MASTERMIND across the USA - Part Two
By Bill Berends - July-August 1997 (Part One)
Westward Ho!Our route to Vancouver took us across the length of Wyoming where we saw tumble weed blowing across the highways (!) and you could see lengthy freight trains in their entirety! Now this was really the middle of nowhere! Things turned rocky as we cut through the tip of Utah on the way north to Idaho where there were all sorts of dramatic cliffs, gorges, rivers and valleys. Beautiful stuff, everybody should drive out there at least once in their life, it sort of puts things into perspective after being buried in the day to day bullshit of civilization for most of a lifetime. One observation though; no matter how inhospitable or remote a place seemed, there was evidence of man everywhere. You'd gaze upon a spectacular bluff that looked like it was on Mars, and there'd be a little silver box with an antenna on the top! I don't think there is a single square inch of the country that a human hasn't touched at one time or another. I also found myself thinking the original pioneers who crossed this land in horse drawn wagons were indeed crazy people and therefore a lot of the people inhabiting America, especially out west, are the descendants of crazy people. It might explain a few things.
Idaho, eastern Oregon and east Washington seemed very similar to Wyoming, just endless miles of scrub brush covered hills and a lot of nothing. Cattle grazing land I suppose, home of the Ponderosa (we even saw a sign to that effect somewhere). Definitely cowboy country, but suddenly we came down a steeply inclined roadway and everything turned green with jagged snow capped peaks on the horizon! Cool! One of the most dramatic sights on the trip even though I'm not really sure where it was. We were really tired of driving by this point and stopped to spend the night in Yakima, WA before moving on the next day.
What was that?!Heading west from Yakima we entered the Cascade Mountain range which as you may know is where Mt. St. Helens blew its top. This was really beautiful as the tree covered mountains here are extremely dramatic! Up up up we went, then down down down, up up up, down down down as heavy fog from a Pacific storm covered the peaks, rolling down into the valleys like thick white smoke. I was in awe. Just as we came down the last descent we heard a sort of mild 'bang' and the van started to backfire. "What was that?!" We decided to pull off and check it out. As soon as we pulled off, the van stalled and we were sitting in the middle of an intersection. Drag! After a few moments it started again and we limped into a nearby gas station, so luckily we had made it into a civilized area before konking out! After that no amount of cranking and swearing would get the thing going again, and to top it off it was starting to rain. Really a drag!!
We spend several hours tearing the engine apart (luckily Rich & I have some automotive knowledge having been raised by a sports car enthusiast) as Phil & Art watched helplessly. The plugs were fouled bad, we needed parts, so I took Art and we walked about a mile in the rain to an auto parts store and got points, plugs, vacuum hose, distributor cap, etc. and walked back in the notorious Washington drizzle. It sucked. Finally we got the thing running again and off we went to Bellingham, halfway between Vancouver and Seattle, where we had decided to stay for the night. We went out to some local bars and played pool with some college kids (apparently a college town) who had no knowledge of anything we were talking about, so we went back to the motel and watched TV.
Highway RobberyCanada, oh Canada.... you ripped us off BIG time! There's a $400 border tax for a band to play in Canada unless you are traveling with 16 or more in your party. Go figure. It doesn't matter if the gig pays or not, the fee stands. Well, we paid the damn fee even though the gig didn't pay as much, but we were determined to hang in there for every show (I told you we were crazy). Vancouver is a weird mish-mosh of really ugly buildings, but the people there are pretty cool. Apparently they consider themselves the sister city of Amsterdam (or so we were told) and we ate dinner at the Bulldog which sports the same logo as the Bulldog in Amsterdam which we visited earlier in the year (see the European tour notes). They told us there that "only the menu is different". Hey, I'll take the Dutch menu any day! Also akin to Amsterdam; there were prostitutes EVERYWHERE, but these were street hookers and nothing like the display windows of Amsterdam's red light district. There were a lot of live sex show places too.
This was the lowest point of the tour as attendance was poor and the sound system sucked! To top it off my Marshall was blowing fuses all day so I ripped it open and made some adjustments to the tube sockets (state of the art 50's technology). That seemed to do the trick and luckily made it through the set without a hitch, but I was worried about it the whole time. To pay $400 bucks to blow up my amp really would have made my day. Anyway, despite the cost and the problems, the audience was enthusiastic and I'm glad we made the gig. I'm told Canadians never respond to the opening act... well, they responded to us! Fish had all kinds of problems as well and the power went out on stage during his set. I couldn't watch. For the rest of the show Art & I opted to visit one of the nearby sex shows which Rich & Phil had located earlier in the evening and that helped us forget the problems of the last few days. It was very entertaining, but at the end of the night we were all more than happy to head back to the good ol' US of A. I hope Rush pays out the wazoo to work in the States.
Seattle Rocks!We stayed one more night in Bellingham and drove into Seattle early in the day (I think, the motels are all sort of a blur in my memory). It's really a pretty city from what we saw, with vines hanging down off of highway bridges and everything seemingly very clean, I got a good vibe from the place. I suppose that's why all the alterna-kids and neo-hippies gravitate towards there, it doesn't have the philistine bean-counter feel of eastern cities. We loaded in early and I spent some time checking out tube sockets and things in my amp. It was a nice sunny day so in the afternoon I walked around the city a bit and everyone seemed very friendly and a little freaky. It was cool, I liked it! I spent the rest of the day hanging out front of the Fenix with Steve watching people file into the something or other dome down the street as there was a baseball game that day. It was a big dome anyway with lots of people milling around!
By the time we hit the stage the place was packed! One of my most distinct memories of the whole tour was this hippie chick down in front of my side of the stage doing a very spacey kind of dance through our entire set, in her own little world. I was enjoying the audience as much as they were enjoying us! I thought we put on a really good show and recall Squeeky watched our entire set kneeling off to the side thoroughly enjoying himself. I think this was my favorite show of the entire tour, and Fish put on a great show as well seeming to enjoy himself totally. Before he went on he was kicking the ceiling (!) in the hallway leading to the stage boasting they were his best kicks ever! It was amusing, but I'm certain you would never want to get into a fight with Fish, he'd probably kill you with one blow. Anyway, the point is his energy level seemed extraordinarily high.
I think one of the reasons this show was so exciting is because there was another club on the lower floor of the venue connecting to the upstairs and a lot of people were just wandered in to see what was happening. They weren't Fish fans or prog fans, they were just people out to party who liked what they saw and stayed. It was a different vibe than any of the other shows and it really made for a memorable evening. After the show we spent quite some time hanging around out front signing autographs and talking to fans. There seemed to be more than the usual crowd hanging out and we had a good time meeting all the people there. The only drag in Seattle is apparently Doc had made it to the city, but got arrested for bumping his camper into a city bus and never made it to the show, so I didn't see him. Bummer! I really liked Doc! Anyway, at the end of the day we said our goodbyes and headed south for San Francisco.
California or Bust
Phil drove through the night and I was so tired I don't think I saw Oregon at all, by morning we were in northern California and stopped at Mt. Shasta to change drivers. A short time later Art noticed the temperature gauge was through the roof so we pulled off on an exit ramp to wait for thing to cool down a bit. After a little while Fish's bus blew by (we were in the middle of nowhere) and apparently they had spotted us and they turned around and came back for us which was really nice of them! We had got it running by then, although just barely, so the big tour bus followed our "wee van" to the next exit as we limped into a service station smoking and shaking. Damn! As we got out and the bus pulled in we were amused by all the faces in the front window... "something to do, something to do!" It was even funnier seeing all the rock types huddled around the engine compartment offering their opinions ranging from "cracked cylinder wall" to "yer fucked". There was a mechanic on duty and nothing more the Fish guys could do, so we thanked them for stopping and sent them on their way. 'See you later... we hope!'
We checked into the motel across the street (luckily it was a day off) and left the van in the hands of the speed freak mechanic on duty. By the afternoon he had pulled the heads off and it looked like we were fucked, there was a hole the size of a golf ball in one of the pistons which he surmised had been there for a few days. Ever since the bang we heard back in Washington we figured. But the show must go on so we called around, rented a mini-van and a car, transferred the gear and headed south to San Francisco which was still two hours away. The mechanic gave us a quote and said he could replace the piston in two days, so off we went. It was nice to be riding in a brand new car, but it was really going to hurt us.
The Deep Blue PacificWe got to the gig in plenty of time and Slim's was first class with a great catered meal and plenty of dressing room space. Jim had flown out for the California gigs and a few old friends who had moved west years ago showed up which was nice. It was a great gig and a great audience! Another real highlight of the tour. The only weird thing was these poles down either side of the center of the room so I had a pole in my face all night which was kind of distracting. I thanked Fish for the kind use of his stage and his audience and found out later from Jim that Fish, Yatta (Fish's tour manager), Mickey, the whole band in fact had been giving him a really hard time about us not getting the LA show, that we worked so hard for all the little gigs and someone else cherry picked the most well known venue on the tour. I was pleased to learn they stood up for us, but it sure made Jim uncomfortable.
We spent the night with a friend in Jenner CA about an hour north of SF which was simply beautiful, surrounded by woods where the Russian River dumps into the Pacific Ocean. The next morning on our way down the coast I made everyone stop so I could put my hands in the water of the Pacific, a sort of measurement of accomplishment in my own mind that we had made it coast to coast. One can easily see the Pacific is totally different than the Atlantic, deep blue and sparkling as opposed to a dull green. I gazed out across the water thinking how only a few months ago we were gigging on the other side! Pretty cool.
From sea to shining sea... and beyond!
KaosHeading south to Fremont we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, now in bright daylight, and it is massive. I recall how fragile it all looked from the air returning from Japan (see the Japanese Tour Diary) and was just thoroughly enjoying the moment. As we crossed the 12 mile long bay bridge into Hayward I was looking at all the cracks in the concrete and wondering what you're supposed to do if an earthquake hits while you're out here. Luckily we didn't have to figure that out. Viewing the baked brown earth on either side, the bay seemed like the world's largest puddle in the dirt.
By the time we arrived at Club Kaos there was a long line forming around the place which was quite small inside. Since I had heard so much about this place I was surprised by how amateurish the production was. The sound system was pathetic, the monitors... what monitors? No dressing room, not even a way to get off the stage other than straight into the audience! However, once again despite the venue, the audience was great and made up for what was lacking, but it was kind of a let down, the last night of the tour (for us) was far too much like the sucky little bars we've been playing for most of our lives. But we gave it our best and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. As we packed up outside (since there was no staging area) Fish sounded particularly mean and angry that night we thought, perhaps because the PA had a fuzz box quality to it and he kind of sounded like 'Schizoid Man', or perhaps he really was angry about the production, either way it sounded kind of cool. I went back inside and watched from the side of the stage. What happened next was quite a surprise...
Fare thee WellAs Fish took to the stage for his encore he stopped and told me "get your guys" which kind of surprised me. He had mentioned the night before he would make our last night something special, but I wasn't sure how serious he was. Apparently he was! As I frantically looked through the crowd for Rich & Phil I caught some of his rap about how "Mastermind followed us around in their wee van and, despite breaking down and all their problems, they made it to every show" and how he admired that, I didn't quite catch it all (does anybody have this on tape?). We got on stage and ripped through a rousing rendition of The Door's 'Roadhouse Blues' when Fish grabbed me hard and kissed me on the lips!! I think he did the same to Phil, I dunno, I was a bit in shock! It was quite a surprise to say the least and a very emotional moment.
Jamming with Fish & Mickey
At the end of the night in the parking lot we exchanged contact info and got together for a big group photo. I got into a body slamming contest with Fish which we called a draw, then got into it with Yatta as well! Yup, they're all crazy! We said our final farewells to everyone with lots of hugs and handshakes, I was gonna miss these guys! Phil left with the bus to go to LA where he was meeting his wife and flying home (bastard!) as we set off to find a place to stay for the night.
The Cast and Crew
Back (L-R): Jim, Steve, Phil, Fish, Squeeky, Bill, Mike, Steve (bus driver)
Front (L-R): Dave, Andy, Yatta, Rich, Duncan, JJ Belle [RIP], Art
Fashionably Late: Mickey Simmonds
AftermathThe next day we drove back to Corning to see how it was going with the van and return the rental cars. It turns out the speed freak mechanic had gone AWOL and no progress had been made. We discussed our options and decided to leave the van behind, it would have cost two grand to have a new motor installed plus another week of hotel expense which was just far too much to justify, the van only cost a grand! Even then there was no guarantee it would have made it back home, who knows how good a mechanic they could dig up, so we called around and arranged for a rental truck, transferred the gear, stripped the van and headed home.
Art plotted a shortcut from Corning to Route 80 heading towards Reno which turned out to be the most spectacular scenery yet! Right across the Sierra Nevada Mountains on little two lane roads, I was driving taking it all in, it was breathtaking. As we went further and further into the mountains the gas gauge was nearing rock bottom and we were in a bit of a panic, it would really suck to get stuck out here!! We finally connected with Route 80 and there was a service plaza right there, but I swear we made the last few miles on just fumes! What luck. I guess it's about time we had some. We drove straight through Nevada non-stop which is really like crossing Mars. If there ever was a place you would expect to see dinosaurs, this was it. The frightening part though is what we did see; gigantic high security prisons, and LOTS of them. Out in the middle of nowhere, razor wire gleaming in the artificial sun-like intensity of halogen towers, it was a bit unnerving. Preparing for the future I guess...
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We couldn't make it non-stop with only three drivers as was our original plan and spent a night in Wyoming somewhere. From there we drove straight through to New Jersey which took a few more days. As we entered the Philadelphia metro area I could just feel my blood pressure rising. You know, we saw maybe three or four police cars the entire trip across America, but upon returning to Jersey we saw a dozen or more in the half hour or so it took to get to my house. I really have to get out of this place and soon! But that's another story.
Closing CommentsIt was a real pleasure to work with Fish on this tour, I liked him from the get go. I got a good vibe right from the very first day we met in Sheffield, and after weeks of working and hanging together I developed a real admiration for the way he handles himself both on stage and off. A wonderful politically incorrect balance of irreverence, cynicism, talent, humor and wit. Fish, we love you man, I hope we can work together again in the future.
I'd also like to say that Duncan, Fish's stage tech was a real life saver for me! I don't think I worked him into the story line, but he was right there whenever I needed him and he made my job a lot easier almost every night. You deserve your own private dancer... woohoo!! Thanks Duncan!
And Mickey, what can I say? Brilliant comes to mind, witty, even... silly! I look forward to the day we meet again. (postscript: we did work together again when Mickey joined Mastermind for our 1999 tour. Excellent!)
I also met a ton of people from the Net along the way and can't possibly mention everybody, but it was great to meet all of you! I appreciate your support and hope to see you again sometime soon.
It's been real.
Special thanks to: Jim Pitulski, Phil Antolino, Art Dorety, Malcolm Parker, Chris Harp, Adam Levin, Mike Potter, Steve Witte, Dameon & Little Bear, Larry Webman, the guy in Fremont who let us stay at his house, anyone else I forgot, and Fish, Yatta, Mickey, Doc, Duncan, Steve, Squeeky, JJ, Andy, Dave, Mike... thanks guys.
©1998 Bill Berends. May be reproduced in whole or in part with inclusion of this copyright notice.