Woodstock Era Memoriesbylouienohio©
There were many other high school friends, guys and gals. These guys were not on the football team and the gals were not cheerleaders. One friend was Pat, an Italian kid like myself, he was from Grandview. Of my high school guy friends, Pat was the most involved, successfully involved, in the rock and roll music scene. Pat was a talented bass guitar player, he was in popular local bands and he was making money playing music – a lot more than any of us ever made from playing football. In stature, Pat was a good looking guy, handsome, about 5'11, slim, (though his weight fluctuated) and a non smoker. And he was fun to hang out with. I'd go to rock gigs with him, I'd be the big guy and lug amplifiers around and I'd get in for free as a roadie, and there were always chicks at the shows.
Many of these experiences were at the Valley Dale Ballroom near Columbus. This was a popular spot on the near North East side, it had been a big band ballroom a generation before. The place hosted the local battle of the bands, and little known touring acts trying to get ahead in the music business would do quickie appearances there. The Velvet Underground played there, and I worked backstage, for free, loading an unloading vans stuffed with musical equipment. A couple of the groups that I tossed amplifiers for went on to greater success. One was the First Edition, which were at that time a folk group, an imitation New Christie Minstrels. They had a bass player, and he was hip, though at the time considered fat and ugly. I admired the group, they had a cute female singer that was fronting the band, and they were trying different styles while searching for their "break". The hip bass player borrowed a special tune, a song about dropping acid... "I just dropped in to see what condition..." and it was a great song. Once recorded, it propelled him to stardom, and he left the rest of the group on his personal road to success. He was Kenny Rodgers.
We'd smoke pot in Pat's Ford Econoline van before the shows, smoke with the other musicians and the roadies. We were toking it up one evening with Bob Seger and his band, then known as the Lost Herd, back when Bob was a hard working unknown. We were outside the Dog & Suds Roller Rink on Cleveland Avenue in Columbus. Bob had his own Ford Econoline, a light blue model with Michigan plates. The show began and there were eight paying customers – 8 – and what the world missed that night was Bob Seger doing covers from the Beatles Sergeant Pepper Album, stuff like "She's Leaving Home, Bye, Bye"; genuinely unbelievable material for Seger, the Otis Redding wannabe. (I told this story to John Campbell, Seger's Silver Bullet Band bass player, in 96. We swapped tales of the original Lost Herd, a horrible name, not one of those guys rode out the long success road with Seger.] But these musicians had a local comradery about them, they would gather after hours at hide a way clubs and shoot the shit. There was no guessing who would show - Joe Walsh from the James Gang, John Mellancamp with his older brother, Rick Ocasik - it was wide open. And it was no surprise that one of Kenny Rodgers' country hits was a Seger tune "We've got tonight".
Pat progressed from his Grandview friends' garage band into commercial Ohio rock and roll, he was that good. He was a studio musician playing with Super K productions (The Ohio Express/1910 Fruit Gum Company). From there he joined the hottest psychedelic band in Columbus, all while still in high school. His group was The Four O' Clock Balloon, and they became quite popular though out Ohio, including playing as an opening act for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Columbus. Whenever I had the chance, I'd go on the road with them, I'd load and unload equipment, set the stage up and so on. I was rewarded with third row seats for "Jimi". From that vantage, I could hear him talking. Basically, he played the same set as in the Monterey Pop movie, including 'Red House', though he didn't light his guitar. He had a wall of Marshall amps. As any wall of electrical tube type equipment can do, the amps picked up a local radio signal playing popular music. And it was the same song " Condition", by Kenny Rodgers. Hendrix said "wow this song is great" and started playing along with it. There were backstage Polaroid's of Hendrix, Noel Redding with Mitch Mitchell, Pat had a Polaroid of Hendrix with his arm around him, as well as with the Soft Machine – whose guitar player formed the Police with Sting - that also shared the bill that June evening in Columbus. I have my own story of Hendrix at an after the show party, he wouldn't even smoke pot, but he did go upstairs with a long legged blond. Myths about dead people will always exist.
One snowy evening the Balloon were playing in Cleveland, at John Carroll University. Pat would keep all the band's equipment in his van, at his parents' house. By this time our friend Boyd and myself had become the band's official road crew. We loaded up the van with Pat and we headed up to Cleveland – Boyd brought his girlfriend Colleen with him. The Cleveland show went fine, and we planned to drive back to Columbus that night, late as it was, although the weather had worsened. We didn't much care. Another guy joined us, another friend of the Balloon, a guy named Gary. Gary had a large envelope of pot with him – these were pre baggie days – and the van heated well. Why not drive back...we were heading down Interstate 71, back toward Columbus, smoking, listening to music and having a good time, we were about halfway, maybe near Mansfield. Pat was driving, Gary was at the front passenger window. I sat on top of the motor, in the middle of the front of Pat's old 66 Econoline.
Boyd and Colleen were in the back, sitting on top of musical amplifiers as if they were seats. Suddenly the van started to swerve, and there was nothing Pat could do to keep control. What had appeared to be clear blacktop roadway was, in fact, covered by a glass like coating of sheer ice. I remember the van fishtailing back and forth, once, twice, and then going into a full spin on the ice. Broadside, the van struck an embankment of snow, the van flipped, and began rolling down a hill. From my position on top of the motor, I was in the center of the centrifugal force. As the van continued to roll down the hill, the force threw me outward toward Gary. I tried placing my arms on the ceiling, but the force was too strong. As if in suspended animation I watched my eyeglasses leave my face and float through space. I also realized that I was about to die. I was about to die in a car crash, and I thought that this was it. The side doors on the van had ruptured. On the third or fourth roll, Colleen and Boyd were ejected. The front windshield shattered and popped out. Just as suddenly the rolling stopped.
Somehow, and to me it seemed like within seconds, a pair of guys were there. Fearing an explosion, they dragged us each from the van. These strangers risked their lives to save us, and it was an effort that I have never forgotten. Miraculously, although injured, beaten and bruised, we each survived, even Boyd and Colleen whom the van had apparently bounced over. Gary was wise enough to immediately ditch his pot long before the cops arrived. There were amplifiers, guitars, microphones and related equipment strewn on the snowy hillside. I cast a final glance at the now peaceful scene as they loaded us into the ambulances, a scene where I had almost lost my life.