Monday, October 31, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Four: Trial and Error)

C'MON!
My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -

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Greetings, and welcome to the latest installment of the FREE online 5th Anniversary Edition of my book, C'MON! — My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation.

When I sat down to write C'MON! in 2011, I had no idea that my first faith-based book, would be so well-received. It's been incredibly rewarding and truly humbling to hear how my personal story has touched the lives of others. It's been described as The Wonder Years-meets-The Wall at a Big Tent Revival, and I'm thrilled to be slicing up this expanded edition — chapter by chapter, each and every Monday through January 9, 2017 — the official five-year anniversary of the book's original release.

Even if you've read C'MON! previously, I guarantee that you'll experience something fresh in this deluxe version. PLUS it's FREE — so spread the word!
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CHAPTER FOUR
Trial and Error

My first KISS concert proved to be such an inspirational experience that I decided to take up the drums and I formed my first band the very next day. I’ve often been accused in life of putting the proverbial cart in front of the horse, and my sudden leap from spectator to musician certainly exemplified my often rushed decision-making process. Except for some occasional banging on Ronnie Burns’ drums, I’d never played a note and I certainly didn’t own a kit. But I was gonna be a rock star and I couldn’t be sidetracked by minor details. In fact, over the next 30 years I allowed nothing to interfere in my pursuit of the rock and roll dream.

You can make many plans, but
the Lord’s purpose will prevail.
Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)

I’m With the Band
In June 1979, I made phone calls to a bass player named Scott Amendolare, and a guitarist named Guy, apprising them of our new band. I wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer, and I notified them of our first rehearsal that I had scheduled for three days later. Fortunately, my friend, Glenn Creamer, let me borrow his drum kit for a few days and I piddled with it in my bedroom for the next two mornings, trying to play along to Journey and Pat Travers records. I had no clue what I was doing and it showed. But that was of little concern to me. My band had our first rehearsal coming up and I knew I’d somehow miraculously become a virtuoso overnight. That didn’t happen. In fact, it still hasn’t happened.

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But Scott didn’t flee upon discovering my lack of musical ability. We actually kept playing together. We soon replaced Guy with new guitar recruits Nick Burnside and Eric Nobles, started writing our own tunes and on December 1, 1979 my first band, Beowulf, (insert wisecrack here) debuted at Satellite High School’s Battle of the Bands. We sucked. I sucked. And not even my best friends  not even Glenn Creamer, could or would deny it. There we were, four kids who couldn’t play  onstage attempting to perform (horrible) original tunes, wearing make-up and matching Japanese-style outfits, among a host of competing T-shirt and denim-wearing Southern rock cover bands. I even set my kit on fire ala-Alex Van Halen during my ridiculous excuse of a drum solo. My very first show provided me with the humbling experience of being booed off the stage by more than 1,000 people. I learned a lot from that gig. BTW  Beowulf broke up the next day.

With Beowulf onstage at
Satellite High School - 1979
I Ain’t the One
Despite my humiliating debut with Beowulf, I remained undeterred in my quest for rock and roll stardom. I continued to network (years before it became a verb), making as many music biz-related connections as possible. Along the way, I met a 22-year-old journalist named Susan who recently had come to Florida from the U.K. and she currently was writing an entertainment column for our local newspaper. Susan had witnessed the Beowulf debacle, but given her passion for unique original bands, she actually kinda liked us and we became fast friends.

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In late 1979 Susan was assigned to cover a concert appearance by a Southern rock act called The Austin Nickels Band at The Joint in the Woods — a popular nightclub in Orlando. Being relatively new to the area, Susan didn’t have many friends on the local scene and she had no idea where the Joint in the Woods was located or how to get there. So, she offered me and a couple of the Beowulf alumni the promise of free tickets and backstage passes in return for a ride to the show. We accepted her offer gleefully.

This journey was a particularly big deal for me and my buddies for a couple of reasons. For starters, standing at a slender five-foot-seven with shoulder-length brown hair, green eyes and a fair complexion, Susan was a real knock-out. To seal the deal, she also had an alluring British accent and my crew and I were young teenage rock dudes with raging hormones. In fact, Susan was the only member of our entourage who was actually old enough to even get in the club. I was also excited about our excursion because this was during the height of Southern Rock Mania and The Austin Nickels Band was not only the hottest up-and-coming Southern rock act in country, but their lead singer was 20-year-old Johnny Van Zant  the younger brother of the late Lynyrd Skynryd founder, Ronnie Van Zant, and .38 Special frontman, Donnie Van Zant. In my world, this guy was royalty.

Upon approaching the club’s doorman on the night of the show, I quickly surmised that Susan was experienced at playing the rock and roll game. Within seconds, she confirmed that our names were, in fact, on the guest list. And despite our underage status, we all were whisked inside immediately.

The Austin Nickels Band was already onstage as we awkwardly navigated through the packed club  trying desperately to look as if we fit in. I remember them sounding louder than any band I’d ever heard as they delivered a blistering rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “I Ain’t the One” early in the set.

Following the conclusion of the band’s set, our gang of four made our way backstage to meet the band. With a hub-bub of confusion regarding loading stage gear and moving the equipment trailer, I was surprised to discover that the Austin Nickels’s post-show experience was similar to that of the bands with whom I’d already been involved in my brief local music business career.

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Wide-eyed and impressionable, my buddy Eric Nobles blurted to the Austin Nickels bassist (in a thick Southern accent), “Like, how do ya’ll do it night after night, man?” The rather inebriated musician replied, “Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.” Huh? Say it ain’t so, I thought to myself. I’d only ever had personal interaction with one other “real” band  Aaron. And they were happy, positive guys, fueled by bottles of orange soda and bags of pretzels. In contrast, not only was this Austin Nickels Band member suggesting that his group actually used drugs, he clearly and proudly maintained that they used, “Lots and lots of drugs!” At 17, this was a shocking revelation. But I was sure that The Austin Nickels Band was the exception and that most bands were actually more like Aaron. Stop laughing! I was young, okay?

Within a few months, The Austin Nickels Band would change their name to The Johnny Van Zant Band. Their 1980 major label debut record, No More Dirty Deals, generated marginal interest and after a couple of other less than well-received efforts, the band called it quits. However, in 1987 Johnny Van Zant was brought on board to fill his late brother Ronnie’s shoes as the new frontman for Lynyrd Skynyrd. He has remained at the helm of the legendary band ever since.

Hail to the Chief
During the 11th grade I was playing drums for my high school song and dance troupe called The Ten Tones. Our well-groomed, wholesome-looking group performed choreographed dance routines as we sang standards and show tunes. Certainly not very “rock and roll” to be sure, but the act was a huge hit on the local elementary school and retirement home circuit. Due to our frequent daytime performance schedule, Ten Tones members were often afforded a certain perk that not even many of the cool kids were privileged to receive — the coveted “Off Campus Pass.”

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In February 1980 The Ten Tones were invited to perform at a political rally being held on Melbourne, Florida’s F.I.T college campus. This was during the presidential primary season and the man who was scheduled to speak at the event was the one-time Texas congressman and former CIA director and Republican presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush. Despite my teenage political interest and Bush’s undeniable experience and qualifications, I was somewhat unfamiliar with him at the time. However, Bush had narrowly beaten perceived Republican front-runner, former actor and California governor, Ronald Reagan, in the recent Iowa caucus. Consequently, I was extremely interested in what he had to say. So I remained at the rally following the Ten Tones performance, while the other group members made a beeline to a nearby McDonald’s for lunch and to discuss how they could best take advantage of their remaining off campus experience.

Mugging with a couple of my fellow
Ten Tones accompanists in 1980. 
Although I followed politics more closely than most kids my age, at 17 I had no firm political party affiliation. However, as I sat in the audience absorbing every word of Bush’s speech, I soon realized with great certainty for the first time in my life which side of the political fence I was on — the “right” side!

*Upon the initial release of C'MON! I was contacted by the gal on the right in the photo above — informing me that she'd become a successful Broadway-type performer. She further apprised me of her outrage over my using her likeness without her expressed, written permission. She then conveyed that if I didn't remove this photo from my book, she'd be forced to take legal action. Hence, out of respect for our friendship, I've opted voluntarily to honor her wishes by editing the photo in all subsequent versions.

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After 30 years, I can’t recall any specifics of Bush’s speech, but I do remember feeling inspired by his words. In fact, as he left the stage following his speech, I felt compelled to thank him. So I fought my way through the sea of supporters, cameramen and news reporters that surrounded him as he was leaving the building. “I enjoyed your speech, Mr. Bush,” I announced as I reached out to shake his hand. With my shoulder-length hair and tinted glasses, Bush initially appeared somewhat taken aback when I approached him. However, he quickly seemed to recognize my sincerity. “Thank you,” he replied with great enthusiasm as he shook my hand. “I need the support of America’s youth in this campaign,” he further added while still shaking my hand. “I’m with you sir,” I assured him as I noticed he wasn’t letting go. In fact, he had what I can only describe as a death grip on my right hand! After exchanging a few more pleasantries, he finally let go and I went on my way.

What I remember most vividly about my brief encounter was that Bush didn’t seem merely to be taking advantage of a potential photo opportunity. He genuinely seemed to care — not only that I had been inspired by his speech, but that he seemed honestly concerned about my generation. It was a powerful, life-changing experience.

And the Cradle Will Rock
I'd brokered a backroom-type deal with my mom in order for me to finally attend a KISS concert in 1979. I agreed that after seeing KISS, I’d never again ask to go to another rock show. This was an easy sell for my mom as I would have agreed to hack off my right arm in those days if that’s what it took to see KISS. And I had no regrets regarding our arrangement — until I learned that Van Halen was coming to town a few months later.

In the summer of 1980, the only band that could rival KISS in my world was Van Halen — the REAL Van Halen with “Diamond” David Lee Roth leading the way in all of his shirtless, skin-tight spandex pants glory! Fortunately, when the Van Halen concert date was announced, enough time had passed since my KISS arrangement that my mom’s memory had become a bit foggy. As a result, she gave into my plea to see Van Halen more easily than I expected.

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For reasons that now escape me, the concert scheduled originally for August didn't actually take place until November. I was beside myself with anticipation and nothing was going to deter me from experiencing the (latest) greatest night of my life. Nothing, that is, except for my own teenage stupidity.

Upon entering the arena that night, I recognized a girl I knew from school named Jeanie, who was sitting near the front of the stage. Jeanie was incredibly attractive and I’d had a crush on her for some time. She was not only beautiful, she was also a cool rocker chick. This rather alluring combination put her completely out of my league and I knew it. However, that didn’t stop me from at least trying to connect with her. Jeanie seemed to attend every major rock show that came through Central Florida and I hung on her every rock-related recommendation and observation. When Jeanie told me that REO Speedwagon was one of her favorite bands, they instantly had to become one of my favorites as well. When she strongly suggested that I check out The Pat Travers Band, I immediately bought their Heat in the Street album. Consequently, my heart skipped a beat or two when I noticed her, motioning for me and my buddy, Doug, to come over and sit with her at the Van Halen concert.

Eager to impress my rock and roll princess with my incredible coolness, I thought nothing of taking several hits off the Rasta-size joint that she passed my way, just minutes prior to the opening act, Talas, taking the stage. “Wow,” she confessed with total surprise. “I had no idea you were so cool!” “There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” I replied cockily — trying desperately not to drool on the end of her marijuana cigarette.

As the house lights went down and the stage lights went up, my mind began to swirl and I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of dizziness. By the time Talas was into their first chorus, I noticed the thunderous sound of the band becoming a jumbled wall of mush in my head and the bright onstage colors began to merge into one huge, crazy kaleidoscope-like image. Quickly, I lost the power of speech. Then I went blind. Then I went deaf. Then I passed out. Fortunately, Doug caught me before I hit the concrete floor and he literally carried me through the hot, steamy sea of people and up two flights of stairs to the safety of the arena’s concession stand area. As the cold blast of air conditioning hit my face and I took a mighty gulp of the icy soda that Doug had procured for me, I immediately snapped out of my drug-induced stupor. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together in time for Doug and I to make it back to our seats just as Van Halen was taking the stage. And yes, they were awesome! What did you expect? C’mon, it was “Diamond” Dave in his prime, man!

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I don’t know of anyone who has ever regretted making smart choices. And on this night I certainly had not made many smart choices. Had I blown my sacred Van Halen experience, especially due to my moronic drug use, I’d have regretted it for years to come. Yet surprisingly, it would take several more stupid drug-related concert mishaps for me to “get” what should have been a crystal clear message the first time. As a very wise man once stated, “Why do you think they call it ‘dope’?”

Too Cool for School
I graduated from Satellite High School in 1981. And although I maintained a near straight ‘A’ average during my senior year, my classes were all fluff. I had checked out, so to speak, by my junior year and I just went through the motions as a senior — two band classes, two student aide classes, student government and career English. This equated into five "A"s and a "D" on each report card that year. This was another point of interest not missed by my dad. “One class!” he would exclaim with considerable disgust and frustration. “You’ve got one lousy class and you can’t do better than a 'D'?” But I was going to be a rock star and in my mind there was nothing being taught in school that would be of any future value to me. FYI, kids — EVERYTHING taught in school can, and will, be of value to you at some point in your life. Trust me on this one.

Gabba Gabba Hey!
As a teen growing up in Florida during the late 1970s, I was obsessed with such platinum-selling corporate hard rockin' 8-Track acts of the day as KISS, Van Halen, Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. However, my high school surfer buddy Dave Fife, rarely settled (long) for rock's status quo and he was always looking ahead to what was coming next. And he was an amazing scholar when it came to educating me about a “New Wave” movement that was on the musical horizon. Frequently, Dave would come over to my house after school and bring (vinyl) records by what I perceived as odd and unknown bands — including, The Clash, Joe Jackson, The B-52s, and Gary Numan. One day, Dave played an album for me by an underground group from New York. The band’s songs were fast, short, and sounded like buzz saws. The lyrics were minimal and often rather tongue-in-cheek. But the strangest thing of all was that there were NO guitar solos! The album was End of the Century, the group was the Ramones, and my life was changed forever.

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Containing such classic tracks as "Rock and Roll High School," Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?," "Chinese Rock" and "I’m Affected," the End of the Century record grabbed my senses like aural cocaine. From that moment I sought to buy every Ramones record — even their hard-to-find live import releases.

This was still a couple of years before the arrival of MTV, so when the Ramones starred in the full-length, feature motion picture, Rock and Roll High School, it was a big deal. Hence, Dave and I religiously attended the weekend midnight showings of the movie at our hometown theater / draft house. With its quirky storyline, less than award-winning acting, and amazing soundtrack, the film has since gone on to become a cult classic.

July 29, 1981 was not only the day that Prince Charles wed Lady Diana, but it was also the day when I finally got to see the Ramones live in concert for the first time.

I had just graduated from high school a few weeks earlier and a couple of my pals, Scott Amendolare and Pat Maier, wanted to “paint the town” at least once more before heading off to college the following month. So we piled into Pat’s late '60s, black Ford Mustang and made the 90-minute journey from our beachside hood to a nightclub called SPIT which was located just outside of Orlando. At the time, we had only ever been to a handful of arena and stadium concerts so we were completely surprised to discover an empty parking lot when we arrived at the club around 6:30pm. Had this been a typical “enormo-dome” concert, fans would have already been lined up around the building. We quickly learned that club shows were different from regular concert events. However, this little rock and roll faux pas worked to our advantage.

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It was a hot summer day so we parked under a shade tree on the side of the club, pulled out a couple of lawn chairs from the trunk of Pat’s car and tried to make the best of what was to be a long wait before we could enter the club. Clearly naïve regarding the rock concert scene, we actually didn’t pay much attention to the monstrous tour bus that just happened to be parked next to us.

Before long, we heard a commotion coming from inside the club's rear exit. The next thing we witnessed was the sight of bassist Dee Dee Ramone and drummer Marky Ramone carrying a visibly “impaired” lead singer Joey Ramone from the club to the tour bus. The band members had apparently just finished their pre-show soundcheck and were headed back to their hotel for a little R&R before their performance. It truly mirrored a scene out of their movie. While Dee Dee and Marky struggled to load Joey’s limp, semiconscious body onto the bus, guitarist Johnny Ramone actually approached me and my two buddies.

“Hi, I’m Johnny. I play guitar,” he announced as he shook my hand. Little did he know that such introductions were completely unnecessary. This guy was THE Johnny Ramone and I was one of his biggest fans. I knew darn well who he was.

But before further pleasantries could be exchanged, a guy with a briefcase who I now assume was the band’s road manager singled me out. He had spotted the Ramones T-shirt that I was wearing and with considerable gusto, he articulated his disapproval. “That shirt is a bootleg! It’s no good!” he scowled as he poked me in the chest. “You need a real one.” I informed him that I’d happily take a “real one” if he happened to be giving them away but he seemingly was more concerned with getting the band members on the bus than listening to my smart alec comments.

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Although the evening’s opening act Holly and the Italians were lame at best, the Ramones were, to say the least, intense. They played loud, fast and delivered a blistering set packed with one amazing, break-neck, two-minute song after another. I witnessed the show from what the kids today call “the pit.” It had to have been well over 100° up front where I was. In fact, I actually had difficulty breathing during most of the band’s set and my body was literally lifted off the ground more than once by the ocean-like movement of the almost riotous crowd. But I didn’t care. I figured that if I was gonna die at 18, being crushed to death at a Ramones concert would be a pretty cool way to go!

Despite the departure of Dee Dee and Marky in subsequent years, the Ramones remained a respected and prominent force in rock and roll until officially disbanding in the late '90s. In 2001 Joey Ramone lost his battle with cancer. In 2002 Dee Dee Ramone died under somewhat questionable circumstances and in 2004 Johnny Ramone also fell victim to cancer.

They were one of the most influential bands in the history of rock and roll and their music continues to touch fans worldwide. I sure miss the Ramones.

The One-Stop Music Shop
I got a significant break in my music biz career shortly after graduation when I was hired at The Tape Deck Music Center. For a 19-year-old rocker dude, just out of high school and with no definitive life plan — only blind ambition, this was a major coup. I had worked for two smaller mom and pop record shops around town for a couple of years, but at the time, The Tape Deck represented the big league.

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When I got the job in early 1982 there was only one (very small) shopping mall in town. This was the pre-Walmart era and although Melbourne did have a local Sears and Kmart store, nobody cool would have been caught dead buying their records and 8-track tapes at those establishments. Everybody shopped at The Tape Deck! Known far and wide as “Your One-Stop Music Shop,” The Tape Deck was much more than just a record store. In fact, it was the center of Melbourne’s pop culture scene. From records and tapes to home audio and car stereo equipment to T-shirts, posters, concert tickets and infamous smoking accessories, The Tape Deck managed to cram a supercenter’s worth of sales potential into less than 2,000 square feet. The store was so successful that a full-time staff was required just to maintain up-to-date inventory stats. And in the late 1970s and early 1980s The Tape Deck reportedly generated a cool $1,000,000 in annual gross sales — that’s a lot of water pipes and Foghat tapes!

To this day, I still spot occasional Tape Deck
licence plates out and about in my hometown.
It was during my tenure at The Tape Deck when I got another glimpse(s) into the dark side of the music biz. For starters, this was back when regional major record label promo guys personally traveled to their top-selling accounts, offering in-store play copies of the latest album releases and limited addition in-store display materials. Along with these legal perks also came certain other goodies, transported discreetly in label rep briefcases to shop’s private back offices. Although I was never invited to participate in any of these covert rituals, the post-rep rendezvous jaw grinding, buzz- ing through the walls at The Tape Deck, was often deafening.

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One night, shortly after I’d been hired, the shop was held-up at gunpoint. One of the owners and his girlfriend were ordered by the perpetrator to the back of the store where he locked them in the bathroom. I don’t recall how much was stolen or if the guy was ever caught, but I do remember my boss issuing me a Derringer handgun to carry at the shop while on the clock until things settled down. There I was, a teenage kid, selling bongs and concert tickets, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and likely a puka shell necklace to boot — with a pistol bulging in my pocket (insert your joke of choice here).

And then there were those darn (legal) “tobacco”-related products that we sold at the back counter that got so many people so worked up. Despite public perception, we weren’t dealers. I have no knowledge of drugs ever being sold at The Tape Deck. But we were enablers. I knew it, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be working there for long. I had bigger plans.

However, through the sales of these accessories I could see the chilling affects that drugs have on people. This was about the time that crack was gaining popularity. People who smoked these cooked-up, cracked-off pieces of cocaine frequented The Tape Deck for their daily glassware needs. Beautiful, fresh-looking young girls would come into the shop to make initial purchases with male lowlife-types and within a few weeks they’d become transformed into scrawny, unwashed junkies. I once witnessed a stunning redhead who had also recently experienced a transformation, sitting in a car, in the parking lot, using an item which I had just sold to her. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the shop, watching as she loaded-up the three-inch-long, straw-like glass tube. She took a deep toke and then went into violent convulsions, only to drive away, very nonchalant, a moment later. It was hardcore stuff.

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Lick it Up
The first time that I met the members of KISS was during their Lick it Up tour in Lakeland, Florida in December 1983. After experiencing some lean years in the early 1980s, the group was at the time enjoying some renewed popularity after recently dropping their legendary trademark make-up and costumes. Original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were now out of the KISS picture and were both pursuing dubious solo careers. This finally left Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley free to call all of the shots. And in an attempt to compete with such new leading hard rock acts of the day as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Scorpions, Simmons and Stanley seemingly decided that shtick was out and musicianship was in. The band’s revamped line-up featured guitar wiz Vinnie Vincent and powerhouse drummer Eric Carr.

I was hanging out after the show in the lounge of Lakeland’s Huntley Hotel where I was staying with my girlfriend, Trish. In fact, after a four-year, on-again-off-again high school sweetheart-type relationship, we had recently become engaged. We were also both longtime dedicated KISS Freaks. I never thought I’d actually meet any members of the band, so when they came walking into the hotel lounge after the concert, it blew my mind. I had idolized these guys for years and I planned to tell them all about it.

Eric Carr was completely unimpressed by my revelations. As he strutted to the bar with a cock-rock swagger, he fluffed his huge head of hair and informed me that I could ask him only one question and then I’d have to “go away.” And I wasn’t to ask him any “KISS stuff” either, because as he told me, he was “off duty.” Granted, I probably had gotten a little over excited about meeting the guy, but in rock and roll, when you’re on tour, especially while being cool, hanging out at the hotel bar after the show, you’re never "off duty!"

Vinnie Vincent, on the other hand, was extremely cordial. He happily spent time talking to fans in the hotel lobby, posing for pictures, and signing autographs. The only odd thing about Vinnie (at that time) was that he had a tight grasp on a folded pink piece of paper. At one point he accidentally dropped it on the ground. I bent over to pick it up for him and he freaked out. “I got it! I got it!” he exclaimed as he snatched it up off the floor, once again quickly clutching it to his chest. To this day I still wonder what was on that paper.

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With Vinnie Vincent in the lobby
of The Huntley Hotel - 1983.
(Photo: Patricia Long-Lee)
Then in walked Gene Simmons. To say that he has an intimidating presence is an understatement. Even without his infamous seven-inch dragon boots he still had to practically duck to get through the doorway as he entered the hotel lounge.

I was 21 at the time and playing drums in a promising up-and-coming band called Trixx. However, my people skills were lacking and I had limited experience being around rock stars. So I was taken aback when Simmons completely ignored me and immediately took up with my blond 19-year-old fiancée. He sat Trish on his lap and began running his hand up under her black leather mini skirt while making various sexually explicit comments. Ten minutes earlier I didn’t think that I’d ever be fortunate enough to meet Simmons. Now he was literally seducing my chick in front of the entire bar.

Not willing to accept this humiliation for another second I thought I’d get my hero’s attention by impressing him with my incredible wit. I worked my way right up next to the cozy couple and delivered what I thought was a delightful and hilarious comment about Simmons’ former girlfriend, Cher. In hindsight, I realize that it was a stupid thing to say, but I was young and in my own naïve way I had to make my presence known. Apparently I was the only one in the room who found any humor in my comment. Like right out of a classic western movie, the entire bar seemed to go silent as the crowd around us backed up. I think the lounge pianist in the corner even stopped playing. With one hand still under Trish’s skirt, Simmons made a fist with the other and shook it in my face. “I haven’t had to use this in a very long time,” he warned me. “Don’t make me use it now!”

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Gene Simmons likely surmising how
he could seduce my fiancée just
before threatening to knock me out.
(Photo: Patricia Long-Lee)
I couldn’t believe it. I was finally face to face with “The Demon” and instead of wooing him with my endearing charm, he wanted to knock me out! He then looked at Trish, who was still sitting on his lap, and asked, “Are you with this guy?” And as if the situation couldn’t possibly get worse, she replied, “No. I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

I finally managed to pry Trish off Simmons’ lap and with my tail between my legs, I quietly led her back to our room. I’d just been treated like a common fool by my hero and denied by the girl who I was about to marry. But despite the feeling of total humiliation, my first personal KISS experience only further fueled my burning desire to achieve fame and fortune in the rock world.

Oh Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one
who answers your  prayers and cares for you.
Hosea 14:8-9 (NLT)

Ah, what a profound lesson to learn at a young age — fame equals power, and money equals power. If you possess either, you have a definite advantage in life. And if you possess both, you’ve got the world in the palm of your hand. Strangers will be at your beck and call and you can steal any chick from any guy at any place and any time. And that ain’t a sexist point of view either, folks. I’d watch this scenario of both men and women compromising their values to be near their rock idols play out countless times throughout my music biz experiences over the next 30 years.

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The Yellow and Black Attack!
By 1984 I had worked my way up the ranks of the music retail business and at 21 I’d become a buyer for a chain of independently owned Record Mart stores. There were seven locations throughout the Central Florida area and my job was to see that each store was fully stocked with the hottest T-shirts, posters, stickers and other rock-related accessories. Although I typically traveled from store to store throughout most of the week, I spent a great deal of time working in our main location in Indian Harbour Beach which was just a few blocks from my apartment. The music buyer for the Record Mart chain was a jolly and rather large fellow in his mid-20s named Carl. Carl prided himself on being something of a music aficionado and he took considerable delight in turning me on to some of the newest cutting-edge bands of the day. And it was Carl who introduced me to a band that affected me as very few others had before, or since. And in the process, he inadvertently sparked my interest in an entire new musical genre.

Carl and I were working together one afternoon in July 1984. As he was checking in a shipment of records, he leaped from his work area and exclaimed, “You’re gonna love this. I ordered it just for you!” He then proudly shoved a copy of an album in my face. The newly released record that had Carl so wound up was entitled The Yellow and Black Attack by a (then) unknown Southern California-based band called Stryper.

I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. However, I’d had a specific passion for Glam Rock since first seeing photos of David Bowie and the New York Dolls in the pages of rock magazines that I bought as a kid. And my die-hard obsession with KISS only further intensified my fascination with the glam look and sound. Consequently, the image of Stryper presented on the back of their first album cover was one with which I identified — four dudes, dolled-up like chicks, wearing skin-tight leather outfits with sky-high coifs.“These guys are like Mötley Crüe, but with Jesus lyrics,” Carl enthusiastically, yet mockingly, informed me. I thought he was joking.

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Stryper’s look was every bit as outrageous as any other band coming out of L.A.’s budding new Hair Metal scene and I could hardly wait to hear their music. I immediately placed the (yellow vinyl) LP on the turntable of the in-store sound system. The opening scream and heavy, chunky guitar riff of the first track, “Loud ‘N’ Clear,” was as powerful and mighty as anything I’d heard from my other metal favorites of the day such as Ozzy Osbourne, W.A.S.P. and Quiet Riot. But then, I noticed the lyrics. No matter how we look, we always praise His name — uh, what? And, if you believe, you’ve got to do the same. Wait a minute — hold the phone. Carl wasn’t joking — these guys were singing about Jesus and three of them were dead ringers for my fiancée, Trish! What could be better? To me, this was the greatest thing since the Reese’s guys came up with that chocolate / peanut butter combo.

Stryper was, as they say, “the whole enchilada.” They had a perfect look, a perfect sound and they were right on for God. Soon, spreading the word about these outrageous metal missionaries became a top priority in my life. I personally saw to it that The Yellow and Black Attack received (near) non-stop in-store airplay. In fact, Carl became so annoyed by my Stryper obsession that he’d often hide the in-store copy of the record or play Keep Away, tossing it back and forth over my head to other employees — anything to keep from having to endure the record again. I even contacted Record Mart’s rep at Stryper’s label, Enigma Records, and requested 100 promotional posters — all of which I displayed prominently throughout the store. And my overzealous efforts met with considerable success. Almost immediately the Indian Harbour Beach location began selling Stryper records — casefuls at a time.

I soon became interested in stocking other Stryper-related merchandise for the Record Mart stores. Our Enigma rep suggested that I contact Daryn Hinton, who at the time was closely associated with the band. Although Daryn couldn’t connect me with Stryper merchandise, she did put me in contact with the band’s manager, Janice Sweet. Janice also just happened to be the mother of the band’s frontman Michael Sweet and drummer Robert Sweet. I called Janice in California one night from the Indian Harbour Beach store. She initially was so taken aback by my enthusiasm for Stryper that she insisted I was actually a rock writer, attempting to dupe her into an interview by masquerading as a retail guy. After finally assuring her of my genuine motive, I asked if she’d heard from her sons recently. “They still live at home,” she replied. “That was Robert who answered the phone. Wanna talk to him?” Gulp! All I wanted was to order some Stryper T-shirts — now I was “in” with their mom and my newest drum hero was coming to the phone! Robert immediately had the same reaction to me as his mother and I also had to convince him that I really was just a retail guy who liked his band and that my call wasn’t a ruse.

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Because of their outrageous, dolled-up glam look and often ear-splitting music, Stryper’s sincerity regarding their faith has been challenged by critics on both sides of the spiritual fence from the beginning. After personally speaking to Robert, I can say confidently that, at least at that time, Stryper was the real deal. “We just want to tell people about Jesus Christ,” Robert told me passionately during our 20-minute phone conversation. Although my intentions at that moment were honest, in hindsight, Robert Sweet actually was my first rock star interview after all.

Through my interest in Stryper, I soon discovered an entire genre of music previously unknown to me — Christian Rock. From such harder-edge acts as Petra to more traditional rockers including Mylon LeFevre to edgy, new-wavers like Steve Taylor, I quickly became completely enthralled by these exciting new artists. My high school buddy, bassist Bryan Dumas and I were both so inspired by Stryper that we set out to form our own Christian rock band. Sadly, the only thing that thwarted our mission was — other Christians. In fact, a woman from our local Christian community informed me that if I moved forward with any type of Christian rock ministry I should question whether or not I was actually being motivated by Satan. Wow, there we were — two 22-year-olds, ready to offer a bold testimony for God, and we were tackled on the ten-yard-line by members of our own team. Although Bryan did ultimately pursue the ministry after a few years playing in rock cover bands on the nightclub circuit, I didn’t bottom-out, get straight and speak up until — now.

Twisted Inspiration
After more than a decade of paying dues and two less-than-successful albums, the New York-based, glam-inspired band, Twisted Sister, exploded onto the international scene seemingly overnight in 1984 with the release of their Stay Hungry record. Led by charismatic frontman Dee Snider, Twisted Sister’s outrageous drag queen look, combined with hooky, hard rock anthems and cartoonish MTV videos made them an instant hit with young heavy metal fans in the summer of 1984 — myself included. And that fall, Trish and I made yet another 100-mile pilgrimage from Melbourne to the famed Lakeland Civic Center to see this brazen “new” band in concert.

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What I remember most vividly about seeing Twisted Sister live was not their androgynous look or their iconic music. Nor was it their deafening volume and colorful stage set, covered with trash cans and lined with hot pink chain link fencing. What truly impacted me most was the in-between-song delivery of Dee Snider. This guy clearly was not your typical doped-up, drooling heavy metal frontman. Snider had a message, and aside from a barrage of F-bombs, he was extremely well-spoken. Despite the often anti establishment-type message portrayed in his band’s hit songs and popular videos, the onstage message of Dee Snider wasn’t actually far from the one I had heard at the George Bush rally in 1980 or from the pulpit in the 1970s. Simply put, Snider’s powerful banter bordered on evangelical. I stood on my seat throughout Twisted Sister’s show (lighter in hand), thinking, wow, with a bit of a redirected message, slightly toned-down eyeliner and a less-dramatic shade of lipstick, Dee Snider could be a preacher — my kind of preacher! Twisted inspiration, indeed.

With Dee Snider in Orlando, FL
(1997)
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Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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