This is a sad, but true story. Let me begin by saying that my Father always told me as a kid, "Keith, any man that uses bad words in his language only shows himself to be a person who isn't intelligent enough to use the greater amount of words that he could have, to express himself politely and properly." Well, an awful lot of what has happened to me in my lifetime cannot be expressed politely, and could not be recounted properly, or at all, without offending either my Father's or my Mother's Christian morals. I have not set out to write a pornographic story, my original intent being to teach about some of what one might need to know to become a sound engineer for popular musicians, and tell a bit about some of the bands I have worked for.
My original intent has fallen somewhat to the wayside as my memories have unfolded themselves onto paper, and the truth of what has actually happened to me became the predominant theme to my writing the events down. Therefore, I forewarn you that all of these events, opinions and quotations are as accurate as I can possibly recall them, with the help of a lifetime of my notes and company records, and that this account has in it subject matters involving drugs, sex, loose morals and prostitution. Read no further if you fear for your moral character.
I was born in Wilmington, Delaware in nineteen fifty. My first memory is of sitting in a sandbox and watching a spider crawl up my ankle, and then the pain of it's bite. I was later told that it had been a black widow, which were common in Delaware, where we lived at the time, and there had been some concern at saving my life. My next memory is of being out in the yard of the house we lived in on Strathmore Avenue in Dearborn, Michigan, while my Mother was hanging laundry, only to look around and discover that she had gone back into the house.
The desolation of being a toddler left alone caused my jumping up to reach the door knob, and splitting my chin open upon connecting it with the bricks of which our house was built. The next memory that I can recall was sitting in the driveway on a blanket in the sunshine, and watching the neighbor boy across the street roll a tire down the slope of their driveway. That tire then rolled across the street and up the slope of our driveway, and struck me full in the face as I was trying to get up and out of it's way. It hurt enough to remember the incident.
Now, just to prove how impossibly slow I was at learning painful lessons, my next memory is of watching the Saturday morning Big Top show on television at the age of two and a half, and being extremely impressed with a unicyclist riding around the circus ring. I was enough impressed to go running into the kitchen where Mom was frying bacon for Saturday morning breakfast, and insisting that she had to come see this amazing feat of balance. Mom said that it had to wait for her to get the bacon out of the pan. By the time she came into the family room, the unicyclist's act was finished.
I was determined to show her the performer's accomplishment, and grabbing my sister's child sized broom, I climbed on the arm of the overstuffed chair I had been sitting in, and jumped off of it onto the top end of the broom handle which I had been holding upright. The result was eighty seven stitches to seal up the torn scrotum I suffered, a weeks stay in the hospital, and the Doctor telling Mom and Dad that he didn't know if I would ever be able to reproduce children. A few fellas have also found out that it does no good to kick me in my numb-nuts thinking you're going to stop me, because it doesn't do anything but make me angrier, as the damage to nerves left me with very little feeling there. But nevertheless, it didn't stop my testicles from working properly. Pretty dumb, though, huh?
Music was important growing up in my family. Dad was an engineer who had tried desperately to design and complete an extremely powerful jet engine in conjunction with Excello Corporation and Westinghouse, during the war, but which he wasn't finally successful with, until nineteen fifty-six, while I was still five years old. The idea was solid, but the alloys the turbine blades were made of were too brittle to stand the pressure and vibration of the high R.P.M.s, until the right combination of metals were alloyed with the titanium. Mom had majored in English and journalism, and minored in French. They both loved to go out dancing whenever a big band was playing somewhere that they could get to and from on a weekend night, and in general they loved to relieve their stresses by listening to music. As a little kid, I didn't know anything about stress though. We always had a piano and Mom was a wonderful piano player, and even though she didn't like her voice, I thought it was beautiful.
In the fifties, we had what was considered a high-end record player and sound system. That was before stereo systems were commercially viable, so it was mono. I remember getting my butt tanned at around four years of age, when Mom and Dad came in the living room to find me busily dismantling that huge old box of a record player. I had it pulled away from the wall so I had working room, and was taking out the screws that held the back on. I wanted to play with all the little men that I thought must live in the back of it when they weren't playing the music that came from it, and I knew where the tools that I needed were kept.
Mom and Dad loved a variety of music; classical, musicals, of which I still remember, "Seventy-six trombones in the big parade" playing, big band, country and western, with Burl Ives singing, "You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt," bluegrass and folk music. While my two older sisters were getting piano lessons, I wanted to play too, but everyone apparently thought I was too young. Instead, Dad came home with what I thought at the time was a guitar. It was red plastic, and had a picture of two cowboys sitting at a campfire on it, with one of them playing the guitar, and the other one with his mouth open as if singing, but it only had four nylon strings, where as a guitar has six strings, so it was actually a ukulele.
However, it didn't sound too bad, for what it was, at least not to me, and I had a guitar as far as I was concerned. I remember Uncle Bill showing me how to tune it to "My dog has fleas", or what I learned in time was E,A,D and G. Uncle Bill also taught me to play, "She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain, When She Comes", "Red River Valley", "Home on the Range" and a couple of other songs on it.
I loved that guitar for a couple of years, but eventually, well, I was a little boy, and it was plastic. Either I stumbled with it and broke the neck off, or I just found it with the neck broken off (?), I don't remember which. By then, we lived on a farm in Allen county, Ohio, out in the country, at the corner of Sunderland Road and Bice Road. We had no near neighbor kids, until when I was six. Then Cloren Mills, who worked for the Lima News, and his wife Betty, moved into a nice old farmhouse about a mile north of us on Sunderland Road, with their two sons, David and Daniel. Dan, as he preferred to be called, became my best friend throughout my youth. I didn't have any near playmates otherwise, except my sisters, and that was like pouring gasoline on a fire, as far as they were concerned. They wanted nothing to do with me, until it was time for me to take the blame, and the punishment, for something they had done, and then I had to be around for them to point their fingers at.
Dad couldn't be fooled by their schemes, though, and often, he would bring home Radio Shack project kits for me to work on, which kept me quiet and out of the way of the women. By the time I was seven, I had built my first battery operated crystal radio, and run a wire for my antenna out of my bedroom window, which I then tied onto the sycamore tree out there. Suddenly, I discovered A.M. radio. There was no F.M. radio back then.
I could only get a couple of stations well enough to hear, but the one I liked best was WOWO out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They played all kinds of music, and I loved it all. I would stay up much later than my bedtime, sitting in the dark with my headphone on listening to the new Rock and Roll, the newest country, and the newest style coming out that they called MoTown, retuning the crystals when the interference became too strong.
After getting into trouble again, at the age of nine, for taking my Dad's McCullough chain saw apart to use the engine on a go-cart I had built, I talked Dad into getting me bigger and better crystals, the lesser of two evils, which allowed me to tune in WJR and CKLW out of Detroit, Michigan. That was great, Mom was from Detroit, and my Grand Parents still lived around there, so it felt like a comfortable connection to them. I heard "Blue Velvet", "Soldier Boy" and "Johnny Angel" for the first time on that radio. The music I was being exposed to, however, influenced the direction in my life.
Depending on my teachers, I never did much get along with school. It seemed to me that at home I could learn more in a half hour with my Dad or Mom, than I could in a week at school. I got along with most of the kids, all right, except a few bullies. Being taller than them made them pretty much leave me alone though, but I wouldn't hesitate to get into it with them if they started picking on a girl, or one of the littler kids. I even started a boy's only club with four other boys in my class, but we ended up letting Sharon Derbyshire join and, at recess, talked her into pulling her panties down, after giving her all of our club dues money, and showing us what she had hidden underneath them, with all of us standing behind a dugout on the baseball field. Very soft and very pink and pretty, but she was a pretty girl anyway. Maybe that is what began my adult penchant for hairless pudenda. Sharon was very educational, because she even let us touch it and explore inside of her. No! Come on; we were little kids; of course, we only used our timid fingers.
My problem with school was the time I felt it was robbing me of. Time not spent running the woods, stalking rabbits, whittling, hunting for arrowheads, or building another tree house. I can't count the times, as I sat in a classroom, I was reprimanded for staring out of the window, daydreaming about what I wanted to be doing. One day, Dad brought home three things for me. One was a pocket size transistor radio he got as a promotional gift from a sales representative at work, one was a kit to build a transformer for an "O" gauge model railroad, and the last item was a wristwatch. I was in fourth grade, and didn't care if I ever learned how to tell time, and apparently, Mrs. Gracely, my teacher, was getting frustrated with me, so Dad taught me how.
I soon found out that, while it was okay to wear the wristwatch at school, the transistor radio, even with an earphone in my ear, was not a welcome accessory. Hey, it seemed like a great idea to me for making the time spent in that big brick day disposal go by more quickly. In the fourth grade, they introduced us to Spanish lessons via movie projector, as well as wanting us to learn music.
I am sorry, I don't care how many times you tell me I have to, I am Not going to buy and learn how to play a flutophone, whatever that is. What a waste. Let me have a guitar and I'll play that. Flutophones don't make any racket that sounds like music anyway. Therefore, while all the other kids made the most God-awful noises on those stupid plastic, miniature clarinet looking, penny whistles, I sat at my desk and stewed, until they got good enough to play songs that were recognizable, at which point I became the class singer.
One day, the teacher who happened to be the choir director, heard me singing as she walked down the hall. She talked to my teacher about me at some point, and next thing I knew, I was in choir. I'll bet my teacher was glad to be rid of me, even if it was only for fifty minutes at a time. I wasn't a cut-up or a troublemaker, or anything like that; I was just bored beyond interest. When she did catch my attention with something she said, then she had to answer my questions, and I could ask questions that had no easy answers.
The following year, in Mr. Erickson's class, Enoch Stevens and I got in trouble for laughing at the drawings I was making of naked, big titted Barbies. Mr. Erickson paddled my ass in front of the whole class, and then sent me to the office. The principal proceeded to paddle my ass again, and made sure the drawings got sent home to my Mom and Dad. At home, I got my ass paddled yet again, and was thoroughly embarrassed by my Mom seeing those drawings. I can't say that all of those paddlings were very educational, other than teaching me not to mess with pictures of naked women unless I was sure I wouldn't be caught at it. Nowadays there is Photoshop, which will let you take any picture and turn it into anything lewd that you want too. Progress.
Well, I had enjoyed choir, but I still wanted a guitar. Finally, at thirteen, I wanted one badly enough, that I took my life's savings, all twenty-seven dollars, and some change, of it, and hitched a ride into Lima, the closest "big" city. I walked around, not finding any music store, but finding instead, a pawn shop right off the city square on Market Street. Looking through the big plate glass window in front, I could see several guitars hanging on the wall behind the counter where the cash register was. I went in and ended up arguing with the poor man behind the cash register for quite a while, before I finally walked out of there, not a penny in my pocket, but the proud owner of a used Kay guitar.
When I got home and Mom saw it, she was upset with me when I told her how I got it, but wisely held back saying anything, knowing how stubborn I am, and let me discover for myself. With the strings tuned up to a taut enough tension to make notes, and it didn't matter to how low a pitch I tuned them, they pulled the headstock up so much that the strings were then about five eighths of an inch above the fret board at the body. That made the string height to high to hold it down to a fret to play a note with one finger, so there was no way to play a three note chord, as I like most folks, only have four fingers on each hand, not the six it would have taken to play a chord on that guitar. The guitar was unable to stay in tune for more than a minute, and was basically unplayable.
Mom told me that we would go and get my money back on the following day. I told her I didn't want my money back, I wanted a guitar. The next afternoon, after school, we went into Lima, and back to the pawnshop. Mom handed the guitar to the pawnbroker and said he should be ashamed of himself, taking advantage of a poor little kid like that. He asked, "What's wrong with it?" and said, "He wanted a guitar and I gave in and sold it to him, when I could have gotten more for it than the twenty-odd bucks the kid had in his pocket."
Mom proceeded to show him where the heel of the neck had come unglued and was pulling away from the body, and showed him how warped the neck was. She told him, that as a dealer in used instruments, that he surely knew about these defects before he sold me the guitar, and she had a good mind to go to the better business bureau. Well, Mom was an ace, because, although she had to kick in some extra money, with the promise from me that I would work it off, we walked out of there, not with a good guitar, but at least with a guitar I could actually work with, a Silvertone. She told me that I was lucky that her brother played guitar, Uncle Bill had a beautiful guitar, a Gibson Hummingbird, and had taught her some basic knowledge about them.
At thirteen, I played that flat top until no one in the family could stand it anymore. I played until my finger tips were raw bloody stubs, then I'd dip them in rubber cement and tape them up and play some more. I'll never say that I got good at it, not after Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix made me feel so insignificant after hearing their music, but in two years, I could play anything by Peter, Paul and Mary, the Everly Brothers, or by Dylan or Baez or the Kingston Trio, or by the Monkees, the Beach Boys, and the Animals or the Hollies.
My friends and I kept trying to put groups together and play for dances at schools. Jim Garagus and I played coffee shops and poetry readings, as well as other events where we didn't have to be of age. Later, when Jim and I were in college together, I did an acoustic accompaniment to him reading one of his poems on stage at the campus auditorium. I suppose I played acoustically at coffee shops and small stuff like that, until I was about twenty, or so. I had always been frustrated by how difficult it was to keep a band together, and in an area that was just about a cultural wasteland anyway, with an extremely limited resource pool of capable talent, the effort in trying to do so was almost useless. We had a saying that if you were from Lima, or had even just been there before, that it was like an anchor tied to your ankle, that would drag you back down to it. Don't get me wrong, there have been some great cover bands from the Lima area, and some of the musicians from the area have gone on to play with national acts, but if you don't know people, it's hard to hook up with them.
It seemed like everyone I knew who really could play was already in a good band, and not about to leave it. Consequently, I made the decision to put my, by then, Les Paul, guitar away, and offer my services to the area bands as a soundman. I was the only one in any of my bands that knew what to do with the P.A. system, and with my background from the time I was a kid, of doing electronic projects, it wasn't difficult for me to make sure that when we got to play out, that we always sounded good. At least, good enough to hear every cringing mistake the guys made. I knew that every band, who wanted to sound their best, needed a good soundman.
My last live performance with my band was in the fall of 'sixty-seven, at a Junior Achievement dance, when I was seventeen, and we got the gig because my Dad was an advisor to the Junior Achievement organization. He was at the dance as a chaperone, and I was proud to have him see me do my last show. At that show I hooked up with a beautiful girl, Patricia Reigle, who was later to be my first wife. We dated through rest of the school year and the summer, and got married two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, with her being four months along with our first son. We tried. We tried really hard, but we were both young and naïve, and too impatient, as well as hot headed. For a graduation present, my folks gave me a small but nice stereo.
Beginning Real Life
Meanwhile, in 'sixty-nine, I had discovered a really good band from down south, by the name of Storm. The bass player, Doug, who had a cute little wife and a cute little spider monkey as well, invited me to come to their sessions, so I started going to some of their practices and gigs and twisting knobs for them. That led me into the inside bar scene enough to hook up with a British band that on their arrival in Lima, first played at the Spring Brook Gardens at the north edge of Lima, then played at the Guagenti's club called the Warehouse which was next to the old cigar factory in Lima. The band's name was Cream. Yep, the Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in it. I thought they were a bunch of drugged out junkies at the time, based on how they acted off stage, at the cruddy little apartment the Guagentis gave them to stay at between shows, but, hey, what did I know. They weren't getting along very well with each other, and the skinny was that the Guagentis wanted to be rid of them, and they were just about to be deported by the government.