This is another installment from the musical memoir I wrote in 1998 (and have been tweaking ever since), called “Brushes with the Great and Near Great,” chronicling some of the famous folk I got to meet during my 13-year career in music retail. Today’s story is about getting to hang out with the band “Blackfoot.” Blackfoot was a southern rock band, like Molly Hatchet, that was popular in the late 70s. They were most famous for their songs, “Train Train”, and “Highway Song.”
Warning: Contains a high degree of rock and roll esoterica.
The most memorable night of my Toledo schmoozing happened completely by accident. I had gotten a pair of freebies to see Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet at the Toledo Sports Arena. I had already bought a single ticket for that show because I was desperate to see Blackfoot, so I sold that at the venue. I just picked a guy in line and offered it to him for fifty cents less than face. This was back when the Sports Arena and many other places still had festival seating, meaning no assigned seats. Just show up early and stake your claim.
Blackfoot was opening, but short set or not, I couldn’t wait to see them. I’d acquired their album, “Siogo”, some time before and it was (and is) one of my all time favorites. It never really caught on or sold well, but it rocked like hell. I liked Hatchet too, but to me, they were just a bonus.
Susan, a girl that I worked with at the store, was the only one I knew that wanted to go, so we decided to go together. That fact that she was a stunningly beautiful blonde was a nice extra, and little did I know how that would pay off. So we managed to get right up to the stage, with her at the fence and me right behind her.
This was my first time right at the front of the stage and it completely changed my standards and expectations. Blackfoot totally kicked ass and I was completely jazzed by what I could see from up close. The facial expressions, the fretwork on the guitars, the sound of their feet pounding on the stage and the interaction with the crowd were all things I’d never experienced from my customary bleacher seats. Hell, I could even see when Ricky Medlocke broke a string on Highway Song. And they were loud. My ears were still ringing the next day. My arms and hands were also sore from all the clapping and waving. I guess I went pretty berserk.
Unbeknownst to me, during the end of their encore, bassist Greg T. Walker was giving Susan a head nod signal to come around to the side of the stage. When the set was over, she said, “I’ll be back,” and took off. I figured she was hitting the bathroom. I didn’t see her again until the end of Hatchet’s set. Not that I was terribly concerned. I knew Susan could take care of herself.
Meanwhile, I was hanging with another young girl, who got me to agree to hold her on my shoulders for one song. She offered me $10. I considered making a counter offer of letting me face the other way while I held her, but chivalry won out, and I, of course held her up for nothing. She also managed to work her way up to a spot on the fence. She was trying to get spotted by singer, Danny Joe Brown, whose teeth she had cleaned a few months earlier. None of this really has anything to do with the actual story, it’s just one of those rock concert things.
So when Susan finally reappeared near the end of the show, she put an empty Wild Turkey box in my hand. The box was signed to me, from Greg Walker. I shit.
She said they’d be at the Holiday Inn bar after the show, if I wanted to meet them. I really shit!
We cut out early to the Riverside Holiday Inn, downtown, where she filled me in on “getting the nod.” We arrived to find a prom going on, in the ballroom and lobby. I felt kind of funny in my t-shirt and jeans, surrounded by kids in tuxes and gowns, but hey, I was on a mission.
We checked the bar, and found no one from the band. Susan went to call Greg’s room, but the line was busy. She decided to go up to his room. I decided to wait in the bar, not wanting any of that scenario.
About ten minutes later, Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires, Blackfoot’s drummer, walked in. We caught eyes, and I nervously introduced myself, told him how much I enjoyed the show and had him sign the whiskey box. We stood around and talked for a bit and I asked him why they didn’t play “Teenage Idol.” (My favorite song of theirs at that time.) He explained about a lack of time as an opening act, keyboardist Ken Hensley quitting, and not having room for the necessary equipment. He got a beer and sat down at the bar with me, and I was in heaven.
This was the first time I ever really got to talk to a Rock Star, so I was determined to make the most of it. I learned that Hensley was just not working out. (He had joined the band for Siogo and played on Vertical Smiles, on which they were now touring.) He’d get drunk and become a complete asshole to the band and their fans, Jakson said. He left the band over Thanksgiving.
I asked about where rhythm guitarist Charlie Hargrett was, because Bobby Barth, from the band Axe, was playing with the band. He said that Charlie came for the Vertical Smiles sessions, but just couldn’t play, and was a victim of road stress and burnout, and is now selling guitars in a shop in Ann Arbor.
Susan then reappeared, and said that the others would be down shortly. We continued talking and I asked about touring in England, referring to how their live import album sounded like it was a lot of fun. He said that it was a great experience, that the audiences were intense, and that they have high popularity in England and Scandinavia. This led me to say something about Meat Loaf also maintaining a high profile in Europe, and how Bat Out Of Hell and Siogo were two of my all time favorite albums. Then I asked what Siogo meant. Boy, did I get an earful.
Blackfoot, from left to right: Greg T. Walker, Charlie Hargrett, Ricky Medlocke, Jakson Spires, and Ken Hensley.
Jakson explained that Siogo was actually S.I.O.G.O., an acronym that was posted on the tour bus, which stood for “Suck It Or Get Off.” He said that during the Marauder tour, they were tired of girls hemming and hawing on the band bus and just wanted them to get on with it. He said, “If you got on the bus, you knew that you were a slut, and should just get down to business.”
They insisted on this name after submitting numerous names to their label and having them all either turned down, or given to other groups, such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s Allies. They told them Siogo was the Indian word for ‘brotherhood’, or some such thing, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually, the label found out when Ricky opened his mouth to Creem Magazine, but by then, over 200,000 copies were printed.
Jakson began talking about what assholes some of the members of Molly Hatchet were, Danny Joe Brown, in particular. On this tour, they were alternating who was to headline, depending on each band’s strength in that market. He said that Hatchet kicked everyone from Blackfoot out of the backstage area, so their entourage could go in. He said they were dicks to them and their fans, Brown and (guitarist) Duane Hlubek especially. Hlubek, he said, used to be a roadie for Ricky Medlocke and has never gotten over it. Back when both bands were starting out, Hatchet would play songs from Blackfoot’s album “No Reservations” and sometimes Danny Joe would lose his voice, so Ricky would do the 2nd set for him. But now they’re Big Stars. I wonder how my young friend from the concert would have received these revelations.
Greg and Willie (their road manager) joined us for a while. I thanked Greg for signing my box and complimented the show. Greg went off to talk with the two other girls that he had there, which left the four of us. Willie, despite appearing to be a real slob, was actually quite funny and intelligent. Jakson mentioned something about his belief that rock groups should be nice to their fans, because, “we’re all just people, and besides, the fans keep us in business.”
Willie said, “Jakson, you’re a gentleman and a scholar.”
Jakson looked at me and said, “I may be a gentleman, but I ain’t no scholar. Not that I’m dumb- I went through 9 years of school, but I ain’t no scholar.”
At one point in our conversation, I noticed Jakson gingerly rubbing a bony protrusion on his elbow. He said that every night he told himself that he’d take it easy and just play calmly, but that would last for about one song before he’d be pounding away like crazy.
Eventually, Blackfoot had to go to this party for a local radio DJ, who was leaving to work in Europe. As they were stewing around about leaving, Jakson said to me, “You got a pen? Follow me.”
He took me through the prom-crowded lobby, over to where Ricky Medlocke was standing with Bobby Barth, and introduced me to them. So I got to tell them how much I liked the show. I told Bobby that I saw Axe open for ZZ Top, and thought they killed. We posed for a picture, (taken by whom, I don’t know, I certainly never saw it) and I just hung out with my arm around Ricky and bullshitted for a while. Everyone was real loose and I was in heaven.
Greg was still in the bar, so Susan and I were dispatched to tell him to get his ass out here. I dutifully told him to get his ass out there, keeping in mind that I had just ordered around a rock star. We three went back through the lobby and they all got ready to leave. Jakson told me that if I was ever in Ann Arbor, to look him up, then added, “just look in a few bars and you’ll find me.”
They all piled into a van, Susan too, and as I’m, walking down the sidewalk, they’re pulling out down the street, yelling, “Later, Bluz, see ya,” etc. I floated all the way down the empty downtown street and back to my car.
I’d been invited to go along, but this was April of 1985, and I was living in Bowling Green, with my then fiancée, Ellen. (In case you’re wondering why she wasn’t there, she hated rock music.) I had told her I’d be home by 11:30 and it was already 1:30. I figured I’d already pushed it and she was probably calling the hospitals by now, so I played the good boy and dutifully went home.
It turned out she never believed the 11:30 E.T.A. in the first place and figuring I’d be late, went to bed. When I got home and found her asleep (and all my shit not out in the yard), I went and sat on the edge of the bed, and she stirred.
I said, “Ellen, I just had one of the greatest nights of my life.”
She rolled over and said, “Who’d you fuck?”
I muttered disgustedly, went out into the dining room and wrote down everything I could remember about that night. Good thing I didn’t do that after every star encounter I’ve had, or I may never finish this project.
Seriously though, this experience was enormously beneficial to me. It let me know that these big stars are really just people trying to get through life just like anyone else and if you treat them with courtesy, respect and with a minimum of reverence, you’ll get the same courtesy and respect in return. If I was going to make a decision on what to say to one of my heroes, it might not be perfect, but I was going to err on the side of not gibbering like an idiot about how great I thought they were.
Sadly, Jakson passed on in March of 2005, before I could ever take him up on his offer. But to this day, I still have regrets about not getting in that van. That formed the basis of a credo that I still hold to today, “If a famous rock band invites you along to a party, get in the damned van and explain later.”