TRUCKIN' WITH THE SONS
Bill's Econoline blew up early in 1969. It had been knocking really bad for a few days, because it had run low on oil. The motor was under a cowling that was in the middle of the cab. It wasn't meant to be the pasenger seat, but it was for whoever lost the toss, if there were three in the vehicle. A long trip was torture for the loser, because that sucker got hot.
Whenever there wasn't a passenger in the truck, we had coats, food, whatever else you might find in a truck that we just about lived in, stacked on the motor cover. The amplifiers and instruments were jammed up against the back of the cover. Checking the oil was a bitch, so we never did it, and with a truck as beat up as that one it may have been a good idea to monitor oil usage. Somehow, the truck had never let us completely down. The time when the fanbelt broke, we had enough momentum to coast into a gas station in Pismo Beach. The time when it got this big bubble in the front tire, Tooth had punctured the bubble with his pocketknife, and since the tire still seemed to hold air, we drove it 200 miles up the coast to Eureka and back. Despite bald tires, we never crashed it, and the time we got cited for the headlight being burned out we were right by a gas station outside Atascadero, and besides, that was where we met the guy from Chicken Little's Cosmic Farm and found out that King Kong died for our sins.
I drove that truck when I shouldn't have, in amazing weather conditions, in advanced states of fatigue, and if I had needed to stop it quickly for any reason we probably would have died, but I didn't and we didn't.
Of course, it was so dangerous to drive that we may have been trying subconsciously to get it off the road. We took it on that last trip to Sacramento, and it made so much noise that it was an open question whether we would get there. Loading out of the club, I remember the security clown looking at the pile of equipment next to the truck and laughing. "No way that all goes in there."
Of course we got it all in, then we went to a gas station and filled the crankcase with straight STP. It kept the noise down enough so we could talk over it. We had to choose between a slightly shorter route on a more deserted road, or the freeway and a little longer drive. Freeway it was, and it looked like we were going to make it. Tooth nursed the throttle, trying to maintain decent speed, without stressing what was left of the engine.
Just as we took the last bit of freeway into San Rafael, one mile to go, he got excited and stepped on it. Big mistake. We scattered the motor and a lot of lubricant along a hundred yards of Highway 17, and had to get it towed to my house.
Our good relationship with Quicksilver manager Ron Polte got us through the truckless era. We didn't have the kind of money it took to get a new truck, and our credit was... Our credit was... Credit?
Quicksilver had a new truck, and Ron lent us their old truck, a Dodge van much heavier-duty than the old Econoline. One of my first acts was to rear-end a car on the way to a gig, and later I backed it into another car in a parking lot. I was not endearing myself to Ron or Fred Roth.
When Quicksilver was recording, we got the use of their new truck, an aluminum stepvan of the UPS style. It was noisy, cold, uncomfortable truck, but fortunately we only used it in the summer.
Then Tooth quit. It was hard for me to believe that he felt there were better personal opportunities for him in traveling to India, but that's where he and his girlfriend wanted to go, and he could hardly keep the job and go there.
We needed a roadie AND a truck, and we needed them pretty quick. Gary Jackson got the nod. He was a career roadie, who had worked most recently for the Ace of Cups. This Sons of Champlin family shit wasn't his thing, but he could drive forever, and he was a really big guy who had no trouble picking up his end of the organ. He even owned a set of organ dollies, an amazing luxury. He wanted a real salary, none of this communal business, and he cost the band a lot more than I did.
Gary and I did one long drive together, a sweep of the Northwest, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake and Boulder. We used a rental truck; actually we used one UP, and checked it in at Salt Lake City for another one. A little problem with the brakes caused by driving some distance with the parking brake on.
Outside of California it was more obvious that we had chosen to present ourselves a little differently from middle America. Driving through the hills outside Salt Lake City, Gary and I stopped at a pizza place. At the time both of us affected fringed leather jackets, with looong fringes, a foot or more off each arm and the back and front. Long hair, and I'm big, and Gary's much bigger at six-five and 240. When we went into the pizza place, the girl who took our order spoke for the first time to authentic, California hippies. She was so terrified she could hardly finish the transaction.
We made an appearance on a local Salt Lake dance show. The host played Credence's newest hit, "Commotion," then he introduced the Sons of Champlin and played one of their tunes off the second album, probably "It's Time." I allowed myself to get on camera dancing, fringes on my jacket flying, and the guys gave me such a hard time about it that I never again gave them the opportunity.
The night the astronauts walked on the moon, we were doing a gig in an old structure outside Salt Lake. The place had been part of a mine at one time, and was a big stone building, built like a castle. It was far enough into the boonies that the neighbors didn't mind loud rock 'n' roll gigs. Well, most of them didn't. During Bill Bowen's drum solo, something was tossed in through an open window. I saw it; it looked like a smoke grenade of the sort we had used in the Army for assisting aerial spotters. Actually, a marker smoke grenade has orange smoke, and this was whitish. I went to grab it and throw it back outside, and that's how I found out that it was tear gas. I got a generous dose and lost interest in rock and roll for the next twenty minutes.
The gas cleared the people out of the building, and while the crowd milled outside, a crew from a nearby firehouse came with a big fan and blew the gas out of the building. Before the gas was completely gone, Bowen went back inside and started playing his drums again while the crowd filed back in.
The Boulder gig was the best on that trip. It was in the football stadium at the University of Colorado, and the bill was the Sons, The Byrds, Steve Miller and Buddy Guy. Buddy Guy did the best stunt I ever saw a bluesman do.
He had a long cord on his guitar, at least a hundred feet. During his last extended number he played some hot licks, then jumped off the front of the stage, which was set in the end zone of the football field. The crowd was in the stands, his band was comping like crazy, and Buddy had acres of grass to strut and play the blues on. He struggled against an imaginary wind, blasting off another hot lick every time he took a step forward. About fifty feet in front of the stage, someone had set up a tall painter's ladder, and Buddy struggled forward until he stood at the bottom of it. The crowd was going apeshit, and Buddy stepped up on the first rung, and played a few licks. He looked up and climbed another and stopped for more licks. Finally he was eight or nine feet off the ground, with the top of the ladder still a couple of feet above his head. The ladder was getting shaky, and Buddy acted scared. He struggled up another step and had to stop and play a lot of blues while he cogitated what to do next.
He could climb no higher, but he was not at the top. He took off his guitar and laid it on the top of the ladder, standing below it and holding the neck with one hand stretched above him. Now he took a white handkerchief out of a breast pocket and flourished it for a second to make sure everyone saw it. He wiped the sweat off his brow, then he reached up and started whipping the strings with the white cloth, playing the riff from "Sunshine of Your Love."
Who cares what he did after that? I don't remember, and no one would have heard it over the noise of that crowd.
Gary stayed with us until the fall of 1969, but the two month tour was coming up. On longer trips where we needed to haul a P.A., we had used rental trucks, but this would be seven or eight thousand miles, a bit prohibitive for a rental. Gary didn't want to spend two months on the road with a bunch of guys he regarded as marginally sane, and he eased out of the picture. Hog Steve was in.
Hog wasn't a roadie, he was a musician, a guitar player and friend of the band since he had hosted us at what was left of the Hog Farm above Van Nuys in 1968. He had moved to Marin, and was one of the few people around the band whose disposition, physical ability and family status would let him take off on a two-month mission.
Bruce Walford was the sound man, and with an assist from his friend Paul Stubblebine he had been doing all the P.A. stuff when we needed it. He had helped Fred Roth, who knew nothing about sound systems, buy something that would work. Bruce and Paul assembled it and ran it.
We didn't have the room for Bruce to go on the trip, and since we needed someone to answer the phone at the office, Julie had to stay home also.
Bruce and Paul built a case for the P.A. system that kept it as simple as possible. All the amps and mixers were in the case, which was on wheels. All we had to do was plug it in, set up our two monitors and our two main speakers, and we could have as many as eight inputs.
The mains were two Altec A-7 bass horns, with ten-cell high frequency horns on top. The monitors were a pair of Altec studio monitors. The whole thing was powered by a pair of 80-watt Altec amps, and we mixed through several Bogen mixers. All the cables stored neatly in the case with the amps and mixers. It was unbelievably crude by any modern standard, but in a world where most union sound crews outside San Francisco, New York or L.A. had never done a real rock show, it was better than what you could rent in a city such as Milwaukee. There was no way for the band to be killer loud with it, but it served its purpose for several years.