Saturday, December 10, 2011

John Belushi's Drums

Years ago, prior to my stint with PG&E, a Wheaton College student I had met at Burke's Guitar & Music Studio---a fellow guitarist, vocalist and music teacher, Robert Rose---had a band which needed a drummer for a six-week gig at the Golden Pheasant, in Elmhurst. Needing the money, I decided to parlay my drum talents (I had been practicing for a few years, and had taken lessons) for the $60 a week I could make, which---for a four-night a week gig---was considerable pay back in early 1968. Having played with John Belushi's band, The Ravens, a few times during high school (I imagine Mike Blasucci, John's lead guitarist, was unavailable or something), I knew John had a drum kit. Since Belushi was busy in his acting pursuits at that time, he lent me his drums for the gig. I auditioned by playing a dance at Wheaton North High School, with Rose's group "Omega", and made the cut.

About three weeks into the Pheasant gig, as we lovingly knew it, it became obvious that my talents on guitar and vocals were considerably better than my drumming. I ran it by Rose and his crew that I had a great drummer in mind, if everyone would split the pay a little bit. Enter Gary Maier, an accomplished and locally well-known drummer from my home town of Wheaton. Gary took over on John's drums and, with the money he got during the last three weeks of the gig, ultimately bought them from Belushi.

Some time later, Gary saw a great set of drums that he wanted, and ended up selling the former 'Belushi set' to Burke's to help buy the set he wanted. There was little clue as to how much value, both sentimental and monetary, those drums would have today. Their whereabouts are unknown, at least partially due to the passing of almost all of the Burkes we knew and loved, who helped a great number of local musicians get rolling in music, even when the money for equipment wasn't there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

1956 -- A Very Good Year

It started May 17th, 55 years ago in 1956. The year I fell in love with Rock and Roll.

The week after my brother Allan died, I stayed with my Aunt Evy and her friend Jane. Aunt Evy used to take me to the haunts, bars really, that she and her girlfriends frequented. She would be telling the barkeep about Allan's death while keeping me busy playing the jukebox with nickels she gave me.

I found such joy and freedom that week; it never left me. I could get a 'play' for 5 cents, 3 for a dime and 5 for a quarter. It may have been something like 12 for a 50-cent piece. Rock Island Line (by Bobby Darin, I think), Tutti Frutti (Little Richard), Boney Marone, Hound Dog, Rock Around the Clock and many others quickly became my favorites. For only 9 years old, I was quite the Rock 'n' Roll fan.

Very soon, I began playing Dion songs on the piano and two years later, when my brother Stevie gave me a plastic ukulele for Christmas, I was off and running; playing songs by Eddie Cochran, like Summertime Blues and C'mon Everybody.

The following year's summer, when I went to camp, I heard a big, country style guitar around the campfire. I can still remember the brilliance of the strings and the richness of the tones. It must have been a quality guitar with new strings, as I look back. But that was the beginning of my non-stop love affair with guitars. I had spent my childhood playing the piano, which I felt was the most beautiful instrument, until that night around the campfire.