The Teddy Bears, at our first practice/party, at the Blakemore house. From left: Doug Hedderich, Larry Reves, Andy Curry, and Frank Blakemore. My only real memory of this day was that it was the first time I got an erection while dancing with a girl. Sweet.
|I'd sung, acted, and played
the ukulele since I was very young. Here's
a picture of a school choir which appeared in the Wichita
Beacon when I was about nine. I'm the rightmost child
in the photo.
My rock and roll career began in 1966, when I was 14 years old and a sophomore at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. I was befriended by a three guys who existed pretty close to the bottom of the social structure at Hickman. Since I was fairly new to Columbia and had no friends, I was easy pickings for their overtures. They persuaded me to join in forming a band.
The only guitar I had was a cheap classical guitar, and the only thing I knew on it were 4-string chords from when I played the ukulele as a small child. This was no problem, as talent was not required. It turns out there WAS some nascent musicianship in the bunch, but it was hard to tell at the time.
The guys were Frank Blakemore, Doug Hedderich, and Larry Reves.
Later on - perhaps late 1966 - we added Dave Moorman, an equally socially-inept guy but actually pretty able on keyboards.
You shouldn't think that I wasn't having, um, ... legitimate musical experiences during this time.
At Hickman High, I was selected for Choraleers as a sophomore and the elite madrigal group as a junior.
Here is a photo of our first and only gig at the roller rink, which we played for free. Note the massive wall of equipment.
|To start out with, Frank had
the equipment: A Harmony electric guitar and a Gibson Falcon
amplifier. Larry had a cheap set of drums. I
don't remember what Doug did for a guitar, but we assigned
him to the bassist role even though no one actually had a
bass. I managed to scrape up $7 to buy a pickup from
Burstein-Applebee and put it on my classical guitar.
Then, during a family trip, I crushed that guitar by rolling
over on it when my stepfather had to stop suddenly. No
problem: Frank and his dad took the neck off of it,
glued a couple of pieces of plywood together, cut it in
an... interesting pattern... screwed the neck to the body,
and glued the pickup down. Of course, no one had any
idea about the importance of scale length, so it was
impossible to intonate. Around that time, I borrowed
$40 from my parents and bought a Wards Airline
amp from a pawn shop in Kansas City. That was a
Here is a picture of my homemade electric guitar. The neck, bridge, and tailpiece came off of the classical guitar pictured above, which was crushed when I rolled over on it in the car. Frank Blakemore and his Dad made it for me. The pickup cost me about $7, from the Burstein-Applebee catalog, and it was hardwired to the cable.
|I think we had one [cheap!]
microphone, and we would just plug it into a second channel
on one of the guitar amps.
At some point, Larry - the drummer! - purchased a brand new Epiphone Olympic electric guitar and a Gibson Lancer amp, which was LOUD, at least to our ears.
Dave Moorman was a keyboard player, but the only keyboard he had access to was the Thomas organ in his house, so when he joined, we could only practice there. Understandably, his parents were reluctant to allow this to happen, as they didn't want to leave us unsupervised but they probably couldn't bear to hear us practice. Nevertheless, we did get a few practices in there, where I met Dave's neighbor, Linda, who became my first love. Oh, how sweet that is!
We played - or tried to play - the standards of the day: Gloria, Just Like Me, Kansas City, Louie Louie, Get Off My Cloud, Little Latin Lupe Lu, etc.. One of our favorite songs to "play" was Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." We even tried some Dylan stuff (Desolation Row!). But invariably, each practice would degenerate into the jam session from hell and we would end up doing absurd stuff like "Dirty Old Man" by the Fugs.
Not the Teddy Bears, but from the period - Spring 1967. Linda and I before the Junior Prom. I've had a soft spot for gardenias ever since. I think the band for that dance was Kansas City's "Classmen," and they were good.
|How bad were we? We had two
gigs. The first was a freebie at a roller rink on the
outskirts of town, after skating. We couldn't get back
in there even after changing our name to The Nightshades and
having someone else call for us. The second was a frat
party where we were asked to leave after about a half an
hour, without getting paid.
I remember going to Frank "Crickit" Balsamo's house once and jamming a little with him and someone else. He played in a GOOD high school band called The Tonks, as well as a Herb Alpert-styled band, the "Marijuana Brass." (!) We did some song which needed a B chord, and I remember that I didn't know how to play one.
But the main thing about the band was that it gave us an excuse to hang out together and have some fun. We'd hang at the end of a hallway at Hickman before first period, making other students nervous, and drive around together in Frank's car or Larry's dad's car on Saturday afternoons.
Here's another shot from the roller rink. I don't know what my left hand was doing all the way up on the neck. Note my "beatle boots" and the artistic job on the bass-drum head, as well as the crowd of adoring fans.
|Frank Blakemore is now a
Vietnam veteran (Navy, river boats) and a retired cop in
Moberly, Missouri, and he's quite a good rock guitar
player. He's also married to HIS high-school
sweetheart, Sandy, and they have two grown children.
Doug Hedderich still lives in Columbia.
Larry Reves died young, in the late 1970s, leaving his high-school sweetheart Debbie widowed; he had one son. Debbie, who was Frank's cousin, has also passed away.
Dave Moorman is now a pastor in ??.
Other high-school bands of the time and place:
he Dalton Gang,
the Marijuana Brass.
They were all a lot better than us. But ya gotta start somewhere...
Here are some band pictures from my 1967 HHS yearbook.
|Here's a shot of the one gig I played
with that band, on a borrowed bass guitar; it was a Jr.
I'm behind the guy in the middle (Darryl) with the Teisco Del Rey guitar. White jackets and Silvertone amps, yeah!
The guy on the left, Jesse, was actually pretty good.
|The first real concert of popular music I ever
went to was in the early Spring of 1968. James Brown
and His Revue, including the Famous Flames, at an arena in
San Antonio. I went with girl friend Linda
Meador, who had to "story" to her parents about
where she was going (they should have been more concerned
about whom she was going with, but... I digress). I recall
that the show was very late in starting, and that the P.A.
was very inadequate.
But what a show! Linda and I were one of very few
white people there, which didn't bother either of
us. About 10,000 people, and they were all dancing
together. Great music, great light show. To
this day, I think it's the most exciting live music I've