Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sounds of my Youth

With no appreciation for how I got here right this moment, I have been sitting at my computer surfing, commenting, burning CDs and generally taking this whole computer era for granted.

And then I stumbled upon a recently ripped and saved CD "Mother Ship". A compilation of what some audiophiles consider the best and greatest of Led Zeppelin from back in the glory days of Rock. 24 songs that wrap up and define just what Led Zepplin was all about. IMO, it misses the mark. Their albums should be played from one end to the other. But that's just me I guess.

I immediately began to dwell on how I fell under their spell. An album bought from the back of a local record distribution van while the driver was re-stocking the 8-track rack in the store and gas station I pumped gas at. Filled folks cars with 29 cents a gallon gas for $2 bucks an hour at the pimply faced age of 17 in 1969.

I liked the cover. So I bought it. $3.00. Brand new. Pure undamaged virgin vinyl. I had no idea of what to expect. Only that the record guy said to play it loud.

And loud I played it. Blew out those puny bookshelf Radio Shack speakers after Dad gave me one of his old amps and I hooked them up. Had to use headphones for a few months until I could scrimp and save enough scratch to buy some used Dynaco speakers. That's when I really learned what loud music could do to the hair on the back of my neck.

I smiled as I strolled through this scrap of my past. The nasty words shouted up to my room to "turn that damn crap down. Now! Not in a minute or when the bleepin song is over, but right now!" And then not a week later I convinced my father to listen on headphones, Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown" so he could finally get on the stereo bandwagon. The long hair classical music he favored had not embraced the "stereo" revolution as quickly as had RocknRoll. He hated the tune, but the next amp he built had 2 channels and 400 watts per channel of screamin power. He finally understood. Mono drooled, Stereo ruled.

My connection to Led Zeppelin might have stopped there. A dedicated fan who could not wait until a new album came out or they came over to tour. They would have been relegated to the pile of rock groups I supported through my purchase of music and tickets to concerts.

And then I became a truck driver. I had no clue how this would ultimately begin a relationship with them that affected the rest of my life. But it certainly did.

Another driver I knew and worked under as his helper had gone to work driving for a sound and light company out of Dallas, Texas. Showco was their name. I ran into him at some truck stop in North Carolina a year or so later. He was driving this fine looking brand new White Freightliner cab-over in front of a sweet Matlock drop frame furniture trailer with air ride suspension. The whole rig was all white with circus type logo "SHOWCO" on the doors of the cab. And underneath in black bold letters - "Not for Hire".

Ron was definitely cool. And he knew it. I knew it too. We sat down in the trucker's lounge and shared a meal and later back at his truck, a toke. He seemed suprised I had moved up to driving. I told him his departure from Advance Moving and Storage opened the door for me to step up. And as much as I missed our time together moving folks and their shit, I was glad he was gone. I was making some serious jingle now.

He told me he was on McCartney's "Wings Across America" tour and that he was the lead driver in a convoy of 10 trucks. He was headed to Atlanta I think. As he was well aware of what I was doing having just left the same business a year and a half previous, I basically just sat mute and listened. Those tales of drugs, sex, and Rock n Roll were all true he assured me. It was crazier than even he could have imagined. I remember being enthralled and in awe of this man. He was living my dream. Or at least living the dream I had after we parted ways.

The rest of the summer of '76 rolled by. I beat the highways up and down the East coast hauling people's furniture from one home to their next home. Sometime in late September, I came back from a run and my room mate informed me I had to get in contact with Ron ASAP. The message was a week old. So I called Ron. Could I be a plane in a day or two? Showco needed some more drivers. Specifically for the upcoming WHO tour. The trucks had to have two drivers each. They wanted no problems getting to the widely spaced gigs across the continent and Canada in the short 3 week period of the tour run.

I had stopped listening or only heard key words. Could I be on a plane? The Who? 3 week tour? I sat stupid and silent. Ron had to ask me if I was still there. I remember mumbling something about giving notice and it might take me a week to get it together. He wouldn't hear it. I had to be on my way to Dallas in 2 days tops. Or forget it. I remember I had enough sense to ask if this was just a temp job or what. He assured me that I would live to tour again if I could handle it. He was their number #1 driver. He had control over who stayed and who didn't.

I quit my job that day and was on a plane the next day.  In less than 48 hours I was on my way to LA as Ron's co-driver with the necessary sound equipment to bring the WHO's sound to thousands of crazed, drugged and drunk rock fans. And I was doing it in the nicest tractor I had ever sat in.

The next 2 plus years went by in a blur. I started out full of piss and vingar and finally burned out in the winter of 78/79. Ron had been right. Absolutely the craziest lifestyle I would ever experience.

I suffered and survived ELO's breakneck paced 75 show tour in 90 days. I relaxed on Led Zeppelin's more leisurely jaunt across the country. Genesis, Black Sabbath, The Kinks, Nazareth, David Bowie,..... Damn, I can't remember all the groups I drove for. It was basically a 2 year job without weekends off. Always another stadium, hall, arena, old theater at the end of each run. I lived out of a suitcase and collected hundreds of hotel keys. I witnessed my father and mother breaking bread with David Bowie backstage at the Old Garden in Boston. I watched a guy die of an overdose in front of me out behind Oakland Stadium. I had been tabbed by some Grateful Dead ligger and the experience still hangs in my mind as one of the all time oddest experiences I had while tripping.

With the average life expectancy of a Showco driver being 6 months, my 2 years moved me up the ladder very quickly. At one point, I had number 2 seniority but lost it when I briefly quit for a couple of weeks because I thought I had fallen in Love. That was the only 2 weeks I really had off in 2 years.

It was the week in the Oakland County Michigan lock up on cocaine possession charges that finally woke me up. But then I had always been one to need rude awakenings to shift gears and move in new directions. I gave up Coke. I gave up Jack Daniels. And I gave up Showco. Moved back to Baltimore and then Maine and here I sit, a survivor.

But I carry with me memories that will never fade. Memories unsullied by inebriation or chemical alteration. Standing next to 20 foot stacks of speakers, gazing out at 60,000 wild eyed music lovers. Backing up the spiral drive into the belly of Madison Square garden. Watching helplessly as unhappy Pittsburgh fans pummel my truck with empty bottles and rocks. Damn I learned to hate Pittsburgh. St Louis was not far behind.

My time at Showco was something I did. Time spent in the pursuit of a good time in whatever time I had available. I lived on the edge and pushed limits. I will never forget this dream I lived, sometimes hated but was never bored with.


Carlita said...

This is an amazing story. So fun to read.

A Midnight Rider said...

Zepplin was a crazy group. And they could really play the blues too. Still can.

I gave up Jack Daniels and coke too. Now I drink it on the rocks.8>)

MRMacrum said...

a midnoght rider - Say what you want to about Jimy Page and his inability to stay lucid, when he was, no one was better.

The 3 show gig at Madison Square Garden was absolutely the best I ever saw them perform. Jimy was awake, Robert's voice was right on, and Bonham's eyes did not seem as crazed as usual. The boys focused and took the top off the Garden.

Apertome said...

Great stories ... thanks for sharing. The closest I ever got to experiences like those was as a photographer for a campus newspaper at Northwestern University. I photographed concerts and a few times got to interview some of the musicians.

Nine Inch Nails, Incubus, Slipknot, Machine Head, Dream Theater, A Perfect Circle, Biohazard, Deftones and I'm sure a few others. Great times. Not as crazy as the things you witnessed, but fun nonetheless.