The next generation, Ronald Lee Knauss Jr., Ronald Lee Knauss, Raymond Lee Knauss, Harold Forest Knauss
Contemporary Christian music was just getting started in the 1960s, and at first, is was called Jesus Music. As a young musician, I believed that the message of the Lord could be accepted by young people, by using the kind of music they liked to listen to, and during the 1960s that music was Rock n Roll. I tried to write 3-minute Rock songs that sounded like something you could hear on the radio. In some of them I wrote about my experience as a young believer.
In 1964 when I was 13, I made my first attempt at writing an original song. Going from a 12-year-old to a “teenager” seemed like a big step to me and I wanted to write a song about how I felt at that time. Thanks to Caroline and Pat for giving me piano lessons, I had already figured out some little musical ditties on the piano and I felt like a real composer. After the response I got from Caroline when I played it for her, “you should be practicing your piano lesson not that,” I did not bother to play it for anybody, and Pat never heard it. My creative desires were crushed for a long time after that.
Ten years later in 1974, I would add lyrics to the music. It would become part of the story line and the first song, “12 to 21”, in a 60s Rock Opera I was just starting to write.
1969 original – 1980 First printing – 2016 re-wright of
“Rock, a musical experience”
At the age of 14, I worked during the summer months at a local tree farm pruning Christmas trees. It was hot work in the sun and cold work in the rain. With my first week’s pay, I bought my first pair of Levi’s Blue Jeans. Back then, they were sold stiff as a board, and they would turn your legs blue if you did not wash them first. I washed my new pair until they were nice and soft and faded. But the next time Caroline did the laundry, she burned them up in the trash because she thought they look old. I never did figure that one out, but from then on, I did start washing my own clothes.
>>>>notes…add Bob Lewis here…..
When I was in school, we listened to Bob Lewis broadcast live play by play of the Greenville Yellow Jackets sports events on the new radio station in town, WPLB. I was on the baseball team as a manager and I loved to hear the Tiger’s games on the radio. WPLB commercials always pushed, “Keep the green in Greenville.” They were encouraging the community support local business by shopping in Greenville. Grand Rapids was not too far away to drive and get things from the big city.
Varsity Baseball 1967 – 1968
A friend told me about a new sandwich he tried in Grand Rapids. He described them as so small that you could eat more than one. I wondered, “why would you want a sandwich that was so small you had to eat more than one to get full?” The next weekend he took me to Grand Rapids so I could try this new sandwich for myself. I ordered just one because I was not too sure if I was going to like it or not. But before we left, I ate almost a half of dozen of this new sandwich called a Taco.
Greenville had three places I could get my favorite food, hamburger and French Fries. The A&W had their great root beer, which I still love today, but their prices were high. I used to walk to the Jiffy Burger during lunch hour from the high school. The food was cheap, and it was within walking distance. But I had one problem. Some kids would save their lunch money and buy tobacco cigarettes instead of food. Then they would steal my French Fries at lunch time.
I stopped the fry-thieves by putting a lot of black pepper all over them. It worked, they stopped, and I still like my fries that way today, covered with pepper.
My favorite restaurant that severed the best gourmet greasy food was Riehl’s Burger Bar. They were next to Black Field at the old Senior High School, where the Greenville Yellow Jackets played football.
In the fall of 1965, on the first day of Freshmen football tryouts and at the end of practice, someone shouted at me in the locker room. They said, “Hey, Ronnie, the varsity football coach wants to talk to you right now.”
My first thought was, “Wow, I must have run pretty fast today.”
I joined him and the other coaches in their office. The varsity coach Ed Heiby told me this, “Ronnie, how much do you weigh?” But before I could answer, he continued, “I know you wrestle 95 weight class, but if I let you play football with the other kids and one of them falls over, they are going to break you.”
Coach pulled me aside and said, “But I got an idea, especially for you.” He said, “how would you like to be one of only two boys that could get your letter in football 4 years in a row?”
1967 Varsity Football team
Now I was confused, but I trusted the coach and listened to his proposition. He said, “This year’s freshmen quarterback is so good that I’m going to bump him up the varsity squad. And I will take you also from the freshmen class and teach you how to tape ankles, but I cannot let you play football. But you will have the chance to earn your varsity letter.” It was a great deal for me. I could be part of something bigger than myself. I loved being seen with the team wearing my Greenville Varsity Club Jacket. It was the smallest size they made, and it was still too big for me. The “G” was almost bigger than the jacket.
1969 High School Varsity Club Jacket
The football games were held a Black Field, and I usually stood on the sidelines and froze. I felt lucky if my job at the game was to stand in front of a heater and melt the ice of the towels the quarterback and center used.
Riehl’s Burger Bar was within walking distance, and they had the best onion rings ever. I could smell their food from the field, and it always made me hungry.
Riehl’s best onion rings in town
I got hurt one day at football practice ruff-housing with one of the players. I tried to get away from him and ran directly into the folding wall that divided the gym into girl’s and boy’s physical education classes. I had a bad cut over my eye, and Coach took me to Dr. Rice. Caroline worked in his office as a nurse for him for over 30 years. He was on the Board of Education in Greenville and he was the sports team’s physician.
When she saw us coming in the front door of the United Memorial Clinic, she rushed out, stopped the coach and told him, “Don’t bring him in here, you just bring him around to the back door.” She did not want anyone in the office to know that it was her son all bloody.
After I was all stitched up and back at school coach asked me, “Was that really your mother? She acted like she did not want anything to do with you, and you were hurt.” He paused for a moment in disbelief and said, “that lady hated you.” I grew up with hate. Caroline did not bother me at that time, but I was more concerned about what the coach might think of me if my own mother had such a wrong opinion.
>>>>NOTES…the party story goes here…
During my time in high school, there was always a party happing at someone’s house on the weekend, and sometimes there was beer. After football season, I offered to open up Pat’s cottage on Cowden Lake, so we could have a kegger there and stay off the roads. More than two dozen athletes were there when Pat broke up the party. He did not want anybody to get into trouble, so he sent everybody home.
Later at school, each one of us was question one at a time by the coach and the principal. When it was my turn, I admitted to drinking beer at the cottage. Then I was the only one ban from all extra school activities for the rest of the year. Kids that had been friends of mine all through school were no longer allowed to be around me. They now made fun of me for telling the truth. They asked, “Why didn’t you just lie? Everybody else did.”
When Pat heard that I was the only one that got into trouble for the party, he wanted to go to school himself and tell the coach, “I was there, and I know how many full cups of beer I dumped out. You weren’t the only one drinking beer.”
I did not like the situation that I had put myself into, but I felt worse, letting coach Heiby down after he had supported me for the last 3 years. I was able to calm Pat down a little and convince him not to say anything that would hurt our school’s sports.
The school removed my Presidents Fitness Test awards from the record board in the gym. The first day of the test the gym teacher did not believe the person counting for me was accurate, 103 setups in two minutes. So later on, I had to take the test again and this time I pumped out 109 setups. It was easy. I was small.
Dr. Rice knew all about what happened at Pat’s cottage. They were good friends, they talked a lot, and they did things all kinds of things together. Doc and Pat collected antique clocks and they were great craftsman. Together they built two grandfather clocks, one for each of them.
Pat’s grandfather clock
I would have gone down the wrong path even farther if it had not been for Mr. Blinn, the art teacher. He knew what was going on in my life now that I had been kicked out of sports. The only kids that would have anything to do with me after the party were the kids that smoked cigarettes and usually ate their lunch setting down by the shop class.
They told me, “You are all messed up. We know there is a good kid inside trying to get out, but you ain’t made it yet. So, the best thing you can do is to forget everything your parents told you and just start over.”
Mr. Blinn pulled me aside in art class one day and let me have it with both barrels. He told me this, “Why are you hanging around with the wrong people? Stop trying to be just like them. You are better than that.” Mr. Blinn also said, “any free time you have, you can always come to the art room and do whatever you want.”
This was really cool. I started doing exactly that right away. I made things out of clay and fired them in the kiln. I silkscreened business cards and posters for my band. Mr. Blinn was my best friend when I did not think I had any left.
This teacher turned my life toward a more positive direction by giving me the time and space to become myself. What a difference just one teacher made by showing that he believed in me and that I could do better. He drew me away from hanging around the wrong kids by teaching me how to draw in the art room during my study hall time and any free period. He taught me that giving someone the finger was never a good idea and I never did it again. Thank you, Mr. Blinn.
At the graduation ceremony of the Greenville High School class of 1969 Dr. Rice gave me quite a surprise. When I walked up to the stage to receive my diploma, Dr. Rice stood up, took it away from the principal speaker and said, “I’m going to pass this one out,” as he handed it to me. He shook my hand and said, “good job Ronnie and I am proud of you.”
Wow! No one had ever told me that before not even Pat or Caroline. Then he personally handed the diploma to me. I was the only one in my class to receive this honor. And I am probably the only one today that remembers it.
Board of Education
My biggest fear when I graduated from High School in 1969 was getting drafted and having to go to Vietnam and fight in the war. During my high school years, the dreams of being captured by the enemy kept me from getting a good night’s sleep. Back then, if your grades were not good enough, they would draft you right out of high school. One day you were in school, and before you knew the military was your new home. I still remember my draft number was 256. I would later write about this, “draft that sends a chill up your back, just when life has begun, when you are 12 to 21.”
John Large Vietnam pics
When I was requested to register at the draft board, they told me they needed small young men like me for a particular service. They would give me a flashlight and a 45 pistol. They would make me a tunnel rat. My job would be to seek out and destroy the enemy that lived underground in the tunnels. I knew that the Lord was always there for me. It was easy to put my trust in HIM because of my personal experience as a child. To this day, how a 4F military deferment came to me in the mail, is a mystery. But I knew that my personal relationship with our Lord had saved me from what I feared.
John Large Vietnam pics
I have witnessed other people struggling with the trials in their lives. With some, it was easy to see that they did not have the Lord in their hearts. They could not fall back on the truth that the Lord was there for them also. Sometimes I tried to share my personal experience with them. But it seemed too hard for them to believe, so my testimony sometimes was ignored. I felt almost ashamed that the Lord had made himself known to me, and I had that to stand on, and they did not.
Ten years later, at our first high school class reunion, more than one person said to me when we first met, “Hey, there is honest Ron.” They had forgotten the beer party, but they had remembered my character.
When school was out for the summer, it was easy to find a part-time job. Any day of the week, you could walk into almost any business, and they would put you to work doing something. I first started pruning Christmas trees at Claude Johnson farm in Turk Lake when I was 14.
Soon after that, I subcontracted pruning fields of trees by myself to other local tree farmers. In the first two years of high school, I worked at the Greenville Daily News flying papers and learning how to become an Offset Web Pressman.
>>>>drill press story….
For a short time, I ran a drill press at Reynolds Manufacturing in Gowen, making wooden flats that the refrigerator companies in Greenville used for shipping. Worker safety regulations were not followed and there were no safety-guards on the machines. Consequently, the sleeve of my shirt became tangled and dragged my right arm into the drill.
I praised the Lord that the cloth had stopped the machine just before I lost my arm. Once again, Dr. Rice was there to patch me up. When he did open surgery on my forearm, he said, “Now Ronnie, this is going to hurt. “ And it did.
It was the second year that Montcalm Community College was opened. I had to drop out of the classes that I had signed up for because I could not write. The injury to my arm disqualified me for military service.
1969 MCC college ID
There were several name bands from Michigan, like Bob Seager and Ted Nugent. But these bands did not come too often to Montcalm County. The only place I could see live professional rock and roll bands was in Ann Arbor or at the Grand Ballroom in Detroit.
I saw Jonny Winters there for the first time. I heard all his music off his albums before, but there was nothing like the real live thing. He was amazingly brilliant on the slide steel guitar. His brother Edgar Winter played the keys and sax with him. You sure could tell these boys were brothers. They both had white hair, and they became one when they played together on stage. The original Fleetwood Mac band was more of a blues band, and they played there also.
When I heard of an outside concert that was being held back east, and it would last for three days, I passed on a free ride to Woodstock. The long ride there and back to New York did not interest me or camping out all weekend at a rock show. Well, when my friends got back still all muddy and wet, they told me what I had missed by not going with them.
The next time my friends wanted to go out-of-state to see some bands play live, I went with them to a three-day concert in Florida. Walt Disney had just bought the site to build a new amusement park and this would be the last concert in that open field.
One evening after dark while walking around in the crowd, I heard the most beautiful melodies coming from the stage. I did not know who this band was, but I walked thru thousands of people to get right up close to them on stage.
That night I saw my favorite slide guitar player Johnny Winter and his brother Edgar playing his sax with the Allman Brothers Band. They were joined with Dicky Betts and Duane Allman, hanging ten on the edge of the stage. All four of them stood together trading lead lines on their instrument along with Greg Allman on the B3 organ. What a musical experience that was!
The next day while the Johnny Winter band was playing and everybody was watching them, I snuck up on stage to get a closer look. Nobody noticed me, and I blended into the stack of empty road cases. When Johnny’s performance was over, I saw other people that had got up on stage like me being thrown off the stage by the Hell’s angels. They were hired to keep law and order, and they were pushing it over the limit.
Musical festival in Florida
Being a musician myself, I knew just what to do to save myself from the same fate. I picked up some mike cords and begin wrapping them up, pretending I was a roadie. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder, it was Johnny Winter, and he said, “here take this,” and he handed me his steel guitar in its case. It was very, very heavy. He said, “They won’t touch you if you are carrying that.” Then he made sure I got off the stage safely. I gave him back his instrument and thanked Johnny for helping me get away from the Hell’s Angles. Then he went one way, and I went another.
On Sunday morning a helicopter flew in the evangelist Billy Graham. I grew up listening to him speak on TV. It was the only time Caroling and I watched something together. Now to see him in person was the highlight of the festival. He was fantastic and his star shined brighter that anyone else on the stage.
The local band I played in was not interested in playing original music. I was not able to find players that wanted to play their own music. I started calling these musicians the “Three MMM’s,” which translated into the “Michigan Musician Mentality.” At that time, things seemed to be happening in San Francisco, so I started setting my sights on the west coast.
>>>Kevin story goes here…
In 1969, when I was 18, I was invited to a jam session in Grand Rapids with a keyboard player named Kevin and a guitar player named Charley. It was the most important musical event of my life when I met Kevin Crossley. Jamming with these two professionals taught me what quality of a musician was expected by the music business. Charley Huhn went on to play with Ted Nugent, Foghat, and Humble pie. Kevin was a studio musician for some British acts, and he went to work for Studio Instrument Rentals in California, later starting up Studio Keyboard Rentals working out of a GMC motorhome.
Kevin’s musical talent and his knowledge of keyboards opened the door for him to work directly with many superstar groups. Kevin played keyboards on Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue with Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. He was the keyboard player for Rick Springfield during the Wait For Night tour appearing with that band on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Review 1975
>>>Notes…from the east coast to the west coast and back again…
Just like my family that came before me, I got the Knauss spirit to travel. I had the willingness to leave one’s home and emigrate to some other land and start over. I had my sights set on the music scene that was happening at that time in California. When I could no longer go to MCC and the Army did not want me I decided to hitch a ride to San Francisco.
A friend of mine I knew from boy scouts wanted to go see some of the country, including California, and he asked me if I wanted to ride along with him. This was too much to pass up, and I took him up on his offer. This time I was really going west.
He wanted to see some of the country because we traveled west by first heading east to New York City. Neither of us had seen it. We parked and locked the car on the street in Central Park then took off for a walk. Just by chance, we looked back towards our car, and two guys were breaking the windows to get into the vehicle right behind ours. That was enough New York for both of us, and we got into the car and left.
The trip took us south along the east coast, then west thru Texas, and up to the Grand Canyon. There are no words that can describe how beautiful that work of God is when you see it. But eventually, we did end up in San Francisco. I thought we would be getting an apartment together, but he dropped me off at the one I rented and took off. I never saw or heard from again. Perhaps I had bad breath.
There I was right where I wanted to be, but was it really? I was a country boy that just got dropped off in a big city all alone. The next day while walking down the street, I got robbed at knifepoint while other people just kept walking by. It was not worth getting cut, so he took my last ten dollars. Now I was broke.
I walked to Golden Gate Park almost every day for two years. I would always go into a different entrance and I never saw everything that is there. One day when I was walking back to my apartment on Fredricks St, in the Haight Asberry district, I saw a bum begging for money at the exit of the park.
Our eyes met, he smiled and asked me, “Spare change?” I turned my head and acted as if I had not seen him and directly walked away.
At the time, I had just been dropped off in San Francisco. I was alone, but I had enough money to pay one month’s rent for an apartment. I had food in the refrigerator and a roof over my head, at least for a month. I did not want to think how close I was to be in a fix just like him. After I got back to my apartment my heart was heavy. I still had 50 cents in my pocket. Then I thought this man might have been an angel sent by the Lord to test me to see if I trusted HIM to take care of my immediate needs.
>>>>second angel goes here….
One day late in the afternoon, I hitchhiked from San Francisco to Martinez to see a friend. I got a ride going across the Bay Bridge to Oakland. It is five miles long and there is no way to get off until the end. The man let me know his intentions were not to give me a safe ride across the bridge. And when I let him know I did not agree with his plans, he made me get out of his car. He dropped me off at a freeway exit in downtown Oakland that had no on ramp to hitch a ride back onto the freeway. I was alone again. It was just after sunset, and it was getting dark. I had only stood there for a moment when a taxi went by. He slammed on the breaks when he saw me and backed his car right up to where I was standing. He said, “Get In!”
I leaned into his open window and said, “But I do not have any money to pay you for a ride.”
He said again, “Get in! I cannot leave you here, or you may die.”
The man did not say much, but he did me a good deed and drove me 30 miles all the way to my destination. The only way I could thank him was to say so. And he drove away, leaving me safe with some friends. I never saw him again, but I have wondered if this was an angel sent to protect me.
My apartment on Fredrick Street was on the top floor, and I had access to the roof. Candlestick Park was visible from there, and it reminded me of my lost love of sports every time I heard a game over the loudspeakers. I liked to practice my acoustic guitar on the roof while getting some sun.
One day a neighbor in the next building called out from his rooftop, “Say, I have a friend that just got out of the Navy, and he is looking for some guys to start a band, are you interested?” He went on to say, “my friend has a buddy, and they get together and write their own songs.”
My musical education really began when that neighbor introduced me to the band called Easy. Two guys just out of the service had a home away from the city full of equipment and a place to practice. They started writing songs while they were still in the Navy. Both of them had long hair down the middle of their back. They had tucked their hair up under a wig to pass inspection. The Easy band shared their house with another country-rock band. These two groups worked together for the common good of all. I jumped at the chance when they asked me to move into what seemed to me as their musician’s paradise and become part of the Easy band. We all used the same equipment and helped each other out when we played live.
The country-rock band got a job playing at Homer’s Warehouse in Palo Alto, and I went along that night to help set up equipment and played a little harmonica. They were an excellent band originally from Colorado, and the right people were interested in making them a success.
Alfred Packer from Colorado
While we were setting up the equipment, a man came into the club wearing the biggest cowboy hat I have ever seen. He was western dressed to the ten’s, and he was carrying an arm full of long-playing record albums. While we set up gear, he showed us his record and told us, “I just got done recording my new record in Nashville, and I want to give you boys a copy.”
It was great to meet someone that had written his own songs and got them recorded. He had used studio musicians to make the record, and now he was looking for new band members to play his songs live with him. We learned a lot listening to him talk about the music business that night. But he did not even have band. Both our bands were doing well playing outdoor shows and fairs, and there was no time to put into his project. I saw that same album a few years later at a friend’s house. It was Charley Daniel’s first album of many more great recordings.
In 1970, at the age of 19, I bought my first house. Well, I really traded a 1968 Dodge Charger to a lawyer friend of the Easy band for the deed to a farmhouse in the country. It was in the middle of a walnut orchard with no close neighbors. The Easy band was able to practice loud music in the garage, night and day, without bothering anyone. We had a small recording studio set up, and the first songs in the rock opera, “Rock, a musical experience,” were recorded there.
Bought my first house in California 1970
I practiced the piano every day for 3 years, 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon. I would practice in a dark room with a metronome flashing in my face. I wanted to learn how to play the keyboard without having to look at my hands like Chico did in the Marx Brothers movies.
And I needed to learn perfect meter. I was determined to become a better musician by putting in an 8-hour day like other people that went to work. I thanked the Lord daily for the time to practice.
Practice makes perfect
I had joined the Easy band 1969 the same year I graduated. The band’s drummer had worked with the Ann Margret Show and he was a phenomenal percussionist. Drummer Dave would show up at rehearsal with only a three-piece trap set, and that was all he needed. He would use his hands on the drums heads he could make them talk. It was a real pleasure to play along with him.
This band only played original music, and thanks to the time I spent with them, I was able to develop my writing skills for putting lyrics to music. I wrote several songs for “Rock, a musical experience” while playing with Easy. Some of the songs they recorded, and others were produced in a professional studio years later.
Easy, Brentwood and Walnut Creek California
Water Late – “Rock, a musical experience”, Easy 1969.
Complain’n – “Rock, a musical experience” Rocky Lake Studio 1870’s.
Take some time to make it easy – “Rock, a musical experience” Northern Star Studio 1980’s.
The Easy band only played songs we had written and recorded together. Their original music attracted the attention of some local bay area promoters that were looking for warm-up acts to open for the headliners. Teddy Bear was the equipment manager for a local headliner band, and he and his entourage stopped in unannounced one Saturday. He wanted to hear the band play some music. but when he tried to put his 6 pack of beer into our refrigerator and saw it was empty, he said, “I’ll be right back.” Then he got back in his car and drove away. He left his buddies with us, and the band got ready to play.
When Teddy Bear returned, he needed help getting all the groceries he bought at the store into our house. He filled our refrigerator with the food we could not usually afford, like steaks. Then we all gathered in the studio and gave them a private concert. When it was over, Teddy Bear told us, “I like your original music, and I will be glad to help you guys only if you keep playing your original songs.” He also said, “don’t end up being a bar band playing other people’s songs for drinks.” We only saw Teddy Bear a couple times a year. He would show up with steaks and bring a good time. We guessed that he was too busy with his band, “The Quick Silver Messenger Service,” to spend much time helping us.
Writing and performing my original music always has my passion, and we did that in the Easy band. The Easy band played original music for five years then broke up. After we all went separate ways, I put together a group of San Francisco musicians, and we performed the songs in my rock opera that I was writing.
After I moved to the west coast, Kevin invited me to attend several shows with him. One day asked me to meet him at the Reo Theater in Martinez. When we got there the roadies were setting up the equipment for the Eddie Money show that night, and they could not get the Hammond B3 organ to work.
Just when we were about to walk up on stage and take a look at the organ, a hammer fell down with a loud crash from the light scaffolding. Bill Graham was Eddie’s personal manager, and he yelled, “I want that man whoever you are, off this set right now.” Later during setup, Eddie introduced me to his manager and the real world of rock music.
I had seen Bill Graham in action as a bouncer at the Fillmore West before. He did not take static from anyone, and he would go toe to toe with anybody that pushed his buttons. The man left the theater, and we got to work on the B3 organ. We turned it on and off but could not get it to work. We found an old vacuum cleaner backstage and sucked out some dust from the inside. To our surprise, when we turned it on, it worked just fine.
Bill and Eddie both thanked us for fixing one of the many problems they had that day while setting up for the show. Then Eddie told us he had another problem. His keyboard player was too hungover from the night before to perform again that night.
Eddie asked Kevin, “Can you help us out tonight and play some keyboards?”
Kevin answered, “I have to fly out of town, but Ronnie Lee can play the organ for you tonight, you’ll have to ask him.”
Kevin Crossley the pilot
Eddie asked me directly if I could fill in for the night. It was not an easy question to answer. Eddie was on his way up, and he had more than one hit song on the radio. Only one problem, my band had to play that night also. This could be “the big break” for me that most young musician dream about. But I had a loyalty to the members of the band that stuck with me as their keyboard player. I had to say, “No, I have a gig tonight.” I was “stuck in Lodi again,” with the Crossroads Band.
Years later, I met with Eddy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the Club Eastbrook. We sat in his tour bus and listened to the songs from the rock opera. Eddy told me, “Your music sounds like the Beatles” At the time, I liked their music and I took this as a good compliment.
Eddie Money & Ronnie Lee Club Eastbrook, Grand Rapids
>>>country music…hamburg and steak…
I was a rock’n roller, and country music was not my thing. One day I was in the Safeway food store trying to decide whether to buy the cheap Hamburg or the more expensive ground chuck for that night’s supper. A local musician stopped and asked me if I would consider playing in his country band. He offered me so much money to start playing with him that I put down both packages of ground beef, picked up a T-bone steak and said,”” Brother you just hired yourself a piano player.””
Thanks to the Crossroads Band for exposing me to not only excellent country music but most exciting was playing in front of country music fans. Some rock-n-roll fans will tell you, when you talk to them, that they have seen so and so stars and your performance is no big deal. BUT! Country music fans love you when you play their songs. I learned really quick that it was much more fun to play live music for country music fans that loved you, than trying to impress any rock music only lovers like I once was.
The Crossroads Country Band
Living alone and playing with this band inspired me to write the country song, “”I can’t stand the loneliness.”” I added the song to my opera, “”Rock, a musical experience.” Years later it would be recorded at Northern Star Recording Studio.
On July 23, 1978, I joined Kevin at the Oakland Coliseum Day on the Green #3 as a guest of Aerosmith. I spent the day backstage with them and the other four bands that were playing that day, Van Halen, AC/DC, Pat Travers, and Foreigner. These were the best of the best of their time.
All the guests had to stay in the backstage area until your band was playing, then we had the freedom to walk in the stage area. I was on stage just feet away from Arrowsmith when they played all their hit songs. The sound system blasted out at the audience in the stadium, but the on-stage monitor mix that the band was listening to was very moderate and in full stereo. I could hear the band members joking between themselves as they played.
I was backstage while Van Halen did their set, and they were very loud. But, when AD/DC hit the very first note, I thought there had been a dangerous explosion because the sound pressure level (SPL) was so much higher than the other bands. They were the only band that I did not step out front and listen to, not even a little bit. It was too painful.
Later that day, I had an opportunity to talk again with Bill Graham, the promoter of the show. He set up five doublewide trailers in a circle in the parking lot of the Coliseum as dressing rooms for the bands. Then he laid down real grass sod and placed live trees around Doughboy Swimming pools. They were full of blocks of ice and every kind of fruit you could think of. His kitchen staff served a menu that is too long to mention. From lobster to standing rib roast, whatever you could imagine eating, he had it there for you in huge servings.
I asked Bill how much all these complementary services cost, and he answered, “”This is how you make money selling records, the live shows. And what I spend today on hospitality will come back in a good performance by everyone involved, and the record sales prove it.””
Kevin Crossley would become a lifelong friend and he introduced me to many successful musicians. One night, Kevin picked me up in a Porsche and drove us to a Van Morison show at a club in Tiburon. He parked the car in the back of the restaurant, and we went in through the kitchen door.
Just inside was a man with a cast on his leg leaning on his crutch. He was dipping bread into a pot of spaghetti sauce that was cooking on the stove.
Kevin asked him, “How’s it taste?” Then he broke off a piece of bread and split it between us, and said, “Let’s find out.”
He carried on a conversation with this man for about an hour while each of us enjoyed the sauce and San Francisco sourdough bread. Then I heard the band start playing in the restaurant area. I got a little antsy thinking we were missing part of the show. Van Morison’s group, The Caledonia Soul Orchestra, was so good they could fill a room performing even without him singing. Neither Kevin nor the other man seemed at all worried about missing anything.
Then the man set down his crutch and adjusted his torn pant leg over his cast. He took a final dip in the sauce and walked out of the kitchen. He hobbled on stage, straight up the mike and began to sing right on time. I never knew he was Van Morison, and I would always remember our time in the kitchen together.
My musical skills were never sharp enough to compare with the people Kevin introduced me to. I always thought of myself as a “Pa-Jam-a-Player” because I played and jammed around. Kevin took me close to the flame of stardom, but he never let me get burned by sinful behavior or the temptations of success. Thank you, Kevin, for being me mate.
Kevin & Ronnie Rocky Lake Studio Coral, Michigan
Time moved so fast when I first got out of high school. I was made aware of how quickly when I got a ten-year reunion card in the mail. It seemed to me, I graduated just a couple of years ago. I had spent the last decade chasing my musical dreams in northern California.
>>>>>>McCoy Tyner story here….
San Francisco is a great melting pot of music and performers. McCoy Tyner is a jazz pianist from Philadelphia. At the age of 19, he was the piano player in the John Coltrane Quartet. His solo career was just taking off. I was eager to learn how to play jazz, and I saw McCoy Tyner play the piano there, two years in a row at the Both/And Club.
By the third year, his performance had to be held at a bigger theater on the Berkeley campus. Everyone was so mesmerized by his performance. That made it possible for me to sneak past the security guards and stand right behind a curtain looking over McCoy’s shoulder and out at the audience. I saw what he saw for the rest of the show. And when he was done, I popped out of the curtain and asked him directly, “McCoy, how are you able to play like that?”
He said to me right away, “I know you.”
I asked him, “how?”
McCoy said, “I know you; you came and saw me perform the first year I came to town and played at Both/And didn’t you?”
I said, “yes.”
He went on to say, “ And you were there the second year too, weren’t you?”
I said, “Yes, how did you know?”
McCoy laughed and said, “Because you were the only honky in the audience, and you are still wearing the same jacket.”
I was wearing a 1960s Nauru Jacket leftover from playing with the Soul Generation. I was a poor and sometimes starving musician. But I was on a mission seeking information and I could not be stopped. I asked McCoy, “please tell me how you can play the piano like you do.”
McCoy Tyner’s hands were enormous. He took mine in his and said, “ You will never make it in Jazz because your hands are too small. You will never make a reach like mine.” And he held both our right hands together and continued saying, “ You won’t even be able to play a 13th.”
My response was, “But I still want to learn how you play Jazz.”
McCoy then told me this, “Get the book by Nicolas Slonimsky The thesaurus of scales. And practice the pentatonic section.” He said, “I’m playing scales but supper fast along with the Jazz cords you cannot play.”
McCoy finished saying, “Nicolas Solnimsky long time ago figured out every mathematical combination possible in our western 12 tones musical system, and wrote them down in his book.”
I learned to love playing scales for hours, and I still warm up my fingers with them before I play the piano.
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