I've written about some of those experiences here so I won't go into them now but suffice to say I learned things about guitar playing and performance (and personality qualities and detriments) that it took me years to appreciate. It was a magical time in the history of American music, one that would impossible to duplicate today.
Meanwhile I was doing more performing by myself and with others. Quite a few local churches ran "coffee houses" in their basements, which were a great way to learn how to perform and try out the songs I'd been learning, in front of an audience. In my hometown of Mystic, Connecticut we also had a small concert club/coffee house/hang-out called The River Shack. Run by some honest-to-God hippies (not the wannabes like my friends and I!) it was located on the docks in downtown Mystic in a funky old fishermens' shack, now long gone and replaced by multi million dollar condos.
We thought it was just about the coolest place in our little world. I played on the small stage a couple times but learned for the first time that maybe, just maybe wanting something wasn't always enough. To put it honestly, I just wasn't good enough and the hippies who ran the place were kind enough to us until it came time to actually get on stage when they hoped to get a paying audience. That one hurt, I have to say. But it also pissed me off enough to practice even harder.
One of the performers who frequented the stage was a guy named Randy Burns, with his Sky Dog Band, from New Haven. The first time I heard him I knew he had "it." Tall, thin, long brown hair and beard with striking features and one of those high country/folk voices that was guaranteed to make the hippie girls and hippie girl wannabes in attendance almost swoon. Was I jealous?! (!!!)
Randy went on a year or so later to get a contract with Mercury Records, at the time one of the big national companies. But then something happened.
The River Shack had closed, for what reason I'll never know, but someone organized a concert by Randy in the auditorium at the local Catholic church. I was so looking forward to it! But when the day came and Randy took the stage everyone could sense something was not quite right. He swayed slightly as he approached the microphone, and mumbled a few words, then tried to tune his guitar. And tried, And tried. And it got worse and worse. Finally, he muttered a few words that most likely had NEVER been heard in that church before and staggered off the stage, not to return. We were stunned.
Some months later I heard from a musician friend that he was losing the battle with the bottle and had all but been thrown off stage after stage and told never to return. In recent years I've learned that Randy did recover and has made himself a nice little music career in the New Haven area, where he still has fans.
This incident was first (but sadly, not the last) time I saw up close how damaging alcohol and later, drugs could be to someone with everything going, musically speaking. A hard lesson and one that I've never forgotten.
Part 4 tomorrow.
Peace & good music,