The following year at W&M, we raised the ante even more. Seth joined the band, we bought a P.A., added some other equipment (including a new bass for me—Fender white-body blond-neck hybrid of Precision and Jazz) and even showed up on campus a couple of weeks before classes started (hey, if it works for football players) to get our sound honed to a buzz-saw edge. Get this—we even had an equipment truck, a 1957 elephant-gray Chevy pickup with a special box custom-built for the bed.
Waterfall was unique among the bands I’ve been in. I’ve been in groups with better equipment, more professionalism and certainly more pretension. But Waterfall was good friends and brothers, competent, adventurous and forgiving musicians, with enough jobs to take ourselves seriously without getting self-important.
I now will indulge in three choice musical memories that will bring to a close the golden era of my formative years as a rock-em-sock-em demented bass player. These coincide with several things: the end of my college years, after which I aspired to be a professional musician and failed miserably (more in a bit); the true end of the Sixties, as will be illustrated by any reader who toughs it through the next few graphs; and my passage into a state of marriage, a step I do not regret but which certainly took the song of life into a new key.
Number one: Waterfall was the first band to play at the Hoi Polloi, a student pub at W&M. We set up on huge wooden tables because there was no stage. Also, we were keyed up because an agent had come to hear us. We wanted to impress, so we mustered up a combination of polish and abandon that had the crowd clapping and the agent bobbing. The last song of the night was “Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” an old Bo Diddley song; we did the Cactus version. We had arranged an ending that went from frantic jamming to complete silence on an upbeat. Sonically, it was listening to a dragster barrel across the quarter-mile mark, then going instantly and totally silent. It was hard to pull off because somebody was always late or there was lingering feedback or instrument hum. That night, at the end of a performance already heady with adrenaline, we pulled it off sparklingly. The song roared, then suddenly you could hear a pick drop. Silence. The audience was stunned. I couldn’t contain my elation, stuck my fist in the air and yelled, “ALL RIGHT!!!” The crowd, realizing the band hadn’t made some horrible mistake or the electricity hadn’t gone off and that the song was actually supposed to end like that, went bananas. Music has taken me many places during my life, but I have seldom been on a mountaintop like that before or since.
Number two: We played the Hoi Polloi again later in the year, after they set up a stage in another, larger room. It was a wonderful venue, the stage big enough to have fun, the pub big enough to dance. It always made me feel like one of the Yardbirds to play there. During Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” the song changes character, going into an E minor guitar jam. Usually the bass noodles around, keeps the bottom up. But right when we entered that part, my bass amp went on the fritz. Reid and Seth and John looked at me but didn’t miss a beat. Dueling guitars and drums. Without bass, there was an added tension (not to mention our own anxiety of not knowing if my amp could be revived). Reid and Seth blazed into the break, prodding each other with devilish electric pitchfork playing. I tracked down the problem to a bad cord and replaced it. But I kept quiet. Just as they were peaking, and just as the song was scheduled to come out of the E minor jam into a verse, we all made eye contact and everybody—guitar, drums, vocals AND BASS—hit the entrance right on the money. Just as if we’d planned it. With the bass back in the mix, the effect was spine-tingling.
Number three: In a sense, this was the moment our era, the era of college camaraderie musical magical mystery tour, ended. Hindsight gives you a wide-angle view of the past, but I think we all knew what was going on. Graduation was imminent for me, Richard and John, so Waterfall was about to dry up. Reid, Seth, John, me and Pat Graves (no relation), who was a gentle giant of a guy and a monster on the piano, got together for a friendly jam in the Little Theater, site of the Peace Ball two-plus years earlier. The building was mostly empty, and we locked the doors to keep out curious passersby. This was strictly for us. We drank a few beers, played a few blues, drank a few more beers, rocked a little harder, tipped a couple more beers and then really cut loose. Somebody threw out the signature lick to “Johnny B. Goode,” and we were off on a no-licks-barred freight train to musical nirvana. We started wheeling around, jumping around, being crazy, playing with total abandon. Before I knew it, Reid was down on the floor, flat on his back, spinning around, laughing like a loon and still blazing away on his Tele. It was a sight to behold, and a moment to savor. We were drunken monkeys, laughing our tails off, all our inhibitions peeled away. I’m sure it all sounds supremely adolescent, but no apologies. It was a moment of its own, a thing in itself. And although we certainly couldn’t get there from here anymore, I wouldn’t want to try.
That summer, 1971, a new group entered my life, my musical frame of reference changed, and the glow began to fade imperceptibly from the golden era. The group was Yes, and I would become nearly as fanatical about them as I was about Hendrix, though the latter has gained in stature far more significantly.
We were right there on the beach when the wave of the future crashed through. Fifth-row seats at William & Mary Hall when Yes, on its first American tour, opened for—you’ll never guess. The heroes of Woodstock, Ten Years After. I couldn’t have arranged the cosmic symbolism of this any better if I’d booked the show myself. Yes was great, and bassist Chris Squire became my new hero. This was right after the release of “The Yes Album,” still a great piece of music, and they played songs from “Fragile,” too.
Ten Years After? Well, I’d already seen them twice. They were still playing the same songs, and the interminable “Goin’ Home”—their shot heard round the world in the Woodstock movie—was so tiresome that Rebecca and I literally fell asleep during it.
The rest is history hahahahahhahahahahaha. Couldn’t avoid using that line.
The rest is not history, but I’m not telling. A few glimpses, however. Yes raised the ante on technical proficiency until they couldn’t afford their own stakes. The rest of the ’70s—well, what can you say? I saw Hendrix for the last time (summer of 1970, at the Baltimore Civic Center again), grooved on some good Jethro Tull, passed out from dehydration at a Dixie Dregs show and danced in the aisles at a Clash blitz. Imagine that, going from psychedelic to punk in one sentence.
It wasn’t until the ’80s that enough notes had floated under the bridge so people could look back with any sort of perspective on the ’60s. Not that we really can, even now; nostalgia, like everything else, is hyper-accelerated these days. And we Baby Boomers have a pretty inflated sense of ourselves, so of course we drool about songs we cut our teeth on.
Still, just as we need to temper our rose-colored nostalgia, I need to temper my skepticism (otherwise, I’d be pretty hypocritical writing this thing). So, before you pull on hip waders and slosh through my shamelessly literate epilogue/conclusion/aftermath or whatever I decide to call it, I’ll leave you with this:
I now own a Fender Jazz bass with Lace sensor pickups (awesome), a 1967 Guild bass that Jack Cassidy would recognize (awesomer), a Strat, a Les Paul, two Fender guitar amps (one vintage) and two awesome awesome acoustics. Plus a Peavey combo bass amp that goes up to 11. I’ve been in more bands than I can count, and I still hold down the bottom in a cool blues band. You have my URL. Drop me a line, and let’s jam.