LET THERE BE ROCK
Bill Devine was already a good guitar player when I met him upon my return from Germany in 1980. Pat Wilson and I had been messing around with guitars prior to my departure, and during the year that I was away he had obtained a drum set by way of a cadet who needed a place to keep it. It was a Sonor kit, which was cool because Phil Rudd from AC/DC played Sonor drums. The music thing had developed into a more actual deal while I was away, and when I got back, I did my best to jump right in. I remember learning "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" with Pat from Jamie ‘Hey Hey’ Lagasse in somebody's attic, possibly Pat's. It was only natural that a band formed. Pat Phillips and some of the skate crew had been assembling a band, Head, and we were struck with idea of doing the same.
Bill and Jamie played guitar. Bill had just gotten his Silverburst Les Paul, which is still his main guitar 28 years on, and Jamie had a D'Agostino Les Paul that was a brilliant piece of work. It was wine red, and played just like a Gibson. Pat played the Sonor drum kit previously mentioned. Bob Gosiki was the only bass player in town, so he was in. Bob was the son of a West Point Band member, and he had gear. He had a Gibson Grabber bass, a Kustom bass amp (that quilted sparkly blue plastic upholstered beast). Bob also had an amp he built, which was like twelve watts or something. We used it as the PA for my vocals. I remember two things about that amp: it had an AC/DC sticker on it, and it was so weak that you couldn't hear me above the band. I look back on the latter fact as a fortunate circumstance.
I was bloody horrible. I could neither sing, nor remember the lyrics to the various Deep Purple and AC/DC songs we were doing. The distance I have from those days, and the things I have done since leads me to believe that I simply had no idea what I was doing, but at the same time I knew that cover tunes were not my bag. I didn’t know what my bag was yet, but I was looking for it.
Although I wasn't interested in covers, they were, and are, where it starts. I ended up extemporizing, improvising, and fucking about over top of whatever song was being played. I didn't know it then and neither did anybody else, but what I was doing was writing songs. Bill had a riff that he called 'Center Of The Universe' which was an ode to another local guitar player and son of a West Point Band member, Bubba Dixon. Bubba was a natural musician, he could play, and he knew it. I gave the tune a rebirth under the more direct moniker, 'Bubba Is a Cock'. 'Bubba Is a Cock’ was quickly followed by 'Jill's A Bitch', and 'Donny Go Home' (to the tune of ‘Cocaine’), the subject matter of which, respectively, were the Teen Center manager/supervisor, and my neighbor, the late Donald Tillar.
We played two gigs, I think. I remember one at the Teen Club, where ‘Jill’s a Bitch’ was born, and thanks to Sam Saldivar’s recent YouTube post, I was reminded of a show at the Golf Club House. The lack of sound on the 8mm footage was a blessing for me, but it would have been cool to hear the band. Mostly I got a kick from the milk crate light show, and Billy’s Molson t-shirt.
Songs about people that I didn’t like couldn’t keep me in the line-up of Platinum Dragon for very long. Soon came the fateful night at the West Point Elementary School playground where I was relieved of my front man duties in favor of Sam Saldivar, who had bailed on NYMA, came to O’Neil, and got cool quick. I'm sure I wasn't happy about it, but I think I was relieved. I knew I wasn’t holding up my end. I was still enthusiastic about the band. I liked them, they were my friends. Very shortly after my dismissal, Platinum Dragon was transformed into Nightwolf.
Jamie moved to Colorado. Rob ‘Savage’ Simpson, and his cool-ass siverburst Gibson Flying V replaced him. Bob Gosiki was sacked in favor of Chris Dice. I guess everybody had enough gear by then.
I don’t remember a whole lot about Nightwolf. I remember a show at the Golf Club House. I remember the lyric:
“I don’t really know nuthin’ about ya”
They wrote songs. That was way ahead of the curve. A lot of the creativity must have come from Sam, who was certainly the most creative person we knew.
At any rate, Nightwolf lacked legs. It ended all too soon.
I think, at this point Rob Simpson joined Head. Bret Baugh, guitarist for Head, must have moved on as well. Bret was the most gifted musician in town. He had that ease of play, that effortless vibe that you see in guys like Hendrix or Clapton.
Head, to my poor memory, at that point, consisted of Pat Phillips (vox), Dave Palmer (guitar), Savage (guitar), Hutch (drums). Did Dice play bass at this point?
Head gigs were fairly memorable.
The North Pool gig stands out. My mother, Peg, whose chocolate chip cookies were renown, loaded up the Wilson family Malibu Station Wagon with band gear for the event.
There was something about the sound reverberating off the cement; it worked for War Pigs at least.
Palmer doing ‘FX’ with the Memory Man. A proper show with lights………and a church…..
How does that happen? Who let’s a bunch of teenagers loose in the basement of a church overnight, largely unsupervised, with sound gear, video gear, light gear, other gear…..?
I remember spinning the first Schenker record before the show, and Chris Phillips suggested ‘Victim of Illusion’. The night ended with watching Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon?) on a big screen as the sun came up.
Then they all graduated, but they weren’t done yet.
Before all that though, we need to revisit our friends Pat Wilson and Billy ‘Guitar’ Devine. After Nightwolf they went underground for a bit, jamming in my basement, and Bill’s. Bill had moved next door to me in a weird magical confluence of circumstance. Pat played bass for a bit, but soon succumbed to the gravitational pull of the guitar.
Around the same time a friendship had developed between our immediate crew and Brian Spears who was succumbing to the gravitational force of the drums.
The base of operations moved to Brian’s basement in Highland Falls, and Talon was born.
I suppose Diceman had been playing with Head, because initially there was no bass.
I don’t think there was bass at the Talon gig when they played at the school rally for financial aid. I do remember the set. Okay, I remember two songs. An instrumental called ‘Backseat Overture’ featuring Pat’s phase pedal, and a cover of ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ featuring Lynn Maloney. Lynn could sing, and she had the Benetar look well in hand. I leant her my silver spandex pants, y’know, as you do. I got them back soiled. Sorry, Lynn, if this public outing upsets you, but posterity must be observed. Lynn decided panty lines could not be tolerated, and so she went commando in my spandex as she menstruated all up inside them shits.
Eventually Chris Dice joined Talon and brought his singular showmanship to the band as well as the sorely needed bass. Chris was great to have in the band. His good nature and work ethic were commendable.
Talon gigged a few times, at the obligatory Golf Club House, the 49er Lodge, and most notably a major show at the Fort Montgomery Elementary School. We pulled out all the stops for that one, which basically means me lighting off flash pots manually behind Brian. There was another female guest appearance. I forget her name. She was okay, she sang Frida’s ‘I Know What’s Going On’ while Pat hid behind his Carvin stack clearly wanting no part of it.
Like most local bands at the time, Talon played mostly cover material, but there were some original compositions. The most memorable was, of course, ‘Take Up the Cross’, which featured a Brian penned lyric about the Children’s Crusade. Everybody was excited about the new tune, and when a chance to record it came up, the opportunity was leapt upon.
Bill Walsh is a legend. He is a musical genius. He was also, at the time, a serious party machine. Bill was a West Point Band member as well as an audio engineer. He had the keys to West Point’s very sophisticated recording studio. Who knew?
Bill took us in, skillfully ushered the band through the process, and produced a nice little demo featuring ‘Take Up the Cross’, a cover of Judas Priest’s ‘You Got Another Thing Coming’, and probably Sweet’s ‘Action’. I’m not sure if the band paid Bill for the session, but I do know Lagasse dropped by.
At the end of that school year, ‘82/83, Talon played an outdoor show at the O’Neill High School Graduation where Bill and Brian received their diplomas. It was off to college for half of Talon, and thus, the end, almost……
The Death of Talon was the title given by Pat of the video of their farewell gig. Bill and Brian came back for winter break, and we decorated the Ace in the Ground – Brian’s basement, and invited a bunch of friends.
Talon went all out in preparation. Costumes, make-up, set design, oh yeah, and everybody took acid about an hour before the show. The latter was regrettable, especially considering the costumes, make-up, and set design. Hey, we didn’t know, really, we had no idea.
The first few songs went well, then a fuse blew and all the power went out as they began ‘Mr. Crowley’. As unsettling as that was, by the time we got things running again, the effects of the LSD had begun to undermine the bands ability to perform. Brian, in his own words, got lost in his cymbals, and Pat seemed to have forgotten how to play. Thankfully somebody gave their guitar to Dave Palmer, and Talon officially died as a loose jam session evolved in the wake. I think the lawn doctor practiced his lurid craft on Brian’s front lawn that night. Pat and I giggled a lot.
Back to Head. I know a few of them went out to LA for a stint, Palmer staying longer and coming back a shred-god. Before long they obtained the residence that gave them their name. The House In Newburg. Pat, Hutch, Palmer, Savage……who played bass? Diceman?
It was a great house. The basement housed the rehearsal space as well as at least one bedroom. There was pinball, booze, and mayhem. That house prepared me for college much more than O’Neill did.
Head wasn’t Head any more, but I don’t think they ever landed on another name, nor do I think they ever played out. They were The Band at the House, and they practiced Metal tunes, many of which were unsuitable for Pat’s bluesy gravel pit voice.
In 1984 Metal cover bands could get paying gigs, and I guess that was the idea. I always thought they should have been writing their own material.
Neither the band nor the house lasted very long as they began to be interested in their lives and soon went their separate ways. It turns out there wasn’t a surplus of dudes who could sing Maiden or Dio.
Savage went to California to be an actor. Palmer went down south into academia. Hutch moved to San Francisco. Pat enrolled at the local Community College. I don’t know what Dice did, or if he was even a part of the scene at that point.
1984 saw the end of the West Point Skateboard Gang bands in the proper sense. Many of us stayed involved with music, however. During breaks from school music was still being made.
The Ace in the Hole gave us Danger Penguin. Ostensibly, at its inception, the Danger Penguin line-up was Brian (drums), Pat Wilson (guitar) and Mitch Turner (guitar). Soon Pat Phillips was showing up as well. The band never gigged, but it served as the spring board into the next era, the studio years.
Pat Wilson obtained a multi-track console and tape machine. We all caught the bug. By 1986 Pat Phillips and Brian had converted Pat’s parent’s basement into the Coal Mine Studio.
We recorded every chance we got. Mitch would come up from Georgia. Whoever was at the University of Maryland at the time would make the trip. We learned a craft.
Eventually the Coal Mine closed its doors, and we all went off to our lives, but those of us who came out of the Coal Mine are all still involved with making music today. Pat Phillips has a studio in Atlanta. I have mine in Brooklyn. Mitch is a Doctor of Tunes at LaGrange College in Georgia. Pat Wilson still plays his white Les Paul, and Brian plays drums with Jesus.
Now, everybody please fill in the blanks and correct my incorrect notions.