Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My First Band: Anacrusis 1977

I remember the beginning of Anacrusis much better than the end. I had been hanging out learning to play guitar for a couple of years with a fellow by the name of Wendell Napier. Wendell could player guitar like nobody I had ever met, and to this day I've not played with many musicians who were more natural than he. We had gotten pretty good at playing together, so we decided to form a band and do a show. All in the same week.

We were picking talent from the neighborhood in which we had went to high school, a little part of Dayton, Ohio known as Northridge. We easily figured Mitch Mitchell as our bassist, as he was the only bassist we knew. He had been playing in school variety shows, and local outfits for some time. As for a drummer, we elected Bruce "Smitty" Smith, an unlikely choice given to the fact that Bruce was a probably the least likely candidate we could imagine. Bruce Smith had an intellect, an appetite for learning that was as big as the great outdoors, stood well over six feet, and must have weighed a good deal over two hundred pounds. A large, gentle, intelligent man-child whose tastes for music we imagined must run towards jazz and classical. His glasses stated that this just must be the case. This turned out to be an inspired call, for Bruce could play the drums fantastically. I'm anxious to hear his recollection of how exactly he came to join this motley crew, as I simply don't recall the conversation or the circumstance, but it must have been a doozy.

Last, but most certainly not least we chose a fellow several years our senior to be our vocalist and frontman. Bob Pollard may have been best known as a legendary high school and college athlete (he threw the first no-hitter ever for Wright State University's baseball team), but I knew him as the absolute biggest rock 'n' roll junky in my world. He was a friend of my brother's, and I owe just about everything I know and love about rock to those two. They introduced me to everything that mattered, and I followed in their footsteps as a record collector, novice guitar player, and wanna be rock star. Bob knew, and he had a secret that maybe not many beyond me knew. He could sing, and he wanted to be a star.

I believe we first called Bob on a Monday evening. We told him we were forming a band, he was going to be our singer, and that we had a show on Friday night. He thought we were nuts. Here's the story in his words:

"Tony Conley and Wendell Napier called me on Monday night and said, "Do you want to be in our band? We have a show on Friday night." So, I go, "No, there's no way, that's impossible." They called me again the next day and said, "So, do you want to do it or not?" I said, "Okay, man, you must have something if you're going to be that persistent." I practiced on Tuesday night with Mitch and one of the guitar players. On Wednesday night I practiced with the other guitar player, Tony Conley, and our drummer, Bruce Smith. On Thursday we had a full band rehearsal and because everybody knew their shit, we had like twenty-five songs. We had them down in one practice. We played the show on Friday, and there had to be three or four hundred people there. We did all covers, we did UFO, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and kicked ass. I've never been so excited about a show in my life. It's been all downhill from there, haha!" ~ Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll, James Greer.

To the best of my recollection, this was in the spring or early summer of 1977. The venue was Brookwood Hall, a dilapidated union hall that sat in a corn field next to nothing, and later became the scene of some of the most celebrated punk rock shows in history. But, that's another story.

We then went on to play a short residency (probably a few weekends) at a local dive called The Domino club, ran by a bearded biker by the name of Gibby Davis. These shows were the things of legend. We were loud, extremely energetic (there was no shoe gazing, that would get a beer bottle bounced off your head), and also, in short order we had even managed to work some original material into the set, something that was extremely taboo at that time. The beautiful thing is that the tunes were good enough that people thought they were just songs they didn't know yet. In fact, I believe we even once played a whole set of our perhaps ten originals (Sonny The Monster, Daddy's In The State Pen, Self Inflicted (Ariel Nostalgia), Fame and Fortune, Status Symbol, Somewhere  Sometime, and a few others whose titles are perhaps lost to my memory).

I believe our greatest night at The Domino Club was the evening that we hosted the class graduation for the Northridge High School class of 1978. Yes, they held their graduation party in a bar. Welcome to Dayton, Ohio, 1978. There were probably close to a hundred under aged kids in a bar, getting their rock 'n' roll on. Did I mention we had flash pots? Yes, we even blew up Bart Hanselman pretty good when he went up close to investigate why one pot wasn't going off when it should. My first wife was an officer of that year's class, and a cheerleader to boot. We corrupted those kids as best we could. Mind you, we played completely sober, no drugs, and no groupies. We were playing music, did we really need anything else?

We did some other shows around town, perhaps the funniest being a new years eve show in someone's basement, who had no idea what they were getting themselves in for, and we wrecked the joint and basically had a paid rehearsal as the guests stayed upstairs cowering in fear. Not that we were dangerous, just awfully loud. Then, there was another gig that we played at an apartment complex swimming pool where the cops showed up, and I swear to God we went into Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" as soon as they showed up.

This all transpired in less than a year, and what transpired to end it, I've never really been certain. I've heard Bob Pollard says that he was thrown out when he wouldn't allow Wendell to fire Mitch. I know that Wendell had issues with Mitch's playing, but as much as I wish I had a clear memory of this, I just don't know. 

Whatever the causes the band had come to its end, and it may have just died of our lack of knowledge concerning what to do next, and how to do it. Hard to say, but I will say that I've mourned its death for all the years since, as it was a joyful experience that I've never near replicated.

Not too terribly long after that, I received a call from Bob Pollard, he had a manilla folder of lyrics, and a handful of original tunes. We got together in drummer Kevin Fennell's basement with Mitch Mitchell on the bass, and we put together a dozen of Bob's original tunes under the name of Guided By Voices.

Many years later, in 2005, Bob and I briefly reconvened our musical partnership as I served as lead guitarist and musical director for a project that released on the record, Lightning Head To Coffee Pot, under the name of The Moping Swans.

I wish I could do it all over again tomorrow, it was truly one of the greatest pleasures of my life, though I'm sure I was too young, and unknowing to have known that then.