About Me

Jack Za

Excerpt from musical autobiography, Make You Want Crazy 2022

Chapter Three – When you finally get out of the basement 1965-1969

The Nightbeats were short lived, and I moved on after being asked to be in another band. After months of adjusting the band lineup we became the Cautions. The name inspired by the back of the trash trucks in the area. I would say we mainly did Top 40, but also a lot of rhythm and blues dance songs. I remember Chuck, Art(the bass player), and I going to Club Imperial a lot. That’s where the Ike and Tina Turner Revue held court. The three of us spent many a night there soaking up the early excitement of Tina Turner and the band. Club Imperial also had a couple more high-quality bands that played there regularly, so, it was a great arena to observe how to professionally entertain people.

We eventually were handled by a manager, Ken, who got us into a recording studio in Memphis. Months before we met Ken, the band had the opportunity to record in Nashville at the Columbia Recording Studio. Unfortunately, we did not have a clue of how to take advantage of this opportunity in 1967. We only had a couple of originals that Chuck and I had been fooling with and they were very amateurish. We recorded them, anyway, and through the help of the engineer came away with a decent version of the songs on tape.

I came away with one memory that sticks with me to this day. When we left the engineering booth and went into the room to record for the first time I saw an acoustic guitar and a music stand with lyrics in front of one of the microphones. The engineer had setup a mic for my sax near the guitar and lyrics. I wish I would have looked at the lyrics closer because when we got back in the engineering booth I asked the engineer who did the guitar and lyrics belong to and he said, “Bob Dylan. He was recording here last night.” Gulp. My world had just been turned upside down.

At the time I was just a sax player. My English teacher in high school introduced us to his lyrics the year before and even though I wasn’t a songwriter, let alone a guitar player, I was moved.

So, this was the altar where all the magic happened. All I felt, deep inside, was that I had a long, long way to go before I deserved to be there again in the future.

After Ken took control of the band he used his contacts to get us into Hi Records recording studio in Memphis. And once again, the band was not able to take advantage of the situation. We had no original songs and no studio experience. The Nashville session should have taught us that. I do remember one evening the engineer/producer, Ray Harris-a music legend in his own right, brought in a singer/songwriter to see if we would be interested in recording any of his songs. This was the end of 1967, possibly the beginning of 1968 and I remember the song we recorded of his was very reflective of the Summer of Love and held an anti-war message subtly in his lyrics.

The impression he made on me started the transition of less time on the sax and more time on the piano and guitar. I started to want to express myself in words, as well as music.

This was very challenging for the guy who thought of school as a nuisance starting at age fifteen. I am an ignoramus in writing skills, but I’ve loved to read since I can’t remember when. I love the act of putting words together, as much as I do musical notes.

On one of the recording sessions Ray had brought in three studio musicians. The lesson I learned that night was no matter how you think you’re getting better on your instrument there is always someone far beyond your skills. And you will never catch up.

Ken also got us on the road which presented a whole new set of challenges. We mainly played in college bars where our time spent playing fraternity and sorority parties in the past paid off. It didn’t take long before a few of the guys in the band grew tired of life on the road. We tried to replace them, but the spirit of the original band disappeared and the Cautions broke up.

Back in St Louis Ken was still my manager and I was going to start another band that would play songs more suited to a younger audience like myself. The ‘long hair’ way of life was starting to gain momentum and all of the new music reflected that. Hendrix, Doors, Cream, and later; Led Zepplin were our go to groups in the Rock Revival. Luckily, Ken was always in the background encouraging me to write more songs

He understood, but I didn’t at the time, that writers make more money than the average band member in a group with a record deal.

The Rock Revival had two gigs in it’s short life-span that are worth mentioning. One of the clubs in St Louis during the late 60’s was called the Castaway. Most weekends you would find an array of local bands there. We managed to get booked there several times and got about the same crowd response as anyone else. There were a couple bands that had a good fan base and the rest of us were kind of thrown into a pile together.

Our best gig, by far, was opening for Muddy Waters. Normally, one of the popular bands would have been placed on the lineup to open for him, but since Ken had been the person that booked Muddy Waters the opening slot fell to the Rock Revival. I look back, now, and think we almost had a ‘workhorse’ approach to our gigs. We had not been together very long, as far as the rehearsal of the songs were concerned. We just got onstage and poured everything we had into the performance and hoped for the best. And that is exactly what we did before Muddy Water’s took the stage.

But what I remember most was what happened before the music started. After we had setup all of our equipment and did a soundcheck I went back to the club’s office where I knew Ken was with Muddy Waters and his band. I walked into a small room with a desk, some chairs and a small couch. There was card table setup in the middle of the room and Muddy and three other guys were playing cards. Ken and Gene, the manager of the Castaway, along with some more of Muddy Water’s entourage were scattered about the room. No one was talking when I opened the door except the card players. As I stepped in Muddy’s chair was the closest to the door. And just like when I was standing before Dylan’s guitar and lyrics I was moved by greatness.

One of the most important bluesmen of American music was sitting before me. I would have gladly kneeled. Instead, as I glanced down at him when I walked by he looked up at me with a glass tumbler in his hand and said, “Boy, you mind getting me some water?” What! Muddy Waters just asked me to get him a glass of water! He called me boy. Wait, he called me boy, aw, who cares. I said, sure, took the glass and went out the door to the snack stand. When I came back and set the glass down in front of him he looked up and gave me a nod and during that quick moment I was able to look him in the face and remember how he looked. Bored, but when I thought of that night through the years and learned more about Muddy Waters’ life I was so glad that we got to open for him that night. Just to take part in the experience. In the history of rock and roll these were the men who gave us its foundations.

We had one other gig where we opened for a major recording artist, the Byrds. From the very beginning, the Rock Revival had planned on going on the road. Which was going to be a challenge. It was 1968.

Dave and Mike were still in high school and were probably seventeen. Jim and I were both eighteen and out of school. I had flirted with music college, but to me it seemed stale and outdated.

It had been about two years since Ken had started managing the Cautions and I had been absorbing as much about the music business from him as I could. Truthfully, I always had a different perspective when I was trying to promote my songs. I had been privy to Ken’s experience and the knowledge he had acquired in the music business from the late 50’s to the 60’s. Up until the Digital Age, in my opinion, the music business never changed in the way they operated to make a profit. It wasn’t that hard to figure out.

And so, to the dismay of several of the parents, the Rock Revival hit the road. The booking agency that Ken was working with in Memphis had us booked for about six weeks playing college bars in Wisconsin. I remember most of the bands that played these clubs kept to an almost universal song playlist. The trouble was we didn’t. Since we were a little younger than the college patrons we stubbornly stuck to the songs we wanted to play. And that did not go over well. After a couple of miserable weeks of ignoring club owner’s song requests in different cities we ended up in Green Bay.

I remember, in the first couple of days we met a group of kids our age. A couple of them had opened a ‘Head’ shop in town and the place had a loyal following of young people that lived there. The few people that were eighteen and could go to the club we were playing at spread the word and soon we all were friends.

But it was the same, music wise, at this club, as well. The owner did not want to hear any of the current music that was, in fact, shaping all of our young lives. I know, it sounds like a silly battle. We were hired to reproduce the sounds and songs that all of these club owners expected. But a new day was on the horizon and like any other generation of young people we thought we knew best. And in a lot of life in the late 60’s we did.

Another group of people we met at the motel in those first days in Green Bay were a couple of monks that lived in the country outside of Green Bay. Their leader was a big, loud, charismatic guy who introduced himself to us and invited us to his room for spiritual discussions.

It sounds weird, but a lot of that kind of thing went on back then. I think the monk was in town to raise money.

I would say Dave was the most spiritual of us all and he did have some very intense discussions with the monk leader about the state of the world. I had breakfast with him a couple of times, but all he got out of me was a guy whose world revolved around music. A force that could touch people and change their lives, more than the hooey he was talking about. Before the end of our booking at the club, which was a week, the high school kids told us that there was going to be a big dance at their school in a few months and that the school had booked the Byrds. Our friends up there told us that they would make a push for us to be the opening act. I think the band headed home after that and within a couple of weeks we got the gig to go back to Green Bay and open for the Byrds. It was the end of April and we wouldn’t be going back up there until the end of May. I’m sure we played a few gigs in that month and rehearsed as much as we could, but there was plenty of resistance from certain parents to quit this folly and for their sons to quit the band and go to college or get-at the very least-a ‘straight’ job. The guys in the band knew that we were on borrowed time. I remember us learning a couple more Led Zepplin songs off of their first album. That harder-edged rock sound is what appealed to us at that present time. And we still had no originals to speak of.

The band traveled back up there at the beginning of Spring. We stayed at the same motel and all of our friends started coming by the minute we checked in. They did make us feel like the band was something special and I know that felt good to Dave, Mike, Jim, and myself, as well. I remember the night of the performance the auditorium was packed. There was so much energy from the crowd it felt like we were in a different world. And with that same ‘workhorse’ mentality the band owned those covers that night and the audience loved it.

At the end of our set we tried to get to the other corner of the auditorium to get as close as we could to the Byrds. About halfway there a door to the parking lot opened up next to the stage and the Byrds filed in, took the stage and picked up their instruments. We were still trying to maneuver closer to the stage when the Byrds

started playing their first song without saying anything to the audience. Ok, you’re big stars, we get it.

But, what we heard next was incredible. They were playing a song from Sweethearts of the Rodeo. This was their new album that none of us were really aware of at that time. Dave, Mike and I looked at each other knowing full well that we were listening to the future. Jim was and always will be a follower of the philosophy of the Rolling Stones. If Charlie Watts ever quit Jim could take his place without anyone skipping a beat. So, he wasn’t as impressed with this brand new country rock sound as we were.

By the time a bunch of us had finally forced our way to the front of the stage the Byrds had already done a couple more songs. I don’t think any of us were big fans of country music, although I had

grown up with it from a group of cousins. But what the Byrds did on that album was give us a different twist on a truly American music genre.

So, after playing a half dozen songs the Byrds-who still haven’t said a word or even acknowledged the audience-unplugged their instruments and walked out the door.

Well, that was diva-like. In person, it was hard not to think…how rude! And later, when it was just the four of us, it was actually really funny. That they would act so cliché. That they honestly did not see that they owed those hundreds of people who paid to see them a whole lot more, regardless of their past fame and fortune. Another clear case of Idol Abuse.

So, that whole Green Bay experience had so many contrasts to me when I think back on it. First, the way that group of friends up there treated the band. As if we were something. We didn’t have our own sound, but we had our own energy. And that energy matched those young people who were looking for the alternative in Green Bay. Most of the norm sucked to all of us and we were out to change it. The fact that we could see brand new horizons, so different than what most of the parents of that generation saw. And then there were the monks. The leader who to me lacked the graciousness of a true leader, but found his strength in the self-righteousness that he preached to his monks and followers. To them the Byrds were an example of the excesses of society. To sacrifice for a belief was what they thought we should all strive for. Not success, or money, or material goods. Okay, maybe you can get by with that kind of thinking in the backwoods of Wisconsin, but in reality they kept up that kind of life by donations. I saw the leader hustle older people and wondered where was the sincerity and honesty of his philosophy. In the Byrds I saw an example of a concept I came up with while I was living in Los Angeles, years later. Idol Abuse. Not only do we abuse our idols, but they in turn abuse us as well.

The Byrds, like so many hundreds of entertainers before them, put themselves above it all. For whatever reason, they made a judgement call that night that this audience was irrelevant. Nope, sorry. Sure, some audiences are downright rude. Believe me, in my limited experience I know what that feels like. But in that auditorium that night in May there was only a feeling of welcoming. I guess that is something an entertainer should never lose sight of.

I wonder how the sales of Byrds albums in Green Bay looked after that performance? Or, did it even matter? Of course, the minute we got back home we started to learn as much of that Sweethearts of the Rodeo album as we could. Our time on the road had fine-tuned our harmonies. The sound we were striving for now was more country rock. Dave and I started to spend more and more time on our acoustic guitars and eventually the band just sort of faded away.

In time, I moved out to St Charles in 1969 and traded my sax in for an acoustic 12-string. It was at that point that I became a singer/songwriter.

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