Monday, October 10, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter One: Genie in the Bottle)

C'MON!
My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -
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CHAPTER ONE
Genie in the Bottle

Four More Years!
1972 was an amazing, yet turbulent time in U.S. history — especially for a wide-eyed, 10-year-old, Midwestern church boy. Amid escalating Vietnam War protests and the brewing Watergate break-in scandal, Americans voted overwhelmingly to give President Richard Nixon "Four More Years." Little did we know that Nixon's triumphant second term would end in disgrace lasting only two more years. The Godfather was the top-grossing film of 1972, while the controversial, groundbreaking new sitcom, All in the Family, was the #1-rated T.V. show. And The Rolling Stones scored BIG with Exile on Main St.

I was raised in a strict, Bible-believing, Christian environment. In 1972, my family attended as many as three church services a week  I was even baptized that summer. And my conservative parents, Chuck and Barb, never would have allowed worldly rock and roll records in their home. As a result, the popular music I first was introduced to by my older sister, Debbie, was the product of wholesome artists of the day, such as The Monkees, The Osmonds and The Carpenters. Yeah, I said it  THE CARPENTERS!

My introduction to the world of rock and roll was certainly innocent. However, over the next 35 years, I would experience first-hand the dark, harsh and sometimes heartbreaking realities of the music business — greed, egos, dishonesty, addictions  and even some really bad stuff too!

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Thank God I’m a Country Boy
Although I was born in Chicago, I was raised in Springfield, Missouri  the “Queen City,” located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. My mom and dad’s sides of the family were both from Tennessee. As a kid, I spent many summers on various farms, visiting aunts who never missed a church service and prided themselves on their fried okra and homemade peach cobbler, and uncles who grew beans, wore (only) bibbed overalls and chewed lots of Red Man. I’ve experienced using a cane pole down at the ol’ fishin’ hole and I have personal knowledge of outhouses. I even know exactly how far “yonder” is. Simply put  I am a country boy, at heart.

My Tennessee kinfolk were the most
genuine, down-home people I've ever known.
(Circa '72)
In addition to my sister exposing me to her pop record collection, country music was also a major part of my early music experience. Not the generic, watered-down twangy-pop version of country music popularized by the “Carries,” “Zacs” and “Taylors” of today, but traditional country music from such old school legends as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold.

My parents were always staunch proponents of quality, family-friendly entertainment. Given our rural background, my brother and sister and I were frequently treated by my parents to a host of live country music variety shows that were becoming popular in and around Springfield during the early 1970s. In fact, we rarely missed a hometown hayride, hoedown or hootenanny.

Located 45 minutes due south of Springfield is a small town called Branson. Over the years, Branson has become known to many as the “Vegas” of country music, even challenging Nashville for the distinction of being country music’s capital. But in the 1950s, Branson was backwoods country — plain and simple. That is until 1959 when the Mabe family debuted their local country music variety show, The Baldknobbers Jamboree.

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Named after an Ozark vigilante group from the 1880s, The Baldknobbers show was the first of its kind in the area and featured brothers Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob Mabe. Combining down-home music and wholesome comedy skits with a focus on faith and family, the show immediately became a hit with tourists. Imagine a live theater version of the long-running T.V. variety show Hee Haw — years before there was a Hee Haw. The Baldknobbers presented meticulous, well-crafted, authentic onstage hillbilly personas. Yet despite the washtubs, washboards and bibbed overalls, they were actually master showmen and brilliant musicians with amazing business savvy. Chuck and Barb took us kids to see The Baldknobbers several times as we were growing up. Although their “pickin’ and grinnin’” performances were a far cry from the often outrageous future rock and roll stage shows that I would present, my Baldknobbers experiences had a profound influence on me. Their show continues to be a top-drawing Branson attraction.

C'mon, Get Happy!
Another T.V. ratings champ in 1972 was The Partridge Family. The show was based on a fictional pop group made up of three brothers and two sisters, along with their widowed mother, Shirley Partridge, played by veteran stage and screen actress Shirley Jones. Keep in mind, this was back when there were only three networks and three channels  period. Consequently, I’d never before seen or heard anything like this band. Of course there was The Monkees, another made-for-T.V. pop group, and I had experienced The Baldknobbers show, but their music and image didn’t “speak” to me like The Partridge Family.

The band was fronted by Keith Partridge, played by real-life rocker, David Cassidy. He had fabulously feathered, shoulder-length, hair and wore cool clothes. He also played an electric guitar, and chicks went crazy every time he opened his mouth. In short, this guy was a rock star!

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Another alluring aspect of The Partridge Family for me and throngs of other adoring pre-pubescent boys was the group's lip-syncing keyboard player, Laurie Partridge. Played by then relatively unknown 18-year-old actress / model Susan Dey, Laurie Partridge was an exquisite beauty and my first pin-up girl. She was tall and slender with long straight brown hair. Despite being only ten years old at the time, even I could sniff out her intriguing and mysterious qualities  and I was in love!

Within the first five minutes of viewing my first Partridge Family episode, my future was clear  game over. The genie was already officially out of the bottle and it wasn’t going back in. I was going to marry Susan Dey and I was going to be a rock star like David Cassidy  or I’d die trying.

Zoot Suit Riot
My dad has always been very “Opry,” while I’ve always been more “Ozzy.” He takes great pride in maintaining his car and his lawn, while I can’t change a spark plug and most of my sprinkler heads usually are broken. Despite coming from completely different worlds, my dad has been the biggest influence in my life. Practically every lesson he taught me as a kid I’ve applied to my various future endeavors although he probably would be the last one to recognize that.

My dad is an old school guy who grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee during the Great Depression and he spent much of his adult life in the electronics business, working in management for corporations like Motorola, Zenith and Dictaphone. He’s always had an amazing work ethic and a strong commitment to his family. He’s the type of guy who seems to do everything right, while I’ve always struggled even with life’s most menial tasks.

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My dad is actually the one who instilled in me at an early age the importance of being an individual. When I was a kid he would often help me with school projects, making sure they were unique presentations. Whenever we would go shopping for back-to-school clothes or new shoes, he’d always remind me of how in his younger days he had a bright yellow zoot suit and that no one else in his crowd had one like it. Every time I heard this story it ended with him picking out the lamest pair of shoes or most ridiculous-looking leisure suit. “These (insert items of choice) are so ‘square’ Dad,” I’d often inform him. But my passionate pleas for truly groovy shoes or anything other than that leisure suit always met with him encouraging me to be a leader. “Start your own trend,” he would often say.

One year for my birthday, my dad bought me a ventriloquist doll. I can’t remember why. But I quickly became quite good at throwing my voice. By 1972 I was writing my own skits and doing shows at various school and church functions on a regular basis. It wasn’t very “rock and roll,” but it presented me with a wonderful opportunity to create original material, plus it offered me valuable stage experience at a young age.

Performing for my third
grade class in 1972.
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When I was 11, my dad built me a custom bicycle. This ride was “pimp” years before anyone was “pimping their rides.” It was custom-painted and pinstriped with a chopper front end, a steering wheel and a windshield. It also had a fur-covered seat with fur-lined baskets. And with green tires, I could leave signature, colored skid marks down the street  as if to say, “Chris Long was here.”

I suppose I also got my musical passion from my dad. He grew up playing a variety of instruments and he sang bass in several Southern gospel groups such as The Tennessee Harmony Boys, until he entered the army in the early 1950s. Although he had ample opportunity to pursue a professional career in gospel music after returning home from the service, he put his personal aspirations aside in order to provide a “real” life for his family.

I heard Ted Nugent comment in an interview many years ago that he was grateful to have had strict parents. And I completely agree with that sentiment. I didn’t stay out of trouble in my younger days because I was a good kid  it was because I feared my dad’s wrath if I’d gotten busted. Now, many years later, I truly can appreciate his no-nonsense approach to parenting.

Only a fool despises a parent’s discipline.
Proverbs 15:5 (NLT)

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It’s funny, but when I was 19 I knew everything about life and at 49 my dad was (in my mind) completely clueless. Now, I’m 49, my dad is 79, and I realize he’s a total genius and I’m a complete idiot! How on earth did that happen? And be sure that although we still don’t always see eye-to-eye on some things, even as I approach 50, I respect my father as much, if not more, than ever.

If you honor your father and mother, things will go
well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.
Ephesians 6:3 (NLT)

Moving in Stereo
In the early 1970s our house was always full of music. In 1973 my dad brought home our first family hi-fi set. It had TWO speakers, offered AM and FM stations, with an 8-track tape deck and produced stereo sound. It was completely state-of-the-art for those days.

My parents quickly began buying stacks of 8-track tapes by country music’s hottest (and wholesome) artists like The Statler Brothers and Charlie Rich. But oddly, Chuck and Barb suddenly started to become cool. So cool (for them), that they also began bringing home tapes by such “cutting-edge” artists as John Denver and Bread.

Even my 14-year-old sister, Debbie, got into the act by smuggling home pirated tapes that she would buy from music bootleggers at school. This was a very early version of what today’s music thieves call file sharing.

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Debbie was also becoming so hip that she started buying edgier-sounding seven-inch singles. The Osmonds were passé by 1973 and she was now turning me onto grittier music by such R&B acts as Sly and the Family Stone, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers. And I was quickly becoming the funkiest 11-year-old white boy in school!

I Get a "KICK" Out of You
For my 12th birthday in 1974 my parents bought me a battery-powered AM radio headset. Depending on your point of view, this was either the greatest gift they would ever give me or their all-time, single biggest parental blunder. I could now listen to the radio at any time, in any place and if I kept the volume low enough, no one would ever know. My favorite radio station quickly became Springfield's AM 1340 KICK. In those days AM radio was still kinda cool and station program directors enjoyed considerably more freedom than they do now. KICK’s play list combined typical pop hits of the day from such Top 40 artists as Neil Sedaka and Olivia Newton-John along with more FM-oriented artists like Grand Funk Railroad and The Doobie Brothers. KICK was also responsible for introducing me to the world of southern rock through frequently played records by The Charlie Daniels Band and (Springfield natives) The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. And it was on KICK in January 1975 when I first heard a song called “Free Bird.” It started out as a beautiful ballad, but faded out more than five minutes later amid layers of soaring guitar solos. And I was sure the DJ announced that the record was by a guy named Leonard Skinnerd.

In early 1975 there was hardly a time when I was without my trusty AM headset. It was on in my bedroom while I did my homework, it blasted in the bathroom while I was in the shower and I even slept with it (turned down very low), buried under my pillow.

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I soon became a frequent winner of KICK’s various listener call-in contests. From seven-inch singles and full-length LPs to movie and concert tickets to near countless restaurant gift certificates, my slew of radio prizes kept me rocking, entertained and well-fed. One day, while playing hooky from school, I scored a complete FREE set of tires for my sister’s car from a call-in contest. Even my dad was impressed by that one!   

KICK DJs Jay Stevens and Peter T. became my heroes. My dad would drive me all over town as I became a regular attendee at their frequent promotional events, broadcast live from various record stores, used car lots and pizza joints throughout the Springfield area. And when I had a sixth grade class assignment to interview someone with a job I’d like to have, my dad drove me to the KICK studio to interview Peter T. as he cued-up seven-inch singles and pre-recorded commercial tape cartridges live on the air. For a young, impressionable kid, it was a fantastic and memorable experience. My love affair with radio would endure for the next 20-plus years.

The Midnight Special
The kids of my generation didn’t have MTV to shape and mold our musical and cultural identities 24/7. We discovered new trends and music artists of the day via weekly T.V. programs such as American Bandstand, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. Airing every Friday at midnight (duh!) on NBC, The Midnight Special debuted in August 1972 and featured live concert performances from an array of artists as varied as David Bowie, Earl Scruggs, Al Green and Helen Reddy  often in one single episode. Consequently, as a kid I could never hear “black” or “white.” And I never recognized any difference between R&B, country or rock. All I heard was music. And to this day my personal iPod can shuffle randomly from Marvin Gaye to Loretta Lynn to Motörhead to Buddy Guy without me noticing any difference in the genres.

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I made many life-changing musical discoveries via The Midnight Special. I can recall the show’s announcer, legendary radio personality Wolfman Jack, introducing a beautiful brunette singer during one particular episode in early 1975. The petite bombshell with a huge voice who completely rocked my world was Linda Ronstadt. Although she would go on to become one of rock’s all-time best-selling female artists, Ronstadt was only starting to break out at that time. As she belted out the lyrics to her then current fiery breakup hit “You’re No Good,” I instantly knew that Laurie Partridge had been replaced. Linda Ronstadt was now my one true love. And I knew she was destined to fall in love with me too. After all, I was a dashing 12-year-old with an awesome bike! How could she possibly refuse me?

I Slept with Brad Pitt – TWICE!
From October 1967 to May 1975 I lived at 703 Katella in Springfield. During this time I attended school one block down the street from my house at Horace Mann Elementary. Just as on T.V., I lived a wholesome life that mirrored practically any episode of Leave it to Beaver. I also was seemingly a clone of the nerdy pre-teenage character, Ernie Douglas, from the popular sitcom My Three Sons, a ratings winner during the 1960s and early 1970s. Hang on, it gets worse. I somehow became so politically charged at an early age that during the time of the 1972 presidential campaign, while my friends were collecting football and baseball trading cards, I was collecting presidential trading cards. At the age of 10, I had all of the U.S. presidents committed to memory  in order. I was such a freak of nature that my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Page, would frequently parade me in front of the class to show off my little “trick” for various school administrators. Yeah, I was (am) a complete dork. However, despite being hopelessly uncool, I did have a very cool friend.

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If you went down a block or two from my house on Katella, took a right on Broadway, then a left on Primrose, you would have been at the Pitt residence. Yes, THE Pitt residence!

Brad Pitt wasn’t someone who I kinda knew and now conveniently remember, given his incredible Hollywood success. Brad and I were actually childhood buddies. In fact, he even attended my 12th birthday sleepover party in December 1974 (the night I received the AM radio headset).

There are lots of things I remember about Brad growing up in the 1970s. I vividly remember his mom, his younger brother Doug and his sister Julie. I also remember that as kids, Brad’s friends were never allowed actually to enter the Pitt home. We always had to play outside in their yard or at one of our other friends’ houses. One day while playing with Brad on his family’s porch, his mom opened the front door and for a brief moment, I got a quick glimpse inside of the pristine Pitt palace. I remember seeing a beautifully furnished, immaculate living room with white shag carpet and lots of decorative (and breakable) glass fixtures. Even as a dumb kid, it was clear to me why the inside of Brad’s house was off limits to us ragamuffins.

After becoming disenchanted with the electronics business, my dad accepted an offer from my Uncle Bill in March of 1975 to become a partner in his Florida chemical business. As my family prepared to move to Orlando in May, my mom allowed me to have a going-away sleepover party. She didn’t want a houseful of kids running around so I was allowed to only invite my three best friends from school: Joe Deskin, Kerry Middleton and Brad Pitt.

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My sleepover parties were typically routine affairs. My pals and I would stay up late with our sleeping bags lined up on my parents’ living room floor, playing cards and listening to records. Inevitably we would end up around 4AM sitting on the kitchen floor, devouring Freakies breakfast cereal, talking about school, little league and of course our favorite subject  girls.

I recall hearing rumors circulating in the late 1980s among some of my childhood friends that Brad had moved to Hollywood and landed a couple of T.V. appearances. Then the movie Thelma & Louise hit theaters in 1991 and soon Brad Pitt would become a household name.

As his Hollywood star was rising in the mid 1990s, Brad developed a reputation for being a dark and mysterious loner  a bad boy. This was hilarious to me because the Brad Pitt I knew had always been an outgoing chick magnet. In fact, he was Student Council President in the sixth grade at Horace Mann. As kids, my buddies and I would become annoyed when Brad would show up at our local roller rink, Skateland, on Friday nights. We knew none of us stood a chance with any of the little girls from school as long as Brad was hanging around.

My mom got a kick out of Brad’s notoriety. She would often boast to friends that People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” used to sleep on her living room floor  in his underwear!

I remember Brad and I hanging out in my parents’ living room on the morning following my going-away party in 1975. It was like a scene right out of the 1980s T.V. show, The Wonder Years. As we listened to Alice Cooper’sOnly Women Bleed” playing on KICK, it finally started to sink in that in just a few days I actually would be moving away to Florida and that I’d probably never see Brad again. In fact, my whole life was about to change and my Leave it to Beaver days would soon be gone forever.

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Read C'MON! in it's entirety 
HERE

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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