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Almost Famous in a 1969 Cover Band

Life was safer in a rock band in 1969 

Secondly, by sheer coincidence, I made contact with Bill Partlan, our old lead guitar player. Someone found him on the Internet working as a theatre director and living in Minnetonka, MN. I sent an email and back came photos of the old band and a cassette recording. I don't have to close my eyes to see Bill with his Gibson wailing seriously into that big Electrovoice microphone, a thick lock of shiny hair dangling against his tall thing face. It was a diverse group of urban white boys. Bill and his older brother Jay, our drummer, went to private school at a new place called Derryfield. Bassist Vin Pelletier attended a vocational school. Our pretty boy rhythm player John Dewyea was from Central High, and I hailed from Manchester West on the other side of the tracks.

I wouldn't be surprised if we played well over 100 gigs in the last few years of that turbulent decade -- town halls, high school gyms, frat parties, sleazy clubs. I remember an audition at a strip club in Salisbury Beach, though we were all well below the drinking age. We often played until early in the morning at parties were the beer flowed so freely that we had to lift the amps onto blocks of wood to avoid getting electrocuted. We dragged equipment through the snow, up third floor landings, and packed ourselves so tightly in the front seat of a borrowed truck that the doors popped open as we sped down the highway. It was very hard work.

We were practically the house band at a roller-skating rink called the Swing Thing in Bedford. We'd play our guts out, sometimes, for a half dozen little girls, cigarettes palmed in their tiny hands, who stood up close to the stage and a dozen shame-faced boys in polka dot and paisley shirts who huddled near the back of the room an acre away. All band members wore tight-pegged white pants, Beatle boots, shimmery dark blue shirts with gold ties. "Ladies and gentleman", the announcer shouted, "welcome the Blue Lancers."

crystalprison02.jpegWhen I met the four-piece band they were just coming off their Ventures phase in which they played mostly instrumental music like "Walk Don't Run," "Telstar" and "Lonely Bull." Later they added microphones, the kind that came with your Radio Shack tape recorder, tied onto a broomstick stuck into a bucket of cement. It was a budget band, but it was a good band. Eventually they needed a keyboard player for songs like "96 Tears" and 'Light My Fire" and anything by Paul Revere and the Raiders. I had a Baldwin mini-compact portable electronic organ, years of piano lessons, but no amplifier.

We rehearsed endlessly it seemed, in either a basement in Manchester's North End or a garage next door. In the 60's, originality was not in fashion, not if your band wanted to make money at least. Kids wanted to dance to recent oldies and the hottest Top 40 tunes. Working bands were entrepreneurs and functioned like live AM radio stations. Whatever hit the charts, we copied note for note.

The Blue Lancers was a top notch "cover band". We sounded hauntingly like the Turtles, Rascals, Stones, Beatles, Fish, Byrds, Monkeys, Cream, Who, Animals, Troggs, Yardbirds, Doors, Beau Brummels, Hollies, Moody Blues, Kingsmen, Kinks, Dave Clark Five, Mindbenders, Buffalo Springfield, Zombies, Airplane, Orpheus, Barbarians, Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, Miracles, Coasters, Pacemakers, Hermits, Dreamers and dozens of one-shot wonder boy bands that only show up today as trivia questions on Rock & Roll Jeopardy.

The cassette tape is playing now. I have it cranked up loud. One side is from a dance in 1968. The band is good, but nobody applauds. Songs are short, tight, diverse. The second side of the tape was recorded in 1969 at my old high school -- the one where, in nightmares, I still wander the concrete halls.


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