I officially started working with The Jerks in the summer of 1981. I had taken some time off school (okay, I dropped out for awhile) and was pretty much just filling in the time before I went back to school (bumming around with Chris and listening to music).
Chris and I had talked about forming a band and we dreamed about how we could get jobs at Caterpillar in Pontiac, Illinois to buy equipment. Chris’ father—a distinguished guitarist in his own right—even started giving us guitar lessons. Unfortunately, I just lacked the musical talent to play the guitar. Kind of felt a little bit like John Lennon’s friend Stu Sutcliffe when he tried to play the bass for the Beatles.
When The Jerks were not playing at one of the more popular venues in the Illinois Valley, they would often go on the road and play some gigs at places like the Second Chance in Peoria. That was a real sweet venue, a holdover from the 70’s when a lot of these large-sized clubs opened when disco was the rave, but it also doubled as a concert hall for bands.
(There was also a smaller Second Chance in Carbondale; in 1983, it was Carbondale’s unofficial gay bar, but still brought in some bands like The Suburbs.)
By now I had gotten to know the guys in the band pretty well and asked them if I could go with them when they played one of these out of town gigs. I didn’t have anything else going on (Chris had by now given up on me ever learning how to play the guitar) and I thought it would be cool to see what it was like to be “on the road” as it were with the band.
I soon found out how cool and interesting it was when I rode down to Peoria with Dick and Al. They had all these stories about when they were in Buckacre—traveling on the road, the bands they opened for, and the people they got to meet. Listening to them reminisce was like hearing a mini living history of rock and roll. And maybe that was when I first started yearning to travel again; to be on the open road heading somewhere, anywhere.
“Remember that time when we were in the studio in London and Pete Townsend walked in to talk to Glyn Johns,” said Dick one time. “Remember how so-and-so’s jaw dropped when he saw Townsend standing there in the booth? I thought he was going to piss himself because he was so excited.”
I would get to hear a lot of “road stories” all those times I traveled with either Dick or Al or when the two of them got together.
“Telstar”? “Bionic Man”? “Mr. Mike”?
And it wasn’t just all these road stories, either. These guys were having fun when they were on the road. There was a bit of camaraderie and a lot of joking going around. Dick was always the funniest of them all. He had a wicked sense of humor and loved to joke with everyone.
Early one morning after the band had played at the Second Chance in Peoria, we were taking Al Schupp the rhythm guitarist back to his home. Al lived in this wooded, lowland area just outside of Spring Valley (sometimes referred to as “Sleepy Hollow”) and to get there, we had to drive down this winding, narrow, gravel road, which passed this old cemetery. Dick was driving his van and as we passed the cemetery, he reached out the window with his left hand and banged on the side of the van startling us in back that had been dozing off. That was the same night when Dick joked with Al Schupp calling him “Icabod” Schupp because of where he lived.
When we got to the Second Chance that first time I went with the band, I thought I was just going to hang out with Tom Joliffe their soundman after we had everything set up. Al and Dick had other ideas. Turns out the Second Chance had this lighting system for bands, which was located in a booth above the third floor of the club, way up in the back. Al asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing the lighting—basically turning up and down the lights at the beginning and the ending of their sets—and that is how I got started running the lights for the band.
It wasn’t until a week later, while I was visiting Clare my DJ lady friend at a local radio station when I knew that I was officially working for the band. Al must have known that I was going to be there because he stopped in at the radio station to give me a check for the night that I had run the lights. It was seventy-five dollars for a few hours work.
Oglesby Celebration Days. The Italian Elvis hadn’t left the park
That summer and fall of 1981 was a wild and exciting time to be in the Illinois Valley and to go on the road with The Jerks. I think things started to really happen a few weeks before on my birthday when Chris, Dave “Bodine” Morgan the bass player for The Jerks and some female friends went to a “50’s Revival Concert” held in the Matthiessen Auditorium at La Salle-Peru Township High School. We were pretty vocal when Bobby Lewis, The Drifters, and the Reagents played that night. At one point during the concert, Bobby Lewis asked to have the house lights turned up so he could see the people doing all the cheering. Alan was also there and ran across the street to his apartment to fetch a Bobby Lewis album for him to sign.
Back then, most of the bars that had live entertainment usually had bands on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. On the other nights, a lot of us would hang out at Friday’s Saloon. One time, Bodine and I had to go to Champaign to pick up some JBL monitors for the band. Once back in the Illinois Valley though, our first stop was Friday’s. Almost every night that I was there, we would keep on drinking and partying into the early hours of the morning and then, if we were up for it, we would usually head up to the Golden Bear Restaurant to satisfy whatever hunger pangs we had. For me, it was usually a Patty Melt or a Rueben Sandwich.
You know, when I think about it, the summer of 1981 was kind of like being in college without having to go to class.
The Jerks did not go on the road that much, maybe once or twice at the beginning of that summer. The real money was made at Friday’s or 3 N’ Company. They were always guaranteed a good take at the door and they packed in the crowds whenever they played.
One of the highlights of that summer occurred in June when they played at the Oglesby Celebration Days. It was this five-day event of music, food, 10km race (which had national notoriety) and a carnival. It was only their third concert in the Illinois Valley that was open to the general public. There were a lot of teenagers who had heard of The Jerks, but had been unable to see them.
The only thing was, The Jerks would not be the only band playing that night. On the main stage that night was “The Italian Elvis” and The Jerks would be on a smaller stage. They would go on first, followed by “The Italian Elvis” and finally they would play again.
After we got set up, Al asked me if I wouldn’t mind introducing the band. He thought it would go over well with the large crowd already gathered in front of the stage. I even got to choose the band’s first song of the set: a rocking rendition of “Hey Little Girl” originally recorded by the Syndicate of Sound and later updated by The Deadboys.
“Say something really raunchy and wicked,” Al said before I walked out on stage.
And that’s what I did, remembering how the band KISS was introduced on their KISS Alive album.
“Alright…alright, you wanted the raunchiest and you got the raunchiest,” I screamed into the microphone, “the raunchiest, rocking-est band in the Illinois Valley…THE JERKS!”
And then as Al hit the first chord on his 12-string Rickenbacker, I leaped into the crowd and started dancing.
Chris was there, as were a few other regulars from Friday’s and they joined me. However, a few songs later, the power went out. By the time, the power could be brought back on; it was time for “The Italian Elvis” to take to the stage. Everyone was pretty bummed out, but the band would be able to play one more set after Elvis had left the park.
The following Sunday, I went to the Majestic Theater with Clare to watch Stripes. We got to the theater and a little late, just before the movie started. As we looked for a place to sit, someone yelled, “Hey there’s that guy in The Jerks! Wow, you’re so cool!”
Ah, a little taste of fame goes a long way—even if you are just a roadie.