Amy’s Note: Kenny Love has offerred to submit some stories to the site, occasionally I will post them here…
And, You Think Your Band Is Broke???
by Kenny Love
What you are about to read, you may not believe, and may feel that the story is made up. But, I swear that it is entirely true.
And, the next time you are feeling sorry for you or your band not having enough money, these truths about my own first band back in 1976 may make you realize just how financially solvent and rich you already are:
“THE LIGHTS OF SOUL”
Though we would experience dark days, we had the audacity to name our band “The Lights Of Soul.” We were so poor that, at one point, we seriously considered renaming it “The Welfare Band” (which was much more appropriate) in hopes that our community would feel so sorry for us that they would put dollar bills in our tip jar instead of simply tossing us loose change. Actually, on second thought, we never had a tip jar because we couldn’t afford that either. If memory serves, our “tip jar” was a Lays potato chip bag propped up by two ice cream popsicle sticks.
OUR MEMBERS & TOP-OF-THE-LINE EQUIPMENT
I began the band with a large number of players… something like 20+ members (we were into Earth, Wind & Fire at the time and wanted a big Funk sound). Have you ever heard of former NFL Dallas Cowboy Eugene Lockhart? Well, I grew up with him and he began playing trombone in my band. I later kicked him and another band member out for wrestling after they broke our manager’s couch.
Two brothers played in my first band…Larry Whitting (bass) and Doug Whitting (keyboard). Larry played an awful looking hollowbox bass, and even though I was not yet a bass player (I was playing trumpet at the time in the high school band), I had to show Larry every single note to every song. Because, not only was he completely clueless regarding music, he was also tone deaf (or, was it tone death?). Actually, both phrases applied to Larry.
Well, after about 999 times of showing him songs, I became so frustrated, I decided to relieve Larry of his bass-playing duties, and I took up playing the bass myself. As we could not afford a professional bass, my manager ordered one out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Those S&R catalogs were so large, I am told that some people actually went hunting with them during deer season.
To use this book as a weapon and save wear and tear on your rifle and save ammunition at the same time, all you needed to do was climb a tree with it, remain quiet, and await an unfortunate deer to arrive under your tree then, (((((BAM))))). You dropped it on his head and took him out. And, best of all, no bloody mess to clean up out of the truck cab either.
I believe the new bass guitar, possibly, broke our manager’s bank account that week with its hefty $49.95 price tag (plus tax). Talk about splurging!
Oh, yeah…after breaking a couple of strings one night, I played the bass for several weeks with only two strings on it because we could not afford to buy a whole set. As you can imagine, my hands/arms were doing double time and, afterward, my forearms were so swollen, they would have made Popeye jealous.
If you are a bass player, have you ever tried playing 4 notes’ worth of music on only 2 strings all night? No, I didn’t think so, because you are smarter than that.
But, the positive side of that experience, is that when people watched me doing it, they thought that I had suddenly become a very fast-playing bass player in record time, even though they didn’t follow me home to see me soak my painful arms in a tub of Epsom Salt afterward.
“Wow! Kenny, you can play REALLY fast now! How did you learn to do that so quickly? Can you show me?”
Uh, let me think about that for a minute…NO!
In fact, I have major arthritic pain in both my wrists as a result of this.
Now, about Larry’s brother, Doug. Lordy, mercy. Doug’s keyboard couldn’t even be called a real keyboard. It looked like some accordion that had been refused access to the piano family reunion picnic. It was so small, that Doug would sit it on his knees in his attempts to play it. It was so small that a single finger, almost always, and unintentionally, played two notes simultaneously.
It sounded worse than those cheap 1980s Casios…yeah, you know the ones…those little white ones that, in order to hear them, you not only needed to plug them into a PA system, but you also needed to mic the keyboard so the audience could actually hear your fingers tapping the keyboard and validate that you were actually playing it and that you weren’t pulling a “Milli Vanilli.”
Well, with our image to think of, this soon became too much, and I asked Doug to join Larry in the unemployment line, and also because he could never seem to get those extremely difficult three-note major chords down correctly. And I was terrified that asking him to venture into the areas of Dominant 7th chords, or worse, 9th or 11th inversions would prove to be an impossibility and finally send him over the edge. We were now sans a piano, but for the better. Come to think of it, I don’t believe the little keyboard could even make 7th chords.
Our drummer, Reginald Smith, is one of my closest friends to this day (known him since Kindergarten). But let me tell you about his drum kit, or more accurately, his “partial” drum kit. Actually, Reg couldn’t afford the entire kit, so he just had drums (and, sometimes, sticks). The drum set that Reg played had no ride or crash cymbals. But worst of all, it had a kick pedal that only functioned part of the time…that is, when the adjustment screw wasn’t popping out, flying halfway across the room, and almost putting out one of the other band members’ eye.
In fact, the kick pedal became so bad for repair, that Reg finally decided to toss it entirely. But, whenever we were on a good roll, he would, believe it or not folks, kick the drum with his toe. I believe I even recall him doing a fast double kick once when the spirit moved him to do so in what would have normally been a double roll with a real drum set. A positive side effect, however, was his ability to quickly build his thigh and calf muscles, even if there was the occasional “charlie horse” as a downside.
Our first gig was, literally, in a cow pasture, complete with cows (only in Texas). To add insult to injury, we were encased in chicken wire in case the audience got ticked off at our playing for whatever reason, and decided to kindly and collectively toss their beer bottles our way so as not to litter the pasture. After all, you can’t have valuable cattle stepping on glass, can you?
However, the chicken wire encasement did not deter a drunk toothless, snuff-dipping woman from reaching through the wire, grabbing Cedric Reagans, our lead singer, by his shirt collar when he got too close to the fencing, then attempting to force her tongue down his throat as he sang a rendition of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe.” Ooooh…just the sordid memory of the scene still chills my bones 32 year later.
Our “PA System” (yeah, right). We also could not afford a real PA system, let alone it being from a professional quality line. So, we had what I still consider an ingenious idea to this day. We decided to take the drawers out of a bedroom dresser, then mount a 15-inch speaker to its stationary brace.
Our manager then ran an electrical wire back to one of the guitar amps. Lastly, we took a black cloth and covered the entire dresser so that it appeared that we were on the rise financially and could now afford some serious new equipment. Our manager is the only human being that I have ever seen hook up a sparkling electrical wire without the hint of flinch.
Once when our manager was late for rehearsal, to get rehearsal started, a couple of our foolish members bravely tried to hook the naked electrical wires up as they had seen our manager do, but were knocked across the room by heavy voltage. No one ever tried that again. As for our homemade PA system, no one was ever the wiser, and several people said our sound improved. ;-(
Our lead singer would, on occasion, also forget the lyrics to the songs. He would then look around at us for either moral support, guidance, or telepathy (I never figured out which he was seeking). In any event, we offered neither and were of no consolation in his sudden plight.
During these wonderful special occasions, I would take the liberty and opportunity of seeking out shelter via a convenient part of the curtain to hide behind if we were fortunate enough to be gracing a stage until Cedric’s Alzheimer’s cleared up and he had returned to normal and recalled the lyrics. If we were not onstage, as any smart and fast-thinking ostrich does, I would simply drop my head, stare at the floor, and pretend I was on a battlefield in a distant part of Okinawa.
I cannot, in all honesty, talk about the other members without revealing to you a personal foul-up of my own. One of our gigs was playing for a high school FFA (Future Farmers of America) meeting. Well, in my excitement and haste, I forgot to tune my bass, and when we started playing, it was obvious (to me) that my bass was tuned a whole step high.
In denial, and not able to face my mistake of having not tuned it beforehand, and being the only member in the band who actually read music (and was well respected for such), I staunchly informed the band that never in all my life had I heard an entire band be out of tune, even the drummer, on a song and that they really needed to strongly consider getting some serious musical training before it was too late.
The incredible thing is, they believed my lie, and to this day I cannot bring myself to tell them the fault was entirely my own. Actually, I dare not tell them now, as people today are so short-tempered and quick to become irate and upset without just cause.
Our manager, although good-hearted and well-meaning, was almost as poor as we were. Johnny had a Chevy that we used to take some of the band members home. Actually, what the car was, was a smoking death-trap that, fortunately, never killed any of us, although it very much tried doing so. We did, however, suffer severe whiplash on occasion, and here is how…
As I said, after rehearsal we had to take some members home, and the guitarist lived about 15 miles out in the woods. There were 45-degree curves like nobody’s business, and the car’s brakes were in such need of repair that, when you engaged them, the car would jerk at a 45-degree angle to the right.
Naturally, to prepare for and adjust to this experience each time meant jerking the steering wheel back to the left at a 90-degree angle as you simultaneously engaged the brakes, just so the car would appear to remain straight to any friendly, safety-minded, well-meaning police officers hell-bent on issuing a moving violation traffic citation.
Sometimes, however, we would forget that the car was jerk-able and, hence, this is when we would experience the nice soothing pain that only whiplash can bring. After having dealt with this on more than a few occasions, I was already well-trained by the time I entered the army and drove a tank the first time. For maneuvering the tank, compared to the 4-wheel mobile deathtrap, was a cakewalk, and fellow soldiers marveled at how fast I grasped the throttle concept, of which I have the “Deathmobile” to thank for.
HOW YA FEELIN’ NOW?
So, I’m betting that right about now, your financial situation is starting to look a whole lot better to you, isn’t it?
Editor’s Note: Kenny Love is an 18-year veteran radio/video
promoter and media publicist, as well as Director of
Marketing for Eartastic Records. Read his bio page at