As a new band on the scene we of course had to start at the bottom. We played our share of low-paying seedy joints to begin with and one of the very first (and worst?) was a Hamilton north-end bar called the “Picton Tavern.” The sparse crowd was rowdy, overly drunk and dangerous. And although our music went over well, the patrons there were not let’s say — ideal citizens?
NOTE: Before we start I ask you to please take some time and read my Band Member Disclaimer. It will from here on out act as an official disclaimer for when referencing band members in any given story. Myself not included. Any references about me in story or as author of, are made without any restrictions.
OUR FIRST BAR GIG
The north-end of Hamilton was well known for being the “seedy” part of town. Now if you happened to be in a bar (or playing in one) in that part of town on a Saturday night? Well seedy could turn into drunkenly wild and dangerous in a hurry. And the Picton Tavern was no exception. The regulars were a mix of falling-down drunks and chemically induced addicts — some were Both!
Before the night was even half over, most of them — were out of their friggin minds!
A girl-fight broke out on the dance floor that was right in front of the band. When their male counterparts stepped in to break it up — all hell broke loose! We had to stop playing and move our mic-stands back from the edge of the stage as bodies were flung up hard against it. Our drummer stepped out in front of us carrying his mic-stand and armed us back as he stood waving his weapon menacingly in protection.
Eventually some kind of order was restored and the place returned to its usual noisy ruckus. A couple of the serving girls mopped the dots of blood and spit off of the dance floor and after I pointed it out — off the front of the stage as well. One of the fighting couples got escorted out by the bouncer and moments later the other guy (who looked like he’d broken his nose) left on his own, with his foul-mouth girlfriend in tow.
MY FIRST GROUPIE?
We started playing again and this brought out a lone girl who stood directly in front of me on the dance floor. Obviously drunk and/or drugged and/or both? She was gyrating and moving suggestively alone and by herself on the floor not more than 5 feet directly in front of me. Her glazed shining eyes never once leaving mine.
These over the top sexual flirtations that were obviously directed at me, lasted the duration of the entire song. But It was when she was still there obscenely mimicking what she’d like to do to me when we started up another song, that I became a little annoyed to say the least. And a little embarrassed to boot.
After all, my Mother and her sister were in the crowd, along with some of their friends and this girl was non-stop in her rude and suggestive manner. I doubt little miss over-sexed even knew where she was? Or cared?
When after yet another song was completed and she was still there, I’d had enough! I nodded at my brother and his buddy who were there per-arrangement in case of trouble. They moved in to remove her. At first they tried to reason with her to no avail of course and when they each grabbed an arm to escort her away? She snapped and went wild with rage! More akin to a rabid wild animal than a civilized human being.
She thrashed wildly, kicking and screaming in protest! The boys barely hanging on! Then the most vile profanities you have ever heard poured out of that female creatures dirty mouth. She totally lost it, started freaking out, scratching and clawing, spitting and biting!
Yep, spitting and biting! It was causing quite the scene! And not long into it, the boys just gave up. As they were backing away from her they held out their open arms as if to say “It’s a girl man! What can we do?” So for the rest of the set I was resigned to having this skanky drugged-out girl gyrate sexually in front of me. All the while trying very hard (and unsuccessfully) — to ignore her.
Now the boys in the band of course got a big kick out of this as you can image? Throwing rude funny comments both at her and me. But I was distracted, embarrassed, and starting to lose my cool.
But It wasn’t until she followed me into the men’s washroom between sets and offered some free um? “Lip-service?” that I became down-right angry. She even followed me back upstairs, grabbing at me while slurring her sexual promises and so I looked for and found the bouncer. Did this finally solve the matter you may ask?
No, not in the north-end of Hamilton it didn’t! He just smiled and said — “What’s the matter? Your not Gay or something are you?”
I don’t recall what happened next, but my groupie (as the boys in the band delighted in calling her) fades from my memory from this point on. Most likely she left, passing out later over her toilet with the stench of her own vomit rising into the air. At least that’s what I hope happened!
The night finally ended! (Oh but not yet the insanity!)
After the gig as we were leaving, my base player got a gash on his nose from some drunk who attacked him and bit it during the fight. Yep, those early days weren’t easy. Playing in tough seedy taverns filled with drunken and drugged out patrons. And after a few months I’d had enough of the bottom of the barrel already. I believed we were good enough to be playing in better establishments. — And in safer one’s too!
THE BELVILLE SEEDY BLUES
There were more seedy looking bars of course, even some that when we first got there the boys had to convince me to stay and play. Some turned out all right and some didn’t! But money was money and in the early days I had to keep the band working and the boys busy and happy. Getting paid regularly was always their first priority. So seedy or not, if a paycheck was waiting at the end, we played.
There was an old dark and seedy bar in Belview Ontario that we later played in and man, it really was pretty gross! I mean, it must have been well over a couple of 100 years old and it looked like the carpeting both in the lounge and upstairs where the lodging bedrooms were, hadn’t been cleaned since it first opened.
In fact the communal bathroom and showering facilities upstairs by our rooms were so dirty and disgusting (and the tub so filthy) that I wore my socks while taking a shower. Later the boys and I went shopping and we all bought cheap rubber flip-flops to wear while showering and our own personal towels.
I was walking down the hallway one night after a shower and passed a guy carrying a huge salmon. Said he had just caught it in the river that ran behind the bar. Walking to his room with it I wondered what the hell was he going to do with it? Fillet it and cook it up right there in his room on one of those portable propane camping stoves? Or maybe just throw it in the bathtub until morning? Rub-a-dub-dub — smelly fish in the tub?
THE ELEPHANT GIRL
The small stage where we played was directly beside and about 30 feet from the bar. And every night sitting on a stool right on the corner facing us was this young girl. Cruelly, she did have a very young and sexy looking body. I say cruelly, because she was cursed with a horribly enlarged head and disfigured face.
I’m not exaggerating when I describe this poor girl as a spitting female image of the creature portrayed in “The Elephant man!” Same disease I suppose?
I felt pity and revulsion all at the same time and although I tried very hard not to look at her, my eyes would wander back time and time again. She must have been a very brave girl to sit there in public like that, knowing how she looked and how people would gawk at her and all? And In a barroom filled with drinkers no less!
I tried several times to muster up the courage to go talk to her between sets but sadly, I just couldn’t do it. To this day I regret and chastise myself for this lack of courage. She seemed to enjoy our music and I’m sure it would of more than brightened up her day. God knows that poor brave girl deserved at least a little moment of happiness. I wish I could of found the courage that day to be the one that gave it to her.
END OF — Tales of a Road Band: Seedy Taverns
Next Time! — Opportunity knocks! We get a big audition at a famous Country bar and tales of my scary plane ride on the way to my “Fill-in” gig, in Syracuse New York!
Here’s a bit of what’s coming up next time on — Tales of a Road Band!
Halfway through the song during the lead guitar turn-around, it hit me! I was actually on stage singing at one of the country’s most popular and prestigious clubs. In retrospect I should of kept my thoughts on the task at hand, and left the “Oh-Wow’s!” for later because suddenly my knees got very weak and —you’ve got to be kidding me? — I suddenly became overwhelmed by it all. end.
Taking off was like sitting in a small Beaver or Cessna pontoon-plane trying to get up enough speed to lift off from the water. The propeller engines were spitting and farting and the whole plane was shaking like at any moment it was going to come apart. I sat straight and rigid in my throwback 1960’s seat holding on for dear life and I wondered — did Waylon start this way?
THE WORD OF WAYNE
“Tales of a Road Band!”