Friday, August 26, 2011

There Ain't No Way

Arlene and I worked at a dive in Oakland's Laurel district called Pizon's Pizza. It was a little corner restaurant that served your basic Italian entrees - Ravioli and Spaghetti - and, of course, pizza. I was the cook and Arlene was the waitress. It was 1974. I got my job there through Chris Troelson who would eventually be the original recordist  for the Won Out sessions. Chris moved on to a "real" job and suggested me as his replacement. The gas station I was working at had just closed and I was at loose ends. I still remember the sign outside - now long gone - a gigantic guy with wild blonde hair, sunglasses and 3/4 legth pants doing some kind of weird dance while holding a sickly-looking pizza. The building now houses a nail salon. The dining room was small and musty with booths along two walls and several tables covered with plastic red-and-white checkered tablecloths. There was a bar where patrons could sit and have a beer if they weren't there for dinner. There was a TV mounted in one of the corners but we never turned it on - it may not have worked. There was a little speaker attached to the wall above the door that I hooked up to a little cassette player so the diners could hear my newest Frank Zappa records. It was a funky little place that was very popular with the locals. Needless to say, the place became the hangout spot for the Bonkeenies. In fact we met drummer Rick Johnson there. He wandered in one day for dinner and we started talking about music. Turned out he was a drummer looking for a band and we were a band looking for a drummer. Bass player Jeff Busby would
come in for a free dinner and amaze the patrons with his (actually pretty amazing) card tricks. Steve Hanamura was there a lot and my sister Olga worked the tables with Arlene that summer. The band even practiced there for a while. It was a LOT of fun.

There was a jukebox on the corner that was full of old country and western music - Buck Owens, Ferlin Husky, Patsy Cline and Tom T. Hall were all featured. We had a pile of quarters in the register that had been daubed with red nail polish to use to play records. When we emptied the coin box at the end of the evening we'd just return the marked quarters to the register. This way, when we weren't playing casettes through our jury-rigged sound system we could keep the joint jumpin' with country hits from the 50's and 60's. I specifically remember hearing "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" and "She Thinks I Still Care" for the first time on that juk box. I came away from that job a big fan of country music from that era. Mixed in with the country hits were a few  more contemporary tunes, one of which was "There Ain't No Way" a song by a popular country-rock artist who went by the name of Lobo. Lobo (real name: Kent LaVoi. Yeah, I'd change my name, too) had had a few hit singles,  like "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo", "I'd Love You to Want Me" and "How Can I Tell Her" - execrable soft-rock ditties that made Bread sound gritty by comparison (no, not bread, the food. There was an insanely popular soft-rock group in the 70's with that name). I was not a fan. "There Ain't No Way", however, was a good song. It wasn't a big hit - I'd never heard it on the radio - and that was probably a good thing. There was something about the song that appealed to me and the other Bonkeenies.  I remember Greg and I sitting by the jukebox with our guitars, plunking in red quarter after red quarter, playing the song over and over to get the chords (there was no internet - no "A-Z Chords Index" or or whatever - we had to figure the chord out on our own). The song became part of the band's repertoire. I even considered in for Won Out. I still occasionally bring the song out with the Backorders.

The Bonkeenies pose on the sidewalk in front of Pizon's - February, 1974
l-r Olga, Greg, Sparky, Arlene, Rick, Jeff

4 years later, working on Le Bonx, I had decided that the album would need a cover tune or two - songs by other artists - done punk-jazz style. We could play "There Ain't No Way" with our eyes closed, so that's essentially what we did. When the Bonkeenies were playing the songs we always stuck pretty close to the original arrangement. It was a good, solid country-rock tune that suited that band perfectly. For Le Bonx, however, we took great liberties with tempo, structure, lyrics...well, everything. We essentially took it outside and beat the crap out of it. It's one of my favorite cuts on the album. As with the other "cover" song, the 50's ballad "Silhouettes", Arlene played it pretty straight, Norman's bass is a little loopy, the drums sound like they're being played by a drug-addled chimp and my vocal brings to mind a carnival barker at the county fair of the insane.

Lobo, who hasn't had a hit since the 70's, apparently retired for a couple of decades (kinda like me except he had hit records) but is now recording and performing again (again, kinda like me), mostly in the Far East where he has always been popular (again, oddly enough, kinda like me - I have fans in Japan and Korea!). I doubt he's ever heard my "interpretation" of his song and I doubt he'd appreciate it if he did, but you never know.

At the beginning of 1974 I was working at Pizon's, halfheartedly attending Junior College, living with Arlene in  one of the many little cottages we always managed to find and playing in what I've always considered to be the classic line-up of Bonkeenies. By the end of that year the band was no more, I was working for the phone company (where I met Nancy) and preparing to begin work on what would eventually become Won Out. It was an interesting, crazy year and things were about to get a lot crazier and a heck of a lot more interesting.

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