Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Tom Joliffe

“Have Yourself a Merry little Beatles’ Christmas…”

Beatles_Christmas_Album_all_ws71996508

Good King Wenceslas last looked out
On the Feast of Stephen, Ho!
As the slow ray around about
Deep and crisp and crispy.
Brightly show the boot last night
On the mossty cruel.
Henry Hall and David Lloyd,
Betty Grable, too-oo-oo.

Hello, this is John speaking with his voice.

We’re all very happy to be able to talk to you like this on this little bit of plastic. This record reaches you at the end of a really gear year for us and it’s all due to you. When we made our first record on Parlophone towards the end of 1962, we hoped everybody would like what had already been our type of music for several years already. But we had no idea of all the gear things in store for us.

It all happened really when “Please, Please Me” became a Number One hit and after that, well “cor the Blimeys, heave the mo.” Our biggest thrill of the year, well I suppose it must have been topping the bill at the London Palladium and then, only a couple of days later, being invited to take part in The Royal Variety Show.

This time last year we were all dead chuffed because “Love Me Do” got into the Top Twenty and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already.

Just before I pass you over to Paul (arf! arf! arf! arf!) I’d like to say thank you to all the Beatle people who have written to me during the year and everyone who sent gifts and cards for my birthday, which I’m trying to forget, in October. I’d love to reply personally to everybody but I just haven’t enough pens.

In the meantime:

Garry Crimble to you
Garry Mimble to you
Getty Bable, Dear Christmas
Happy Birthday me too.

 

If you haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit yet or you are looking for something a little more nostalgic—albeit rock and roll nostalgia—to get into the spirit, you might want to find a copy of The Beatles’ Christmas message recordings which were recorded for their fan club members from 1963-1969.

The recordings are not too Christmassy; indeed, other than a few attempts at singing some traditional Christmas songs (which they have fun butchering) the lads mainly joke around about what they have done and haven’t done for that year. However, there is a Christmas feel to the messages as well as a more personal side to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That’s what makes these recordings priceless.

In the first message the guys talk a little about themselves and then have fun singing “Good King Wenceslas” as well as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer “where they change some of the lyrics to “Rudy the Red-Nosed Beagle” and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Ringo.” And instead of everyone “picking on Rudolph” someone sings how that famous nose was “picked.” Things get a little weird though in the third message when they’re not as innocent and cute like the way they might have been in the first two messages. Still, they have fun butchering “Yesterday.”

In some of the later messages, you can see how they have matured as a band with their creative use of the studio for their messages. Whereas in the first two or three one can imagine them sitting around a microphone and delivering their Christmas messages, they start to get a little more creative and crazier. One can even detect a bit of Monty Pythonesque humor in their messages.

Some even get a little darker and bizarre. And in one part of their final message—with what sounds like John and Yoko walking outside—John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas”—just like he and the others had sung on the first recording. It comes across a little bittersweet, and perhaps full-circle because it would end up being their last Christmas message.

I first heard these messages back in 1978 when I was serving in the United States Air Force at George AFB, just outside of Victorville, California. Actually, I just heard one of them, the first one from 1963 on the Dr. Demento show—broadcast from some LA radio station—while I was working the graveyard shift a few weeks before Christmas. That year, I would be able to go home for Christmas, my first one back home since 1975.

It would be another three years later before I heard these messages again. In 1981, Alan Thacker, formerly of Buckacre and then the lead singer of The Jerks (and at the time a good friend of mine) turned me onto the rest of The Beatles’ Christmas messages. Alan was a big fan of The Beatles and had a huge collection of their albums including one that contained these messages. He had put the first Christmas message on a “break tape”—music that was played when The Jerks were on break when they played out—and it was so cool when I heard it again. Later Alan recorded a few more of the messages for me.

That was a special year 1981. Aside from dropping out of SIU, hanging out with my best friend Chris Vasquez and going on the road with The Jerks, it was also a Beatles’ year. It started back in the fall of 1980 when John Lennon came out with Double Fantasy and then tragedy on December 8 when Lennon was assassinated outside his Dakota apartment. With that gunshot, the chances of a Beatles’ reunion were shattered forever. And I suppose a lot of us just started to listen to The Beatles more.

The Jerks played a lot of Beatles’ covers and the drummer; Dick Verucchi had seen The Beatles twice when he was a kid. That was good enough for me to feel a part pf rock and roll history—something like six degrees of rock and roll separation. Later that summer, almost everyone in the band was reading the first authorized Beatles’ biography Shout! (it’s still one of the better books on the band). And then, a couple of the guys went out and ordered some Beatles’ boots from Trash and Vaudeville in New York.

Around the same time that I started listening to a couple of The Beatles’ Christmas messages that Alan had recorded for me, I was hanging out with Sarah Kostellic who was also a good friend of Alan’s and had just bought an album with these messages on it. She made a tape of them and that is what we listened to the night we drove down to Peoria, Illinois to attend a John Lennon Tribute at the Second Chance as well as one cold, December Sunday afternoon just driving around the Illinois Valley.

It would be a few more years before I heard these messages again. This time it was 1988 and I was attending graduate school at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. It was right before Christmas and I was going to Texas to spend Christmas with my Mom in Irving—our first Christmas together since 1978. I was hanging out with Jay Hedblade from Macomb and for some reason we started singing “Good King Wenceslas” one night and remembered these Beatles’ Christmas messages. It was right around the same time the English Department had a Christmas Party on a Friday night.

Later that evening, Jay, Stacy and Shaney (two English majors) and I were back at my apartment when who shows up but Tom Joliffe, the former soundman for The Jerks. He was playing a gig in town (he was a drummer) and just stopped by to say “Hi.”

Everything does come full circle.

A year later I am teaching in Hamamatsu, Japan and one day about two weeks before Christmas, I come across a The Beatles’ Christmas Message album and I buy it. A friend later recorded them for me but sadly the album was lost in a fire and the tape is somewhere in a box with other tapes.

It’s been 30 years since I first heard these recordings and after all these years I’ve been able to locate this these Christmas messages again to enjoy. Listening to these messages this year I am feeling more nostalgic than in recent years. I guess a lot has to do with turning 50 earlier this year and just feeling older.

Say what you will about how cheesy these recordings might seem the first couple of times you hear them; I am taking more of the nostalgic view. To be sure, it feels good to wax nostalgic even though what you remember can be a little painful and bittersweet.

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.

Home for the Holidays

Getting together with Dick Verucchi and Tom Joliffe on Christmas Day at the 9th Street Pub in La Salle, Illinois

After nearly a thirteen-hour flight from Seoul, I am waiting for my friend Chris to pick me up at O’Hare International Airport.

Home again for the holidays. I can’t believe that it has been a year since the last time I was home. This past year seemed to fly by—I know the autumn term went by very fast this year—and here I am home again.

It’s an extremely frigid night in Chicago. Haven’t felt this cold in a very long time. Chris, who is driving a stretch limo these days, was running a bit late. As soon as I got through the immigration and customs formalities I called Chris. He had to pick up someone down in the Loop before he could pick me up. He is just going to swing by the airport, pick me up and take me to his apartment before he finishes his shift. Turns out that I end up waiting almost three hours before Chris finally arrives.

If you have ever had to go through the international terminal at O’Hare in the evening, you know that it can be a drag because everything seems to close as soon as the last flights get in.

I was kind of hoping to hang out in the lounge and have a few beers while I waited for Chris, but no sooner had I sat down with a beer, I was told that the lounge would be closing soon. At five dollars a pop for a beer, I was probably better off.

There was only one small snack bar opened and I ended up having to settle for stale popcorn and a Coke.

Looks like I am not going to have much time to hang out with Chris this trip home. He has to work again on Sunday and then he will take me down to the Illinois Valley on Monday. On the other hand, the way he has been talking about his job, I wouldn’t be surprised if he quits.

I’ve been coming home for the holidays every Christmas for the past five years.

One of the things that I wanted to do when I was home for the holidays was to try and hook up with some people who I haven’t seen for awhile. The last few times that I have been home, I have kept a pretty low profile.

The last time I had seen or spoken to Dick Verucchi was right before I left for Korea back in 1990.

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