I was playing in a folk rock group-Talbots Bus. There were four of us in the band. Tony-electrified acoustic guitar, his girlfriend Betty - vocals, Billy Parker-bass and me on drums. We were students at the University of Vermont. Part-time musicians but all open to the possibility of a career in the music business.
It was 1968. America was going through turbulent political times due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. College campuses were a hotbed of protest. Ours was no different. An antiwar concert was organized for a Sunday in October. It was a big deal with nationally known speakers and a couple of name groups out of Boston and New York City. We were one of the few local bands asked to play.
I strongly objected to America’s involvement in Vietnam and I was excited that we would be a part of the concert. As far as I was concerned the war was a matter of economics and a way to destroy the progressive flower power culture of the sixties. If I got drafted, I wouldn’t go.
I proudly wore an American Flag T-shirt as a symbol of protest.We were all antiwar especially Tony the leader of the group. As a huge Dylan fan he knew the right song to close our set, “Masters of War”
We went on late in the afternoon. There were close to five thousand people on the green. Masters of War was our fourth and last song. It started with Tony singing quietly and playing acoustic guitar
“Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes…………
It didn’t take long for the crowd to see where we were going. By the next to the last verse Betty was singing harmony and Billy and I were providing a driving steady rhythm
“……………..Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness…………….
Everyone was on there feet yelling and cheering. Tony was screaming the words
……………All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul”
The audience was at a fever pitch and then we all stopped playing except Tony. For the last verse he went back to acoustic guitar. Quiet like the beginning.
“…………………And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead.”
It was powerful. After a moment of almost complete silence the crowd erupted and they didn’t stop for a long time. I can’t explain what it is like to be on stage performing in front of a large audience that’s loving what your doing. I had never played for more then a couple hundred people tops. It is an amazing feeling of excitement exhilaration, and satisfaction. That feeling stayed with me for many years to come and played a big role in my desire to be a rock star.
I finished my sophomore year of college at the University of Vermont in June of 1969. The desire to be a doctor although still present was fading rapidly. I was being overtaken by the energy of the hippie/peace movement. Not to mention my none stop thoughts of quiting school and playing drums in a rock and roll band.
As a last ditch effort to get me back on track, my father pulled some strings and got me accepted into summer training program at Flower Fith Avenue Hospital in New York City. When I finished I would be I would be a qualified operating room technician. Real world experience and hopefully an accomplishment that would help get me a spot in medical school.
I sublet an apartment on the outskirts of the East Village in New York City. By day the streets were fairly ordinary except for the ever present flower children milling about, but at night everything came alive. Oh Calcutta, a show done mostly in the nude, the Fillmore East, Rock and Roll’s premiere venue and the Electric Circus, a first of its kind psychedelic club were just a few of the attractions within walking distance.
The New York headquarters of the Hells Angels was close to the Filmore and a group of bikers was usually hanging out along second avenue. Sitting on highly polished Harleys with outrageous looking babes, they were quite an imposing site. The smell of pot was everywhere and almost any type of drug was available at a moments notice.
I lived on the ground floor. When I repeatedly heard music coming from the apartment above I had to investigate. My upstairs neighbors were a famous rock group called the Mcoys. They were a three piece with Rick Derringer( his last name was actually Zehringer) his brother Randy and a bass player named Randy Hobbs.The MCoys had a number one hit record called Hang On Sloopy some years earlier. But by the time I met them, that was pretty much done. Rick and Randy Hobbs were starting to play with Johnny Winter, a Texas born Albino guitar phenomenon signed by Clive Davis. Randy Zehringer had a drug problem and was floundering.
I was on again with my girlfriend from college Puddie Gleason and she moved into the apartment for the summer. Rick was married and his wife Liz and Puddie became buddies. The four of us hung out often.
Rick and Liz were part of Andy Warhol’s circle and I never knew who I might find in their apartment. Puddie and I would occasionally go with them to Andy’s studio called The Factory. It was a place where all types of artistic expression was encouraged. Maplethorp, The Velvet Underground and Basquet were just some of those who used the Factory to develop their artistic talents.
My training program in the hospital was not going well and after five weeks they let me go. I really didn’t care since my life outside of the hospital had become so interesting. Through Rick and Liz I was being introduced to a whole new world.
My day job had ended and I had plenty of time to hang out. A frequent visitor was Andrea Whips Warhol. I met her upstairs at Rick and Liz’s. She claimed to be Andy’s wife ,which of course she wasn’t. We would watch her parade around the apartment made up like a clown wearing the most outrageous get ups or no clothes at all. Of course she was always stoned out of her mind just ranting and raving about absolutely nothing. Not that we weren’t, it was a big summer for taking psychedelics.
The summer was coming to a close and so was my relationship with Puddie. As a parting gift she gave me four tickets to a Peace and Love Rock Festival called Woodstock to be held late in August in upstate New York. I wasn’t a big fan of large concerts. I discussed it with Cherry and Bat two of my friends from college. When we saw the list of the perspective talent we were pretty blown away. We had no particular plans for that weekend and Bats family had a house not far from the festival A good place to escape to if it really sucked. So all in all it seemed like a good thing to do. I still had one extra ticket so I invited an old high school friend of mine, Ronnie Linchner. He agreed to go and on Friday August 15,1969 the four of us left in my car for Woodstock. That story for another time.
The summer of 69 came to a close and I somewhat reluctantly went back to UVM. My heart wasn’t in it and I was determined to find my way into the music business. I asked Rick to look around for me but I didn’t have high hopes.
At the then end of Church street in downtown Burlington close to the UVM campus was an old movie theater called the Flynn.Some friends and I came up with the idea of using the Flynn theater as a concert venue. We didn’t have much trouble convincing the owner since the place wasn’t making much money anyway. The only problem was who to book for our first show.
I knew Rick was playing with Johnny Winter in a newly formed group called Johnny Winter And. My plan was to convince him that doing our first show would be a good thing for them. I called Rick. He was OK with it but didn’t think Steve Paul their manager would agree. After all it was a small unknown venue in a market no one really cared about. I told him that the band would get the majority of the gate as well as a reasonable guarantee. As an added perk I assured him that he would have a great time since we would provide an ample supply of babes and drugs.
I went to see Rick and Johnny at a gig not to far from school to plead my case a bit more. After the show, we partied the night away until the wee hours of the morning. We had such a good time that I jokingly said they should come back to Burlington with me. Teddy Slatus, their road manager met me in the lobby of the hotel after I left Rick’s room. He looked very upset. I couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong. He said we had to talk to Johnny immediately. When we got to the room Johnny looked as happy as can be. I was a bit confused.
Teddy said “ Neil we have a problem. We have no other shows scheduled this weekend and Rick and Johnny want to go with you”.
Didn’t sound like a problem to me. We had had such a good time I knew we could easily extend the party another day or two in Burlington. Teddy went on to say that he had to go back to the New York City and didn’t feel comfortable leaving them on their own. Rick suggested that I would be the perfect person to look after them. Teddy was still not happy. When Johnny enthusiastically endorsed the idea he had no choice but to agree. So I became road manager/babysitter for the weekend. Little did I know what future implications it would have.
As you can imagine. sex, drugs and rock and roll were the order of the day. The next night I convinced Johnny and Rick to come to a local club with me and jam with the band. When we walked into the club the crowd was dumbstruck. Johnny and Rick traded licks well into the night. Needless to say a good time was had by all.
Rick and Johnny said it was one of the best weekends they spent in years. Teddy and Steve were pleased. I felt very proud of myself. I took good care of them.
When it was time to leave I took Rick aside and again begged him to get me a job in the music business. This time I am sure he heard it with a distinctly different twist. I had shown him that my talents didn’t solely depend on my skills as a drummer.
Puddie was hanging out with Rick and Liz in the city. We weren’t talking much but one day a few months later I got a surprise phone call from her. She went on about how well Rick was doing with Johnny and that Rick was helping Johnny’s brother Edgar put together a band. In the course of that conversation she said Rick had mentioned the possibility of asking me if I would be interested in being Edgar’s road manager. I told her it didn’t really sound like a job I would want and to please remind Rick that I was quite a good drummer. We left it at that and ended the conversation.
A week later Puddie called again and told me to call Rick because they definitely wanted me to be the road manager for Edgar’s new band “ Edgar Winters White Trash”. I was reluctant but agreed to call.
Rick couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. The first thing I asked was to be the bands drummer. He explained that the band was made up of old friends from Texas and Louisiana that had played together for years. So being the drummer was out of the question. He just kept pushing me to take the road managers job.
“You’ll make contacts, meet people. Who knows what will happen in the future.
I said I would call him in a few days with an answer.
I gave the situation a lot of thought. I didn’t want to be in school anymore, my career as a drummer wasn’t going anywhere and here was an interesting opportunity. It certainly was a way to get into the business. The real problem was that aside from the weekend with Rick and Johnny I had no idea what a job as a road manager meant. Rick assured me that Teddy and Steve would train me and I would have no problem. He thought I had more then enough smarts to do a great job. With a bit of reluctance and a lot of excitement I walked out of college and took the gig.