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Sometimes funny stuff didn't happen around The Sons. But that was not the usual case. Usually everything around The Sons was funny. Funnier than most things even.
I have only missed five shows since I started with The Sons in 1968. The first was in late 1968 or early 1969.
I had seen Bill Graham on a few occasions, but I had never been formally introduced, and it seems pretty likely that he had no idea who I was. The band got a Fillmore West gig, with Ike and Tina Turner and Albert King. It was a pretty good bill, and we were the bottom of it. But everyone around the band wanted to go to the show, and the guest list was too hot for anyone to handle. We were allowed ten names, but there were about fifty people who wanted to go with us, just counting immediate family, girlfriends and roommates.
The guest list drifted down the food chain until it got to me. None of the players wanted it, the manager didn't want it, so he gave it to the secretary, who gave it to the roadie. This was not the usual procedure. As far as I know, it was the only time I had been asked to handle the list. It was that radioactive.
There was no one I could ask to deal with it, so I did what I could. I pared it down to only 25 names. That was still 15 more than we were going to get away with, so I added a little note at the bottom to help persuade Mr. Graham to give us a little slack. I pointed out that he was going to make a lot of money from his sold-out show, and he should be generous. At the time, I was not really aware of how Mr. Graham perceived advice from the roadie for the third-billed band.
I took the equipment over early in the afternoon, set it up, and went home to clean up and to roll 20 or so joints for the back room at the Fillmore West. I picked up a few of the people on the guest list in the equipment truck, and went to the gig.
As I approached the top of the stairs with my friends, I saw someone finger me, and Bill Graham stepped into the doorway personally to block our way. He had the guest list in his hand.
"Did you write this?" he asked everyone in the City and County of San Francisco, but he was looking at me. I had the distinct impression that he wanted to hurt me. More correctly, that he had the authority to ask any of several large fellows in his employ and close at hand to hurt me.
I allowed as maybe I might have written it. Mr. Graham then displayed a remarkable command of profanity as he explained a few things to me and the rest of the population of California. He finished his three-minute soliloquy by dramatically tearing the list up, informing me that not only was NO ONE on the list getting in, I wasn't either.
So we all drove back to my place in San Rafael with the entire evening's party supplies, and had our own party while the band played. Fortunately, this was the first night of a two night show, and I was allowed back in to collect the gear the next night. No one ever bothered me with the guest list again, so perhaps it was worth it.
From then on over the years, Mr. Graham was well aware of me whenever the Sons played for him, and he treated the episode as a private joke, always greeting me personally. It was never mentioned again.
The (only mildly amusing) bike story:
In early 1972 Bill was living in Forestville, which is about an hour's drive north of Marin County where the rest of the band lived. Thinking he might want to get healthy (at the time a longshot), he asked me to find him a bike.
I found one and he bought it, and one day he mentioned to me that he needed some adjustments. No problem, but I'm not coming to your house. Bring it to the gig in Davis.
He brought it in his car, and I had my bike in the truck also. We were using a rented truck because we were in the process of ordering our big truck, the one I owned until 1997.
Between sets I went out and looked at his bike in the back of the truck, which was parked in the alley behind the dive we were working in. Davis, California is considered one the the best towns for cycling in the U.S. With a large university there and level terrain, most traffic is on bikes, and the bikes-per-capita ratio is the highest in the country. Accordingly, the bike theft rate is high also.
I whipped open the back roll-up door of the rental truck, and a pair of headlights lit up the truck, me, and the two bikes. It was a police car, and I suddenly got the picture of what is going through the officers' heads: hippie guy, rental truck, back alley, late at night, a couple of expensive bikes, and I don't have any way of proving my relationship with either of them.
As you may imagine, they asked a few pointed questions, and the only thing I could think to tell them was that there was a guy in there, the singer in the band, who could tell them who I was and whose bikes they were. I just knew how thrilled Bill was going to be when I brought a couple of cops into the dressing room asking for him.
There were no serious repercussions from the incident, and I don't remember how I approached Bill. I just remember Bill telling the cops that I worked for him and the green bike was his. And I remember opening that truck door, seeing the cops, and thinking, "Oh, shit."
Bill gave up cycling after attempting for a couple of months. The reason he gave was that he was riding with his son Brad, and Brad got knocked off his bike by a car. Forestville is in a narrow river valley, and there is only one road, which carries plenty of traffic in the summer since it is a resort area. Freaked out by Brad's accident, Bill realized that every bike ride was going to be in this traffic, and he quit.
Here are a couple of stories concerning Mark Isham..
Shortly after Isham and Andreas joined the band in 1973, we were all in a hotel, who knows where, before some gig, who knows where. I was whooping it up with a few of the boys, and we had ordered a little room service, when the phone rang. Somebody answered, spoke, hung up. "It's Bill," he reported. "He's on his way over."
A couple of minutes passed, and there was a knock. Jim Preston and I mooned the door, while someone else answered it. Instead of Bill's distinctive laugh, we heard female sounds of surprise. Oops. It was Isham and Andreas, with wife and girlfriend respectively, here to introduce the ladies to the other members of the group. But of course, Jim and I had already introduced ourselves. Another knock, and instead of Bill, it was room service. We laughed about what he would have thought if he had knocked first.
We were in a hotel in Laramie after one of the dates on the Three Dog Night tour. The gig had finished relatively early, and both bands had retired to the lounge of the hotel. Laramie isn't a fancy town, and the nicest place in it was the Holiday Inn, a couple of notches below the type of place where the Three Dogs usually stayed.
Typically in a town like Laramie, the night life is in the Holiday Inn lounge, since it's one place where there is always a band. The band is always a Top-40 group doing Muzak versions of everybody's big hits, and perhaps dreaming of the day when they'll be paid to play their own music.
The bar filled up fast as both bands and a cloud of people following them came in. It didn't take long before someone asked the lounge band if they could jam a little on the stage. The lounge band knew who was watching them, and they were happy to donate their equipment. A jam started, and right away it was a few levels above Holiday Inn lounge band music. There were a bunch of grizzled cowboy types in the bar who didn't have any idea who these guys were, but they knew they were GOOD. The jam went until closing time, and by that time I had been in bed for a while in a room I shared with the other roadie, Howie Hammerman.
This hotel was hosting what was turning out to be the party of the century in Laramie. When the bar closed, drunken college students started carousing from one end of the building to the other, and it was interfering with our sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night there was a knock on our door. Howie, who had one of the worst tempers in the band, answered it, and found a drunken girl holding all the newspapers out of the rack near the front door.
"Hi. Do you want a paper?"
Howie swore and slammed the door.
A short while later, someone just outside our door started making a tremendous racket. Howie got up and filled the wastebasket with water, opened the door, and let the nearest person have it. As he came back to his bed, he said, "You'll never believe this. It was Isham."
I agreed that it was most out of character for Mark to be carousing at 3:00 a.m., and went to sleep. The next morning we got the rest of the story.
At the same time we were being disturbed, Mark and Mike Andreas, who shared the room next to ours, were likewise disturbed. Finally Mark got up and walked out in the hall in his underwear to confront the partiers. He stepped out the door, and seconds later Mike saw him step back in, completely soaked.
"What happened?" asked Mike.
"You'll never believe this. It was Howie. He didn't say anything, he just hit me with a wastebasket full of water."
Mike Andreas does not escape anecdotal surgery. The best practical joke ever played in the band was on him.
The road crew had an all night drive coming up, which meant that we would be leaving our hotel room right after the show. Mike was trying to pick up a girl in the bar, and he wanted our room after we left: otherwise he had to share a room with Mark, and that could be -- inhibiting.
We said yeah, just let us take showers, and then you can have it.
Allow me to digress for a moment. Our equipment truck was where the road crew spent a lot of their hours, and we had it set up as comfortably as we could for the long (up to 3000 miles) drives. We had a sleeper, and the sleeper had a mattress with sheets. The sheets came from a Holiday Inn; it said so right on them. Whenever they got really dirty with spilled coffee, food, boot prints and even more disgusting stains, we traded them in at whichever Holiday Inn we were staying in. We would just drop our old sheets in the maid's cart, and select a clean set of sheets from the pile on the cart.
Howie had brought his Seattle girlfriend along, and she was going to ride with us to the Bay Area. She had worked at one time as a hotel maid, and we asked her if she could make a bed perfectly for us. Sure.
We got the funky sheets out of the truck, and as I recall (and as the legend grows in my mind) they were VERY funky. Lesa made one of the beds perfectly with those sheets, and we put the clean ones in the truck. Then we messed up the other bed and spilled an ashtray on it, and made it look like second choice for anyone sleeping there that night.
On the way out, we tossed Mike the keys, and as it turned out, he and his lady friend used our room that night. It was dark as I understand it, and they spent the night in the funky bed. Mike crawled out to take a shower in the morning, and when he came out of the bathroom, the bed was torn open to reveal the muddy sheets, and the girl was gone.
Is this funny? Maybe you had to be there.
What about the time Terry streaked the stage in Pocatello?
We were touring with Three Dog Night, opening shows for their major production of an act. They weren't exactly our kind of people, so we didn't socialize that much with them, even though we saw the same people every night. The band that backed up Three Dog Night was a typical stadium-rock group, big amps, big drums, and a huge keyboard array. They had lots of production values, with lights and costume changes and their set list all coordinated, quite a contrast to the jeans-and-t-shirt Sons.
Because our gear was relatively simple compared to the headliners, and because we did the same drill every night, we usually had our gear packed up before they played. When we could, we left the venue right then, but on this occasion the show was in a domed stadium, and the truck was inside, trapped until the show was over.
The road crew and the band ended up hanging around the dressing room while Three Dog Night took the stage. Talk turned to the recent phenomenon of "streaking". Terry said that for $100 dollars, he would streak the stage tonight. Easy to say, and suddenly there was $150 on a table, and everyone is looking at Terry.
We made a plan, using the truck parked behind the stage as the start and finish. Three Dog Night left the stage for a costume change while the keyboard player, dressed as Spiderman, took an extended solo. I took up a position in the sound booth, which had an unobstructed view of the stage. Solo over, lights come up, three singers step up to their microphones in new costumes, and a naked man walks across the stage behind them, waving the peace sign with both hands.
The crowd erupted, pointing at the stage. The singers had expected applause, but this was all out of proportion to what they had done. The didn't realize that the real action was ten feet behind them, and they never turned around. Terry walked right past a stunned roadie, left the stage and slipped into our truck, and got dressed before the security people surrounded the stage. They were looking all around, while Terry climbed out of the truck, now dressed, and asked them what was going on.
By the time I got to the area from my vantage point, it was crowded with security, all confused, because the guy just seemed to have disappeared. The truck was the only obvious place for him to have gone, but no one in the area admitted to knowing who had the keys.
Three Dog Night, when they heard of the enormity of the plot and the fact that they were the butt of a big one, were NOT amused. In all, the event did not improve our standing with them, but as far as I am concerned, it was well worth it. I'd much rather tell the story than hang out with Three Dog Night.
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