Monday, October 08, 2018

The Ballad of the Occasionals

After the collapse, at the end of 1998, of the blues band I'd put together to get out of the supporting-the-bar-for-three-hours-to-play-three-songs rut of the jams, I had this instrumental R&B band for a minute. I wanted something that could gig small rooms where my being on DUI probation would not be problematic, and I knew the woman who booked bands for Borders. Instrumental because I'd had some static with the previous band's frontman that I wanted to avoid repeating. (When I first proposed the idea to Professor Robert Cadwallader -- whom I met sitting in with Tiny & the Kingpins in Dallas, before he went on to spend many years as James Hinkle's ivory-tinkler -- he exclaimed, "We can't go out there without a singer. They'll kill us!"). R&B because it wasn't rehearsal-intensive, and there was already a bunch of guys who jammed at my duplex in Benbrook every Sunday.

Ron "The Velvet Hammer" Geida taught two of my kids guitar and had played in a rock band called the Civilians. He was from Springfield, Mass., had a nice touch and lots of melodic ideas. He went on to tour Europe with country rockers Jasper Stone, and serve as the resident Jeff Beck simulacrum for years of Wreck Room and Lola's jams. I don't remember how we found Dan Bickmore, who was a corporate attorney from Oregon but had drummed in a Tower of Power-type band there. Later on, Dan and I played alt-country and rock in bands that never got out of the shed before he disappeared back into the ether. Bass was the hardest position to fill. We started out with a guy named Bill (I forget his last name) who was obsessed with Kustom amps. I'd met him sitting in with Dave Anderson's band in Dallas. After timely pause, Bill was replaced by Duke Nishimura, a superior technician with whom I butted heads over his desire to cover the Yellowjackets. Duke in turn was replaced by Ron's buddy Layne McConnell, who'd been in the Civilians.

Besides Borders, we also played one gig at a coffee house in Cleburne, and an audition at 8.0's where Ron was inaudible due to his reluctance to hump a Twin downtown and the foldback weirded us all out to the point of falling apart in the middle of "Pick Up the Pieces." Ron subsequently hustled us another audition at the Flying Saucer, for which Layne was unwilling to rehearse due to the Cowboys being on TV, so I broke up the band after 13 months. Several months later, we regrouped at an open jam hosted by the frontman from the aforementioned blues band and played "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" -- which we'd learned very laboriously over the summer when Ron and I saw the Allmans play it with an extended intro that we copied -- cold. Almost made me wish we'd stuck together. And learned more material.

I ran into Ron a little while ago, and he told me he had some tapes of the band he'd been thinking about digitizing. Daron Beck very kindly consented to do the transfers, and Ron and I were left with the task of listening to four shows, seven sets (one of the sets wasn't recorded) of ourselves, almost 20 years ago -- an exercise that feels a lot like brainwashing. The first show, with Duke on bass, was clearly the best, recording quality-wise, with a good balance between instruments and a definition the others lacked. You could even hear the tonal differences between Ron's 335 and my Telecaster. (Ron solos first until the last three songs, when we pushed the good guitar out front.) I realized, listening, that I played a couple of these songs ("Cissy Strut," "Chameleon") with Lee Allen years later at the Wreck Room, and one ("Rock Me Baby," although not this arrangement) with Lady Pearl Johnson at the Swing Club. Days gone by. Anyway, now there's a little digital home (on Soundcloud) for a band hardly anybody heard, who only lasted for a minute. So there.

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