Sunday, July 31, 2011

The British Invade Illinois

No caption required
Hear Pat read this entry 

Chanute AFB is located just outside the Rantoul, Il city limits. Established in 1917, it was a training base throughout it's existence and exists today as a kind of Air Force museum and tourist attraction for the good folk of Rantoul, who are so proud of their long association with the Air Force.  I guess that's why the first thing you saw when you came off base were a Pawn Shop and Shylock loan joint.  They were just so PROUD to be there for us lower grade airmen should we need some cash at 20% interest!  Funny, the Pawn Shop and loan joint aren't part of the exhibit as far as I know.  More about the good folks of Rantoul later.

During the first 3 weeks, I was in school pretty much all day finishing up my basic training.  Unlike Lackland, these T.I.s had little stomach for the constant drilling and yelling.  They just wanted to get this thing over with and get us into our tech schools.  Also unlike Lackland, after classes we were pretty much free to do whatever we wanted including a stop by the Exchange Cafeteria where they had 3-2 beer on the menu.  It was more like water than beer, but at that point nobody cared.  We were all under 21 and drinking beer legally... HOT DAMN!!!

Tech school turned out to be quite a challenge, much more so than I thought.  There were classes in electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics’s and jet engine theory.  Although I still didn't know a wrench from my mama's rolling pin, I did quite well, especially in jet engine theory.  I aced that! There were extremely high standards in appearance and barracks cleanliness.  Our loose fitting fatigues wouldn't cut the mustard here.  They were expected to look like the T.I.'s at Lackland, heavily starched, tailored and form fitted.  Ladies from the USO would tailor the uniforms to order, then we'd spray them down with starch and press the dickens out of them.  Some guys went so far as to have piano wire sewed into their pants at the crease.  Our shoes weren't just shined to a “high gloss” as specified in the Airman's Guide, they were spit shined to the extent that you could actually use them as a shaving mirror.  We'd use Kiwi polish, a cotton ball and water and polish those things for hours. We'd buy an extra pair of dress shoes, paint them with black spar varnish and stick them under the bed for inspection purposes, then just toss them out after graduation. In terms of recreation there were plenty of opportunities on base.  There were movie theaters, bowling alleys, skating rinks, and I even had a chance to jam a bit with some pick-up bands from time to time.

One chilly, Fall day after returning from chow we noticed something very unusual.   All the T.I.s were wearing black ropes around their shoulders.  Now we'd seen plenty of these uniform adornments before, student leaders wore green and red ropes, but we'd never seen a black one before.  Also, their demeanor had changed, normally they were a fairly boisterous bunch but for some reason today they were downright subdued.  We were ordered into formation and called to attention. The lead T.I. Climbed onto the podium... I'll never forget what he said:

Thirty minutes ago the President of the United States was attacked in Dallas Texas.  He is being attended to at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.  We have no further information.  At this time we are closing the base and implementing Red Alert, nobody comes in... nobody goes out.  Some of you will be charged with guard duty, If someone tries to enter the base and refuses your order to halt... I don't care if he has 4 stars on his shoulder... you are to shoot to kill.  All classes are hereby canceled until further notice.  You are to assemble in your respective barracks and remain there until further notice.  Gentlemen, this is no drill, it's the real thing.  Dismissed!”

I was stunned, Kennedy was the first President that most of us had felt a connection with.  He had stared down the Soviet Union and won.   He had set the country on course to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  He had inspired the nation on Jan. 20, 1961 when he said “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  Frankly, I'm not sure I'd have gone into the Air Force at all had Nixon won, but Kennedy's enormous charisma was an inspiration to all of us.

Later in the day the word was passed, President Kennedy was dead.  They had arrested a suspect, and were holding him in custody.  Three days later we all watched the funeral on television.  I saw the now iconic images of Jacqueline, Carolyn and little John John bravely saluting his father's casket.  It was horrid, none of us knew what was going on.   Were the Russians responsible?  The Cubans?   Were we about to enter World War 3?  What in the hell is going on here?  We all needed something to take our minds off this horror.  A couple of months later that something came along.

One day in January, 1964 one of my classmates brought in an album.   I remember a strange looking cover, with four faces on the front.  It was in black and white, what kind of album cover is that?  Were they too cheap to shoot a color picture?  He played some of the songs on his stereo.  They sounded somehow primitive to me, just some guitars and drums.  Pretty good harmonies but nothing to write home about, any Doo-Wop group sounded better.   I wasn't impressed.

The rest of the world was however, The Beatles had arrived!

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Shameless Literary Faux Pas

 Chanute AFB, Rantoul, IL Circa 1963

On the day of my departure from Lackland I had a chance to reflect a little on the past 5 weeks.  I'd arrived apprehensive and unsure, but I was leaving with a sense of confidence, and assurance.  Whatever tech school had in store would be no problem at all. I'd learned to handle time constraints and pressure.  If you don't believe trying to think coherently with a T.I. yelling in your ear isn't pressure, try it sometime.

Of course that was the idea all along, to train AF personnel to ignore distractions and focus on the job at hand.  When you're within 6 inches of a screaming J-52 P3 engine running at max continuous trying to set a fuel control with a tiny Allen wrench, those skills come in handy believe me!

I boarded the plane... a REAL one this time, a 707... and settled in for the 2 hour flight to Champaign, IL.  As the plane began to climb I shut the shade, eventually fell asleep and dreamed.  It was summer and I was back at the chicken coop on Clark Rd in Lapeer.  My dad had just put up a new clothes line.  It was made of aluminum wire instead of rope so it lasted longer, and was easier to work with.  We found it worked pretty well as a dog run for Elmer too. We'd just hook his harness up to the wire and he could run a bit, but not get away.  We'd hear a...


ROW, ROW, ROW”... TWANG... PLOP he hit the end of the line.

Later my mom figured out another use for the clothes line/dog run.   She had a canvas kid harness that she used for my brother.  It worked just like the dog harness, it had a strap on it so the little twerp couldn't get away.  One day she got the bright idea of hooking Mark up to the clothes line too, that way she didn't have to keep an eye on him all the time.  So then we'd hear...



Delicious stuff!

Then I dreamed that I heard the train whistle in the distance.  We lived about ¼ mile from the track.  My mom knew all the train schedules, and therefore could carefully calculate when to hang out the laundry.  They still had some steam locomotives in those days, and one of those could toss soot and cinders a good ¼ mile, no sweat.  Now I've already mentioned how demure and petite my mom was compared to the rest of the loonies in the family.  That was her normal demeanor, until one of those damned trains came along off schedule and she was in the middle of hanging laundry.

One thing you should know about my demure and petite mom... she could cuss like a sailor!  I remember hearing the train whistle, then hearing her as she hightailed it out the door to gather the laundry off the line:

YOU G%$#%MNED NO GOOD #$%-0F-A-^#@!! OHHHHHHHH YOU ROTTEN, @###@@!*** BAST$$###@@@@!!!!!! WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH THOSE #***&^%$$$##@#$#$$ PEOPLE ANYWAY!!!????

If she could have run fast enough I'll bet she would have grabbed that train by the caboose, threw it on the ground and stomped it like a bug.

Then, suddenly I felt a jolt as the plane hit the runway. I'd arrived at Champaign/Urbana, and a bus was waiting to take me to Chanute, AFB for tech school.

You probably guessed by now, the whole thing about dreaming on the plane was completely made up.   I just had a couple more chicken coop stories I'd forgotten to include earlier, and wanted to get them in.   I really have no idea what I dreamed about.  It's called “creative license” or something like that.

I do that kind of thing a lot, I'm shameless that way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gomer Pyle... errrr Pat Bergin U.S.A.F!

 A1c Johnnie Mansfield
As the days, then weeks passed at Lackland AFB we began to come together as a unit.  In the Air Force a “flight” is roughly equivalent to a squad in the Army, about 50 guys or one barracks full.  We trained together, ate together, slept and showered in the same general area.  Every morning at 5 one of our T.I.s, Mansfield or Howard would get us up and start our day.  We'd march to the chow hall, then stand in line waiting to get in.


Translation:  “Parade Rest.”  That's a position one assumes when waiting in formation.  We did a lot of Parade Resting.

After breakfast we'd head over to the drill pad for close order drill.  By this time the “HUUUUT-TAUOOO-THRAAAAAYAH-FOUYAH” stuff had given way to a quiet “Hut... Hut... Hut” with the emphasis only on the first “Hut.”  Somehow, we'd learned to march in the same direction at the same time. 

After drill came my my all time favorite, the PT field!  Yeah sure, and I'm Rex The Wonder Horse too!  Our PT instructor was a the most muscular guy I'd ever seen, he made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Arnold Stang!  He stood atop a huge platform, and counted while we did push ups.  He made a grunting sound something like this..


If I were to attempt to describe it, it would be akin to the mating cry of a bull seal.  We'd do our push ups while he barked away.  If someone should get tired and drop off he'd continue on with one hand while pointing at the guilty party with the other and continuing to bark


The guy did push ups with ONE HAND!!!  How is that possible?

I recall one guy, a really skinny kid.  His father was an Air Force Tech Sergent, and the poor guy just couldn't keep up.  He was way under weight, and had no strength in his arms.  He passed out on the PT field, and they took him away.  We later learned that he'd washed out.

The psychology in basic utilized the “good cop, bad, cop” approach.  Sgt Howard was the “good cop,”  he was soft spoken with a quiet demeanor.  Mansfield, on the other hand was the “bad cop,” constantly screaming and demanding.  To tell the truth though, after a couple of weeks even Mansfield seemed to mellow out a bit.  By this time when he'd yell “TEN-HUT” all 50 boots would click in unison.  When we marched the sound of 50 Brogans hitting the pavement were as one.  We'd become a cohesive unit, and I was beginning to like this soldier stuff.  The loneliness disappeared once we began serious training, I was just too busy to feel lonely.

Air Force basic lasted 8 weeks total, 5 of them at Lackland.  There were classes in military customs and courtesy, weapons training, UCMJ and others.  I aced them all, and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, so by the time graduation arrived I was ready and eager to get on to my tech school.  I'd been assigned to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois where I'd finish the remaining 3 weeks of basic, then attend 9 months of training as a Missile Systems Technician on the AGM-28B “Hound Dog” missile.

Just before we left Lackland we were granted “Base Liberty” which meant we could dump the fatigues, don our class B uniforms and check the place out a bit, unencumbered by some T.I. screaming in our ears.  I wandered around, then stumbled on a roller rink.  I got some skates and took a turn around the floor.  Suddenly I saw someone I recognized, the kid who'd washed out was sitting at a table wearing his civilian clothes.  I went over to talk to him, he was staying in the transient barracks waiting for his discharge paperwork to go through.  He told me how saddened he'd been to wash out, and how disappointed his dad would have been.  Then he told me...

“I talked to Mansfield you know?”

“Really?  What did he say?”

“He was really nice.  He told me that he knew I'd done my best, and that that's all they could expect from me.  That it wasn't my fault I washed out, and that I should try to gain some weight and try again.  That he'd be proud to have me back”

“No kidding, really?”

“Yeah, he also called my dad and explained the whole thing.  He's really a good guy you know”

Yup, I know.

Years later I got in touch with Johnnie Mansfield.  We exchanged e-mails and he got a kick out of my recollections of basic training.  He told me how being a T.I. Was a demanding job that he was glad to get out of, and that he'd lost all his flight graduation pictures in a move one time and did I have access to any of them?  He wanted to hang them on his wall.

After 30 years, he wanted to hang pictures of the Airmen he'd trained on his wall

I got your number Johnnie Mansfield; you're a good guy and you know what?  I'm proud to have had you as an instructor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to The United States Air Force... Now Give Me 20!

A Kindly Air Force T.I. gently suggests an alternative view to a recruit 
Hear Pat read this entry

The plane ride lasted all night with a couple of stops, I was exhausted and fell asleep within a few minutes.  We eventually wound up in another waiting room in San Antonio Texas where a kindly gentleman in Air Force fatigues met us.  He was soft spoken and polite, and pointed us to the bus that would take us to Lackland AFB, the basic training center.  I'd heard about how tough these guys were supposed to be, but this fellow was downright pleasant.   Little did I know that was for the benefit of all the OTHER passengers in the room.

When we arrived at Lackland we were herded into a huge reception room with about 300 or so other recruits.  We were advised that our official temporary title was to be “Rainbow” since we were wearing different colored clothes.   We were sent outside to await our MTI or “Military Training Instructor,” yet another soft spoken guy named Sgt Howard.  He briefed us on what was to be expected for the first week or so, still no yelling or screaming.  This wasn't so bad!  Then after an initial gear issue of duffel bags we were sent to our barracks, a world war 2 era building near a sports stadium of some kind.  After waiting a few minutes, we began to get an idea of what an Air Force T.I. was REALLY like.


Holy crap, what was that?  We heard a door slam and a clomp, clomp, clomp as he came up the stairs.


We all jumped up and stood at the closest approximation of attention that we could think of.


Except for one poor slob we all answered “YES SIR”   He forgot the “sir”   BAD move!  Mansfield's eyes flashed, I swear smoke came out of his ears, his face turned beet red as he got up into the poor guy's face.


Sir, one sir, two sir...” and on it went.

I seriously wondered if he hadn't come from some distant planet where they spoke an incomprehensible language, and everybody was near deaf.  We were herded outside and given some basic drill instruction.


Sir, yes sir”


50 boots snapped over the next... oh say 10 seconds.


Sir, one sir, two sir...”

The T.I.s had a special language when it came to counting cadence and facing movements too...

TEN-HUUUUUUUUUUGGGGH!!!!” Translation: “Attention”



While marching he'd count off the steps, this is as close as an approximation as I can get:


I whispered to Dave “What's he saying?”   Dave whispered back “I don't know, just keep walking!”


Basic training had begun.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Goodbye Lapeer... Hello Uncle Sam

Fort Wayne, Detroit

As I began my senior year in high school I started to take stock on my situation.  I'd actually started dating a girl from Owosso by this time, and was thinking about a future with her.  I'd also made some attempts to get into radio, but unlike Terry was not able to stir up any interest.  I even took some radio/TV courses at Flint Jr. College, but to no avail.  I wondered if I would ever get a chance on the air.  By this time Terry had changed his name to Terry Knight, and was brought to Detroit as the new “Jack The Bellboy” on WJBK.  This was a HUGE deal.  The “Jack The Bellboy” show was a prime gig, and had been a Detroit fixture for years.  

The InVictas, however were still going strong.  We were in demand at clubs, dances and functions throughout the area.  I'd managed to knock off some pretty decent sessions in Detroit too.  By this time I was able to get work at United Sound Systems, the top studio in Detroit and was learning the production side of things as well.

We'd still load up the gear and head out to far flung gigs from time to time.  I recall one job at a joint called The Music Box near Houghton Lake.  It was a huge, outdoor venue, and hundreds of people attended.  We did a good show, and decided to partake of a little party sauce afterward.  Now let me point out that we were NOT real drinkers in any way, shape or form.   For whatever reason Marsh overdid things just a tad.   As we were driving back to where we were staying, we heard a little voice pipe up from the back seat:

Pull over, I'm gonna be sick”

We pulled over, and Cary went outside to take care of his personal issue. But all in vain... I think Cary was suffering from the dreaded “Dry Heaves!” We drove on, and sure enough...

Pull over, I'm gonna be sick”

We did, same result. We drove on... then:


I'll bet it took the poor driver 6 weeks to get that car cleaned up!

Cary went on to attend the US Air Force Academy, and spent many years as a KC-135 tanker pilot.  I often wonder if he ever said to his co-pilot “PULL OVER, I'M GONNA BE SICK AND I REALLY MEAN IT!”

Dick and Jim were attending Flint Community College by this time and had their own crib.  I'd go over and hang with them, and loved the freedom that they had.  I was really feeling the need to get out of Lapeer and start my life.  It didn't look like I was going to get into radio any time soon, so what would I do?   I was no rocket scientist in school, that much was sure.  Unlike Cary who would graduate Valedictorian of his class, I was a full out dummy.  I had zero interest in any of that stuff.  NONE of those classes were going to be of any use to me in the career I'd chosen, so what good were they?  I barely graduated.   When the cold, hard reality of my situation finally struck home I was left with two choices; work at GM or go into the military.

Now back in 1963, if you weren't going to college a turn in the Armed Forces wasn't something that you chose, it chose you. There was a little thing called the draft in those days you see, and it  was expected of every, able bodied young man to serve the country.  Even those who got degrees often went in as officers after graduation, that's just the way it was.  So with some trepidation I hooked up with my pal Dave Murray, and we trooped over to Port Huron to sign up for the Air Force.  I'd taken the Airman Qualifying Exam, and actually done pretty good on it, nothing under a 90 . My highest score was in the mechanical field, odd since I'd never had a wrench in my hand in my life.   We signed the requisite papers, and bade the friendly recruiter farewell.  I remember him saying “I hope you enjoy it, most of the guys come back and tell me they hate it.”

Geeze, do you think I should've listened?

I remember leaving Lapeer on the bus for Detroit, my folks were there to see us off.  I recall the sad look in their eyes.  I was feeling kinda low myself, but that was nothing compared to how low I felt when I arrived at Ft Wayne, the induction center.  Soldiers screaming at me from every direction, medics sticking needles in my arm by the dozen, guys demanding that I drop my shorts and bend over... man it was brutal!  I seriously thought about just going home, I hadn't actually signed anything yet that I couldn't get out of, but I stuck it out.

I vaguely remember being hustled on a bus, and then corralled into a waiting room at the airport.  I had my little transistor radio with me and turned it on.  There was Terry having the time of his life on WJBK, playin' the hits in a nice, air conditioned studio.  No doubt there was a sweet little babe waiting for him when he got off the air.  And here was I, sitting on a suitcase waiting for a flight to who-knows-where and hatin' life.

We got on the plane, a damned Gooney Bird!  Couldn't they at least get us a decent plane?  As the plane lifted from the runway I looked out and saw everything I'd ever known sliding away behind me, then nothing... just the blinking of the nav light and the black sky

I had never felt so lonely and miserable in my life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Flint Coney


If you know your Bible, you'll know that Manna came from Heaven.  If you're from Flint, you'll know that Manna comes from Davison Road.  The Flint Coney is not only a true local delicacy, it's a religion onto itself.  If you want to start a 3 day long rumble initiate a discussion among Coney aficionados over which Flint Coney is the best.  If you want to start a civil war start a discussion among Detroit and Flint Coney aficionados over which Coney is the best.

You see Detroit has it's own, vastly inferior Coney Dog.  It's a disgusting, sloppy pile of goo that they cynically refer to as “Coney Sauce” plopped over a perfectly marvelous Kogel Vienna.  If I owned Kogel Meats... the ONLY frank worthy of the name “Coney”... I wouldn't even allow those Detroit joints to use my product!

It's a damned shame, it really is!

This is not intended to denigrate the other Flint delicacy, The Kewpee Burger in any way.  In the world of hamburgers the Kewpee was particularly special.   It was ( and still is under a new name, the Halo Burger) a freshly ground burger, properly fried up on a flat grill and topped with olives.  That's right, olives!  You could get a Kewpee burger and a “Boston Cooler"  for a half a buck.  The "Boston Cooler is an ice cream float made of Vernor's Ginger Ale, a kind of Ginger Beer flavored with caramel.  It's been a Michigan delicacy since 1866.

Now if you lived within a 20 mile radius of Flint you not only ate Coneys, but you did so with a relish and verve unknown anywhere else in the world.  You supported your favorite Coney joint as you might a favorite sports team.  If you were an Angelo's fan it was UNTHINKABLE to be seen at Olympic.  If you were an Atlas fan it was UNTHINKABLE to be seen at Angelos.

A genuine Flint Coney is a kind of Chili Dog topped with mustard and onions.  NOTHING else by the way.  The sauce can't truly be described as Chili, however.  It does have Chili powder in it, but it's the meat that makes the difference.  What kind of meat?  Thought you'd never ask.

Beef heart.

I can hear the “BLECCCCHHHHH”s and “EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW”s right now.

And to top it off, it was originally cooked in rendered suet!   My father remembered walking past one of the numerous Coney joints on Saginaw street in the 1920s.  He swears that he saw the cooks rendering suet.  He also says that every Coney joint would cover their sauce with a cloth in order to make sure nobody saw what went into it. I 'm guessing the cloth was to PREVENT things... like flies... from going into it.

I'm seriously thinking that a goodly part of my mental incapacity had to come from eating Coneys.  It can't ALL be genetic can it?  That being the case, there are lots and lots of people around Flint who are thisclose to being an idiot like me.   At any given moment at least 75% of those folks...

...wait, make that 85%..., wait...

...OK, what the hell, 100% of people in the area were either eating a Coney, arriving at a Coney joint, or digesting a Coney.

There are at least 10 establishments that lay claim to being the original Flint Coney.  This much is known however, the original Flint Coney opened in about 1919 about 2 years after Detroit's American Coney.  Both the Flint and Detroit style Coneys are the product of Greek and Macedonian immigrants who opened chili parlors around 1910 or so.  

Sandee and I went to American in Detroit and talked to the grandson of the original owner.  He's a European trained chef but his calling is running the family business.  He told us how the Coney Dog came about.  It seems that a GM worker was running late one day at lunch.  He had ordered a dog and a bowl of Chili, but didn't have time to finish it so he scooped up the remaining chili, stuffed it on top of the dog and headed out the door.

VOILA, the Detroit Coney was born! 

The Flint sauce is drier, and very mild.  If you taste it by itself it's not very good at all.  It's when you pile it on top of a Kogel Vienna with mustard and onions that it becomes...

Well, heavenly!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Mother Of All Cruises, And Lottie The Body


As 1962 drew to a close and 1963 began certain changes were occurring in Lapeer, and among the InVictas in particular.  Del Herrington had graduated Salutatorian of his class, and had left the band to pursue a career in the medical field.   Fred Bibber, who'd been working at GM and playing on weekends, had joined the Air Force.  This left Dick, Cary, Jim and myself as the remaining lineup.

By this time Terry Knapp had secured a job on Flint's WTAC, and had become extremely popular.   Terry had, on occasion, sat in for me with the band so as soon as he could he started booking us for HIS dances.  There was a popular drummer at the time, Sandy Nelson, who had a national hit with “Let There Be Drums.”  My style was similar to his, so naturally we played the song.  Terry... never being one to miss an opportunity to hype something... would always introduce me as Sandy Nelson.  No one ever caught on!

And the change hadn't affected us as musicians, really.  We could still book clubs whenever we liked, we'd just pick up an additional player.  We recruited Dude Newton, a talented guitarist/singer, and we went right to work as the house band at The El Toro with him out front.

I still picked up studio gigs too.  By this time I was allowed to use the car on occasion, so after the session I could join in the Mother Of All Cruises, the Woodward cruise.  The Woodward cruise started at Ted's Drive In at Square Lake Rd and Woodward and continued all the way to the waterfront in Detroit.  That's about 15 miles!  The cars would stop at several drive in locations along the way and take a turn around the lot of each.   There was The Suzie Q, The Wigwam and the best of all Mars Showbar . The owners had cleverly deduced that they could get the kids to stay longer, and consume more chow if they played music over the metal speakers that were used to call in orders.   They had built a little, glassed in area on the roof and installed a DJ.  It wasn't long before the local bands, fresh from their latest recording sessions, would stop by with an “acetate”... a kind of one-up record that could be played on a regular turntable... and watch the audience reaction when the DJ played it.   Early auditorium, focus group testing.  I remember going there one time and running into a local group who'd brought a dub over.   I recall the guitar player was one of the scariest looking dudes I'd ever seen . Turns out he was scary in real life too, it was Joe Jackson, Michael's father!

I also picked up some side gigs in pick up bands, and backed up national artists who traveled solo.  I vividly recall one such “star.”  A good 45 minutes after the show was supposed to start he stumbled into the venue... a teen dance sponsored by some gentile little ladies who had no clue who this guy was, or the reputation he had... dead drunk with two fellows holding him up helping him to the stage.  Once seated at his piano he sat there weaving back and forth for at least a minute or two, then he pulled out a can of lighter fluid, set the piano on fire and kicked the piano bench onto the dance floor, breaking the legs off.  This was my first experience backing a national “star,” and I recall thinking to myself “I'm not even out of school, and this moron is going to burn me to death!”

I also recall seeing another, major recording artist sitting in the tour bus shooting heroin.  He was 18 at the time.

I also had an opportunity to mix it up with the more exotic side of the club scene.  I was booked to sit in with a band at a Detroit venue backing up Lottie Graves.  She was billed as “Lottie The Body” and was Detroit's answer to Gysy Rose Lee.  She was a trained dancer, and wore a fringed costume.   While it's true that this was considered Burlesque, it bore no resemblance to today's pole dancing strippers.  This was ART, and if you didn't believe that you could ask any of the guys at the tables.  You could've asked Lottie, but she'd have smacked you upside the gourd had you inferred that she was anything but an artiste!

I recall she was annoyed with me, I wasn't kicking the rhythm hard enough for her moves.  She loved those Afro-Cuban tempos and I had never played that stuff before.  To tell the truth, I was getting annoyed at her annoyance, so when the time came for her finale I had it planned to fix her wagon once and for all.  I was to play a long drum solo, while she shook it down! “Play it loud and play it FAST” she told me!

Heh, heh, heh...

I played it loud and fast all right, long too I made damn sure of that.  The sweat was flying off that fringe on her costume like Niagara Falls.  I could see her catching her breath.  At one point I thought she was going to pass out, but I kept going.  

I hadn't seen a booty move that fast since the time I dropped a spider down my sister's short-shorts!

By the time we finished, she dragged herself off the stage and plopped down at a table near her dressing room.  As I was heading to the men's room she called me over.

Uh oh here it comes, she's gonna' raise Holy Hell now

She had me sit down next to her, and she panted in my ear.  “That's EXACTLY the way I like it!!” Man I just can't win!

Oh and by the way, the thing about the spider and my sister's short-shorts.  Completely false, but a GREAT visual don't you think?

Friday, July 22, 2011

R.I.P Old Pal


By my junior year in high school I'd been a professional musician for about 3 years, I'd worked scores of recording sessions and played in every environment from teen dances to night clubs.  I would often work 6 nights a week, so my social life was... to put it mildly... a dud!  That was true for the other guys as well, except for Bibber who seldom performed without having to drag a couple of babes...hanging on for dear life to his pant legs... up onto the stage.

I'd tried dating, but it didn't work out too well since I was always performing.  At reunions I get asked “Why didn't you date any Lapeer girls?”  Well, the answer is I didn't date ANY girls.  Where would we go, to the club?  To an InVicta show?  I guess we could have gone somewhere on Sunday afternoon.  I should have perused the paper for the ice cream social schedules, but I never thought of it.

In addition to the performing schedule Dick, Cary and I were instructors at the Lowe Music Studio, and I had taken on the task of training the drum-line for a local majorette corps.  The more I listened to Flint radio, the more attracted to a career on the air I became

The above picture is my old pal, Terry Knapp.  We attended school in Lapeer, Mi from elementary school on.  We both played drums in the High School band.   In the mid 50's my dad took a part time job as a station master for the New York Central Railroad.  I'd go down on Friday nights to keep him company.  Terry would occasionally ride down on his bike.  I remember us walking down the apron while my dad checked the mail bags, marveling at the people sitting in the dining car.  There were white tablecloths and silver service. We wished we could be on that train, going somewhere... anywhere other than Lapeer.

A couple of years later we'd commiserate constantly on a radio career.  He discovered “The Wild Itralian” Dick Biondi on WLS, and couldn't wait for me to hear him.   I discovered “John R” on WLAC in Nashville, and couldn't wait for Terry to hear him.   We were fellow musicians... Terry was a GREAT drummer... and friends who shared a common goal.  We wanted to be in broadcasting!

Terry graduated a couple of years ahead of me, and became one of Detroit's top radio personalities.  He later formed the seminal group Terry Knight and the Pack.  They were part of the proto-punk movement of the mid 60's that included The Shades of Night, ? and the Mysterians, The Easybeats, Count Five, Music Machine and more.  Along with ? and the Mysterians,  Terry and the Pack opened the door for numerous Michigan groups to obtain recording contracts.  Without them paving the way, it's questionable whether Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Meatloaf, Bob Seger and many others would have made the big time.

In the late 60's Terry was a staff producer at Capitol Records when his former band mates, broke and living hand to mouth back in Flint, formed a power trio.  They adapted the title of one of Terry's songs, The Grand Funk Railroad, as their name and the rest is history.  With Terry as their producer/manager they became the biggest band in the world.  They blew Led Zeppelin off the stage at Cobo Hall in Detroit, and sold out 2 Shea Stadium shows in 3 days.  It took the Beatles 3 weeks.

The band and Terry came to an un-glorious breakup in the early 70's.  Bad blood all around.  I knew all of them very well, and they're all great guys. I  can't imagine what happened.

A few years back Terry was brutally murdered while trying to protect his daughter from her drug crazed boy friend.

But I never knew Terry Knight, I knew Terry Knapp and I can tell you... Terry Knapp was a GREAT guy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cruisin', Radio And The Girls Of Lapeer


If you've seen American Graffiti, you've seen Lapeer on any Friday or Saturday night during the late 50's through the 60's. Cruisin' was the name of the game, pure and simple.  It was a way to see and be seen, get together with friends, meet new kids and show off the nifty, chrome “half moons” you bought and installed on your wheels that afternoon. If you didn't have a car of your own, you teamed up with someone else.

There was a specific protocol to cruisin' which had to be followed to the letter.  For instance it was perfectly cool for 3 or more girls to ride in a car together, but strictly verboten for more than 2 guys to do so.  VERY uncool!   Guys were allowed to hang their elbows out the door and assume a pseudo-bored expression for the entire evening, girls were expected to yap and giggle among themselves incessantly.  It was permitted to stop along the way, but only long enough to pick up a passenger or two or park for a few minutes in front of the water fountain at the court house.  No other stops were allowed, if you had to use the can you had to depart the route then rejoin at either terminus.

The cruise began at Main Street and proceeded down Nepessing Street to N. Saginaw Street, a distance of about a half mile.  The cars would then go around the block and head back the other way.  This was repeated over and over ad infinitum from about 8PM to around 11, at which time the participants would either head home or over to Bruno's Pizza.

American Graffiti made a special point of highlighting the local “make out” area.  Every town had one and Lapeer was no exception, ours was Smith Road near Davis Lake.  But there's one thing you should know about the girls of Lapeer, get fresh with one and she'd slap you silly!   Not a whole lot of “action” to be found on old Smith Road with this bunch!

Remember me mentioning how the girls on TV were so appealing because they wouldn't hesitate a second to light a bag full of dog poop and throw it on the town busy-body's doorstep?  Not only would Lapeer girls do the same, but it would have been their idea!!

Many were farm girls who got up at 5 to do chores, went to school, and returned home to more chores.  They were raised by church going folk who understood basic values, and made sure their kids did too.  We probably had more beautiful girls per capita in Lapeer than anywhere else in the state, and not a hint of attitude among them.   Our Homecoming Queens were attractive, sure enough, but the reason they got to be Homecoming Queens was because of their personalities.  They were everybody's pal.  I remember the girl we elected in 1963, she was a sweetheart of a person, friendly to everyone.  And I'm betting she had a bag of dog poop ready to go for after the dance!

So, if the girls weren't willing, what would we do on Smith Road?  Simple, listen to the radio.  The Flint stations were home to some of the wildest DJs on the planet.   Just like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti they were constant companions, forever thinking up crazy publicity stunts and ways to involve their audience.   I remember an incident when the song “Alley Oop” was a huge hit.   The scam was that it had driven Jackson Ross at WTRX nuts, and that he'd secured a loincloth and a club and had sequestered himself atop the roof of the station.   Whenever the jock would leave the studio, Jackson would “sneak down” and put on “Alley Oop.”  I actually went to the station to see this with my own eyes.  These radio guys sure had fun!!!

Also, radio had been good to The InVictas.   We developed close relationships with the DJs.  Ted Johnson had 3 huge P.A. systems which employed broadcast quality equipment.  When he ran a dance he'd hang 10 huge speakers around the room so the sound quality was superb.  He was a class act, never appearing without a dinner jacket and tux pants . He used theater grade lighting, and even had bubble machines ala Lawrence Welk.   He made a good $300-$400 every weekend... equivalent to $3000-$4000 in today's money... and bought a new Pontiac convertible every year.  Major league stuff!!

I remember doing an in-studio interview with Marcellus Wilson at WTRX.  I was amazed. Here was this guy, holed up in a tiny studio with only a couple of turntables and a mike creating magic.  Remember the scene in American Graffiti when Curt finally meets The Wolfman?  The poor guy's all alone in a radio station with a broken freezer... Popsicles melting all over the place.  Did you feel sorry for the Wolfman?  If so you didn't get it, he was doing exactly what he wanted, how he wanted.   He OWNED that audience, that's what it's about.

Well... I couldn't help but notice the huge diamond ring Marcellus was wearing, so that too!

At any rate, I began to see the value of a career in radio.  I loved playing music, but the traveling, the lugging of equipment... we grunted our own stuff in those days, no roadies... and the instability of it began to worry me a bit.  Radio was a way I could still be an entertainer and not schlep a stupid drum set around.  Also, by this time, the walls were beginning to close in a bit.

So when we'd cruise down Nepessing Street, I couldn't help but think... here we are using up energy, spinning our wheels, repeating the same thing over and over and going absolutely nowhere.  

I thought of a life in Lapeer, playing on weekends and building Buicks the rest of the week.

The profundity of the metaphor was not lost on me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Drunk Doc and 75 Stitches


I can remember quite vividly some of the adventures we got ourselves into back in the late 50s and early 60s. All of us were minors of course, but that was of little consequence to either us or the bar owners who never hesitated to book us into their clubs. They would set a rum and coke on the table along with a half filled bottle of Coca-Cola so that in case the fuzz came in, it would appear as if we were drinking plain soda. It really made no difference, the cops didn't give a damn anyway.

We were the house band at one club in Flint, and played six nights a week. My mom would drive me there and pick me up. Imagine THAT. I'm playing in a club, and I have to wait for mommy to come and get me! Sometimes she'd come early and wait, like a chaperone at a high school dance. Embarrassing!

Our financial status improved too. We'd get about $100/wk per man. In today's money that's the equivalent of about $1000. Pretty good cash for a punk kid. We were also in demand for parties and dances... proms and the like. We'd bring in some additional players, Ed Chick for instance. Ed was a first rate accordion player. With him on board, we could morph from rock band to dance band instantaneously. At the end of the gig we'd grab the cash and dash, life was good.

We were also in demand individually as side-men and session cats. I was able to pick up quite a sum of money by backing the various Hillbilly and wanna-be rockers who booked sessions at the Detroit studios. This was pre soul. Most people probably don't recall that Detroit was a huge center for Country music long before Motown became a factor. When Jack Scott, a Canadian singer from Windsor who'd relocated to Hazel Park, MI, hit it big with “My True Love” every Hillbilly singer in the state booked time at a studio to cut records. Most of them went nowhere of course, but I still got my $15.75 “dub fee” per session. I could knock off two or three of those on a Saturday.

Our very first attempt as studio cats was a single on Drifter, a subsidiary of Clix records in Troy, MI. The song, “Twilight Zone,” inspired by the popular TV show of the same name, featured a young singer/songwriter by the name of Barry Raye (Combs). We cut this in some guy's basement studio...all of them were basement studios... and he wanted in the worst way to play on the record. He kept telling us “steel guitars sound good on records boys.” We deferred, thankfully. The record was a complete stiff, but this year Dick Johnston discovered it on a European album. I wonder where my royalty checks are!

Since it was the radio guys who helped us in the beginning, we did as many of their shows as possible. Private promoters came out of the woodwork as well. They smelled cash in this Rock-N-Roll Teen Dance thing, and booked us for their shows.

On one occasion Del and I were traveling to some show, somewhere when the car in front of us hit the binders. Problem was, he'd forgotten to hook up the brake lights on the boat trailer he was hauling. This is what I remember:

Me: “Huh?”

We'd plowed straight into the back of the guy's boat. A huge piece of it came through the windshield and sliced the hell out of my arm. I was rushed to a local hospital, where they immediately contacted the only doctor in town. Problem was, he was drunk as a skunk. He squirted Novocaine all over my wounds...which stung like hell... and proceeded in a drunken stupor to sew me up. I looked like Frankenstein's monster after he got through. Altogether I wound up with 75 stitches, and a huge bandage on my arm. My parents came up to get me, but I refused to go home. I was determined to play the show, and the next night, I did.

There's an old show-biz saying... “The show must go on.” Whoever said that was a MORON!

The thing became infected, and I had to go to yet another doctor to get it cut and drained. Talk about pain! Good grief, to this day I break out in sweats just thinking about it! I've had a monstrous scar on my arm and back ever since. I'm told that if the cuts had been a half inch higher, I could have lost my arm.

But that was the extent of the drama. For the most part we just kept on playing, making money, and enjoying our little slice of local fame.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Don't Cramp My Style, I'm A Real Wild Child!


So now The InVictas are playing all over the state of Michigan, getting great response from the audiences, making money playing the bar gigs and the private functions, and generally having a great time.  The radio guys know us and make sure to book us every chance they get.

We order snazzy, metallic red lame' tuxedo jackets from Saxony in New York.  We replace Del's National guitar with a real Fender bass.  We buy matching, Airline amps from Monkey Ward.  We hit the formal wear shops in Flint and buy some powder blue dinner jackets.  We hit Robert Hall (where the values go up, up, up... and the prices go down, down, down...) for matching, olive green blazers, and charcoal grey (never black) slacks.  In general we not only sounded like pros, we LOOKED like pros too.

We start booking sessions at recording studios, cutting demos of our original stuff.  Tunes like "Intrigue," "The Fox," "Caravan" and others, hoping a label will pick us up.

In general things are going quite nicely, except...

See, here's the thing about being a drummer in a rock-n-roll band... the girls couldn't care less.  Oh they go nuts over the singer, the guitar player, the guy who grunts the guitar player's gear... all of those guys.  The drummer?  No respect.

So here I am, in a popular rock-n-roll band back in 1960.  We're playing at some dance and the girls are screaming their heads off, but once we get off stage the one without a date is... guess who.  I seriously had to address this issue.

Bibber reminded me of this incident last year, so if the details are sketchy forgive me. Here's what I remember.  We were in Caseville, holed up in cabin and completely broke.  It was to the point where Mikulski was eating hot dog relish. We had no soap, so we boiled our socks in the same pot we cooked hot dogs . In fact all there was to eat were hot dogs and Fizzies, an effervescent drink tablet, that you put in water.  They'd fizz up and add a soda like element to the water.  They came in different flavors.  Just for grins I stuck a lemon one in my mouth and WHAM! it fizzed up like mad.  I had a ton of yellow bubbles coming out of my mouth.  Hmmmmmmm... there was a red one left, I saved it for the show.

That night I shoved the thing in my mouth and, sure enough I had red fizz all over my face.  The girls started screaming all right... so did the boys, the promoter, the cop at the door, and the parents who were there as chaperones!  They thought I was going into shock, foaming blood at the mouth.  Years later Gene Simmons made about 900 Bazillion bucks off a similar stunt.  Better costume though.

I STILL couldn't get a date, especially after THAT little display.  I did get a new nickname however.  From that day on I was "The Wild Child!"


Dick Johnston adds:

Pat, What a hoot that Fizzie thing was!  And wasn't that the time we put the word out that we were havin' a party after the gig?  As I recall wasn't there maybe 150-200 showed up at a road side cabin that slept 6 at the most!  We had to push the couch tight against the wall so we could set the amps up on the back of it!

The sax, guitar, bass and I think the singer, stood on the couch cushions so there was room to play!!  Suddenly, the crowd was hushed by the sound of the owner shouting at the top of his lungs, "JOSH WANT NO DANCE"!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The InVictas


Now where was I? Oh yeah, the music thing.

As it turns out, I wasn't the only local guy interested in getting into a band. Through some friends I was introduced to Dick Johnson, a guitar teacher at the Lowe Music Studio in Lapeer.  He, in turn, introduced me to some other musicians who were trying to form a band.  VOILA... I'd stumbled into my first rock-n-roll group, The Invictas.

Dick Johnston (left rear) was the lead guitar player, Cary Marsh, (2nd from left) was rhythm, Jim Mikulski (3rd from left) played sax, Del Herrington (2nd from right) played bass, and I played drums. That's Fred Bibber holding the mike, more on him later.

We named ourselves after a line of Buick, made in Flint.  We were booked to appear on a TV show and had no name so we thought of a local band named Lafayette Yarborough and the LeSabres, and came up with “Invicta.”  We even capitalized one letter in the middle of the name accordingly. We were really clever that way!

I still remember our first performance, it was at a dance hosted by WTAC DJ “Sleepy Head Ted” Johnson. I'll never forget how the girls went nuts when we played.  “This musician thing just might turn out OK,” I thought.

I also remember my mother following behind and making sure that I didn't get myself into any trouble, a pattern that would repeat itself on MANY other occasions.

I recall as well that The Bunton Bros. Played on this show.   Larry Johnson was their drummer and, as I've already mentioned, he was the best drummer in Flint.  I watched his performance with awe.  Years later I was shocked to learn that he felt the same about me! We'd formed a little mutual admiration society, and didn't even know it.

We started out as an instrumental group ala Duane Eddy, Link Ray etc, but soon realized the limitations of that so we brought in a singer.  I'd seen Fred Bibber around school, but didn't know him very well.  He showed up for rehearsal with an old Kay guitar and a notebook full of lyrics from songs that most of us hadn't heard.  Cuts from the original Buddy Holly album, Chuck Berry tunes like “Johhny B Goode”...which was never a big radio hit BTW... Buddy's “An Empty Cup, A Broken Date” and others.  GREAT stuff!

He was (obviously) an extremely good looking guy too, the girls went nuts over him.  We had to form a human shield around him to keep them from tearing him apart.

Fred was a good singer, but had some difficulty finding his key when learning a new tune. Once during a rehearsal my family dropped by.  My sister opined how Fred's singing was somehow reminiscent of the “sounds of a dinosaur caught in the tar pits.”   Fred was crushed. he bears the scars to this very day!

With our new singer in tow, we bagan to book shows like mad whenever and wherever we could.  All the Flint DJs ran teen dances, and we showed up at all of them.  We became the most popular rock-n-roll band in the area.  I began to put some of that Gene Krupa and Mo' Purtil knowledge to use as well by ripping into short drum solos.  I remember how I was introduced afterward. “Pat Bergin ladies and gentlemen... 14 YEARS OLD!!!!!”  Actually I was 13, but who's counting?

Even though rock-n-roll was fun to play, we also played everything from the standards of the day (Stardust, Sept. Song etc) for the Eagles and Elks crowd and R&B stuff for the regular bar crowd.  All of us were trained musicians who could sight read, and consequently we could play anything put in front of us.  As long as we had a “Fake Book” we were good to go.  We often played 6 nights a week in clubs, dances and private functions. In addition, Dick, Cary and I were  teachers at the Lowe Studio of Music and Dance.

As the crowds began to increase, so did our ambitions.  We began to start writing our own songs.  At one point we attempted to blend jazz with rock-n-roll.  We couldn't quite figure out how to create jazz fusion from two, distinctly different genres.  The swing component of jazz didn't comport with the straight four, R&B approach of rock.  In later years Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Anthony William's Lifetime and many others would perfect the style.

We noticed that other groups would perform little dance steps when they played.  We recruited the talents of one of our collegues at Lowe, a dance teacher named Sandy to try and choreograph us.  Good freakin' luck, none of us could dance worth a damn!  She became exasperated and gave up.   It befell Bibber to develop our "step."  He would (kind of) stand there with his left foot perpendicular to his right and bend one knee back and forth.  HEY, easy peasy lemon squeezy... we all quickly adapted!  Even me since by this time I was playing standing up.  This became widely reknown as "The InVicta Step" and, as far as I know, is still being performed on dance floors in Michigan today.

Then again, maybe not.

We had an InVicta reunion last year, and I'm happy to say that we're all alive and kickin'.  Even our old Mentor, Dick Johnson showed up.  He was responsible for putting the group together.  I'll bet he regrets that!!!!!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spaceman's Luck


Before I go any further, my sister has admonished me to mention the other TV shows of the period which may have had a significant impact on not only my decline into idiocy, but hers as well.  I distinctly remember her wearing a pink Davy Crockett hat around the house as a kid, so it's apparent that I'm not the only idiot in this generation of Bergins.

OK, so here's the deal.  TV was the focal point of everything in those days.  Most of the afternoon programming, and ALL of the Saturday programming was aimed at the kiddies.   First there were the cowboy shows, “Hopalong Cassidy, ” Roy and Dale, “The Cisco Kid” etc.  It didn't take long before some enterprising TV execs discovered they could trade the wild west for outer space, and simply transpose the plot lines of the shows . I assume that, by so doing, they saved money on horse feed.  Ergo we began to see reruns of the old Flash Gordon serials, and even some new space themed shows such as “Captain Video,” “Space Patrol” and our all time fave “Tom Corbett Space Cadet”

Based on a series of books written by Robert A. Heinlein of Stranger in a Strange Land fame, the series took place in the year 2351 and followed the adventures of three Solar Guard officer candidates, Tom Corbett, Astro and Roger Manning, as they faced interstellar and personal challenges while attending The Space Academy.

Tom was the de-facto leader of the crew and was played by Frankie Thomas, a show business veteran who'd previously starred in the old movie serial “Tim Tyler's Luck” as well as numerous Broadway shows.  His parents were major acting talents as well. Together they were the known as “the first family of acting.”

Astro was an Earthling who'd grown up on Venus.  He was a particularly talented engineer, but had a great deal of difficulty with the theoretical side of his courses.

Roger Manning was cock-sure and somewhat arrogant.  He was a rogue, always quick to boast of his accomplishments and denigrate those of Tom and Astro, but he was also hiding a soft heart.

Many of the plot lines revolved around Roger who would offhandedly and carelessly create some kind of chaos, and how the crew managed to work it all out.  Like Star Trek, which was loosely based on the show, when sinister characters were introduced they were always dealt with in a non-violent manner.  When absolutely necessary Tom would pull out his trusty paralo gun which would paralyze the bad guy long enough for the cadets to tie him up.

The show was a huge success and, like the other kid's shows of the day, was sponsored by cereal manufacturers.  Special K in particular was a regular sponsor.   Naturally, they tied in their marketing heavily offering everything from official Tom Corbett Space Goggles, Tom Corbett Rocket Rings, Tom Corbett Space Guns, and a really nifty miniature gun mounted on a ring.  It was spring loaded, and I could load a stone in it and plink my sister on the head from 4 feet out.  COOL!!   Most important of all was the Tom Corbett Space Cadet Lunch Box with matching thermos bottle.  They put out a different one every year, and I got 'em ALL!  I was a collector, a connoisseur!

The show had a catchy theme song, I can still remember how it went:
From the rocket fields of the academy, to the far flung stars of outer space, we are space cadets training to be, ready for dangers we may face...”

Stirring stuff.

Although they tried to keep the show within some rational constraints, the science sometimes alluded them.  I recall one show where the cadets were “a million light years away” but were expected home in time for dinner. Uuuuuummmmm... I'm thinkin' that dinner will be AWFULLY cold by the time they actually get back.  On another they were walking with magnetic shoes on the hull of the Polaris, CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK.  Did no one tell the writers that there's no air in space, hence no sound?  But even given the show's occasional plot issues, it was always clean cut and uplifting for the little Space Cadets.

Some years ago Jan Merlin, who played Roger Manning, Al Markim who played Astro, and Ed Bryce who played Capt. Strong got together in Williamsburg at an old time radio convention, and recreated a Tom Corbett radio episode.  I loved it, and hoped to return the following year when Frankie Thomas was expected to attend.  Frankie had become a world renown Bridge expert and had written several books on the game.  He was shocked to find that people remembered him.  He showed up wearing his original Space cadet uniform and, I'm told, thrilled the crowd.   I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see him.  I had hoped to attend the following one, but Frankie passed away.  I always regret not having had the chance to tell him how much his show had meant to my sister and me.  I understand that he was buried in his uniform.

The show had it's own, unique kind of slang.  When Roger would get angry at someone (which was most of the time) he'd yell “Aw, go blow your jets!”   When a character was going away someone would wish him “spaceman's luck.”

Spaceman's luck Tom.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bohemians at the Gate!!!


I guess all of us recall a favorite teacher. Someone who could see through our adolescent insecurities and egos (one is the product of the other BTW) and speak to us on a one to one basis.  Without exception they are people called to the profession, they never go into teaching because it's a easy degree.   They inevitably establish a rapport with their students based upon mutual respect. In Lapeer there was Mrs. Judith Weaver.

She was married to the school choir director, and was a bohemian kind of character.  She taught English and Journalism, and always brought a little of the real world into the classroom.

She approved of us boys reading Playboy because she knew the best writers of the era were turning out articles and short stories for Playboy.  She listened to Jazz music, and introduced her students to it. More on that later.

One day Mrs. Weaver brought in an assignment.  Scholastic Magazine had introduced a deal whereby students could order paperback versions of the great books of the day for a huge discount.   We were to pick one, and write a report on it.  I glanced through the flier. Now which of these books would...

A Be cheap?
B Be quick to read?
C Present no challenge whatsoever when it came to writing the requisite report?

AHA... Here's one! On The Road.

Great, a travel documentary!  Nothing could be easier than writing a report on a travel documentary, right?  Just name off a few towns, scan through the text for a few landmarks, write up a couple of double spaced pages and VIOLA... back to American Bandstand.

Somehow the adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity didn't quite give themselves up to quality time with a TV.  My GAWD, is this possible?  Can people really live like this?

I couldn't put the book down.

When I'd finished it, I had no CLUE what to write in the report.  How in the hell can one construct a family friendly summary of a book that is at once completely profane, seditious and entirely corrupting to every small-town, status quo validating, middle class value that one had ever learned?

I wrote the report on some other book, began planning my escape from Lapeer, and never gave a damn about Bandstand again.

But I was still convinced I wanted to be a musician.  I loved listening to Gene Krupa on “Sing, Sing, Sing” and recall seeing Larry Johnson, the areas best drummer, play the song in a half-time show with his High School band in Flint.  He seriously tore that drum set up!  Then there was Mo' Purtil, the drummer for Glenn Miller and his great playing on “Bugle Call Rag.”   These guys were soloists, and they brought the roof down every time they played.  I was quickly learning the show-biz aspect of this musician thing.

Then one day I was walking down the hall at school.   I was passing by Mrs. Weaver's English class,when I heard something that stopped me in my tracks.   She had brought in one of her jazz albums, and was sharing it with the class.  I couldn't believe my ears, I'd never heard anything like this before.  The horns were wailing, the piano player was banging out chords that I'd never heard in any of John Phillips Sousa's marches, and the drummer and bass player were locked in unison. They were playing off one another, it was like they were Siamese twins of some kind, joined at the hip.

I HAD to find out what that was.

After the class let out I ventured into the empty classroom.  She'd left the album on the desk. “Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers Featuring Clifford Brown.”  At lunch I lit out immediately for Walter's Music Store. I combed the LP racks looking for a Blakey record.... nothing.  Then, in the $1.00 bin, I saw the name Clifford Brown.   On the cover was a picture of Max Roach looking over his cymbals.  THIS was the one, I gave Marge the dollar and hurried out the door.  As soon as I got home that afternoon, I put the record on.  The rattle of those Gretsch drums, and the crash of those K Zildjian cymbals had me mesmerized.

From that day on I'd sneak down to the empty choir room where Mr Weaver taught.  He kept copies of Downbeat magazine in the rack, and I perused every one.   There were articles about the latest developments in jazz.  The “new thing” was taking over from the old Be-boppers, and not many were thrilled about it.   I read every article, and looked at every Gretsch drum ad.   Gretsch was the instrument of choice for Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Lou Bellson and just about every other, major jazz player.

I was seriously hooked.