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Every boy should have a band l Off Kilter


Last updated 7/6/2021 at 11:26am

Every young man can probably envision himself as the next Beach Boys, Beatles or Rolling Stones.

Why do I say that? Because that’s what I remember thinking when I was a young man. If you had any musical talent (in my own case, my father was a professional musician) at all, or even if you didn’t, there was little that got in your way if you wanted to form a band.

Like many boys and girls, I took music lessons. In my own case, it was piano, then guitar. It was simply a rite of passage. I can vividly recall having to practice the piano every afternoon, even before I started on my school homework. I think the only instrument that was really a pain was drums.

Later on, while in graduate school, my roommate was a drummer. There was simply no place to hide when he decided to practice. No earmuffs, earplugs, or obscene amount of alcohol would eliminate that horrible drumming (yes, a pun) from one’s consciousness.

While in graduate school (and I was also a teaching assistant), I found I had a lot of free time in addition to my studies and teaching duties. So I got together with my roommate and two singing guitar players (whom I found through a local music store) and formed a band. Clearly, it was going to be a rock and roll band.

We rehearsed for a month or so, building up a fair repertoire of songs. The two guitar players both had excellent singing voices. As I was the “organizer” of the band, I was elected its manager. So I set out to find bookings for the band.

The greater-Boston area had hundreds of neighborhood bars. I started calling them, asking if they either had live music, or wanted to. We got our first “gig” at a neighborhood bar which to say it was “run down” was being charitable.

Besides the usual smell of stale beer and other unmentionable odors (emanating from the men’s room), there was the typical owner/bar master. It was he who did the booking. We agreed to play four sets a night, Thursday through Saturday.

It was the usual arrangement, 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off. We got paid in cash, and it was usual to get paid between the third and fourth set. The reason for collecting the cash is that bar owners were notorious for not paying. If they didn’t pay up before the last set, then folks would not dance and get thirsty, running up their tab.

The only thing we were still missing was a name. I elected “The Police” (this was long before the “real” Police/Sting). After playing a few weeks at that bar, we then moved up to a much better place. However, the owner asked us to change our name. He didn’t think advertising that The Police would be there Thursday through Saturday nights was a good way to attract a crowd. So we changed the name to “The Soul Reaction.” (The other night, a friend mentioned that when he worked at a bar, they had a band named “Free Beer.” Now that is clever marketing!)

Some of our infamous experiences included the following:

1: At a sort of “hick” bar, they played cards in the back for serious money. One night in the middle of one of our sets, a player yelled, “You are cheating!” and flipped the card table right over, just like in the old Western movies. Only lacking gunfire to complete the picture. We stopped playing and couldn’t decide to A: run for the door, or B: hide under a table. The altercation was over so quickly we didn’t have to do either.

2: We played the break up party for the Boston College football team. Huge mistake! Besides having to fight off a bunch of 250 pound men – who all wanted to grab the microphone and drunkenly sing Danny Boy – to say it was rowdy was a gross understatement. Upon packing up and leaving for the night, we were loading up our cars in front of the hall at about 1 a.m. This was in Charlestown, a very tough, gritty, working class neighborhood. Along the street came a group of about six neighborhood “toughs.” We were there exposed and could do nothing about it. If they wanted to steal our instruments or money, there was little we would have been able to do. As they got within about 30 feet of us, a beat cop came walking along the sidewalk. He said, “Well, well, Donny, what are you up to? No good from what I can see.” Then he took his nightstick and smashed the leader across his neck. He went down like a sack of potatoes. The others took off at a run. I was never so happy to see a cop as at that minute.

3: Musicians seem to attract women like bees to honey. All four of us had to be very careful to not become too friendly with any of them, as there was always a boyfriend lurking nearby, who would have gladly beaten the stuffing out of us.

In summary, other than having some fun, mixing it up with a bunch of drunken party goers right on the edge of “losing it” (both via regurgitating on your shoes), or starting a fight at an ungodly hour of the morning is no way to make a living. We broke the band up when it simply got too much to be out very late 4-5 nights a week when we all had to get to work at our real jobs the next morning.


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