How I Became a Rock Musician at Age 62 & Recent Performance Photos
When I Should Have Learned to Play Guitar:
I was a young teenager sitting in my living room when my father came home from work, parked his car and pulled a guitar case out of the back seat. I started jumping up and down yelling to my friend “I got a guitar! I got a guitar!” It was an old ‘50’s Kay guitar with f-holes and with the action on the strings way too high. But what a great happy moment!
My dad set me up with lessons. First time out I learned Little Brown Jug. The second lesson saw me checking in with Yankee Doodle. Then I told all my friends I was gonna learn how to play Apache by The Ventures. I mentioned this to my teacher, who played the song for me, but he told me to stick with Little Brown Jug and Yankee Doodle. I quit! I ended my glorious teenage years as a guitarist with a one-string guitar, the strings broken from heavy sessions with the basement pots and pans band.
So time moved on and was growing up at Hampton Beach where I met everybody from everywhere. Soon I was running away from home, hitch-hiking all over New England pulled in a few trips to New York City. Kicked out of high school just before graduation, I split for California where I had incredible fun … until I got drafted! So I hitched back east with everyone from the West Coast who were headed to Woodstock. At least I got to experience the spirit of Woodstock in this manner. But they took a left for the festival and I forward for my dreaded step into the military.
The war dragged on and I opposed every bit of it from within. After a huge administrative challenge I eventually got an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector (that story is a book in itself!). The next several years saw me doing everyday work with the Peace Movement, the active-duty GI Resistance Movement and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. After the Movement wound down, I got into union-organizing where we won the union vote, but I got fired from my job.
Forming & Managing Rock Bands — Early ‘70s:
So now I was living in Boston’s Back Bay near the Public Gardens and collecting unemployment when I met one of those fascinating rare of a kind crazy girls. she was full of beauty, bliss and art. From New York City, she lived in the old Puffer Building on Cambridge Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. Her forte was Boston’s underground arts community.
With everything going as great as great could go, we decided to throw a huge party. She lined up the artists and I, using my peace movement connections, gathered the musicians and over a hundred people. It became one of the best parties ever thrown in the history of Boston — we went all night long and they couldn’t shut us down ’cause every time the police came they were greeted with a contingent of well-known attorneys who met them at the door. These members of the bar fought for our Right to Parrrr-teee!!!
Party we did!
Next thing I know I’m managing a rock n’ roll band after I organized the musicians from the party into a rock band. The band centered around a slick Asbury Park lead guitarist named Johnny Tomorrow. It became one of Boston’s first glitter rock bands at the edge of punk music. The band’s name was Harlow. At one point the Boston famous Tom Scholz, just before his multi-gold album band, answered my ad in the Phoenix for a Hammond B-3 keyboard player.
Imagine that. A guitarist of his caliber answering a keyboard ad! Scholz immediately was pronounced “In the band” and we got very, very good doing many of the songs which went gold. But after a few months fate took it’s turn and the band broke up. For historical purposes, somewhere out there is an incredible four-track cassette recording of Harlow w/Tom Scholz. (I’ve since lost my copy, but maybe Jon Herndon, the Harlow roadie, has a copy.) I tried putting a few new bands together afterwards but I was always plagued with the fact that I wanted to play — I no longer wanted to manage other people’s talents.
I Finally Teach Myself How to Play Guitar:
Eventually I leave Boston-Cambridge scene and move back to Portsmouth, NH where I was born. I got a job driving a taxi, bought three very great Gibson guitars and I began teaching myself how to play. To hell with Little Brown Jug/Yankee Doodle and that oddball teenage teacher guy (Gus Fiore was his name) … I knew at that precise moment I was actually gonna pull it off and become a musician.
When learning my first chords I the divine inspiration toook a very deep grip as I cam to become best friends with an ole’ Black bluesman who accidentally got to Porsmuth in the ’40 from Mississippi where he settled for the remainder of his life. His name was Robert “BJ” Johnson.
Also a story teller of great magnitude who also held a deeply-rooted penchant for Schlitze Beer, he claimed the famous Robert Johnson — renown for inventing the blues — was his nephew … even though BJ was way younger than he. I never asked … I just went with it. As far as I’m concerned? It’s true!
Anyway, BJ told me, “Michael, I’m going to show you three chords — E, A and B — and if you learn these chords they’ll take you all over the world.” I learned his chords and when I barely knew them he put me on stage with him at The Press Room, me slouched at the back of the stage winging it. But it felt great!
Myself and Robert “BJ” Johnson at the Edgewood manor Nursing Home in Portsmouth NH
When old-timer illnesses caught a grip on him and he ended up in a nursing home, my buddy TJ Wheeler, an authentic bluesman in his own right, and some very good musicians friends would visit him frequently in the nursing home, play music for the folks and we’d even get him out to perform at the local clubs. We even put together a high level crack softball team which played for the nursing home. BJ would be there in his wheelchair in front of the bleachers, packing a harmonica around his neck.
He stayed a strong musician right to the very end!
But me? Well, I’ve always been me. Always will be. And I always did what I wanted. Always an impossible student, everything I’ve learned has come mostly from the politics of experience. I went off in a variant way and began inventing my own chords immediately delving into an improvisational form of guitar-playing, immediately writing my own folk songs. Sadly, I always kept the E, A and B chords in my back pocket instead of my front pockets so I never became proficient at the blues.
So one night, with incredible irony, I get dispatched in my cab to pick up a fare at The Dragon Seed, a Chinese restaurant doubling as a country-western club located in Kittery, Maine just past the ole’ Seagull diner. I go in to locate the ride and lo and behold whose on stage but that same guitar teacher who told me to stick with Little Brown Jug and Yankee Doodle. In further irony, he was the main vocalist in a band that was performing the famous C&W tune Cab Driver — lol! I interpreted this as divine inspiration!
I knew then: I was gonna become a musician!
The bands I managed were original bands, not cover-tune bands. So I determined I’d be the same way. In my young ’30s, I began writing my own songs, pretty much evolved into a folk guitarist. Yeah, I learned a few Dylan and Donovan chestnuts from the ’60s but overall all I did was original. This has never changed. I eventually got pretty good and had written enough songs I was close enough to start performing on the folk circuit.
Elected Politics Interrupts:
But gentrification and housing issues began hitting my community and my political blood boiled to a point where I ended up elected as a Democratic state representative, representing Portsmouth NH. Now ‘The People’s Choice,’ I went straight into the hard-hitting issues and stopped playing music near-completely. then it seemed like I wasn’t gonna be a cab driver, I wasn’t gonna be a guitarist … I was gonna be the governor — lol!
After serving two terms in the legislature I concluded I wanted to hang with musicians, not politicians. I figured the best way for me to get out was to take the most difficult issue possible and run for congress knowing I’d lose the election. So after a strong campaign calling for drug legalization I lost, and moved back into Cambridge where I become a Harvard Square/Subway street musician — a step up on the pedigree chart — lol!
Back In Cambridge:
Now happy and back in the city living near Harvard Square one day I found 110 bottles of boxed and corked bottles of wine which got tossed from the Harvard University Alumni Party from the Class of ’67. With wine for all I threw a spaghetti party for musicians. For the next eight years this party carried on every Thursday night with three to five dozen regular attendees.
Somehow, fate had me not only throwing best party in Boston, I now had Cambridge under my party belt — lol! These were musical spaghetti parties — the best parties ever held on the planet. Everyone was party-trained! But because I only performed original songs and all the other musicians carried the energy I always yielded to them and would only pull my guitar out just before the sun came out. In effect, although the parties were spectacular, I had become a backbench folksinger.
Eventually I become an online stock trader and fall in love with a girl and move to New York City just in time for the stock market to crash. We recovered by eventually settling in Hull, Massachusetts (Nantasket Beach) … where I live today with cats instead of her — lol. But due to parties, I always kept a full drum kit and a PA system. I remained party-ready for live music.
The Rolling Beatles, Heavy Weddle & The PrettyKats and Climate Change Bands:
Eventually my old friend Gideon (Stephen Eisner), who once played in the Harlow Band I managed back in the mid-’70s, moves to Hull where we rented a winter mansion. He and old Boston rocker friend Bruce Scott teamed up into a unit with Gideon and myself on acoustic guitars and Bruce sporting a double-necked lap steel guitar w/whammy bar and wah-wah. My first real band ever, together, Gideon had over 100 originals, I had 70 and Bruce had a few tucked away. Our vocal harmonies were right on and we became The Rolling Beatles. This project went very well until Gideon sadly passed away.
Next, I discover my new housemate Kat was a damn good drummer with natural talent. I knew another woman who also was a drummer and I was going out with a female bassist. Thus, I converted my acoustic folk songs into rock songs and finally had a legitimate rock n’ roll band at age 62.
We called ourselves Heavy Weddle & The PrettyKats and did two great gigs: Occupy Boston and The Merry Wanna Ball, sponsored by the pro-pot lobby organization of Massachusetts. But the PrettyKats turned into PsychoKats and this experiment ended quickly — lol! To this day, I continue to insist that the two female drummers in one band was and remains a great idea … oh, well! Perhaps someone else can pull that one off.
So then from the world of Facebook comes Matt Gilbert whom I met on the Rathskeller (The Rat) thread. Our conversations led into founding a concept of The Rat Beach Party, an annual concert featuring 30 to 40 bands, held at Nantasket Beach which brings together a wonderful and amazing reunion of former Kenmore Square Rat Club Musicians. With guitar virtuoso Matt on ead and myself as a rhythm guitarist, vocalist and songwriter formed the Climate Change Band. Old buddy Bruce is on board. The rhythm section seems to variate with Reno Daly on bass and Sir Cecil Rednellac on drums chipping in with our most recent performances.
All in all? It was a long hard road to no fame and fortune but managed to pull it off — lol! I’m probably the happiest performing musician of anyone performing at my age!
Below are YouTube Playlists for:
The Rolling Beatles:
Climate Change Band:
Photos of Climate Change Band:
At The C-Note on Nantasket Beach
Reno Daly on Bass and Matt Gilbert on Lead Guitar
Bruce Scott on Lap Steel Guitar (w/Whammy Bar)
Jerry Yalmokas — Drummer
Originally published at www.facebook.com.