Deb’s Psychedelic Saturdays – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter 35) – Having a Band
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on November 6, 2020
In 1983, we were excited about our new band. We called ourselves “Cosmo Rock” at that time. Although I had played in various music groups in my teens, this was the first time I had my own band. We had no idea how to run a band, but we made a good team. Paul was always a people person. Everyone loved him. He was personable, generous with his time and resources and had a “bad” joke for every occasion. He also made friends easily. I was almost his opposite. I was very shy and because of that, often came across as “stuck-up.” In truth, I just didn’t do socializing well. For Paul it came naturally, for me it was a job. I was better at the behind the scenes work. Paul went out on the circuit and got the gigs. I made the flyers (with his artistic input) and contacted the press and radio stations. Then together we went to parties and other events, often with our kids in tow. We got some very cool and some very unusual gigs in those early days and beyond.
Paul somehow heard about a compilation album coming out. It was to be called “American Underground,” produced by Mark Ernst. We decided to reach out to him. He agreed to let us submit something. It was tough choosing what song to send. We were writing a lot of songs then, and we thought they were getting better and better. We finally sent what we thought was our best one. He didn’t think it was right for the album. He was going for a certain sound. We sent another, but that one wasn’t any good either. Finally, I turned to Paul and said, “I think we should just write what we think he wants and get on the damned album.” He finally agreed. In about ten minutes, we wrote a song entitled “City Flight.” The lyrics were trite and nonsensical, but the meter and rhyming were spot on. The music was also simple and straightforward. He loved it. The release was described as electronic, rock, reggae, heavy metal, hard rock, synth-pop, blues rock, prog rock, new wave and power pop. That was not us at all, but we were determined to have Cosmo Rock on that release, and we did it.
One time, we played at a Battle of the Bands somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea how Paul got that gig. Paul didn’t know anyone except the guy who booked us, and the rest of us knew no one at all. The other musicians were distant at best, although we tried to mingle. The set up on the stage was weird. The stage was long and very narrow with a slightly wider right angle that jutted forward a bit. That was where the drummer ended up because his kit only fit there. There was no sound check. Everyone just went up and down quickly. The other bands sounded fine, so we weren’t worried. We launched into our first song and realized that we had no monitors. We tried to signal and finally ended our first of three songs early to try to get them back on. We were told that the sound guy was on a break, who knew where, we had a limited amount of time for our set and had better get on with it. So, we did.
Paul and I had been living and playing together for years now, and were so in sync with each other, we knew we could pull it off if only the rest of the band could follow along. We’d been with Chuck and Dave for about a year, practicing sometimes two or three times a week. We were pretty confident that we could pull it off. The second song was going along much better. We were all in the groove when suddenly, the drummer’s stool went over the back edge of the stage, tipping him over onto a table of burly bikers. Without missing a beat, the bikers picked him up, still on his stool and set him back up there. We finished that song and started the next, “Glendale Train” by The New Riders of the Purple Sage. We knew this song in our sleep. It should be a breeze. I was singing along and playing my tambourine when I glanced over at Paul and realized that he was singing the words to the chorus while I sang the words to the verse. It all worked musically, and we knew by this time that most people aren’t paying close attention to the words anyway. Nonetheless, we were mortified until the crowd went wild, and we ended up coming in third. We couldn’t understand why they loved us so much. Afterwards, as we were packing up, folks started coming up commenting on our unique style, even mentioning the drummer falling off the stage and our unique arrangement of “Glendale Train.” We handed out a lot of contact info that night.
The real truth is that Paul and I were both clumsy but were also good at the “save.” I’ve knocked mics over and caught them dramatically. Not because I was being cool, but because I was falling over while reaching for it. One time, at The Chateau Lounge in downtown Albany, Paul lost the strap pin in the bottom of his guitar, causing it to swing out forward and to the left. Luckily, he was gripping it tightly in that left hand in whatever chord he was playing. He just swung it back in again, then stood on one foot, like Ian Anderson, holding the guitar up with that leg and hopping around as we finished the song. Even I had to admit, it was pretty impressive.
We played at The Chateau a couple of times, but mostly we played in Schenectady where the other band members were already established. Schenectady was their hometown. Chuck and Dave had been playing there since they were young teens. We got into a couple of festivals in Central Park and a few of the local bars including The Electric Grinch. One of those nights, this guy started spinning on the floor and doing “The Worm.” Everyone in the band was stunned. Although we crossed genres, we still played psychedelic music, and we’d ever had anyone break dance to our music before. It was a little odd but sure made that night fun. A few months later we played there again, and someone asked us to describe our music. Paul answered, “Well, generally speaking, we’re pretty eclectic.” As he said that, I was looking at the General Electric neon sign and thus was born the name “General Eclectic.”
As I said earlier, Paul made friends easily and, when he could, he brought them home to meet me and jam or just hang out. Most of these folks didn’t have kids, so it was easier for them to come to us. We jammed with all kinds of musicians back then. I loved it. I have always loved all genres of music, though some of it I need to listen to in small doses. But still, there’s nothing I don’t like. We also tried to incorporate many genres of music into our sets. It wasn’t unusual to see a table of punks in one corner, some country folk in another, a few Deadheads sprinkled around, some straightlaced families, we seemed to attract everyone, but not in large numbers. We started struggling a bit to get gigs because we couldn’t be pigeon-holed. In a typical set, we would play jazz, blues, pop, originals, swing, country, The Dead, punk … you get the idea. You might like a few of the songs but maybe not all of them. Paul insisted that we had named ourselves General Eclectic for a reason, and it wasn’t time to compromise our values.
I was all for being an individual and having a creed, but I was also trying to be practical. I was a musician and had been gigging when I met Paul. I wanted to do that work again. Paul was jealous and wouldn’t be fun to live with if I went out on my own. So, we kept going along the same way, writing lots of new songs and finding new covers. Meanwhile, Chuck and Dave were also used to getting paying gigs. They started doing side gigs and liked that income. Paul continued to refuse to let anyone dictate what songs he did, so they eventually, and quite reluctantly, moved on. It was the end of more than a band. We spent most of our time together, not only as a band but with our families. Now, everyone got busy, and we were back to being a duo again. We looked for and found other players but also decided to keep the duo going, taking what small gigs we could get while still booking the band. I kept telling myself that this was temporary, that once the kids were older, and we had more mobility and more income, things would turn around. I knew we were good musicians, but we kept being told that our music was too varied. On the other hand, that same variety was one of the things our fans loved. I kept thinking about our friends in Oregon who had encouraged us to go to Caffé Lena, saying that our music was folk rock. I started pestering Paul about going to Saratoga Springs for an Open Mic.
He finally agreed until we got to the door and saw that there was a one-dollar cover. There was no way he was going to “pay to play.” Although I understood his point, this was Caffé Lena, an internationally renowned folk club. I was starting to get mad now. I insisted on going in and raced up ahead of him. Everyone was friendly. Lena met us at the top of the stairs and took our money as Paul glared at her. We played “No Free Lunch” and “875” (or “The Mouse is Everywhere”). She loved them both and invited us to please come back again the next week. I was thrilled. Paul was not. He refused to pay another dollar the following week. No matter how much I begged him, no matter how angry I got, he never set foot in there again. He was a very stubborn man. That was not the last time I regretted not playing an instrument to accompany myself.