posted on our web site (www.woas-fm.org) soon. Stay tuned.
Top Piece Video: Vanilla Fudge performed with this line up at NMU right about the time this clip from Ed Sullivan was recorded in 1968 – only difference I can see is Carmine Appice’s drums – at NMU he was playing a Ludwig double bass drum kit with a maple shell finish – not a bad start for my first live show by a major rock band!