When I was hired at Hilton Music to teach piano, I decided to work as many hours as I could to try to get ahead a little financially. We were living in section-8 housing, so we were surviving, but that was all. Of course, the more money we made, the higher was our rent, but we could still keep enough to make a difference. To get to work on time, I left home at 7:30 am to walk to the bus stop. Then, so that the family could use the car to do fun things, I took two buses to reach my job in Troy by 9 am and worked until 7 pm, getting home between 8:30 and 9. I was exhausted when I got home but also happy to be working and doing something on my own away from the house and family. Up to that point, our kids had gone everywhere with me, parties, rallies, gigs, and more. I even taught at their school. I was teaching music mostly to young people, most of whom really wanted to play.
I was also meeting other musicians. I quickly met Rudd Young, who was also working there. He was a manager and a salesman. He was a good one, too. He was, and still is, a very friendly and likeable guy. I soon found out that he played bass. We had just recently lost our bass player, so I organized a jam. Rudd not only joined the band, but he offered the store as a practice space after hours. He set everything up, we started practicing once or twice a week. I had met enough people by then to be able to arrange for a babysitter. It was usually the teenage daughter of a friend from Rok Against Reaganomix. Cheralyn was great. She was a no-nonsense sitter, which was exactly who I needed with Justin, who was becoming a handful. She also had a brother and was able to either negotiate gracefully between my two fighting children or just nip it in the bud. It was such a relief to have someone I trusted be with them.
We must have had a drummer, but I don’t remember who that was. We went through many musicians in those early Albany days. We had a variety of guitar players including one who was into more contemporary and heavier rock than we were at the time. He influenced the band in a good way. Danny was young and a bit flashy. Around the time he was playing with us, someone saw our cat in the window and reported it. Pets were not allowed in this complex but, as she had traveled across the country with us and was part of our family, we weren’t willing to give her up, so we snuck her in hoping for the best. My parents refused to take her, and we couldn’t find anyone else. Out of desperation, we asked Danny to take her until we could figure something else out. We also explained how attached we were to her. Poor Jessie cried as we handed her over, but we assured her that we would find another place and get her back. This was only temporary.
We asked regularly how she was doing and noticed that Danny seemed a little nervous each time we asked. He finally admitted that he gave her away to some old lady who seemed to love her and was looking for a cat. We were angry and devastated. Autumn was Jessie’s cat, and she was broken-hearted. We insisted that he try to get her back, but he had no idea who this woman was or how to find her. He told us at the next practice that he looked and asked around to no avail. We felt betrayed. He never even checked with us before passing her on. We could see that he felt guilty, but that night we fired him. Paul had a lot of faults, but to him loyalty was an important attribute. Danny had failed at that.
Meanwhile, I was starting to burn out on my job at the music store. The hours were draining, and the owner wanted me to push the sales of sheet music. Most of the kids were beginners and weren’t ready for much more than the standard lesson book. I’ve always incorporated ear training in my lessons as well, so they were satisfied playing some of their favorite songs by ear or with the simple arrangements I made for them. Although the other employees understood, the owner did not. Another issue was what I was coming home to after work. Paul had warned me back in 1980 when I was offered a full-time job in Portland, that he was not a reliable caregiver. I knew this and hoped that he could manage for a day, but this was not to be. The first few weeks, things went smoothly. Both kids were happy. They’d seemed to have had a good day with their dad. Then, things gradually started to slip through the cracks. I started coming home to chaos. Paul often lost track of the time and hadn’t fixed dinner. Then I would find out that the kids hadn’t had lunch either. When I realized that he wasn’t taking them out anywhere, I stopped taking the bus, shortening my travel time by a lot. However, all things considered, this extra job had stopped being worth all the downsides, so I quit.
We continued to practice in Troy and soon found another guitar player who fit our style better than anyone before. Andy Roth had a style like Jerry Garcia and also sang and wrote songs. He fit like a glove. He also brought a new group of people into our circle including one young man who kept saying, “You guys have to meet my dad.” Until then, we were of the mindset, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Eventually, we agreed to meet him, and Ron became our percussionist. He was the coolest older guy we’d met since leaving San Francisco in 1975. Although we were lacking a drummer, we had someone on congas and bongos, and I played percussion. That summer, we did another show for Rok Against Reaganomix both as a duo and with our latest group. We’d learned quickly that we needed to be flexible and make ourselves available for any kind of venue. We played at most of the rallies as a duo, though occasionally we added players. We played in bars as a whole band and coffeehouses and cafes in a variety of configurations. We also continued to play on the streets since busking was how we’d gotten started, and I never forgot Arlo Guthrie telling me that he went back to the streets regularly as a reminder of where he came from.
We were developing a large following but, like any other unique band, we had our critics, too. There were a lot of people who wanted us to fit into a category, which we didn’t. They couldn’t understand how we could cover Frank Zappa and Hank Williams in the same show. In 1988, with another addition to the band who played guitar and keyboard, we decided to do a show entitled “On Beyond Zappa.” We did a song for every letter in the alphabet then did some of our own to end. It was a hard to come up with every letter, but we did it. We did a song by the Allman Brothers, Irving Berlin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young … Grateful Dead …Waylon Jennings, Kinks … Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Pink Floyd, Queen … Ramones, Steely Dan, Traffic … Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, XTC, and finally ending with “I Am the Slime From Your Video” by Frank Zappa. We handed out sheets with each letter to fill out with the artists’ names. There was even a prize for whoever could correctly name all twenty-six artists. As it turned out there was only one winner who received a homemade cassette tape. Later on, we did a second of those called “On Beyond Zevon” and chose all different artists. We did cheat a little on that one and chose Xavier Cougat for “X” because we couldn’t think of anything else. This was before you could go on the internet and find just about anything.
Some of our shows at The Half Moon Cafe, including that one, were so packed that there were folks hanging out on the sidewalk watching through the plate glass window. There was also the basement that turned out to be the smoking room. There were holes in the ceiling right in front of where the stage was, so the smoke would filter up through those holes, probably getting the band high just from standing there. Before too long, people were smoking everywhere outside, too. We were known as a “get high band” but, for some reason, still attracted mainstream fans which was fine with us. Knowing how to blend into any situation, being a chameleon, was a survival skill that Paul and I learned during our tough childhoods. As a result, we each seemed to attract a diverse group of people. And that was true not just at our shows.
One year, we decided to throw a party in our Green Street apartment. I made sure the kids stayed with their grandparents that night, knowing that it might turn out to be a wild time. I was right. One of our friends was an ex-biker. We called him “Rev.” He explained that there were only two ways to quit the club, die or become a minister. So, he sent away to become a minister mail through the mail. That night, he brought his best friend’s daughter, who was a “biker chick” through and through. She arrived carrying a “keg killer,” which was the biggest beer stein I’d seen. The deal was, whenever anyone drank the whole thing, she would flash her tits. There were a lot of drunken men at that party including one who ended up in our bathtub with her. Our old friend, Vernon, the extremely shy man who stayed with us for a summer in Oregon, just sat in a corner watching and doing a lot of blushing. Meanwhile, Rev was in another corner totally engaged for the entire night with the straightest man at the party talking about country music. It was a night to be remembered, and I was glad I’d had the forethought to send my kids away for the night. Not only did they miss the excitement, but Paul and I had a chance to recover the next day before stumbling in to pick up the kids. We were settling into this community nicely and felt as though we were just getting started. Paul was satisfied to stay put, at least for now.
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