The Greatest Story Never Told. Part Deux et Demi …
‘Say Hello …’
This was not my first venture into the decadent world of groupies, hangers – on and various forms of life. I have been to a Toronto Maple Leaf game after all …
I have been fortunate to go backstage at a Jeff Healy, Luba, Offenbach and Michel Pagliaro concert prior to this. Although the above foursome are not exactly the Who , Led Zeppelin , Stones or the Guess Who and this was not the sixties – backstage with musicians remains – backstage with musicians! Sex is sex, booze is booze and a few puffs from a marijuana cigarette will increase the urgency to rape and pillage small bags of potato chips.
Brian Greenway appeared to be holding center court as I entered the crowded room. The space was no larger than the den of a suburban bungalow and the ‘disciples’ surrounded Brian as he preached the ‘word of Rock ‘. I neared the aging guitarist to get a feel for the discussion and to open the opportunity of introducing myself to this man of wealth and taste. The gist of his conversation lay somewhere between the past and future as Greenway did his best to erect a bridge between the generations that stood before him.
I listened for a bit. He spun tales of debauchery – details of which, considered not for the faint or adventurous, omitted on cue. This was not the first time Mr.Greenway told stories of his youth and he was well prepared .
The ensuing minutes passed quickly for someone with an inquiring mind or a penchant for times far away. A diminutive chapter of a rock star’s life was being printed before my eyes. The words of which – firmly planted onto the pages of his fans’ memories. Words that will one day – truthful or not, be regurgitated from generation to generation with additional embellishment along the way.
Speaking with Greenway … Sweet !
When my moment drew near– I approached Mr.Greenway and uttered the necessary introduction.” I am a big fan …nice to meet you …blah, blah, blah…”
Suddenly – without notice, recognition exchanged between the two of us.
Obviously I had seen him many times yet I somehow doubted, in my incarnations as a fan and with my obvious good looks – Mr.Greenway’s ability to siphon my identity out of thousands of spectators in the Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens or the Civic Center in downtown Peterborough.
We departed the room together. Brian tossed variations of places and people my way in an attempt to discover his determination of our congregation. After concluding that a Rum and Coke was my beverage of choice and generously pouring two for the both of us – Mr. Greenway and I concretely stumbled upon our common ground.
It is reasonable that Greenway should forgive me for letting our past reunion slip through the fingers of my mind. The pair of us narrowed the time of our rendez – vous between the years 1979 – 1982. That placed me directly into the era I now refer to as ‘the experimental one ‘. In 1979, I was fourteen and thus began my preparatory lessons into the world of ‘Drugs 101’.
Was I There …?
During that time , in a galaxy far removed from Twitter – there was a band by the name of Sweet…
Ballroom Blitz is the name of their biggest hit and the moniker that most people are familiar with. That song continues to be a staple at parties around the globe and I am fortunate to have witnessed its formative years as the tune began its crawl through the corridors of rock history. Are you ready Steve …? Andy …?
For reasons known solely to man or the group’s manager, the band or several members of – were residing at a house in Kirkland, QC. It was my hometown and somehow (it was the experimental years), I managed to end up in the ‘house of the rising sun’ on an evening when the inhabitants were smack dab in the middle of ‘sex , drugs and rock n roll ‘. As I flipped through my past darkly – I did recall ‘taggin’ along with my niece’s boyfriend that evening. He was seven or eight years my senior and for a brief moment – a huge influence on me.
‘Pete‘ was a favorite of mine. An older brother I never had. He was in a band, he loved sports and most important on the list of Big Brother candidates – he dealt drugs. ‘Pete ‘gave meaning to the phrase ‘money for nothing and chicks for free ‘far before it became fashionable. Pete’s forte, among other weapons, was acid or L.S.D.for the uninitiated.
Mind – altering substances that – according to my Mom, would irrevocably have me behaving as a chicken and thus – launching myself out of windows. The result ? A slow painful death offered from the pavement below. My remains ? Scooped and placed in a bucket for the world of science to dissect and placed on an expedition. ‘A tour ‘ so all teenagers around the globe could witness the ill effects of drugs. (My Mom – if anything , had a fantastic imagination. Bless her depression – era heart!).
Brian Greenwaywas not sure if he accompanied another member of April Wine to the party that night. I – on the other hand, cannot recall whether the acid was pink, purple or blue microdot. So – his recollection of a fourteen year old – strung – out –on – acid was a tad ‘sketchy’ and my memories of the evening remain a bad episode straight from the DVD collection of I Love Lucy . Yet – who was I to argue with a famous guitarist? If anything –Brian’s yarn gave me a new story to tell. After all – tales of moped rides in hockey rinks, runaway bananas and jeans dancing to a Pink Floyd tune on top of a guitar case will only get you so far…
Business is Business
As I attempted to detach myself from the masses (and TimothyLeary), I informed Mr.Greenwaythat I was not just ‘a pretty face on acid ‘and my current incarnation was that of a rookie journalist. I wondered aloud if an interview -comparable to the one my friend was carrying out as we spoke, could very well be on the horizon for the pair of us. He paused and in a way that made me feel unique – he informed me he was not interested. Apparently, the process had run its course in the life of Brian. It was nothing personal (he was quick to point out) and apologized for the timing of his decision. Nevertheless – I managed to spend a few interesting minutes alone with this man. I discovered – apart from the Sweet incident, backstage in the seventies were what most of us had heard and only a few could imagine.
I deposited my email into his hand in the off chance that one day – his mood would be of a different type. I shook the remaining one and thanked him for his generosity and time. I watched with a hint of jealousy as a blonde woman led him out of the room. Their arms wrapped around one another as they departed under an umbrella of laughter.
What Now ?
Standing there – drink in hand; I wondered what my next move would be once I topped my glass off with a variation of the booze before me. In the midst of blending two parts Rum with one part coke – I realized that I had forgotten to ask Mr. .Greenway of his encounter with Mick, Keef, Ron , Bill and Charlie.
I had now crossed paths with two members of a group that had opened for one of the greatest rock bands of all time – the Rolling Stones. Two people that brushed shoulders with my idols and I said nothing!
“Oh well, two down – two to go…” I reasoned as I downed my drink and poured another.
“He Was Like a Marionette! “
Tommy Lee , the one – armed dude from Def Leppard and the ten year old who bangs pots down the hall from me aside – most drummers seem approachable. Appearance –wise, JerryMercer of April Wine lies somewhere in the middle.
When Mr.Mercer is on stage, delivering one of the most recognizable drum solos in Rock n Roll, there is no one that makes a concert more fun and fan friendly. On the other hand – Mercer appears in the image of a biker gone bad.. A shaved head and biceps larger than a small country only lend credence to the type of man that may eat raw meat for breakfast. As a youngster – I recall my original reaction as I analyzed the photo that graced the back cover of Apri l Wine’s Nature of the Beast album.
All of the members – Myles, Brian, Steve Lang and Gary Moffat came across like your ordinary run – of – the –mill rock stars. Myles in a Habs’ jersey; Brian looking every bit the Canadian version of Peter Frampton and Gary and Steve posing in their … well… rock star poses.
Then there was Jerry…
Imposing was the polite way of referring to this mass of drumsticks. He was a cross between Charles Mansonand the wrestler Mad Dog Vachon. An experiment in cloning that included the genes of a Gorilla mixed mistakenly with a mountain man.
An Unexpected Expectation
As I completed my way through the backroom mazes of Le Spectrum– it was therefore with great consternation that I approached one – half of the battery section in April Wine.
Surprisingly – Mercer is not very tall. I knew that television adds ten pounds to whoever is appearing on it yet it was a revelation to discover that any form of media seemed to inject a foot onto the drummer’s height. He remains intimidating on the first encounter – his torso and arms much the same delirious size as they materialize in photos. His chest seemed content. Ready to deliver murderous bear hugs to anyone that tests its strength.
Mr. Mercer was removing the sweat off a well-deserved performance as I happened by the area in which he dressed. Deer – like, I wedged my suddenly small head into his room and in a tone resembling Pee- Wee Herman – I said hello to the man at the rear of the hard driving sound of April Wine. He did not say good –bye.
Instead of snapping my appendages like dry twigs – Mr. Mercer was as inviting as a Grandmother sitting on the porch on a hot summers ‘ day. The first thing out of his mouth was to warn me that he only had a few minutes to talk as his wife was waiting for him. He motioned for me to come and sit while he continued his post – concert procedures. Part of me was relieved while my other fraction was scared silly of this man. I wanted to have a word yet the fear of ‘pissing him off’ and the repercussions that would surely develop led me to a silent vigil as I sat on the wooden chair.
It’s Only Rock n Roll ( but I like it …)
He asked if I had enjoyed the show and inquired my name. Salutations removed – my nerves settled to the point where words commenced to flow in a more natural state. This time – my questions pertaining to the Stones were on the front burner and I was unwavering when it came time to receive the recipes regarding their success.
I informed him of my status as a huge Stones fan and asked him to decipher his experiences with them. April Wine opened for them in 1977 at the El Mocambo Club in Toronto. It was previous to the Stones releasing their soon – to – be number one selling album Some Girls and its release co – existed with Wine’s most successful album – Nature of the Beast.
Mercer was more than pleased to spin the tales of his brush with greatness. He informed me that he did not speak with Mick, Keith or Ronnie Wood. He did exchange words with the Stones’ drummer and bass player –Charlie Watts and BillWyman. He went on to say that the pair came as advertised.
The duos were very gracious with Charlie and him exchanging the names of influences.Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Mitch Mitchell were a few names admired by both. These men were heroes to Watts and Mercer while Stones’ bassist Wyman chimed his agreement.
Jerryexplained that the Stones had a lot going on. There were people coming and going – the members of the legendary band whisked from room to room. In a way – Mercer gave the impression that being a Rolling Stone was not for him.
The sole time that Mercer and his band mates had any contact with Mick Jagger was before the Stones sound check. April Wine were sitting in their dressing room and preparing for the night’s show. There was a knock on the door. The Stones’ lead singer popped in and placed a basket filled with fruits on the small table placed elegantly in the middle of the room. He thanked the band for being the opening act and as swiftly as he appeared – he was gone. Still – Mercer seemed generally pleased that Mick Jagger found the time to do something nice like that.
As for Mr. Keith Richards– Mercer informed me th at various times throughout the day, the Stones’ guitarist could be seen wandering about. According to Mercer‘s first hand account; “Keith was like a marionette! Just when he looked like he was about to fall down – he would pick himself up again! “Mercer went on to say; “Keith certainly lived up to his reputation!”
Ronnie Wood also lived up to his status. Mercer says that Ronnie was constantly on the move – beer frequently in hand and smiling all the time. “He was very much the court jester and if you saw him andKeith together, you could not help but wonder if they were able to perform later on…?”
It was later on when Jerry discovered a tremendous appreciation for the Rolling Stones.
“We (AprilWine) were sitting in the club and watching them (the Stones) get
ready for their sound check. Everyone except Mick Jagger was on stage and it was just chaos! Missed chords, sloppy changes, you name it – it was bad! Then – Mick arrives! He walked onto the stage and said something to his mates . To this day – I have yet to see a band come together so fast and tight! I have so much respect for them after witnessing that! Fun was fun but when it came time for business – the Stones outdo everyone. There is a reason why they have outlasted most of their contemporaries!”
I gained so much in the few minutes that I spent with Mr. Mercer I felt as if I had made a friend.
“Jerry has a way of doing that…” I was informed later on in the two brief minutes that I spoke with the band’s bass player Jim Clench.
Clench was on his way out when I met him in the hallway. At first – it was depressing knowing that I would not be able to get any more Stones quotes. Then I realized that Clench was not with the band at the El Mocambo gig. He had quit the band in the seventies and after stints with Randy Bachman’s group BTO and an appearnce on Brian Adams’ debut album – Jim re – joined Wine in their newest incarnation. Little was I aware – ten short years after meeting the man – Jim Clench would be dead from lung cancer at the age of sixty – one.
I found my friend sitting outside the club and we exchanged stories over a few drinks at another bar. By the time I got home- the kids were crying and not even Muddy could soothe their woes. It wassix o’clockwhen my eyes shut and in three short hours – I would have to go to work.
Somehow – it all seemed worth it …