System of Love EP by The Swimming Pool Q's- MP3 Album
Jeff Calder's Personal Archive > A Tomorrow of Moons: Florida in the 1970's (1)
185.5 Lake Hollingsworth Drive-photo by Ed UpshawA TOMORROW OF MOONS:
FLORIDA IN THE 1970s
By Jeff Calder
When the limitless horizons of youth open before you, you do not suspect that the present may one day become history.
Lakeland : The Night of The Cock
Jeff Calder, Lakeland 1967
Lakeland , Florida had not been founded until 1885. It wasn’t much of anything until the second decade of the 20th Century, when The Boom brought a flush of prosperity to the entire state. By the time my family moved there from Charleston in 1964, Florida was expanding once again, this time under the movement of rocketships trailing tiny banners of flame.
Squat downtown buildings made Lakeland seem like a model railroad town. Life had the taste of Tang and the supermarkets were green. Orange groves straddled hillocks dotted here and there with patches of cow. Abandoned phosphate mining sites created eerie peripheral wastes; in the old craters, summer evenings rose like evil figurines, and the ground was charged with a wristwatch glow; things hummed steadily beneath the sub-tropical moon. Sometimes, on cold mornings, a deep rubberized burn carried on the fog of countless motor-boat ponds, all encircled by 50,000 regular folks just trying to make decent lives for themselves.
John Dickson, 1959
As teen years should be, mine were spent in Lakeland trying to create as much chaos as possible without getting caught. Some sense of order prevailed as a consequence of after-school employment at Maddox Men’s Wear, a traditional shop managed by a buttoned-down Bohemian named John Dickson. I pestered Dickson everyday with my stupid clothing questions until he finally relented and hired me when I turned 14, but only then because he saw me carting around a mono copy of a Bob Dylan album.
Dickson knew how to hustle the hicks into buying whatever accoutrements we couldn’t move to the squares. Once I watched him close a shirt sale by claiming the fabric had been soaked in elephant urine, as if this were a desirable thing. Maddox carried an off-brand of cologne called Dante; Dickson instructed the sales team to pronounce it as “Dant.” He was a Renaissance Man who painted, wrote poetry and drank real wine. Sometimes, when things were slow in the store, we read aloud passages from My Secret Life (Grove Press), the long erotic memoir authored by an anonymous Victorian gentleman fond of suggestive terms like “randy” and the more arcane “pego,” which means “the penis of man or beast.”
Randy Pego became one of many nom de plumes, an inside gag which our pipe would occasionally slip into Principal Morris “Pinkie” Zipprer’s stern morning announcements at Lakeland High School: “Randy Pego, please come to the office. Your missing organ has been found.”
In between shoppers, Dickson sometimes composed rude folk songs on an electric autoharp. It had a pickup that looked like the handle of a crescent wrench. We blasted it through Bo Howard’s Ampeg flip-top bass amp, which doubled as a hidey-hole for liquor and beer. At Dickson’s command, I fashioned folk-stylings on harmonica, squeaking like an old machine as he bellowed, “Blue C**t is out front, followed closely by Burning Desire!”
Dickson came up with the name for my crowd’s high school combo: The Prone Position. He set the bass drum head on top of the pant rack and, with a flourish, painted the group’s name in an Op Art style. He formed the first i of “Position” with an illustration of an extended middle finger. Dickson finished his creation and shouted a salute into the wrong end of a rumpled horn just as the front door swung open, and a customer strolled in sideways, like a drunken crab.
I watched over Dickson’s shoulder as he typed one-act plays with titles like “Coach Roach and The Bramble Boys”. It was an ice blue Smith-Corona portable with a smelly red and black ribbon. I had never met anyone as funny as Dickson. I laughed without control as he pecked away on “Roach,” but I always spoiled the mood by asking, “What does it mean?”
For presentation purposes, the store had dozens of “T-bars.” These were little threaded poles could be screwed into round metal bases to form a T-shaped cross on which pocket kerchiefs and ties could be arranged in floor and window displays. One Saturday morning I arrived late, but the store was still dark. Then there was a clunk in the suit section in the back of the shop. Dickson had kicked open the storeroom door. He advanced slowly, a one-man procession. His left hand cradled a metal base with a T-bar to which he had connected dozens of miscellaneous rods by means of small screw couplers.
The entire construction, perhaps 36 inches across, nearly grazed the ceiling of Maddox Men’s Wear. As he moved in the mad silence, he lifted his free hand and nudged one side of the apparatus. It spun like the mobile construction it was, letting off a faint peep. It was breathtaking; it was the moment of illumination. I said nothing, and never again would I ask Dickson what something “meant.”
Rooster Necktie Tie Clip
Despite the suggestiveness of its name, The Prone Position wore matching outfits. They fit the regulation of fraternity groups in the days before psychedelia infiltrated the South and fucked everybody up sideways. The Position’s leader/vocalist was my friend, Jib Black. “Jib,” a wily acronym for James Issac Black, was a connoisseur of soul music, and to this day he still holds on to the fire in his old school R&B voice. The fact that he became a successful attorney in Manhattan does not excuse the youthful folly of allowing me to pose as the group’s manager. My duties as “manager” extended to hanging around at practice, and, when Jib was preoccupied with some after school responsibility, encouraging the band to go “experimental.” That meant I sometimes got to sing “Torture Chamber”, an elastic version of “Twilight Zone” with lots of feedback that went on and on until Jib finally showed up and everybody busted into “Midnight Hour.”
My first break in show business came one Friday night in 1967 at a birthday party thrown in the basement of the Polk Federal Bank for Bud Chiles, the eldest son of Lawton M. Chiles, who would soon become a political giant in the state. On the night of the event, Jib was suffering from strep throat, so there was no option but to enlist the band’s manager as The Position’s lead vocalist for the evening.
For the occasion, John Dickson assigned my stage name: The Black Cock. Preparations got underway early with the tower of Country Club Malt Liquor supplied by an overgrown 11th grader named Tim Rutenber*. Dickson dumped a variety of cologne tester bottles onto a gag cape, creating a overwhelming confusion of scent. He topped off the outfit with a Nazi helmet and goggles normally kept hidden from the customers’ view in the back room of the shop.
We sped to the gig with the windows down and took the elevator to the basement of the Polk Federal Bank, where the show was underway. The doors opened on the teen crowd, and the Black Cock emerged in full regalia, preceded by a knave who scattered plastic necktie hangers in the shape of black Rooster heads that we stored under the counter at the men’s store.
"Ladies and Gentleman," cried Leonard Carter of The Prone Position from the party stage. "Please stand for...The Black Cock!"
No one remembers very much after the first and only public performance of “Torture Chamber” in its complete “extended version.”
But State Senator Chiles was the good sport. He displayed the professional smile that served him well over the years. It was a knowing expression, oblivious to the possibility that anything untoward could be happening at Bud’s soiree.
The Black Cock had been a bad influence on The Position. The entire episode was embarrassing for Jib, whose family residence was across the street from the Chiles two-story home tucked up on a Coventry Avenue elevation. The following Monday, I was fired as “manager” for The Prone Position, which didn’t amount to all that much. I just kept turning up at the gigs which had been my only managerial responsibility anyway. To me, The Prone Position remains the best name for a band in the history of Western Civilization.
In the aftermath, Lawton Chiles became a Florida U.S. Senator in 1970. He earned the name “Walkin’ Lawton” for walking the entire length of the state, a campaign stunt that was masterpiece of low budget promotion. He ended his days in 1998 having been one of the most progressive governors in the state’s history, out-hicking Jeb Bush in an 11th hour comeback, wearing a coonskin outfit on the night of his final victory. But back on election eve, November 5, 1968, his successful run for reelection to the Florida State Senate somehow survived the assistance of his young supporters, a handful of whom gathered at his home.
That night, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal were concluding their series of televised debates with commentary on the evening’s contest. Their prior encounters at the Republican and Democratic conventions the previous summer had been a kind of vicious drawing room swordplay, and they antagonized one another to greater and greater heights of personal invective. Vidal incensed William F. Buckley, Jr. by repeatedly referring to him as “Bill.” The animosity climaxed in Chicago with a spectacular near fistfight. Vidal called Buckley a “Crytpo-Nazi,” and Buckley, on the edge of his seat, shouted back, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered!” When it comes to televised political convention coverage, nothing this good would ever happen again.
Now, as the election was being decided in Nixon’s favor, there was some sort of black sheet hanging between them, so that Buckley and Vidal didn’t have to look at one another. I had developed a reputation for calling celebrities and dignitaries, and someone threw down a challenge to call Gore. A couple of us gathered around the avocado-colored dial phone in a cove off Chiles’ kitchen, just as the combatants were coming off the air in New York City.
The first order of business was to charge the call to a Lakeland paving company—you could get away with that then. Blue Seal Paving had already picked up the tab for my conversations with Buckingham Palace and the Hollywood recording studio where The Doors were making a new album. Tonight, I told the operator that I was “Jackie Gleason’s private secretary,” and that Jackie needed to reach Gore Vidal at ABC Headquarter in New York City immediately.
At the time, if one made a Person-to-Person long-distance call, an operator would announce the caller’s name with a duly authorized air, staying on until the party was eventually located.
She crashed through no fewer than three switchboard walls at ABC before a final click, and down the line came the unprecedented tonality of Gore Vidal.
I had not thought the project through beyond this point. Since I didn’t think he would know where Lakeland was, my opening was, “Hey, Gore, this is Jeff Calder…somewhere in Florida.”
“That’s funny, I was under the impression this call was from Jackie Gleason.”
“I’m in high school. I just made that up to get through to you. Listen, you were really great tonight. As usual, you sure gave it to Buckley.”
This was base flattery, but Vidal chuckled amiably. We talked about the state of the union for a couple of minutes, then, politely, he gave me the brush-off. “I’m afraid someone here needs to use the phone.”
“Okay, well, thanks for talking to me. One more thing. What’s the story on the curtain between you two tonight?”
“The curtain?” asked Vidal in what is still the most perfect voice in America. “Oh, the curtain was Bill’s idea.”
*In the late 1980s, Tim became well known in Atlanta as the performance poet Deacon Lunchbox. Sadly, Tim’s life was cut short in a 1992 car crash in Alabama.
MUDCRUTCH: THE DAY THE CEILING CRACKED
Harry Crews and Mudcrutch
Gainesville , Florida
I took Harry Crews' Creative Writing class at the University of Florida in winter, 1973. I had not read any of his books and didn't know much about him, other than that he was a published novelist with a wild reputation. Crews was from South Georgia, but at this point he looked like El Mongol. He had a Fu Manchu mustache, a giant hoop earring, and his head had been shaved, he said, "while laying up with some woman out in the woods." Crews had a couple of brilliant affectations. He had an unusual gait, like he was riding an invisible unicycle. One of his eyes was always closed while he enlarged the other to ludicrous proportion, like a pirate. He was thin as wire, like the dust cover photo on The Gypsy's Curse, which he was working on at the time and from which he would read segments to the class. He already had the infamous tattoo of a hinge on the inside of his elbow.
Gainesville, Florida at the time had become fully hippie, with a lot of mushroom-potion drinking going on. My friend Steve Cummings and I once wrote a song called "I'm From Gainesville (Somebody Shoot Me)”. Set against the longhair crowd, which was very smug, Crews' circus performer appearance was shocking, and he was ahead of its time, in a proto-Punk way. If you didn't do anything, he would give you a grade of B, and you didn't even have to come to class to get that. If you turned in a short story, he gave you an A.
For his creative writing class, I wrote a story called "The Air-Village Floater”, which remains suppressed. It had a grandiose main character named Grant Boone. When Crews read it to the class--in its entirety, I might add--he was very complimentary, which, of course, made some of the students jealous. The story had a purple style, and it contained a dream sequence involving Boone, which made it an easy target for criticism from the class. Crews leapt to my defense, and he said forcefully, in his exaggerated South Georgia accent, which was always very funny, "No, I don't have any problem with the language. And it’s true that you can see things like this when you take little red and yellow pills!" At that, he made a tiny pinching gesture with two of his fingers.
Harry Crews thumbed his nose at the academic establishment, but for all his weirdness and sense of humor, he was a Classicist in his own way and a very inspiring teacher. From Crews, I learned about the many points of view from which a novel could be written and about how a book could be created out of place like Lakeland, with its orange groves and phosphate pits. Through his influence I became aware of writers like Eudora Welty, whose short story “The Worn Path” I once found Crews reading in his office. (When I walked through the doorway, he addressed me, raising his eye, "And to what do I owe this honor?") I found my way into Eudora Welty, and grew to like her because she reminded me of my grandmother in Charleston whose refined Old South manner disguised a strong sense of mischief. Welty’s The Golden Apples remains an extraordinary piece of High Modernist fiction that is still decades in advance of what Southern writing is supposed to be even in the 21st Century. I saw her read at Agnes Scott College the same week that Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band played in Atlanta in 1978. These were the cultural high points of my first year in the city, an exhilarating time when The Swimming Pool Q’s began.
Nationally, Crews was still a relatively unknown writer when I was in his class, but in the following two years, he began writing a monthly column for Esquire [“Grits”] which made him a national literary celebrity. As it can often do, renown seemed to create a lot of problems for him, or at least that is how it appeared at the time. When I saw him "read" at the University of South Florida around 1975, he was stumblebum drunk and had to be helped about by the novelist William Price Fox, on whom he would occasionally turn in mock anger. It was a sensational performance, antagonistic and existential, something like what Norman Mailer might have delivered during the mid-60s, if Mailer had been, say, Davy Crockett. When someone in the audience asked what it took to be a real novelist, Crews replied, drawing out each word deliberately, "Blood…Bone…Marrow!" And throughout the rest of the evening--which was foreshortened-- he would periodically return to his theme, shouting "Marrow!" at this or that perceived provocation.
Many years later, my friend Robert Ray, a celebrated Film Studies Professor at the University of Florida, passed Crews in a corridor at the school. Crews, appearing forlorn, asked Robert, "How are you doing, son?" When Robert answered, "I’m fine, Harry," Crews responded, "I'm glad it's working for someone."
In spring 1973, I was one of several students Harry asked to join his Graduate Level course, but I had to decline in order to fulfill my student teaching requirement at P.K. Yonge Laboratory School, a wonderful progressive school within walking distance of the University of Florida campus.
P.K Yonge was a K-12 school attached to the University. The student body was a mix of professors’ children and kids from around Gainesville who may have had attitude problems or been socially and economically disadvantaged.
I was on track for a degree in English/Education. The final part of the program was a term of student teaching in the Alachua County Public School System. This was mandatory, and it was the College of Education’s responsibility to place teaching candidates in a high school somewhere in the area. The “Alachua” part did not sound that much fun to me. Clearly, the situation called for desperate measures.
Jeff Calder, Student Teacher 1973
P.K. Yonge was Utopia, but, for some reason, the school had never accepted student intern teachers. In an effort to circumvent this oppilation, I prepared the requisite two-page biography to be distributed among various Alachua County principals and administrators for consideration. The bio was a dubious catalog of life experience that bounded every stretch of credulity. To this obvious litany of fraud was attached the photograph above. This was not the image someone projected if he seriously wanted to be hired by a Florida school in 1973. Nevertheless, they had to do something with me, and so, on one of those bright spring mornings when Gainesville is an explosion of unidentifiable growth, I crossed the front lawn of P.K. Yonge Laboratory School to be welcomed by two teachers, my supervisors Mary Coronet and Chris Morris.
I could not believe my luck. First, it is no embellishment to say that these were two good-looking women. Second, they handed me a list of elective courses that the students had requested. The list included the two that I chose to “teach”: (A) Voodoo, ESP and Parapsychology; (B) Rock & Roll. That is what the high school students were into in 1973. Utopia was P.K. Yonge.
The faculty and administration were an eccentric lot, which went along with the wild mix of the student body. The assistant principal ate the same meal for lunch everyday: popcorn blended into a can of tomatoes with the lid bent up, Popeye-style. (As I recall, the AP had a merchant-marine pedigree, so I assumed this dish to be some sort of seafaring delicacy.) I realize now that the casual demeanor of the teachers at P.K Lab School concealed a deep seriousness about new possibilities for public education, and I only wish they could have taken over the world. The students, whatever may have been their problems, were offered a great deal of freedom, and there was never anything close to a physical fight on campus. (In time, Chris Morris became a distinguished principal of P.K. Yonge, and she was justly showered with laurels upon her retirement in 2005.)
Mary and Chris supervised my courses’ syllabi, and provided me with regular pep talks and guidance. I was to be on guard with certain students. One of them, Stan Lynch, had been in trouble in several Alachua schools before he landed at P.K., the last stop. The reason for Stan’s disturbance was obscure. I'm not sure they said he might be prone to rages, but I was cautioned nonetheless. However, in my experience, other than that he would speak his mind the only thing intimidating about Stan Lynch was that he was tall. We only had one serious disagreement, concerning the song “Crossroads”; which had been better, the Cream cover version or the Robert Johnson original? Stan, of course, later became the drummer for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. In 1984, Anne Richmond Boston and I ran into Stan at a Hollywood event. Alas, he had no recollection of his former understanding instructor.
Another student, Margaret Leadon, certainly offered no problems. She was the sweet, quiet sister of Bernie Leadon, then of The Eagles. My only encounter with her brother took place at South by Southwest, the annual Austin music convention, sometime in the 90s. It was brief and unpleasant. Bernie tried to pick a fight because I had been courteous to a mutual acquaintance. Spontaneous fires erupted in the erstwhile Eagles eyes. The only thing that saved me was the mention of Margaret’s name. At that, a sudden confusion appeared within his anger, possibly awareness that soon he might be beating to death an old family friend. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but I owe his younger sister and her name a debt of gratitude for granting me the portal through which I leapt, a hasty, undignified withdrawal.
One afternoon I was walking home across the front lawn of the school when a tall, bearded figure debouched from a white Volkswagen minibus. He looked familiar.
“I think I know you,” I said.
“I’m Lawrence Ferlinghetti.”
“The poet?” I asked.
“I have your Tyrannous Nix.”
I was confused. “What are you doing here?”
It turned out that Ferlinghetti was in Gainesville with his ex-wife, who was returning home presumably from the San Francisco Bay Area. They were scouting for a good school for their son. P.K. Yonge had been highly recommended. With “Laboratory” in its name, it was without a doubt the only school in the South that might approximate a California outlook. It was not an easy school to get into, and Ferlinghetti knew this. I was chosen on the spot to intercede, as if I had some real juice around the place. Later that day, I held a consultation with some of the teachers. They suggested that if Ferlinghetti would agree to give a reading at the school, perhaps something could be done.
Later that evening the phone rang at home.
“This is Larry.”
This shorted a fuse in the Coney Island of my mind.
“Larry who?” I asked.
So I gave Larry a rundown on my jam session with the faculty and the terms of the deal.
There was a pause. Then: “I do not,” said Ferlinghetti with frosty, West Coast emphasis, “give readings.”
That concluded my first transaction with the Bohemian elite. It’s hard to say how it could have gone any better.
Danny Roberts, 14 years old
For my Rock & Roll class at P.K. Yonge, I thought it might be good idea to organize an on-campus field trip with the group Mudcrutch, which my friend from Lakeland, Danny Roberts, had recently joined. Of all of my high school classmates, Danny was the first serious rock musician. He was a professional bassist in his early teens, and it helped that he liked The Yardbirds. His trio, Power, supported almost every major Heavy Rock act that came through the state. By 1970, thanks to Power’s regional success, Danny had made a strong reputation for himself within Southeastern musical circles, far more so than his fellows in Mudcrutch, which included Tom Petty and Mike Campbell.
The 1972 University of Florida Halloween Festival was a little more kicked back than the near riot ten years later when The Swimming Pool Q’s played the same event. [See account below]. A couple of thousand half-hippies and helium balloons floated around under the oak trees in front of the University library. One of the first acts was a solo performance by Danny Roberts who, having split from Power, was recovering from a serious hand injury. With help from backing vocals by his sister Gail, he sensibly confined his artillery to a Telecaster and an old Epiphone Comet amplifier. When he came off stage, the next act, Mudcrutch, asked him if he wanted to join their band. They made it so, and for the next several months, the group rehearsed arduously with their new member, who brought a whole new set of skill-saws to the table.
By no means had Mudcrutch been a bad band, but they were nebulous. Tom Petty, who usually played bass, was an identifiable figure with much the same voice as he has today. Mike Campbell already had the elegant technique (and hairstyle) which he employed to tremendous effect. But it was hard to get a bead on what the project was about. That changed when Danny Roberts moved to Gainesville. His professional experience was of greater compass. He helped the band organize more serious demo sessions, and the group’s songwriting improved almost overnight. He alternated bass and guitar with Tom, and, with the additional support of Danny’s British blues-influenced vocals, the music of Mudcrutch finally received its first dimension. By April 1973, their new authority was undeniable.
It was at this point that I phoned Danny to ask if the group would consider playing for my Rock & Roll class at P.K. Yonge Laboratory School. They must have been intrigued, because they agreed quickly. My advisors, Mary and Chris, ran interference with the administration, which reluctantly granted approval for use of the school’s auditorium. In the morning, the group performed their original songs acoustically in one of the small classrooms. Despite the band’s rock trappings, they were extremely solicitous to the students, who hung on every word, as much as they never hung on mine.
It was here that I first became aware of Tom Petty’s natural charm. To the extent that I had been around Tom, he had always seemed withdrawn, which I simply attributed to Gainesville’s vast horde of cannabis sativa, and I’m telling no secrets here. He did not seem like a real leader, but on issues great and small, the group deferred to his judgement, and until this moment I had not understood why. Following the acoustic session, we repaired to the student’s new video-taping facility, which had to be an extremely advanced installation in 1973, even for a moneyed private school, which P.K. Yonge certainly was not. Tom was the sole member of Mudcrutch to be interviewed by the students, and he suddenly came alive, fielding all of their questions with no hint of condescension. Without a doubt, this has to be his first filmed interview, although I’m afraid it has long since been swept into the dustbin of H. Were this not so, we would see the startling continuity between Tom Petty in the early Seventies and his demeanor in the current Heartbreakers’ documentary-drama. Everything was in place for him, and it went right past me. When one of the students asked Tom his most important influence, I remember that he said Todd Rundgren.
As I understood the situation, it was keyboardist Benmont Tench’s first gig with the band. He was “coming in from New Orleans.” What he had been doing there was unknown to me, but it definitely added a strong sense of mission to his appearance. Mudcrutch played so loud in the auditorium that they cracked the ceiling. As a consequence, that year’s commencement exercises had to be held outdoors, which I discovered when I returned to the school that summer and noticed a fence topped with barbwire surrounding the building. Eleven years later, we ran into Benmont backstage at the Universal Theater in Hollywood when The Swimming Pool Q’s opened for Lou Reed. Benmont is well known to be real gentleman. He recognized me instantly and brought up the “cracked ceiling” episode, confirming the story to The Q’s, who were astonished since they have never believed any of my Florida stories. Benmont revealed that the school had tried to sue the group for damages to the building’s structure. I can’t imagine the suit going very far since in those days Benmont’s daddy was a prominent Gainesville judge.
Mudcrutch was a guitar rock band, but not a Southern Rock band, which pretty much wrote them out of the Macon script. Their move to the West Coast was inevitable. Danny drove them out in his Volkswagen bus, surviving a close brush with the law on the Texas-Mexico border at 3 a.m. He was a go-getter. He made the calls to the A&R departments and landed Mudcrutch their deal with Shelter Records and the legendary Denny Cordell. They struggled in LA for a couple of years, but, for whatever reasons, Mudcrutch never quite came together. Danny left the group and returned to Florida. I remember him hauling his big reel-to-reel tape deck up the broken down stairs at my Lake Hollingsworth garage apartment. He cleaned the playback heads exhaustively, and we listened to all the unreleased material the group had recorded in Hollywood. He told me that they had racked up so much studio time that they would have to sell a million copies just to break even. I had a big laugh at that. Absurd!
185.5 Lake Hollingsworth Drive-photo by Ed Upshaw
Year of the Fruit Jockey Lakeland, 1974
When I graduated from The University of Florida in 1973, I moved back to Lakeland and assumed my career as a free lance writer. I installed myself in an old servant’s quarters tucked behind a white wooden mansion that had been thrown up around 1925, just before the Florida land boom blew apart. It was a significant piece of property on Lake Hollingsworth, the liquid center of town where all the money was. The whole spread was a cinematic display, dozens of old live oaks draped in quiet Spanish moss lorded over by an ancient groundskeeper named Hurtis Curtis “H.C” Barnes. His seemingly endless mowing between naps was fueled by jugs of cheap Jitney wine. When it came to the weed dealers who rented the big house out front, H.C. always dismissed their favorite pastime as “kid stuff.” There was little doubt that his off-range selection of beverage contained a powerful adult reality.
It was a dilapidated garage apartment covered in a fig, or “ficus” vine that had been untended, probably for decades. H.C. certainly was not going to climb up on a ladder with any dull and rusty hedge clippers. Once a year, an “Indian Snake” would crawl through the cool black dirt in the waning grove nearby, weaving himself in and out of the fat pods of the vines up to the roof. It was his annual fashion to sun for a time, then somehow find his way through the pipe system into the bath, roosting like a stick on the narrow ledge over the oblong tank of a tub. The only effective way of dealing with his impudence was to close the door on his presence. Eventually he would exit in a manner much the same as his entrance, which was sly and not to be fully known.
I kept my distance from the dealer out front, though he was genial enough. His girl friend pranced around the property in hot pants shouting desultory commands at something that may have been a toy poodle. In exasperation at the foolishness of young people, H.C. rolled his antediluvian eyeballs, as much as he still could. The stock for Florida sweet leaf must have fluctuated wildly in the mid-Seventies. Sometimes the big house occupants were Cadillac flush; other times, they would have to steal things of little value. My giant plant collection vanished, and the white kitten that disappeared would not have brought much value on ebay, if that had existed. None of it was worth mentioning, except for the $350 electric bill that arrived one day, a staggering sum for rooms that were little more than a treehouse. I went downstairs to inspect the garage and discovered a contraption of jumper cables hooked to my circuit box, powering the mansion because the dope fiends had neglected to pay Lakeland Electric for several months.
My first album reviews were published under the name Randy Pego in Zoo World, a national rock magazine based in South Florida. Zoo World had a newsprint format like Rolling Stone, and it was bi-weekly, as well. One of my earliest contributions was an asshole review I co-authored on a Capricorn act called Grinderswitch. It was the first salvo in my assault on Southern Rock, and poor Honest to Goodness got caught in the crosshairs. My position on Boogie was complicated and unreasonable, I’m sure. In capsule, “Southern Rock” had become a sorry movement, a dominant tendency against which I felt the need to contrast a more original musical expression, one reflecting the region’s new plurality: The Hampton Grease Band, for instance. I mean, there was a reason why Tom Petty had moved to California. (Indeed, Al Kooper had gone to see Mudcrutch perform in Fort Lauderdale in 1973, but had passed on the group, signing a band called Lynyrd Skynyrd instead.) And as for a bunch of long hairs waving the Confederate Flag, well, I don’t think so. Not that much time had passed since redneck marauders had ridden under that filthy banner, and, given half a chance, they would have been more than happy to gun down the hippies in the Allman Brothers.
Nevertheless, a couple of years later, Grinderswitch would settle the score in a most excruciating way. They had an opening slot at a Southern Rock extravaganza on New Years Eve 1976 at the Lakeland Civic Center. After the show ended, one of their guitar players--probably the late Dru Lombar-- landed at a party over at the Lake Hollingsworth mansion. It was not long before one of the revelers, stoked on white lady, ratted me out for the Zoo World blast, and around 2 A.M., there was a knock on the door. He had on the uniform: beard; flat-toe boot; cowboy hat. He didn’t mention the review, but quietly stepped inside and took up my Gibson SG guitar.
“These strings are a little light for me,” he said, dismissively. “I’m used to heavy strings. The kind that Dickey plays.”
Then he sat down in the darkness, and, with the enhanced brutality of a one-man death squad, proceeded to torture me for the better part of an hour, performing every song from the forthcoming Grinderswitch release-- note-for-note, word-for-word--with a frightening deliberation, using my guitar against me. I nodded my approval after each one, terrified that whatever dope had been happening at the Big House might kick back on his head, knock down the plaster walls straight to the slats, and take my pre- Wave honky ass with it. When he was finished, he propped the Gibson against the armchair, tapped out a little two-finger salute, and creaked his way down the stairs into the promising Bicentennial night. If it was Dru, how could I not help but like him?
Shortly after taking up residence in the Lake Hollingsworth tree fort, I wrote a song called “I Like to Take Orders from You,” which ended up on The Deep End seven years later. The song was utterly ridiculous, but it seemed like it might be fun to perform it at Stuckey’s Saloon. Stuckey’s was a nice club, anomalous for Lakeland, run by a friend named Dave Stuckrath. Dave was a music fan who had once been an amateur actor; he later managed The Swimming Pool Q’s in the early part of our career in 1979-80. His club was making a name for itself on the 70’s Florida folk-and-blues circuit--what there was of one. In no time, Stuckey’s became a regular stop for artists like John Hammond, Jr., Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Gamble Rogers.
Like Danny Roberts, Larry Berwald was another old friend from high school who had become a superb guitarist, and he would go on to play with Wet Willie for several years. Since I didn’t know the difference between a Fender and a Gibson, Larry had helped me pick out my first electric guitars. With little success, he tired to show me a barre chord and a blues scale, neither of which worked very well with Free Jazz. Somehow “Orders” came together, and Larry was enlisted as the music director for the group, which I wanted to call Johnnie T. & The Fruit Jockeys.
photo by: Ken Jenkins
Since I was Johnnie T., I didn’t have to wear one of the giant orange heads--that was an assignment for The Fruit Jockeys, which included Larry, Hank Turner and Mike Allen. For some reason, everybody went along with the plan. The globes were created by wrapping large balloons in papermache, spraying them with orange enamel and cutting out slots so the musicians could see their instruments. Stuffing them with newspaper was supposed to steady them on The Fruit Jockeys shoulders, or at least that was the idea. Imprudently, they were stored outdoors overnight, and a variety of tropical bugs, attracted to paste, found themselves a vacation home. During the show, Hank Turner was jumping around spasmodically, and I thought he was really getting into it, but it turned out to be a desperate response to the bug attack going on inside his round helmet; he did not miss a note, even as the sight-slot spun around, leaving him in the dark with his new little friends.
The chaotic performance of “I Like to Take Orders from You” was captured by someone in the audience using a Norelco cassette deck. It must be said that the sound of The Fruit Jockeys was shockingly primitive, if not prescient, in a proto-Punk Rock way. It can be heard here just as it was the evening of August 30, 1974 at Stuckey’s Saloon in Lakeland, Florida. The great drummer Johnny Rhodes leaps spontaneously into the mix midway through the track.
Steve Cummings- photo by: Anne Richmond Boston
Steve Cummings grew up in Tampa where he had been a classmate of The Q’s future bassist Pete Jarkunas at Plant High School. In recent years he had lived in Durham, North Carolina where he wrote for the radical-left journal, Southern Exposure. I think for that reason mutual friends thought we would get along, and we did. He had a great satirical streak, and since I was busy trying to get even with all the bad people in Florida, it wasn’t long before we started writing lyrics together. We worked on the words to several songs that became bonus cuts on the 2001 reissue of The Deep End (“White Collar Drifter”; “1789”; “Model Trains Are Better Than Rock & Roll”), and all of them had a pungent sense of humor. But the one that had the edge was called “Ballad of the Wildman”.
Cummings and his cronies raised hell over at another crumbling lakefront estate, this one on Lake Morton near the downtown area. For that reason, we called the little magazine that we started The Lake Morton Review. The cover of the first issue [June, 1975] was a black & white shot taken by John Dickson of two water skiers standing next to a 1963 Thunderbird. The women gazed adoringly at a well-dressed man whose head we had replaced with the face of the “Wildman of the Green Swamp,” cribbed from a wirephoto in The Tampa Tribune.
The Lake Morton Review, Vol 1, No 1, June 1975
The Wildman of the Green Swamp was a Taiwanese sailor. In 1974, he jumped ship in Tampa because he was homesick. He could not speak English, so the locals naturally thought he was insane, and he ended up in the mental ward of a Bay Area hospital. He escaped, making his way up river to a Central Florida wilderness called The Green Swamp. He lived off the land for over half a year, foraging off farms on the fringe of the bog.
The Wildman’s misfortune was to have his short life intersect with the idiotic Big Foot craze. As reports about a man-monster in the swamp began drifting in from Sumter County, news outlets revved up the hicks with all of this bullshit, creating a false hysteria about a jungle giant who turned out to be only five feet tall. He was eventually run to ground by a Sheriff’s posse utilizing helicopters and airboats. During his interrogation, he told officials that he thought the armadillos he had been eating were “little pigs that nobody wanted.” Law enforcement stupidly left him alone in his cell with his belt, and he hung himself when he had the chance.
It is my feeling that the Florida media should not be absolved for their responsibility in this forgotten tragedy, just as the Atlanta Journal today stands accountable for their destruction of Richard Jewell, falsely accused of the 1996 Olympic bombing. There are apparently differing speculations as to why the Wildman committed suicide, but I believed then, as I do now, that the explanation was simple: He was frightened by the authorities who had been egged on by the press; “The Ballad of the Wildman” may have its share of hokum, but it states this explicitly.
Steve Cummings and I spent a lot of time at Stuckey’s Saloon, so we were aware of the older Florida folk singers, in particular Will McLean, whose state disaster songs included one on the terrifying Panhandle swamp, Tate’s Hell. In actuality, we had never heard the tune, but we made it up in our minds anyway. We also had a genuine love for “novelty music,” and we were drawn in particular to the historical content of Johnny Horton’s so-called “saga songs” like “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Sink the Bismark”. Without question, “Wildman” was written in the Horton manner presided over by McLean, though Cummings’ signature black humor was never far away. It was dashed off very quickly, fueled by the mutual rage of two anarchists racing to meet some street-action deadline, fingers stained blue with mimeograph ink.
“The Ballad of The Wildman” was never released by The Swimming Pool Q’s, probably because of concerns over how it would be “received.” By the time The Deep End happened, the song was a little too backwoodsy, even for us; also, its aspect of parody was outweighed by its protest content, which was obscure, though very real; today it carries an immediacy of which I think we have every right to be proud. (By 1981, protest had become yet another New Wave anathema.) In later years, the story of The Wildman of the Green Swamp became the basis for East is East, a well known novel by T. Coraghesson Boyle, and it has been the subject of at least one academic treatise.
Two versions of the song appear here. The first is the 1977 demo tracked with the Tampa guitarist Sam Miller, who played in a band with Pete Jarkunas called Radio Flyers; the second is The Swimming Pool Q’s live take recorded by our friend Charlie Gunn in Atlanta on November 1, 1978 at Rose’s Cantina, later to become 688, the premier New Wave & Punk club in the South. The demo has a quaint touching aspect, but I prefer The Q’s version mainly because of Bob Elsey’s strong counter guitar riff that appears throughout. Howard Jenkins, whose generosity financed The Deep End (not the most sensible investment) was disappointed that “Wildman” wasn’t on the album. For my money, the quality of Steve Cummings’ two opening lines are as stirring as any to appear in song since approximately Homer.
(Jeff Calder & Steve Cummings)
They tracked him down to his forest haunt
Eatin’ little pigs he thought that nobody’d want
He stalked where no other man would dare
So they swooped down upon him from the air
He sailed 10,000 miles cross the Yellow Sea
The Green Swamp was his home to be
From foreign land
Catch him if you can
The captain of the ship wouldn’t give him no pay
So he roamed the streets of Tampa Bay
They kept him in a ward under lock and key
Cause he didn’t talk like you and me
Then one night, you know he made his break
Crawling up the river with the gators and snake
From foreign land
Catch him if you can
On those Florida nights he was all alone
Half the world away from his Chinese home
In the jungle, a refugee
Living off the wild of the periphery
Then those Sumter County boys moved through the fog
With fifty men, a copter and a pack of dogs
The press helped to make him a beast of prey
But I remember when the news hit the streets that day
Five foot two, a hundred twenty pounds
How come it took six men to hold him down?
The sherrif wanted to bring him to his knees
Cause he was a slant-eyed little Taiwanese
From foreign land
Catch him if you can
I know no fancy words, just got a story to tell
The Wildman hung himself in his prison cell
The Florida swamps are brutal, it’s been said
How come the Sumter County jail is where they found him dead?
One morning in 1976, the decaying mansion and garage apartments were knocked down, and the property sold to the First Presbyterian Church. Today, the old grove where the Indian Snake lived is long gone, but the beautiful canopy of live oaks stands the same as it has for centuries. I had already moved out to Airport Road on the edge of town between Lakeland and Plant City. That’s when things started to get real interesting…
photo by: Anne Richmond BostonTHE HOUSE THAT RAT BAIT BUILT
Lakeland , Winter, 1978
At the time, my wife and I lived in what was thought to be the oldest standing house in Polk County. It was a small cottage situated in a huge flat pasture with a sizeable herd of cows. Two hundred yards away was a small pond, which a medium-sized alligator had all to himself. The interior walls and ceiling of the house were made of thin slats of wood called "beading." We rented the place from a rich old coot named Judge Carver. Almost 90 years old then, Judge Carver had recently married a woman half his age and built a sprawling plantation-style home in the middle of Lakeland. To local wags it was known as "Judge Carver's Last Erection."
Judge Carver's office at the Arcade Building downtown was on a floor below the FBI Headquarters. It was like a giant dust mote in which he had been enclosed since the days when Florida had been controlled by Spain.
"Just pay me on time," said the Judge, showing a tooth. "I don't give a damn what you do out there."
Judge A. R. Carver, 1937
Bob and I spent the next month out there writing and organizing a taping session. Danny Roberts helped us out with some of the basics, like how to record an electric guitar in a bathroom. He had a crackerjack group with a regular gig at the Lakeland Lounge, an over-the-county-line club from back in the days when Polk County was dry. Some of the wizened regulars seemed to date back to that time, hence Danny’s appellation “The Lakeland Lunge.” Danny’s sister Gail sang some background vocals on “Rockin’ Rebel”. We also borrowed his drummer with the gilded name, J.P. Morgan. In keeping with The Q’s future of making everything impossibly complicated then bringing somebody in to sort it all out, J.P. had to play drums on “White Collar Drifter” and “Stock Car Sin” after the music and vocals had been recorded.
The routine was as follows: in the mornings I would work on assignments for the Tampa Tribune while Elsey ate L'il Debbie’s and walked around outside playing his Fender Telecaster from which he'd removed the paint finish with a spoon. Sometimes we would drive around Lakeland in the afternoon in my Plymouth Valiant looking for material. In the evenings we went to the Silver Moon Drive-In Theater or rolled into town to see if the lights were still on in the FBI Headquarters at the Arcade Building. If they were, we would call from a payphone, or “landline,” and ask whoever answered questions like, "Hey, man, what's happening with that Cuba thing?"
Photo by Richard Perez, Bob Elsey 1978
One day Elsey was walking around with the cows playing a weird, catchy riff in some odd time signature. I said, "That sounds pretty good. Let's go look at the rednecks." So we took The Valiant out for a spin. Driving past Jitney Junior No. 2, a convenience store indigenous to the locale at that time, we spotted him. He was in a purple Gremlin, down low in the seat. He looked as if his name might be Roy. He appeared to be spying on someone inside. Eventually, he got out of the compact and walked over to the space between the pay phone and the ice machine. He stood there for awhile, spying some more.
This was all we really needed to make it happen. Back at the house, I dug up the notes I'd made in North Carolina and strung them together, like this:
Roy 's like a cow with a bloodshot eye
He's got a short fuse
He left a scar on me
He took the skin right off my nose
And the back route out of this town
He suffers with dyspepsia
I pulled out my saxophone and rustled up a bridge section which Bob followed with some chord changes. Combined with the pasture riff from earlier in the day, we had the words and music completed for our first co-composition, "Rat Bait," before the sun went down. By midnight we had recorded it to the 4-Track Teac deck on loan from Tampa musician Pete Jarkunas, who would later play bass on The Deep End. Re-recorded for a 45 RPM single in 1979 and then again for The Deep End, "Rat Bait" would become The Swimming Pool Q's calling card for several years to come.
One afternoon after we mixed “Rat Bait,” Bob and I invited Mike Marshall out to the Airport Road house. Since the early 1980s, Mike has been a leading figure in the mandolin world. He was from the Lakeland area and often played at Stuckey’s Saloon even though he was probably to young to get in the door. Mike was clearly a prodigy on the instrument, and, I suppose for that reason, we asked him to come over, maybe to lend a little authenticity to “Nirvana, Tennessee.”
Mike was a really nice kid, and, whether he was playing or not, he always had a smile for the world. Elsey and I sat on the floor operating the tape recorder. We played him “Rat Bait,” and I remember looking up at him, watching his face turn into a question mark.
“It sounds…good,” he said, fumbling for a compliment. “But why would you want to do something like that?”
We did not have a very strong answer for him.
An excerpt from
FIRE MAKES US DIAMONDS
A Personal History of The Swimming Pool Q’s
The A & M Years
The historical notes for the reissue of The Swimming Pool Q’s debut album, The Deep End (DB55; 1981;2001) document the Heroic Phase of the group (1978-1982). In short, The Q’s were founded in Atlanta in 1978 by the principals Anne Richmond Boston, Bob Elsey and Jeff Calder. They were among the pioneers of the loosely defined Southern wing of New Wave & Punk, centered at that time in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia.
As The Deep End story draws to a close in 1982, a new era for the band begins with the renovation of its rhythm section with drummer Bill Burton and bassist J.E. Garnett. The following period (1983-1987) explores The Q’s charge at the Music Business, climaxing with two albums on the independent/major label, A&M Records, based in Hollywood…
We ride out in the evening through the pine forests
which divide this city from the sea.
SINGER DENIES TRYING TO BAR NUDE’S ARREST
Atlantan Jeff Calder, leader of the Swimming Pool Q’s, says he “blew my cork” when he saw policemen escorting a towel-clad woman through the lobby of a Jacksonville Beach, Florida, motel last weekend. He was arrested and charged with breach of the peace, he says, after he called the policemen “mustachioed conch shells with pistols.”
Atlanta Journal , August 6, 1982
In the late 1970s and early 80s, The Swimming Pool Q’s trips to Florida were like raids across the Mexican border. The interaction of New Wave & Punk with the natives--and their often-strange ways--usually produced some sort of existential drama. One never knew what might happen next, and this uncertainty kept a touring band perched at the ready, sabers up.
Take the 1981 Halloween Party held outdoors at my alma mater The University of Florida in Gainesville. This year the annual event was headlined by New York City’s The Plasmatics. It became the most hair-raising engagement of The Swimming Pool Q's' career. Fronted by the forceful bosom of Wendy O. Williams (d. 1996), The Plasmatics were metal-punk commandos known for their violent stage orchestrations. The Q's were confined to an extremity of the stage; an old Plymouth occupied the other end. The “Hollywood team” that wired the car with pyrotechnic devices warned us to refrain from any sudden movement. “The car,” cautioned a Plasmatics’ roadie, “will definitely blow."
And so, to witness the scene: 25,000 Florida fuck-ups, made mean by the root of Mandrake. Prior to our entrance, a record company go-getter had distributed hundreds of 12-inch singles to the mob in front of the stage. Midway through The Swimming Pool Q's set, members of the audience began to consider these promotional gifts as Frisbees, which the musicians had to dodge--without any sudden movement because of the car bomb--as one flying discus after another shattered across the amplification backline. As The Q’s took their final bow, slivers of vinyl began stacking into small black mounds. At once, the emcee caromed out, hoping to keep things moving, but, just as he reached his mark, he was struck on his forehead with the flat side of a whiskey bottle; he dropped to the stage with a sick thump. In due course, Wendy O. Williams, a vegetarian, yanked up her chainsaw and, lowering the guide bar with purpose, cut something into more than one piece. Then the Plymouth went off like Karaktoa, the explosion multiplied many times by the University’s overwhelming (and recently purchased) PA System. The thousands who became momentarily deaf wore the stunned expressions of overfed cattle lost in a stockyard trance. As detailed the following year in the University of Florida Alligator (10/29/82), one rape was reported, a student kicked in the face, and another shot in the head with a BB Gun.
This was Florida. Why would you want it to be any different?
Jeff Calder, (with Champagne bucket ) 1982
…Then there was the bust in Jacksonville Beach, involving two fans who were naked in the lobby of a Ramada Inn, raising hell and insulting middle-aged guests at the motel pool. I was tossed in jail for sassing the cops and, in the following days, a series of local and wire service reports publicized the event, having great fun with the connection between The Swimming Pool Q’s and the swimming pool nudity.
In the absence of any opposing commentary from the authorities, my portrait in the media was that of a punk Sir Walter Raleigh. Back in Atlanta, our attorney, Scott Sanders, characterized the charges as “a glorified parking ticket.” But when the State Attorney in Jacksonville stepped in with a threat to “prosecute Mr. Calder to the full extent of the law,” things took an ugly turn, and Sanders, exasperated, demanded to know exactly what had gone on down there in Florida. “I might be able get you off without any god damn jail time,” he said, ominously. The almost free publicity was worth every peso paid to Scott, Esq., who eventually made the whole thing go away quietly.
What follows is as a revealing snapshot of The Swimming Pool Q’s approaching the brink of a more “serious,” if uncertain future, caught on the weekend of the Beach Bust:
An amiable group of people…addicted to simple things like shell collecting, FliBack paddles and beer. [At the Regency Square mall] keyboard player Anne Richmond Boston found a lovely, clear green plastic Fliback. Deep envy spread quickly through the hotel room when she returned.
--Claudia Perry, Florida Times Union, Jacksonville, Thursday, July 29
Anne Richmond Boston, 1979
Sisterhood is indeed powerful, but it will probably never be easy to be the only woman in a rock band, especially a woman like Anne Richmond Boston, whose homemade style was fast becoming a model for budding New Wave femme fatales in the Southeast. With four eyes and a screw loose, Boston by no means fit in as a traditional “Rock Chick.” You could forget that out front. Escapades like the Jax Beach Bust were great fun for the boys, but…
Anne Boston, vocalist for The Swimming Pool Q’s, was really pretty irritated. “He knows how I feel about it. He doesn’t have a lot of respect for authority,” said Ms. Boston, 28, an artist who works for an ad agency as an assistant designer when she’s not on the road with The Q’s. Her scolding was more in the spirit of a sisterly slap on the wrist, however, than anything that could be interpreted as serious rift within the Atlanta-based dance band. [Calder] spent the day on the beach and went go-carting.
--Jamie Lucke, Jacksonville Journal
In sum, the Heroic Years were the first stage of a crooked shot that blasted The Q’s around the horn to an ultimate reckoning with the mid-80s Music Business Machine, now gathering dust in the Smithsonian. To some extent, the Ideology of Fun has stayed with The Swimming Pool Q’s into to the present day, though by 1984, with the release of our first major label album on A&M Records, it had gradually lost its place as a centerpiece of our presentation. The Swimming Pool Q’s were poised for transmogrification; its nature and the reason for it are what this story is really about…