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Q & A
Q. On Little Richard's passing: "...I wondered what your thoughts might be about him. Colorful? Yes. Charismatic? Yep - if not bizarre. Just seeking first hand memories. If I'm the first to deliver the news, I'm both sorry & honored at the same time. For sure, he's "havin' some fun tonight."
A. There were at least 3 shows I did with Little Richard on the bill, but understand I did not ever play with him onstage. He always fielded his own band. There was one time when their bass player was sick, and Richard wanted to know if I would play bass for him. Hell, yes, I said (of course!), and was a little nervous at the prospect. The music itself was no problem, but Richard’s show antics were demanding, and I knew I was going to have to watch closely. As it turned out, their bass player managed to soldier on, and I wasn’t called upon. Too bad. Backing up Little Richard would have put me in some sort of league with Jimi Hendrix, (besides the left-handed thing), since he played guitar for Richard early in his gigging career.
Another time at Madison Square Garden, LR & his band had the dressing room immediately across the hall from ours. We were sharing ours with Bo Diddley, which, by itself, was a trip. At one point, Richard knocked on the door and burst in with a huge flourish to say hi to Bo and Bobby C. and shoot the breeze as only he could. Wish I’d had one of my little tape recorders going for that conversation. Richard invited us to his d.r. for some ‘real fine hass-ese’. Bo and entourage went over, but I declined. Rehearsals were only halfway done, and these concerts had me playing bass for almost everybody. I had so much to remember, getting bozo’d on the job was the last thing I needed, and would’ve been my last Rock Revival gig.
Little Richard was fun to be around, but I don’t think I could’ve tolerated any extended personal time with him. Too effing hyper. He was a superb showman, wrote now-classic rock songs, had a vocal style imitated by many who came after him, (Hello, Sir Paul), and watching his performances was a top shelf experience for a 21-year old hired gun bass player.
Ultimately, he had a lotta guts for being like he was, and doing what he did when he did it.
Q. "Something happened to me like with Gman, (‘80s?).” [See Q&A from Gman below.] “Chuck Berry was playing at our community college. Near the end of the show, he invited us with our dates to dance on the stage, and then was p.o.’d when we did. Was he weird like that? Also: why did he hit ‘some guy’?” TomCAT2
A. The man cut his own swath to success in a racially segregated society, so he was only as weird as that makes you. Truth is he probably wanted your dates to dance, not you! And as for that ‘some guy’, he was stupid enough to try to grab Chuck’s red 345 Gibson. Bad move, Bozo; you earned what you got. Thanks for writing, TC, and here's more about playing with the father of R&R:
Chuck hated it if the bassist tried to play along with his well-known and often-imitated guitar lick. This was not an ego thing, it was a musical thing. All the older guys in the band had warned me about this beforehand. But at one point onstage during my very first Oldies Show (in Erie PA, 1973), I accidently reverted to my Comstock-gig bass phrasing and treaded on Mr. Berry’s sacred ground. Oops. Seeing as how I was the new kid, and Chuck didn’t know me, he stopped singing, turned around and, pushing the red Gibson mouse ears at me in a painfully obvious manner, played a thumpy quarter-note thing on his low E string. This was Chuck’s subtle way, onstage and in front of everybody, of telling me what he wanted the bass to do – or not to do. I quickly nodded to him and complied. But there was no way I was gonna play THAT piddly shit all night. So as we played out the concert to a big finish and one encore, I tried a few different things on bass but stayed off his riff, making sure I always played around it.
So it was Professor Berry's intent to tell me what to play. Understandable. He’s the star, the headliner, and you’d expect that would've been the end of it. But with me and my bass, it was a musical thing and an ego thing. There was a better bass line for this Chuck Berry music I had grown up with. I just had to find it. (“He don’t know me very well, do he?” – BUGS BUNNY)
At the next concert, Mr. Berry came on, we got in the playing groove, and before the night was over he would give my 11-minute instrumental “Drivin’ Johnny B.” its title. After my 'Erie Experience', I was determined to come up with a bass figure that was OK with Chuck but still kicked the electric band up another notch. (This ain’t no doghouse I’m playin’, just ask Leo Fender!) So I began to use a dotted quarter note on the downbeat of 1 and 3 – but would precede each with an eighth note pickup: booDOW, booDOW, booDOW, booDOW. I’d throw in a rest, a hold or a little turnaround phrase at the transitions, and it was a thing of beauty; also, it didn’t need much adjustment if C.B. went off the beam, just a simple, repetitive bass groove that generated a lot of power, especially when used in the bottom end of his songs, played live and LOUD. I had gotten fairly confident with it – Chuck wasn’t complaining – and so I started using it a lot. Wow, the whole joint, 5000-some people, started jumpin’ up and down every time I got on this hypnotic figure, which (rhythmically) is just two notes of the Chuck Berry riff with all the other notes removed. And because of that, it laid right in there. Chuck could hear – and see – that it was working LARGE with the audience. What a perceptive man. Near the end, of course, he does his biggie Johnny B. Goode. He sang a few verses and then nodded to our guitar player to take a lead. While we continued to roll through the chord progression, he walks over to me, leans in real close and says, “Man, I love the way you play that bass!” I’ve played with a lot of people and don’t get starstruck - but I was pretty damn surprised and nearly speechless. This wasn’t some late night jam at the Salty Dog – we were onstage playing a concert in the Big Apple. He’s a rock music legend, and I’m the hired-gun bassist du joir.
“That’s a drivin’ thing!” he exclaimed, his eyes flashing like two big campfires. “You drive me, man, you drive me!” Then he wheeled around, did the sidestep slide up to the mic, and hit the vocal for the next verse el perfecto. What a guy. Hence, my instrumental song title, (written years later): “Drivin’ Johnny B.”
This was rock-and-roll school, the real deal. Bob Comstock was the day-to-day instructor. To get a passing grade from the respected old professor, you had to watch and listen closely. You were wingin’ it from measure to measure. Any move Chuck made was a potential cue – and let’s face it, the guy had some moves, ya know? We had to be ready to adjust for something unexpected. Even when he dropped beats or whole measures (which he did sometimes), we’d cover it. (How can Chuck Berry be wrong playing a Chuck Berry song?) The audience never heard anything that sounded like a goof-up. Actually, we got so good at it that he started playing a game with us some nights, trying to lose us or screw us up by switching songs or throwing out crazy unannounced key changes and the like. It was great! The young hired gun was too quick on the draw, but he sure did try! Now THAT was fun!
Q. "OK, Steve, here’s my 'review' - with questions. I wondered about Frackin’ Hoedown that showed up on [a country playlist], so I found you. Listened to your other material, but it was so different and I didn’t appreciate that at all. But when I realized the same band who did Hoedown also did Postwar Jump – and Crossing Across – and then March No More, which is so funky, it's really sort of amazing. And that Pennsy Blues thing – WTF is that? The differences are entertaining," [italics mine], "even though I'm not crazy about some of them. You guys are not boring, so I watch for your next release. Send free album, etc. to [address]; thanks! QUESTION: I am a vintage audiophile. When are these coming out on CD (which sounds way better than crappy mp3)? How about vinyl? [signed], M2gawn"
A. Interesting review, Em Two; the 2010 FGB album, first day poster & etc. on the way. I may collect all of the digital singles to a CD later in the year, but have multiple new releases (to include) before that happens. Our audience is currently too small to justify a vinyl pressing. Thanks for listening and for your comments. God, the Grand Piano and The Steward all love such an audiophile, and so with my best/worst over-size goofy plaid Spike Jones jacket on, I repeat his immortal words, "Thank you, music lovers."
To Steve at Steards Electric [sic] Q. “Your the frackin songs guy. You [have been] promising more country stuff with Chubbie Pickens playin.” [Bona fide character and consortium member the Chubbie Mr. P. is our resident banjo man since 2017.] "So where is it?" [signed] Smokin Jay
A. It’s runnin’ late, plain and simple. Everything is. Ye olde recording machines are finally giving up. Actually, it's the obsolete tape itself, not manufactured with a usable life of 30+ years. Go figure, huh? So we’re taking the opportunity to cross over to the latest stuff. Gonna be a little while, but I’m glad yer here bustin’ my bleedin' chops, maybe get me to move my tail faster - if that's possible. PROMISE: I’ll send ya a personal email when "Daver’s Maple Steamin’ Ragg" comes out. Yer pal Chubbie is playing on it. So go smoke a jay, pardner.
Q. "Mr. Steward, Your “March No More” piece has special meaning to me, and probably to other vets as well. Could you tell me more of the background of it? Respects, Lt. A. I. Means, ret.”
A. It was aimed at the many dedicated members of the armed forces (and other protective, science and service organizations) whose time of service has ended. Of these, some found that despite their best intentions, their contributions were misappropriated, the truth misrepresented or swept under the rug - and are disappointed, even disillusioned. Take Ike, (U. S. President Eisenhower), who witnessed the signing of WWII surrender papers in 1945, only to be forced to sign a so-called ‘agreement’, (more like our own surrender), 9 years later in 1954. Unimaginable, yet it happened. The very real 'Washington UFO Flap' in July of ’52 may have been a warning: ‘we got you covered, so sign’. How about another true American hero, James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy and the first U. S. Secretary of Defense? Like Ike, he wanted people to know the truth about what was happening, and what he got for his love of true democracy was also unimaginable – but it happened. He deserved way better, and an honorable legacy. Lots more heroes like these, some American, some not, and not all famous. Maybe you’re one. [More dedications listed in SONG INFO.] Personally, I’d like to know what the song means to you, Lt. Means. Thank you for writing, Sir.
SENT in reference to the song Crossing Across: “Whoa. Felt this in my chest... The beginning was 'Procol Haram-ish'; then 'Steward-ish' with tinges of E.L.O.; then pure SHS guitar. Not exactly like early Pink Floyd, maybe hints to my fav '70s PF; more toward it leaning that way (as a description of the sound). Then, what comes next, the only way I can describe it, is pure Gale Experience (as in Jimi Hendrix Experience,... as in a musical choreography of Gale's own Experience Crossing). Can't describe it any other way, Bro. Made me smile. Will buy/download this to play in my Jeep.” Diana B., Kenai, Alaska USA A. Wow. Procol Haram? You, Diana, are an accomplished vintage audiophile! Thanks. You guys keep us going.
Q. “I would like to see you guys play in person. Do you have a schedule of dates? (The ‘Crossing…’ piece is excellent.) Thanks. Joi2world” A. Sorry, Joi, we’re not currently doing gigs. Performing live can commandeer one's life, taking energy away from new music ~ and that’s what currently floats this Eclectric boat. Been there, done that, you know, and moved on ~ but I’ll never say never! Thank you for listening, for the appreciative verbage, and be assured any live gigs would be announced here and in the newsletter.
Q. Steve. "Picked up your garage band album at a recent car show where the orange [cover art] truck was on display. A sign said “1979 Dodge Lil Red Express truck heard on track 2”. There was a Lil Red next to it, but that was a ’78 – NOT a ’79! They were for 2 years only, and the front ends are different! So which was used in "Do Ya Wanna Drive?" (Thanks for the CD!) Motorhead Girl"
A. Neither of those – but I commend you, Girl, on your hot rod knowledge. (Loved you in My Cousin Vinney!) "Sunrise" is my own resto-build wearing its original '78-only color 'Sunrise Orange'; the LRE you saw next to it at that Car Pride Show is an original 20K-mile survivor owned by Mopar Mike Jackson. However, the album audio was done with my ’79 Red Express, (still awaiting resto, and not at the show). Recordings of it ‘leaving’ were done on a country road with one microphone at ‘the line’ and another one positioned for the second-gear chirp. Exhaust was straight out headers with nothing aft, NOT from Red Express stacks. It took numerous attempts to get it right and, with the posi rear, I burned the tires off that li'l pooch. (And that is what is meant by "Have some fun…") Also: it had no brakes. None. Thanks fer the cool question.
Q. Akiko writes: "Very fond of cd yours. Wakan is my favorite. I listen over and over. Artwork shows many flying saucers. Are subscribed you to ancient alien theory?"
A. Yes. I’d describe it as ‘directed panspermia – with fringe benefits’. A subscriber? Yes. I was a charter member, seeing The Day the Earth Stood Still at 10, and reading my first Ivan T. Sanderson book at age 14. These days, many (if not most) UFOs seen are likely from one of the secret space programs, not ET's ride. Anyway, I thank you for your words, and I am greatly honored. [The tweaked-up re-release of 'Wakan' came out June 2018. I hope you liked it, Akiko ! ]
Q. "You have a unique website. I could not find you on Facecrack, don't know why - Angela"
A. Thanks for finding to my site. No, you will not currently find me on 'Facecrack' (as you call it) - although the career experts advise otherwise. I set up this Q&A column for personal contact in lieu of. I stay out of the Silicon Valley-generated Grippin Mire whenever possible. It works for some folks. Thanks for your comments, Angela, and please come again.
Q. Riding the wave of the Woodstock 50th, (Aug. 2019), Hollywood voice-over artist Aaron Meza wrote: "Hi Steve, Thanks for sharing about Woodstock. You can reminisce anytime! For myself, like Joni [Mitchell], I must be content with honoring that time in a different way – and I did recently with a wee jam with my buddy Gary. (He was 20 years old and in the army overseas in '69.) We played songs by the performers; it was fun, and we included Joni’s song."
A. Hey, thanks Aaron. Alright, cool on yer jamming. Yeah, got some memories even though I was only there Sat. to Sunday morning, so here are a few: * * * * * Right after finding a place to park(!) and beginning our 10-mile pilgrimage to the stage came the ticket scalper. He obviously had us pegged as newcomers, and immediately went into a sales pitch, offering each of us Sat. $6 tickets for only $2. What a deal! Not yet knowing that they weren’t needed, I bought one. Strange Brew drummer Mike Pleviak refused, and busted me for being a chump, but I still have mine, now framed with some surrounding artwork [see PHOTO/ART GALLERY]. So who’s the chump now, Mike? But major kudos to George Broody and his beautiful bug-eyed '60s Dodge van, the Magic Bus that got us there and back. You and that van made it happen, George! * * * * * Here’s another: It was Sat. afternoon. Strange Brew organist Mark Leach and I had hung close to stage front for awhile, partook and passed a few things, and then went walk about, heading up the hill. Went to a funky makeshift food stand, and even the worker there passed me something. Bought a burger, dressed it with ketchup. Then I heard him tell the next guy, “Sorry, man, we’re outa burgers. Still got a few hotdogs.” “Are ya gonna get more?” that guy asked - while several other interested people were listening. “I dunno, man” he said, looking around, “I think it’s gonna be awhile.” Took a bite of the burger when this amazing drum rhythm started. “What the eff is that?” I said to Leach. Took another bite, then this incredible mesmerizing lead guitar stuff filled the air. I handed the rest of the burger to the guy who didn’t get one. “Cool, thanks, man!” He took a munch and passed it to somebody else. (That was Woodstock.) Everybody stopped what they were doing, looked at the stage and wondered WHO THE EFF IS THAT? It was some band named Santana – and I had just bought the last hamburger at Woodstock. * * * * * And onward: To me, Woodstock in ’69 was NOT about partying, drugs or even music. It was all about people. Hundreds of thousands of people thrown together into a situation they could not have imagined or predicted, a situation that conventional wisdom would mark for disaster, a potential do or die scenario. There were NO fights, rapes, thefts, or examples of violence of any kind. This occurred without a police force. People worked together to make that happen. Everyone there, the attendees, townspeople and local folks, caregivers, grossly outnumbered (!) law enforcement personnel, anyone whose eyes met yours was your friend and part of your family.
THIS is what human beings can do when they want to.
Diana B. from Alaska comments and asks Q. Hey! I saw you with Chuck in Pittsburgh in '73. Chuck was late getting onstage and the crowd was getting antsy. But after he walked onstage the crowd went crazy!!! Chuck looked like he was having a great time. I remember you guys playing great backup and some pretty heavy bass. What brand of bass guitar was that? I've seen pictures and can't quite make it out. Any other memories of that awesome concert would be much appreciated!! That concert is an excellent memory of mine. Thanks for your time answering.
A. The ‘Richard Nader’s Rock & Roll Revival’ concert you recall at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena was probably my 3rd time playing with Mr. Berry; the revitalized four-piece Comstock Band (that added me as the young pup on bass) was only a few months old. [See BANDOGRAPHY on the ABOUT page.] We opened the show with a new version of Bobby’s R&R medley – new packaging for same oldies – but except for playing with CB, I don’t recall any of the other supporting acts, (although I know I was onstage as bassist for most of them). Thanks for the kind words; I was using the ’66 sunburst Fender Precision I’d special-ordered (lefty) through Collins Music in Bloomsburg PA when still a school kid. Spent every cent I could save or find to buy it including my older brother’s Indian head coin collection at face value. Thanks, Gale. [Photo on WHAT'S NEW page] I think the reason Mr. Berry was late to the stage that night was because he added a new stipulation: he insisted on getting paid in greenbacks before going on. With the paid attendance clamoring in their seats and the producer over a barrel, Chuck held his ground until Nader’s people coughed up the cash. Mostly I remember how great that Pittsburgh audience was, and how friendly and music-knowledgeable the people were in general. Thanks for writing!
Q. What the real story with this Hall of Fame stuff? Who are you kidding?" - sent by 'N. Credulous'
A. Everybody, N., everybody, - and, while accurate in some respects, it has all the authenticity of your name! [See the article in What's New. This satirical piece was contributed by a veteran pro in 'the biz'.]
Q. "Wow. Can't believe your site. I searched Headwind. I remember you guys at Cornell, doing CSNY, Dead, Traffic and even Chicago. What happened to that band?" - CL"
A. The short answer is that it passed away in its adolescence. The longer blurb is: When I shuffle off this mortal coil, I'll go still wondering what would have happened if Headwind had stayed together. It was the band we, (Jeff, Aaron and I), had all hoped for as individuals. In '70, seemingly as providence, Jeff Plissner and I were assigned freshman roommates in the old University Hall #4 dorm, and we met and started singing CSN harmony with Aaron Meza at a freshman mixer our first week there. This trio nucleus of Headwind (which had been Ezra) all left CU at the same time a few years later, presumably to make the band fly bigtime, but the effort was immediately derailed by someone's bossy new high school-grad bride commandeering him (and the rest of us?) to the west coast. [I imagine he thought: "Hmm... Let's see now: the band - or a hot-to-trot 18-year old?"] The little pussy won and Headwind lost. Go West, Young Dick. End of story. Jeff and I stayed east, tried to regroup, but the magic was gone. Eventually he went back to school; I floundered for a year through Orion, ABB and King Henry's band until I hooked up with the Ithaca-based Comstock Band in 1973. [See BANDOGRAPHY] Thanks for writing, C.
"The old album song I think you should redo next is Time Is Now. - Misty." OK, thanks. That's a good choice. Like all those album cuts, there were technical issues (with both recording and distribution) that held it back. And I've always wanted a chance to remake that lead guitar work with the plastic Mickey Mousegetar . We'll consider it, and I appreciate your suggestion.
Q. My boyfriend wants to know what’s up with the hand sign on Postwar Jump and also on your Spotify page, etc. - Sandi
A. While some have assumed that it's simply my own modified version of the Vulcan 'Live Long and Prosper' thing, that hand sign has multiple historic derivatives. In more modern times, it is The Sign of The Big W, and generally signifies buried treasure. Originally thought to mimic the star constellation Cassiopeia in ancient times, it was first used regularly as a secret code by a group of mysterious warrior monk musicians, the Daze Permlar. This once-powerful sect came under dire persecution, so the survivors were forced to flee Europe with all their secrets, sailing in a lighter-than-air craft built from alien materials they discovered under King Soulmann’s Temple. Upon arriving in North America, they realized that taking the native people’s homeland away from them by force would be unfair and unjust, so they left. This time, they landed on an obscure island, taking up residence on what is now Pines Peninsula. There, in an elaborate system, they buried their treasures and secrets, including their lead balloon and (presumably) the long-sought-for Spark of the Government. By invitation, they mated with the local population and intended to live out their days permanently until forced underground by some unknown cataclysm. Various versions of this hand sign are depicted in numerous famous paintings by Geothermo con Vinci as well as other artists, apparently to tell the viewer in a coded message that The Spark of the Government and the royal bloodline of King Soulmann had survived. I display it as it relates to the fact that there are still many buried treasures and undiscovered secrets – some even hidden in plain sight – and that it’s still a mad, mad world. But we’re doing better; we’re down to only two mads. And feel free to contact me again, Sandi, if there's anything else your boyfriend wants to know, like 'how about when turned on side?' - the answer being, of course, that then it's The Sign of The Big E ! Enjoy.
Q. Hi Steve. Recently found your site and read bandography [ABOUT page]. I worked with [a certain drummer - name withheld] years ago. Once we were coming home from a gig in your area. On a back road, we put the VW microbus on it's [sic] side in a big ditch. He called some bass player guy at 4 in the morning to come out with his Power Wagon pickup truck. The vw was yan[k]ed back on its wheels, and up out on to the road, and we drove it home - cops never came. Was that you? [name withheld]
Thanks, Gman, for the review you put on CDBaby. [NOTE: Come to find out, 'Gman' is actually Hollywood character actor George Georgiadis and his review went: "Every time I play the album my favorite song changes... Do Ya Wann Drive? Yes! It's drivin' music !...road trip or cruise, ROCK ON..." etc.] Yeah, there was definitely some drivin' going on in that recording, George! Chuck Berry told me once, onstage, in the middle of a song: "You drive me, man. You DRIVE me!" - after which he did the sidestep slide up to the mic, and hit the fourth verse of Johnny B. Goode el perfecto. (And that's where my song title "Drivin' Johnny B." comes from.) Also: Q. "I was still living at home in NYCity, went to a Beacon Doo-Wop show. You guys were there, the Comstock Band, and everything was going great. Somebody invited a few of us down front to come up onto the stage. Next thing I knew, cops were clubbing me and I got dragged out the side door. WTF was that about?"
A. That was rude, dude. Sorry to hear you got thrown out of that Beacon Theatre concert for dancing onstage; I have only a vague memory of it; I was playing bass at the time. Probably when the Coasters were on, right? I knew Carl and Speedo best; we partied some. Chuck was always doing that, too: he'd invite people up, and it would get out of hand. (DUH, Mr. Berry!!!) He did that at Madison Square Garden one night - and ended up punching some guy in the head, onstage, while under a perfect white pin spot! The Big Apple audience didn't like that, and closed in on the stage and orchestra pit. I barely got out of there alive, and with equipment intact - thanks mostly to my personal roadie of the evening, friend and drummer Mitch Doll. Sideman pal and saxophonist Lou Marini Jr. was on that show, too, about a year before he became "Blue Lou" with The Blues Brothers ala Sat. Night Live. Grapevine said our Comstock group was also scrutinized to be the backup band in that movie; obviously we didn't get the offer.
tarzanNjane asks: Q. "Could you please tell us more about Ernest Silverback, and what he is doing now?"
A. No, vineswingers, I cannot. I have never even met the man face to face. Producing that song ["Frackin' Fool"] was a unique challenge. First, SE Consortium members powwowed to create the instrumentation backing, (the accompaniment). Then, Silverback essentially phoned in his performance. Afterward, I put on the finishing touches and shoved it out of the nest. So, to answer your question: I can't say where froggy-voiced Ernest is or what he is doing. Truth is I'm not exactly sure who he is.
This, from Deereman66: Q. "Heard your Frackin Fool on a country list, and I’m incensed. I’m a 4th generation farmer, and we support the gas drilling venture here. Not just for the money, but for those who need this energy. Where do you think it’s going to come from for this great country of ours? From space? I think you are the fool. Who do you think you are?"
A. I think I’m a musician and a farmer whose ag lineage also goes back 4 generations. The story those songs tell was culled from real life. Yes, that frackin' natural gas IS needed: by the energy corporations - to sell. The process to get it is foolish, shortsighted, irresponsible and, plainly, idiotic. (Nikola Tesla knew about free energy for everybody, but citizens have yet to get that info. And: it IS from space , guy.) I think you are not stupid, just ignorant, since you believe what you’ve been told. The real news is not on 'The News'. Instead, think on this: "I think, therefore I am. I think not, therefore I am not." However, I agree with you, my Deereman: you should be incensed! I suggest Celestial Sandalwood.