The Summer of 1979 was a fallow one for me.
For the first time since 1968, I wasn't in a band. Beginning in February of 1978, I'd been working at Free Being, literally the first used record store in the world, as far as research shows by those obsessed enough to have checked. I was, by now, a fixture on the St. Mark's Place scene, the block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues being Punk Mecca. By July 1979, I'd moved around the corner to the new store St. Mark's Sounds.
One day, a drummer pal, Mick Leland, in the band Susan, then on RCA, strolled in to Free Being and casually asked me if I'd like to come down and "jam with Susan". Huh? Jam with a signed band? Why?
"Uh, Tom, the rhythm guitarist just left. And..."
I was the first guy they auditioned. They went through another 60 (!) guys before Mick came into Sounds to ask if I wanted to join his band.
The other guitarist in Susan was Ricky Byrd.
More on this adventure some other time... I spent about eight months with the Susan guys, then decided to try my own thing one more time. Susan changed their name to The Rendezvous, got dropped by their label and management, broke up [sigh].
A few months later, I bumped into Ricky on a drizzly afternoon in Times Square. I was on my way to buy guitar strings on 48th St. and Ricky was working for a messenger company. He announced that he'd auditioned for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts a few weeks earlier and had just gotten a call-back and wasn't sure if he wanted to do it.
I fairly shouted at him, "Of course, you do it!"
Yes, among many other moments, my pal Ricky knows what it's like to play frickin' Shea Stadium (Joan opened for The Police).
Anyway, all these years later, Rick and I have never lost touch, and Facebook has made us gabby boys these days.
Ricky has just recorded and released an album. A few days ago, I gave it a listen and threw an impromptu review up on Facebook...
As an independent rock record promoter, I shove music in cubby holes for a living...
So, take some Faces ("Small and otherwise"), some Rod the Mod solo career, some Brian Jones Stones, some Mick Taylor Stones, some Ronnie Wood Stones, some J Geils, some Ian Hoople, some Hall & Oates, some Bruce, some Southside Johnny, some Max's Kansas City, even a pinch of Prince and Billy Joel...
Set the blender for smoothie and voila!
Ricky Byrd's new "Lifer" album!
Nice, I thought.
Well, within 30 minutes, at least 15 people had posted comments like...
"Billy Joel?! God, no!"
"God, I hate Billy Joel, I was interested 'til then"
"Man, I don't hear any Billy Joel at all, thank god"
Poor Ricky finally had to put up a NO BILLY JOEL disclaimer!
Jeeez, I'd only been referring to several sophisticated chord changes in a song or two.
But, wow, the vehement negativity was kinda remarkable. It made me think of something I witnessed out the windows of that record store on St. Mark's Place...
Directly across the street, on the north side of St. Mark's Place, stood a very wide five-story building with almost every window bricked up. A Pop Culture monument. It had once housed The Dom, the club where Andy Warhol had put on his "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" shows with The Velvet Underground in 1966. In fact, in 1975 Velvet's guitarist Sterling Morrison opined that his band's shows at the Dom turned St. Mark's Place "into the sleaze hole it is today." By 1969, the name of the venue had been changed to The Electric Circus. In it's early days, The Electric Circus' house band was a group called Sly & the Family Stone.
By the time I was working across the street at Sounds, the entire building was, I kid you not, a lesbian commune. Lots of gals wearing tool belts! Very butch! I doubt a faucet in that building got to leak for more than three minutes. The ground floor space was a wide low-ceilinged room with blond wood floors and high and wide easy-to-look-into windows. This room was primarily used seven days a week for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
One morning, I arrived at work around 11:30am for our noon opening time to find that St. Mark's Place had been taken over by several huge trucks, the sidewalk sprawling with top-flight film equipment and bustling crews doing heavy prep work in the AA/NA room for what was clearly gonna be a BIG PRODUCTION.
Maybe an hour later, a stretch limo pulled up, and out stepped Christie Brinkley, looking distinctly better in person, I must say, with a short stocky balding guy. Yes, it was the King of Long Guyland, Billy Joel.
It turned out that Mr. Joel was about to film his video for "A Matter of Trust," featuring, for the first time ever, Billy playing guitar instead of piano. This 'performance' was gonna take place in the AA/NA room.
From the floor-to-ceiling parlor floor windows in Sounds, overlooking the whole scene, when I wasn't busy, I was able to watch them do take after take of Billy Joel and his band miming to the track. In fact, there are several shots in the video where you can see the window I was looking out of in the background. I'm not there, but, hell, it's much cooler to have been in "Gimme Shelter" during the "Jumping Jack Flash" sequence anyway, right?
By about 2:30pm, Billy and the crew had gotten what they wanted, and the laborious breakdown process and packing up of equipment had gotten under way. Within an hour, about 80% of all the stuff had been torn down and loaded up.
Suddenly, there was an uproar. From across the street, I heard harsh yelling, loud angry cursing, trucks' doors being thrown open with a bang... Some kind of nasty chaos was ensuing.
All the equipment was now being dragged out and back into the AA/NA meeting room and set up all over again. From my window, I could see that the entire crew was flipping out, just absolutely furious. It seemed like they were having to start from scratch.
I was just too curious.
I strolled outside, crossed the street, and walked over to one of the younger slightly-less- pissed-off guys on the crew and asked him, "What the fuck is happening, weren't you guys done?!"
The guy sighed and replied, "Just as Billy was getting into his limo to leave, one of the guys on the crew said, 'You know, Billy, I think it's really cool that you used that old Fender Telecaster as a homage to Bruce Springsteen'. Billy, lost his shit on the spot, and instantly decided the entire fucking video has to be re-shot with him using a different guitar. Can you fuckin' believe this shit?!"
If you ever see that video again, you will notice that Billy is playing a gold Gibson Les Paul, exactly like the one Dickey Betts used for decades.
I strongly suspect that no one ever mentioned that to Mr. Joel that day.