I called home on Saturday from a small general store affectionately known locally as Dave’s Cave after its miserly owner Dave Goldman. Requested to remain at Auggie’s house another night. Dad granted permission and told me that Kenny wanted to get together with me Sunday morning. Dad asked for the address so Kenny could pick me up. The practice place was on Broadway and John, a mere six blocks away, so I could just as easily walk. I was to be there at noon.
Loraine and I strolled around the North End Saturday afternoon as she filled me in on the history of the wharf and surrounding area. She pointed out a bar named Molly’s that had been a brothel around the turn of the century servicing sailors and dock workers.
Molly’s was currently run by a woman and her teenage son, Oscar, who referred to himself as The Queen of the North End. I had to ask Loraine what that meant. She explained that Oscar was a faggot. Homosexuals weren’t known as Gays yet. The word gay still meant happy and care free. She continued explaining that Oscar gave blow jobs for money to guys that frequented the bar, which prompted my next question, “What’s a blow job?”
She giggled and blushed before describing the act.
“Sounds more like a suck job to me,” I quipped.
“Sometimes he hums while he sucks. He calls that a hum job or hummer.”
Loraine was proving to be a fountain of sexual knowledge. She may have been my first, but I certainly wasn’t hers.
We passed building after building with Loraine explaining the nature of the business therein and historical tidbits about each. When we reached an abandoned warehouse she led me to a side door that we pried open to gain entry. In a separated section of the warehouse first floor was a small foundry still in business that forged custom ship parts. The building wasn’t quite as abandoned as it looked. We climbed stairs that brought us above the foundry to an uninhabited office. The room was sweltering hot. Loraine grinned as she removed her coat and asked, “Do you want to have some fun?”
I started removing my clothes by way of reply. I was tingling all over in anticipation. When my perpetual erection came into view Loraine hurriedly stripped the remainder of clothes from her round body. She dropped onto her coat on the floor and wiggled her finger at me to mount her. I did.
We locked mouths while I poked and probed trying to find the magical entry point. I failed. She finally reached down and guided me home. Again, the feeling was delightful and even better now that I could breathe fully.
We banged away atop the foundry playing little games at various times that Loraine knew. Now, this was the way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Saturday went pretty much like Friday night, drinking, laughing with our brothers and sisters, then back up to the loft for more fun.
By Sunday morning my rod was worn raw from all the fun I’d been having. I walked funny all the way to the practice place.
Kenny took one look at me when I entered, grinned, asked knowingly, “What have you been doing, Armond? Get a little mud for the duck, did you?”
Did I get mud for the duck? I presumed he was asking if I had been fucking. Grinning ear to ear I admitted that I had. I didn’t know the meaning of the word discretion at that point, not that it would have mattered. I wanted to tell the world that I had fucked Loraine Lafontaine. Hell, I wanted to write a song about it. Sing it to the universe.
“Have you been listening to the radio?” Kenny asked.
“Yes, I have,” I said. “Thank you for the cool gift. I listen to it constantly.”
“Well, what do think? Hear any tunes you’d like to do.”
“I heard several that I really liked in between all the crap.”
“Name some?” Kenny challenged.
“I Feel Good by James Brown was the hottest thing I heard.”
“Yeah, man,” Kenny smirked. “You are on target. That’s the kind of shit I want this band to do. We’ll play the big clubs in the area, probably land a house job. I’ve already got us booked at the Air Base in Duluth.”
“We’re booked? Already? We’d better get to work. Who else did you get?”
“I hired a dynamic duo for bass and drums: Bunny Aquahouse on bass and Lonnie Johnson on drums. They’ve been playing together since high school; tight as can be.”
“Way cool. Where are they?” My mind pictured two hot chicks. I’d seen quite a few all girl revues back home in New Orleans. This was going to be a really cool band.
“They’ll be here any minute. I’ve written up set lists with chord charts. We should be able to work through them all today,” Kenny claimed.
I looked at the list. There were forty songs on the list, ten per set. I hadn’t been in the business that long but I knew there was no way we could learn 40 songs in one day. I was sure he was kidding me.
Lonnie and Bunny arrived. Much to my surprise Bunny was a guy; a really big guy with a full beard and beer barrel chest. Lonnie was also a guy, tall, lanky, with a pair of drumsticks in his hands like they’d grown there — so much for my brief fantasy of playing in a chick group.
Both guys were very friendly and treated me like an equal even though I was half the age of anybody else in the band. Lonnie and Bunny set up quickly and we started to jam. These cats were really good and Bunny had a great voice, but we were missing a guitarist and it showed. Another voice wouldn’t hurt either.
Around 5, a guy strolled through the door while we were playing. He grooved and danced to our music, smiling and nodding his head throughout. This cat was the definition of the word flamboyant. He wore brightly coloured pants, a flowery shirt with a neckerchief and dangly ear rings. He wouldn’t have stood out in New Orleans, but in gray and white Superior he shone brighter than Rudolph’s nose. I liked him immediately, weird as he was. It seems I’ve always been attracted to weird people. Or, maybe weird people are attracted to me. Either way, it works.
At the end of the song the guy clapped and shrieked, “Fabulous. You guys sound so good.” He prolonged good so that it sounded like goo-wood.
“Thanks, Oscar,’ Kenny said.
Oscar? Could this be the Oscar that Loraine told me about? Was I actually in the presence of the Queen of the North End?
Bunny asked, “How’re things at Molly’s?”
No shit. It was that Oscar, the faggot that Loraine had described the day before. He was a really cool guy. I suddenly flashed back to one afternoon a few years back when I was in a French Quarter bar with my dad. He was sitting on a stool at the bar talking and drinking with a guy I hadn’t seen before. That guy was quite flamboyant, too. After about 2 hours or so and 5 or 9 beers the flamboyant guy put his hand on my dad’s leg and started stroking toward his crotch. Boom! My dad cold-cocked the guy knocking him clean off his stool to the floor. My dad looked down at the guy and said, “I already told you never to do that.” The guy laughed and replied, “Yeah, you did, but I had to see what would happen.” My dad gave him a hand back up and they went back to drinking and talking with the cat occasionally placing a cold beer bottle against his bruised eye.
Oscar asked with a pronounced lisp, “Can I be your thinger?”
Kenny laughed, “You can sing?”
“Not a note, but I am gorgeous and would make a fabulous front girl.”
We all laughed. It was clear that Oscar had earned the title of Queen of the North End.
We got back to practicing. Oscar leant serious advice on some songs, astute advice testifying to the fact that this Queen knew show business. He encouraged us to add an Aretha Franklin tune to our repertoire, which seemed strange to me at first since we didn’t have a female singer, let alone a black female soul singer, but I’ll be damned if Bunny didn’t belt out a heartfelt rendition of Aretha’s Natural Woman. Bunny’s effeminate movements during the song were hilarious and had Oscar squealing his approval. The words “You make me feel, like a natural woman” coming out of the mouth of this gentle giant of a man cracked us all up, as it would audiences.
Somehow, we hacked our way through all the songs on the list plus a few more. I was amazed. These cats were great musicians. All I had to do was follow the chord charts. By the end of most songs I had decided upon the chord inversions and changes that I would make throughout the song.
“You desperately need a guitar, honey,” Oscar said. “If you’ve got one I’ll give it a try.”
“No way,” said Kenny. “You’d probably start jacking it off in the middle of the set.”
“You know me so well, my darling,” replied Oscar.
Oscar was growing on me, quickly. I was most impressed by the fact that right there in 1966 in Superior, a bastion of Nordic-Germanic straightness, that this cat was an unabashed flaming homosexual. Now that took charisma… and balls, so to speak.
We knocked off about 8pm. I had to get to school the next morning and the guys had work in the morning. We accomplished an impressive amount on that first day. The songs weren’t tight, but we played through all with no major train wrecks. This was going to be a great band.
Before we left, Bunny asked Kenny, “Do you have a name for the band yet?”
Kenny smirked and said, “Loading Zone.” He paused to let it sink in for a moment. “We’ve already got signs all over town.” We chuckled. “We can call our first album No Parking.” That broke everybody up. Kenny was not only a good sax player he was also a natural born promoter.
At our next practice Kenny introduced us to George Zatopolis, our new guitarist. I was encouraged because George was only 2 years older than me. It felt good to have another younger guy in the group. George was a phenomenal guitar player. The sounds that he pulled out of his black Gibson Les Paul and Fender Twin Reverb amp were magical.
Now, the only problem was that the red Farfisa Combo Compact that I was playing sounded too thin for the songs we were playing. Kenny kept telling me to “fatten” my parts up. The Farfisa possessed a nasal sound that I couldn’t get around, especially since I was running it through a Sears Silverstone amp.
I tried several techniques to fatten up the sound of the Farfisa. One was a crude little device I built using a Germanium transistor, a couple of resisters, capacitors, and a 9-volt battery. I found the schematic in one of the radio or electronics magazines in the local library that stood only a few blocks from school. Essentially, the device was a fuzz box. It gave the organ a grittier sound but not much fatter. Another trick I used was changing the tuning of the oscillators slightly so they weren’t in exact tune with each other causing the frequencies to beat against each other thereby creating richer harmonics. All this helped, but not enough. The organ sounded authentic on some songs like early Beach Boys where they used a Vox Continental organ, which was manufactured as competition for the Farfisa. We also did the song Wooly Bully that featured the Farfisa sound so it matched perfectly. But, for the soul songs that were becoming the meat of our song list the organ just didn’t cut it.
We practiced on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights and all day on Sunday for a couple of weeks. Kenny set up a schedule that had Bunny, Kenny, and me getting to practice an hour ahead of the Lonnie and George so that we could go over and over our harmonies. George couldn’t sing a note – his voice hurt the ears when he talked — and Lonnie had no sense for pitch (the common term is “tone deaf”).
Going into the third week of rehearsals we had the Air Base gig staring us in the face that following Saturday. We sounded pretty good, not great, but we were getting there. George and Kenny belted out sizzling solos. My soloing was improving but I was still way too mechanical and lacked true imagination.
That Monday, I arrived at practice early, as usual. Kenny was grinning like a Cheshire cat that had just swallowed a tasty canary. I knew he was up to something. Sure enough, the Farfisa was gone and in its place stood a Hammond A-105 with a 147 Leslie. I blinked a few times to make sure of what I was seeing. I was speechless. I stuttered, “Who… who… Whose is this?”
“It’s going to be yours,” said Kenny. “You owe me 500 bucks.”
Mine? Holy shit… Wait… Did he just say I owed him 500 bucks? That was 1/5th of what my dad netted in a year. It was more money than I’d ever seen.
“You can pay me off as we gig,” Kenny offered. “You’ll have it paid off in no time. I’ve got a lot of gigs lined up and more coming.”
I cranked the Hammond up, waited while the tubes warmed, and finally heard the sound I was looking for to compliment our heavily Motown influenced portfolio.
Practice that night cooked like the scintillating Creole Gumbo that Kenny had simmering in the kitchen. Our sound as a band came together that night. We transformed from pretty good to fucking great over the course of four hours. My soloing improved exponentially due to the lightening fast response of the Hammond waterfall keys and the emotional power of the 40-watt Leslie. I finally had that fat sound that we were searching for thanks to Kenny.
Tuesday and Thursday practices built our confidence to the point that we knew that we were ready to kick ass and take names, as the old saying goes.
Friday night, I was back in the loft with Loraine. We balled less and I talked more, mostly about the gig coming the next night. I was excited and quite nervous. I departed early in the morning so I could go through all of the songs we would play that night a couple of times.
I didn’t realize it then, but this behavior would become a pattern for the rest of my life. Music would always come first. Girls were fun and fucking was great, but nothing like the orgasmic feeling of setting an audience on fire with the music I played. I was a born entertainer. It was in my blood, pumped from my heart, and energized by my soul.
Saturday night, we blew the dancers away at the Airman’s Club. We sent waves of energy from the stage that returned as waves of love and lust from the crowd. Girls, young women, came up to talk to us on breaks. They seemed genuinely interested, excited by the opportunity to be near a real musician, a local star. I was hooked. If I wasn’t hooked before I was fast on the line now.