Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Buckacre (page 1 of 2)

iPod Fully Loaded

Remember the days before digitalized music, MP3 players and iPods–when making a compilation tape, whether for a road trip or a friend was an art?

It’s like what Rob (John Cusack) says in High Fidelity (2000), “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Back in the day you only had 90-120 minutes (is it just me or an urban legend but somewhere along the line I remember someone telling me that 90-minute tapes were better than 120-minute tapes) for your compilation tapes so you had to choose your songs carefully and wisely.

Of course, these days with lots and lots of gigabytes at your disposal, you can make up all sorts of play lists for whatever mood or situation. And if you want a bit of old school you can still make some killer play lists.

That’s kind of what I’ve done for my upcoming trip to Laos–I’ve created some killer play lists, not only for the journey but for some background music when I am with Aon and the boys. It’s time for me to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to some of the music I have grown up with.


I’ve got my iPod fully-loaded and ready to rock out on the long journey ahead and to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to 50+ years of rock and roll.

Some more Buckacre, please

morning comesCame across this really slick Website today courtesy of a high school acquaintance who I haven’t seen since high school and who I recently reconnected with via this blog.

It’s a site devoted to Southern Rock with two posts devoted to Buckacre.

I like the comments a person left on one of the posts about having run into one of the band members:

Buckacre “Morning comes” was a favorite as a kid and could never find it. I was one stall over from one of them at the Rock Island Arsenal restroom once. Gotta thank you for forwarding this stuff.

It’s always a treat when you come across like something like this on the web. Thanks Don for the link!

Remembering Les Lockridge — 1947-2010

Yesterday morning (Wednesday in Korea) I was catching up with what had happened on the other side of the world when I get a message from John Piontek via Facebook that Les Lockridge, former member of Buckacre had passed away after battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

I’ve written a few blog posts about Buckacre–the most recent one, a review of their CD Buckacre Live at the Circus Bar–and wanted to write a sort of tribute to Les and his life. Almost all of my Facebook friends from the Illinois Valley either grew up listening to Buckacre, had seen the band live, or knew the band members individually. Although I didn’t know Les as well as other people did and certainly not as well as I knew Dick Verucchi and Al Thacker, two other members of the band that I got to know when I helped out with The Jerks, when you are part of the Illinois Valley music scene, whether you are a musician or fan, everyone knows everyone and you all sort of grow up together.

I wrote this tribute with that in mind and then I decided to send it to the News Trib in LaSalle, Illinois. Who knows, maybe they would print it.

They did.

Thank you.

Remembering Les Lockridge

This morning (Wednesday in Korea), I received the sad news, via a message on Facebook from one of my friends from the Illinois Valley that Les Lockridge, a former member of Buckacre had passed away.

Within minutes, messages, comments, and videos were uploaded on Facebook as many people remembered Les and expressed their sorrow as well as their thoughts and prayers for his family. News travels fast in cyberspace and suddenly, people from all parts of the world were all connected, brought together by the friend and musician they knew and the music they enjoyed.

I did not know Les as well as some people knew him; I never had the chance to see and hear Buckacre live back in the Circus Lounge days or when they played on the road, but when I heard that he had passed away yesterday after battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) I felt as though I had lost a very dear and close friend.

I suppose it was because so many of my friends back in the Illinois Valley knew Les either before or during his Buckacre days or after, when he stopped playing out and raised a family. To be sure, back in the 1970s, almost everyone who was vaguely familiar with music in the Illinois Valley had heard of Buckacre one of the Illinois Valley’s most famous and popular bands—whose music still resonates today. And it was Buckacre and the music that so many people knew Les.

I first met Les back in 1981 when I was helping out The Jerks, another popular band from the Illinois Valley. One summer afternoon, Dick Verucchi and I were setting up the band’s equipment in Friday’s Saloon in Peru when Les came in to talk to Dick. I had heard of Les as well as the other members of the Buckacre, but this was the first time I had the chance to meet him. He just came across as this friendly and likable guy, the kind of person who would take the time out of the day to stop and chat with you and I am sure that everyone who knew Les over the years as a friend and as a musician felt the same way.

Although my musical tastes at the time ran in opposite directions of the kind of music that Buckacre was famous for, a few years later while browsing in a used record store in Burlington, Iowa, I found copies of Buckacre’s two albums and finally got around to listening to them for the first time. I finally could hear why so many people had raved about the band.

A few years ago, I had the chance to listen to Buckacre again, this time one of the band’s more popular tracks, “Love Never Lasts Forever” on the compilation CD Crossing Paths. Every so often, I would surf the Internet hoping that MCA would re-release the band’s records on CD.

Then, about two years ago, I happened across a Buckacre video on YouTube and not only did I step back in time but I felt I had gone home. There was Les and the boys singing. It was this wonderful time capsule and I quickly uploaded the video to my blog and wrote about the band and the Illinois Valley.

Perhaps it was out of a feeling of nostalgia or for other people wanting to get in touch with their past, but that little blog post got a lot of hits and comments from people who had grown up listening to Buckacre or who had known Les and the rest of the band.

Then many of us learned the sad news last year that Les was battling ALS. A fundraiser was held and family, friends, and local musicians gathered to help out Les and his family. The fundraiser also coincided with the release of Buckacre Live at the Circus CD with proceeds from the sale of the CD going to Les and his family.

This morning in Korea though, when my friend sent me a message via Facebook that Les had passed away, my whole world stopped revolving for a moment as I took time out to remember Les and to say a prayer for his family. He will be missed by so many and I am fortunate that I had the chance to know him, even briefly but more so through his music. Thanks for the great set Les.

The unexamined life is not worth living: Personal favorites and popular posts #2

Since I started blogging a little over five years ago I’ve blogged about all kinds of topics and subjects from the birth of Jeremy Aaron and my life in Asia to waxing nostalgic about growing up in the 1960s/1970s and serving in the United States Air Force.

With over 1200 posts, I have some personal favorites, some of which are also popular with readers:

Buckacre – Country rock from America’s heartland

Although I missed out on catching Buckacre live when they were playing the Circus Lounge in Spring Valley, Illinois in the 1970s, I would have the chance to get to know some of the band’s former members in the early 1980s when I was helping out The Jerks or catching Longshot (later Big Kids) at Friday’s and other bars in the Illinois Valley. I had already written a few posts about The Jerks, but when I came across this video of the band on YouTube, I thought it would be nice to write something about the band. The post got a lot of hits and some comments from many people who remember seeing Buckacre at the Circus as well as people stopping by to see how former member Les Lockridge is doing; he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease earlier this year and there was a benefit for him this past May.

WGN’s Family Classics with Frazier Thomas

I am surprised by the number of hits and comments this post has received from people remembering Family Classics and how much they enjoyed watching the movies every Sunday on WGN, Channel 9 out of Chicago. I was even more surprised how much many of these people enjoyed the theme music and wanting to know where they could find the music online—prompting the grandson of the composer of this bit of music to leave comments.

Crossing the Isthmus of Panama with Howard and other stories – Part 3

It was a lot of fun for me remembering the time I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone from 1976-1978. That was an important time of my life and my military service in the United States Air Force. Howard Hakkila was my best friend at Howard AFB; we had met earlier that summer at a military hospital in Denver waiting to get our Yellow Fever shots.

Guess who’s been stopping by?

That’s what I am always curious to know when I see the number of hits some of my posts get, like the ones about-Buckacre, Howard Air Force Base, David and the Happenings, Family Classics with Frazier Thomas, and Panmunjom to name but a few.

And I am quite delighted when someone leaves comments, like some recent ones on the post about Howard Air Force Base. One person’s comments in particular helped me to remember the name of a department store-the Gran Morrison across the street from the Ancon Inn that I used to go as well as the name of the Napoli Italian Restaurant.

Along the way I have been able to reconnect with some people and others have written to me directly hoping that they can locate someone they haven’t seen in some time or in the case of one family member of a soldier killed in the Korean War, ask me how they can get in touch with other veterans who might have known their family member.

I am just pleased that what I write about and the people who do come here enjoy what they read and maybe find what or who they are looking for when they visit. Of course, not everyone finds what he or she is looking for and I am sorry if I can’t always offer the specific information one is looking for when they visit this blog.

It’s just too darn bad that I am not making any money off this blog. Donations, anyone? Just kidding.

I am just happy that this blog is serving a good purpose for some people.

On the road with The Jerks, Part 1

Meet The Jerks

 

After my first road trip with The Jerks to Peoria there was another one-night gig at a youth center in Dixon, Illinois. There would another date at the Second Chance as well as a few nights at T.J. McFly’s in Carbondale (that was a lot of fun heading back to SIU and seeing some of my old friends like Paul Collin).

 

The youth center gig in Dixon was one of those “favor” gigs—in other words, either Alan or Dick knew the owner of a bar or club from their Buckacre days (or vice versa) and the band or the owner were just cashing in that favor. With that Dixon gig, Alan and Dick were helping out a friend who had at one time helped them out. Their friend, the owner of that youth center was trying to get more business and hoped that The Jerks would bring in a good crowd.

 

It didn’t. Only a handful of kids showed up that night and I know it was an embarrassment and disappointment for their friend who expected a much larger turnout and an embarrassment for the band to have to accept money from their friend.

 

When it came to playing out—whether on the road or in one of the bars in La Salle-Peru—the band had a lot of equipment, which required a truck to get to wherever they were playing. The truck used to belong to The Outlaws, a group that Buckacre had opened for in the late 70s. It was just another one of those rock and roll connections and links (not to mention relics) that the band had with the past.


A lot of the equipment was from their Buckacre days including this very sweet, and very large 24-channel Yamaha mixing board. That was a real bear to unload and load into the truck. Usually took three of us to roll it off the truck or to roll it back in. It was even more of a bear to move when we had to haul it up a flight of stairs at some of the clubs we played at like that youth center in Dixon and Mabel’s in Champaign. Then it would take four of us to carry it up (after we had taken it out of the equally bulky and heavy road case).


One hot, summer afternoon we were unloading equipment at Friday’s when we noticed the Julia Belle Swain, this authentic riverboat slowly paddling up the Illinois River on its way from Peoria to Starved Rock State Park. That summer the owners of the Julia Belle Swain were offering these weekly riverboat excursions up and down the Illinois River and had even brought in famed bluegrass artist John Hartford (who was a licensed riverboat pilot) to pilot the ship on its journey from Peoria to Starved Rock.


Now all of us knew that John Hartford was piloting the Julia Belle Swain, so when it passed Friday’s on the river, we yelled his name. Sure enough, he was in the pilothouse and could hear us yelling and see us waving. He answered with a few short bursts of the steam whistle.


(Years later, when I was listening to the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack there was this one track that I really liked a lot. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a John Hartford. Just hearing that track and putting one and one together got me thinking about the summer of 1981 and waxing nostalgic. I quickly ordered a couple of his CDs and have been a big fan of his music ever since. Sadly, John Hartford passed away in 2001.)

 

The highlight of the summer of that rock and roll summer was a two-week road trip. We started off in Peoria at the Second Chance and from there we went to Carbondale and then on to Atlanta. For Al and Dick it was the first time that he put together this kind of tour/road trip since the days of Buckacre. The weeklong gig in Atlanta was a sweet deal arranged by some guy that had once managed Buckacre when they were playing the Georgia-Florida circuit in the 70s.


I think in many ways it was a bit of a vacation for the band, but also I think it was the thrill of being on the road again. I am sure Dick and Al missed being on the road and playing to different crowds. They really enjoyed playing music so much. It was their life ever since they performed together in their first band Rain.


After we finished playing at the Second Chance, we drove straight down to Carbondale. It was right before school started at SIU, so the whole town was buzzing with activity as thousands of students came back which meant the bar scene was going to be quite wild. Like the first time we played in Carbondale, we were back again at T.J. McFly’s, which was located on the main strip, just north of the train and bus station. Rumor had it that Jim Belushi was once the manager of the bar.


It was the largest bar in Carbondale with two rooms for bands to play in as well as a “beer garden” outside. When we played there for the first time earlier that summer, we were in the larger of the two rooms. At the same time we were there, Gary Clemons and Colors, a band out of Peoria was playing in the smaller room. How The Jerks managed to play the larger venue—when Clemons’ tour that summer was sponsored by Warner Brothers’ Records—was one of those rock and roll idiosyncrasies I guess. Maybe there was still some of that old Buckacre magic left.


T.J. McFly’s had arranged hotel accommodations for us, but when we got down there to Carbondale, we had to wait for another band to check out. Obviously they had been up all night partying so they were a bit slow in checking out that morning. So, there we were in the parking lot, waiting for our rooms. When those guys finally got out of their rooms and started loading up their gear in a van, the two bands in the parking lot were like two ships passing in the night.


Dick and Tom knew some of the guys (Tom it seemed always knew somebody that we met on the road; he had also been a drummer with the band Ken Carlyle and the Cadillac Cowboys and had played in bars and clubs throughout Illinois), and was the case when bands ran into each other, some road stories and other pleasantries were exchanged.


“Where are you guys headed?”


“Where going to Mabel’s and then back to Peoria to play the weekend at the Second Chance.”


“We just came from the Second Chance. And Mabel’s is a sweet gig. We played there before. Good crowds, but it’s a bitch getting set up inside.”


“Yeah, a real pain in the ass. What happened to so-and-so?”


“He’s with another band now.”


“You guys ever get back to the studio?”


“Maybe later this year.”


“How long you guys on the road for?”


“Just a few weeks, then just play around town.”


“Good turnout here?”


“Not bad. Guess you guys are getting here just in time. School starts in a few days. Should be pretty wild, huh?”


And then they were back on the road and we checked into our rooms; there were three of us to a room, Dave, Al, and Tom shared one room and I got to share a room with Alan and Dick.


”Man, can you believe so-and-so is still in the band?” Dick asked.

 

“He was old back in 1970,” laughed Alan. “He’s got to be ridiculous still jumping around on stage like he did back then.”

 

“Remember that time we opened for them in 1977?”

 

“And we blew them off the stage?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“They’re still probably pissed about it.”

 

When we were in Carbondale earlier that summer, it had been pretty quiet, but with school starting in a few days, the nights the band played at the bar were really wild. For students coming back to school, it probably doesn’t make any difference who’s playing, just as long as the drink specials keep on coming.


Of course, The Jerks were a good bar band. They were as probably good if not better than most bands playing the same bars and clubs they did in 1980-1982. As musicians they were tight—really tight. One wonders if they had been a few years younger, they could have gotten out of the bar/college circuit and landed bigger gigs.

 

A few months later, Dick and I were listening to a song by this new band, “The Blasters” in his van outside Murphy’s in Peru, Illinois before we went inside to set up.


“This could have been us Sparks,” Dick said. “This is the kind of music that we could have been playing after Buckacre broke up.”


Having attended classes at SIU the previous year, it was nice to be back in Carbondale again. Actually, I had thought about returning to school that year, but I was having so much fun “finding myself” as it were, I was in no hurry to get back to school. I was getting a different kind of education and one that I would constantly draw upon in the years to follow.


One night after we played, some of the bartenders in the bar invited us to some parties in this part of town called Lewis Park. That was pretty wild. One thing about college towns like Carbondale was you could just walk up to any house or apartment where there was a party going on and walk in. Alan, who was really into The Beatles, heard one of their songs being played in someone’s apartment and just walked right in and helped himself to whatever alcohol was available.


The band played three nights in Carbondale—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—and then it was on the road again to Atlanta.

 

Oh, Atlanta.

Meet The Jerks – Rock & Roll from America’s Heartland

How I ended up working for a band that had briefly tasted fame (as another band) in the 1970s cannot be told without first looking back at an exciting time in a local music scene. At its most basic and rawest grassroots level, it is what rock and roll has been and will always be about: the musicians and bands playing the bars and club circuit.

The Jerks was comprised of three former members of the legendary Illinois Valley band Buckacre that in the 70s had recorded two albums under the guidance of Glyn Johns and had opened for such performers and bands like Jimmy Buffet and The Outlaws. When Buckacre broke up in the late 70s, two of the band’s founding members guitarist Al Thacker and drummer Dick Verucchi formed a new, hipper band (along with bassist Dave Morgan and guitarist Al Schupp) in tune with the resurgence of live music in local bars.

For a brief period in the 80s, The Jerks, which played mostly New Wave, covers and classic 60s, rock were one of the Illinois Valley’s (an area located along The Illinois River, approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago in the north-central part of the state) most popular bands drawing enormous crowds wherever they played.

Originally called “Hamburger and the Works” when some people thought the “new wave” music covers they played made them sound like jerks, the name stuck. (Maybe these people who called them “jerks” were some bummed out Buckacre fans.)

The first time I saw the band play at Friday’s Saloon in Peru, Illinois was one cold, wet autumn night in late October 1980.

I was home for the weekend from Southern Illinois University (SIU at Carbondale) and had heard about this band that was quite popular in the Illinois Valley. To be sure, a few days before I came home there was a feature article about The Jerks and other bands in the News Trib, the area’s local newspaper, which among other things described this “resurgence in rock and roll.” Moreover, the reporter of this article pointed out that many local bands were playing the local bar circuit again after disco started to die out in the late 70s. The Jerks, along with other bands like Longshot (whose lineup also included other former members of Buckacre, Dick Hally, Darrel Data, and Les Lockridge) were generating a lot of excitement in the local bar scene in the Illinois Valley.

A few months earlier, The Jerks had been the opening act for The Ozark Mountain Daredevils at Illinois Valley Community College that also had a lot to do with the resurgence of rock and roll in the Illinois Valley. Many people remembered the “Buckacre” days and supported both The Jerks and Longshot.

That weekend I went down to Water Street (appropriately named Water Street because when the Illinois River crested whenever there was a lot of rain or flooding, the street was usually under a foot or two of water) in Peru where one of these bars, Friday’s Saloon was located. It was located in a cluster of buildings at the far end of the street, (past a few factories and other industrial complexes) which also included the Delta Queen and The Red Door Inn, a popular Illinois Valley eatery (now since closed). Rumored to have been a “speakeasy” during Prohibition, Friday’s had become a popular hangout for younger crowds (many who could get in without having their ID’s checked) and was the “official home” of The Jerks.

I guess that’s what made the place special, located on Water Street along the Illinois River, past all these factories. If you were to stand in the street (which at one time had been a brick street) and look east you could see these factories rising up underneath the Peru Bridge (U.S. Route 51, a major North-South artery—before U.S. 39 was completed—ran across the bridge). At night, and especially when it was raining there was an almost surreal aura to the place. This was a working-class neighborhood and I suppose it was only fitting that the three bars located on Water Street—Friday’s, the Delta Queen, and Murphy’s Bar (which had been a grocery store years before) rocked on the weekends.

Whenever The Jerks or Longshot played Friday’s it was an exciting time to be down on Water Street. During the heyday of this “resurgence of live music” in the Illinois Valley, people would be lined up outside waiting to get in. Inside, it was just wall-to-wall people. You had to fight your way through the crowd gathered around the bar to an adjoining room where the bands played. When it got too crowded inside, many people walked across the street to the Whistle Stop, a passenger train car that had been converted into a bar and waited until the crowds thinned out.

I went down to Friday’s early on that Friday night—a little too early because The Jerks had not even taken to the stage yet. The bar was not too crowded; there were only a few people sitting at some tables near the stage. One person in particular stood out. He was standing near the entrance to this second room. I didn’t know it at the time, but the man was Bruce Kowalski, a.k.a. Bob Noxious. He had his own radio program Alternative Opposites at a local radio station and was known for doing a wicked rendition of “Gloria” with The Jerks. Later, when we got to know each other, we would end up hanging out a lot.

I left early that night before The Jerks even played. However, I was back down at Friday’s the next night, and this time I got there later when the band was playing. For the rest of my life, I will always look back on that night as when I re-discovered rock and roll. I guess it is true what they (whoever they may be) say when the cosmic tumblers click and everything falls into place or maybe it was even an epiphany of sorts because after that night, my life was never the same.

Actually, I had already been really getting into the college music scene at SIU since I started attending classes there in the summer of 1980. SIU was always considered by many to be one of the nation’s top, albeit “unofficial” party schools and when it came to some of the musical acts, which played there, SIU, was bar none. There were always some big-name bands playing either at the university or in some of the bars. That autumn alone, The Pretenders, Elton John, Jeff Beck, The English Beat, and Off Broadway had played on campus; concerts by Kansas, Ultravox, and Polyrock (playing at the legendary bar T.J. McFly’s) would follow in the weeks to come.

I had met some friends for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in La Salle before heading down to Friday’s. With a couple of Mai Tai’s under my belt and a few bottles of beer I was primed for the night and ready for about anything. By the time we got there, the place was packed and jumping. While my friends tried to get served at the bar, I just followed the music, weaving my way through the crowd.

The interior of Friday’s Saloon was long and narrow with a bar that ran the length of the room. Actually, Friday’s was two rooms—part of the wall had been knocked out to make an opening into this adjoining room that was on the right. After pushing and fighting my way through the crowd, I entered this second room that was just as crowded as the first one. The air was heavy with smoke and perfume. A large group of people was standing in the back while others were sitting at tables on either side of the room. The dance floor was packed.

On a small stage at the front of the room The Jerks were playing a cover of a new wave hit by the English band The Vapors. The band was good, but it was the energy of the crowd, which really struck me as I stood there in the back and listened to the music and felt all this energy and excitement.

With a pounding, staccato backbeat and driving guitars, The Jerks were playing high octane rock and roll that had—judging from the way the speakers were swaying back and forth from the vibration of all the dancers on the crowded dancefloor—energized the crowd.

It was then that I noticed one of my old friends from high school, Chris Vasquez who I hadn’t seen in over four years, dancing near the front of the stage. While we were probably not the best of friends when we were in high school (we had only hung out just a few times) we were in a few classes together. Later I would discover that we had once hung out when we were in elementary school.

Suffice to say that night I ran into Chris at Friday’s was the beginning of a very strong friendship that has lasted to this day. We have had our differences now and then, but I can honestly say that Chris has always been able to count on me over the years, even when some of his other “best” friends have turned their backs on him. Who knows, if I had not gone down to Friday’s that night and bumped into Chris we might not have ever become as close as we have.

Chris had already been a regular at Friday’s and following The Jerks whenever and wherever they played in the Illinois Valley. He was just itching to have his own band—and he would in less than a year.

That night, and a few weeks later when I came back home for Thanksgiving hung out at Friday’s again, I could see why The Jerks had become so popular. They were the epitome of any bar band “playing out” weekend after weekend. In the case of Verucchi and Thacker though, they had already tasted success when they were with Buckacre and I often wondered if this popularity was bittersweet for them to return home and play many of the small bars they had played in before? On the other hand, maybe there was still some of that Buckacre magic left and that is why they remained so popular.

Between songs the band would joke and talk with the audience—usually Dick or Alan. Dick was a riot when it came to joking with the audience. He was very personable and well liked, which was also true for Alan. Dave and the other Al were more on the quiet side, perhaps still in awe with the reputation and musical precision Dick and Alan brought to the band.

When I came back home again for Christmas, I was out every night The Jerks were playing. I’ll never forget the day before Christmas Eve when the band was playing at Murphy’s. A snowstorm had hit the area and the streets were practically deserted. There was hardly anyone out that night, but with The Jerks playing, Murphy’s was hopping.

As much as I liked Friday’s when The Jerks played there, Murphy’s was actually a better venue for bands. It was just one big room with a real stage in the back. There was plenty of room to dance and the bands that played there sounded better. The problem with bars like Friday’s and Murphy’s though was the owners really didn’t know how to run a bar and take care of the bands that played there. Sure, the bars made a killing at the door when bands like The Jerks and Longshot played there.

I always found it interesting and perhaps a little ironic that on more than one occasion when both bands were playing on Water Street at Friday’s Saloon and Murphy’s Tap on the same night, some of the guys would walk to the other bar, when their band was on break, and listen to the other band play.

When I think about it now, that one night back in October 1980 would change everything; at least how that night took me down another path that I would end up following for the next couple of years. As ironic and surreal as it may sound, meeting The Jerks changed my life. Had I not gone home that weekend who knows what might have or might not have happened?

Buckacre — Country Rock from America’s Heartland

 

When I was a junior and senior at LaSalle-Peru Township High School 1974-1976 most of the kids hip to the local music scene were raving about this band called Buckacre.

 

A country rock band, Buckacre’s music was a cross between Poco and Buffalo Springfield with a bit of the Eagles and maybe a hint of The James Gang thrown in for good measure. From the way a lot of people were talking and raving about this band, including my best friend Chris Vasquez, they were going places—literally, because in 1976 they went to London to record the first of two albums for MCA with legendary producer Glyn Johns (he worked with bands from The Beatles and The Who to the Eagles and The Steve Miller Band).

 

Touted as the next Eagles, following the release of Morning Comes, the band returned to the States and began to tour in the southeast opening for such acts as The Outlaws and Jimmy Buffet and for awhile was the back up band for Hee Haw’s the Hager Brothers when the twin brothers performed concerts.

 

By the end of the 70s, the band like many bands had their differences about their musical direction and while on the road, the band split up.

 

In the fall of 1980, I met two former members of Buckacre—Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker—who had formed The Jerks along with Dave Morgan (he had played bass for Buckacre right before the band broke up) and Al Schupp. A few months later I was roadying for the band and would continue to do so up until 1982. (Interestingly, their equipment truck had once belonged to The Outlaws.)

 

Other members of Buckacre, Les Lockridge and Dick Hally also returned to the Illinois Valley and formed their band Longshot; Darrel Data eventually relocated to Seattle. I always found it interesting and perhaps a little ironic that on more than one occasion when both bands were playing on Water Street at Friday’s Saloon and Murphy’s Tap on the same night, some of the guys would walk to the other bar, when the band was on break, and listen to the other band play.

 

I have to confess that I never really gave Buckacre a listen to until years later, when one day, in 1988 while I was browsing in a used record store in Burlington, Iowa I came across their two albums. I was too busy listening to other music at the time and you know how that goes—sometimes you just don’t listen to the music. I only have one track now “Love Never Lasts Forever” that gets a lot of playing time on my iPod. Sadly, it is the only track available on CD that can be found on Crossing Paths—music from the Illinois Valley. I highly recommend this CD.

 

In 1982, Dick Verucchi and I were sitting in his van outside Murphy’s Bar on Water Street in Peru, Illinois (it is no longer there; now it is the Waterfront Saloon) listening to this new group called The Blasters—who’s music could best be described as a blend of rockabilly, rock, punk rock and rhythm and blues.

 

“This could have been us Sparks,” Dick said as we listened to one of the songs. “Had we stayed together as Buckacre this might have been the music we could have been playing.”

 

Dick Verucchi is still “playing out” in the Illinois Valley in the band Wake The Sheep; Dick Hally and Al Schupp are also playing music with local bands.

 

Maybe it’s only another rock and roll story about a band briefly tasting fame and so close to breaking out, but it’s a little personal for me having known some of the band members and having worked for them.

Knee-high by the 4th of July

It was back in the summer of 1981, right around this time in late June and I was riding in a van with Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker on our way to Dixon, Illinois for a gig at a youth center. The owner of the youth center knew Dick and Alan from their Buckacre days and had been trying to get them—now as The Jerks—to play in Dixon for some time.

 

That was the summer—that rock and roll summer—of roadying for The Jerks, hanging out with Chris, going to Chicago Fest, and later a road trip to Atlanta.

 

As we drove to Dixon that hot, humid, summer afternoon, crisscrossing through America’s heartland of corn and soybean fields, Dick remarked that the corn seemed a bit taller than usual for this time of the summer.

 

“I remember growing up and listening to old timers say, ‘knee high by the Fourth’ but it’s not the way anymore,” said Dick. “Look at that corn out there, Sparks. That’s some mighty tall corn for June.”

 

“What do you think is the reason?” I asked, wondering if this was either another Dick Verucchi joke, or if he was really serious.

 

It wasn’t a joke. And Dick wasn’t really being that serious. He was just talking about corn and that it just seemed taller than in the past.

 

Today I was wondering what I’d be writing about or blogging about if I were back home right now? Would I be thinking about going on the road to Dixon with The Jerks and writing about Dick’s quip about the corn? Or would I be writing about another time and another place?

 

Sometimes when I am thinking about what I am going to write my mind and my soul begin to wander and invariably I am brought back to the Midwest; brought back to places like Cherry, Oglesby, and LaSalle three towns that I grew up in before I left home once and for all (or so I thought), but three towns that I still call home.

 

I guess it’s only natural to want to go back in your mind; kind of like some invisible umbilical cord to your past. But it’s more than that. It’s more than being a little wistful. It’s more than waxing nostalgic.

 

The death of one of my childhood friends this past week brought me closer to “back home” and reminded me of my humble roots. It really shook the tree as it were and made me think about “home” a lot.

 

I was thinking that if I were back home right now, how much I would love to go for a ride in the country. Of course, that is some really wistful thinking—not just for me, but for anyone back home with the price of gas the way it is now—but I was thinking how nice and perhaps how romantic it would be to head down some lonely stretch of blacktop, between the fields of corn and soybeans with the windows rolled down.

 

Perhaps in the distance there would be some giant gray and black thunderheads rolling in from the west. Maybe you know the kind I am talking about, this amorphous rumpled black and gray mass of clouds filling the sky and reaching to the heavens. And if so, I’d probably be able to detect a hint of the impending rain in the stifling afternoon heat.

 

And later, if I could still find one somewhere, I would sit outside a Tastee Freeze with its yellow and pink neon framed against the night and enjoy a banana split or maybe—as that John Mellencamp mantra about Jack and Diane went—sucking on a chili dog.

 

And just about then, with those storm clouds overhead and mottled purple flashes and streaks of lightning shooting across the sky, you could feel the night getting cooler and smell that rain in the air and hear crickets chirping away—sounding the alarm before the first crack of thunder resonates across the land.

 

And you know, right now that would seem more exotic and charming than all the Golden Buddhas, mountain temples, and ancient Khmer ruins that I can see over here.

 

I haven’t had my fill yet of these things because I a migratory bird by nature and I need to see what is out there to report, document, catalog, interpret and understand. You know, the unexamined life is not worth living and all that stuff.

 

I am happy that I have had both worlds as it were, but right now this Friday evening in Korea I am wondering if the corn is already knee-high back home in Illinois.

On the road with The Jerks — Part 2

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Bodine

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.

jerks004Tom Joliffe — soundman

“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.

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