I remember my first drum set. A neighbor was selling his kit and had asked me if I knew anyone who’d be interested and… I was so interested that I might have had an erection. The problem was that I only had $50 and I guess he saw the very sad look on my face and asked me what was wrong and I told him that I’d buy the set if I had the money and all I had was $50 and, well, damn.
He’d asked me what I would do to be able to buy it from him and… I misunderstood what he was asking and, um, it wasn’t one of my finest moments but I wanted that set so bad that two seconds after he asked me this, I, um, I had his dick out and sucking on it like my life depended on it. He didn’t stop me and I don’t know if he had a shocked look on his face because I wasn’t looking at him but five minutes later, his cum was blasting into my mouth and that’s when I learned that I had misunderstood him.
“That was nice, little bro, but, um, that’s not what I was thinking about when I asked what you’d do,” he said with a smile. “I was thinking about asking for your $50 as a down payment and then you pay me when you can but, uh, since, well, okay – gimme the $50 and the set is yours!”
Oops. Man, talk about being totally embarrassed! He showed me how to break it all down so I could take it home with me; the good part was that he lived three doors down from me so I didn’t have far to go and you should have seen the look on my mom’s face when I started bringing it all in. She said, “Oh, no…” I told her that I had bought it – and he had arrived with a bag full of drumsticks and stuff and confirmed that I did, in fact, pay for it in cash and, of course, neither of us mentioned the other part of the, shit, payment.
I practiced every day except for the days my mom was off and at home. The neighbors on either side of us weren’t happy with all the noise I was making but I guess they understood (or mom got them to understand). One day, one of my friends from the old neighborhood came by while I was practicing and he was so excited to see that I had a drum set that he turned right around, probably ran home, and came back with his bongos and… we were grooving together.
One day, he’d helped me lug my kit over to his house and we were in his backyard kicking it together and I had to admit that we sounded good together. We’d drawn a fairly good-sized crowd and from the crowd, three guys approached us and asked if they could jam with us. We said they could and they hauled ass up the street and returned in a car minutes later with their guitars and amps. We got them plugged in and the jam session began in earnest.
The thing that stands out for me about that moment was that the five of us not only didn’t know each other, we had never played together before but there we were improvising and playing songs by Kool & The Gang and other groups of the time – and like we’d been playing together for years. Someone in the crowd had produced a box and people were dropping money into it and… I know I was hyped and I guess the other guys were, too, and we kept right on playing for maybe another hour…
And only stopped when a guy was driving by, stopped, backed up, jumped out of his car and ran over to us asking if we’d be interested in making some money tonight. That got our attention, as you might suspect. Apparently, the band he had contracted with to play a gig cancelled on him for some reason and he’d been running around the city trying to find a replacement band. He was highly excited; the other guys were, too, but, yeah, I wanted to know some details and especially how much money he was talking about. It took maybe a half an hour of bargaining, but we agreed to play the gig for $200 for each of us and he had to provide us transportation since, um, none of us were old enough to drive.
My biggest concern was where we were playing: The local Longshoreman’s Hall which was really more like a club and they served liquor there, and… I was 15. The guy said not to worry about it since we wouldn’t be drinking booze and could we hurry up and get our act together because the gig started in an hour! I had to run home and tell my mother about this and I, um, left out the part that I’d be playing in a bar because she would have forbade me to take part in this. Oh, and I showed her my $200 – the five of us had insisted on being paid now instead of later. I got the okay from mom and hauled ass back to my friend’s house and off we went and it was pretty hectic because now we’re trying to pull a playlist out of our respective asses and, well, we were just going to play it by ear.
We get there and get hustled through a backdoor and onto the stage where we hustled to get set up. The hall had microphones, which was good but, uh, well, I know I could sing and my friend could but I didn’t know about the other guys and, well, let’s worry about that if we have to. As I set my kit up, I could hear the crowd noises on the other side of the curtain and it sounded like a lot of people. Butterflies flew off of their aircraft carrier to land in my stomach and I didn’t know if I wanted to throw up or go to the bathroom on myself. I snuck peeks at my new bandmates and they weren’t looking too sporty either; the guy who hired us was running around us telling us to hurry up and, oh, yeah, what’s the name of your band?
Name? We didn’t have one! Kinda technically, we weren’t even a band; we were just five guys who happened upon each other! The club had been playing music to keep the crowd occupied and I heard, “Well my mind keeps going through them changes…” and the others heard this, too, and we all blurted out that the name of our band was Them Changes. The guy dashes through the curtain and I’m behind my drums and I’m feeling petrified even though this wouldn’t be the first time I’d ever played before a lot of people since, duh, I was in the school band and orchestra, and we routinely played… but this was different. My friend, who was set up to my right said, “I don’t know about this, man…” and before I could tell him that I didn’t know either, a loud voice was introducing us and the curtain was parting and, fuck me – that’s a lot of people!
I think the five of us were… stunned. Okay. Stage fright. The crowd is waiting for us to start playing and we were frozen in place; I couldn’t think of anything and then the only thing I could think of was the begining of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sex Machine” and I called this out to the guys; our “lead guitar” played the opening notes and now I got to find out how good I could do that seamless and perfect roll that I knew followed those notes and…
We jammed. We got into “Sex Machine” and I know I got hyped when I heard someone in the crowd say, “Oh, shit! That’s my jam!” People were dancing in their seats and quite a few people were on the dance floor; the five of us are looking at each other like, “What the fuck?” We went from one song to another song and the guy who hired us snuck behind us to tell us to play a slow song and it took us a few seconds to decide which slow song we all had heard… and maybe knew how to play and I would remember thinking that the people who were having so much fun listening to us play had no idea that, for the most part, we had no fucking idea what we were doing.
We took a much-needed break and I literally ran someone over getting to the men’s room. A patron was in there and did a double-take to see a kid pissing like a racehorse… in a bar. “Dude, how fucking old are you?” he asked.
I”m 15,” I said as the urine continued to flow – and then I’m trying to pee as fast as I can because our break was only to be 15 minutes and I had to get back so I could help us figure out what the fuck we were going to play after the break. I got back, we put our heads together and hashed out a playlist that would carry us through the rest of the time we were supposed to be there… like we were supposed to close the joint. We played our hearts out. I still can’t believe how well we played together for a bunch of guys who’d just met a few hours ago.
We were playing “Superbad” by James Brown, and we were into it. People were rushing to the dance floor and, man, it was like I was high or something to see them grooving to my and our music when I heard someone yell, “Give the drummer some! Give the drummer some!” I got to know what it was like to be a deer in the headlights because not only was all those people now staring at me, the guys on the stage with me were staring, too, and like, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
And. They. Stopped. Playing. Let’s not talk about that they stopped perfectly and I almost stopped, too, but this was my “solo moment” and… I had no fucking idea what to do. None. I just made it up as I went along and the crowd was losing their fucking minds. My solo only lasted for about a minute and a half but to me, it felt like a couple of hours before the other guys jumped back in and like they had never left me to play for the crowd all by myself.
After the show was officially over, people were coming to the stage and congratulating us and marveling at how young all of us really were. The guy who managed the hall came to us and asked us how much we got paid for this and we told him… and he turned around and cussed the guy out who hired us and said that we deserved much more than a “piddling $200 apiece.”
He paid each of us another $300, packed us up in his van, and took us all home. My mother was shitting kittens because I didn’t get home until almost 3:30 in the morning. I had to explain myself which included where I’d been all this time and… more kittens got shat out along with a couple of cows for good measure. I had showed her the $500 I had earned, and she said that she felt… a little better to know that I didn’t do it for nothing but, still. In a bar? Really? She then asked, “Well, how did y’all do?”
I told her about all the people dancing and grooving to what we were able to do. When I got to the “give the drummer some” part, I could see that she was… proud of me… now take your ass to bed before I decide to beat your ass for not telling me all of this before!
What a day that was for me and the four other guys. We “officially” became a band and one of the many bands that sprouted up in the city. We weren’t the best of them but we were good at what we did and we’d wind up playing… in bars and clubs in and out of the city and we got a chance to play at The Apollo in New York City as one of the “warm up” bands keeping the audience occupied before the main act took over. We had dreams of making records and hitting the big time and, indeed, we cut a record in a local studio and with our original song we’d created called… “Them Changes.” We played together for two and a half years before we just… kinda broke up due to other interests.
My mom had visions of me being a star – but not in what I’d call a selfish way; she wanted me to be the best musician I could be except I didn’t want to be a professional musician in that sense because the five of us had learned how… cutthroat the music business could be and we knew of other guys who took off for LA seeking fame and fortune… and never found it – and those guys were way better than we were. And after a weekend where we had played in three cities in two days, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my music. This was… a love of mine. More than just a hobby but I just didn’t have any aspirations to be a “rock start.” I just wanted to create and play the music that came from my heart and soul.
While trying to avoid playing in church – but that’s another story for another day. I’d had my “fifteen minutes of fame.” I reveled in it and with our groupies and, yeah, sex. Lots of it. After that first night we played together, I don’t recall there ever being a time after that when, after we performed, we weren’t getting laid. Or I’d be in school and girls who wouldn’t give me the time of day wanted to fuck me and, yeah, guys who wanted to blow me and/or be fucked by me. That “drugs, sex and rock and roll” thing was very damned real… but despite all of this fun, it wasn’t the life I wanted to live.
And here I am, decades later… still playing the drums!