Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: The Jerks (page 1 of 2)

And the walls came tumbling down…

Friday's SaloonFriday’s Saloon is no more.

Today, I came across a photo on Facebook, courtesy of WLPO, a radio station in the Illinois Valley (an area 90 miles southwest of Chicago) that showed the building where Friday’s had been located with the roof caved in with debris strewn on the sidewalk.

The bar, which for one brief moment in the late 1970s and early 1980s became synonymous with the resurgence of “live music” in the Illinois Valley following the demise of disco. It was there that bands like The Jerks and Longshot, (composed of former members of Buckacre, that darling band of the area) who called the bar home, played before packed crowds every weekend and inspired other musicians to follow in their footsteps. And it just wasn’t Fridays that had everyone jumping, pogoing, slam-dancing, and bopping on the wooden dance floor (which thankfully held up!) either. On the corner was the Delta Queen, part of the Red Door Inn complex, across the street was The Rusty Rail (Originally called The Whistle Stop, it was a rail passenger car converted into a bar) and down the street, Murphy’s Bar where The Jerks, Longshot, and later The Libido Boys played.

It was a happening time.

In October of 1980, the Daily News Tribune (now the News Trib) thought so when the paper published an article, “The Boys Are Back in Town” about the resurgence of live music in the Illinois Valley. The article talked about some of the local bands and the bar scene which had seen more live music following the demise of disco. I just so happened to be home for the weekend from Southern Illinois University and decided to check out one of the bars mentioned in the article.

 

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 and Longshot.

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 Rusty Rail, and waited until the crowds thinned out.

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. The bar itself was a throwback to another era with the high embossed tin ceiling and funky retro wallpapered walls (the lower half was paneled with dark stained wood). 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. One person in particular stood out. He was standing near the entrance to this second room. He wore a leather jacket, with spiked black hair, and a small padlock and chain around his neck who reminded me of Sid Viscious. 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. I was definitely in the right place.

On a small stage at the other end of the room, The Jerks were playing a cover of a new wave hit by the English band The Vapors. The band was good, very good. This was a seasoned band. They were tight. With a pounding, staccato backbeat and driving guitars and booming bass, 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 dance floor—energized the crowd. This was what rock and roll was all about. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of that dance floor, dancing and sweating and caught up in the excitement and allure that only rock and roll knows.

(Miller, 2008; retrieved from http://jeffreymillerwrites.com/meet-the-jerks-rock-roll-from-americas-heartland/)

Seeing the photo of Friday’s today, opened the floodgates to the memories I have of that time, the music I listened and danced to, and the many people who I met back then who are still my friends today. “Those were the days,” Mary Hopkin lamented in her famous song. “We thought they’d never end.” They did. We all moved on. But for many of us, Friday’s, The Jerks, Longshot…they will always be near and dear to us.

Serious Rock ‘n Rollers

Jerks_1980Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite photos taken of the legendary Illinois Valley band, The Jerks. There’s no gleaming and smiling at the camera. These boys are serious about their rock and roll.

Those were some fun times in the early 1980s when the band was in their nadir and everyone wanted to jump with The Jerks. I remember talking to the band’s soundman, Tom Joliffe, one night after a gig, and he said, “Sparks, you and I came along when the band had reached its height.”

They might have just been another bar band, but these seasoned musicians breathed life into local music scenes like so many other bands around the same time.

They carried the torch for rock and roll like so many other bands who have kept the fires burning.

Picture of the Day: The Jerks at the Second Chance — Peoria, Illinois 1981

For those of us who can’t get enough of The Jerks (and I know there are some of you out there who are still hoping for a reunion) here are some photos of the boys proving “it won’t play in Peoria” did not hold true for the band.

They were a big hit on the road in places like The Second Chance in Peoria, Mabels in Champaign, and The Red Lion in Dekalb.

These photos are from the summer of 1981–that was the heyday of the resurgence of live rock and roll in the Illinois Valley that Dave Piccoli wrote about in a feature article for the News Tribune in October 1980. Things would change a year later when bands would change their musical direction and in some cases lineups. But the summer of ’81 was still a time for Sweet Gene Vincent and So Lifelike.

Check out that vintage Batman jacket and Jaws T-shirt!

I wonder what song Al is playing: “Telstar?” “Bionic Man?” “Mr. Mike?”

Picture of the Day: Friday’s Saloon, 1998

It doesn’t look like it did in its heyday, but for this to work you have to close your eyes and think back to 1980. Close your eyes and think of some song from 30 years ago, maybe it’s “Life Begins at the Hop,” “My Little Red Book” “Turning Japanese,” “Message in a Bottle” “Bionic Man” — can you see it now, can you feel the excitement. Do you have your two bucks out to give to Big Al standing inside the door? Move through the crowd, the electric night loud all around. Still can’t picture it? Close your eyes harder, and concentrate. Can you see Bob Noxious on stage singing “Gloria?” Not even Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious could have belted out the song the way he did. Look, there’s Chris V. Corky, Dave S. Tommy V. and Buzzy, Beth and Bruce, Mary Jo, Sue D. the two Becky’s. Goose is in the back chatting up Mike L. Can you see it yet? There’s Kelly N. Lisa S. and Debbie C. Jeff B.’s behind the bar and some of Big Al’s friends. Some of the boys from Longshot, playing down the street have stopped in. Wait for it. Yeah, that’s “Telstar.”

Break out the Tele or the 12-string Rickenbacher Al. Dick keep that steady back beat and tell the ladies to work off those lasagna legs. Sometimes when Al was changing guitars you and Al Schupp and Bodine would play a little jazz, “and now some jazz from Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66”– and then you guys would break into “Starry Eyes.”

It’s the best I could do.

(and if I omitted any names, I am sorry.)

MTV in Goose’s Basement — A work in progress

MTV-man-on-moonThere was a time when MTV was cool. I mean really cool, like a long, long, long time ago in another galaxy far, far, away cool. Back when the only thing you saw and listened to on MTV were videos. And if the videos programmed for any particular hour or block of time came up short, well there were some artsy video fillers to fill that block of time until the next hour when the process started all over again.

That was MTV in January 1982—at least the MTV we watched in Goose’s basement in LaSalle, Illinois when MTV was still not available in the Midwest, but by monkeying around with the rabbit ears on the top of some old B&W Zenith TV that Goose and his brother had in the basement and switching to VHF and ever-so-carefully adjusting the knob like some safecracker trying to get in a safe, we could, when the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right—fine tune that TV and watch MTV in all its primal glory and unadulterated magnificence.

It was Goose who had first come up to me in one of the bars that we frequented in the Illinois Valley—maybe it was Friday’s or Murphy’s, perhaps one of the bars we had not been banned from, we meaning The Libido Boys for causing a bit of a commotion when the boys played their “young, loud, and snotty” kind of rock and roll that more often than not antagonized the few patrons who found themselves trapped in the bar when the music started—and told me about this new TV phenomenon called MTV.

The Libido Boys was the brainchild of one Chris Vasquez who just so happened to be my best friend and included Goose on guitar and bass, Tony Innis on guitar and bass and Ray Joe Biagioni on drums. Although the band was sort of doomed from the beginning—it was hard to go up against heavyweights like The Jerks and Longshot, two bands that ruled the Illinois Valley in the early 80s—they broke the alternative barrier in a way that only someone like Chris and the boys could pull off. It was rather disheartening for the band when on some nights, the only people in attendance were the band’s girlfriends and the drunken patrons at the bar who were obligated to pay the one or two-dollar cover charge because they just so happened to be in the bar when the band started to play.

“Yeah, there are all these cool videos by groups like Devo, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Ultravox, The Clash, Oingo Boingo, The Buggles, Stray Cats, Madness, and XTC,” Goose said, rattling off a list of names of bands that pretty much defined the late 70s and early 80s New Wave scene—and bands that some of us had seen in concert and ones we liked a lot.

“Cool, I’d like to check that out,” I replied. There were some late night music shows that sometimes played videos, but it was nothing like the MTV that Goose was describing to me in that bar that night.

“It doesn’t come in all the time, though,” Goose added. “Sometimes the weather has to be just right.”

Well, I wasn’t too sure what that was supposed to mean but Goose was right: when the weather was just right, which usually meant when there was some storm front or cold front moving in, we were able to watch MTV in his basement. And of course, moving them rabbit ears around and fine tuning that VHF knob.

On one of the nights the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right and the band was not rehearsing at Chris’ house or playing out, not to mention when Goose’s mom, a registered nurse, worked the night shift at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, we all gathered around that ancient Zenith in Goose’s basement and had our MTV.

Goose was also right about the videos, too. It was one video after another by bands that we listened to a lot. There were some early commercials and even a contest—a chance to hang out with Devo in Hawaii.

MTV was definitely cool back then. We avoided becoming addicted to watching hour after hour of MTV because, well the weather and atmospheric conditions did not always coincide with our schedules, so it was hit and miss viewing until late that spring when MTV became available on the area’s cable provider.

Makanda Java — Carbondale, Illinois

Jay, the owner of Makanda Java

I am not even sure if the building or the coffee shop that was inside is still there, but when I was briefly a student at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, Illinois one of the favorite places to hang out when I was attending in the autumn of 1983 was Makanda Java.

Although I had first started to attend SIU in the summer of 1980, it wasn’t until the summer of 1981 when I first stopped in Makanda Java with Alan Thacker and Dick Verucchi of The Jerks. I had seen the coffee shop before-passing it countless times when I walked up and down Illinois Avenue back in 1980-but I wasn’t into hanging out in coffee shops just yet. It wouldn’t be until that road trip to Carbondale in the summer of 1981 when The Jerks played at T.J. McFly’s when I got my first taste of a fine brewed cup of coffee at Makanda Java.

Until that magical summer of 1981, I hadn’t discovered or been turned onto the finer qualities of life-like enjoying a freshly brewed pot of coffee made from some rich, roasted coffee beans or sipping a demitasse of espresso while enjoying some freshly baked pastry or a bagel oozing with melted cream cheese. I liked coffee and had been drinking it for years but when it came to my java it was best served or so I thought, in a white ceramic mug at some truck stop like the Tiki in Peru or some diner. That would change when I got to know Alan and Dick and started going on the road with The Jerks. You might say that was one of the perks (pun intended) of being in The Jerks and getting to know Alan and Dick: they turned me onto more than just music like what a fine cup of coffee should taste like.

I would soon find that out in the summer of the 1981 when The Jerks made the first of three visits to Carbondale and gigs at T.J. McFly’s (once managed by Jim Belushi back in the 70s if the rumors are correct). One afternoon, Alan, Dick and I went shopping at Plaza Records, located in a small shopping center across the street, and later stopped in for some coffee at Makanda Java.

What I remember most about the coffee shop was its cozy and homey atmosphere. There was a counter in the front where the owner Jay sold all kinds of coffee and herbal tea as well as muffins and other pastries and a few tables, but as you walked toward the back, it looked more like someone’s house crossed with an antique shop. There was this old Wurlitzer jukebox that was filled with many 45s of bands who played at various bars in Carbondale like the Hangar Nine, The Club, PK’s and T.J. McFly’s, another counter where one could buy coffee beans and tea and in the back sofas and chairs for people to hang out and relax.

The coffee house had originally been located in the artist community of Makanda, not far from Carbondale and many of the regulars (that I would soon discover) had either attended SIU at one point or another in the past 20 years or were artists from Makanda. It was not unusual to bump into some hippie artist from the 60s or some avant-garde filmmaker or artist from the 70s in the coffee shop. And when many bands played in Carbondale they always made a point in stopping in at Makanda Java to drop off one of their 45’s for Jay’s Jukebox. It was also not uncommon for Jay to play some new 45 or album that a customer had just purchased at Plaza Records-like the Christmas XTC single I would buy in 1983 and listen to with Jay over a pot of house blend one afternoon.

When I went back to SIU in the autumn of 1983 I hung out at Makanda Java a lot. I remember many a cool autumn afternoon sitting outside at a table made from these huge wooden spools used for wire on a tree-stump enjoying a pot of the house blend and reading SIU’s school newspaper The Daily Egyptian. That fall there was even an article about Makanda Java in the paper and how Jay, who had moved down to Carbondale from Chicago, had found what could best be described as coffee house nirvana with his shop. I still might have that article in storage back home.

Most of the people I went to school with and hung out with at the bars and clubs also hung out there. A couple of times I would start drinking coffee and once that caffeine buzz got going, I would forget about going back to class. I was studying filmmaking back then and one night, some of the film students borrowed a copy of the French movie The Red Balloon and showed it inside.

I had some friends who lived next door-Becky, this girl I knew from the first time I went to SIU in 1980-and her roommate and we hung out a lot. I wonder whatever happened to them and the others I knew from 1983? There was this one guy, Savich, who had his name legally changed to that after watching one of the Star Trek movies who I also met back in 1983 and hung out with at Makanda and other places.

When I left Carbondale at the end of that semester he was supposedly going to Vandalia to teach cons at the State Penitentiary located outside of town how to paint. I would end up patterning the main character in my short story “Going after Sexton” after him.

I can still remember one cool, autumn afternoon sitting outside with a pot of the house blend watching everyone walk by. When someone passed that I knew, they would pull up a tree stump and join me for a while before heading off to wherever they had been going. To wax philosophical a bit, I suppose that afternoon and many others were a microcosm for my life at the time, when I wasn’t too sure about where I was headed, but sometimes you just want to sit on the sidelines or in the audience instead of being down there on the field or on the stage.

Since 1983, I have been in countless coffee shops around the world but all pale in comparison to the good times I had at Makanda Java. It was a great place to hang out when I was in school but at the same time it was also a place where I got to discover some things about myself through the people I met and what we talked about as well as be turned onto various kinds of music and literature that would come to define me as I got older. I suppose we all have our own Makanda Java in our lives, some special place that has shaped and defined us.

Ghosts of Christmas Past — A snowy night in the Illinois Valley

On a quiet, snowy Tuesday night in December 1980, I am sliding and fishtailing down Water Street on my way to Murphy’s Saloon where The Jerks are playing that evening.

It’s a good thing there are no other cars on the street-that runs through an industrial section of Peru, Illinois that in turn is located on the banks of the Illinois River-with the way I have been sliding and skidding along. It’s the first real heavy snowfall that I have driven on in years and I am having the time of my life.

It’s been a bittersweet and tragic December. First there was John Lennon being gunned down outside his Dakota apartment; then it was coming home for the holidays after finishing my first full-length semester at Southern Illinois University to find out that my grandmother was in the hospital. My major at SIU was supposed to be filmmaking but after all the concerts and parties, well let’s just say my grade point average for that semester gave new meaning to the term swan dive. No problem, I would have a strong C going into my third semester. And as for my grandmother, she was just in the hospital as a precaution after suffering some dizziness. She would be out in time for Christmas.

So there I was, sliding and skidding along Water Street. I really had no business to be out that night; after all I had seen The Jerks the past weekend, but a lot of people would be there like my very good friend Chris Vasquez. We had bumped into each other one night in October, the first time we had seen each other in over four years and we were becoming tight again.

What I like most about December snow is that if the conditions are just right-temperature and moisture wise-when it does start to snow you can be in for a lot of the white stuff. As long as it stays right around freezing. Don’t want it to get too cold. Then it’s not so fun sliding down the street after you have locked the brakes.

And that’s just what happened in the morning of the 23rd when that white started to come down and come down and just kept on coming down the rest of the afternoon and early evening. It had caught everyone by surprise, not the least of which were the city workers, the snow removal guys who couldn’t get enough trucks out in time to start clearing the streets. And the snow kept on coming down.

When I finally slid into a parking space in front of Murphy’s Saloon, which had once been a small grocery store in the 1930s, it didn’t look like too many people had made it out that night. Still, there was a good crowd inside-mostly the regulars, those who followed The Jerks wherever they played in the Illinois Valley (LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby-Spring Valley) at places like Murphy’s, Friday’s Saloon (just down the street from Murphy’s) and Three N’ Company on St. Vincent’s Avenue on the north end of LaSalle.

The Jerks were this popular New Wave cover band that played a lot of New Music covers by bands like The Vapors, The Police, XTC, The Jags, and The Fabulous Poodles with a lot of 60s rock-The Beatles, The Stones, and The Kinks-thrown in for good measure. Comprised of three former members of Buckacre–Dick Verucchi, Alan Thacker, and Dave “Bodine” Morgan–along with Al Schupp, The Jerks were one of the area’s more popular bands along with Longshot. Back in October of that year, the News Tribune had an article about them and other bands playing the local bar circuit, calling it a “resurgence of rock and roll.” Other than this night when only the courageous and diehard braved the elements to get down to Murphy’s just to dance and party, The Jerks packed them in wherever they played.

That’s what really made the night special. There it was, the night before Christmas Eve, the whole area blanketed with a couple inches of snow that would stay for a couple of days, and just being with people that you really wanted to be with because you all liked the same music. Kind of tapped into the magic of the season. That’s what it is all about, coming home for the holidays and being with loved ones and friends and enjoying your time together.

And then later that night, or should I say early in the morning, with the head buzzing from all the one hits and beer, my ears ringing from the music, I am driving back home down First Street in LaSalle which was still covered with snow. As I slowly maneuvered my car down that snowy street, I gaze up at the illuminated Christmas tree on the top of these cement silos for Illinois Valley Cement. Every year they put up a Christmas tree on top that you could see for miles and now, it was like some beacon guiding me home.

Many Christmases have come and gone since that night; some good, some not so good. When I need to draw upon some of the Christmas and Yuletide magic of those years gone by, I often travel back to that night in 1980.

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Hey Earring!

Boy George’s hat almost got my ass kicked in Davenport, Iowa.

 

It was the winter of ’84 and I was back on the road again helping out 87 Men, formerly known as The Jerks. The band was still doing a lot of these one and two-night gigs in small clubs in Illinois and Iowa and one of them was at this club The Mad Hatter in Davenport, Iowa—a very popular haunt for university students from Augustana College across the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois.

 

The hat that got me in trouble was not even mine but Ian Saroka’s who had replaced Dave “Bodine” Morgan in the band six months earlier. When Alan Thacker had bought a synthesizer in the summer of ’83 and the band started playing more “techno-electro pop” music and covers by bands like Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Ultravox and Yaz, Bodine wasn’t too keen on this musical direction and quit. Ian Saroka joined the band not long after Bodine’s departure.

 

Ian was almost half the age of Dick or Alan and I suppose having a younger guy in the band was good for the band’s image—especially when playing some of these college town gigs. Hailing from the home of those classic rockers Cheap Trick—Rockford, Illinois, Ian was hip to a lot of the latest fashions and styles.

 

He had this really cool black hat that looked a lot like the one that Boy George had worn on Culture Club’s first album as well as in the band’s video “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” So, when I went on the road for the first time with 87 Men, I asked him if I could borrow it. I thought it would be the perfect complement to the black and gray cashmere overcoat I had bought for five bucks at this thrift store in Carbondale the previous fall as well as this cool drop earring that Liz a friend of mine at SIU had made in her jewelry class. The earring resembled two tiny metal coke spoons that hung down from an “infinity symbol” loop. It was an awesome earring that Liz had given me the last night I saw her at the Hangar 9 club in Carbondale.

 

“Sure, no problem,” Ian said as he tossed me the hat before we left the Illinois Valley on our way to Davenport that cold winter day. “Maybe it’ll even get you laid.”

 

Getting laid would end up being the least of my worries.

 

We arrived early in the afternoon (it’s only a ninety-minute drive from LaSalle-Peru) giving us enough time to setup and grab a bite to eat before the band played in the evening. The band still had the same equipment truck they had used when they were Buckacre and The Jerks that we parked out in front to unload the sound system and other equipment.

 

There were a few regulars seated at the bar having a couple of beers and chatting with the bartender, including two rough-looking ones—one wearing a John Deere cap the other a Cat cap.

 

They seemed to be engrossed in what the bartender was talking about and didn’t pay any attention to us bringing in the equipment until the third trip when they finally got around to noticing me.

 

“Hey look at that,” one of the men mumbled. “It’s f**kin’ Boy George.”

 

Laughter and a few snorts and cackles from around the bar.

 

“Hey Earring!” one of them snickered.

 

More laughter.

 

Great, I’m about to get my ass kicked by “two good ole boys” over a hat that wasn’t even mine.

 

Dick, who was setting up his drum kit, looked up me grinning.

 

“Don’t even think about it,” I said. “Don’t even….”

 

“Hey Earring,” Dick said laughing.

 

Great. I wasn’t going to hear the end of this.

 

Well, I didn’t get my ass kicked like I thought I would, but from that day on, I never heard the end of it especially from Dick and other members of the band. That’s what I got to hear from Dick for the next year—whether we were setting up equipment or when Dick talked to the audience between songs.

 

“Hey Earring! You gonna dance tonight? Hey Earring, do you want a drink? Hey Earring…”

 

Of course by then everyone knew that he was referring to me. What the heck, it was good for a lot of laughs and didn’t hurt my popularity any.

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.

With The Jerks — Rock & Roll from America’s Heartland

Meet The Jerks


I officially started working with The Jerks in the summer of 1981 but before that there would be musical interlude of a different kind.


I had taken some time off school (read: dropped out) and was pretty much just filling in the time (read: having a good time) before I went back to school.


Until then, I was hanging out with my best friend Chris and when we were not listening to The Jerks play or going to concerts, we were talking about forming our own band. We talked about how we could get jobs at Caterpillar in Pontiac, Illinois to buy equipment and even drove down there one day to fill out an application form.


There was just one small problem—I didn’t know how to play any musical instrument. No problem because Chris’ father—a distinguished guitarist in his own right—started giving us guitar lessons (his father was big fan of Johnny Smith). 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.


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 Alan. 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.


“Remember that time when we were in the studio in London and Pete Townshend walked in to talk to Glyn Johns,” said Dick one time. “Remember how so-and-so’s jaw dropped when he saw Townshend 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 Alan or when the two of them got together.


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 a gig on the road, we were taking Al Shupp 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 calling him “Icabod” Shupp 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 (he had also been the drummer for Ken Carlyle and the Cadillac Cowboys) their soundman after we had everything set up. Alan 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. Alan 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. Alan 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.


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 “Tossin’ and Turnin’” Lewis asked to have the house lights turned up so he could see the people doing all the cheering.


Back then, most of the bars that had live entertainment usually had bands on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. On the rest of the 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. Other times we would head up to the Tiki Truck Stop and the Pine Cone Restaurant for Denver Omelettes and Blueberry Pancakes.


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, Alan 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,” Alan 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, rockingest 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, Clare and I went to the Majestic Theater 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 who works for The Jerks! Wow, you’re so cool! I love your band!”


Ah, a little taste of fame goes a long way—even if you are just a roadie.

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