Friday, February 27, 2009

My Life in Rock 'n' Roll

Clyph's blog on why we rock, or don't, got me remembering today. We were young once, and eager for everything.

I met Bob (Roberto Enrico) Antonelli in Biology class in high school. He had a riotous head of dark curls and was uncontrollably funny. His passion wasn't school, but his drums. So I went over to his nice home, met his lovely mother and handsome father (they're Italian, they can't help it), and he laid down his groove. Bob's been able to pretty much make a living at music and has never lost that enthusiasm and innocence that people love him for.

He introduced me to the band he was joining, Morning Disaster, a little later.

Joe Sheets' gold-top mid-50s Les Paul was the perfect voice for his rockabilly soul. His mother was a devoted Elvis fan and supported Joe's music wholeheartedly. The highlight of any set or party was when he finally let loose with "Great Balls of Fire." (April 2009: I just found out from Bob that Joe died suddenly a few years ago. That is a tragedy.)
Lynn Franklin played a huge red Gibson EB-2 hollow-body bass, and didn't say much, but he possessed an impressive intelligence. Founder Stanley Rose, keyboardist and composer, melancholy and wise, was detached from this world but as good a businessman as he was an artist.

Joe in an earlier band, the Spiders, had recorded a single that got local airplay. Of their original material, the Disaster recorded "Opening Black Leather Books," but I guess it didn't do what they hoped it would as a demo.

Since I had a VW bus, I became Kwipment Krew. Bob's sweet squeeze Mae drove her Pontiac Tempest with a U-Haul trailer, and that was our caravan to Charlottesville or central North Carolina, the only two places the booking agent seemed to have any live contacts. One night, in a scene right out of "Animal House," the frat boys chased us out as we were loading up (no reason, we just didn't look like them), but lost us because we had rented a big green Pontiac sedan that weekend and they were looking for the Tempest. When we saw them turning mean, we knew it was time to slip away. We drank a whole lot of their bad, thin beer, so it was a win-win for us.

A good memory, though, was playing in Shafer Court at VCU in front of the Hibbs building on a sunny afternoon. Someone else remembered that day in an alumni publication 30 years later; I was thrilled to read it. Last time I was there I looked for and found the electric outlet we used -- because my first job after finding safe parking was to locate the juice. Just a devoted servant of the Muse.

The Disaster was one opening act of several for Iron Butterfly in a huge arena in North Carolina. They had six tractor-trailers. We still felt like hot stuff.

But the outstanding night was an encounter in a very unlikely place: a pizza joint in Pineville, N.C. We didn't know who they were, except that they were very New Jersey and not friendly at all. I remember it was Steel Mill, Springsteen's early band. I don't remember him, just the cool name; they were just thin guys dressed in black. Recently I saw an import CD of Steel Mill in a used record store; dedicated fans know that they were called Child originally. The poster above was from a show on November 20, 1969 at the Center of the Free University (I believe it's the old Asparagus Farm venue where I saw probably the weirdest show ever from Dr. John of New Orleans). The Disaster couldn't make it, so Mercy Flight, who opened for Bruce several times in the Richmond area, filled in.
The last I heard, Stanley was operating a rental plant business in Norfolk, and Bob is living large near Mechanicsville. I wish them all the best, and will never forget Joe. They weren't ponytailed posers; they rocked.

And people remember.

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