The Early Years
Sometime around the third grade, I started guitar lessons with a friend of my parents named Joe Petrone. It was on a small classical guitar, which I still have. Joe Petrone was a nice fella who had wire-y reddish hair that reminded me of a rusted brillo pad and which was in fact, a bad toupee. He had a music shop in the basement of his house in Cos Cob, CT and I still remember the smell of all the amps and guitars down there. I particularly remember a big promotional poster of Robin Trower standing next to a wall of huge Marshall amps. That was a sound I wanted, but didn’t know how to get.
After a few frustrating years of plucking ‘Au Claire de Lune’ on my classical guitar, I was convinced by one of my grade school teachers to play the cello in the school orchestra. It was led by a portly man named Mr. Serafin, who had the god forsaken task of keeping a bunch of 4th through 6th grade kids interested and in tune. I remember being able to sight read some pretty tricky stuff and even taking a solo at my 6th grade concert, but gave it up in 7th grade in order to try out for a drum position in my junior high school band. This gig was one I promptly quit – I swear the conductor was such a hardass.
Sometime around the 9th grade I returned to the guitar after I convinced my parents to purchase a Univox Les Paul electric guitar and Univox amp from Petrone’s Music shop.
Said Univox’s in hand, I turned up at my best friend Paul Porter’s house where the first band I played in, Ludlow J. Poindexter and the Dirty Underwears (named by Paul’s dad, Erf Porter), was forming. We mostly played classic rock tunes by The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and a few cutting edge tunes that our buddy David Dear’s sister (who was in college at UMASS) turned us onto, like the Cars and the B52’s – all very poorly. I think back on all those parties we played and can only appreciate the effort our the parents and neighbors made in putting up with us. Then it was on to a band named LSD which I remember was a short-lived 3 piece ‘instrumentals only’ band that could play Heart’s “Crazy on You” for like 15 minutes or more.
The next band was called Renegade. A truly inventive name, I believe the drummer Brad Dippy named it after a model of Jeep he coveted. That band sort of grew out of Ludlow J. and LSD by slowly ejecting members until we were actually pretty good. The line-up consisted of Will Weisbecker on drums – who got the gig after Brad Dippy didn’t show up for rehearsal the nth time, Rob Parker on guitar – who replaced Paul Porter who was great but could never quite keep his guitar tuned (the big vice grip that hung from a missing tuning peg was bad-ass, but not very helpful), Tony Doughney on bass and vocals – the only guy we knew who could do both things pretty well, and me.
I got my first big guitar amp, a silver ’79 Fender Twin Reverb with an MXR Distortion+. Rob Parker had the same exact rig. In fact, I think our parents bought them together at Sam Ash Music in White Plains, NY. I made matching black wooden boxes with “Renegade” stenciled on the front for the amps to rest on (for ‘the look’) and now we could really rock. I remember one show in particular – I had made a tape loop on a reel to reel recorder of the beginning synthesizer part of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” so we could do it like them live. I swear it worked great at practice. But at our first big show, an outdoor affair opening for some band with really BIG Marshall amplifiers (see below), our soundman Mike Bonaparte must have put the deck on vari-speed or something because the loop played out of tune and tempo and it was ugly. I remember hearing a tape of the show and you can hear my little sister laughing when it gets real bad.
Will Weisbecker recently unearthed a tape of Renegade playing Skynyrd’s, Needle in the Spoon on January 24, 1980 and forwarded to me:
What a hoot. Rob Parker played a really nice melodic first solo, then I proceed to play this ridiculous solo to end the song. I’m sure I hated it at the time, but love it now and would like to think I was somehow channeling Robert Quine, who is one one my guitar heroes and was probably wildly soloing just 30 miles away in NYC around this time.