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Brother Mike-- Part 1
My older brother Mike was a bigger than life character both physically and personally. He was the 2nd child, the first, Bill (named after my Dad), having died unexpectedly at 2 months old. Robin and I have speculated that because of "Little" Bill's death my parents may have overfed Mike to make sure he survived. As a result, Mike was a big kid.
A Mike story:
My Dad owned City Ice Service, providing ice for bars and tourists' iceboxes before refrigerators in RV's and icemaking machines in bars. Mike and I learned from an early age how to take care of the "dock"--the concrete dock and ice plant from which ice was sold to whoever pulled up in a vehicle. We learned to estimate how much ice would fit in an icebox and cut a piece out of a larger block with an icepick and sell it to a customer and make change. Mike was manning the dock at about age 7 one summer. A man my Dad knew ran into to him in town and said he needed ice for his bar & couldn't wait for it to be delivered. My Dad told him to go on out to the ice house ( at 26th & Cushman St.), tell his son Mike to give him the ice & he could pay my later. The man goes out and tells Mike what my Dad said and Mike says, "No." "Now, come on, son, "the man siad, "It's OK. You're Dad said I could get the ice and pay him later." "No,"says Mike. The man needed the ice and the 7 year old won't budge. So the man goes to get the ice himself and as he reaches go gather it, Mike stabs him in the hand with an icepick. I don't think the man got his ice. And I'm sure my Dad admonished Mike but at the same time knew that he was, in his kid-like was, taking his responsibility seriously.
I grew up on the south side of Fairbanks for my first 12 years. My parents owned an acre of land at 26th Street that fronted on Cushman and stretched to the next street back. Once when I was 9 or 10 I wandered toward the back of the property and saw a kid a little older than me shooting at sparrows in a willow bush with a BB gun. He paused and asked me, "You're not going to tell are you?" I shook my head and wandered away. I immediately told my Dad who went back and gave the kid hell.
Age 15 I meet the same kid but thankfully he didn't remember me. This was Danny Smith. We somehow were called together to jam and eventually spent long hours in his basement, me, Rif Rafson, Danny & other musicians, improvising by the light of the Fender amp power lamps. As I got to know Danny I couldn't help noticing his hands. The back of his hands looked like marshmallows over- cooked on a campfire. They reminded me of The Thing from the Fantastic Four. After a while I ask him what happened. He laid out the story that a few years before he'd gotten a job doing automobile oil changes at a place called Triangle Service that was located in a little triangle formed by Illinois Street meeting College Road. It was a small station with an "grease pit"--a hole dug in the ground that a car or truck would drive over and a poor sap below could change the oil and lube the vehicle. They were also illegal by that time since they tended to get very oily and very dangerous. Something ignited the grease pit Danny was working in and he was badly burned. Thus began a long journey to a hospital outside, through numerous operations and morphine addiction. They did a wonderful job on his face and chest and only his hands were left with severe burn marks. I have no doubt his survival gave him a zest for life that was infectious.
With his settlement money he bought a brand new Fender Stratocaster, a new Fender Super Reverb amp, a Gibson Dove acoustic guitar and an old Dodge Powerwagon. He fitted the Powerwagon with large airplane tires. This meant, for instance, that as we drove south on the Richardson Highway between Fairbanks and North Pole with a couple bottles of Boone's Farm Loganberry wine (we were kids, OK?) and he got himself a notion, a gleam in his eyes and a little smirk on his face, and with a crank of the wheel and yell of, "Let's go overland!"-- we did. And could. We drove off the highway, across the muskeg until we came to a grove of trees where we couldn't be seen, turned off the engine, drank the wine and talked about music. We almost could have floated with those tires and the only time we got into trouble was in the winter heading up Ester Dome. We cruised up easily but somewhere on the steepest part Danny down shifted and the tires broke friction with the snow and just spun. The one thing he hadn't figured was that the airplane tires had no tread. Airplanes didn't need tread and with none we were going no further. After a pause to think , Danny let the off the brake. The truck drifted backward, he cranked the wheel quiclkly and instantly we spun around and headed down hill again.
One summer day I was at 26th Street in the back very near where I first met Danny shooting at sparrows. A bunch of us had taken an old military building that my Dad had moved onto the property and made it into a practice house. I was outside the house when Danny pulled up in his Powerwagon and leaned on the horn. Then suddenly he stood up and his head and shoulders went through the roof of the cab and he yelled, "Hey Fitz, whatya think? Like my new sunroof?" He had taken a torch the roof and cut it out for a little sun and air for summertime cruisin'.
Danny and I hung out together a lot for a few years and played a lot of music. He always insisted on playing only rhythm guitar, no solos, with that clean Fender sound you get on classic Surf music. We played together at what was possibly Fairbanks first music festival up hill from the Fox watering hole, probably in 1969. I've got a picture somewhere and Danny's shirt is off, he's playing his Stat and he's enjoying life.
Later on we both drifted to other things. I joined a band called the Glass Bead Game. Danny became the youngest registered guide in Alaska at that time. I think he was 19. And that's when he learned to fly. Sometime later when he was in his late twenties or early thirties, he flew into a mountain with his young daughter in the airplane and they both perished. I'd guess the weather was bad.
The 26th Street Market Part 1
My parents owned the 26th Street Market. Well, actually, in the early day of the 1950's they merely owned the building. My dad had a habit of saying to someone who needed a building moved, "Hey, moved it to my land at 26th & Cushman. He probably did this because owning the building that housed the market proved a good move so maybe having all those military buildings on barrels would someday pan out too. The market building was once the rectory for a church that once stood across from the Golden Heart Park today near 7th and Cushman. (That church stands today in the little town at Pioneer Park.) In it's early days the store business was owned by Ruth & Jim Monroe.
Ruth seemed to be the money behind the business because she never worked in the store. Instead, her long suffering husband worked behind the counter 5 or 6 days a week. The store included a liquor store with two separate counter and one clerk station/cash register. Jim (and indeed, anyone who worked there including me in later years) in the liquor store farthest from the store counter. When someone came in the store he slowly and seemingly painfully arose and moved in measured steps toward store counter. He talked slowly as if slightly drugged (and perhaps he was.) in the voice and style of a friendly Mr.Ed the horse on the then-popular T.V. show.
I felt lucky to live near the store. There was a magazine rack that was also stocked with comics and, after the Beatle showed up, teen magazines talking up all the latest bands. (It was because of some of those "teenybopper" magazines and their over-the-top praise of the Beatles that I turned away from the band for a time and veered toward the Rolling Stones & later the Yardbirds when, at 14, I joined the Raines Brothers, Sammy Bringhurst and Mike Ansley in the Shade. A fortunate move in that respect but unfortunate perhaps in that I let Rubber Soul and Revolver pass me by.) Also there was the candy. I didn't have to wait if I got a little cash, I could walk from our house about 300 feet to the store and comic and candy in hand have my self a well deserved respite from the rigors of workaday childhood. Jim once asked my brother and me to bike down Cushman toward town a couple blocks to the Big Bend Cafe and get him a hamburger. For our trouble, he gave us each a little money which we promptly put back in his hands for some goodies. After that, when we tired of playing inevitably one of us would look at the other and say, "Let's go see if Jim wants a burger!"
One thing I had a hard time understanding was that my parents owned the building but not the business. The two were synonimous in my mind. I never saw a business floating around town with no building to call home. Later all this was resolved when Ruth & Jim up and flew the coup leaving behind a trail of debt but also leaving the store and it's contents behind for my folks to take over. It proved timely because their other business, cutting, making and selling ice, was quickly falling on hard times. Up until the early 1960's bars had no ice cube makers & camper/trucks in the summer had no refrigerators. Very suddenly, that changed. Welcome to the grocery business, Mr. & Mrs. Fitzgerald
Firefighting--Year 2, Pt 2
We packed up our camp hurriedly and marched for an hour. Finally we came to a spot that was all willows and we started seeing other men and boys camped in the bushes. Their numbers increased until we came to a lake. The firebosses must have thought it safe to be away from the tall spruces and near water. Our crew arrived last and as we arrived the "hippy" crew was just finding a spot near the lake. Suddenly the air became electric. I looked to my left to where a group are large Native men were emerging from in and around a row of tents with poleaxes in their hands. They glared at the hippy crew and suddenly the bosses were running in all directions, moving the hippy crew away and confering with the natives. I discovered the source of the conflict quickly as word spread. The native crew was from Huslia and took great pride in their firefighting work. It brought in much needed money to their village. They had been working opposite the hippy crew on 12 hour shifts. Each day for more than a week they hiked to work and started in the same place they had left off the night before. The hippy crew had gone to work each day and sat around doing nothing but staying out of the 90 degree sun with the aid of various ingestable aids, pot & psychedelics, they had brought along with them, moving little if at all along the cattrail. This enraged the Huslia crew and they were forcing a confrontation. In a matter of minutes a call went out on the radio, a large helicopter landed and the whole hippy crew was loaded in and whisked away. The Huslia crew went back to their tents and we stood there for a time incredulous. Then we sll turned to make our camp. The next day, with out two week stint up and the firefighting efforts for naught, we too were flown back to Fairbanks. I collected a tidy sum of money for a 16 year old (in today's money nearly $20 an hour) and bought my first new set of drums.
Firefighting--Year Two Pt.1
My second year of firefighting was vastly different. First of all, I'm 15 and I'm hip to sharp axes and wet trees. We were flown to Chalkyitsik near Fort Yukon. It was amazing for me to find how hot it was so far north of Fairbanks and how big the trees were. Ninety to a hundred feet tall in places. We were assigned a crew and staked out an area among willows next to at least 10 other crews. 12 hour days. Day shift crews alternating with night shift crews. And of course, light all night. We were on a day crew, a bunch of teenagers with an Athabascan "straw" boss just a little older that us. A nice guy whose name I forget but whom I became good buddies with. We had a large cache of army c-rations. Old c-rations it seemed because the cigarettes in them where very dry. But they were free and at 15 that was livin' large. I didn't mind the food at all. Everyone had something against the pound cake but I loved it and got plenty of it coming my way. The situation in camp was my first taste of something like a class society. We discovered that the bosses had real potatoes and didn't think that was fair at all. So one of us snuck over to the back of the bosses' tent and groped around under the flap and brought back some spuds for the masses. We cut them up and threw them and the contents of a several cans of c-ration stew into a larger pot to fatten it, and us, up.
This firefighting trip lasted 2 weeks and the pay was about $20 an hour in today's money. Big bucks for a 15 year old. The idea was that big D9 Caterpillars would cut a fire break ahead of the fire. Crews would come along and move out all the downed wood the Cat couldn't get. Then other crews, ours being one of them, would come along and dig a two foot wide, six inch deep trench toward the side of the cat trail that was away from the direction of the fire. It was thought that the fire would burn up to the cat trail and run out of fuel. And just in case it didn't and smoldered throught the grass and shrubs, it would come to the little trench and burn out. In theory. We were digging trench one day, +80 degrees when we start to see smoke nearby. It gets closer, we keep digging. Closer still, we keep digging. We see flames, we dig. (Not a word from the bosses). Suddenly, 90 ft. tall spruces are going up right next to the cat trail we're working on. Still no word from the bosses. Everyone's getting nervous and someone pulls the trigger by throwing down his shovel, saying "Fuck this!" and running. We all panic and start running. That's when we finally hear from the bosses. One or two yell at us to stop but we don't until we're a ways back down the trail. They keep yelling and one guy, the one that ran first, says he'll go talk to them. While this is happening, the fire jumps the cat trail and is gone, leaving behind smoldering trees. After some talk the bosses convince our guy, and us, to come back and we get outfitted with "piss bags"--a rubber bag of water we carry on our backs with a hose and nozzle. We spend some time putting out "hotspots", those smoldering areas at the base of trees, so that they won't continue to burn. After about 30 minutes of this we get new orders: We have to high-tail it back to our camp about 3 miles away, pack up and move. The fire is heading that way and threatening to burn through our camp.
.: Saturday, March 6, 2010
It was probably after a rehearsal that Larry Raines suggested that we all go firefighting and buy new equipment. We were both 14 and the rest of The Shade were around the same age. I didn't think about the fact that my drums were new. I just knew that we were a band and, like a gang, it was all for one and one for all. At that time you could ship out to fight fires around the state if you were 16 or older and all you needed to do was say you were 16 and show up with a sleeping bag and some boots and you'd be directed when and where to show up. My folks gave the O.K. (probably because of my dad) and I was off to somewhere. I had never been anywhere farther than Salcha to the south or Livengood to the north (except a bewildering trip to play baseball in Anchorage when I was eleven. I knew how I got there but once in Anchorage, I was completely lost.) So now we got on a bus and drove to a place called Tanacross, a place that has a bit part in the history of the founding of Fairbanks though at that time it just sounded funny, like a cross between Tanana and "across", which is exactly what it meant. I was just happy to be on my own, going to work for 3 dollars and hour, 12 hours a day for the band.
The bosses handed out poleaxes as we boarded the bus and we honed those edges to a fine point during the ride. I remember little about the ride except it was long and tedious. When we finally arrived at our destination and learned how to eat army C-rations we were given black visqueen sheets to drape over rope for a tent. It began raining that night and by morning I was cold and wet. I decided to fortify the uphill side of my tent by cutting down a small tree and laying it on the flap of visqueen thinking this would somehow keep out the water. Of course the trees were wet and with my first chop the axe glanced off the bark and it's well-sharpened blade went directly into my boot. I took a brief glimpse and knew it was bad. But amazingly it didn't hurt. The axe was so sharp that it cut thin and clean to the bone. I calmly walked up to a boss and said, "I think I'm going to have to get a ride back to town." "Oh, and why is that?" he asked. "Well it seems I've cut my foot" I said and pointed to my boot. He took one look and called for a medic. Soon an airplane had arrived and I was flown back to Fairbanks and taken to St. Joseph's hospital. A doctor numbed my foot, stitch up the cut as I watched and almost passed out. End of firefighting-year one.
.: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The trouble with being around a town so long is that you see ghosts. Give you an example: The little road that lies between the Home Depot and Seekins Ford? Used to be the Steese Highway. It ran straight to the base of Birch Hill then took a sharp left turn. Some called it Dead Man's Curve. A lot of car crashes there. And about where Home Depot stands was a small oval race track with stands and a parking lot surrounded by trees and willows. It was a paved track and I remember small cars racing on it. I went there with my dad as he delivered ice. He bought me a bag of popcorn as I watched the loud cars zip around for a short time then it was on to the next stop. Dad was working. Always working.
Then there was Griffith Park. I found a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article from recent years about a fella that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues (lingo translator: A brief stay) and then came to Fairbanks for some reason and pitched for a local team in the 40's or 50's. Local baseball was a big deal then. Anybody could play it and you could bet on it. The two criteria for a successful sport. And the article said the teams played in Griffith Park. The same park I played in as a kid . It stood between the courthouse and the river downtown and even now has a sign that says "Griffith Park". Nowadays it's just a lawn. The word "park" fits it and people are none the wiser. But then it was a baseball park. It had wooden stands and an announcer's booth. And it was in this park when I was 10 years old that I played in what was called the Little League Jamboree. The jamboree started the season. Teams played 3 innings and there may have been 8 teams. I had been playing what was dubbed "farm" league for two years and this was my graduation to the Big Leaues. I played some pretty good ball in the next 5 years until rock and roll won out but I wasn't any great shakes as a hitter. My best friend in school, same age, height & weight as me, hit the equivalent of Babe Ruth's 60 home runs one year: 14 home runs at age 12. Me, never a one. I attribute it to the "jamboree". Our team, the Yankees, played 3 innings against the Red Sox (classic, huh?) And my first at bat was against a kid that was already a fearsome legend in local baseball. His name was spoken in hushed tones and with a shake of the head. John Dobra. (Yeah, rhymes with "cobra".) He was a foot taller than the rest of the kids and thin. And his ace pitch was a fast ball. A blazing fastball. At least that was what I had heard. But I didn't really know what that meant until I stepped to the plate for the first time that warm June night. There was a big crowd and they cheered everything. They would have cheered my knees if they could have heard the drumrolls they were playing. I swear I never saw the first pitch. But I glimpsed the second and third. Just barely. It was three strikes and I hit the bench and wasn't sure I was going to like this game anymore. Tell you the truth, I was scared stiff by a ball coming at me at that speed. (Years later I saw my old coach, Ken Rankin at the grocery store. At times over the years I had run past the ballfields across from Growden Park and stopped to watch part of a little league game. The pitched balls arced to home plate. I ask my coach if it was just my faulty memory or did the pitchers throw harded when I was a kid. He smiled and nodded. "Nope, not your imagination. They sure did, " he said.)
I didn't want to face the Cobra again and was relieved when he was taken out before I came up to bat one more time in the third inning. The new pitcher, named Swindell, was not a fastball pitcher. No. He threw a curve. The first I had ever seen. And it was fast. I swung at it where it was and then it wasn't there any more. I think I didn't swing a couple times and they were luckily called balls but that at-bat didn't last much longer that the first. And I swear I was doomed from there on where batting was concerned. With no batting cages and perhaps ten pitches in batting practice, there was no way I was overcoming my first batting experience: Dobra and Swindell. As I say, stick around long enough and you start seeing ghosts.
.: Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In the 1960's, Fairbanks was on a delay when it came to movies and televison. Television programs were two days later than broadcast in the lower 48 and movies showed up two weeks later. Thus it was that when thousand upon thousands of future musicians were watching the Beatles' historic appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, up here in the Alaskan Interior I watched them two days later. And two weeks after the release of the Beatles' movie "Hard Day's Night" to long lines in the lower 48, I stood in a line stretching around the block from 2nd Avenue to 1st Avenue on Lacey to watch the movie at the Lacey St. Theater. Fast forward a few years to 1969. I was contacted by someone, perhaps the inimitable Lindy Raines, to take the train to Anchorage in late July, practice with a band consisting of Gary Sloan on vocals and harmonica, John Lee on bass, and the Raines brothers, Lindy and Larry on guitars and myself on drums. We'd do a day of rehearsing blues numbers then open for The Youngbloods at a place on Spenard Lake that would later become the first home of the FlyByNight Club. The gig? We did fine: blues was having it's first blush of renewed popularity during those years and the Raines Brothers were prodigies. The Youngbloods were a threesome: Jesse Colin Young on guitar, Joe Baer on drums and Banana on keyboards & bass. They never spoke to us. I never listened to them again. "Everybody get together..." indeed.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, people in the state government were working hard that spring to make it so that Alaskans could watch the moon landing live on television along with the rest of the country. Despite their efforts it was not to be. The infrastructure just wasn't there. However it was decided they could make the live feed available in Anchorage. It wasn't until years later that I learned that the morning before our gig as I awoke in a house in Anchorage that the images I was watching on live television of that first step on the lunar soil were not being seen live by the folks back home in Fairbanks. And I owed it all to rock and roll.
.: Friday, January 9, 2009
My Life of Crime Chapter 2
It was a summer night. I was about 16. My brother Mike was 18. We were coming home from somewhere, crossing the lawn at the Minnie St. house. Suddenly we hear a voice. It's coming from the bush across the street. "Fitz...Fitz!" Then we see a head peak out. It's Mike's old friend "Frankie" (not his real name). Frankie was a bad kid if ever you saw one. Hell bent for nowhere. Mike ran across the street to talk to him for a second then looked up and down the street. They both ran across the street and headed around the back. As they ran I could see that Frankie's hands were handcuffed. I followed them around the back, through the back door and downstairs to our room. Frankie had been in jail for something and had apparently slipped through the bars that where across a window. We got tools. We started hammering, chiseling, filing his handcuffs and eventually snapped the chain. Mike went upstairs and made a few phone calls and eventually someone arrived and took Frankie away. End of story.
Not so fast. We later heard he holed up in a cabin somewhere outside of town and was apprehended there the next day. Cue the cops. Have them pull up in our driveway. Cue Dad, have him spend a considerable amount of time in the cop car talking them out of charging us with aiding and abetting a criminal.
20 years or so later, I met one of Frankie's sisters at the Howling Dog Saloon. I got around to asking what happened to her brother. "Oh, haven't you heard? He did some time in prison then got religion and became a priest!" Amazing. Doing time was certainly where he was headed if any kid was but what a miraculous turnaround! A bit later I met someone that knew him and I mentioned this. He laughed and said, "A priest? Are you kidding? Where did you hear that? Hell no! He died in prison. Syphilus I think."
Never did find someone else to break his chains I guess.
.: Monday, September 15, 2008
As inscribed in the Annual Convention Congress of the Hoboes of America held on August 8, 1894 at the Hotel Alden, 917 Market St., Chicago Illinois;
1.-Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.
2.-When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
3.-Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
4.-Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.
5.-When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
6.-Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.
7.-When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
8.-Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
9.-If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
10.-Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
11.-When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
12.-Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.
13.-Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
14.-Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
15.-Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
16.-If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!
.: Friday, September 12, 2008
My Life Of Crime Chapter 1
My dad had a job for us. He wanted me and my brother Mike to paint the store. I'm, oh, say, twelve. Mike's 14. The store is the 26th Market, infamous all night store at 26th and Cushman in the days before 7-11s. Infamous for, among other things, getting robbed more than any other business in town in the late '50s and 60's. It took me a long time as a kid to realize that my folks owned the building but not the business. (They later took over the business too when the other couple that ran it took off with the money and left the debt.) At this time they still just owned the building. And the building needed a paint job. Dad got us a ladder or two and some paint and brushes and we laid into it. Dispatched the lower floor of the building pretty quickly. The second floor was only half of the first floor so we could stand on the 1st floor roof and paint. That's when the trouble started. On the second floor we could look through a couple windows into the second story which was a storage room for the liquor store. As soon as my brother saw the cases of whiskey he knew what we had to do. We pried open the window and lifted out a case of Canadian Club. Got it down the ladder and into the bushes. That's all I knew about it at the time. What I later found out was that Mike took the case of whiskey to a party in Slaterville. By this act he was king...for a while. And all his teen-aged subjects at the party proceeded to get very, very soused. So much so that they must have made a bit of a ruckus. Cops were called. And multiple drunk kids were more than happy to answer the cop's question,"Where did you get the booze?" with a resounding greek chorus of "Mike Fitzgerald!"
So a couple days later, no doubt after my dad had what was to become a all-too-commom confab with the police that endeared him to them and got us off the hook, my brother informed me that sometime during our painting workday, an officer would be coming to talk to us separately. And we'd better have our stories straight. No problem. When the officer arrived we each went to the squad car and told our story:
"Well, officer, we were painting and it was real hot and we got tired and we came down to rest over there and Mike saw an old empty box in the bushes and he kicked it and we found out it wasn't emptyl."
Well it was iron clad. Them coppers had nothing on the Fitzgerald boys and they knew it. All they could do was write it up and say goodbye. Thus began our life of crime.
.: Monday, July 14, 2008
The Diddly Daddy
One of the beats I teach all my drum students early on in our lessons is what's known as the Bo Diddley beat. It introduces syncopation to them. In other words, soul. Soul was what Bo Diddley was all about. Primitive, coveralls-and-a-mule, get-down soul. He played his guitar like a drum and it's only right that the infectious beat of "Willie and the Hand Jive" (Johnny Otis) and "Not Fade Away" (Buddy Holly) to say nothing of the countless early songs of the Diddley Daddy himself should be named after him. Robin & I saw him in Tucson once. He was playing with a local pickup band of white boys, just like Chuck Berry was know to do (Springsteen was in one of those pickup bands as a youngster). They were doing a serviceable job. It's ain't easy, believe it or not, for most rock musicians to play one chord for a long time and Bo is all about one chord when one chord is all you need. Finally, late in the show, he must have gotten tired of the drummer just keeping the beat and not pushing it and he set down his guitar mid-song, went back to the drums, took the sticks from the surprised drummer, sat down and, at the same tempo, pushed that song into overdrive.
That same show, Robin and our pal, Mojo, went backstage to meet the man hisself. They found him in with his paw in a bucket of KFC. He took that same greasy hand out and greeted Robin with it, taking her hand and not wanting to let it go. After a courtesy minute or so, Robin, well, slipped out of his grasp.
Our friend Lindy Raines relates that Anchorage legend Gary Sloan once told this story: Years ago Bo came to Anchorage to play at a big hall there. Before the show, they went to find Bo and discovered smoke in the backstage hallways. They made it to his dressing room and opened the door and more smoke poured out of the room. There stood Diddley with a little electric burner frying chicken! The man loved his fried chicken.
Speaking of Mojo, here's a quote from him:
"My favorite recorded Bo moment: in the middle of "Can't Judge a Book," Bo shouts out, "How am I doin', baby? You've got your radio turned too low. Turn it UP!" Only case I've ever heard where the artist reaches out to directly address and instruct the listener on how to operate the sound system."
Bo Diddley came to Fairbanks a few years ago, playing outside at the Blue Loon. Good crowd. Bo played his funky jams for more than an hour before finally the band started into the Bo Diddley beat. They hit that beat for the longest time before Bo stepped up to the mic. The 70 year old sang: "I'm gonna steal your girlfriend."
And once more from Mojo: "Bo never sold out and he never stopped. He was my hero. He was one of my gods. Bo Diddley will never die".
.: Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The hot DJ in town in my pre-teen days was Leapin' Lee Russell. He played the hits and was young enough to talk to kids and relate to them in roughly their own language. He also had a show broadcast from the Tik Tok Drive-in which stood on the corner of Minnie St. and the (old) Steese Highway. (Curiously, it's now a residence near the end of the pavement on Gilmore Trail, stylish stlanted windows and all.) They built a DJ booth on top of the "flattop" roof and cars parked around and turned up their radios while the shakes and burgers (and probably a bottle or two) flew. Sometimes bands would play on the same roof next to the booth. But when I was teenager a new disc jockey was coming up. Jumpin' Jack Foley took over the late show and also spun the hits and took dedications too. My association with him began when I won a name-that-tune segment of his show, correctly identifying "Five O'clock World" by the Vogues. (This great ode to the workingaday world later became a staple of The Flyers' repetoire at the Howling Dog Saloon.) I still have that 45 with my name on it written in Jack's handwriting. A while later some kid said, "Hey, let's go up to KFAR and see Jack Foley. They don't mind if you visit." So up we go. I don't remember why I hit it off with Jack but I did and he was a bit unhappy with the kid who took dedications for him. A bit slow and with bad handwriting. Jack ask me to try it out and my printing was legible so I got the job. No money but what perks! I got to talk to all the kids in town. I got to talk to all the girls in town. Plus regularly got a load of 45's that the rather conservative Wee Willy Wally, program manager, would not allow to be played. Right...some of the best stuff from the time like "Keep On Runnin'" by the Spencer Davis Group and "Sha La La La Lee" by the Small Faces. So at 14 I was plugged in. And I was beginning to play drums in bands. Jack and I drove around town in his big ol' car ('cause he was a big guy --about 300 lbs.) and discussed music constantly. I got to introduce songs on the air and even took the test and got my radio license, though I decided, much like my experience with television later at KUAC, that the politics & egos were over the top and I would much rather deal with musicians and rock and roll music. Go figure: musicians with less ego that broadcasters. I later wrote a song called "Jack Foley" after he left town for the sunny pastures of Anchorage. "The radio died when you left here Jack. Tell me when in the hell are you comin' back..."
.: Sunday, May 18, 2008
Rest In Peace Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. One helluva salesman. I first became aware of the Maharishi, and Transcendental Meditation like many others at the time-- through the Beatles. Figured if it was good enough for them... So I paid my money when the circus came to town and went through a lecture or two and graduated to the mantra ceremony. One by one each of us was taken into a back room behind a lecture hall at the UAF into a room with candles and incense (no stranger to that was I) and framed photographs of the Maharishi and some other long haired, long bearded fellow whose picture was bigger. I figured it was the Maharishi's teacher, the big magilla magic salesmen of them all. I was told, gently, to kneel and the Mantra (the Mantra!) was whispered in my ear. We had been told in the lectures of the great power of the Mantra and that it was personalized for each of us and to never, never utter it to another or it would lose it's magic power. Armed with my Mantra I was now ready to transcend. I went home to my parent's house where I was still living in the basement and began meditating. The only catch was that I could hear all the walking around and banging and talking upstairs. I went up and asked my folks and my sisters and brother if I could just have 20 minutes of quiet, pulleeze! No good. I could hear them whisper and walking with stocking feet. I felt myself becoming very un-transcendental. Back I go for the checkup lecture and to make sure we had our our personal Mantra correct. It was then that I found that external sounds should not bother us and that we should just go back to the mantra when we found our minds wandering. That was going to make everything a lot easier. Then one by one we were beckoned to the left or right side of the stage where one of the teachers sat on a chair. Quietly (don't let anyone else hear!) each meditator spoke their Mantra to the teacher. It was then that I noticed something very curious. It appeared that, as I read their lips, each students Mantra was actually the same as mine! Here I will say that the Mantra and it's meditative use, and calming effect, works wonderfully and has served me for decades. But it was at that moment that I realized that, just as Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking" is constantly repackaged in self-help books under a new name, TM was repackaging meditation in a new hip version with just enough mysticism to appeal to American hippies and searchers. Years later, I had occasion several times to speak to someone who had also gone through TM and I would tell this story. And when I'd get to the end and say, "I'll bet our Mantras are the same...", they'd fall over themselves to stop me, to save me from losing the Mantra's power. And each time their mouth would drop open when they'd hear their own personal mantra come out of my mouth. So rest in peace Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. One helluva salesmen. And by the way, let me close by saying to one and all, loudly and proudly: "I-ing!"
.: Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It's almost time for the Ice Carving competition. A beautiful contest and exhibit. I love it not only for the incredible sculptures but for the fact that it's a winter thing., But they don't talk much now about how it came about back in the 1980's. There had been ice thrones and some rudimentary carvings associated with the great ice festivals in the 40' sand 50's and some folks were trying to kickstart the festival again. Trouble was, someone associated with the organization said that the ice up here was bad for carving and proposed to spend $27,000 dollars trucking ice up from Illinois. Can you imagine the son of an iceman getting wind of that in an editorial in the New Miner(1/29/88) that read, in part:
"At first blush, the plan to ship 200 blocks of ice from Chicago to Fairbanks to build ice scultures for the Ice Festival may seem a bit outlandish. Why would anyone want to ship ice to Fairbanks?
(The) special event director for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, (who) is organizing the Ice Festival has some good reasons. She convinced us that the idea not only makes sense but is well worth the $27,000 (about $48, 500 today-Pat) the project will cost."
"The ice available locally apperently is too oxygenated to serve as good material for ice sculptures."
"The $27.000 would also pay the cost of bringing special teams of skilled ice carvers from China and Chicago to sculpt the ice."
And I wrote a letter to the editor saying:
To the editor:
My father, Bill Fitzgerald, owned City Ice Service, now closed, that provided ice for many winter festivals in Fairbanks during the '50s and early '60s. Through the years, both in person and in photographs, I've seen many intriguing ice sculpture from those festivals done by local amateurs with local ice. I'm sure the Ice Festival Committee means well. I'm sure they want to put on a festival to top all festivals but $27,000 to import ice and pro sculptors? Folks, keep your donations in your pockets and we'll also save ourselves a hearty laugh from the rest of the country when they find out about this one.
Sincerely, Pat Fitzgerald
The next day, Problem Corner, that stalwart of interactive radio on what was then KFAR manned by the inimitable Wee Willie Wally, was bombarded with phone calls from old timers saying, in effect, "What the hell kinda crazy business is this?" The ice carnival organization seemed to get the message and called my dad, then 87, to ask how he cut ice all those years. He showed them his saw (a one of a kind device with a small engine and a 4' rotary blade), they got it running and headed out to a local gravel pit and he showed them how it was done. They used the saw for a while (I wish I could find it now) and lo and behold, they eventually found that the ice we have here is some of the best in the world for ice carving. Who knows how much money would have been spent importing ice before they found that out. But you know, they should have known that when you need some help concerning Alaskan things like ice, snow, & getting gold out of the ground and such, first get the old timers riled up and then look out: The ice man cometh.
.: Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I'm thinking today about those things you might have seen or experienced when you were a kid that seem so long ago and unreal that you wonder if you made them up. Like the kid who used to come by our place at 26th & Cushman to swing on our swing. A helluva swing too. A big thick board between two buildings. Seems like it was about 15 feet up in the air (but then I was only 4 ft. tall at the time). But the kid said he could go in a complete circle on the swing and damned if one day he didn't. At least that's how I remember it. He swung and he swung and he swung and went over the top of the board and back around. The only other thing I remember, and I don't know if it happened on our swing or elswhere, is that he exited the swing like we always did, by letting go and flying into the air. Only he came down on a board with a nail in it and it went right through his foot. He perfomed a spectacular feat but got it in the end. So like life.
Then there was the incident at the swimming hole in Indiana. All of my relatives live in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was visiting and about 12. Several families had cabins at Long Lake north of town and nearby was a gravel pit that we swam in. On the other side of the pit from the regular beach were several tall trees and a rope hooked to some branches so that you could swing out and drop into the deep water. We were having a lot of fun one day when we heard a racket on top of the high,steep bank that rose steeply from the trees and water, maybe 30 feet vertically. Looking up we saw the front of an automobile just over the edge and a whole lot of banging of metal. In a short while, the car came diving down the cliff with the driver side door open and a twenty something with his shirt off riding it down. It came to a stop on the shoreline and several more men and woman came down the cliff. The men proceeded to take sledgehammers to the doors and windows and while this was happening a woman in a swimsuit top and shorts played with a large boa constrictor, letting it weave around her neck and arms. After about 10 or 15 minutes of this, no doubt with me and the rest of the kids standing there with our mouths open, they pushed the car into the gravel pit and as it bubbled out of sight they climbed back up the cliff and disappeared. Silence. Silence for a long time. Then someone said "Holy Shit!" We weren't sure ourselves that we actually saw it but one of the kids told the cops and we got to go back to the pit and watch a scuba diver go in, come back up and say, "There's a car down there alright." Nowadays I know what had happened that day because not long after I saw something like it in a film they showed us in school: Yep, it had to be Wild Eyed Hippies on LSD!
.: Wednesday, February 20, 2008
When the temperature drops to 40 or 50 below mechanical things give up the ghost. They squeal and complain and that little piece of wire with a small fracture in it separates and something stops. It was a cold miserable winter long ago. I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, down first avenue to Cowles. Lucky for me the truck was running. A 1968 Ford F250 4-wheel drive I called it Ol' Blue that was my Dad's but that he gave me in a trade for my car (don't remember what that was but as always he gave me the better deal.) Ol' Blue had a problem that plagued me all the time I had it. The main gear in the transmission had a tooth missing and that caused the Bendix spring in the starter to eventually go out. I became an expert at the cheaper repair. I changed the Bendix spring. Because the truck was so big I could easily get under it and take out the starter, replace the Bendix and I'd be good to go for a time. Trouble was I wound up doing it at 30, 40, 50 below alot. Loosen a bolt, go in and warm up, loosen another bolt, warm up. Take it out, replace the Bendix, put it back in one bolt at a time only with the weight against me.
This is only to introduce you to Ol' Blue. On the night in question it was running well. Except for the radio. The radio hadn't worked for a long time and I had no other music in the truck so I was left to the silence and the ice fog and the loud sound of frigid metal creaking and rubber moving over ice. That night though, as I turned onto Cowles, suddenly the radio came to life. Not only did sound come out of the dash but it was actually set on a station and the song that was playing went "Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?" Don't say I'm lying but the song played in it's entirety then the radio went dead. The cold and ice fog are powerful things. Ghosts walk the town and hills around Fairbanks and the power is such that, once in a while, even inanimate things are given life.
.: Friday, February 8, 2008
When I was a kid the family would take drives out of town on a Sunday to any destination, just to go somewhere, and if there was a roadhouse or store we'd get some some kind of treat and head back to town. A couple times we went to Ester. No Parks Highway, just a two-lane dirt road winding past the University to the little old mining town. We'd get some candy at a store that stood on main street (now the parking lot of the Golden Eagle Saloon). You walked up a stair case to get to the store because of the root cellar that was a street level. Years later, January or February of '73 I had just finished practicing with the band we had started earlier that winter called the Glass Bead Game (after the Hermann Hesse novel). Someone said, "Hey let's go out to the Howling Dog." I hadn't heard the name before but they said it was in Ester and everyone assured me that I'd like it. We piled into a small car, seven of us in a car made for four, and drove out in the -40F night. A short time later we arrived and fell out of the car. We walk up to the same store that I had gone to as a little kid but there were no front steps. Instead we walk up to a thick homemade door of the root cellar and pulled it open. That was when my world changed. Inside was dancing and drinking and a band playing fiddles and banjos dressed like the 1930's. The music "rocked" as much as any rock and roll I had ever heard. Say hello to old time string band music and say hello to the mighty Sidewinders. That night, I'm pretty sure the band consisted of Thom Hart, Danny Consenstein, Kent Setzer, Bobo Brom & Orrin Musser. And one tune I remember was "Fox On The Run" a tune written and performed originally by Manfred Mann but embraced by the Old Timey and Bluegrass communities. With the addition a short time later of Robin Dale Ford on bass and banjo (and the exit of Orrin) it became the classic band that rocked the Ester Howling Dog and, later, the Fox Howling Dog after Joe Nyquist bought the name and built the present-day structure.
.: Monday, January 28, 2008
If you've ever attended Halloween at the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox, Alaska you know the craziness of that night. Since Robin and I played in a band called the Flyers that was the house band there for 10 years, we know Halloween all too well. We always played the night in costume and it was always the night that we "fell back" to Daylight Savings Time. Also the bars were allowed to stay open until 5 A.M. at that time. So at 2 A.M. it was suddenly 1A.M. Usually we played from 10pm until 3:30 or 4:00 but on Halloween, closing weekend after a long summer, instead of 5 or 6 hours, we played 7! One year we had a band theme: Instead of the Flyers we were the Fryers. Brothers and sisters, do you know what that means? Seven hours in a chicken suit! But we got paid well so, in the spirit of Vaudeville, we did what it took. About 6 or 7 years into this "engagement", we had a Halloween so crowded that the Fire Inspector showed up and told the owner that he would be back in an hour and if half the people in the building weren't gone, he'd shut down the bar. The Howling Dog was a real money-maker back then and Halloween was the biggest night of the season after which the owner retreated to his estate in Buffalo, N.Y. for the winter. So there was no way he was going to let the bar be closed down. Instead, we announced the situation from the stage and begged people to leave, take a walk, take a drive and come back in a hour. And it worked! We had to ask people to leave to keep the night going. The Fire Inspector came back and gave us all the go-ahead. Shortly the bar became as packed as before and we rocked on into the wee wee hours...
.: Thursday, January 3, 2008
When I was about 14 or 15 there was a 2nd hand store across from my Dad's little grocery story at 26th and Cushman. It was owned by a black woman whose name I don't recall. I found some treasures in the form of blues 78s in that store. Unfortunately, only one of those is still intact but it was my favorite, a Memphis Slim record. It lead to a lifelong love of Memphis Slim's music. The woman knew my dad, and I must have had some reputation as a drummer having played in blues bands around town.
When I was 16 this woman owned a bar on Chena Hot Springs Road. People today may notice the strange building just past Steele Creek Road heading east. Up until the winter of '89 and its huge snow fall, this was a bar, known as the Bullseye Club and before that, the Hillside Club, and at that time, The Ebony Inn. That winter the roof caved in and the owner must have said "Hell with it!"
Back when I was 16 it was known as the Ebony Inn (later theHillside Club and lastlythe Bullseye Club). It was a black club at the time, a strange thing so far out of town. At that time most of the African-American population of Fairbanks lived either on the south side of town or on Ladd Air Force Base (Now Fort Wainwright.) Through channels the woman let me know that she had a band coming from out of town and they needed a drummer. According to law at that time she had to take guardianship of me to allow me to play in a bar. She did. The band was called Freddie King & The Kingsmen (not that Freddy King, not those Kingsmen) and they sent along a playlist of songs for me to learn.
I can't remember how I got the records nor the names of the songs except one: "The Horse" by Cliff Nobles. Other songs were hits of the same time period and a few blues numbers like "Kansas City." The band finally arrived and I showed up at the Ebony with my drum set. We rehearsed and all was well. I was intimidated to be playing with adults, black adults, from Chicago. By that time I had a brief but passionate education in playing black music, and the musicians I played with talked with reverence about different players, records, cities. I must have done a decent job because I sensed that they were relieved.
The next night was Friday. I must have been a sight to the patrons, a pimply teenage white kid, but they treated me well and we played a long first set. It was break time but Freddy leaned over to me and said, "Before we go on break we're gonna play 'Kansas City,' but slow and slinky." He kicked it off on the guitar. The rest of us, bass, organ, drums came in. Suddenly out of the woman's bathroom came an absolutely gorgeous young woman 18 or 19 years old (the drinking age was 18 at the time) who I would later learn was the owner's daughter. She had on a one piece sparkling swimsuit and Freddy announced "Ladies and gentleman, put your hands together for the lovely Twinkles the Contortionist."
Twinkles came out onto the dance floor and proceeded to do things that shouldn't be done in front of a 16-year-old boy trying to keep time. She stood on her head, split her legs, rotated them, came up backwards, did the splits. Come to think of it, her moves weren't that spectacular but she made up for it in, uh, "twinkles"? I got to thinking I liked this gig and I was more her age than anyone else in the bar. I'm sure I had visions of after gig parties, Twinkles and me in the corner counting the sequins on her suit. But as these things go, we finished the first weekend of what was to be a 6-week gig and I got a call from the owner in the middle of the next week telling me I might as well come and get my drums: Freddy had absconded with the band's pay including mine, the band used the other half of their round trip ticket and split the Northland, and try as I might, I never saw the lovely Twinkles again.
.: Sunday, December 9, 2007
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