Last year, when I was initially approached by Rhino to write the story of my days in one of the original mid-1970s CBGB bands, The Planets, the managing editor stressed that what they were interested in was an "unvarnished" version of that brief halcyon era down on The Bowery....
"Enough with the myths. Rhino wants a little dirt, some grit, maybe even some outright negativity... to better capture the reality of being in a band is all, y'know...."
Well, there was no shortage of "outright negativity" in the competitive and paranoid world of rock musicians. Still, I didn't want to just gratuitously slam anyone....
"Can I use pseudonyms?"
"No, Binky, you name names!"
So, I did.
But, for this excerpt from "My Life In The Ghost of Planets - The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was," I am gonna use a pseudonym for the other band involved in this tale o' woe. I simply have nothing against them at all these days. Calling 'em out in Huffington Post doesn't seem apropos. My opinions expressed below do represent how I felt about "The Tiddlywinks" at the time, though.
Okay! Here we go....
Like most New York City rock combos, the band I was in, The Planets, played most of their shows (not to say all) in Manhattan, primarily, CBGB, Max's Kansas City, Mother's, Great Gildersleeves, The Coventry (in Queens), Kenny's Castaways, and a few other New York here-this-weekend-gone-next-month venues that deigned to book bands doing original material.
Frankly, if you were in a band trying to get a record deal (and who wasn't?), there kinda wasn't much point in playing out of town in those days. You were "discovered" at CBGB, signed to a major label, you made an album, started touring the US of A, while your record company tried to get you played on the radio. That was The Game Plan, period.
Heck, by the end of 1977, bands were traveling from as far as Florida, Ohio, Maine, Tennessee, the Carolinas, etc. to showcase for labels at CBGB and/or Max's. Not only was word rippling through the grapevine about A&R guys practically living at these New York clubs, most of these bands came from towns where the only way they could even get on a stage was by playing covers. In less than three years, Country, BlueGrass, Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmands at 315 The Bowery in New York City, had become Unsigned Rock Band Mecca.
Every now and then though, some NYCBGB bands would venture out into the surrounding areas of upstate New York, New Jersey, Connecticut (maybe all the way to Boston or down to Philly even!) to test the waters of the Real World... Uhmurrkuhh!
The Planets, being so Rock!, did better out of town than most CBGB bands.
We once caused an actual riot at a high school in the middle of New Jersey... bras thrown on stage, fire extinguishers ripped off walls and sprayed every which way, a fight breaking out, teachers stopping the show. Hard to believe, but, yes, more fun than a Wednesday night at Max's.
In a little New York town called Mahopac, we played a bar three times, a roaring success each visit. We even judged a Halloween costume contest there. Guy dressed as a baked potato won.
In the early summer of '77, The Planets somehow wound up being booked, opening for The Tiddlywinks, at a roadhouse bar out in semi-rural Connecticut.
The Tiddlies had a very clearly defined image/sound... They had taken the Pop-ermost elements of the original 1964/65 British Invasion; the white shirt/skinny tie/private school suit jacket/Liverpuddingbowl haircut image. Not a bad idea and The Tiddlywinks had that road to themselves in NYC. But, the way they did it seemed so arch, so calculated-cutesy, so twee, to the point of playing dress-up. Their songs were written to fit the look, bouncy shallow fluff, complete with flute-y one finger Farfisa organ and super clean (anemic) guitar. The T'winks' lyrics, as I recall, were especially precious and awkward.
And, while every Tidd was clearly a middle-class kid from an outer borough (like most of us, Brooklyn for me), they seemed to affect a posh-snooty Park Avenue prep-school vibe offstage that was not endearing. There was no obvious animosity between my band and theirs, but I do think we were trying to out-ignore each other. Our gigs together were rare. And they tended to be standoffs of standoffishness.
Anyway, so... to the roadhouse in Connecticut...
At dusk, on this June Friday, The Planets, by now a genuinely decent Who/Zep kinda wannabe arena band, and the afore-described fab-gear Tiddlywinks, pulled up to this joint in what we assumed was the usual hoity-toity Connecticut and...
It was, in fact, a full-blown BIKER BAR!
The gravel and dust parking lot was filled with gorgeous customized Harleys, the kind of bikes the owner would've invested his entire life on. Lined up three deep, maybe 50 or 60 of 'em. Along with a few Trans Ams and beefed-up pick-up trucks. Very scruffy, not to say dirty, colors-wearing (I think they were called The Outlaws) guys were hangin' out with, of course, several great looking girls, with plenty more of both in the dark dank bar.
My band was scheduled to go on first. We got our gear outta the van and hustled it all up on stage as quickly as we could. We didn't bother changing into our stage clothes. Way too gay. We just got out our guitars and tuned up in the men's room aka our dressing room. The Planets, taking a deep breath, took the stage.
Things went surprisingly well for a few songs, actual smatterings of applause emanated from the bar about 30 feet away where hearty fellows were quaffing their brews. I had been glopping every song with extra-flashy Jimmy Page-manic lead guitar fills, and that seemed to sooth the beasts we were trapped in this cage with.
"Man, this is kinda cool. We're winning these monsters over!", thought foolish me.
Then, while I was quickly checking my tuning, one of the bikers walked right up to the edge of the stage and asked in a loud shit-dumb donkey-bray...
"Hey, Git-tar, come'ere! D'joo notice dat yer singer's a nigga an' ya bass pla's a spic? 'Cause we all did out here!"
Lots of appreciative laughter from those imbibing by the bar in response to this jaunty jape, courtesy of their kick-ass compadre.
Uh... Oh my..
We quickly decided that the next song was the last song... Well, good night.
Some catcalls and "You sucks!"... but, nothing was thrown at us either. Thankfully, it seemed the majority of these rough n' tough denim and leather clad fellows had lost interest in us. But, I did see a few of the Harley boys still bopping their heads during that last song, even after it had been pointed out by one of their very own that we were clearly half-colored.
We hauled our crap back into our van as quick as we could, wishing a very nervous Tiddlies good luck as they set up for their show. The bikers paid no attention, except for that same loudmouth greasy-haired slurring-drunk-at-9-pm biker-comic who, once again, approached the stage, this time demanding to know if the T'winks "were gonna suck as much as that last band did." Bill Hicks, this guy.
The Tidds launched into their opening ditty, wearing their Ed Sullivan look...
I was standing outside by our loaded van and walked over to this window that looked right onto stage-right to see how the dolly-gear band were gonna go down. When the first song ended, they were greeted with only the hum of friendly banter among the attending motorcycle enthusiasts. The Outlaws, or whoever, were bored with us rock fags and were utterly ignoring The Tiddlywinks. For some reason, as I stood at that (open) window, no more than 10 feet from the organist and bassist on stage, I decided it would be funny to yell...
"Smoke Onna Water!"
In less than 10 seconds, all hell broke loose. Ohhhh... Shit!
The bikers just went happily berserk. Booing, screaming, howling, cursing, laughing, flipping birds, throwing empty beer cans... Poor T'winks, in front of everyone, the bar owner walked up and let them know that the Bands-From-NYC experiment was over.
"Time to pack up and get the hell back to New York, boys."
Every Tiddly knew exactly who'd yelled "Smoke Onna Water!"
Suffice it to say, our brittle relationship shattered. None of them ever spoke to me again, and took every chance to snub me and the rest of The Planets for years to come. I regretted my actions. Giggle.
PS It's only fair to tell you, a few years later, I suddenly realized that David Tiddly was the best rock drummer in New York City, a truth that his own band's music has hidden from me for years. At loose ends myself at the time, I approached him with a proposition to put a band together. Oddly, he turned me down cold. Ice cold.