It’s been almost three weeks since I started writing this book with a goal of about 2000 words a day pretty much fulfilled. Dropping out of Facebook was a superb move as the distractions fell away, much like quitting smoking and not having to light up out of boredom or habit. Every morning begins at 5 with an hour powerwalk along the ocean as the sun starts to rise in the distance, then back home when it cracks the horizon to feed Jackson and start the day. Getting my emails out of the way to limber up the fingers happens from 7am and by 8, I’m in the office pounding away at multiple chapters. Dinner at 5, in bed by 7 and asleep by 9. My Apple Watch displays sleep patterns which are 96% restful while an activity meter plots my exercise, heart rate and mileage which are all increasing every day.
So I thought since I hadn’t posted anything on FB since I started this project, I’d bring my friends up to current with a weekly entry on my personal blog and put a link to it in my FB page without reading FB. Here are three pieces of stories (unedited) and would love any feedback at email@example.com. Don’t post on my FB page coz I won’t be reading it.
Our second year doing sound for Jazzfest, Paul and I were shifted to a main outdoor stage at the end of the Racetrack which required a different entry and routing inside the field. At a point where we had to make a tight turn, Paul miscalculated the position of a Portaloo on top of a pallet at the corner and sideswiped it causing it to rock one way, then another and finally fall over onto the door side. Unbeknownst to us, there was someone in the cubicle taking a crap as many of the workmen had done over the previous week. When the loo fell forward, he hit the door with his hands to brace himself as the contents, with the strong blue deodoriser and disinfectant cascaded over him. We didn’t really look back as the sideswipe didn’t produce a big thump at the back, but when we got to our stage, we looked back about 50 yards as we were pulling in and saw a crowd of about six workers tipping it back up and then steadying it as the occupant came out dripping.
He looked like a blue monster covered in faeces, strands of toilet paper and urine/Blue Loo but at least he was uninjured and his first action was to get hosed down and stripped of his clothes before seeking out the offending driver. Since no one had seen the actual incident which was covered by adjoining tents at the corner or the road and our truck on the other side as it passed, I left it to Paul to fess up which he decided not to do due to the sheer size of his victim. No one found out and the poor fellow who had to take a drenching took two days before the blue colour faded from his face.
In another poo and pee related incident, on my next to last year in 1979, I rented a 40’ Sportscoach Motor Home with all the fixings, onboard stove, oven, fridge and as it turned out the most important, a blender for strawberry daiquiris and margaritas. I had the king size bed in the back suite, there were four sleeping foldouts up front where my guests could crash and there was a combo shower and toilet for convenience. I had decided to drive this down from Atlanta to rent it out to JazzFest during show days while we stayed at our stage at night with power connection and PA for stereo.
It was a helluva party venue and also difficult to manoeuvre through the narrow streets of the French Quarter so we mostly stayed back at the racetrack nights we weren’t working. Except one Friday night when we decided to head out to Ole Man Rivers club way out in Avondale LA, run by our wacky friend Sherman Bernard who was also the Festival’s piano tuner. That night, Irma Thomas was playing with Marcia Ball and we were ready to party with a fresh supply of cocaine that had been carried down from Atlanta by one of my airline stewardess friends. That and a few bottles of cognac and cases of Coors made our night a wet one and by morning our five onboard bodies had filled the toilet a few inches from the brim due to a full sewage tank.
We had to get out of town by 9am, we were parked right next to the club and didn’t have the heart to dump the load at Sherman’s pride and joy even though we were busting to use the facilities. It had started pouring down rain overnight and we pulled out of the parking lot hoping to find some place to discreetly empty our tank. A campground with sewage inlet would have been ideal but there were none in the first few miles and despite quite a few fast food outlets, I didn’t want to run the risk and foul the parking lot of any.
Through the grey rain coating our windshield there emerged a parking lot that seemed empty although there was a large building set back from the road. We pulled around behind some bushes that shielded us from road view, found a drain grate that obviously fed into a rain inlet and parked with our sewage tank outlet on the opposite side of the building so we couldn’t be seen from there. Crazy Jerry volunteered to pull the cord on the outlet under the coach which would send over a hundred gallons of effluent down the drain and he got out in the rain and bent over to yank the release.
But he pulled a little too hard and it came off in his hand as he looked in horror at the mass of turds, piss and paper hurling out of the pipe. In backpedaling to get out of the way of the deluge, he ran into a sign on the edge of the pavement that he hadn’t seen before. “Parking For Jefferson Parish Official Police & Sheriff Vehicles Only” made him realise that were in the coppers lot though as far away from the building itself as one could get. At that point he breathlessly jumped back into the coach and yelled, “Cops!!! We’re in the pigs parking lot!!”
At that point I threw the vehicle into Drive and headed out of the lot as discretely as I could, hard to do when there’s a gusher of sewage coming out of the bottom. We hit the Interstate in a few blocks and then took off with the remainder sloshing out of the stuck open pipe as we rocked and rolled down the road, howling with laughter, holding our sides in pain, unable to stop. We need not have worried though as the sheriffs only discovered the mess after we left and by the time we got back to New Orleans, we managed to get into the Gentilly racetrack safely only to discover there was no need to hurry. The Saturday had been rained out. So we rigged a gaffer tape seal to the poop chute and settled in for a day of sleep and rest.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Though I’d quit importing marijuana from Jamaica and The Bahamas by boat, Colombia by plane and then Mexico from some stateside importers, I knew I had two talents at least. Quick loading, packing and balancing loads of bales and bricks for speed and vehicle stability was the first one. The second was the ability to drive long distances within speed limits and with an innate foreboding of cop traps ahead.
So it seemed a natural progression to go from one version of being a road warrior to the other of being a driver and roadie in the live concert business as a start in becoming legitimate. It was my dear friend Ron Worsley who lived up 13th Street in Atlanta from me and knew my history who one day delivered a surprise proposition. He ran the sound reinforcement truck booking for Bill Hanley Audio in the Southeast, having worked with the live audio pioneer post Woodstock, through the disastrous Mar Y Sol Festival in Puerto Rico that preceded the Atlanta International Pop Festival in Byron GA in 1970. Ron also worked for promoter Alex Cooley of that festival who later created the Electric Ballroom and dominated the South’s concert scene.
Hanley’s truck was not in the best shape for driving the South’s poor roads, the speakers consisted of telephone booth-sized W-Cabinets of JBL bass speakers, stacked with horn arrays on both risers side stage and a bank of tweeters. These were driven primarily by copper wire transformered McIntosh tube amps rather than the lighter transistorised amps by Crown that were five times more powerful and half the weight. Mounted three or four to a rolling square box, they could be lethal if not strapped in properly and tightly. As a rule, everything had to be masterfully secured and the rear end of truck was lined with the dreaded W-cabinets so as to prevent and motion from the smaller components. Last item in and first out was the mixing console which was originally the “Woodstock Board” that was basic, primitive, and had few markings or modern components.
Ron had run into a bit of a problem. The truck was manned by two sound roadies who loaded in and out, set up the PA and miked the stage for the arrival of Sam, the French sound engineer, ran a sound check for bands and then the show and then drove to the next town, catching some sleep before the subsequent load in. Sam was annoyingly particular in how he worked, not arriving before noon for an evening gig, steadfastly refusing to lift or move anything other than his briefcase as well as marinating himself in a florid French cologne before arriving in the hopes of picking up a young American girl.
One of the road crew had broken his arm via a falling horn array and was unable to do the Tony Orlando and Dawn show at nearby Six Flags Over Georgia the following weekend nor the next night’s show which keyboardist Rod Argent (formerly of The Zombies) playing a Kentucky college prom in the deep hills and valleys near Louisville. It would be a rough, winding ride from Atlanta through Appalachia but a lucrative three-day payday as my entry into the music business.
I really knew nothing about audio outside the confines of my living room, barely understanding the tonal knobs on the pre-amp’s face and how to take the dust off records and the needle. But Ron said I’d pick up the technical details as I followed the more experienced roadie and Sam, the Slavedriver Engineer. His main concern was having me learn the logistics of load in and memorising the packing order for load out with a squeaky-tight lashing of all speaker cabinets, audio electronic equipment and the extremely sensitive tube amps. He was counting on my skills packing large bales of Colombian cheeba and Jamaican buds into the holds of ships and speedboats, leaving no spaces, as well as my speed in assembling the final load.
At noon, we simply backed up to the Six Flags Over Georgia stage smoothly. Unloading the truck was easy though dusty work as it hadn’t been cleaned in months. I decided as an improvement to get some bowling alley wax for the wooden surface to loosen the friction, making the push of cabinets and arrays smooth without the need of handcarts inside. We could forklift them or trolley them on loadout to the back or the truck and simply slide them in, lash them tight against walls and save time.
The most confusing part was the cabling. There was a box for power distribution coming off the main backstage breakers of the venue and then there were the ‘snakes’ of multicore cable for the microphones onstage as well as into the power amplifiers which drove the three stage low, mid and high frequency speakers. In addition there were a separate set of cables for the stage sound mix for musicians and singers to hear themselves from side fill monitors and wedge speakers along the front. Add to that two mixing consoles-one for the house with compressors, limiters, filters, EQ and audio effects as well as a raw, unembellished series of feeds for each musician coming off a smaller console on stage.
By 3pm, we had all the gear assembled and ready for sound check, Sam having arrived two hours prior for wiring and testing. I kept my eye on him and asked a hundred questions on how to control the sound output, what this fader did, how that knob influenced the sound and how to achieve an overall mix. One lesson I had learned earlier in the day was that the guy who carried the clipboard and mixed the sound didn’t have to do any heavy lifting and this is what I should aspire to. But he warned that it would probably be a year before I’d get my chance to do a house mix.
Tony Orlando, then at the height of his fame with “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree”, “Candida”, “Knock Three Times and “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?” hit the stage with his two female accompanists, Dawn, and checked his levels, tone and balance. Watching Sam twiddle knobs and slide faders up and down was a revelation. I could see the precise instant effect of his manipulation of the console. It was a short lesson. Within 15 minutes, Tony was off stage and heading in the limo back to his hotel to return at 7pm for the show, no warmup act.
By this time, Sam had been ogling the passing pretty young girls—his weakness—hitting the cognac bottle early and rolling up some of our finest bud. Within an hour he was near comatose and became obnoxious with a massive case of the munchies. He tried to play the suave Frenchman but was being constantly rebuffed by the underage babes he pursued. As we got close to showtime, his desperation to score a teeny lover made him even more blatant than I could stomach as I watched him trying to latch onto this hefty but young babe.
In a moment it was over as she reared back and punched him full in the face and followed with a left hook to the jaw. He fell over backwards, spinning into the ground with a mighty thud. Sam was out cold due to the punches and the substances only ten feet from the mixing console. Paul was on stage doing monitors, missing the fracas as the MC came out and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen… Tony Orlando and Dawn!!” I quickly powered down the background music and since all the channels were still set the way they were at sound check, I decided to ride the wave of mixing my first concert. My fear of feedback or pushing the wrong button levelled quickly as I realised if I didn’t do anything major other than turning up the vocals for solos and back down to original position, I’d be safe.
It was a terrifying hour of my life, kind of like the first time you drive a car—being careful not to accelerate too fast or hit the brakes too hard, not oversteer or understeer and certainly not to crash. I was far from cocky but not fully confident. All it took from time to time was just a look at Sam crumpled unconscious behind me to realise this was my big opportunity to swim or sink. He hadn’t stirred and I couldn’t tear myself away from the board to check on him, but he seemed to be passed out and motionless. The girl who had slugged him was long gone and no one else around him seemed concerned. Before I knew it, Tony hit the last note, ended the show and then came out for an encore.
Completely oblivious to what had happened in the previous hour with all his concentration directed onstage and not being able to see me running the board in the darkened audience, Paul had gathered all the microphones and came back to the console to discover Sam, still knocked out. With a tight schedule to pack up and get on the road, we left him there as we loaded out so as not to have to put up with his altered state. In the end though, we had the motor running on the truck sidestage as we tipped an ice chest over him, awakening him with a start and a yell. We took only a moment to explain what happened to him, let him know we’d meet him in Kentucky the next day when he flew in and he staggered off into the distance.
It started out easy, peaceful and non-violent. Drug dealing at my scale—hashish and marijuana solely, no cocaine, pills or hard drugs—was an occupation taken up by college students, youngsters just out of school and occasionally older teens. We abhorred guns and didn’t see a need to use or carry them. We were still in that post-Woodstock vibe of love-your-brother. Peace Man! But that was soon to change as our fortunes rocketed up the scale.
Initially on moving to Atlanta from North Carolina in early 1970, which I fled after helping a friend get a single dose of LSD for a mate, who happened to be an undercover cop, I started street dealing at the same time selling The Great Speckled Bird alternative newspaper at the corner of 10th Street and Peachtree. The Strip as it was called ran for four blocks on Peachtree and was home to the freak flag nation of hippies and the occasional cadres of college students or soldiers. As drug sales ramped up, police patrols increased and searches were inevitable.
My street smarts came from reading my father’s police journals, especially the articles on search and seizure, warrants and warrantless action, the Miranda rule for questioning and the fruit-of-the-poisoned–tree concept of invalid searches leading to evidence being thrown out of court. I made sure never to carry dope on The Strip nor to be holding larger quantities—still small time—within a couple blocks proximity. In order to have a stash close to the street, I did a deal with a young girl, store manager of The Poster Hut, which had a black plastic room in the premises for viewing posters under ultraviolet blacklights to bring out the glow. It was also helpful in identifying counterfeit bills. I often had stashes in the ceiling and would keep the customer in the main store and then whistle to bring him in for the exchange while the lass kept watch on the street scene and for cops.
I started to be known as a crafty pot peddler to the beat police who would often pull me up on the street and search me. There was one officer in particular—buzz cut, jarhead looking, white socks, twirling his nightstick continuously as he marched The Strip—who really had it in for me and used any pretext to stop and search. I decided I needed to set a trap for him to stop this and the best way was to make a harassment case. I’d always asked him each time I was stopped what was his PC or probable cause for stopping me and initiating a search and he made up reasons on the fly, calling me a smartass and street lawyer.
I went into a head shop that had just started selling ‘kilo candles’, what appeared to be a kilo of marijuana made up of ordinary hay wrapped in white butcher paper with an indentation in the top end that held a candle in a glass jar. I bought one and had it wrapped in brown paper, then bagged and wrapped again and placed in a large shopping bag that couldn’t be seen into. I had a friend with a camera follow me out of the store as I spotted the officer and step back behind him and his partner as they got hold of me. They wrenched the bag from my hands, pulled out the wrapped paper brick, tore it open, then pulled apart the underlying bag and finally the wrapped ‘evidence’ which he removed with a flourish.
All the while my friend had been discretely snapping photos, unknown to the pair who cuffed me and roughed me up unnecessarily as their big street bust was trumpeted. “Got you at last Tripp and this weighs about a kilo.” I asked the standard question on what his PC was and he answered that he had seen me get it from a known wholesaler just around the corner. When I asked his partner if this was true, he confirmed as a small group formed around us watching the incident and hanging off every word.
At that point, I countered with, “The item in the bag is not illegal. It is a novelty candle made of hay, not grass and you will see by the receipt in the bag, I bought it from the head shop across the street just a few minutes before you stopped me.” He was incredulous as was his partner and at that moment he saw the camera toting friend of mine who took the last pic of him reading the receipt as he evaporated into the crowd. I insisted he walkie-talkie his area supervisor and de-cuff me as I intended to have him charged with false arrest and harassment. I complained loudly to the group around me and asked if anyone wanted to give a statement to the arresting officer’s supervisor. Since most of them had something to hide, it wasn’t easy but there were two volunteers and that got my action started which resulted in the two cops being transferred to another beat.
Okay folks that’s your first taste. First one’s free Sonny…