Opening for Journey
I may as well tell you the last "Water Brothers" Story. As I had said before, the Water Brothers (name taken from characters in a novel, 'Stranger in a Strange Land') was a popular mostly original material rock band in the early 80's San Francisco rock scene.
Our manager Robert Warner, had bigger and better things in mind for us. I gotta hand it to him, he got us some pretty cool gigs. We did a hour long TV special on Bay Area Channel 20. We opened for the Jefferson Starship in Golden Gate Park, we became regular openers for the legendary "Tubes" (about the tightest rock band I ever saw) and for his finale arranged for us to open for mega rock band "Journey".
We were given the news of our "impending booking" at a rehearsal and we went nuts,.... guys in the band high fivin', slapping each other on the back, big smiles, yessiree...gettin closer to the "Big Time"..oh yeah. The "Big Gig" became the topic of conversation, pretty much where ever any of us went that week, music stores, bars, record shops, nightclubs, we were struttin our stuff.
Well, in a favorite North Beach bar of mine, possibly La Rocca's Corner (faahbulous bar, no frills, great people, movie stars, teamsters, politicians, judges, hit men,TV personalities, stevedores,..... you get the picture) I ran into a musician friend of mine and started braggin' up the "Journey" gig. He listened with a glazed look in his eyes until I was though..... and then dropped a little bomb of his own. HE was in the band that had opened for Journey's last Bay area gig and proceeded to fill me in on what I had to look forward to.
"The crew and bandmembers (Journey) are all super nice guys, they bend over backwards to get you sounding good and comfortable." He told me.(Well this is GREAT...great...great isn't it?)
"The AUDIENCE,...... however; does not give you a seconds breathing room. From the time the lights go down(or maybe even a bit before)..... for the opening act...the crowd chants.......Jour-ney!...Jour-ney!...Jour-ney!...Jour-ney!"
At this memory,..... he took a long pull from his cigarette, his eyes fixed on a point on a distant horizon,..... and polished off a shot of vodka. They have to stop chanting at some point?..I said...heck it's a 45 minute slot....they don't chant for 45 minutes do they?" I asked hopefully, a bit prayerfully I'm sure.
"Well they do stop chanting...." He said, with the crooked smile of a fighter pilot that has stared death in the eye and lived to tell about it, "for awhile anyway...just before they start booing...and throwing stuff!...... And as soon as they see they've gotten to you...made a chink in your armor.....the chanting starts and they act like wild jungle cats with a scent of blood in their nostrils........ It was horrible man,... horrible." He paused and ordered another drink,...... as did I.
Suddenly the Water Brothers had gone from "Up-and-coming" to what was known in those days as "Bait". ('Bait' bands were used as long as they could stand the abuse on the tours, when they had enough, they were replaced with a long line of "hopefuls",... sad ehh? The boulevard of broken dreams and all.)
Gone were the days of my youth, in the late 60's, at the Old Fillmore,.... The Fillmore West,.... California Hall,..... the Avalon Ballroom,..... where no matter WHO was playing on a three act bill, (rock, jazz, country, blues, folk, original, name act, local act, known & unknowns) the crowd was polite, gave the musicians some space, listened, appreciated and applauded, some acts went over better than others for sure, but in San Francisco,.... my home town, anybody had a shot because the audiences were the BEST!!....... well ...not anymore, Penelope. Time had moved on, Journey was huge...we were pip-squeaks...the crowd was gonna eat us alive.....no matter what we did.
The next day, after I pried my eyelids open, poured coffee in me, and smoked several cigarettes, I spread the news to my still flyin high bandmates...... and as Chuck Berry said "the rapid tempo of the music fell.." A meeting was called later that day, and the mood was bleak.
Were we going to purposely humiliate ourselves for a foolhardy "second in the spotlight" accompanied by chanting, booing & debris target practice? We were seconds away from a band vote that would eliminate us from the concert bill.
Then in a moment of glory, our manager gave us the big Knute Rockne' pep talk. He told his glum charges that no matter what we had heard, this was not an easy gig to get. The people he had dealt with would not be pleased....... and future opportunities would not be forth coming. He told us it would be 45 minutes,...go out there..... do the best we can....... and live with it!
Then, saving his biggest news for the right moment, told us our original song "Superman" was being considered by Warner Brothers for the upcoming Christopher Reeves movie of the same name. He told us we were on a roll here! (maybe not a BIG roll) but a roll none the less. And being the ego driven.... attention starved morons we were, we went for it hook line and sinker. (after all no one had actually been killed as an opening act! At least we were relatively sure of that fact.)
Well, you'd think that sort of band room bolstering would only go so far. But our manger was smarter than I ever gave him credit for. As luck would have it, the very next night we were playing on San Francisco's Clement Street, at one of our strongholds, "The Last Day Saloon".
Well...this is where his genius rears it's head. Our manager Robert, has gathered large plastic trash bags filled with crumpled paper and styrofoam pieces and has them stationed all over the night club, maybe 10 in all. And before we go on that Friday night to a packed house he steps up to introduce the band.
"Ladies & Gentlemen...could I have your attention for just a moment please?....Thank you. As you may or may not know the band I represent, "The Water Brothers"...(big round of applause)...thank you... is going to open for "Journey" at the Keystone Palo Alto in 3 weeks....(more applause).....thank you...thank you.... "The boys aren't going to be treated very nice, by the crowd there..... and we need to get them ready, with your help!...If you'll notice around the tables there are large bags of debris...share them with your neighbor please...and as the band comes out I want you to pelt them with as much trash as possible while booing and chanting...Jour NEY ....Jour...NEY....Jour NEY as LOUD AS YOU CAN!.......are yah with me?"
Well what bar crowd wouldn't go along with this? They roared their approval and dug in the bags, and as we took the stage we were pelted, booed and chanted at.
As Bob Goldstien , our singer, tried to say hello and introduce the first song, paper and trash bounced off his head and the crowd (really into now) booed and chanted with gusto. Talk about your reverse psychology...were all laughing and having a pretty good time. Our manager Robert was not content with a mere 5 minutes of abuse and from the audience. From the audience he exalted the crowd to boo every song and solo while continuing to pelt us with harmless garbage.
This went on all night. There was a brief word from Robert between sets pleading for abuse rather than applause..."If you really like these guys...let 'em have it!"
Every gig for the next three weeks went the same way. The audience had a good time and we got used to people yelling and throwing stuff at us... brilliant!!
Came the big night in Palo Alto, we were rehearsed to death and ready to go as we'd ever be. The place was packed to capacity, the lights went down ....as we took the stage and the crowd started up.....Jour NEY... Jour NEY.... Jour NEY..... the lights came up....... we went into our first number...the crowd noise was deafening! They hated us!..... the air was filled with paper cups, wadded napkins, trash....like the "Tornado Scene" in the Wizard of OZ......but yah know what?...we didn't care......we were so used to it by then..... we were all laughing like loons and had big smiles all around...and tore into our set.....in between songs Bob, our singer, thanked the crowd profusely and told them what a great audience they were! (they bellowed their hatred in return).....but as the set went on.....the crowd got a little quieter and .....God be praised....actually started listening to us......half way through the set........THEY APPLAUDED!!! We almost fainted.
As any pro act will do (no matter how unknown they are) we had a set list that ramped up to a big closer....and boys and girls we ROCKED those Journey fans...yes we did. And as if escaping with our skins.... getting though our set and getting the crowd on our side wasn't enough... (we were high as kites on life, kids).....we pulled a standing "O" and did an ENCORE!!
We left the stage to a big round of applause and cheering. It really was too much. I was drenched with sweat, my shirt soaked like someone had fire hosed me and fought my way out to my cousin in the crowd, while Journey set up.
My cousin, Jim Stapleton had come with other members of the faithful to cheer us on and had commandeered a table on the back elevated part of the huge club.... here I was pummeled roundly by Jim and my friends in congratulations. Whadda night.
As to the "Superman" song we had written...rather the drummer and I had written, it was submitted to Warner Brothers, and initially, they liked it.....but unbeknownst to me....the demo version that was submitted to Warner Brothers was a DIFFERENT version than the one I had played on, arranged and helped mix...without ME on it!! My song, I might add.
The version Warners heard was a lame mix of a real rocker, with some clown playing guitar trying to sound like Elliot Easton and failing miserably. Not that a rock song had a chance in hell of getting picked for the movie, but the lame version had made it to the Warner Brother's Friday "Gong Show" as it was called, and had made it though an initial round the Friday before ...but was axed the next. I wish they had heard the real mix, but decisions were made by the drummer who felt HE was really the writer annnnnd our manager Robert..... regarding my song.....without my knowledge! Ah.... showbizness. I left the band not long after.
The Water Brothers
The Keystone - Palo Alto
Opening for Journey © 2007 Billy Stapleton. All rights reserved.
"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton