Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Growing up with a band in the house

Back in 1966-67 my brother had a band. Started out with several names, one of which being "The Egyptians", and then, "The Barons". This article came about because I was writing about Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam and looked up northwest bands and found the site PNWband.com. I noticed our band wasn't listed so I contacted Sammy and got that rectified. You can now find The Barons page on that site.

I don't know who the lead singer is in this photo. I don't remember him at all. Though I do remember the original lead singer, Tom Owens.
Tom and Cindy in our back yard
Tom was cool, from what I remember. Above is Tom and my sister, Cindy. I once asked about her and Tom as it seemed a natural to me that they would date and she indicated it wasn't even on the books ever to happen. Still, I liked Tom. I got my first album ever from Tom, which pretty much angered my brother for how I got it. I had found a High School graduation class ring. I turned it into the little tiny mom and pop store on our block and waiting 30 days to see if someone claimed it. No one did.

Jon and Tom
I showed it to Tom one day and his eyes lit up. He talked me into taking a new album he got for it, Ian Whitcomb's You Turn Me On, that he got fresh from England. He played it up well and I went for it. The music was strange to me but interesting. When my brother heard about it, he thought Tom had taken advantage of his little brother, which Tom obviously had. There is now way you can compare the cost of a vinyl album to that of a graduation ring. Still, I kept the album and Tom as usual, talked his way out of the conflict with the President of the Band he was in.

Band practice was every Thursday night from 7:30PM to 10PM (curfew hour for noise) at our house on 48th and Park Ave South in Tacoma. You can see our dog Bruno and our chainsaw art piece Tiki that we got while at the Morton Loggers Festival one year. I'm thinking it cost my mom $50 and she brought it home that day in our Mercury StationWagon. I remember she was thinking out step-dad Woody was going to kill her for spending the money, but she fell in love with it and it became a mainstay of our neighborhood. 

Once the local Stewart J. High kids borrowed it for a dance. About five of them showed up and took it away on a skateboard. And they actually brought it back. We should have chained it to the house as we had discussed on several occasions because eventually , someone stole it. We got up one day and it was simply gone, never to be seen again.

Shot of the band with Tom sitting on Tiki. Steve Johnson (drummer) on the right who was also playing with another band and was married to Aggie at the time. Ron (Miller) Ohm (guitar) on the left, brother Jon next to him, and not really sure who that is with Steve (bassist?).

That was the band, the situation and the members. As I remember it, there was the Barons. Jon came in one day a bandmember, I think it was Ron, the band was there so it must have been Thursday for band practice, though they were there other times, either to visit, or something. Jon said he found out that there was another band named The Barons and he believed there was yet another out further somewhere. I think now that other band must have been the Bremerton band but they had broken up earlier in 1965 and may not have been a concern for them by 66, still they didn't want to be confused with another band. 

This is all from my memory. My brother may see it differently and granted, he was older and was there, but I'm younger and maybe remember more clearly at this point. Jon came up with the idea for adding our sister and talked to her about it. Mom said okay but you'll have to convince her. Being 14 she wasn't too sure about it, but it was always easy for Jon to talk us into things because we looked up to him and we hadn't seen him that much when we were growing up. He had been forced to live with his dad. I remember too many times of him running away from home and coming to our house, only to have his dad come to get him and take him home again. It was a heartbreaking moment every time that happened.

So Cindy agreed and "Cindy and the Barons" came to be. 

I think back on those nights of band practice and I remember there being other older kids around listening, mostly kids Jon's age and most usually, what comes with bands, cute girls. Lots of cute girls. They would set up the drum set, the big P.A. horns on stands putting them high near the ceiling, the amps and all, fitting into our dinning room. They would play, practice, rearrange, argue and play some more for two and a half hours. 

During that time, I would wander around wishing I were a little older because none of the girls really paid me much attention ,but did my brother. Well, he was voted Tacoma's "Dreamboat of the Year" by the Rainbow Girls for 1967. I remember getting bored and going upstairs to my bedroom that I shared with my younger brother. 

We had bunk beds and a little TV next to our bed. We'd turn on Batman and turn the sound up all the way, leaning close to the TV speaker to try and hear at least some of the dialog. Usually we could make out the "Zap", "Bang", "Zowie" sounds and graphics indicating the same but didn't get a lot of the dialog and would have to try to piece together what was going on. After that show was over, we'd go downstairs for a while, find food if any, then go back to watch whatever was on next. 

I remember about 10PM I think a show titled "Blue Light" was on with Robert Goulet about the French Resistance during WWII or something. We were supposed to go to bed but I would push it as much as possible as they would be tearing down the setup and putting the band equipment in a little room off of the dinette off our kitchen which over the years simply got to be called, "The Baron Room". This lasted up until my parents finally put a bathroom in there. It was funny in the succeeding decades when someone would say, "It's in the Baron room" or "Put it in the Baron room" and we'd get funny looks from people new to our family, and we'd have to explain. You could see the understanding in their eyes at that point, but it was lacking the intense meaning it had for those of us who had lived through that time.

There was a battle of the bands at Ft. Lewis. The band went. They came in last, but still rushed the stage. I thought they won, because of my sister, something my bother said years ago, but now they are all telling me no, they lost that night, but it scared her pretty good.

I can remember an argument going on one day, towards the end the band was falling apart. Jon as President was having trouble keeping it together. Something any band finds difficult at some point. Everyone wants input. How do you deal with that? Either the band simply comes together with a natural meeting of the minds, or you have to have someone who stands out as the leader or creative engine as in Lennon and McCartney with The Beatles. 

My mother got fed up with the bickering in the band and pointed out they needed to start getting it together because honestly, she was paying for the gas and driving them to their gigs and back. Truly she did help a lot and I'll give her credit for trying to help her kids see their desires fulfilled as much as was possible for her. It was a model for my own life when I finally had kids. 

I always told them if they wanted to play an instrument, simply tell me and I would see if I could get it for them. My son played clarinet through K-12, then bass clarinet, contra-bass clarinet, then wanted a sax and I got him a used one (he never got into it and honestly, that was more I wanted him to play it than he did but I hoped he might like it), then taught himself piano and is an amazing keyboardist now and has played around with different bands and friends). 

My daughter played flute through K1-12 and then wanted an accordion, which I got for her. She also taught herself guitar. She has busked (played music on the street for money) in Seattle, Bremerton and other places, gotten in the newspaper with a friend doing that, and has now played in Berlin (maybe Iceland, but I don't remember if she said that). She is now in Poland, soon to return to Berlin and apprentice with a professional photographer, her third internship, one being with the guy that took the original Marlboro Man photo).

Music is important and it has been repeatedly shown that music in young children enhances their math skills. I got my mother to talk my brother's drummer, Steve, into giving me drum lessons; but I only frustrated him to the point that he got angry and said I had no rhythm and would never play music. Steve however, had some anger management issues as evidenced by his wife's face from time to time. I remember my mother talking with Aggie about it and pulling Steve aside and reading him the riot act. He agreed he needed to get it under control. My mom said she would be happy to help, by calling the police if she had too. I think the situation ended shortly thereafter as they split up.

I had started guitar lessons in 2nd grade on my Stella guitar. My brother Jon gave me his first guitar, a Silvertone from Sears with a case that had the amp and speaker built inside the case. A very cool item, at least my friends all thought so. I remember my friend Bill helping me carry it over to his house to have a band practice. But we didn't really know what we were doing and it didn't go very far. 

I had asked my brother for advice but he had enough on his plate with his own band and I don't think he wanted to take on anymore. Which is too bad because if someone had taken us under their wing and taken us to task, pushing our practice, we could have actually made it, perhaps, where their band later broke up. For one thing, my trio had guys in it who wanted to stick together and were organically already close friends, Bill, Dave, his neighbor and myself. But then again, Bill's dad got another job and moved them away within a year. 

At some point I remember the band having a meeting to talk about playing gigs. They were tired of dealing with it for some reason. They said some other band had gotten their own place, guaranteeing them a place to practice that had more room than our house and practicing there was probably getting old for everyone. Having a larger space to practice in for a band has to just feel better. Then they would have their own space that people would associate with them and they could grow a following that way. And maybe it would finally get them out of the rut they seemed to have fallen into. Someone, I think Jon, had found an old Church in Lacy near Olympia that was up for rent or lease.

They scrapped together the money for it and started putting on weekend concerts for the local kids. There was a closet at the back and they used the front as stage. They put me in the closet with the French door which was a kind of coat closet. In there we brought pop and snacks which I would sell to the kids here were working up a thirst and hunger dancing. The kids around Lacy had to be besides themselves over this new development. 

Something to do on a Friday night in Lacy other than want to leap from the nearest bridge. We went along like that for a while until someone showed up and told us we couldn't sell food without a license and we couldn't support the place unless we had money coming in. So the Lacey venue went away. I was crushed because I loved watching the little TV, sitting in the closet, watching the kids dance and the band play. I felt like I was really a part of something cool. 

I think the band lasted a little beyond that, but it must have been very little as they broke up shortly thereafter, as if that was their last effort and when it failed, it all failed. I know Cindy was relieved and I suspect Jon probably was too, because trying to keep the band together was not unlike herding cats for him. 

I would get to go with them to deliver the band's equipment to a venue where they were playing but then I had to leave. Mom would take us there, then take me home, which bummed me out pretty good. I did get to stay a few times, one memorable gig was at Western State Mental Hospital. We showed up in the afternoon and got to take a short tour of the place. It was located across a main street from Ft. Steilacoom Community College, where years later I would get a AA degree before moving on to a University.

The staff at Western State couldn't have been nicer. Decades before, I later found out, our mother had been 17 and working at the hospital and had taken care of the famous actress, Francis Farmer. So for my mom it was a return to something she did as a youth. She had to lie to get the job and nearly got attacked one day when she let herself into a triple lock down area. Luckily, as two inmates were heading for her, an attendant showed up and drug her out the locked doors, chewing her out for her foolishness.

We got to play in the therapeutic pool that was 90 some degrees. Very hot but fun just for that reason. Later we got to eat in their cafeteria and then came back that night for the event. I got to sit with my mother up above the dance floor in a balcony over the double doors in the rear of the room. We had a great vantage of the stage and the band playing, but also of the attendees dancing. It was kind of like being at night of the living dead, rock show. These poor inmates danced, some together, one memorable young man, alone.

His actions were very strange and he noticed us. He stared at us and made strange movements, mostly wrapped up within himself and at the end, an attendant had to help walk him out. When they were with us, as the band was breaking down the equipment, we were told that this was a great event for the patients. As for the one young man, they said he was very religious and not one to be afraid of, but they realized his actions could be unsettling and to a young kid like myself, it would be kind of scary, but they said he was a very nice, but troubled young man. Still, he scared the Hell out of me. My mother later said maybe taking me wasn't such a good idea, but I did okay in the end. I think that was the band's weirdest gig.

Life for me was pretty boring after the band broke up, until I found the Civil Air Patrol. I got into that through the Tacoma Police Sergeant who lived on our corner. It wasn't long before I found myself hanging from a rope off a cliff up in the Cascade mountains learning how to do search and rescue techniques. Not bad for a kid in 8th grade. They treated you like an adult and expected you to perform. It was a great experience. But I cannot say I would rather have been in the mountains, than been with the band at a concert.

Being a kid and growing up around the band around the house, was a pretty incredible experience. None of my friends had a house band (literally) at home. What good and what bad it caused me through my life time I will have to link long and hard on. But just taking it for the experience I was enjoying as a child, was incredibly fun. 

In hindsight I feel now that I missed a bet by going into music for a living back then. I was tempered for it, prepared for it and could have made a good living at it. I could have used that kind of freedom from normal ways of making a living. I always had a talent for words and perhaps I could have learned to be a good poet and songwriter. But it was not meant to be. Perhaps too, I would have gotten into drugs and alcohol which was certainly the climate of the times back then and hopefully I would have been one to die young, or at 27 and join that club. 

Now I simply write about what could have been and create interesting scenarios to entertain and educate. But there is something to say for that. In my reading the thoughts of those who I once looked up to or responded to when I was young, I appreciate their sharing with me those thoughts they now have and the memories of those days I only wish I could better remember than I do now.

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