I'm going to start this off with the first official Portland Freelancer blogging tease. Something is happening to one of my buddies in the music business, and I am under strict orders not to elaborate, but it is beautiful. I mean it brings a tear to my eye. While the Oregonian has been following Storm Large, who I'm totally behind by the way, I've been tracking this. Stay tuned or stay blogged. However you want to say it. Okay, the gig in Seattle:
I've never really talked about the bass player. This is a fairly unusual set of circumstances. In fact, it's downright stunning in a probability sort of way. When I was growing up, my father worked in government relations for Aramco. Another one of the executives in that department was named George Mandis, and one of his sons was named Bill Mandis, although we called him by a nickname that he doesn't want out there. Not because it's dirty or anything - it's just silly. Anyway, Mandis as I'll call him here, was a few years ahead of me in school, and was a hero of mine when I was a kid. His Little League team, the Steelers, was as legendary to me as the 1927 New York Yankees. He became the lead singer of the rock band in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and I used to stand outside their little practice building in Arabia, trying to glimpse the guitars. I knew in 4th grade that this was going to be my path. I mean it was so obvious to me that music was the best thing humans have ever come up with, so why spend your life doing anything else?
My turn to be in a rock band eventually came and my group rose up. In one dramatic audition that still bothers Mandis to this day, we landed one of the main dances in our little trio of oil towns in Arabia. That was the beginning of our glory years as local rock legends, and the end of his reign.
The Mandis family moved away from Arabia, which to us was equivalent to dying. I mean we were partying all over the world, we were local rock stars, we were scuba divers and great spear fishermen. We were living in an Indiana Jones movie in the Middle East, and we knew it at the time. We appreciated what we had, and were all too aware that it would end. We were deeply nostalgic about it even as it was happening. Just before Mandis left, he made it back to Arabia for Christmas break in 1970. We had our band but no lead singer and Mandis performed with us during that incredible time.
When I was 18, I was in my hitchhiking years, eventually racking up well over 25,000 miles. I even passed through a sleepy little town named Portland not knowing it would become home. I also stopped in Eugene where Mandis was going to college and we stayed up till the wee hours recording rock and roll - tapes that exist to this day. That was 1972, and I lost track of Mandis at that point.
Fast forward to 1988. My band had blown up. The drummer was about to go to prison and the wreckage of my life was dropping from the sky like a wounded bomber. I had made one last attempt to reunite the team in Spokane but that was when we heard the FBI was about to come through the door and the drummer turned himself in. I was at a Christmas party in Portland working as a waiter when I looked up and saw Mandis's sister, who informed he was living less than a couple of miles away right here in Portland, working as a school teacher. Once again we began performing rock and roll, and to say it was therapeutic is putting it mildly. I mean think of those odds: We both had traveled from Arabia and ended up living in the same area. Not only that: He had the exact same kind of Teac Tascam 8-track recording machine I owned. So during the worst phase of my music"career", suddenly this boyhood hero is there to continue with the rocking out.
We go on to form a duo. I teach him to play bass, and I begin playing tambourine with my foot. With the added sound we have enough to play actual parties. Places like Harrington's downtown and the Dandelion Pub.
The only stressful thing for me in this process was teaching him to play bass. You have to remember that was my instrument until I stretched out some ligaments and was forced to switch to guitar. So it was frustrating to teach someone who was a teacher himself, but who didn't seem to want to practice and get better as much as I would have liked. I kept at it for approximately 13 years, and then it became a source of great irritation for me, ultimately leading to the end of the duo.
At this point I fell in with a musician named Tim, who is a force in the medical marijuana community. We met at a party on Sauvie's Island and he gave me his CD. I took the rather arrogant step of putting a couple of songs on my 8-track and then adding electric guitar. He liked it and so I was invited to join his band. This was also deeply therapeutic at the time, as I was pretty upset at how the duo had ended. Tim was all about musical courage. We played one practice and did a gig. After years of playing bass and rhythm guitar, I was suddenly in a band playing lead. That was a tremendous bit of good fortune for me.
We played the mainstage of the Hempfest 5 years ago and every year since. It's quite a scenario. Afterwards you walk away and you realize the sound carries something like 500 yards. Around 3 years ago I had the idea of getting my old buddy Mandis and Tim in a trio. Frankly, I knew there'd be tension as both are lead singers, but I was hoping for 3-part harmonies and it worked. Tim is a demanding perfectionist type and I frankly wanted to see what would happen. Maybe this would override my ability to get Mandis serious about practicing. Maybe the pride-rival factor would work into music magic. It's been three rocky years and frankly the only one who really melted down was me. I told Tim to shove his guitar up his ass one night and I regret it. Tim still harbors great ambitions in the music field while Mandis is a teacher. He still doesn't even think of himself as a bass player even though he's been playing for around 15 years. He's a lead singer.
Mandis agreed to play the Hempfest but it's not his scene. He's not opposed to helping someone medically with pot, but the whole stoned hippie thing, is not something he believes in. So it was
nice of him to participate these last three years. Saturday he was not feeling well, but we went up to Seattle, and took it to the stage again. The problem with describing how it went is that if you do great in rock and roll, you attain a temporary level of coolness that can be destroyed by flaming about how great everybody did. I will say we have had some tragic performances. I personally have done some things at that Hempfest that will haunt me. I mean horrific music where I lost my nerve. Fraudulent singing and playing that sucked. Afterwards you walk around backstage and everyone wonders why you're even there.
Without threatening my temporary cool, let me just say that I have never had less time to set up. I plugged into a strange amp and from the first note the band was...I better not say. Remember if you do great, don't talk about it. We also crushed at the second stage around 6.
Between shows I met Randi Rhodes and chatted briefly. She looks completely different than the woman I had imagined from her voice, and I thought she was a lot of fun to be around. I imagine somewhere back in the Air Force days, Randi might have been involved in some fairly rowdy parties. She sure seemed like a live wire, and I like the in-person version a lot. I gave her my CD of the "Let's Leave Iraq" song.
Now we get to the hero time. Mandis and I have tons of old memories to talk about on these long car drives. Being local rock legends does guarantee a certain amount of appreciation from the opposite sex. He even brought some old newspaper clippings from those days including a picture of the December, 1970 Christmas break when my band backed him as lead singer. So this is a long history and a great thread for me in my life. Okay, so we're rocketing along home from Seattle, and it looks like we'll get back around 10:30. I mean we left at 6 that morning so that's a fairly long day. We talked a lot about politics, oil, the Middle East and our fathers who were great men. So we get within 23 miles of Portland. Let me repeat that...23 miles of Portland, when we are suddenly caught up in a horrendous road work situation, that takes 2 full hours to creep through. Let me repeat that....2 full hours to creep through. Mandis had not been feeling well all day and he was dying to get home. The Hempfest isn't his scene or his crowd and he basically does it as a favor to me. This had the potential to be a major guilt trip. Rather than get snippy about the mind-boggling delay, Mandis switched into a very kind of philosophical mellowness that ended when we had finally made it through, with peals of laughter at the situation. All these years later, that struck me as heroic behavior. Seattle was amazing. I got home at quarter of 1. Who cares about the temporary cool? I'm going to come right out and say it: We kicked ass. We were rock and roll lions. Both my amps I used were snarling beasts that sounded like Joe Perry of Aerosmith. From the first note, we were a force, and without overstating it, the gig this year in Seattle validated not only my life, but all that I hold sacred in the universe.