I’ve always considered myself mostly a loner – one of those guys with a lot of acquaintances but very few real friends. Though I can say (like my old man used to say) that I know people in every port I’ve visited, I’ve bounced around too much and traveled too much to really make good friendships. You know, the type of friend that will still be there for you after your wallet is empty. The type that you can always count on, not so much for big things, but just for a friendly word and smile when you need it most. I may not have many close friends but the ones that I have, I feel honored to know… from a childhood friend like Dominic Roggio, who was there for me throughout my cancer nightmare, to Nicky Kalliongis who befriended me right after my life came apart at the seams after AMERICADE broke up in 1984. Of course, my best friend is my soul mate, my wife Lisa and now, although I’m daddy first and always, I consider my four sons my best friends.
There are some friends though, that although you might not know them your whole life or have spent a whole lot of time with them, are just special to you… nothing heavy …just a friend that, no matter how much time passes since you seen them last, never makes you feel distant. Greg Smith has always been that kind of friend to me.
We met a long time ago in a place far, far away… a lot of beers ago! Even as I type this, a smile comes on my face, because Greg is that type of friend – someone who seems to always be happy with his lot (the Irish in him, I suspect) and always on top of his game. He’s been a “professional” musician as long as I know him and in professional, I don’t just mean he gets paid for playing, because all of us scrubs have done that. I mean, he’s a rare breed that always carries himself like a pro. He can rock as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen or had the honor to perform with (Greg’s the best bass player I’ve ever known and I’ve known my share); he can step off the stage and have a pint with you but then, usually while the rest of us become drunken fools (read: me), Greg is shaking hands and booking his next gig.
When a band, like the one I was in breaks up, you go from the spotlight to lights out with most everyone and in a heartbeat. The entertainment business can be brutal and the moment you’re not engaged …your history. Like my cancer experience (which was 1,000 times worse) you become a social pariah, as if your being out of a gig (or having cancer) is contagious, but Greg’s the type that never treats you differently …whether I was on top of the world or the “balls of my ass” (another "my Pop" expression, not sure what it means), Greg always treated me the same, with a smile and a kind word …it’s funny how, out of all your life experiences …a smile and a kind word actually end up meaning the most!
I didn’t write this to embarrass the happy Irishman or any of my other friends but something about my cancer battle makes me feel like - time is too short – and we seem to spend too much time on bs …and not enough time valuing and expressing what matters most to us. To me it’s my faith, my family and my friends …and nothing else even comes close. The apostle Paul tells us:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil 4:8)
I’m sure if any of you are reading this and know him, you probably have similar feelings toward Mr. Smith …he’s just that type of guy …so I said it for all of us! It’s where my head is at, on this beautiful Sabbath!
I really like the social networking (my website …Facebook …Twitter… etc) because it allows someone like me to stay connected …and I think for the first time in my life, I’m making more, real friendships with so many of you who may be reading this now …very cool!
There are a bunch of “Greg and me” tales to tell – maybe another time – another blog. For today - later on I’ll be going out with my wife and when we raise our glass, we’ll toast our friends and Greg Smith will be at the top of my list.
From 1969 to 1975 along with Jimmy Wellinghoff and my brother Peter, I played solo soprano for the St. Aloysius Blue Eagles drum and bugle corps. The drum corps was the first entity to place a musical instrument in my hands (actually 3 instruments, first a G-horn, then a one-valve, then the prized valve & rotor bugle). To this day, I’m still not sure whether I want to thank them or blame them – but that’s a story for another blog. I know this blog might not appeal to everyone, but to those who were part of drum corps, some of my memories might bring a smile:
- Saugerties for 4th of July - Every 4th the Blue Eagles used to travel up to Saugerties, New York. We would play a “round robin” in front of the firehouse and get to spend the rest of the day down by the water. Couldn’t wait to strip out of our uniforms and put on our cut-off jeans and jump in! Two different years, one of the two buses that St. Aloysius owned and we used, broke down in the tunnel in New York (both times I was on it). They used to get us home just in time to shoot off fireworks.
- The Puerto Rican Day Parade – I marched in 6 of them and every single year something bad would happen. I remember some of the horn line dropping from heat exhaustion. I remember Mr. Scomma telling me that he would carry my helmet. I thanked him but told him, “No thanks” – after all, it was the only thing that protected my head from all the rocks and bottles that the Puerto Ricans would throw at us from their roof tops. I’m still not sure if that was there ethnic way of thanking us for traveling all the way to the city to march 5 miles in blistering heat. I remember one year, someone got hit with a bottle and his head was bleeding (anyone reading this that remembers, leave a comment and let me know who it was – it was one of the older guys in the baritone section or the double-bass player). That parade ended with our whole corps having to run for our lives a couple of blocks to our buses. Nothing like ending a few miles of marching with an all-out sprint in 90-degree humidity.
- Our band review down in the “Madonna” room – every year, the Blue Eagles would perform in a band review, held in the basement of the church, for the community. We would put our uniforms on downstairs in the school cafeteria, then walk up Stockholm St. and line up just outside the entrance to the Madonna Room. I used to think it was so cool because the drum line would play and we would march in single file to a room full of people for a rare indoor performance. Afterwards, we got to hang out while the room turned into a dance hall. It was our chance to hang out in our uniforms and try and attract a girl or two. It beat having bottles thrown at your head.
- Our competitions – the Blue Eagles was considered a “junior” corps. I remember competing against the Wynn Center Toppers – they were composed of mainly African-American kids …or what I thought looked like African-American adults posing as kids! They were unbeatable and some in their drum line looked older than my parents. I still remember their cadence “…dum da-da-da-da dum da-da ..dum da-da-da …Da-DA! We never placed very high.
- Our repertoire:
o They Called the Wind Mariah
o Big Country
o Man From La Mancha
There were so many other memories. My brother Peter went on to play solo soprano for the Long Island Sunrisers (1974-1976). He had wanted to join the Hawthorne Caballeros but he couldn’t find someone to drive him to New Jersey. As it turned out, he was very happy to join the Sunrisers – even though they weren’t very good in ‘74-’76. I wanted to join them with him but I was too young – besides the minimum age requirement, it was all the nudity that was a regular part of being in a senior corps …but that’s also a story for another blog.
If you read this and have your own drum corps memories – please, leave them in the comments! Peace! g
It wasn’t all fun and games with me and Nicky, we actually started making money together, but of course any money in our pocket had to immediately be spent – that was my department. It was nearly February and I had heard about Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Nicky and I both had just made some extra money so we decided to go. This time I called my oldest friend Dominic Roggio to join us. Dominic and I grew up together in Ridgewood. He was making money too, so he was in!
The flight down there was horrendous – 8 ½ hours from JFK, you leave at night, sleep on the plane and when you wake up …you’re still not there – YUCK! We flew coach and we were packed into that plane like sardines. For 7 of the 8.5 hours Nicky warned Dominic and me that we didn't know how to travel internationally and so he gave us rules:
1- We don't touch the girls!
2- We ALWAYS stick together!
After grilling us and quizzing us for seven friggin' hours - Nicky immediately forgot both rules himself, the moment we landed!
What I remember first about arriving in Rio was, the moment we stepped out of the door of the plane it was like stepping into a sauna! It was summer in South America in February, so we left in 20-degree weather in New York and walked off the plane in RIO into 86-degrees with 86% humidity! My hair almost instantly curled into an afro and all I remember was Dominic started sweating buckets from his sideburns! Nicky, on the other hand …was home. At least, that’s what he kept telling me and Dominic, “Guys, I’m home!”
We checked into the Intercontinental Hotel at Gavia Beach, all 3 of us in a room with only two beds, which meant that 2 of us were supposed to end up sleeping together – but that never happened – as you will soon learn why. The moment we checked into the room, we opened the blinds and saw that we had a spectacular view of the beach. There was only one peculiar thing – we saw a dark sort of line leading from the city right into the water – we found out later it was SEWER WATER! What the, who the, why the?! These people had no CLUE about hygiene – even worse, the BUBONIC PLAGUE was spreading through the foothills surrounding the city – we could understand why! Seeing sewer water running into the beach water right next to our resort usually would have put a damper on our mood, but that didn’t happen. As soon as we turned on the TV, the three of us became hypnotized by what we saw on the tube – every channel – nudity – partying – and beer commercials for BRAHMAAAAA CHOP!! Brahma Chop was a Portuguese Pilsner beer that was very popular in Rio. They sold it on every beach, ice cold and in quart-sized bottles. Needless to say, Dominic and I bathed ourselves in “The Chop” every day!
As soon as we could tear ourselves away from the nude partying on every TV channel, we made it down to the beach. We had heard stories about the topless bathing and g-string bikinis that were prevalent in Rio but one hears those stories when traveling abroad. This time though, those stories didn’t even “cover” it! The “girls of Ipanema” were beautiful, green eyed, topless, with buttocks that you could bounce coins off of …and the worst dental hygiene any of us had ever seen. The Brazilians made the British look like they had Donnie Osmond teeth! Did I mention bad teeth on the women? I don’t how I know that since I don’t think any heterosexual male noticed if Brazilian women even had teeth!
The three of us settled in to soak in some rays and drink some fine CHOP. Later in the afternoon, our blood-alcohol level was high enough to go parasailing and then we saw people hand-gliding, so we paid a cab driver to take us to the top of some mountain were we could do it too. It was insane, even by our drunken standards! Okay, first of all, we were so high up we were looking DOWN at the clouds. Then we saw how it’s done. There was this Brazilian version of Arnold Schwarzenegger dressed in Speedos that apparently strapped you to him and then you BOTH jumped off the side of the mountain together. Now, I was piped enough to strap myself to a very large man wearing very little and jump off a mountain INTO a cloud, but he lost all 3 of us when Nicky asked him if anyone ever died while doing it and after a moment he held up the number “1.” That was one too many in our books, so we got back in a cab and got ready for a night of P-A-R-T-Y-I-N-G Rio/Carnival style!
After a nice meal in a local place called, “Il Pescatore” where we ate appetizers, a main course, desert, and drank before, during and after each serving - and it only cost like $70 U.S. for the 3 of us – we headed to a place called “HELP” in the famous Copacabana beach area. You know what, coming from Brooklyn and partying in places like Manhattan, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, I thought I had seen it all – until HELP! We knew we were in for it when we walked in and saw a line leading to what we assumed was the coat check. I was curious because it was 85-degrees 24-hours-a-day there, so who would wear a coat? What we found out was that the women (there were all women on the line) weren’t checking their coats – they were checking THEIR DRESSES! Apparently, the local women didn’t want to sweat through their nice dresses, so they’d check them and dance the night away in their underwear! Did I mention that Brazilian women never wear bras! Okay …alright, so this was going to be a touch more …exotic …than say, the Palladium in Manhattan on a Monday night – but we’re from New York, so we can deal with it …right?
Dominic and I hit the dance floor where we found ourselves standing next to 3 guys that looked like they had just stepped out of “Saturday Night Fever,” complete with white suits and enough gold jewelry to make Mr. T proud. We approached them thinking they were from New York too but other than understanding that they were from “South Philly,” we didn’t understand another word these guys said. We were accused of mumbling from where Dom and I grew up in Ridgewood, but these 3 guys turned mumbling into an entirely different language. You know what – the funny thing about guys – when we have a few drinks in us and there are topless women dancing 2 feet away from us – we have no problem NOT understanding what we’re saying to each other. This is what our conversation sounded like:
Me: So you guys are from South Philly?
Them: Yeah, yeah, serious mo biddy Tony ROMEO!
Dominic: We just got here today, when did you guys get here?
Them: Haha! Frankie One-eye diddled P-doody!
What he say?! I dunno!
Okay… alright …no problem-o! While Dominic, me and the 3 Stooges from South Philly took in the sights, Nicky was nowhere to be found… By about 5am, Dominic and I decided we were going to go back to the hotel, but before we did, we looked for Nicky. We found him upstairs with some of the local ladies and surrounded by, it looked like members of at least 3 different navies! He was just hanging, telling stories, laughing… and did I mention completely shot, wrecked, saturated drunk! Now, you may say, you guys were AWEFUL leaving him there – but Dominic and I didn’t just leave him there – we asked him to come with us – then we told him to come with us – then we practically dragged him away from his new friends …but it was too late …Nicky started yelling at us that he was quitting his job and never going back to the States. When I asked him what he was going to do, he told us that he was going to open a BANANA STAND and just live on the beach.
Dom and I were wrecked from our flight, the beach and sun and eight straight hours of samba, so we gave up and just told Nicky to make sure to meet us for breakfast. Well breakfast passed and then lunch passed and no Nicky! Dom and I knew something was wrong!
(Continued… Part V, “RIO for Carnival and the disappearance of Nicky! - Part 2” will appear on Saturdayday, March 1)
As we drove out to the Hamptons Nicky, we learned a little about each other’s backgrounds. For instance, I learned that Nicky and Bobby-G worked together at the legendary Media Sound Recording Studios in Manhattan. Back in the day, the three top studios in NYC were Media Sound, The Record Plant and Electric Ladyland – my brother and I recorded at the Record Plant so we built up immediate respect for each other …plus we just hit it off. Nicky took a liking to me because I was “living large” after my band AMERICADE broke up and my fiancé at the time left me. I liked Nicky because …well quite frankly because he was one of the oddest human beings I had ever met, and I met a few in my day …my dad called us both “knuckleheads.”
As we headed out to a house that a few friends of mine (6 girls) rented in Hampton Bays aka “Brooklyn East” Nicky asked me why we shouldn’t go out to Fire Island instead. Yeah… I told him the closest I go to Fire Island is on a boat fishing about ¼ mile off the shore. He told me he knew a few people (I asked him …yep… all guys) that go out there on weekends and said it was great. It was at this point I learned the real reason why Nicky almost bought an expensive orange sports car that he couldn’t afford – while Nicky was a very talented professional in music …the boy was NAÏVE! I’m talkin’ ….a proverbial Huckleberry Finn living in New York City. After gently explaining to him that – for lack of a better way to put it – “real” men do NOT weekend on Fire Island, I saw the very slow and gradual realization and then horror creep into his mind. It actually made me feel good to hear him explain all his hetero-sexual ways for the rest of the journey. By the time we arrived at the girls rented house in Hampton Bays, Nicky was walking around like he was Hercules meets John Wayne… whew ...okay!
I introduced Nicky to six fine looking ladies and Nicky immediately does two things – he falls in love with each and every one of them and …he immediately tells me he wants to BUY something out there! What is it with this guy, I’m thinking, maybe he has some mental illness that compels him to spend lots of money. Well, to this day, I’m still not sure about the mental illness part but one thing I found out the next weekend – while he had some savings, he wasn’t super rich – although like every Greek I know, he kept referring to his “dad’s island” and his “mom’s island” in Greece!
Nicky spent the next week investigating on his own, using his music company contacts and friends to tell him the BEST place to weekend on Long Island. I mentioned before that Nicky Kalliongis ran the studio and was an A&R man for ARISTA RECORDS, so of course, the suggestions he was given were things like, “Ya know, MICK and BIANCA like to holiday out in Montauk…” So with no regard to where Montauk Point is (let’s put it this way, from Brooklyn I think it’s slightly closer to drive to DISNEY WORLD in ORLANDO!) or how much is costs, Nicky asks me to take him to a place called Gurney’s Inn in Montauk Point!
I spent the entire 2-day trip (okay, it was probably only 5 hours but I felt like I was driving to Scotland) trying to explain to Nicky that 1-IT’S TOO FRIGGIN’ FAR (I don’t like to cuss, but I wanted to be accurate here); 2-Gurney’s was known to be one of the most EXPENSIVE places on our planet to vacation; 3-There were 6,000 beautiful women back in the Hamptons that we could be hanging with …that we passed back about 3 hours ago!!!
…it was like I was talking another language …Nicky smiled, joked and turned up the radio. As all Greeks like to remind the rest of us, they invented culture …well I think they also invented OBSTINENCE!
So we finally ….finally …FINALLY get to Gurney’s and it was like we arrived at the Queen of England’s summer retreat! The whole resort was ritzy and beautiful – the valet was parking nothing but Rolls, Bentleys, Ferrari’s, etc. - and the whole place looked like it was built out of hundred dollar bills! I found out that “we” had an appointment with some lady that looked like she came from four generations of money (and she just worked there). When we sat down, the lady noticed our long hair, looked at Nicky’s business card with ARISTA RECORDS printed on it and immediately her mouth began to salivate! All of a sudden she started dropping names and innuendos faster than I could disseminate them! “Ya know Mick and Keith are out back …having a barbeque with …Mr. Crowley,” and “Your being Greek, Mr. Kalliongis, I SO MUST introduce you to Jackie and Aristotle… the place I want to show the …two of you …is right next to their hideaway!” It was the next innuendo that made me grab Nicky by the back of his neck and try to lead him out of there, “…oh and by the way, you two don’t have to worry about …privacy!”
WE TWO …WHAT?! Yo, Nicky, this lady thinks we’re two finochios! (translation: finochio=Elton John) Does that deter Nicky …not a chance! This lady shows us this beautiful villa right smack on the beach. WOW! At my age and hormone level, all I was thinking was – a blind, one-legged man with leprosy could even have a harem with this place! We got back to the lady’s desk and after sipping champagne and eating crackers with beluga caviar for about 20-minutes, the lady finally puts the rental contract in front of Nicky.
…I will never forget the look on his face! Haha… finally something gets to him! All of a sudden, he’s looking at his watch, “OH… look at the time,” he says and then turns to me, acting annoyed, ”g! Why didn’t you tell me the time, you KNOW we have to get back to the studio, we can’t keep WHITNEY waiting!”
Uh-huh… yeah… as we shake this poor confused aristocrat-lady’s hand, I gaze at the contract …it said $38,000 A WEEK!
Nicky got back in my car a broken man. As we started the 2-day journey back to civilization, Nicky didn’t utter a word until we past Amagansett, this sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere. Nicky told me to pull over – as we do, Nicky starts saying, “This looks like a nice place.” I finally had it – I explained to Nicky that we were two single young men – there were certain rules …certain conventions of the day that we had to follow. For instance, two single young men DO NOT spend weekends on Fire Island, rent beachfront villas in Montauk, or lease homes in Amagansett! They shack up with 6 beautiful girls (for free – just have to chip in for booze and burgers) in HAMPTON BAYS!
I thought I had him …I really did. The next week we headed straight out to Hampton Bays and as soon as we were greeted by the 6 beautiful female friends of mine in bikini tops, the light bulb turned on again over Nicky’s head, “g, I’m gonna BUY something here!”
What is it with European immigrants? Even my Italian grandmother who couldn’t scratch two nickels together got off “the boat” and immediately went to the bank, got a loan and bought the apartment building in which I was raised. I’m not completely knocking it – most of those immigrants made money on their real estate investments – but Nicky wanted to BUY in the Hamptons! Okay, let’s look at our options, forget about South Hampton – I explain to him that anywhere where Billy Joel owns, he can’t own. Then there’s Hampton Bays, which is basically a bunch of homes that rich people buy and rent out to people like us! The only thing left was West Hampton. Situated between the splendor of South Hampton and the “party-hearty” of Hampton Bays lies a strip of rickety motels that were converted into WAY-overpriced co-ops.
Of course, Nicky immediately fell in love with one of these short-stay rooms turned co-ops. The price tag for this motel room …$87,000 (that’s THOUSAND)! Alright, so I didn’t mind having a place we could call our own out in West Hampton, on the beach – the plan was supposed to be that we make friends and influence people down at NEPTUNE’s on the beach (NEPTUNE’s was a beachfront bar that packed out and got crazy) and then drop the line that we have “a beach house in West Hampton.” The plan went wrong when we almost immediately began getting in trouble by “the co-op board” for just about everything! Apparently Nicky didn’t read the fine print that spelled out – No frolicking (I love frolicking), No barbequing with more than 2 people or 3 burgers, no drinking on premises, no more than two people allowed to stay in the room, no loud music, no soft music, no one under the age of 70 was allowed to use the recreation room …and the ice machine is locked at 10pm!
I seem to recall the local police becoming acquainted with Nicky’s room and his door being chained and bolted. We all did have a good time there though …breaking the rules!
…and you would be surprised at just how many drunk young people can actually fit into a one room, glorified motel room …I think we set the record!
(Continued… Part V, “RIO for Carnival and the disappearance of Nicky!” will appear on Wednesday, March 10)
So, this guy Nicky Kalliongis, whom I only just met that day starts off our “friendship” by telling me I was late picking him up in a blizzard, then when we get to his parents’ house where the studio was, strips down to his underwear and socks and tells me off AGAIN, this time to keep the volume down (something that is NEVER said in a studio, especially when you are paying for the use of it), and then ends one of the weirdest days of my life by announcing that he and I were going to be good friends. He even goes one step further and calls me when I arrived home to ask me to come with him that weekend while he buys a car.
Now to most guys I knew, including me, buying a car is kind of a personal thing. If you do go with someone, it’s usually someone you’re close with like your parents or brother or maybe your best friend. I have never, before or since, been asked by pretty much a complete stranger to accompany them while they went and made one of the biggest buying decisions of their life. I learned that weekend that Nicky Kalliongis was not most guys.
I show up at his parents’ house early that Saturday morning and Nicky was as nice as you can be, shaking my hand and already acting like we were friends from childhood. I thought there might have been twins involved and I just met the evil, insane one the first time, but no, there was only one Nicky! He gave me an address to some used car lot on Queens Blvd. (in Queens, NY) but as I took off heading for it, he completely changed the subject! In fact, we really didn’t talk much about cars at all up until a minute before we reached our destination.
I was thinking to myself, any guy would’ve been talking my ear off about the car he was going to look at, telling me details and specs, etc., but this guy, nada!
I was actually impressed with his cool demeanor until right before we parked, when he asked me if I would mind taking the car he was interested in buying, out for a test drive!
I said, “Nicky, let me get this straight …you want …me …to take the car you want to buy for a test drive? Do you mean …after YOU take it out for one?!”
He calmly replied, “No, that’s why I asked you to come with me. I don’t know how to drive a stick and besides, I haven’t driven a car in awhile.”
Right! So this guy wants me to take some car out for a test drive because I can drive a stick and he can’t. Which means what? If I like it, he buys it and learns how to drive a stick …and by the way, WHO CARES if I like it?! Doesn’t everybody have their own personal taste in cars?! I asked him these things as quickly as I could because I saw some very shady character approaching my car, but Nicky just shrugged off everything I said. As we stepped out of my car this shady character asks me (naturally, because I was DRIVING),
“No, he’s Nicky.”
Nicky jumped in, “I’m Nicky, and he’s my friend. He’s going to take the car out for a test drive with us.”
This twenty-something year-old, tough-looking oriental guy looks at Nicky and then at me and simply says, if a bit condescendingly, “It’s a 2-seater.”
Nicky shrugs him off just like he did to me, replying, “So I’ll just squeeze in between you two!”
Squeeze in between me and this member of the TONG in a 2-seat car, with a stick no less - which made me also think, what does Nicky do, sit on the shift? Never mind that I would have to REACH BETWEEN HIS LEGS to shift!
The TONG member walks us past a bunch of old clunkers and I start figuring that Nicky is probably gonna lay down a few hundred for a beat up Opel but my jaw hit the ground when the guy stops in front of a 1973 ORANGE MASERATI MERAK! What?! Who-the-what-the-where-the!
Before I can even say anything, the TONG member opens the driver’s door and invites me to get in, then he opens the passenger door and first Nicky squeezes in and then he gets in and hands me the keys. Just like I feared, Nicky’s groin was perched dangerously close to the shift! Not only that, but the whole shift and gear box seemed to be on a slant!
I figured I could either tell him I was outta there or else, I could “man” through it, while gingerly trying to shift without knowing Nicky intimately! I decided on the latter, with the one caveat that I would bring the car to a screeching halt if my hand came into even the slightest contact with Nicky’s crown jewels!
So I start the car, it gurgles and grunts and snorts like a pig in heat. I release the parking brake and off we go! I start down this long street and actually got the car into 3rd gear before attempting to slow down. Meanwhile Nicky is talking to the guy like he knows HIM forever too – again, about everything except the car! The TONG member just stared out the windshield and remained quiet.
Back to slowing down - I touched the brakes …and nothing happens. I step on the brake pedal a little harder …and we’re still not slowing down one iota! I had to swerve and downshift as fast as I could without coming in contact with Nicky’s dingle-berry and then pull the parking brake to get the “orange pig” to stop completely!
As I’m trying hard to avert a heart attack, Nicky proceeds to ask me in front of the TONG member, “So what do you think?”
I’m like, “Nicky, how ‘bout we talk in private?”
Nicky replies, “Why, we’re all friends here!”
Yeah, right, none of us know each other more than a day, the TONG member looks like he’s “packing” and I’m not even sure he WORKS in this used car lot …but we’re all friends!
My nerves were shredded and I had it, so I answered in a bit of a holler, “Okay, you want to know what I really think… this car is old, ugly, snorts like a pig, is uncomfortable, the transmission feels loose and it looks like it’s cocked on an angle and oh yeah …THE CAR HAS NO BRAKES!
The TONG member didn’t lose a beat, stoically replying, “Yeah, well your car can’t do 180 miles-an-hour!”
To which I answered with no regard for my personal safety,
“Yeah, but my car CAN STOP!”
Believe it or not, I still had to talk Nicky out of the car! We stood there arguing for a few minutes while the TONG member decided whether he was gonna allow us to leave that used car lot alive!
Nicky finally confessed, “g, you don’t understand, I just broke up with my girlfriend and I’ve been living like a miser, never going out or doing anything. So I saved up some money and now, after meeting you I want to spend it!”
So that’s why you were going to buy … a 1973 orange Maserati Merak with no brakes …because you want to spend money?
As I started driving him back to his parents’ house he asked me, “So what are you doing later?”
I told him I always go out to the Hamptons on the weekends to hang out with friends of mine. I saw Nicky’s face light up, “MY MAN,” he said, “Can I go with you?”
I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”
Nicky acted overjoyed. As we turned around and got on the highway, I just shook my head in defeat as he asked me, “By the way, what’s the Hamptons?”
(Continued… Part IV, “Gurney’s & Nicky buys an $87,000 motel room” will appear on Sunday, March 07)
Okay, so now you get the picture, my brother and I are setting up our equipment in Ben’s new studio over at the Kaufmann-Astoria movie studios (yes, we have a movie studio in New York) and as I’m plugging in my guitar amp, one of Ben’s assistant engineer’s whispers in my ear, “You guys are NUTS recording demos here!” That assistant was none other than the legendary “Bobby G!” Bobby was a talented engineer who had worked at the famed “Media Sound” recording studio in Manhattan. His recording credits included the ROLLING STONES and that hit single, “FLY ROBIN FLY.” For those of you who may not know Bobby Gordon, let me just say that - never more animated a human being ever breathed air. Bobby is a living-breathing caricature of himself! His movements are more animated than Bug Bunny’s and his inherent paranoia (Bobby is one of those “whisperers” – you know the type that covers his mouth with his hand and talks in whispers, even when there’s no one else in the room with you and him, and he’s only telling you about the movie he saw the night before). Brooklyn spawns a lot of “whisperers” …it’s a mob thing. Well, Bobby was from Flatbush!
When I asked Bobby why we were nuts, he whispered that we couldn’t talk there but that he could save me and my brother about $100 an hour if I met him in the city the next day. I decided that a c-note an hour was worth the price of the toll to Manhattan, so I agreed. I met Bobby at his home up on 64th St. and York Avenue the next day and he told me that he and his “partner” Nicky had just opened a small studio and that they only charged $50/hour instead of $150/hour, which was how much Ben’s studio cost.
The day I met Bobby it was a blizzard, like a foot of snow and still coming down! It took me about an hour to slide from 64th and York to someplace in Queens (thanks Nicky, for the correction), to pick up Nicky. Needless to say the drive was nerve-racking and stressful and what were Nicky’s very first words to me as he opened my car door? “YOU’RE LATE!” Not only did I pick him up in this blizzard, but Bobby wanted me to see their “studio” …that was out in HEMPSTEAD, LONG ISLAND! For those of you who are not familiar with New York, Hempstead, Long Island is about an hour from Manhattan on a nice sunny day – in a snow storm, it took me more than twice as long to get there! …and do you know where their studio was …in the basement of Nicky’s parents' home!
Now, two nicer people you cannot meet than Mr. & Mrs. Kalliongis – except of course for the vice-like handshake from his dad (my right hand is still deformed from our first handshake). Picture two of the nicest Greek people greeting you with reservation, in a house that smelled like the best Greek restaurant! I was starving about 2-minutes after I walked into the house – but I’m off topic – back to Nicky!
So, we go down into the basement and there it is - a small control room with all of the studio equipment and another room with a mic. Next to the mic was a cot – this apparently was Nicky’s bedroom! That assumption became fact, when, as Bobby was letting me listen to the sound system in the control room, Nicky proceeded to strip down to his underwear and socks and then walked into the control room and announced, “Keep it down, I have to get some sleep, that drive was BRUTAL!” Bobby almost had to restrain me from strangling Nicky in his underwear and socks!
The real weirdness began about an hour later though – and from then on, whenever Nicky and I were together – weird things happened! As I was trying my best to “quietly” test out their studio equipment, Nicky walked back into the control room, still in his underwear and socks! He went over to the drum machine and started showing me its capabilities. Then he started demonstrating the rest of the equipment. I almost thought it was his twin! What a surreal experience, having Nicky Kalliongis, A&R man for ARISTA RECORDS showing me how nice his DX-7 keyboard sounded, standing there in his underwear and black socks. If that all wasn’t weird enough, Nicky ended our first meeting with the fateful words, “You and I are going to be friends!” I just said, “Yeah …sure we are,” like you would to any escaped mental patient.
By the time I got home, I almost thought it was some odd, twisted, blizzard-induced hallucination, but then my phone rang …it was Nicky! He said, “g, it’s Nicky, come with me on Saturday, I’m going to buy a car!”
Come back next time to hear the legendary story of the “Orange Maserati Marek!”
You can’t make this stuff up!
(Continued… Part III will appear on Thursday, March 04)
I think it was that wise sage, Gene Simmons that coined the term, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” but I rather think it’s more apropos to say, “If it’s new and you don’t like it, you’re too old!” That’s the way a lot of us have become, including yours truly. Little by little, I found myself listening to less new bands/artists/music and more “classic” rock. Now, let me state clearly, there are bands that transcend the passage of time, QUEEN, LED ZEP, THE STONES, BEATLES, AEROSMITH, FLOYD, STYX, BOSTON, etc. and dozens more (I’m sure you’re thinking of several others right now) to whom I will always listen. Nevertheless, when we were younger, we embraced new bands/artists/songs/albums with unbiased excitement and I think we may have been a bit fairer when it came to critiquing new stuff!
Personally, I found myself starting to “dis” new stuff around the time grunge came out. I do think that the music business itself is partially to blame for my lack of enthusiasm. By the 80’s, the major record labels began operating more like public corporations hocking toothpaste, instead of acting like the preservers of the medium (music). Accountants began running the show, which lead to new acts and music being considered “widgets.” Record companies no longer were looking for the next new band with their own sound/style; instead they began looking for exactly the opposite. They looked for plug & play forgettable bands/artists that sounded EXACTLY like what was already selling for them. I don’t need to tell you what happens when inbreeding occurs – lots of retarded babies and weaker and weaker strands of DNA …overall a sorry state of affairs indeed!
Still, as my Pop used to say, “the crème inevitably finds its way to the top” and bands like SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM, U2, CHILI PEPPERS, NIRVANA, etc. proved that true! Sadly, though, for every PEARL JAM, it seemed that there were 100 other “JEARL PAMS” that just tried to copy/paste identical but decidedly less interesting music and worse, these bands were getting signed by the majors as fast as they could copy/paste. As a result, I and others like me began losing interest in anything new. Combine that with getting older and by the 2000’s, I sadly found myself listening to the same 20 bands that I was listening to when I was in high school (150 years ago) …but then came my wife and kids to the rescue!
While my wife Lisa loves classic rock as much as I do (one of the reasons why I married her is because she knew every single QUEEN song ever written and I was captivated by how she’d perform them for me), she hadn’t become tainted to new music. For years, she tried in vain to get me to listen to one new band/artist/song after another, but I grudgingly refused – I don’t know why, at that point, I think I was just acting like an ex-heavy metal old fogey. After awhile she gave up and started sharing her music interests with our oldest son Jared – which for some reason, made me insanely jealous – she and I always shared our love of music and I felt left out.
Well, one day, when they were both out, I put my son’s earphones from his i-thing into my ears and found the “play” button. For the next six hours I was rocking to three bands in which I hadn’t taken any real interest – NICKLEBACK, CREED and DAUGHTRY …and I was blown away! The bands all had a fresh sound, the musicianship was first-class (something I thought missing in some of the grunge bands of the past) and most importantly …they rocked! It was like falling in love again for the first time for me!
I recently went to hang out with a few of my “old” heavy metal mates and brought these “new” bands up (they’re really not that new), but I was saddened to see that they were as tainted as I used to be. One of my friends even dared me to ask a bunch of strangers in the pub we were in, if they ever heard of those three bands. I smugly took his dare, but was dismayed to hear over a dozen people (a bit younger than I) tell me they had only vaguely heard of NICKLEBACK …a sad state of affairs indeed! That gave me the idea to SPOLIGHT a band here on my blog. The first band I had to SPOTLIGHT was DAUGHTRY! This band rocks! TURN UP THE VIDEO, if you haven't already! Chris Daughtry has a voice that permeates my soul as does their music. I’d love to hear what y’all listen to and like (and it doesn’t have to be Rock) – leave a comment and let me know …I might feature them next! Peace, g
My former band mate Greg Smith is now the bass player for Ted Nugent. They came to town and played a fantastic gig last night at the Green Valley Ranch Station Resort. I’m gonna tell you something, whether you’re a fan of Uncle Ted’s music and/or all of his political and world views or not, no one can deny that Ted Nugent is a patriot and Ted Nugent is pure in his beliefs. Those were the two things that I took away from his performance last night.
Nugent played to a packed house of believers in Ted, and Ted, as he always has, whipped his believers into frenzy after frenzy of true red, white & blue patriotism and pride in our country and the men and women that protect it. Nugent always has members of the military in his audiences and this show was no different – he’s always been loyal to them and in return, they show their loyalty to him by coming to his shows and shouting their support.
Though I was a guitarist in a heavy metal band for a few years and have listened to Ted’s music, I wouldn’t say I was ever a die-hard fan, at least not back then, but now, I’ll say this …I’m a fan of Ted Nugent, the man, the patriot, the Motor City Madman. Can you believe, I learned something at the show last night? That’s right, I learned something, as if I had gone to see a lecture by some PhD. Ted told us that he’s 61 years old and has been rockin’ with the same energy and enthusiasm has he did when he first started in 1960. That tells me that he really loves what he does and believes in his message. As I launch my writing career, I find myself constantly questioning my message, “what is it that I’m trying to say?” I sometimes find myself getting bogged down with second-guessing myself and then not projecting 100% confidence in my beliefs, my message. Ted taught me, to hell with second-guessing! Once I examine my beliefs and find them righteous, I should be backing them up with my talk and my swagger, like he does! I learned that from Nugent’s show last night.
I also learned that when you do what you love and believe in – you are not only blessed but you convey sincerity to those around you. The people punching their fists in the air and shouting their support for Ted last night, buy into him because he’s totally pure – what you see is what you get with Ted Nugent.
Ted talks a lot about spirit during his show – the spirit of the buffalo – the spirit of freedom – the spirit of independent thinking. I can tell y’all this; Ted Nugent’s spirit is alive and well. I pray that stays that way for a long time to come!
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Dean Wesley Smith