The Coven

By March of ’66 Loading Zone was gigging regularly in the Twin Ports area at various bars, high school proms, wedding receptions, VFW Halls, and American Legion, Eagles, Moose, and Belgian Clubs, as well as ski lodges. We played every weekend and often Wednesday and Thursday nights.

School was boring and senseless. I finished my homework far in advance for most of my subjects. Band practices were cut back to one per week though we frequently blew that one off due to scheduling conflicts. We were tight on the basic repertoire so practices were reserved for learning new songs. Soon we realized that if we all learned our parts individually we could easily put the songs together at the gig. We’d play the new song in the first set (when the crowd was small), talk about any missed chords or changes, or communication issues, and repeated the song in the fourth set. By the fourth set we had a whole new crowd. The few people that hung around till the end were too drunk to remember or care if we did the song in the first set. All were strictly focused on getting laid.

The local music store still sold records at that point. Nicholson’s Music had a fairly wide variety of albums. I found a jewel of an album to practice with titled Got My Mojo Workin’ by The Incredible Jimmy Smith. I had heard Smith played on radio in New Orleans so I was somewhat familiar with him. I spun the record at the practice space and was totally blown away by his Hammond playing. Jimmy was the musician who single-handedly made the Hammond B3 a Jazz and Blues instrument. I spent hour after hour attempting to figure out what the cat was playing. I picked up a lot of great licks from that album, what I could figure out, anyway. This cat was on a different level from anybody else that played Hammond organ. To this day I listen in awe at Jimmy’s playing. There are still moves of his that I can’t replicate. He earned the title of King of the Hammond.

I averaged about three hours of practice per day during the week, more on weekends. I became obsessed with playing the Hammond. My solos improved steadily as I applied Jimmy Smith licks to songs we covered.

That’s not to imply that we actually covered songs. I learned years before back in New Orleans that you need to make the song yours. Don’t play a song like everybody else. Find a way to make your rendition special and unique. The rest of Loading Zone followed that same philosophy. None of the songs in our repertoire sounded like the originals.

All of this practice and playing reduced the time I was able to spend with Loraine. She didn’t really seem to mind. She took whatever time I had available to talk or walk or sneak away somewhere to have fun. She loved hearing about the gigs I played or the new songs we were working on. Of course, I was just one of the guys that she had fun with. In 1966, a girl who would “put out” was popular no matter what she looked like.

Meanwhile, girls at school wouldn’t look at me twice. Few of the guys would talk to me either. They were too good to talk to someone like me. The ones who did talk in my direction constantly picked on my lack of weight. I was very thin and hated to even hear the word skinny. At nearly 6 foot and 125 pounds I didn’t have a lot of meat on me. I sustained a lot of mental scars from those years at Junior High. They were unquestionably the worst school years for me. At least I wasn’t getting my ass kicked every day, any more. No physical scars, just emotional scrapes and bruises that I would carry for decades.

Fortunately, I had my other world, the entertainment world. I wasn’t scoring chicks like the older guys were but nobody laughed at me either. I was treated mostly like an equal. I got served free beer as well, which made me hornier and wishing that I could bang an older chick. It made for great masturbation fantasies when I got home under the covers.

My mother didn’t like the fact that I was staying out late all the time. She didn’t think it was appropriate that a kid my age was hanging out with older guys and girls most of the time. She thought I belonged with my peers. There went that word again. Every time the subject came up I had to explain that none of the people my age were my peers. I could barely stand being around kids my age for the five hours daily that I was forced to be with them. They weren’t my peers. Musicians were my peers. What we had in common was far more important than age. My dad thought that it was good that I was learning to make my own way in the world at that stage of my life. It was more in keeping with Sioux tradition that a son should be able to survive on his own at as early an age as possible; with dads support mom’s objections held little weight.

All my mother’s objections became moot in April when she had another “episode”. It was quite frightening. She didn’t seem to know who any of us were. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes, like an animal trapped by a predator, ready to fight for its life. She even bared her teeth like she was ready to bite anyone or anything that came near her. Then, as fast as she flashed into killer mode she melted into a puddle of tears. At that point the men in the white coats – I always thought that was a cliché but these guys really did wear white coats – jabbed a syringe filled with Thorazine into her that quickly caused her to topple over. The sanitarium guys loaded her onto a gurney and wheeled her out.

I was old enough to grasp what was happening if not fully appreciate the gravity of her illness. Dad and I didn’t talk about it. I’m not certain that he fully comprehended what was wrong with her. Nonetheless, there we were, just us two guys going it on our own, as we had so many times before. We went out to Granny Blackwater’s that night for dinner and spiritual comforting. We returned to a strangely quiet house.

The next few weeks sped by until the blessed end of the school year finally came at the end of May. Kenny was excited because he had landed a house band gig for Loading Zone at a hip club in the North End called The Coven. We would play six nights a week through the summer. The pay was $125 per week per man. That was $500 a month, cash. It was more than my dad was making as a supervisor at the pump factory. I’d be able to pay Kenny off for the Hammond plus tuck a wad away in a savings and contribute to the household account to help out my dad.

On June 1st, 1966 I turned 13. I was finally a teenager. We had a great crowd for a Wednesday night at The Coven we were told. This was our first week and compliments poured in. I had a fun birthday, got pretty drunk, and received my first blowjob by a 19-yearold college coed. I told her it was my birthday, but I didn’t tell her which birthday. She wanted to do something special for me on my birthday so she pulled me into a booth, unzipped my pants and went at it. She was pretty drunk, too. She probably had a name. I may have even heard it. The blowjob was disappointing. It was nothing compared to fucking, that symbiosis of two bodies merging together in passionate collision. This was more like jacking off, but with teeth. I was more than a little nervous, too, with drunken teeth gliding over my precious new toy.

We practiced Thursday starting at 2. I was hung over and not used to dealing with the feeling. I received good natured ribbing by my band mates about the blowjob from the coed. That felt really good, you know, like I was a real adult now.

We added a hot, simple song by the Troggs titled Wild Thing. Bunny added some dirty lyrics of his own to the tune. Other songs added to our growing list included Dirty Water by the Standells, Don’t Bring Me Down by The Animals, and ”Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones. Lonnie pestered us after each new song until we agreed to do Wipe Out by the Safaris. The song was typical 3-chord (E-A-B) rock and featured a drum solo after every fucking verse. I started out hating the song and it never got any better. Bands still do this stupid song to this day, much to my chagrin.

We nailed the song in one take after which Bunny told a drummer joke. “How is a drum solo like an orgasm?”

“We don’t know Bunny how is a drum solo like an orgasm?” Kenny and I asked in unison.

“Because you know it’s coming and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.” Bunny proceeded to tell that joke at every show, which was quite daring and racy for that era.

We listened to the radio for awhile but it was mostly crap. We didn’t know it then, but Bubble Gum Rock was taking over the airwaves.

At some point in June I bought a guitar from Nickelson’s Music. It was a Stella acoustic, which was the recommended guitar for beginners. It cost $49 and came with 10 free lessons. That was a deal I couldn’t pass up. With my understanding of music theory from studying the keys for 10 years I was sure it wouldn’t take me long to learn guitar. It was a right-handed guitar even though I’m left-handed. Another recurring theme in my life is that it’s a right-handed world and thus I have learned to do most things right-handed. Left-handed guitars weren’t easy to find, cost more, and I’d be learning from a right-handed player so it just made sense to pick up a standard guitar.

My guitar teacher was Jack Ghostly, the lead guitar player for my Cousin Danny’s band. Jack proved to be an excellent teacher. The Stella was another story entirely. It was stiff, the strings were a mile off the fret board and it was extremely hard to press the strings down. My fingertips became tender immediately and my wrist got sore from th strain of pressing the strings down. Jack assured me that calluses would form quickly and it wouldn’t hurt for long, just keep on practicing. I practiced at home in my room and my fingers became calloused. As for the wrist strength, well I figured out how to strengthen that all by myself. I did those exercises in my room, too, under the covers.

The guitar lessons paid immediate dividends. I could tell what chord George Z was playing most of the time. I didn’t realize what a valuable skill that was going to be until years later. It allowed me to sit in with any band and follow the song just by watching the guitarist’s hands. I bluffed my way through many paying gigs using that technique.

Man, was it a busy summer, the first I could remember that wasn’t dominated by baseball. In fact, I played no baseball that summer and didn’t miss it either. I spent my days at the library, or home reading or practicing guitar, practicing with Loading Zone, and playing 4 hours every night except Monday when the club was closed.

Monday’s I read and walked down to North End to spend time with Loraine. Nearly every week, we would jump in her brother Buster’s yellow ’57 Chevy for a ride out to Pattison Park, 13 miles south of town. Pattison is a Wisconsin State Park featuring the breathtaking beauty of Big and Little Manitou Falls and a small lake the colour of root beer. The park is far enough from Lake Superior that it is warm outside nearly every day in the summer. We would cool ourselves in the frigid water, dive from an anchored raft, swing on the tall swings, and generally bask in the piney beauty.

There are also trials that lead deep into the woods following the Black River downstream from The Falls. Loraine and I frequently explored nature on these trails usually making trails of our own off to private places where we could explore each other and have fun.

A new kid moved into the North End that summer, a Bad River Indian kid named Champlain. Arthur Champlain was his full name but everybody called him Champlain. I noticed Loraine paying more and more attention to this kid. I have to admit that I was feeling more than a little jealous of him. He was a strong, handsome buck with well defined features. It was clear that Loraine wanted to have fun with him.

Sure enough, one Monday in late July, Loraine told me that she was going to have fun with Champlain that day. I felt a little dejected, hell, a lot dejected, I was still quite insecure, until Loraine informed me that her sister, Mary, was hoping she could have fun with me. Loraine explained that rhe plan was for me to stay behind, and then, after the car pulled away, I would go up to the loft to read. “My sister will be waiting to have fun with you if you want,” Loraine assured me. I followed the plan to the letter.

I waved goodbye as the ’57 Chevy pulled away, turned and headed to the loft with book and notebook in hand. This was pretty hot, I thought, my dick harder than normal with anticipation. Once up the rungs I saw a blanket sitting like a teepee at the nest end of the loft with two eyes peering out the top under a tuft of black hair. I was wearing swim trunks and a t-shirt. The swim trunks were making a tent of their own.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone would be up here. I was just going to read.”

“Read to me,” said a voice from the quilt teepee. “Join me,” Mary invited.

I crawled down to the end whereupon Mary opened the tent flap revealing that she was completely naked.

“You’re overdressed,” she said, giggling just like her sister. I mean, she looked just like Loraine. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart in the dark, I thought. I was wrong.

As I stripped my t-shirt off Mary tugged downward on my swim trunks placing me in immediate distress.

“Ouch,” I exclaimed, “It doesn’t bend that way.”

“Sorry,” Mary said, giggling some more. “I’ll kiss it and make it better.” She did and it felt a lot better. She may have looked like her sister but she moved and moaned completely differently. It wasn’t long before I was on my back with Mary riding me like a buffalo. Well, they had that in common, they both liked being on top. She was wild, more energetic, and almost desperate in her flailing. We collapsed for the first time fairly quickly. She panted like a frightened deer.

We hugged and kissed for a bit. My mind started to wander. I started thinking that Loraine probably brought Champlain to the loft last weekend to have fun while I was playing. The vision turned me on instantly and it was time to ride again, this time with me on top.

During a hump break a song came on the radio with an infectious organ part that I immediately identified as being played on a Vox Continental. The song was 96 Tears by Question Mark and the Mysterians. I made a note that we had to learn this tune. The organ part was simple but distinctive. One of those openings where you know the song in the first five notes. The song got me excited, which led to more fun with Mary. We had fun many times that afternoon. My stamina was increasing.

~~~

We nailed 96 Tears at the next practice in about 3 takes.

Kenny introduced us to a new Beach Boys song that had a very interesting instrument on it that none of us had heard before. “Good Vibrations” had everything Loading Zone looked for: in a song great harmonies, driving background, and good lyrics – the perfect summer song. Kenny played sax in place of what I learned at the music store was a Moog Synthesizer. They had no idea where to get one or even see one. Only big studios had them and there weren’t many available. It was such a cool sound though. Kenny did a great job making the sax squeal, but it just wasn’t the same.

Unlike most songs that we picked up after playing them once or twice we spent the entire afternoon on Good Vibrations. The harmonies were tricky thanks to the genius of Brian Wilson. George even got into the vocal act singing a low part that didn’t move around much. By 5 we had the song sounding great. It was clearly going to be one of our best songs.

About that time the club owner, Mickey Goldberg, walked through the club, and stopped to listen, which he rarely did. At the end of the song, Kenny asked Mickey, “How does it sound.”

Mickey walked up toward the stage and addressed us collectively with words that I’ll never forget and what proved to be one of the most important lessons of my career.

“Let me tell you something. I don’t know how it sounded. What’s more, I don’t care how it sounded. I only listen to one sound in this club and that’s the ringing of the cash register. If it rings over and over all night long, that’s music to my ears and you’re band is doing its job. If it doesn’t ring, you’re out of here.”

I had nothing to say to that. It was simple, elegant, no bullshit truth. What a great lesson.

Mickey knew how to make money. I remember one day when new tables were delivered. He tipped each of the tables over one by one and hit one leg with a hammer. One of his bartenders asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was making the tables wobble. If they wobbled, he reasoned, people would spill their drinks and therefore buy more drinks. Mickey was always thinking.

The crowd loved the Good Vibrations we laid on them that night. We had so many requests to do it again we played it every set. We were really tight on the tune by the last set.

Rehearsals are great, but there’s only way for a band to get really tight and that is to play as often as possible. The six nights per week gig tightened us like nothing else could. When you play songs over and over and over you eventually get bored with what you’re playing. That leads to trying new stuff, improvising, to break up the boredom and the song gets farther and farther away from the original. At times the song becomes so different that the author wouldn’t recognize it, at least not until the lyrics started.

You also develop an unspoken communication with your band mates. George Z and I could read each other and feed off each other. Kenny picked up on the vibes too as did Bunny to a certain extent. Lonnie, he was just back there in his own little drummer world.

My chops got better rapidly during that summer. I was playing close to nine hours a day between my own private practice sessions and the nightly gigs. My confidence grew as well. I started listening more to what The Animals organist played. His name was Allan Price and, man, this guy could cook. The more I dug into him the more I realized that he was the real power behind the group not Eric Burden. Eric was the lead singer and they always get the credit and the hottest chicks. Allan was the organist that laid down that great solo on House Of The Rising Sun.

Another early influence was the organist from Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. He wasn’t flashy, but what he played provided important background to the vocals. I paid particular attention to how he voiced his chords. I was just learning about voicing then. Voicing is basically the octave that you play in and the inversion of the chord that you use. There are three inversions for any triad chord, four for a quad chord, like a minor 7th.  I loved the song Little Red Riding Hood. Sam The Sham put a dirty little twist on the classic old children’s story and Bunny made it sound even dirtier. Bunny had a great lecherous voice.

My cousin came into The Coven late in August with a girl on his arm. His arrival sparked quite a stir among the females in the room. I didn’t realize how much of a star he had become. I hadn’t seen his group perform since the Id gig so I had no idea what had been going on.

On our second break, Danny called me over to the table of women he was entertaining. “Girls, this is my cousin Armond. He’s the organ player in Loading Zone and he’s originally from New Orleans.” A few of the gals politely smiled at me and then focused back in on Rock.

“Hey Cuz, I need to talk to you. I’ve got a proposition for you, an idea that I’d like to run by you,” said Rock. A few of the girls giggled stupidly at the word proposition.

I crouched down near him at the table. There was no room to sit and this vantage point allowed a close up view of cleavage. I could nearly see nipple on one gal when she leaned forward.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“You’re finishing up here soon, right?”

“Yeah, unfortunately I am.” School was looming in my future in a couple of weeks. I hated the thought of going back to that hellhole, but it seemed inevitable. There was no way that my dad would let me play six nights a week during the school year. So, I was being replaced by a cool cat named Jon Ray. Jon played Hammond and also owned a Fender Rhodes 88-key suitcase piano, which was an instrument that I couldn’t wait to buy, but my dad wouldn’t let me spend that much at one time so I had to save and wait.

“Jack Ghostly and I are forming a new band. We’re quitting Anything New because it’s getting old. Tom and Al are always wining about playing too much. They’re just not as dedicated as they need to be to do what I want I to do. We’re taking Ted Anderson with us.”
Ted Anderson was a great bassist, even better than Bunny, and a real cool cat.

“I want to step out from behind the organ and just sing. I’m going to be just the front man. We are hoping that we can get you to play organ with us.”

“Hell yes,” I replied. “I’d love to. That would be really cool.” I was excited. I didn’t want to stop playing. I didn’t know any other musicians in town. This was great. I just fell into another band. And, nipple-girl’s boob nearly spilled from her blouse.

“You already know all the songs we do and a bunch that we want to do. So, can I tell the guys that we’ve got a Hammond player?”

“Does anybody have a van?” It was a practical question. I was 13 and 3 years away from a driver’s license. The Hammond A-105 weighed over 400 pounds, the Leslie clocked in at 150 and they are both bulky and hard to move.

“Ted has a VW bus. We can roll your shit right in. What do you say, are you in?”

“I’m in, man. I’m in.”

Thus, I became the new Hammond organist for my cousin’s new band.

“Have you got a name for the new group?”

“Yeah, we’re going to call it Dynasty,” Rock replied I knew immediately where he got the name from. My cousin’s Polish dad was a big football fan – make that a big Green Bay Packer fan. He threw Packer parties every weekend during the season. Their entire house was decorated in Packer green and gold. He invited Packer players to their basement in the off season to drink, eat, bullshit, and play the nickel slot machine near the bar. The Packers were winning their league’s championship regularly under coach Vince Lombardi, a man who was worshipped by all true Packer backers. The Packers win streak had sports fans calling them a dynasty. I swear that is how the band got its name.

Things were looking up for the fall. As good as Loading Zone was, I knew that the potential of this new group was far greater. I would be playing with my guitar teacher, Jack Ghostly. I knew his hands on the guitar as well as I did my own. I’d seen them two times per week all summer long. I knew how the cat played. Ted Anderson reminded me of some of the great bass players I’d seen in New Orleans. He was smoother than smooth and quicker than quick when needed with a thunderous bass sound out of a stack of 4 Fender Bassman Amps.

“Who’s the drummer,” I asked about the only missing member.

“Tim O’Neil,” Rock said. “Tim is a classmate of ours and really is an incredible drummer. Ted picked him because he knows that they’ll be locked tight together.”

The foundation of any rock band is the rhythm section of bass and drums. As an organist, I flop back and forth between rhythm player and soloist. But, my playing relies totally on the rhythm section. If they are together, then I’m free to play with the timing, a bluesy technique infused in me while growing up in New Orleans called phrasing. Without them I can’t do shit. I had a fairly good rhythm section with Loading Zone, but Lonnie was sorely lacking as a drummer, mostly because of his lack of timing. He would speed up as the song progressed. Some slow songs started out at nice walk but wound up as a sprint by the end. I hate to say it, but Lonnie was the weak link in Loading Zone. Hell, I was just happy that I wasn’t the weak link.

Rock and I talked a little more and then it was time for my next set. We talked again during the next break, but Rock was getting drunk so our conversation became a little repetitive. I did remember that he told me to check out a shit hot song called “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd.

Rock left with two chicks on his arm and neither of them were the gal he came in with. The guy had charisma. He could dump on chicks and they’d keep coming back for more. For as long as I live I’ll never understand what he had but he sure had a lot it.

During the last week of August I worked with Jon Ray helping him transition into the job. I played less and less and only earned a half share for that week, but I did get the opportunity to hone my wrap with chicks. I even got to make out with a couple and feel one of them up, but nothing further happened. They weren’t that drunk.

I was learning yet another great lesson. Being a great musician means more than playing your instrument well. It’s called musicianship; those intangible facets like graciousness when you’re losing your gig, treating your replacement with respect, talking to the customers, and making the audience is glad to know you.

I exercised that last lesson on my final night at the Coven. I spotted a blond woman sitting at a table on my side of the stage looking up at me constantly. Every time I looked in her direction she was smiling up at me. At the end of the third set I made my way over toward her table, talking with people along the way so it didn’t seem obvious that I was targeting her. It would be a long time before I overcame my overwhelming fear of rejection. When I final sidled up to her table I said something lame like, “Are you enjoying the music?”

“Yeah, you guys are great,” she said, and then added, “You’re cute.”

Me? Cute? Ok, she was obviously drunk. That could work in my favor.

“Thanks, you’re beautiful,” I wasn’t lying, she had big hooters. She probably had a face, too, I really don’t remember. We talked about nothing for awhile and before I knew it she leaned over and laid a kiss on me. At the same time she slid her hand up my inner thigh.

“What are you doing later?” she slurred.

“I have no plans.”

“Good, I’ve got some ideas. Are you game?”

“You bet,” I said with my tongue hanging out.

Our last set was spectacular. It was the best Loading Zone had played all summer. Jon Ray was drunk at the bar, too drunk to play, which turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for LZ. I played an absolutely inspired solo on “House”. I did things I didn’t know I knew. I threw in a few Jimmy Smith licks that fit perfectly. At the end of the solo I looked across the stage to see all my band mates staring at me. I had just managed to impress these seasoned musicians. I grinned so wide it hurt. I looked out at my blond fan to see her applauding wildly, which caused her hooters to bounce up and down. It turned out to be a perfect night onstage.

After the show, my blond fan came up to the stage to congratulate me. She hooked my arm as soon as I stepped down from the stage. I beamed. One by one Kenny, Bunny, Lonnie, and George Z stopped over to shake my hand and tell me how great it was to play with me these past months. There were even a couple of hugs, which was unusual in that era. Guys didn’t hug. People might get the wrong idea if they saw two guys hugging. They might infer that the guys were… homos. Seriously, the society was that homophobic back then. All the adulation impressed my weaving, blond fan even more.

Finally, she dragged me out to her car in the parking lot. She drove us in her Pontiac Bonneville Convertible out to a road called Billings Drive that ambled south out of Billings Park to South Superior through dense woods and over a couple of rivers. She drove us to a point on a bluff overlooking the St. Louis River. I started to talk, but that wasn’t what she brought us there for. She yanked her blouse off exposing those glorious melons to the moonlight. Just another part of the job of keeping the customers satisfied.

We were soon in the back seat. I don’t remember how we got there, but there we were with her on top and me staring up at a heavenly body. She looked good for an old lady. I guessed that she must be at least 28 or 29. She may have even been 30. That doesn’t sound old now, but she was more than twice my age. She was also very hungry for sex, very hungry. Voracious would be a good word for her sexual appetite.

Before long we were out of the car and rolling on the ground, still completely naked. She was loud, really loud. I was afraid she was going to attract wild animals from the surrounding woods. She was animal enough for me to deal with.

She broke out a bottle of red wine from the trunk. I already had a good buzz going from beers back at the club. The red wine made me feel warm and tingly. It seemed to have magical regenerative powers as well, for soon we were on the ground again only this time she got on all fours and told me to take her from behind. It took me a few moments of surveying the situation to figure out how that was going to work.

“Take me, take me like a dog, fuck me doggy style,” she begged.

Again, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I had seen dogs mount each other before, but I never inspected the act closely enough to know how all of the parts meshed. So, I decided to just walk in on my knees. She reached up and guided me home. It wasn’t that complicated after all. It was a fun new position. I tried moving but slipped out because she was rocking back and forth. I quickly determined that all I needed to do was follow along with her and everything stayed where it belonged. And my hands were free to reach around and grab boob, which she seemed to like.

It was the perfect end to a fun summer. I had never had a summer like that before. I wanted every future summer to be just like this one. As it turns out, no subsequent summer was ever like that first one.

They were better, way better!