Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter 47) – Band Members Through the Years
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on February 20, 2021
I was incredibly lucky to have played music in the 1980s and early 90s with a wide variety of fine musicians, so I thought I would write about some of them. During our time with the band, Paul and I worked with four different drummers. Charles Ross, who was going by Chuck then, was the first. Chuck was married with three kids. We had two kids around the same age, so it worked well. We had the same sensibilities about being a community, and our families mingled with shared meals and the kids becoming friends. Paula liked being in charge of the kids while we rehearsed in their living room. She was the earth mother type. It was a relief to me that, although I was that same earth mother type, I could now rehearse with my kids around and not have to juggle that with my musician role while I was working. We usually couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter and Mom wasn’t willing to help out in that way, so Jessie and Justin came with us to most places. They even came to many of our gigs. They enjoyed being in the middle of everything. Justin would tire early and always found a comfy out of the way place to go to sleep, often lying on top of our coats under a table where no one would step on him. Like his dad, he loved being on the floor. Jessie was a night owl and stayed wide awake working the crowd and meeting lots of new people. Although they were both pretty self-sufficient, I still needed to be available to them. I became an expert at multitasking. I could be singing and playing my part, while listening to one of my children. They would then patiently wait for an instrumental when they knew I would respond without ever missing a beat. It was a finely honed skill, but with Paula being the “house mom,” I was free to just be immersed in the music.
Chuck brought an old friend of his into the band to play bass. As soon as we had arrived in upstate New York, we’d put an ad in Metroland, the local arts weekly. Although it was a bit of a trek to go to Schenectady so often, it was worth it. We started out with them as Cosmo Rock, though none of us was happy with that name. We soon became General Eclectic after noticing the General Electric neon sign while taking a break during a gig at the Electric Grinch where we explained for the umpteenth time, when asked how we would classify our music, that we were “generally pretty eclectic.” The name stuck, but Chuck and Dave didn’t. A talented and innovative drummer, Chuck eventually had to move on to better paying gigs, which we understood and encouraged. Dave, who was dealing with personal issues, moved out of town.
Paul and I worked as a duo again for a little while. Then, at one gig, we met a handsome young man who kept his cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his white t-shirt. This was Andy Culver. He started coming to every show. We always saw him at other shows too when we went out. He might have been the most active fan in Albany. He soon introduced us to Andy Roth. Andy was a Deadhead and played electric guitar in Jerry Garcia’s style. He was also an artist, mostly a potter. Musically, he fit right into our style and wrote his own songs. Now we had a new musical family. We spent tons of time together, playing music and partying. There were lots of parties where Paul I just played music the whole time. We’d play for hours and hours. I took breaks to check in on the kids, making sure they ate and were engaged then returning to the endless jams. We jammed with more people than I can even count. There were always lots of guitars and singers.
I loved the opportunity to sing harmony with so many different voices. Harmony has always come naturally to me. It’s easier for me than singing a lead part. I can even hear multiple parts in my head at once. I can’t remember ever not singing and learned to sing harmony first. I actually had to teach myself to stay on the lead and not automatically harmonize. Singing with Paul was interesting because he struggled with harmony. As soon as he noticed my part, he’d start singing that, then I would quickly veer off into something else. We ended up having a style that wound back and forth between lead and harmony. We got a lot of compliments on our unique vocal style. People surmised that it took a lot of choreography, but it was actually just endless adjustments on my part. It kept me on my toes being both challenging and fun and helped make me a better singer.
Meanwhile our fan Andy, who had introduced us to this crew, kept raving about how we should meet his dad. Andy was younger than us, but not that much younger. We weren’t sure about meeting his dad. We were hippies from the era of “never trust anyone over 30.” Ron was a professor of ecological studies at Hudson Valley Community College. It sounded a little too mainstream for us, but we agreed to go for dinner. It turned out that Ron was a percussionist, playing mostly congas. He also loved the growing music technology and started recording some of our shows and rehearsals both on audio and video. Paul and I were not archivists, except for our piles of sheet music, lyrics, song ideas, set lists and half-filled notebooks. This was a new world for us. Ron soon joined our expanding musical family. This was the core of General Eclectic. Others would come and go, but these guys stuck with us for a long time.
We needed to find a bass player. I met Rudd Young at Hilton Music in Troy when I gave lessons there on Saturdays. He filled in on bass for a while. I forget who the drummer was then. We had different folks drop in here and there who didn’t last long. Not a lot of people understood the whole eclectic vibe we were going for. I find the same thing today. Many musicians have a niche and are quite comfortable in that niche. Maybe I get bored easily. I know that I’ve never seemed to fit into any category whether in my musical life or my personal life. I think Rudd stopped working with us because we couldn’t find a permanent drummer. It all gets a little hazy. We were starting to get into that rut of not being able to book gigs because we didn’t have all of the pieces and not being able to get the pieces together because there weren’t any gigs. Eventually we met John Whipple who filled in on bass. He added to the eclectic nature of the band in a visual way. Paul, Ron, Andy and I all had a definite hippie vibe, but John looked like he was from down on the farm, a clean cut all American boy. He was eighteen years old, with a youthful enthusiasm and full of dreams of grandeur. His musical tastes bisected with ours, while still bringing fresh ideas. He also was a photographer adding another thing that we were lacking back then, photos of the band.
John and I hit it off personally and spent a lot of time going on adventures. Paul wasn’t as interested in spontaneous adventures anymore. He was getting grumpier the longer we stayed in the area. He wasn’t happy with his work, bouncing from restaurant to restaurant. He would start a great job and gradually become disenchanted. I suggested that maybe he wasn’t doing the work that was meant for him. I thought he might enjoy driving a cab. He loved to drive and loved people. His favorite thing was meeting new people and engaging them in conversation, finding a new audience for his bad jokes. But he was committed to being a cook and kept up the struggle. I was not content to give up or give in. John was a willing companion, so we often took off for a day trip to the coast and back. I had already started going to Maine for a weekend once in a while with a friend or two, so I didn’t think anything of it. Apparently, others believed that we were having an affair. It made me sad to realize that I couldn’t have a platonic friend without raising eyebrows. I mean, I love sex as much as anyone else, but not with everyone I know. Some folks are just friends, and John and I were close friends. I still find people to go with me on adventures because my current partner likes to stay at home. The difference is that he doesn’t mind me bringing along a friend. I don’t remember why John stopped working with us.
The next drummer was David Bourgeouis. He was studying electronic music at SUNY, the State University in Albany, and played the electronic drums. We had always struggled with money, never living above the poverty level. David’s economic experience was the opposite. He had a girlfriend who came from a similar background who was also in school at SUNY. I liked them both. They brought a new atmosphere to the group. They were optimistic because their future looked so bright. They had a polish and shine to them that radiated out, bringing us into a new light. We knew David wouldn’t stay long. He had places to go. We knew he would be successful at whatever he decided to do with his life. We met Bob Donald while Dave was still in the band. Although Bob originally joined as the keyboard player, guitar was his first love. Like the rest of us, he liked that psychedelic San Francisco style of music and also loved Hendrix and Zappa. He played a different yet compatible style of guitar. He composed, sang harmony and had similar ideas about being a communal band rather than playing for hire.
After losing Dave, we did gigs without a drum kit, depending on congas for the rhythm but kept looking for the right person. We finally met Jim Sharp. Once again, I can’t recall how or where we met Jim, but he fit right in. He was enthusiastic, and his drumming style reminded us of Chuck Ross, precise while being innovative and fun with the ability to jam. I’ve always depended on that invisible connection with musicians, that thread that weaves through the music. It’s euphoric when you don’t have to think about it, when everyone seems to instinctively know where the music is going. For me, that’s where the magic comes in. I’ve always tried to work hard in rehearsals, being picky about arrangements and tightness so that we can just let go at the gigs and experiment within the structure that we’ve gotten to know inside and out. But that only works when the personal relationships are solid. You can’t always do that with a hired hand. Jim’s friend Maurice let us rehearse in his abandoned building near Menands.
Our last drummer was Mike Nass. I think he may have answered an ad. I often wish Paul were still around to fill in these details. There were so many people, so many gigs and so many years. I just can’t keep track of them all. By the time Mike entered the scene, we were no longer going by General Eclectic because Andy Roth has left the band. He has been such an integral part of the whole scene, we felt like we needed to start over and so for a brief period, unless it was just the two of us, we were One Psy Fits All and added Phil Merens to the mix on bass. We never stopped missing Andy’s contribution to the band, and without his relaxed, devil-may-care attitude, the band became more rigid and Paul, who had the same attitude, had lost his ally. He was increasingly unhappy with the music and sometimes sabotaged the rehearsals in a passive aggressive way. I could see him purposely make the same mistakes or start goofing around during a serious discussion of arrangements knowing that it would aggravate Bob. I think he was trying to add a little excitement back into the band. But I was starting to see the beginning of the end. It was starting to not be fun anymore, and I knew it wouldn’t last long.