September 19, 2016

FTV: The End


   Not the end of the world.  This FTV will be about  a band coming to the end of its run.  I am sorry, if  the title sounds a little too ‘apocalyptic’ sounding, but in some ways, the end of a band is a bit jarring.  I was dumped twice by the same girlfriend in high school and that was a bit rattling, but not nearly at the level of having your band cease to exist.  In the case of the girlfriend dump 2.0, I was oblivious enough to not see it coming.  With each band I have been in, “the end” was a preplanned event and not a surprise.  With each of my bands, we ended on good terms, no one died, and no legal actions ensued.  Unfortunately for some bands, this is not always the case.  Unlike a graduation where one is ready to move on to the next thing, the end of a band is a downer because it is hard to see past “the end”.

    By the time my high school band The Twig hung it up, we had already been playing music together for nearly four years.  The last year we were together playing actual paying gigs was great, but the three years of woodshedding and learning to play with other musicians was also a lot of fun.  Mike the bass player was headed for Michigan Tech so we mutually decided that we would play into the early summer of 1971 and then go our separate ways.  I do not remember guitar player Gene and I talking about finding another bass player, but we may have discussed it.  In the end we decided to take a break which probably worked out the best for me because a week after our last gig I got a call from the Huron Mountain Club about a bus boy job.  I went from unemployed to living at the Club in the wilds of the Huron Mountains which would have been difficult to juggle while trying to form a new band.   I ended up spending three summers living at the club and commuting to play music for two of those years.  Considering I lived across the street from Northern, the opportunity to live away from home during my college years was an added bonus for both my parents and myself.   

    The drive to our last Twig gig at the Munising Youth Center found us in high spirits.  Our buddy Nick Gorski came along to photograph our last gig.  We had a good crowd and we were playing well so we definitely went out on a high note.  The fact that this was “the end” didn’t really hit me until Gene and Mike showed up at my house the next day to pick up their equipment.  Seeing my drums holding their lonely vigil in our usual practice space gave me the first pangs of “crap, now what am I going to do?”  I pushed those thoughts to the back shelf and started looking for a summer job.   By the end of the week, I was still unemployed and I began to feel like it was going to be a long summer.  For some reason, the one big box store in town at the time was my last resort and when I couldn’t get a foot in the door there, I started feeling like that character from the L’il Abner cartoon that walked around with the little rain cloud over his head (A Wiki Note:  Joe Btfsplk: The world’s worst jinx, Joe Btfsplk had a perpetually dark rain cloud over his head. Instantaneous bad luck befell anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity. Though well-meaning and friendly, his reputation inevitably precedes him—so Joe is a very lonely little man. He has an apparently unpronounceable name, but creator Al Capp “pronounced” Btfsplk by simply blowing a “raspberry,” or Bronx cheer. Joe’s personal storm cloud became one of the most iconic images in the strip).

    During my job search, my father happened to run into former Marquette County Sheriff Tom Jernstad.  While chatting over a cup of coffee, the discussion turned to “kids looking for jobs”.  Having retired from the Marquette County Sheriff’s job in 1966, Jernstad became the resident manager at the Huron Mountain Club.  He told my dad that they had a full work crew for the summer, but every year, some quit because they didn’t like living so far from civilization.  “Have your boy fill out an application at the club office at the Longyear Building,” he said, “If nothing else comes up this year, he will be on file for next year.”  I figured I had nothing to lose at this point so that very afternoon, I had an application on file.  The next morning, my phone rang at 9 am and the voice on the other end asked me if I could be at the club to start work that afternoon.  I said yes, hung up and dialed my dad’s work number:  “Okay, I have a job.  How the heck do I get to the Huron Mountain Club?”

    In a frenzy of packing a suitcase to get me started, I realised that a week of job hunting produced nothing and in less than 24 hours, a casual comment over coffee had totally changed my summer plan (not that I had one to begin with).  My dad drove me beyond Big Bay to the Club gate, then down the gravel road to the club office where  he deposited me (and my suitcase) before departing back for work.  The plan was for me to let him know when my day off was so he could pick me up and we would figure out some mode of transportation.   I liked the sound of that better than having to beg rides for the rest of the summer.  As he drove off, I had the strangest feeling surge through my brain:  “I am 30 miles from home without a car and I don’t know a soul – now what?”  I wasn’t exactly an orphan, but it almost felt like it.

    The nice lady holding court at the office desk took my information down and informed me my day off would be Thursday.  She showed me to my room in the men’s bunkhouse and told me my roomie would be  another replacement worker who would be arriving in a day or two.  It turned out there were four kitchen workers who quit a week into the summer season.   My roomie from the Diorite location, his two cousins from Champion, and I were the newbies, but I was the first one to arrive.  I missed lunch but was told to head across the Pine River to the main clubhouse kitchen and report for the lunch shift.  Grace Gross from Big Bay handled the waitresses and busboys so she showed me the ropes right down to how to carry a full tray of dishes on my fingertips so I wouldn’t drop a full load (we didn’t use carts to bus tables).  I was just figuring out that Grace was the mother of one of my classmates named Valerie when I heard a familiar voice enter the dishroom:  “What are YOU doing here?”  he asked.   It turned out to be John MacDonald, another classmate who had sat next to me in Mr, Adamson’s physics class during our senior year.  We really only knew each other from sharing that one class in high school, but this inauspicious greeting began a lifelong friendship that continues to this day.  

    It turns out that the only phone we had access to was in Big Bay.  I was able to send word through the club office and the main office in town that my dad could pick me up after dinner shift on Thursday which he did.  My mother came along so she could get a peek at my new place of employment.  I was about to ask if my dad had any thoughts on what kind of beater car I should get for the summer when he beat me to the punch.  “Your brother said you should drive his car for the summer – he would feel better about it being driven than being in storage.”  Brother Ron had received his draft notice when he came home for the previous Christmas vacation.  He was in the middle of his first year teaching high school biology in Chesaning, MI  down near Owosso.  He had bought a forest green Chevy Camaro that was his pride and joy.  When he went off to do basic training at Fort Campbell, KY, he had rented an old garage from someone to store his car until he got out of basics and found out where he would end up being sent.  The last thing he added to this little surprise was, “and don’t wreck it!”

    I often wonder if some of the club members saw my sporty new wheels in the employee parking lot and thought, “How much are we paying the help these days?”  Minimum wage in those days was around $1.60 an hour so that is what I made on paper.  The truth was, we were on a salary based on so many hours a week with “room and board” included.  When we figured out our actual “hourly wage” based on the hours we really worked, it wasn’t even close to minimum wage.  We compensated by eating like proverbial hogs at the employee dinner table.  Regardless of our low wages, we all managed to save money because there really wasn’t any place to spend it unless one motored to Big Bay.

    By the time I had to attend orientation at NMU in early August, I had made up my mind to not play in a band for my freshman year.  I had a good shot at being employed at the club the next summer and living at home cut down my college living expenses.   I invested some of my summer earnings in a cheap, reedy sounding electronic keyboard and amp to expand my musical skills.  Having abandoned piano for the drums in fourth grade, it was kind of fun to be learning guitar and keyboard fundamentals at the same time.  I never had illusions of becoming Steve Winwood or Eric Clapton, but my efforts helped me a lot in deconstructing songs to learn.  By the time my next opportunity to be in a band rolled around in the spring of 1972, I had a backlog of songs I was ready to use.  The band I joined (Cloudy and Cool) had a good number of tunes available to play due to the presence of guitarist/vocalist Ray “the Human Jukebox” Bennett.  Ray was more than happy to have someone else bring in tunes to teach the band so my guitar and keyboard woodshedding was time well spent.

    With Cloudy and Cool newly rechristened Knockdown, I embarked on a two year run of steady band gigs.  Coupled with two more summers  working at the club (which I was able to do while gigging full time with Knockdown), I was able to pay for school and put some money away for the future.  All was pretty rosey until the spring of 1974 when Ray called me and said “I am mustering out of the Air Force and going back to southern Illinois so don’t book any more Knockdown gigs after August.”  As I hung up the phone, I experienced  the same “thud” in my stomach I had previously felt when we had decided to fold The Twig.  Stay tuned for The End – Part 2.


Top Piece Video – I can’t seem to find a good enough version of The Doors song The End so I will sub the Who – we could NOT sing this song for all the times we tried, but we used the music as a second set opening instrumental with great effect during our last gigs with The Twig – one of the best being the last time we played it in Munising at our last gig.