Many people have asked, “Scott? How did you get started in rock and roll?”
These people exist solely in my imagination, but it would be unfair to have that fact eliminate their obvious interest, so, I’ll tell.
The first band I played in was The Revolutions. I’ve given some thought over the years to suing Prince for stealing our name, but I’m not the litigation type. But make no mistake about it. The name is ours. We formed in 1966. I don’t think Prince was born yet, much less had he changed his name for the first of many times. Like me, Robin Raver, my best friend, was seven years old. Her brother Johnny, who had only three fingers on his left hand, was eight. The fact that he was born without one digit has very little to do with this story, but every time Johnny Raver was introduced to anyone, it was with the added phrase, “He was born without a finger”. It’s forty-seven years later and I still add that caveat to his name.
Robin played a plastic ukulele that came with optional hand painted Hawaiian dancing girls. Johnny strummed on a cowboy guitar that had three plastic strings (a perfect number for his left hand). I beat on a cardboard box with a pair of Flintstones plastic bowling pins.
I provided the soul.
We sat on the broken glider in front of the Ravers’ clapboard house and lip-synched to Monkees records, the sound blasting through a screened porch window. Prince did not steal this part of our act. The fact is that we did have an act, one dreamed up by the three-fingered older brother of my best friend. We would walk onstage, he explained, dressed as the drummer, fife player and flag carrier from that famous revolutionary war painting. “You know,” explained Johnny. “The guy with the crutch? He’s got a bloody wound on his head? He’s all bandaged up?” He explained further that we’d walk onto the stage (one of us limping). And just when everyone was expecting us to play revolutionary war music, we’d bust out with some lip-synched Monkees.
I was seven.
It was my first foray into the magical world of show business.
I went home after that first practice and designed a logo for the side of my box. Robin drew up some costumes. Johnny played with a squashed snake he’d found in the road.
The next day, we played again, the two Ravers bobbing their heads more or less in time to the records as I beat the crap out of a cardboard box with a pair of plastic bowling pins. We just knew that at any moment, a talent scout from the Ed Sullivan Show would be driving down Dover Road. He would hear the Monkees music, see The Revolution and we’d be on our way to stardom.
And then it was time for lunch.
In none the histories about rock and roll I’ve read or documentaries I’ve watched does the topic of lunch ever surface. I would estimate, however, that it is not drugs, but grilled cheese and potato chips that have halted most young bands’ skyrocket to fame. Right in the middle of “Last Train to Clarksville”, just as I was getting a nice groove beaten into the flap of my box, Mrs. Raver came to the screen door and called us into lunch.
That woman could make some grilled cheese.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever played a cardboard box with a set of bowling pins, but in case you’re considering, let me give you some advice. Do so with an empty stomach. Once you’ve eaten grilled cheese, potato chips and created a spectacular Kool-Aid mustache, the passion that once filled your aching heart will be replaced with a completely different feeling.
We called “take five” and I went home to take a nap.
It is important when forming your first group to have a mentor, a Svengali, someone who can share your enthusiasm. For us, that person was Mrs. Raver, the woman who (as far as we all knew) spawned the three fingered guitar player with the Revolutionary War hangup. Mrs. Raver never once complained about our practices, never once squashed our dream, never ever asked that we perhaps consider a different hobby. She merely hummed those mornings away, listening to high-decibel Mickey Dolenz, accompanied by a boy beating the crap out a cardboard box and his two friends, nodding.
Mr. Raver, however, was not quite so sympathetic to our need for fame. Sometime after we’d mastered bowing together at the same time, he came home from work and decided the mess on the broken front porch needed to be “rid up”. Along with the broken porch glider and the rusted charcoal grill, he placed the cardboard box and the plastic bowling pins into the back of their pickup truck and hauled the whole mess to a garbage pile behind the chicken coop.
The next morning, I arrived at band practice, my head full of new ideas about how we should shoot the cover photo for our first album, “Meet the Revolution”. It was with a crushing realization of the end of a career that I saw Robin and Johnny, in the front yard, bowling.
With my drum sticks?
“Aw, we don’t feel too much like playing Monkees today,” the missing digit explained. “We’re playing bowlers.” With that, he turned toward a group of eight plastic bowling pins, including my two drumsticks, and whirled a ball of knitting yarn down the driveway towards them.
Monkees? We weren’t playing Monkees, I thought. We were playing The Revolution! I looked to Robin for support. Surely, she would set her brother straight. This was, after all, our new life. We were going to be a band!
She pointed to the porch, the site of our genesis. “We got a new porch glider,” she said. “Tonight we’re gonna burn some stuff. You wanna watch?” She pointed to a pile of garbage behind the chicken coop. Piled on top was my cardboard box.
That was when I realized for the first time that rock and roll is an unforgiving life. And if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to be tough. I’d show them. They weren’t going to see me whimper. I was a rocker. I was an original member of the Revolutions. I was the soul of the Revolutions! And I had come up with a pretty cool logo that was spelled right and everything. Here they were, trying to take my dream away. Well, I wouldn’t give them the benefit of seeing my disappointment.
“Hand me that yarn,” I said to three-fingered Johnny Raver. “Let’s bowl.”