Monday, October 24, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Three: The Initiation)

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


The Initiation

My dad’s partnership with my uncle in the chemical business proved to be a less than fruitful endeavor. In early 1977 he returned to the electronics business and took a job with the Collins Corporation, located an hour outside of Orlando. But he quickly grew weary of the 100-plus mile daily commute and my family soon wound up moving to Satellite Beach — a quiet little community located just south of Cocoa Beach on Florida’s east coast. After spending nearly two years settling into my new school and making new friends in Orlando, I was once again faced with having to start all over.


Surf’s Up!
Monday, April 4th proved to be another milestone in my life as it was my first day attending DeLaura Junior High School. Although Satellite Beach was only an hour away from Orlando geographically, I quickly found the laid-back beachside lifestyle at DeLaura to be drastically different from my drama-filled big city experience at Stonewall Jackson. There were no cops on duty at DeLaura and students wore shorts, surfer shirts and flip-flops to school. I also immediately noticed a sizable faction within the DeLaura student body who possessed a penchant for partying. I was once again the “new kid” at a school where I didn’t fit in, but I decided to make the best of the situation and at least try to make friends.

About a month after arriving at DeLaura, the school held elections for the following year’s student government positions. I discovered that at DeLaura, student government was a daily class and was taken pretty seriously — at least by school administrators. The huge, double-sized classroom was set up in a similar fashion as the state or national level of the senate, with the higher ranking officials seated at the front, presiding over dozens of representatives seated at tables throughout the room. During class, students adhered to the rules of Parliamentary procedure and the classroom was so big that they even used microphones. Despite having been away from Springfield for two years, I was still a nerd and I found this all to be quite fascinating.

26 (popular) eighth graders were vying for the 15 seats up for grabs in the next year’s ninth grade Senate. I realized that as the “new kid” I didn’t stand a chance of ranking among the top 15 vote-getters, but it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to (hopefully) make a few friends. So I entered the race as the 27th candidate. And although I knew a loss was certain, I wanted to at least mount a respectable campaign.


Initially, I expected my opponents to be sharp and astute kids. I later discovered that many were just looking for an easy “A” on next year’s report card and reasoned that student government would be less challenging than advanced physics. But I was serious about this. I spent hours in my bedroom after school, creating eye-catching and unique jumbo-sized campaign posters — typically depicting members of KISS urging all to “Vote for Chris!” Soon, it seemed the entire student body was asking, “Who the ‘heck’ is Chris Long?”

When it came time to have our campaign speeches videotaped to be shown during various social studies classes the next day, I thought I needed to put on an intimidating and impressive “game face.” But to my surprise, I sat there during the videotaping and watched each candidate step up to the podium, one-by-one, look into the camera and insecurely deliver what amounted to little more than 60 seconds worth of verbal pabulum. Conversely, jaws literally dropped when it was my turn and I pulled a six-page, typed speech from my briefcase and immediately began articulating specific details of what I planned to accomplish during my first term in office. If I hadn’t yet established myself as a complete freak in front of my entire new school, I certainly had now. But I needed to make a bold impression if I was to stand even a remote chance of coming in 15th in the field of 27.

As the ballots were cast on election day, I hoped for a miracle, but I’d already prepared myself for defeat. However, to the amazement of fellow classmates, teachers and myself, I came in THIRD — right behind David Fredericks and Shannon Lowe! After only a month at DeLaura, I garnered more votes than that year’s Homecoming Queen — thus ushering in what would become my four-year reign of domination over my junior high and high school political scene.

The “Connection” to Murder
In my teenage days, local record shops were like rock and roll churches where kids like me went to “praise and worship.” I could spend hours on end in any record shop, flipping through bins of countless albums, studying each band, album cover, track listing and production credit. In fact, at 15 I knew the career stats of producers like Bob Ezrin and Jack Douglas better than I knew algebraic principles. This rather dubious distinction did not go unnoticed by my parents. “You can tell me anything I want to know about those KISS idiots, but you can’t pass math class!” my dad passionately informed me one morning after report cards had been sent home.


When my family moved to Satellite Beach in 1977, I was delighted to discover a record shop located right in our neighborhood called The Connection. The shop was owned and operated by a guy in his early 20s, named Steve Harkins. Standing over six-feet-tall, Steve sported a disco-style coif and disco-style jeans. And with his well-trimmed mustache, he looked as if he could have been a stunt double for the construction worker character in the disco group, Village People.

The Connection was a classic old-school record shop, offering LPs, singles, cassettes and 8-tracks. Straw mats covered the floors, rock and roll promo posters lined the walls, and the aroma of strawberry incense filled the air. Aside from radio station DJs, Steve was the first guy I had ever really met who was (kinda) in the music industry, and to me, that made him really cool. And hardly a day went by when I wasn’t hanging out at The Connection after school, talking to Steve and trying to learn anything and everything I possibly could about the business.

But at the time, I was naïve to worldly evils. Hence, I initially found nothing odd about what I now recognize as the obvious sexual advances Steve made towards me. One day after school in the spring of 1977, Steve asked me to come back up to the shop around dinner time, as he was expecting a late shipment that day and thought I might be interested in some of the new releases that were coming in. When I arrived, I discovered that Steve had already closed shop, and he was waiting for me outside. Without haste, he ushered me inside and immediately locked the door behind us. I then noticed that the shop windows had all been covered with brown paper. I also discovered that Steve had not, in fact, received any late shipment. Somehow, he quickly managed to navigate our conversation from the standard topic of rock and roll to body building. He then boldly confessed how “well built” he thought I was, and asked me to take off my shirt. At that point even I realized what was going on and that I needed to get out of there — fast! Using the old tried and true, “I’m late for dinner” line, I made a panicked bee- line for the door. I ran out onto the sidewalk, got on my bike and sped home in record time! I felt dirty and completely creeped out and I certainly didn’t want to give further life to the experience by telling anyone. Consequently, I still occasionally visited The Connection, but never again by myself.


I stopped by The Connection with a group of friends one day in September 1977. As my buddy pulled on the door, we discovered it was locked. Then I noticed a sign in the window that read, “Closed for Vacation.” I thought that was odd as I hadn’t heard anything about Steve leaving town. When I arrived home a few minutes later, my sister handed me a copy that morning's newspaper. “You’re NOT gonna believe this!” she exclaimed. I opened up the paper and there on the front page was a picture of Steve, standing in a courtroom, wearing a prison jumpsuit, in handcuffs and leg irons under the headline, “Local Store Owner Arrested for Murder.”

I stood in my parents’ living room, speechless and trembling as I read how after a nine-month investigation, Steve had been arrested for the murder of a local male high school athlete. The details were shocking and gruesome. I thought of the time I had spent alone with Steve in his store — especially that one particular night a few months earlier. At that point he’d already murdered one teenage boy from my neighborhood, and I easily could have been another of his victims.

Having been found guilty of the murder, Steve is currently serving out three consecutive life sentences in a Florida prison. However, in November 2011, Steve went before the parole board, seeking an early release for good behavior. His request was denied. He will again be eligible for parole in 2016.

The Great Debate
My family attended various local churches in 1977. While my parents ultimately connected with a large Baptist church a few miles south of Satellite Beach, they allowed me to attend my church of choice on my own — a small neighborhood church called Inner-City Baptist. Although head Pastor H.A. Dean publicly maintained his clear disdain for rock and roll, dancing, or anything related to a syncopated beat, I was able to discern between his personal opinions and biblical truths. Oddly, even as a teenager with a burning passion for rock and roll, I could relate to his scriptural teaching and I had tremendous respect for his unwavering, hard-core, anti-world positions. In fact, I still have tremendous respect for him.


I remember sitting in church in those days and frequently hearing how, according to Pastor Dean, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were personally responsible for the moral decadence of the world. Pastor Dean never really explained exactly why Mick and Keith were responsible, but he made clear that they had drugs in their lives and a drummer in their band — which was all the ammo he needed to present his case. Pastor Dean often concluded his tirades by stating that he didn’t have time to fully address all the evils of rock and roll in that particular sermon, but he’d gladly discuss it further any other time with anyone interested in privately debating the issue. So I decided to take him up on the invitation.

My buddy Jim and I rode our bikes to Inner-City one morning during summer vacation in 1977. Resembling Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne, Pastor Dean welcomed me and Jim into his office and the three of us sat down for a quiet and casual, hour-long conversation. My intention was not to be disrespectful, but to merely further discuss the issue. Likewise, Pastor Dean was also very respectful towards me and Jim. Calmly, he began offering a bit more insight regarding his view of how rock musicians and rock music glorified drug use and promiscuous sexual behavior — and once again he placed almost the entire burden of blame squarely on the shoulders of Mick and Keith. I then counter-offered examples of various pop / rock songs which I felt offered positive, sometimes even spiritual messages. I was amazed by how cool Pastor Dean was and how receptive he was to hearing what I had to say. In the end, I think we each had a better understanding of the other’s position. However, these days I realize that he was more on-point than I gave him credit for at the time.

Snakes on a Truck
Based on my continued personal political interest and school-related student government activities, most of my family members and teachers expected me to pursue a career in politics. However, my future direction would veer sharply off course when I was initiated officially into the world of rock and roll in January 1978.


My student government adviser, Fred Perlee, noticed how seriously I took my class responsibilities and recognized my knack for getting things done. As a result, when Principal Howard Hickman approached Perlee regarding assigning a student to organize and promote an upcoming school- sponsored rock concert fundraiser, Perlee replied, “I’ve got just the man for the job.”

Made up of British and American musicians in their early 20s, Aaron was a national touring act, playing popular rock cover tunes. Promoting “Just Say No” and “Stay in School”-type messages, Aaron typically played in various junior and senior high school gymnasiums across the country. An appearance at DeLaura had the potential of being a huge success, if orchestrated properly. Simply put, the job was mine and at age 15, I became a rather unlikely and very young concert promoter.

I immediately printed promotional posters for the event and positioned them prominently around the campus and in the windows of various local businesses. I also printed advance tickets and had some girls from class sell them outside the cafeteria during lunch. Quickly, the word spread throughout the school — rock and roll was coming to DeLaura!

On the morning of the show, Aaron’s enclosed white equipment truck pulled up next to the school gymnasium. In short order I was introduced to the band's one-man road crew — a thin, experienced-looking rock veteran named Bernard McNally. “All right mates, let’s get moving,” Bernard announced to his local crew in a thick British accent — a crew which that day actually consisted of five or six rather clueless ninth grade boys from my student government class. As Bernard swung open the rear door of the truck, I was astonished to discover it was PACKED with sound and lighting gear as well as drums, guitars and stage amplifiers.


“Let’s get the snake out of the truck first,” Bernard instructed. I fearfully thought to myself, what on earth was a snake doing in the truck and why was it our responsibility to remove it? Bernard then ordered me and one of the newly-recruited 15-year-old stagehands to assist him with moving a very long cable that had been curled into a huge pile from the truck to the stage. “Thanks mates,” he said. “I always need help getting the snake out of the truck.” Ah, my first real life, rock and roll lesson. A “snake” (as I found out) is a fat cable consisting of numerous thinner cables that runs from the stage to the soundboard. Microphone cords are plugged into connections at the stage end of the “snake” and at the other end, connections are plugged into various channels on the soundboard. During load-out that night I asked Bernard, “Need help getting the ‘snake’ back in the truck?” as if I’d now become a seasoned pro!

Aaron could perhaps be best described stylistically as a Journey-type group. The members even (kinda) looked like the guys in Journey (circa 1978) and they had the same line-up configuration — REAL keyboards and all! They had long hair and wore cool, tight-fitting stage outfits. They also played ELECTRIC guitars through MASSIVE amplifiers and the drummer had a HUGE kit. In short, to me, Aaron were rock stars.

Aaron circa 1978
(Photo courtesy of Tim Jenks)

300 kids attended the Aaron concert on a cold Thursday night in February. At $3.00 a head, both the school and the band made money (by 1978 standards) and I had now solidly cemented my reputation as the new golden boy in the eyes of the school administrators. I even got to become buddies for the day with the guys in the band. I recall hanging out with guitarist Tim Jenks as he worked out in the school weight room just prior to show time and the guy was completely cool and unassuming.

I also witnessed “bad” girls trying to seduce rock dudes for the first time that night. After the show, I noticed that keyboardist Kenny Hampton was surrounded by several adventurous local teenage girls inquiring as to his “party” plans for later. Heck, even a naïve, 15-year-old church boy like me knew what they were ramping up to. But I was a bit surprised when Kenny informed the girls that he planned on returning to his hotel room to enjoy some T.V., a bag of pretzels and an orange soda. And his plans clearly did NOT include partying with them. He wasn’t rude to these gals — in fact, Kenny was quite personable. However, his position was clear and he handled himself with genuine class and style. Of all the people I’ve encountered in my various rock experiences over the years, Kenny remains one of the most impressive.

When in Rome
My desire to be part of the rock world only intensified following my Aaron experience. In my mind I now had become a successful concert promoter. I had hung out with rock stars, and I knew what a "snake" was. In fact, the only thing I could see preventing me from becoming a rock star myself was that I had no musical talent. I'd briefly taken violin lessons in the fourth grade, but I never advanced beyond “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Ronnie Burns allowed me to bang on his drums a few times, but banging was all it amounted to. So I decided to put my newly-acquired music biz skills to good use and make the next logical move forward — I decided to become a band manager. There I was, a junior high student with a briefcase, sitting at a lunchroom table, brokering deals to bring various other kids from school together to start a band — and I was successful! Within days I had put together a neighborhood supergroup of sorts. Drawing inspiration from a KISS song of the same name, I called the group, Parasite.


I quickly scheduled the band’s first rehearsal in a garage at the home of one of its members and the guys clicked immediately. The band worked diligently for a few months, developing their original material along with popular cover tunes of the day. Before long, I was booking Parasite into local gigs at parties and school functions as well as orchestrating promotional photo shoots. The band was in desperate need of professional P.A. equipment so I also staged fundraising events like car washes in order to obtain the necessary capital. All of this was happening while I was just 15 years old.

As the saying goes, “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” and I soon found myself losing my church boy naiveté and falling in line with my newfound band buddies. In no time I was experimenting with such drugs as marijuana, hashish and speed. Fortunately, drugs were never really my thing. With the exception of hitting the occasional joint now and then over the next few years, my illegal drug experience was limited and rather short-lived. I would, however, get hooked by other wonders of the world later in life.

It didn’t take long before Parasite began experiencing intra-band conflicts over artistic control, member unreliability and who owned how much of the gear, as well as various other ego clashes and drug-related issues. And after only 18 months, the band was over. At the ripe old age of 16, we had already experienced the entire rock and roll “movie” which we would relive over and over until we each finally had enough sense to walk away from that world. Some of my Parasite buddies wised up early and went on to college, got real jobs and started families. But it would take me decades to finally “get it.”

Get a Job!
My parents’ hopes for my academic future were further dashed when I got my first real part-time job in, of all places, a record store.


The Connection had been bought up by new owners and transformed into T-n-T Music Center, and was the area's second T-n-T location. The shops were run by Larry Cadell and his sister Elaine, along with Elaine’s husband Harold Thornquest and his brother David. T-n-T was a more family-oriented version of The Connection and I once again felt safe hanging out there after school, and I became fast friends with the owners. In fact, they were so impressed by my wealth of music knowledge, they offered me a part-time job in the summer of 1978, working as a clerk on Saturdays and a couple of afternoons each week after school. I only earned about $25 a week, but in those days, that wasn’t bad scratch for a kid. And although I spent much of my time at T-n-T merely doing inventory and washing windows, I didn’t care — I was now working in the music business!

My first bosses treated me more like a family member than an employee. Larry and David were only a couple of years older than me, so I looked up to them as big brothers. They both drove cool cars with built-in tape decks, they dated chicks and wore flip-flops to work — David even had a ponytail. My dad really liked Larry because they were both into cars and my mom adored David. As a result, I was allowed to attend rock concerts and racing events with Larry and go wherever else I wanted with David. Larry and David were also responsible for turning me on to such rock guitar greats as Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Frank Marino.

I had relatively few life experiences when I was first hired, but my bosses were always patient with me and I learned a lot about life, responsibility and the music business during my time working at T-n-T from the summer of 1978 until the business closed in late 1980. And to this day, I’m still friends with the Cadells and Thornquests.


You Wanted the Best…
Growing up in Satellite Beach at the height of Southern Rock Mania during the late 1970s wasn’t easy if you were a KISS Freak, especially if you attended Satellite High School. In 1978, I was just one of only about six KISS fans in the entire 1,500 member student body, yet I supported the band with great reverence. For Halloween in the 10th grade I came to school dressed as Gene Simmons in full make-up and costume. When the Senior Class sponsored “Toga Day” in 1979, my friends and I showed up for school dressed as KISS in Togas. Had the 4-H Club sponsored a theme day I would have likely come to school dressed as “Farmer Frehley!”

Because of my overzealous enthusiasm for KISS, I faced almost daily ridicule from Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving redneck schoolmates, which usually led to someone in a Molly Hatchet T-shirt informing me (with a southern drawl) that “KISS sucks.” The BMOC, David Fredericks, even got into the act by mockingly nicknaming me, “Kiss” Long.

I remember taking my seat one morning in 11th grade art class and discovering that a drawing had been taped to my desk. It appeared to be a cartoon of me, wearing Gene Simmons-like dragon boots, being hung by the neck from a tree. The caption read “Die ‘Kiss’ Long - Die!” It was hard to believe that I actually received a death threat of sorts over liking a rock group. Still my devotion to KISS could not be shaken.


After years of persuasion, I was allowed to see my all-time rock heroes in concert when KISS returned to Florida in 1979 during their Dynasty tour. My mother was confident that the experience would prove to be such a disappointment to me that she would never again hear Paul Stanley’s name pass my lips. That didn’t happen. The experience was every bit as spectacular as I expected and Gene Simmons even magically flew (via a harness and steel support cables) from the stage to the arena rafters to growl out the show-stopping standard, “God of Thunder.” In fact, my first KISS concert experience was so inspirational that I finally formed my own band the next day.

With my biddies on Toga Day
at Satellite High School - 1979.
(That's me as Paul Stanley)


Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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