I lived on Magee Street in Northeast Philadelphia back then. I was walking up my street on that fateful night back in 1978. I was 16 years old. I saw this other kid carrying a bass guitar. He was my height, blonde hair with glasses and peach fuzz all over the lower part of his face. He looked like a total nerd.
I went up to him and said: “Hey, I always see you passing by carrying that bass. Do you need a singer?” I think I genuinely startled the guy.
“Well, probably. Because our guitarist Jerry just quit. Well get him back and tell him you’ve got a singer.”
I get his phone number and give him mine. I guess he had a pen on him and I think he wrote his number on a pack of matches I had in my pocket. That’s how it was done back in the 70’s before cell phones. Matchbooks and cocktail napkins. Then you would have to call a stranger’s house and his mom or another family would answer the phone.
So a few days later Larry brings Jerry over and we go down to my basement for an audition.
Jerry is a tall, lanky Italian guy who is probably a year older that me. But since he’s Italian I can see that he has to shave every day and already has hair on his chest. I’m as smooth as a peach.
I think Jerry just wanted someone fresh to jam with and wanted to check me out and see if I was a fit for he and Larry. I don’t think he really cared if I was much of a singer. I had spent a few years in choir in grade school, but beyond that it was zero experience.
I put the song Dream On, by Aerosmith and started to sing along. This was a vinyl record that belonged to my sister Janice that I was playing on my father’s record player. I loved Aerosmith back then.
So I sing the whole song, and I’m nervously waiting for a response.
Jerry: “Would your mom let us practice here?”
Me: “Right here in the basement?”
Jerry: “Well not right here, more like right over there.” (Pointing and ever the smartass)
“I’m sure that would be okay.” (Bold Faced Lie – No idea if that would be okay)
“We’ll tell Jack our drummer and we’ll come over Thursday with our gear.”
That night I asked my mother and she was cool with it. She said it would be fine to have the boys come over and play in the basement after school.
I was overjoyed! Not only was I going to be a singer in a rock band, (Dream coming true) We were going to be jamming in my basement. This could up my cool factor in the neighborhood, which had been very low for years.
Back in those days my dad worked at a bank down the shore. He lived in our Wildwood, NJ house during the week and would mostly come home on the weekends. It was my parents version of getting separated. They were always a united front as parents to us kids but they fought a lot. My dad was a good man, and a decent father to us but between his high anxiety and OCD he was pretty hard on my mom. He’s hard to get along with, let alone live with. So I was happy to have him out of the house all week. Life was so much more chill around the house. Peaceful.
One of the things my mother would let me do is put a small record player on the chair beside me at dinner. I would play these 45 rpm records and me and my sisters would all laugh and sing along with the songs. We didn’t do it every night but enough that I remember it. After dinner my mom would wash the dishes and I would dry them. I remember this as one of my fondest memories of my mother. Because it was just the two of us.
We’d have the radio on and be listening to WYSP or WMMR which back then were the only two rock stations on the radio. There was no such thing at satellite radio, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify or I tunes. Just your local rock and roll radio stations. She liked the Rolling Stones and even thought that David Bowie was a fine boy. I remember one album that could be found in every white suburban home was, Frampton Comes Alive. The big hit from that record was a song entitled, “Do You Feel Like We Do?” It got heavy rotation that year, and I remember explaining to my mom what a talkbox was.
This is a brilliant clip and I’d never seen it until I went looking for it to include in this piece. Please watch the whole thing (because it’s awesome!) but if you suck and you just want to see what a talkbox is, skip to the six minute mark.
The sound from the guitar goes up through the tube and into the musician’s mouth and the guitar sound and notes come out and he can form words with them. Cool as shit, and I totally wanted one at some point, but that quickly passed. How many times can you use that trick in your songs. Probably only one before you become known as the talkbox guy. It’s an effect, not a sound or style. But still way cool in the hands of the great Peter Frampton.
By the way, that clip is from a show that came on Saturday nights. It’s called “Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special.” There was that and “Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert”, were the only places to see your favorite bands of the day play live on TV. This was many years before videos and MTV. But it was on late at night and normally I was asleep by then and rarely saw any of them. If you’d like, I recommend you YouTube these programs because they are truly time capsules of joy.
Those were good times in our lives. Everybody was healthy and happy for the most part. Dad would swing home most weekends and it was greatest hits with him. A little bit goes a long way and you know by Sunday night or Monday morning he’s back down the shore.
I was really looking forward to being part of a rock and roll band! I love rock and now I’m going to be able to MAKE rock!!!
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