Sunday, December 2, 2007

(part 1) I Couldn't Have Done Any Better Or Any Worse

Tony Alamo

The first time I ever used pills to perform was in 1964 when Tony Alamo was flying me around the country to do live gigs that he never paid me for. He used to tell me they were for promotion, but he was getting paid for what I was doing. We were promoting my record "I'm So Lonely/I Wanna Love You" on his record label, Talamo Records.

I was exhausted and he had lined up another personal appearance for me to do in Cleveland or Detroit, and I told him I was too damn tired. He pulled a small bottle out of his pocket and tapped a couple of light yellow tablets into my hand and said, "take one of these now and save one for later." This was to be my first experience with dexedrine.

I went on stage and got a standing ovation. A drug addict was born! From that time on I began depending on drugs, booze, and pot to alter my condition. Pills to get up, and booze and pot to get down. I was like a human yo-yo, with Tony pulling the string. Always providing the demand to work and the means for me to work it.

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Me, my Mother, and Bill 1948

I Just Liked Music...

I was born in Geneva Illinois in 1945. For the most part I grew up in Arizona and Calif. in the early fifties. I remember listening to the radio at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I'd try and remember the words to all the songs I liked so I could sing them to myself. I didn't much care about anything else except maybe girls. They were a mystery. They always seem to pretend not to like me even though in the end I'd find out they did. I never did get that. I mean it seemed like a lot of trouble to go through considering it wasn't true anyway. Oh well, girls. Ladies. Women. It still hasn't changed all these years later.

By 1955 I was living in Tucson, Arizona and Rock N Roll was really getting going. My step father hated it, but my mom liked it.
He blamed everything he didn't like about us on "that music" and "those people." Particularly the hair. He really hated the hair styles. You know, "duck tails" and the length. He used to tell us we looked like girls "always lookin at yourselves in the mirror."

My brother and I started watching American Bandstand every day so we could see how everybody looked and danced and then we'd copy them. I remember starting to make up songs instead of learning someone else's, so I guess that was the beginning of my song writing days. My brother and I both got guitars from Sears and started learning how to play them. Nothing real elaborate, just chords, so we could play songs. I'd already worked out some doo wop tunes on my mom's piano, so adding guitars just expanded my horizons.

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Later I wouldn't need anyone but myself to provide whatever I needed to stay high. My demand for the adoration of the crowd, and to feel like I was finally important, was all I needed to supply myself with anything and everything to keep it going. It was a dual sickness that fed on itself and just got progressively worse.

I'm sure Tony Alamo, who is now a born again christian, will never admit to his part in the beginnings of my eventual demise. But I've come to know that the world is full of Tony Alamo's. I once spoke to Tony's brother and asked why Tony didn't pay me for what I had done, because Tony was now a millionaire. His bother said, "All that stuff that happened in the past was before Tony met the Lord."

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By 1957 my brother and I started playing at talent shows and at a place called Kal Rueben's Furniture City on Speedway Blvd., in Tucson. People seemed to like us and said we were like the Everly Brothers. This was a big building full of furniture deals and in the middle of the place was a one story pedestal, from where you could see the whole store. We had a couple of mics set up and would sing songs while people broused for furniture deals. Their kids would stand around and watch us play for an hour or so, and the store just kept having us back.

As I wrote earlier, my brother Bill and I were rock n rollers from an early age and I was convinced in about 1957 that I was destined to be a "teen idol" after watching the likes of Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Of course there were countless others, but I think you get the general idea of what I was inspired by. Some people liked science I liked rock n roll.

My mother and step father separated in 1958, and later divorced. It was the second failed marriage of my mother's and was a loss to me. What little adult supervision I'd had became at that point even more sparse. Like a boat without a rudder, I struggled to find my way, as did my brother Bill who, to make matters worse, suffered from mental and emotional problems. Looking back it's hard to believe that when you're living in that kind of confusion it almost gets to be normal. Of course later you can see clearly how difficult it made everything.

It wasn't all that long after my step father left that my mother moved us all to St. Johns AZ. where I was tossed into a small town environment of Mormons on one side and American Indians on the other. Man, what an unbelievable place to end up. Kinda like the deep south in the 50's. This town was split right down the middle and no one was going to give an inch. Of course my brother and I ended up on the line between the two warring parties and tilted a little bit towards the Indians. This pissed off the lily white Mormons to the bone.

We were immediate outcasts and wondered what kind of hell my mother had brought us to. She ended up marrying a Mormon named Francis Farr, who was also a quadriplegic. This town was in northern AZ west of Flagstaff and got bitter cold in the winter. We lived in an old house with no heat just a wood burning stove. You'd have to put wood in this thing the night before and then when you woke up in the morning you'd go light it and hall ass back into bed until the place warmed up enough to walk around in. No shit! It was so cold you could see your breath in the house in the morning.

go to part 2 of blog