Chapter 9: Birth of Waterfall

Chapter 9

            Funny. I almost dislike talking about Woodstock now. I’ve gone through the whole range of emotions with it. When we returned, we were treated like celebrities. “You mean you were REALLY there? What was it like?” It was fun sharing it with folks (a friend of mine at college mistrusted my whole perception until he found out I WASN’T stoned out of my gourd the whole time). Then, it seemed like everybody and his brother said they’d been there. “Yeah, sure, I was there. It was great!” Then they’d say something that made it obvious they really hadn’t been there, or weren’t paying attention (“The light show for Jefferson Airplane was really groovy” – uh, too bad, Bud, but they played in the morning). Maybe it sounds snooty, but it devalued the experience. I didn’t mind that much, just kept my mouth shut and my tickets in my wallet. By the late ‘70s, it wasn’t talked about much.

But as the years have passed and the music has gained stature, thanks in large part to the film, interest in Woodstock has revived. Plus all the anniversaries—“it was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper…”—have made it a festival célèbre again. And so much has been said about it that it’s impossible to provide any fresh insight. The music was definitely kick-ass, and the innocent romanticism was REAL. It was the Sixties giving itself a hug and a goodbye kiss, fading like denim.

(Aside: Recently I interviewed an elderly gent who is among the last surviving witnesses of the Hindenburg disaster—the zeppelin that burned in 1937, depicted on the first Led Zeppelin cover in all its horrific, flaming notoriety. As our communications team at the U.Va. Magazine sat around the table discussing the story, I started chuckling. I envisioned myself—“Ladies and gentlemen, the last surviving witness of the Woodstock Music Festival!”)

So, what sort of inspiration did events of such magnitude have upon our virile young rocker, dedicated to the proposition that loud is better and feedback is better yet? Well, the fall of 1969 held mixed promise. The glory days of the Tim Tyler band were gone—he and Rix Reeser were no longer at William & Mary, and Karen was no longer interested in singing. Needless to say, that left key gaps in the lineup.

Fortune, however, was wearing a smiley face. In one of my English literature classes (could it have been the dreaded 17th century poetry class, bane of all existence?) I saw a face that recalled the past. I recognized a guy I’d known as Pudgy, lead singer in The Delphonics, a successful, talented pop band in Northern Virginia. He’d lost not only the roundish features that had spawned his nickname, but also the nickname itself. “Hi, my name’s Lee. Aren’t you Pudgy, and didn’t you used to sing in the Delphonics?” “Ahem, my name is Richard. Nobody calls me Pudgy anymore. But I did sing with the Delphonics.” Actually, Richard was not nearly that stuffy. We hit it off from the start. He was excited about singing in a band, and for the next two years helped forge musical history among the ivy and brick of Colonial Williamsburg.

For one semester, we kept the music alive. Barely. John Coffey, bless his soul, was still on drums. Tim Auckerman was still on organ, and he provided much of the show. But the repertoire had changed, out of necessity, and the whole nature of the band was altered. We weren’t that daring band of rebellious psychedelic avant-garde musical explorers that had attracted flocks of admirers barely six months ago. We were five guys trying to make it as a band and having marginal success. Practices became just that, only desperately more so because they were so precarious. Some people were not taking their musical commitments seriously, harrumph! The few gigs we had ended up going well, but only by the hair of our hippie chinny chin chins.

We decided to force the issue. Roy said his studies were more important and this wasn’t really his cup of tea anyway and he wasn’t all that comfortable playing Steve Miller, Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk (I told you the repertoire had changed). With Auckerman, I was less than cool. After yet another practice where he didn’t show, the band decided to seek a higher level of commitment and, well, those who couldn’t practice would be asked not to volunteer for further duty. Soooo, Richard and I went to Auckerman’s room and, in a model of clarity, explained that, well, ahem, we had decided, cough, cough, that, you know, since the band really wanted to be a real band, like you know, actually work out songs and stuff, cough cough, and that since he hadn’t been to many practices, shuffle feet, clear throat, that maybe it was in everybody’s best interests, cough cough, crack knuckles, if he either shaped up or shipped out, so to speak. Cough. Stupid us. We didn’t know he was booking it for a Latin exam that had him in a full nelson, and that we were not only interrupting his studies but causing him emotional distress as well. He pretty much told us that if that’s the way we felt, then fine, get outta here, let me study and I hope all your guitars stay out of tune. I’ve always felt bad about that. Sorry, Auckerman.

With little ado, brother Reid stepped in as our guitarist. We were a foursome. Without an organ, our repertoire changed again (can’t light no fires without an organ). Creedence, Who, Beatles, more early Grand Funk Railroad, a little Hendrix, a little Wayne Newton (just seeing if you’re paying attention). Vital support came from two parties: Mom and Dad, who footed the bill for a Kustom amplifier and never once said, “Would you be using you time better by STUDYING?” Rebecca also served as our de facto sound person (“Reid’s too loud, you can’t hear the vocals and the bass sounds muddy”).

Truth be known, the four of us worked hard at that sound, and we actually got tight. We had some grooves that were finger-lickin’ good. We could rock. We could jam. We could even end songs together. We were WATERFALL.

Continue to Chapter 10 …

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