Bob, The Wackers, the Times, and Enough Personal Opinions to Start a Fist Fight – Updated!

Back in 1971 the world was a different place. McDonald’s hamberders were made with real beef. …From cows! The realm of Dance was twerkless. Lady Ga Ga was 15 years away from being able to say goo goo let alone being able to wear a meat dress and sing with Tony Bennett. Weird booths called “Payphones” dotted the landscape, and the music that dominated radio was loud, raw, rough, and serious, lyrically mysterious, musically adventurous, and actively, proudly, out for sex and drugs, and with most of them, madly obsessed with castles, the dark arts, plinths, Roundabouts, Crazy Trains,  limousines, and being on the cover of Rolling Stone. They were rapidly replacing the “Radio Friendly” 3 minute pop songs that had dominated the airwaves since before I was born.

These Are Not The Wackers You Are Looking For

The Wackers were born into this musical landscape…which is why a hell of a lot of people never heard of us. We were a throwback and a glimpse into the future simultaneously. But our timing was off. We “looked” wrong, and we “sounded” wrong. Had we shown up in 1963, we would have been part of the resurgence of guitar bands. Had we shown up in 1984, we would have gotten huge due to our MTV/Much Music-friendly look and songs, and would have been dead of Sclerosis Of The Liver, a drug overdose, or multiple STDs by the time we were 40. …but in 1971, all we had was wanting to write great songs, make great records, world wide domination,  and…oh yeah…all that sex and drugs and money and stuff.

The Wackers on 2nd Street in Eureka, one of the first three promotional shots we ever took This one ended up on the inside sleeve of Wackering Heights, the other two were on the front and back covers of the same album.

Wackering Heights Front Cover with Gold Foil Logo. Photo taken in the front yard of Wackering Heights

The Original Box of Atomic Puppies

Wackering Heights Back Cover. Taken on the driveway in front of the house. The Wackering Heights sign was made by our roadies, Tim Stull and Steve Wood, and hung over the entrance to the property.

The Actual Wackering Heights

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As mentioned in Part One of this confessional, The Wackers were created out of a simple desire to write and perform entertaining songs and enjoy the fuck out of what we were doing and just have a great time. Get out of L.A and pursue the joy of creating music we loved, unfettered by the pressure and expectations of the label we were on, and removed from the distractions afforded to us in La La Land that were sooo seductive, you didn’t HAVE to become successful to have a great life …because you already HAD one. And yes …when we started out, we wanted to be so fucking huge and rich that all would bow before us, etc. We got over it sooner than most rock acts though, mainly because we weren’t an ‘act’, and the music became the most important thing because it was so damn good, it kind of scared us.

A Concerned Reader – “Scared? You? Why?

It kind of scared us because it didn’t fit in ANYWHERE. …thanks for asking.

A Concerned Reader – “What do you mean, didn’t fit in anywhere?”

Well …I guess the easiest way to explain would be to use some visual aids.

A Concerned Reader – “What do you mean by vis…”

Jesus Christ! Enough questions. Shut up and read….

The BIGGEST RECORD of 1971

Along with Bohemian Rhapsody, this song has the shelf life of a case of Herpes…if you get them…you have them forever.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone….

Okay, okay, a towering achievement as important as Stevie Nicks and Her Twirling Shawl, I’ll concede that, but the pretty, folky, soft part at the beginning – the first 20 minutes of this opus – sounds so sour to me, it makes me wince, like when you had the mumps and bit into a dill pickle …but my hearing has always been iffy, so it’s probably just me.

Led Zeppelin

Regardless of what I think of it, this was the pinnacle of rock in 1971 and I have nothing but respect for that, but …as far as I can ascertain from the random refrigerator magnet word tiles that form the lyrics to this masterpiece …the song is about a bunch of disconnected things that add up to, “Let’s all get along, pursue our dreams, be cool enough to be able to shop when the stores are closed, follow a guy playing the bagpipes if one happens to pass by, check out the wild parties they throw in that castle …last night, one of the King’s hot mess girlfriend’s bustle ended up in the hedge, be cool, be nice, embrace life, enjoy what you have, stop and smell the roses, accept your place in the scheme of things, be at peace, and you get to go climb the stairs to heaven when YOUR bustle ends up in a hedge …and we’ll all be happy.”

…at least, that’s what I think they mean.

A Stairway…

…to Heaven.

That’s got to be a long, arduous climb …you’d think Heaven would send a limo.

The Wackers said exactly the same thing with this little ditty.

A Concerned Reader – “I don’t understa…”

Shut up! It says exactly the same thing.

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The Wacks were a once-in-a-lifetime collision of fairly like-minded guys from disparate backgrounds looking to do something that was not rocket science or couched in anxiety over trying to appeal to the most people in order to make the most money. Or get the largest amount of chicks, or be hailed as the Saviours of Songs without singing about beer, babes, beatin’ up guys, or the glories of people like Aleister Crowley and other infamous practitioners of alternative (twisted) lifestyles like Mean Mr. Mustard.

We just wrote about the human condition, our feelings, love (Body Go Round), sex stuff (Teenage Love), and an occasional nod to something important (No Place for the Children), the joy of a rainy day (Such a Good Thing), and of course, Killer Whales, Loretta Young, Saxophones, Cosmic Zones, and Clones (Hey Lawdy Lawdy).

The weird thing was the fact that we never rehearsed.

Didn’t have to.

Thank God.

Never liked to.

It sucks all the energy and life out of a song before you even play it for anyone.

Going over and over and over something to get it ‘right’ sucks the life, spontaneity, and energy right out of a song …and …if you stop to think about it …if you’re working on something and the participants have to be cajoled, schooled, belt-whipped, and/or bribed to contribute their part, maybe, just maybe …you should seek people out who share your vision intuitively.

A Concerned Reader – “So what you’re sayi…”

Shhh …read.

There was an almost telepathic connection between us.

bob mike and randy

When one of us wrote a song, let’s say Mike, and played it for everybody, (Usually in a living room, Mike, Rand, and I sitting comfy on the couch and floor, acoustic guitars at the ready), the harmonies were being roughed out and sung by Rand and I by the time Mike finished playing the first run through of the tune. Kootch and Rand would have  the changes down, a rudimentary bass part, a few riffs on the guitar, Ernie catching the groove, feel and breaks, his hands keeping rhythm drumming on his legs while I strummed my Fender/Martin acoustic as a percussion instrument following Ernie’s drum pattern.

The Living Room at Wackering Heights

Then, big grins on our faces, the outline drawn, we would play it till we fit it together like a jigsaw puzzle, and someone else would bring their latest song to the circle and we would repeat the process. That night, we would go to a bar, ask to sit in, and play the new tunes once or twice in front of an audience, and THAT was how we rolled. You can’t rehearse in an empty room …you would be in a vacuum, …and nothing can live in a vacuum.

The musicians, especially Ernie and Kootch, found the groove, created the riffs, developed the breaks and fancy stuff over time when we played the songs at gigs, and rarely, if ever, questioned what the other guy was doing. Sometimes, songs were written at soundchecks (Teenage Love, for example), and played a few times that night. We didn’t really discuss what we were doing. We expressed our delight when someone came up with a great contribution, or suggested an alternative idea, and no one bitched or moaned about it. I really don’t recall any negativity, only constructive criticism, but always with a suggestion, never, “I don’t like it” with no input as to what THEY would like. Rand absolutely defined and completed Day and Night with the guitar part he came up with. The song would not exist without that perfect guitar riff. That said, the writer always had the last word.

We had a team motto.

The Song is the Star

Mike, Rand, Cool Crushed Velvet Tie-Dyed Pants, Kootch, and Ernie 

Yep. The SONG is the star. Not me, not you, not these cool crushed velvet tie-dyed bell bottom pants Jim Morrison’s wife, Pam, made for me, not the audience, not our manager, not anything but the fucking song. The MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT of music. Not the kick drum sound, the lead guitar, the singer(s) or the God Damn VOLUME (another motto – Volume Never Saved Anything. It makes things LOUDER not BETTER) Just. The. Song.

…because WITHOUT The Song …

You are just an unemployed doofus playing random twaddle on your banjo.

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Do you know why there are so many tribute and cover bands?

A Concerned Reader – “Well …”

Hush. That was a rhetorical question. I’m about to tell you.

Because there are insanely talented musicians who don’t, won’t, or feel that they can’t write the kinds of songs they think would be good enough to make a living playing music, which is their dream, so they learn all the great (in their opinion) songs they love and audiences adore. …and baby, if you have the skills to be able to do that, you can play music until the last neighborhood tavern burns to the ground, the Cruise Ship lines go tits up, small towns who are overlooked or passed by, by touring bands stop loving music, and nostalgia for dearly departed artists runs dry. …and if you can recreate the sound of those well loved records and those deeply missed artists for people who never got to hear the originals, then the hardest part; the writing of the song and all the work that went into making them the much loved and well remembered hits that your audiences come to hear, has already been done for you. All you need to be is GREAT, and you can close your eyes on stage and imagine BEING the original, and when the audience response washes over you, well …imagine how that appreciation will energize and reward your effort. …and even those who can and do write, but choose to use their talent to play the songs of well known artists who most audiences rarely or will never get a chance to hear? Well, they’re smart. Not only do they get to play as often as they want …they get to make good, solid money and have a career doing what they love to do; have a career and a job they enjoy, AND pay the rent and buy groceries, and in the case of the great ones …get rich.

Toronto’s Pretzel Logic

Sometimes, the student can surpass the teacher, so….

RESPECT THOSE WHO CAN ACHIEVE THIS GOAL

…but personally …swallow your fear, your negativity, and your self-doubt …and WRITE. Just be patient and do the work …jumping off the cliff is how we ALL start down this path.

A Concerned Reader – “I have to say, your mind wanders. You digress more than anyone I’ve ever …”

Yeah. I know. Go get me a beer.

Now then …where the fuck was I.

A Concerned Reader – “You were…”

Are you still here? Beer me, dammit!

Oh. Right. The Wackers …

We never said, “What’s that song about?” to the writer, never had screaming matches, never sat around and tried to write something that we thought would cater to the audience instead of satisfy OUR need to create music we loved, and, more importantly, never danced as badly as Billy Squire or performed as uncomfortably as Mike Love, or as wasted as Keith Richards or Joe Cocker…ahh, who am I kidding, we could drink as much as the Small Faces and still kill it.

One of the reasons Bohemian Rhapsody was lost on me (The movie, not the song. The song was lost on me because Carmen is a better opera …) was the overwhelming occurence of dramatic exposition that was used to ramp up the audiences excitement experiencing what they believe is a fly on the wall view of one of their musical touchstones being shared with them. That said, in my experience, if someone in the Wackers would have said, “I want to create a song the AUDIENCE can perform”, the wisecracks would have been unleashed, followed by laughter, followed by a pretty good beating.

A Concerned Reader – “Why would you…”

Because that mindset means you don’t create music YOU love and create art…it means you want to write songs for your AUDIENCE, which means you are CRAFTING something specifically to increase your audience, advance your career, and become even more popular than you already are. In other words, there are a LOT of musicians who are a hell of a lot smarter than I am. (I really should have thought about the money occasionally).

Also …That ‘song’ Brian May wanted to create for the audience to perform wasn’t a song. He created a pep rally cheer which is still used at sportsball games.

…and, in yet another of my seemingly endless humble opinions, Queens’ tunes always sounded like Broadway show tunes to me, played with guitar bass and drums instead of a pit orchestra and chorus line.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Considering Freddy’s background, there is a possibility my opinion  carries a modicum of truth …like the sobriquet, “Chicken” McNuggets.

Freddy Mercury

…and imagine what fun an album of those songs actually DONE in that fashion would be. Lady Ga Ga, Madonna, and Demi Lovato could do the Garland, Merman, Zero Mostel vocals. …and Adele. Adele belting out Fat Bottomed Girls swaddled in a vast quantity of feather boas, while being carried down a revolving two story white staircase by 6 semi clothed chorus boys wearing bicycle helmets and spandex.

Brian May is leaving a pile of cash on the table by not doing this.

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Hey! Let’s listen to some tunes including a few live ones and a couple of rough mixes and demos!

Hearing the harmony produced by Michael, Rand, and Myself, was enough to put huge, stupid grins on our faces…and the fact that we NEVER had to rehearse in order to do it, well…THAT was magic. The fact that it put stupid grins on our audiences faces was a bonus.

Here’s some early stuff for you to enjoy…or not.

Every band starts out as a cover band. So did we…but we also had a bag full of originals to play alongside the covers. Playing familiar songs to an audience who has never heard of you is a good way to let them know who and what you are and where you came from…especially if you can make that familiar song just different enough to make it your own. Capture the spirit and the ambiance of it, not just the notes or arrangement, and you can play with the song as long your mandate isn’t just to recreate it.

Young Punks Who Covered Classic Rock and Roll Songs

We all learned a lot from The Beatles. Listen to the Cavern Club recordings and hear them when they did covers at the beginning of their journey to the overbearing weight and responsibility of Absolute Success. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Everly Brothers …the Beatles let us know where they came from and who inspired them and those influences remained for the duration of their entire career. One of the Wackers inside jokes during our calculating, weed-fueled World Domination phase (and anyone who was ever in a band knows this), that phase occurs in the beginning …at least when you’re young, don’t know shit about the music industry, and are driven to form a band because of the desire to be the Next Big Thing like The Beatles or Grand Theft Auto, or Fidget Spinners.  Dreams are what make us achieve…and some dreams never die. Look at who is still living the dream in their ’70s and ’80s …and if you count Dick Van Dyke and a few others …their ’90s.

Here are a few examples of The Wackers early covers.

Michael takes the lead in this Smokey Robinson chestnut, with Rand, Kootch, and I doing our parts. This is from a cassette taken from a live, over the air broadcast on CHOM FM from Your Father’s Mustache on Closse Street, across from the Montreal Forum. This was before we moved to Montreal but were there recording the first of 3 albums we would do in Quebec, Hot Wacks. The sound quality of this old cassette might be iffy, but the performance isn’t. Wish we would have had high end recording gear at all the gigs we played. There were always surprises, always new tunes.

Here’s Michael again on that same trip to Montreal, but in a 3am session we did to blow off the tedium of making an album. We needed to PLAY. Our assistant engineer, Nelson Vipond, snuck us into Andre Perry’s downtown Studio  and we recorded 7 complete songs, none of which Gary Usher, our producer, wanted to include on the album. …and never even knew had been recorded.

Our Favourite Room in Montreal – Andre Perry’s Downtown Studio

This tune was written by Steve Lalor, member of Seattle’s legendary Daily Flash, whose expected sure-thing rise to Rock Stardom was tragically face-planted due to the unexpected death of one of their members. Rand and I had recorded the background vocals on the Daily Flash recording of this song along with Rita Coolidge when we were still living in L.A.. When we were thinking about material for The Wackers, we remembered this great track and gave the lead vocal to Mike and his powerful voice. Rand and I did the Background vocals.

As long as you have the time, or you’re a die-hard Wacker fan, here’s a bonus. These next two tracks are the studio version of The Miracles tune you heard live, and the live version of the studio version of ‘Ride’ you just heard. We should have recorded everything we did live. Even with the lousy sound quality of the live stuff here (until it was digitized, this stuff only existed on a 45 year old cassette tape), the energy and feel of these tunes smoke the studio versions…and things would happen when we played our original tunes that would see us add different elements, even an entirely different song shoe-horned into the song we were playing. We’ll get to an example of that in a minute. But first, here’s Studio Smokey and Live Ride.

…and here’s the live version of Ride.

Studio and Live versions of a Beatle Classic.

Studio

Live

Bobby Troupe, Larry Williams and a dozen British Invasion bands live

…and the Wacker song I wrote inspired by Bobby Troupe, Larry Williams and a dozen British Invasion bands live.

Here’s a good example of The Wackers making a bat-shit crazy decision mid-song, (which happened to be our current ‘hit’ single), while playing to a packed house, and even worse, while being broadcast live over the biggest radio station in Montreal.

In this case it was Kootch, who, probably just to be a brat, started running around the stage telling us what he had in mind while we’re playing the song he wants to dick around with. You’ll hear the band vamp while we figured it out in our minds, and then followed Kootch’s direction. This became a staple in our live shows and usually closed the first set on club dates. We worked without a net. We were fearless. We were dangerous and adventurous. We were high on good Afghan hash and Jack Daniels. Plowed, actually….and Kootch OWNS the song he sings here.

Here are a couple recorded in November of 1971 in Berkeley California at the famous New Orleans House for a Wacker’s live album they wanted us to do which ended up being the first of two live albums we recorded which were never released. Using Wally Heider’s Mobile Truck, Creedence Clearwater’s engineer, Russ Gary was at the board.. Keeping him company in the Mobile, were 2 big Wacker fans, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook from Creedence.

These are just monitor mixes. I have never heard all three sets, and I should track down the 16 track masters and mix those bad boys.

Two classic covers from Chuck Berry and the still Reigning Kings of the Original British Incursion. They may sound pretty much like the originals, but they aren’t …but we understood the energy and cinematic underpinnings and THAT’S what made them feel familiar and fresh at the same time.

Rand brings an incredible amount of energy and passion to this classic….

It’s a sing-along!

The Wackers melting pot of classic rock and roll, early British Invasion, the current hubbub being caused by Bowie, Bolan, and Alice Cooper’s willingness to use some eyeshadow, acknowledge their feminine side, and, (in Alice and Bowie’s case), don a summer frock and heels and perform on stage, or push a pram full of baby to the grocery store began to make people nervous. Kootch and Ernie (God or the Force bless them) were unfazed by Rand and my becoming dedicated followers of fashion and kept The Wackers both grounded and close knit while the winds of change swirled around us and the whole of the record industry and pop culture in general. Bowie wasn’t a rock star. He was a Performance Artist, not a Rock Star. He played a rock star on an album or two as well as a spider from Mars, a clown, a serious monologist, a Shakespearean soliloquy, a thin white Duke, and other characters, and to this day, most people have not figured out that Bowie was an actor who plied the boards in musical theatre …he was indeed, one of a kind. …and the herald of a great ground-breaking shift in pop culture’s perception of entertainment.

Rand’s affection for David Bowie (Hunky Dory was in our hands before Bowie even had a label in North America) and my absolute love of the songwriting on that album, informed The Wackers look, music, and our embracing of the new androgynous trend that was beginning to blossom. Though Bowie’s sartorial style impacted Rand more than me, I took to Marc Bolan’s velvet jackets and added a bow tie and used my guitar in a fashion similar to T-Rex. Nowhere are our Bowie and Bolan influences more apparent than on this great song Rand wrote for the Wack and Roll LP.

Our label became concerned. Some of them embarrassed at our appearance. They did not like or understand androgyny or what was about to become “Glam Rock”. The platform boots, the silk jersey shirts, the make-up and affectations were at first amusing to them, then annoying. They turned down the original cover of Hot Wacks because they believed it would tank the record because Rand and I, “looked like girls”.

We were just men secure in our masculinity, understood the latest trends in style and music,…and didn’t give a fuck about what they thought. We were suddenly surrounded by newly minted old farts, and the as yet tuned in mainstream audience got the giggles just like they got when they first saw long hair in the ’60s. And suddenly, clouds covered the sun, there was a chill in the air, and there were cracks forming in our rose coloured glasses, the feeling that the dream that had been so strong and so obtainable might be dashed against the rocks by people who no longer knew how to steer the ship.

It was the beginning of the end.

 

I vented my frustration  by writing about it. Part nonsense, part bitterness, part sarcasm and part broken heart, I couched the lyric in the strict marching pattern of T-Rex’s most memorable songs.

Late one night during the recording of Shredder, we used some downtime to record this demo. We had company at the time, who were in Montreal rehearsing for their first North American Tour. The whole group didn’t hang out in the studio with us during the recording of Shredder, but the 3 who did were a delight to be around.

To thank us for letting them hang out, they gifted us with orchestra seats to both nights of their sold out show at Place des Arts. So thanks again to John Cleese, Eric Idle, and future Rutle, Neil Innes, who put a duck on his head and taught me how sweet being an idiot can be. What was REALLY sweet, was being there when Monty Python was first introduced to North American audiences.

This demo was recorded under the name, The Fabulous Duck Brothers.

..because that’s what the Wackers were.

And as it turns out, we were Bored …but we hung in, recorded the lost Wacker album, Wack and Roll, and hoped for a miracle.

It never came

After a magical 3 years on a wonderful roller coaster, in a bubble with a small band of brothers and sisters bound by music, mayhem, and magic, it was over.

…The Wackers were no more.

Next – Wack to the Future

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Segarini’s regular columns may contain nuts, dairy, bug parts, and dust bunnies

dbawis-button7giphyBob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

7 Responses to “Bob, The Wackers, the Times, and Enough Personal Opinions to Start a Fist Fight – Updated!”

  1. peter j kashur Says:

    (she loves you) … and somewhere, luxuriating in a big comfy lounger, ringo was thinking, ‘why didn’t i think of that’ … track 8 a personal favourite, na ha ha.

  2. Roger March Not Ed's Garage Says:

    One of your best articles.

  3. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Excellent article!

  4. Stefan nilsson Says:

    Wow

  5. Jim Chisholm Says:

    There’s s lot of memories in there, both happy and sad. But I do cherish the initial discovery and those peaking all together now experiences . . . and more than once, walking around the block at The Moustache Club, to pull it together. 🙂 Thanks Bob, Randy, Kootch, Ernie, Mike and the rest of you who made it happen.

  6. Bill Acheson Says:

    Enjoyed the read and couldn’t agree more – it’s all about the song ! Unfortunately I never got to see the Wackers live – only on TV. I did get to see you Bob, and Kootch, live in the Dudes. Some memorable tunes – thanks.

  7. Yeah, you should hunt down those live multi-track tapes. There could be an as yet un-polished gem.

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