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Almost Famous in a 1969 Cover Band


This is where the history part comes in. Somewhere between 1968 and 1969 the world's emotional tectonic plates really began to shift. That's when we added Bob Drew. He was 25, an ex-Marine, and the oldest young man I'd ever met. We looked, I suppose, like the Osmond Brothers backing up Joe Cocker. Bob had a wife. He had kids. He had long hair and a beard and a tattoo on his forearm of a skull pierced by a knife blade. At the West High gig I wore a button down white shirt, blue jeans and a brown leather belt, pretty much what I'm wearing today. Bob had on purple pants and a colorful shirt right out of "Godspell." My high school principal didn't like his looks. It took all my influence as an honor student and president of the student council to get Bob past the gym door.

By 1969 our cute danceable tunes had turned long and trance-like. We played the long version of The Beatles 'Hey Jude," the 20-minute version of "In a Gadda Da Vita" and the extended version of "Keep Me Hanging On" by Vanilla Fudge. We had changed our name too, dropping the Blue Lancers for the oxymoronic "Crystal Prison." The band, like America, was getting "deep and heavy." We were now, according to our business card, playing "blue-eyed soul." On the tape, when he hits the right notes, Bob sounds like a husky Janis Joplin, another white male imitating a white female imitating black blues singers.

Reality check. Martin Luther King, for those who were not there, had been assassinated in between the two sides of this audiotape. So had Bobby Kennedy. 630,000 American soldiers were in Viet Nam. Richard Nixon was President. We were in the year of the moonwalk, peace at Woodstock, death at Altamont, the Manson Family murders, the end of the Beatles and the end of our high school cover band. This was our last performance. When we struck the final chord on "We Gotta Get Out of this Place" - our signature closing song - we really got out and found ourselves on a dark new planet. We broke up, I tell people today, the same year the Beatles broke up. That is our only claim to fame.

Within a year we'd all be issued draft numbers, grow beards and wear bell bottoms. Janis Joplin would die. College campuses would shut down. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin would suggest we kill our parents.

And yet I wriggled through to my high school graduation alive and still a kid. I made it without tasting a single drop of alcohol or toking a single joint. I didn't say a single swear word. The sexual revolution seemed to be everywhere that I wasn't. I may have been the only one in the band, maybe the only one in the Universe, who can make this outrageous claim to innocence in 1969, but those are the facts.

I wasn't in a band for sex, drugs, fame, money or even the rock and roll. In retrospect, I'm convinced it was all about sanity. High school didn't make any sense to me at all. Even at 15 I knew nobody ever really learns anything sitting at a desk. Education is about experience and experience is about trying, falling down, dusting off, and trying again. That's what we did in the band, rehearsal after rehearsal, gig after gig.

In 1969, the world really felt like it was coming apart at the seams, except in the band. The band was our safe harbor. There six guys learned new songs, honed them, played them for larger and larger crowds. We showed up on time, fixed every busted wire, learned every new chord, movement and voice inflection. We were a hundred bands in one. If high school was a nightmare of doubt and discomfort, the band was a dream of confidence and belonging.

I used to regret that the band broke up, so close to grabbing that brass ring. We didn't make it big, but we made it through. We got on and we got off the merry-go-round in one piece. A lot of kids and a lot of bands weren't so lucky.

(c) J. Dennis Robinson. Oroginally published in 2000, reprinted in 2008.



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