Band in the Basement
Marcel phoned me with the bad news. Our lead guitarist, Roy, was in jail for B & E. It was worse than just a Breaking and Entering charge. He was caught coming out of Sterling Faucet with a sack of money he’d taken from the office safe, stolen from his own boss. Roy must have gotten tired of the long hours it was taking to earn it legally, bucks he desperately wanted for a new Fender Stratocaster. A neighbor going to bed late that night saw a light in the office and called the cops. Roy’s plan was probably a stupid idea, but it wasn’t entirely poorly conceived. How he managed to crack the combination to the Sterling Faucet safe was baffling to us. Marcel and I, who also worked there at one time, were impressed.
“Let’s go down to the jail,” I urged Marcel, “meet him when he gets out.”
“He ain’t getting’ out. I called already. Nobody’s posted bail.”
Roy’s mother wasn’t going to come to his rescue this time. It’s not as if he hadn’t been warned. Of course, we couldn’t raise the bail either. The Rocco Brothers R&B Review had hit another rock and a hard place and we were not gigging. Lee Ronconi, one of the “Roccos” lead singers was also running the local dance club and he should have had the money, but to our surprise, didn’t come forward to help. When we asked him why, he shrugged his shoulders in a non-committal way and curled his lip, clear signal that he was not ready to provide us the benefit of an answer. Why Lee wouldn’t rescue his own guitar player, I didn’t know, but found out later.
“Lee and Pete don’t want to rehearse any more until we can come up with a lead player to replace Roy,” Marcel said. “Fuck, man. I don’t want to lose my chops. Let’s keep playing without ‘em. We can come up with enough of our own stuff to play.”
I agreed to meet him for practice in his basement as usual.
When I hung up the phone, I thought wistfully about Roy and his music dreams, remembered him transported on a magic carpet ride while Eric Clapton played his favorite solo, the finely woven guitar lead to “I’m So Glad” from the Fresh Cream album. He would be having his daydreams peepin’ through the bars of a jail cell now.
I was barely off the phone talking to Marcel when my college roommate, Mel, with Yuri, his hippie roommate in Toronto, showed up on my front doorstep. Thanks to Yuri’s brother who loaned the car to drive out from the city, Mel came bearing his latest jewel, Chicago blues pianist Otis Spann’s new album. We immediately put it on the turntable.
“Gonna get up in the morning, I believe I’ll dust my broom.
I quit the best girl I’m lovin’, now my friends can have my room.”
Oh, I believe, Otis, yes, I believe. Music so fine, we wished, hoped, believed the blues would never stop playing until they’d baptized the whole world, so full of resurrecting power, how could the infernos and jails of the outside world long endure?
There was a party on the islands in Toronto harbor, so we jumped back into Yuri’s borrowed car and drove to the waterfront to catch the ferry ride over to Ward’s Island. We found out that Yuri was learning to play lead guitar and didn’t have a band at the moment. He longed for an opportunity such as we could offer, an unthreatening space to work out his licks. He’d achieved some local notoriety playing bass with The Humble Sponge, a Toronto blues band that released a couple of ’45s. We came back on the ferry from the island party with no serious romantic entanglements. But we had a band. Yuri became official, part of our summer experiment to fill the seat abdicated by the Rocco Brothers.
But neither blues nor R & B was to be the recipe for this new basement band. Because of the success of some Toronto boys, Neil Young among them, who found fame and fortune in Los Angeles with the group, Buffalo Springfield, we became folk rockers. We got fired up about hit songs and recording contracts. Marcel’s basement became a workshop where we actually tried everything. We worked on The Vanilla Fudge’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” a remake of the Supremes Motown hit. Like every other band on the block, we also learned “Hey Joe, where you gonna go with that money in your hand,” Jimi Hendrix’s version. Sometimes I thought of Roy in jail while we sang. We all brought some of our first original tunes to the table. One became a favorite among the squealing girls and worshipful boys who managed to catch our appearances in Marcel Beaujolais’ basement.
The mythological quest of traveling to California loomed in our awakened imaginations. “My van runs fuckin’ great right now,” Marcel said. “It could get us there.”
“I got a friend in Los Angeles who could help us find a place,” Yuri said.
But we were doomed to remain a band that never saw a stage or a dance hall. Unable to pull together enough repertoire by the time the changeable moods of September arrived, a fall breeze rose up and blew our summer dreams away.
Even the locally famous Rocco Brothers were permanently out of commission. Lino Ronconi got in trouble with the Musician’s Union who was suing him over some mysterious business to do with his nightclub. Somebody who felt they should be getting a cut of the profits was not. It was the reason Lee did not come to Roy’s rescue a couple of months before. Not long after his trial, Lino was also doing time in jail.
Marcel lost his inspiration. His van broke down. I had school to go back to, so that’s where I ended up. For Yuri, the California dream still burned bright. He struck out on his own for Los Angeles that fall.
Oh, our name! I almost forgot the most important part of the story. Maybe it was Rob Razor, the bass player, whose great idea it was to call ourselves Jack Catch. He told us it was the name of a barbarous hangman of 1600’s England. His name became a slang word for Satan. A friend of the band knew a photographer who also had a great name, Ed Stockleback. Ed was a creative guy, an artist. He was inspired by the ghoulish name, Jack Catch, and took us out to a local graveyard to pose randomly among the nineteenth century headstones. Ed produced a beautiful 8x10 portrait of us that broke the mold of standard rock and roll band shots, usually smiling guys in suits standing straight in a line. Even though we were a basement band from a dim cellar in the suburbs, we got ourselves a hip publicity picture before we even got any gigs. Ed printed up about 100 black and white glossies and we distributed all of them.
The picture circulated widely among our friends and fans. And that is how Jack Catch achieved some fame in that highly competitive year of 1968 even though they could not be found on a stage anywhere. People loved the photo so much we’d see it pinned up in kitchens and bedrooms everywhere we went. They didn’t seem to care they’d never heard Jack Catch play.
By Dave Holt
(Author's note: this story is true, as true as I can recollect it. Except for "Jack Catch," the names are changed and certain details differ for the sake of story-telling. I kept Ed's name so he gets the glory.)
Ugly Ducklings (Toronto's successful "garage band") courtesy of revrock.blogspot.com