Play It

I came home from school one day, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. 

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m helping you think of a name for your band.” 

Well that’s nice. That’s what I said. Grateful she had stopped saying “combo.” What I also thought was: Is there a band anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, that was named by the mother of one of the guys in the band? 

Bands were popping up everywhere. The British invasion was beginning. On TV at night we watched Shindig! and Hullaballoo. After school was a program called “Where The Action Is.” The theme song was called, oddly, “Where the action is.” Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon sang: “Oh baby come on…” All I remember about that song is the chorus. “It’s so great to take your baby where the action is!” It was a song that needed only a chorus, written for that half-hour show, filmed in California (Malibu, of course), not far from the beach. 

The same acts cycled into the programming a couple times a week. Steve Alaimo. Who was he? Tommy Roe. Ditto? The Knickerbockers. Bobby Goldsboro. Every band in creation started popping up. The Lovin’ Spoonful, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Ventures, Freddy and the Dreamers. My favorite was Paul Revere and the Raiders. They dressed in 18th century costumes, like before writing and recording their songs they had helped draft the US Constitution. “Kicks just keep getting harder to find.” They had long hair. 

“So what have you come up with?” 

My mother showed me her list, five or six possibilities. 

I felt my face go red as I scanned the list. “Neat Notes?” I said. Really? 

Naming the band was a little premature. We weren’t really a band. We were four boys each looking for the ability to play an instrument. Bob Young had a set of drums, a real set, with tomtoms. So he was good. I had used some money I earned delivering the Midland Daily News to buy an electric guitar at Whiteheads Music in Saginaw. It was made by Kent. No one that I knew or saw on Where The Action Is played a Kent guitar. It cost $79. I had also bought a cheap amplifier the size of a very small suitcase. Think airplane, carry-on. Roger Bill George made it known at school that he played the piano, so he was in. And Ronnie Fritz came up with an electric guitar somewhere, announcing his attention to play the bass.

We practiced in a front room of Roger Bill’s house–because there was an upright piano in that room. It soon because clear that Roger Bill could dribble a basketball and shoot layups, but he could not drive to the basket with that piano. If he had taken lessons, they had not covered “chords” in his instruction. Bob was competent, Ronnie played the E and A strings, the two fattest ones on the guitar, for bass effect. He did not have an amplifier.

I knew chords well enough to approximate a few songs. Gloria was in reach. Hang On Sloopy was on our set list. Eventually The Kinks’ Tired of Waiting. A song by the Beach Boys? Forget it. A song by Paul Revere and the Raiders? That wasn’t happening. The Beatles? I wanted to play Day Tripper. In the worst way, I wanted to play that. I could manage the riff, but then what? The bottom fell out of the song. There was no piano in Day Tripper. Also, I knew I couldn’t play that riff and sing the song at the same time. We concentrated on Gloria and Hang On Sloopy, playing those two songs at a couple school assemblies.

Gradually, very gradually, I began to realize that music was going to be my thing. With the exception of four lessons from Phil Woodcock, a guy who lived down the road from us, I was self-taught. I had a good ear. I learned some chords. I learned how to play bar chords. On Hullaballoo one night The Hollies lip synched “I Look Through Every Window,” a song with a catchy guitar intro. I wanted to do that. I wanted to play lead, like the killer treble string opening to Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” Anyone who asked, I said oh, yeah, I play lead guitar. But I was definitely a work in progress. 

How do you do that? I asked a guy who came to school and played with a band one day. How do you bend a note like that? He showed me. Back home I tried it. It hurt. You needed strong fingers, and calluses.

The name of that first group came from my mother’s list: The Troupe. 

I was going to have to do something about my hair.

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