April 18, 2016

From The Vaults: Greek Week Part 2

    Greek Week Part 1 ended with my observations of Rick Derringer’s band, The McCoys.  They were the headliners in the Greek Week Festival dance/concert held at NMU’s Hedgecock Fieldhouse in the spring of 1969 that also included the local band The French Church as the openers.  Two years later, I got to witness a concert that featured a couple of bands that were on the lower rungs of a ladder that would eventually take them to the top of their profession.

    The first name I spied on the posters was Bob Seger whose claim to fame up to then was the hit song Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man that had been released by the Bob Seger System.  Imagine my surprise when a long haired, equally long bearded Seger opened the show solo.  I wasn’t expecting an acoustic Bob Seger and certainly not as the opener.  The highlight of his set was his rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine.  Seger pulled out a folded sheet of paper and said, “We heard this on the radio coming up here on the interstate so I wrote down the words so I could play it for you.  It is a new song by John Lennon.”  Having just been released, I hadn’t even heard Lennon’s version of Imagine yet, but to this day, I hear Seger in my head when I hear the song.  Seger knew a good song when he heard it.

    Act number two on the bill was a drum/organ duo called Teegarden & Van Winkle.  Drummer Dave Teegarden and organist Skip Knape had formed in Tulsa, Oklahoma but eventually made a musical home in Detroit.  I knew nothing about them at the time but certainly enjoyed their music.  Both sang and with Knape/Van Winkle on keys and bass pedals, they produced a big sound.  They had a #22 single on the American Hot 100 chart (God, Love and Rock & Roll) in 1970, so they had some name recognition with the crowd, but I was not familiar with them at all.  After the second intermission, I got another surprise when Seger and Teegarden & Van Winkle joined forces as a trio for the third set.

    With Seger now playing a Les Paul, the S,T & VW trio tore through some originals and a bunch of rock standards.  Seger proved to be a good guitar player and I remember thinking, “This is a band I would like to hear record an LP.”  The collaboration eventually did put out a CD (Smokin’ OP’s which is short for Smoking Other People’s Songs) which was not released until 2005.  As the name implies, it features them playing cover tunes and it is a pretty good record (pun intended) of what they were doing live in 1971.  Teegarden eventually played drums for Seger’s Silver Bullet Band (and recorded four albums with that group) while Knape toured with his own band that included two female vocalists and horns.  Teegarden & Van Winkle have gotten back together on a few occasions over the years.   Seger?  He ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  

    I don’t remember much about the originals they played in 1971, but Seger’s Turn the Page recounts getting hassled on the road for having long hair.  He said the song was taken from an incident that happened on the road in Wisconsin while touring with T&VW.   He eventually recorded it for his Back in 1972 album but it did not become wildly popular until it appeared on 1976’s Live Bullet double album.  Indeed, Seger wrote a lot of the music that would get him noticed while on the road with T&VW.

    The headliner on that night was none other than Brownsville Station.  I am having a little bit of a problem remembering the specifics of this gig because I saw them twice over a span of a couple of years.  I can place this show in 1971 because bassist Tony Driggins and drummer C.J. Cronly were in the band with both Cub Koda and Mike Lutz on guitars and vocals.  Driggins departed in 1972 and Cronly was replaced by Henry ‘H-Bomb’ Weck about the same time.  I must have seen them the second time before 1975 because Bruce Nazarian had not yet joined the band on second guitar.  By the second time I saw them, Mike Lutz had switched to bass and they played as a three piece with Weck already on drums.  A little detective work tells me that the Greek Week gig in 1971 was ahead of their 1973 release of Smoking in the Boy’s Room and the second concert was after the release of Smoking, but before Nazarian started touring with them.  If that seems a little convoluted to you, I will admit to looking at a lot of web pages and performing some memory reconstruction to figure out the timeline here.  

    The official Brownsville Station site has a wonderful chronology of all their 1969 to 1979 concerts (and they played just about everywhere on bills with just about anyone who was big in that time period), but sadly there are gaps.  No doubt the list covers the big places they played during that time period.  Back in those days, many  bands filled off days with one-off gigs that were arranged as their tours moved along.  Marquette was a great place to play, but it falls into that list of “one-off, added to the tour later” places that don’t always show up on the ledger.

    I had gone to the first gig to see Seger with a side project:  could this really be the same Michael Koda who had played in bands in the Marquette area when he was a student at NMU around 1968?  Before he became ‘Cub Koda’, he was plain old Michael Koda and he instantly lit the Marquette music scene on fire.  He went through a lot of musical combinations in a short period of time.  Some said he was hard to work with,  while others said he knew what he wanted his band to sound like and if you couldn’t play up to that level, out you went.  He played the best equipment:  when we were scratching to by one decent amp, he used a ‘y’ jack to plug his guitar into TWO Fender Twin Reverb amps at the same time.  He wrote his own songs, he played harp, and he also played slide guitar with abandon.  We really didn’t quite know what to make of this dynamo of a guitar player from Manchester (Michigan, not England).  The longest lasting backing group stayed together after Koda left for his rock ‘n’ roll PhD program in Las Vegas and they became the fabled Marquette area band Walrus.

    Sure enough, Mike Koda was now Cub Koda.  His tenure in Las Vegas certainly earned Cub his stripes (another intended pun as he frequently performed in a striped jumpsuit) and Brownsville Station put on quite a show.  Their stage attire was a little less flamboyant that Elvis in Vegas, but they weren’t in the tee-shirt and jeans category either.  They bounced around the stage, mugged for the crowd, and basically gave me the impression that they were having a great time.  Behind his now signature black framed round lens spectacles, there was no doubt that this was the same Mike Koda who several years before this was leaning on the fender of an Olds 88 parked outside of my house.  His bass player at that time, Kim French, had an annoying habit of blowing up speakers and then going on a last minute hunt to borrow a speaker bottom before their next gig.  Even before my high school band The Twig started playing paying gigs, we were fair game in the “hey, can I borrow your bass speaker cab for a gig tonight?” sweepstakes.  In the fraternity of musicians, it was hard to say ‘no’ to such a request.

    I was impressed with Koda and his bands so I thought it was neat that his band was now parked in front of my house to borrow equipment.  Had I known he was going to be on the way up in the business soon after leaving Marquette, maybe I would have taken a picture of him watching Kim and the band’s rhythm guitar player lugging out our bass player’s speaker cab.  The mental image of that moment will be one of the first ones I will have to download when they start  implanting on board computer chips hard wired to our brain memory files.  

Top Piece Video – It is difficult to find clips of the first version of Brownsville Station that I saw at Greek Week – this is the classic Smokin in the Boy’s Room version after Tony Driggens departed and Mike Lutz took over the bass duties.