Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going to (Max's) Kansas City?

El Bolero was the place where Alma, Mighty Vince and I had stopped for drinks after the premiere of Rollerball months ago. Mighty Vince was an acne-scarred amateur bodybuilder who had an IQ somewhere around his chest size, and was totally infatuated by Alma. Hours after we left, a drug deal went sideways and the club manager ended up shooting a pusher and burying him in the basement. The cops caught up with them and it became part of neighborhood legend. As you can imagine, it didn’t do well for business. The place was as dead as that drug dealer for some time. I decided to drop in and persuade the club owner, Andy, that what he needed was the Spoiler to remedy his ailing business. He was desperate enough to try anything, and readily agreed.
Once again, we were able to draw upon our circle of friends to put asses in seats. My parents showed up, as did Lea and her beau, John Pineda from Scorpion Karate. We also had quite a few people from the neighborhood who were piqued with curiosity. It marked the debut of the Leatherettes, who appeared more exotic to some than the rest of us did. I spiced things up during “Barbarella, Queen of Pain”, our Reed-style BDSM song, by gnawing on my arm until the red stuff was all over the place (I heard Manny tell Mom, “Did you see him go in his pocket?”). We played a good show but agreed with Andy to take time to regroup before we tried it again, this time with a new lineup. Louie cashiered Rob Monster because the poor fellow couldn’t see the frets on the bass guitar. Luckily, reinforcements were on the way.
Osborne “Zing” Rampersad was a tall, lanky West Indian kid who was introduced to us by Abdul Martin, a cabbie who caught our first show at El Bolero. Zing was actually called Bing by his friends from the Isles, and I suspect it was because of the Crosby-like summer hat he favored. It’s hilarious to think about how laidback he was back then. We invited him out for a tryout on guitar and he was awful, so we asked him if he’d like to play bass. He ran out and bought a monolithic amp and a high-priced bass, the best gear in our entire arsenal. I had gone out and bought a Radio Shack PA system that paled in comparison. Zing’s bass playing wasn’t much better but you can get away with murder on bass, so we were pretty well set with Zing in the pocket. Later on he would switch back to guitar, which was a fatal error career-wise. When he overhauled his image into a hardcore blood-and-guts punk rocker, however, he gained immortality as a Spoiler icon beyond his untimely death in 2009.
Sherry Smith was a buxom blonde Jewish girl who had corresponded with me through a musicians’ classified ad. She auditioned for the band and, though she had it locked before even tuning up, clinched the lead guitar spot by nailing Richie Blackmore’s “Smoke on the Water” riff. Sherry and Zing came together with Bob, Al and and I to form Spoiler VI, the strongest lineup to date. We played El Bolero twice and also hit Los Panchos, another Puerto Rican lounge in the ‘hood. We were starting to write new material and it seemed like we just might hit the next level.
My neurotic, emaciated image bit me in the butt once more as Sherry and I grew closer. She invited me to her home one evening and we engaged in some heavy petting but never consummated the deal with her Rottweiler watching us closely. After that, I began coming on, as she described it, like a lovesick puppy. Jewish women (like Debbie Cantrell) are strong maternal figures and require a dominant male to balance their lives. A wimpy Lou Reed clone would simply not do. She told me the deal was off, and I gave her the boot from the band, which was a shitty thing to do.
The end of Spoiler VI came at what turned out to be the last show at El Bolero. Zing had somehow gotten the impression that I didn’t want to do shows or promote the new material and bailed out along with Sherry. We parted amicably though I would not see Sherry again; she stopped by months later with friends but I wasn’t about. At any rate, musicians were still stopping by though I had grown disillusioned and disinterested. There was a jam session almost every week but…no vocals. I was sick over how things were going and, frankly, sick of myself. I knew things had to change, and they did.
Once again I returned to my roots in hitting the weights and dumping my Lou Reed caricature. Florida Championship Wrestling was blinking in and out of our UHF airwaves, and not only Dusty Rhodes but eventually Don Jardine, the Spoiler himself, provided inspiration for my next metamorphosis. I put back on about ten pounds of muscle and was stylin’ and profilin’ just about the time Superstar Billy Graham not only resurfaced in the WWF but actually took the title from Bruno Sammartino. The ‘new’ Broadway Turk Superstar was the self-styled ‘American Nightmare’ and was going to take the new group all the way to the top.
About that time, Chico Rock and his family began having more of an effect on our lives. Sometime after I had visited them along with the Merceds over the holidays, Chico decided to take me up on my offer, coming by with his entire family to watch the band rehearse. I was out of it as usual in those days, and only remember a large group of stone-faced kids peering in from the kitchen to watch the maelstrom developing in the practice room. Though it was some time before any of the kids returned, Chico became a familiar face and began inviting us to his home more often. Once they got to know us, the Rocks became an integral part of our infrastructure.
 Luvi Rock was the third daughter and the apple of Chico’s eye, his Rookie of the Year. She was a cute and shapely lass (as were most of the Rock girls) and we hit it off well. We dated once but somehow I got sidetracked after her older sister Yvonne. Not only would Yvonne play me for a fool, but Al took the opportunity to hook up with Luvi, and theirs was the match that lasted to this day. Luvi teamed with Alma to reform the Leatherettes, but would eventually give place to her sister Suli, who was destined to become one of the last of the NYC Spoiler members.
1976 was an idyllic time for us. The Philadelphia Flyers had kicked the crap out of the NHL and were the new Stanley Cup champions. They rekindled my hockey spirit, inspiring me to get Sue Swingle from work to drive me to Gramercy Park for a new Flyers uniform. Of course, I chose Dave “The Hammer” Schultz’s Number Eight. I hooked up with Johnny De Losa and he got me in with his new team on Douglass Street, who had been playing against a team of older fellows from Red Hook. I came aboard and we gave those fellows nightmares after them having run roughshod over the kids all winter. Needless to say, I had gotten in better shape and brought a better attitude to band practice.
One of the unforgettable people I met during this time was Joe Di Fina. He was a bespectacled, curly-haired, swarthy Sicilian who wore a Rangers uniform and was fairly well skating on his ankles when he first came to Columbia Park from Douglass Street that spring. I had a practice game against him and Johnny De Losa, two on one with open nets, and I scored fifty goals to their dozen or so. Well, over the summer, things changed drastically. Joe learned to skate and became the Douglass Street dynamo. He didn’t have a lot of outstanding skills, but he was more tenacious than anyone I’ve ever seen, amateur or pro. He was like the rover back in the old days; wherever the puck went, there was Joe. I was astonished to find out he had diabetes, like the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke. When you consider how dynamic their comparative styles were, you have to wonder whether those insulin shots had anything to do with it.
Anyway, Joe and I went for beers one night and made plans on how we were going to take down the Red Hook team. Particularly a fellow named Mario, a middle-aged fellow who looked and played like a longshoreman. He was a big burly bastard who had a hardon for Anthony Wilkie and wasn’t overly fond of me for my big mouth. I was certain that he and I would tangle sooner or later but, outside of a missed check he slipped from me in one game, we never crossed paths. Anyway, during our conversation I found that Joe was a nightclub singer, and invited him to practice one night. He did all the old crooning tunes and would have made Manny proud. We lost touch after I quit playing, and I was saddened to hear he died of hepatitis from a soiled needle. He was a great hockey player, a good person and a fine singer, and the world lost him far too soon.
After my hockey days ended (for the time), we were spending lots more time at Chico’s. I recall him buying a case of Budweiser with the Bicentennial colors on the cans. There were fireworks on the streets, and Al and Luvi had their own fireworks going as well. We weren’t jamming as much as I was more engrossed in hockey than music at the time. Soon Louie got bored and headed back to Bay Ridge, and Al and Luvi’s visits grew infrequent.   
Zing came back to the fold at the same time as Louie, and we decided to give it another go as Spoiler VII. Only Louie was realizing his street value as a musician while still going through adolescent angst, amidst which I was being lumped in with the authority figures he was openly rebelling against. Zing, alternately, had channeled me as his new muse and had started a band called the Devil’s Claw, which was a sort of tribute to our Spoiler Iron Claw logo. When he came back, it was as a guitar-playing badass, having traded his bass for a Les Paul and developing a nasty attitude. Apparently they had already discussed what they would and would not take from me this time around, and when stuff began hitting the fan I posted the riot act before practice one evening, giving them immediate notice. Half the reason was growing philosophical differences between Louie and I. The other reason, which I left undisclosed, was that Zing’s playing sounded like shit. The biggest problem was that I had set up a showcase gig at Max’s Kansas City, and there was no way in hell I was going to let it slip away. I considered my alternatives, which now seemed to hang on the Cat.
Luvi and Alma remained good friends, and she and Al but continued to visit to see how we were getting on. He and Luvi were amused by the indictment I left at my apartment when they stopped by that night, but was still surprised when I called him. We had a long chat but he concluded that he was not going to pull this off without Louie. I had no choice but to make the peace with Louie, who believed I had concocted the whole situation in order to switch Al for Zing on rhythm guitar. It wasn’t altogether true, though I knew it was for the better. If only Zing had remained on bass, he may well have helped us go the distance. Unfortunately he followed his heart instead of his head, and we all ended the worse for it.
Having no drummer, we decided to talk Louie Matos into playing our Frankenstein kit for the show. We naively assumed that Max’s, being a premier club, would pay well, and Louie bought the deal. We rented a couple of cabs and hauled everything to Gramercy Park for the big event. As it turned out, there were two other bands and almost no crowd. We were pleased to go on last, which is something I strenuously avoid these days unless it’s a big event. Anyway, we did a great job and I got to meet with Peter Crowley, the club manager, after the show.

Crowley was a friendly guy who liked the act but saw we needed polish as well as a bassist. We discussed Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, who I saw as a competitor as he also had a pro wrestler gimmick. His lead guitarist, Ross “the Boss” Funicello, was also a ringer for Lou Cazucci, down to the haircut, style of dress and playing style. Crowley called Manitoba a tub of lard, which was no surprise as Dick had been involved in a lawsuit against house band front man and transvestite Wayne County. Manitoba was heckling County one night during a show and Wayne hauled off on him with a mic stand, breaking his collarbone. Broke Dick had no choice but to sue for medical expenses. Anyway, Crowley wished us well and paid me off with a whopping ten bucks. I was forced to pocket it to cover some of the cab expense. Explaining it all to Louie Matos must have come as one of the shocks of his life. Needless to say, it was his first and last appearance as a Spoiler.

(To be continued...)

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