In mid-1973 my first wife - and Bonkeenies of America keyboardist - Arlene (lots more about her as these things progress) were living in a little one-bedroom cottage behind an old apartment building in a marginal part of Oakland. She was attending Mills (an oddly pastoral women's college right in the middle of town) and I was lazing through my first of two aimless years at the local J.C. and we both worked at a local pizzeria. The Bonkeenies, at this point more of a concept than an actual band, had played our first "show" - my 20th birthday party at said pizzeria - where we performed a few of the Mothers-style, politically incorrect innuendo-laden songs I'd been writing for the past few years to an audience of bemused friends and relatives. Arlene played (surprisingly competent) drums, a high school friend named Steve played oboe and a local musician named Dennis Petersen (more about him later, too) stepped in to play bass. I remember Dennis bringing in his HUGE Ampeg bass rig and I was playing guitar through my little Fender Champ. We had sprayed the bass drum head black and glued on white letters spelling "Bonkeenies of America". Halfway through the set, the "i" in America fell off.
Arlene surprised me a few weeks after the party by announcing that she'd landed the band our first real gig - the Halloween dance at Mills College. We were to be paid 200.00 for 4 hours of music. It was great news, but there was one problem - we had no songs. And no band. The songs I had been writing up to that point - with the possible exception of "Big Ass" - were absolutely inappropriate for the dance. We had to come up with 4 sets of music (it never once occurred to me that songs - even whole sets - could be repeated) and a rhythm section (Arlene would move over to keys to support my barely-competent guitar playing) in about 90 days.
Dennis Petersen solved one problem by not only agreeing to do the show, but also by bringing in a drummer friend named Don McKinney. Both Dennis and Don were a few years older than us - Dennis had recently returned from an apparently rather harrowing tour in Vietnam - and had lots of performing experience. It also helped that they were easygoing, punctual and good players. The other problem - songs - would be more difficult to solve.
I had recently purchased my first electric guitar, a Gibson SG copy, which I could barely play. Arlene, although not a great improviser, was a skilled pianist and could actually read music. I remember taking out our "Motown Complete" songbook and selecting numbers that I could play. We also had a Beatle chord book and the songbook for "Exile On Main Street". We cobbled together a set-list from songs we knew or could learn quickly, but it was very insufficient. I decided that I'd just write appropriate songs to fill up the rest of the time. For the next couple of weeks I proceeded to do just that. Wracking my brain for every song idea I'd ever had, borrowing liberally from the stylings of my favorite artists (I remember being particularly inspired by a Flo & Eddie album) and rewriting a few old 50's songs, I actually came up with enough material - some of it actually quite good - for the upcoming dance. It would have been so much easier if I'd known a few things which in my innocence never occurred to me like people don't really listen and you can play blues progressions, fast, slow and in-between, all night long. I thought people would notice if I played too many songs in the same key!
Fall On Me was one of those things that had been floating around in my head for a few years. I remember walking home from high school singing the chorus. So, the song is comprised of three parts: the chorus, which is basically like "La Bamba" except for that nifty little stop/start thing, the verses ("I remember you...") which I fleshed out in '73 when I decided that this was something that could be developed, and the solos, which I wrote for Arlene to play and are actually the melody to a completely different song called "Burning". The song remained in the band's repertoire through the next year - it's still one of my favorites - and in '75 when I started work on what would eventually become Won Out, "Fall On Me" was the first song we recorded.
G C D G C D G C
Fall on me, fall on me, fall on me
G C G
Give me something to remember you by before I leave
I remember you - you were the one who always stood by me
I remember you - you were the one who hung around
I remember you - you were the one who looked good by me
D G C D G C D
I remember you - you're the one who let me down
I remember you -you were the one who would think of me
I remember you - you were the one who carried on
I remember you - you were the one who said you did love me
I remember you - you're the one who is gone
(repeat chorus yet again)
So that's kinda how it goes. The chords in the solos wouldn't make any sense if wrote them out, just G C and D in various places.
Rockin' at Mills, October 27th, 1973
I've been told that most of songs are about loss and regret. I say...well, yeah....and this song, despite the ebullient presentation, is no exception. At the time I was just writing whatever lyrics came into my head, but in retrospect it's probably about an older woman (a neighbor) I was in a relationship with who very unceremoniously dumped me when her ex-husband found out about us. In fact, this relationship and its rather abrupt ending colored my lyrics for years to come, as will be revealed in later postings.
After Won Out was released we considered putting "Fall On Me" out as a single with a new version of "Ten Years" on the flip side. I remember working on "Ten Years" at home with Arlene on the 4-track. In the end I decided to release "Wa" instead.
After the Mills College dance the Bonkeenies became an ongoing operation - a more-or-less working band, with members coming and going for the next year. Dennis was in and out of the band a few times. Don took his 50 bucks and was never heard from again. The band ended at the tail-end of '74 and in '75 I started work on my first album....alone.
I've just started doing this and at this point I'm not sure how I'll go through the songs...randomly, chronologically.....album sequence.....but I'm gonna try to do one a day while I'm recovering from my recent back surgery. I don't know what I'm going to do about the Le Bonx songs yet, either....
("Fall On Me" was released in 1979 on the album Won Out)