I'm working on almost 17 years clean and sober. It's a personal thing, I don't preach, I have enough trouble taking care of me, and keeping myself in a straight line without telling other people how they should live their lives. I can only say that I have a truly addictive personality. There was never enough of anything I liked, to drink, smoke or snort. I rarely suffered hangovers, and I must have hollow legs, as I could always drink more than my friends. That of course has nothing to do with "macho" drinking, only my particular body physiology, and how it processes alcohol. That's not to say it doesn't affect me, it did, quite poorly, actually, in the long run.
That said, I rarely ever tell stories that deal with my over-indulgences, I never want it to come off like "bragging". The way I used to party was nothing short of abusive, I thought I was "the Man" at the time, but I couldn't have been more foolish.
But...... there is one story I'll, tell, mostly because it's pretty funny and absolutely absurd, if I hadn't lived it, I would have sworn it couldn't be true.
In 1982, the band I had played in for 3 years or so was breaking up, "The Water Brothers"...boo hoo...sniff ....snarfle. I was looking to rock a bit harder than the "Brothers" and I had my eye on our trumpet player, the dashingly handsome Ernie "Rocko" Langone (as a singer, not a boyfriend,....... I don't play tennis on that side of the court).
Rocco had invited me to hear a horn band he played in regularly at "The Jolly Friar" on San Francisco's Clement street. I was up for it, Rocko, was a hoot to be around in those days and we were always looking for an excuse to have a couple of "horns" (drinks). Well the band that Rocko played in, did all kinds of different material, Chicago, BS&T, Latin numbers, Stevie Wonder, very cool, very tight, the singer was pretty good........and then..... they turned the mike over to Rocko, who sang Toto's "Hold the LIne".......well Jesus, Mary & Joeseph....if Ernie "Rocko" Langone couldn't SING!! Holy smoke, he was murder! He nailed that Toto song to the back wall!! He'd been part of our two piece horn section in the Water Brothers for years, but I never knew he could sing!
Well, once I found out that he knew how to play bass guitar as well, I couldn't stop thinking about a new band, with Rocco as the front man. (Women...good lookin women...THREW themselves at Langone..day and freakin' night....it was absolutely amazing, he was our hero.)
At the time, I shared a house in the Mission district with Bay Area Great "Alex Bendahan" or "Alex Guinness" his then, stage name. Alex, ....for those of you who read these things,..... was the subject of a previous "Guitar "story"..."Alex and the 63' Stratocaster". He was absolutely brilliant, he could play anything on the freakin guitar and sang like a bird, new thousands of tunes and like myself was half out of his mind.
Somehow I convinced him to be in my new band for a little while, while we got started and got a few gigs under Rockos' belt. Alex was already in a full time band,"Alex Guinness & the World Records" (whaddah name ehh?) doing his original material and making a run at the "top". But he liked playing with me too, so for a while that was the line up, Rocco, Alex, our drummer Bernard and myself.
The Retro Rockets.(version #1)
Rocko in back, Alex, Bernard & Billy Blastoff
So the real disaster started early Saturday morning,..... Saturday morning the day of our first gig!....right around 10am in the morning, I had my heart broken....I was crazy for this gal who wasn't quite over her old boyfriend.....I can say no more...but 10 am that morning was when I got the word...... Annnnyway......I thought the best thing I could possibly do, in view of my current situation......after much thought......was to go to the liquor store.........get a pint flask of Jack Daniel's and begin drinking whiskey in ernest (10am? Thaaat's right...no drinking problem here). And so I drove around San Francisco (open container and all) getting stewed.
My new band,.......wait for it......."Billy Blastoff & the Retro Rockets" (hey, it was 1982, ok?)...... was due to play that very Saturday night at the Last Day Saloon. So around 10:30am I stopped at a phone booth (no cell phones in '82 kids) and called Alex, who I knew, was at longtime girlfriend Mary Stewart's' house in the Sunset district...and see what was shakin' with them.
A rather dour Mary Stewart answered the phone and told me that there had been an "incident"...... she was clearly upset, and yet she wanted me to come over anyway......She and Alex might need my support..??? All very mysterious,......... but I was half in the bag by then (no breakfast, 1/2 a pintah whiskey), still smarting in the heart department, and was dying for a distraction. Besides, I was getting the feeling that the "incident" could possibly prevent Alex from playing our gig that night!! Miss a gig? Horrors! The death knell of any musician! NEVER!!
I got to Marys' rented flat maybe 5 minutes later, she and her new springer spaniel "Maggie" had the lower unit. As soon as the door was opened, I sensed a quite palpable chill in the air...I new something pretty wild must have gone on. Alex, (his hair dyed a fah-buu-lous shade of purple) was grumbling and pacing back and forth and wouldn't talk,....... so I got the story from, red haired fire cracker, Mary Stewart. Mary went about about 5'4" and was a kick in the pants.
Apparently, she had gotten up early that morning and let her new young dog, (Maggie, a Springer Spaniel) who wanted to go out, into the flat's backyard......and promptly went back to bed and to sleep.....the puppy,..... left outside (it's summer, no hardship on the dog, ok?) starts to wine........starts to yip and bark.......and wakes the upstairs neighbor up.
The upstairs neighbor is a gal a bit on the heavy side with an unfortunate face...... who's rather combative on a good day. Well, she decides to get good and uber-pissed at the dog situation. So she motivates her rotund self outtah bed and stomps down the back common stairway.....pounds on Marys' back door,.... yellin and screamin' for her to "Shut her F*#@kin' Dog Up!!"
Alex.....comes awake from a dead sleep like "Boom Boom Mancini" and stalks angrily to the back door (Alex is sort of a bruiser, and backs down from no one, but in his defense is not a violent person) ......he flings the door open and within a nanosecond is in a yelling match with the upstairs neighbor....the shouting and screaming continues (summoning up images of Gleason and the Honey Mooners).....the woman tells Alex that she's going to call the cops!! (over a puppy).....and starts back upstairs to her flat...Alex (showing extremely poor judgment), follows her, still arguing, INTO her flat!!
As she reaches for her wall phone in the kitchen (to call dah cops) the shouting escalates..... and in an effort to prevent her from making the call.....a little pushing.....a little shoving, maybe....(I dunno wasn't there)....but a blender full of fruit smoothies goes on the floor.....and then the heavy gal slips in the fruit smoothie....and WHAMMO!! hits the deck......bashing her HEAD on the counter top on the way down!!!....perfect.
She's on the floor crying now....sitting in a smoothie pool......a spectacular black eye coming up on her left eye.......... with Alex bending down trying to make "nice" (too late)....she tells him to "Just Leave!!" in between sobs........he does.
How long ago did this all happen? Oh, about 5 minutes before I called......10 minutes before I got there....annnnnnnnd Mary's sure the cops, with any luck, are most likely on their way! Charming,....... I pull out my bottle of Daniels and have a healthy pull.... and light a butt.... as heavy thinking is surely soon to follow.... I pick this time to remind Alex that we're playing tonight....
"Oh Shit!" is all he can muster, and takes a big old pull himself (it's 10:45 am kids).
"Knock...knock...knock" at the front door......
"Who the f#@k is that?" I ask.
"Most likely the Po-lice. Mary responds dryly.
"Jesus on a unicycle with a bacon and avocado sandwich balanced on his head!! I exclaim.
No one is moving, so Mr. Action...Mr. "Get It Done"....Mr. Baloney.......has to spring forward...I grab Alex by the arm...drag him into the bedroom and fling him into the closet and close the door (as far as I know they can't search the place without a warrant). I run back to the front door...... after a brief stop in the bathroom to DRINK some mouthwash to hide the whiskey on my breath (blachh!!)......admonish Mary to say "Nothing!" and let me do the talking...(no problem there)
Alex and Mary Stewart
"Pound..Pound POUND!!" At the door.... I move Mary aside and fling the front door open as the men in blue begin knocking anew.
"Good morning officers..." I start out as sunny as a Mediterranean morning in a sun dress....
"You Alex Bendhan?" San Francisco's finest growled (assault charges on women are frowned upon, by the SF boys) fingering the handcuffs on his belt.
"Me? No...no I'm just a friend! heyah haa haah." Doing my best Phil Silvers.
"Some ID please....." I'm asked curtly.
I fortunately produce the necessary drivers license...... without falling over .....and try and stay down wind of the officers. They ask to speak to Alex, I tell them that he's "gone for a walk" (it could happen)......that he had felt bad about "the accident"...needed to "clear his head".... and I was sure he'd be back, was there a message?
Eyebrows raised,...... guns still holstered, (I could tell they wanted to pound me into the doorjamb) ...but instead....the cops peeled off some kind of ticket or some such.... that required Alex to be in SF Municipal court Monday morning 9am, or a WARRANT would be issued for his arrest for assault and trespassing if he failed to appear. Seemed immensely fair to me.
One cop had a Polaroid camera...... and had taken pictures of the multiple-bruised-upstairs victim..... that would be presented at the hearing & subsequent trial. ( I saw them as the court case dragged on weeks later, Spectacular shots really, it looked like Alex worked her over with a 2x4" but they were all from her fall in the smoothie). Let me just say I never liked the gal upstairs but Alex shouldah never touched her, bad form, extremely bad form.
And amazingly.... the Police....as much as they would have loved to pummel me..... took my word for Alex's absence and left!!! Well, Alex, fresh from the closet, was thrilled! He didn't have to spend the weekend in jail.... nor any longer in Mary's closet ("potpourri" made him sneeze)..... and was thanking me profusely for saving him!....We decide, of course,.....to celebrate!...But, it would be best for us, prudent even, to get the hell out of the flat...... annnnnd the Sunset District, before the upstairs neighbor realizes Alex hasn't been arrested..... and calls the police to tip them off to his whereabouts.
The three of us pile in my Cougar (god, I was a sucker for Fords) and head out to get something for breakfast besides whiskey, chips maybe?
A huge breakfast was consumed by all, at our local fave diner, and afterwards we decided to go the beach with some beer (a half rack)..... all in all we start having pretty good time, Mary finally loosens up and it's a beautiful sunny day.......we are however; getting spectacularly creamed in the process.
We weave our way, laughing, back to the Mission district around 4 o'clock that afternoon and try and get a nap in before the load in, and the gig that night. At this point we are plenty screwed up, we lapse into a brief booze coma and wake up and start getting ready around 7 or so to go play. There's whiskey & beer at the house and we're on a tear once again.
Alex and I have our gear set up at the club by the time that Rocko, who is playing his FIRST GIG as a lead singer and bass player,.... shows up....and notices that we're a bit "loose". He wants to go over the song list, ......we buy him some drinks instead.
We start playing, and it was a it shaky, to be sure, but we soon fell into our old grooves and soon had the place rockin'. Someone...god knows who......started sending SHOTS UP to the bandstand....Yeah!! Rocko is looking at us like we've gone completely nuts......let's just say that the performance ebbed and flowed...there was good, there was bad...but one thing was progressing in a bad way.......Alex & I had become absolutely freaking staggering stinking drunk...it's a miracle that we could stand up, let alone play...and to top it off there's a photographer there taking pictures!!
By the time the gig is blessedly over, someone should have called the police on us for our own safety. I have been toasted before, but holy cow, there weren't many nights like that (with the possible exception of the night I won the Jack Daniels Invitational Drinking Competition...a proud moment to be sure). Rocko was mighty disgusted with us, the promised music cues, chord changes and "help" getting though the three hour gig were scant if not totally non existent...he was visibly and justifiably pissed.
Alex I sat at the bar pounding even more down until the club closed...at this point I must confess I don't remember much...but I do remember somehow winding up back at our house in the Mission District......drinking more, once we got there......and in my long drinking career..... one of my very few appearances in the bathroom........ to talk to the porcelain oracle.....kneel at the alter of humility......inspect the vomitorium......and there......and there on the floor in front of the toilet......is where I blacked out.........cue the whirlly spiral thingy from the Twilight Zone.......(fade to black.)
Unbelievably I woke up the next morning...I had been easily flirting with alcohol poisoning the whole day before, and was pretty lucky to be alive.......how had I gotten into bed? Where were my cloths......and why was there a large damp towel wrapped around my head?......Ohhmygawd...did I fall down and hurt my head??.....I laid there and faded in and out for a while......I had totaled myself severely..... .......20 or so minutes later I finally managed to sit up.....whoa there big fellah.......and then arise (tah dahh!)....ommah god oh mah god I'm hurt..... and stagger like a 2 legged crab with one bad leg to the bathroom mirror and see what the hell I had done to myself.
I carefully unwrapped the towel still tied around my head (brilliant job, really) and to my astonishment, there was no injury...no blood...no nuthin...my hair was screwed up into an unbelievable "pin head doo" and I was the color of old cheese, but other than that, I seemed to be OK.
I took up residence in the shower until the hot water gave out and made some coffee when i emerged. I was able to remain standing for 3 and 4 minutes at a time while I poured coffee into myself (excellent), so things were looking up. Alex was still sawing logs in his room...but little Mary Stewart was up and wanted coffee. When I was able to compose a complete interrogative sentence.....I spoke.
"Whahh happened?" I croaked.
Mary proceed to tell me that she was getting ready for bed around 3am last night and went into the bathroom where she found me.......jammed head first IN THE TOILET choking & bubbling.......basically ...DROWNING!! She pulled me out by my collar, sopping wet, and flopped me on the floor, yelling at me, no response from Mr. Baloney......I'm still out.......so she went for help....she ran into Alex's room and found HE's passed out on the floor...perfect...she raced back to the bathroom and made sure I was breathing, and propped me up......at this point she has absolutely saved my life!!!
(Imaginary conversation among my friends at my funeral....
"So how did he die anyway?"
"Drowned in a toilet, from what I hear...typical
"Never knew when to quit, did he?")
She dried my hair with a towel and wrapped my head in it......drug me into my bed room...some how got me on the bed..(bear in mind this is a 105 lb gal doing all this here!!).... undressed me and got me under the covers... THEN she went to Alex's room and got him into bed....man whaddah woman.
To tie things up, Alex showed up in court Monday with an old wig of mine (I had to hide my long hair at some family functions in the 60's..laugh all yah want) to cover up his purple hair and present a more dignified persona (yeah right). He was released on his own recognizance, he had no police record. The case dragged on for months, was finally settled with a hefty fine, an apology & probation. Rocko stayed in the band for 3 years and 3 incarnations. And yes I'm playing real V, in the promo shot and a '57 Goldtop in the live shot.
It was the last time I ever drank like that. Mary Stewart indeed saved my life that night...and about a month later when we played again, the photographer showed up and gave us shots of what Alex, Rocko and I have come to call "The Booze Brothers".
Here's my fave picture, below, out of all of them, Alex and I visibly creamed, while Rocco looks on in disgust. (note cigg stuck in the strings of the Les Paul,... nice!) I'd just like to apologize for my appalling behavior to everyone involved....and wish you all a happy safe summer.
Rock & Roll,
Guitar Stories & The Booze Brother © 2007 Billy Stapleton. All rights reserved.
"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton