Dana got us into this. She said that we had it wrapped up. We couldn't lose. I've heard that before.
I'm Oswald MacDonald, but everyone calls me Mac. I'm 6'6" tall and I weigh almost 165 lbs dressed and wet; a beanpole, in other words. I exercise and lift weights, but I still don't gain weight. To add to that, to all intents and purposes, I'm the invisible man. People just act like I'm not there most of the time. They talk about me while I'm standing in front of them. The only thing I have to counteract this is my guitar. I picked one up when I was in 6th grade, and it was a natural fit for me. When I have my guitar in my hand, people notice me.
I didn't think I was all that good at first. But then I started playing out in front of crowds, and the reaction changed my mind. They would clap and cheer after some of my lead parts.
The band was called "Slip Stream" and I wasn't even supposed to be a part of it.
Rex Rogers lived next door and we had been best buddies forever. He picked up a bass right after I got my first guitar, and we learned together. The last couple of years of high school and then the summer after our first year of college, we tried to form a band, and had little success. Nobody seemed to care enough to put in the time needed to do it right. We were both going to Ivy Tech, me for computer science, and him for auto mechanics. The fall of our second year I was in the music store at the mall getting new strings for my Telecaster, when I saw a pretty little blonde putting a notice up on the bulletin board. I looked over her shoulder, not hard to do since she didn't even come up to mine, and saw that she was advertising for a bass player.
I stepped back and waited for her to turn around, "What kind of group do you have?"
She jumped back and looked up at me, "Oh! You startled me."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to."
She looked up at me a little closer, "That's okay buddy, I don't think you can help it. My sister and I have a rock band with our friend, and we need a bass player to finish it off. We would prefer another girl, but a decent guy would work."
"My friend is a bass player, and he is pretty good. Do you have many songs ready to go?"
"We've worked up about two dozen, but we need the bass to get them right. Do you think he would be willing to audition?"
"I'm sure he would. We have been talking about getting into a band for years. If you guys are any good at all, he'll be able to work with you."
The girl turned and reached back, tearing a tab off the notice. "Here is my number. Have him call tonight if he is interested. My name is Dana Bernstein."
I took the slip of paper, "I'll let him know."
Rex called that evening and went over to audition the next day. Apparently the girls thought that he was the greatest because they asked him to join them.
Two weeks later I got a call from Rex. He wanted me to come over to their practice. When I asked why, he said that he needed my opinion on something. I was to bring my guitar and amp with me.
When I got to the garage I could hear them playing in it. The voices sounded great, but the music was just so-so. They had the right chords, but it may as well have been karaoke. Drums and bass were working together pretty good, but the guitar and organ were just supplying fill. Rex probably wanted me to teach the guitarist how to play lead. It sounded like she might be able to learn, so I would be willing to try. I got my axe and amp out of the van and knocked on the garage door at the next quiet spot. Rex lifted the door up and helped me roll my amp into the garage. I nodded to the girl I had met, Dana, and leaned the guitar case against the amp.
"What is he doing here, Rex? I don't remember you saying anything about another guy coming in." This was from the blonde behind the drum kit. She looked a lot like Dana, so I figured her to be the sister.
"I asked Mac to come out and give us a hand, girls. He can do things with a guitar that you won't believe. Right now we sound okay, but nothing special. With Mac joining in we'll be great. He also writes songs so we can do something besides covers. You don't have to make a decision right now, but let him join in for a few songs and see what you think."
"Hold up, Rex. I thought you wanted me to help Dana here with playing guitar, not join in with you. She'll be good enough with a little training. There is no need to do any more than that."
"You just go ahead and get set up, Mac. We'll let them choose what they want."
I shook my head and went ahead and set up my stuff. All I used was a couple of stomp pedals, overdrive and chorus, and a good wah-wah. My amp was a Randall 120 watt head and a cabinet with four 12" speakers. When I plugged the Fender Telecaster into this set up I had all the power I should ever need at my beck and call.
Once I was tuned to the organ, Rex started them out on an old Heart tune called "Wild Child". I'd never played it before, but I loved Heart and knew what Rex had in mind. Dana was doing the basic guitar part during the singing, but the lead on this thing was a real bear, and from what I had heard, she wouldn't be up to it. Having never tried it myself, I would be working on memory, but I thought I could do it.
I was surprised when the drummer came in with the lead vocal. She had a really deep and dramatic voice that came close to Ann Wilson. I blended in during the first verse, just adding little slides and rasps to accent the vocal. When the lead came up, I rolled the volume up a few notches and wailed it. I wasn't perfect, but Dana and the keyboard player stopped playing for a moment to watch me, but Rex and the drummer kept up the background so I didn't stumble. Everyone joined back in before the vocals were due, and we finished up in style. I was pleased with it.
Dana was the first to say anything, "How long did it take you to learn that lead part?"
I kind of mumbled, "I've never played it before, but I've heard the song a couple of times. I don't think I got it all the way right, I'd have to play along with the album to do that."
"Bullshit! There is no way you could do that cold. You set us up Rex." She took her guitar off, set the Gibson SG on its stand, and took off into the house.
The tall brunette behind the keyboard looked at me, "You really haven't played that before?"
"No, without female singers, there is no reason to learn most Heart tunes. I love their music though and listen to it all the time. I'm more familiar with Led Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult songs. Rex and I used to work on them a lot."
The drummer spoke up then, "Do you really think that you could teach Dana to play like that?"
"Sure, it really isn't that hard to do. Most lead parts are built up from tricks and scales. Many guitarists have special little things they do that give them a unique sound. Figure out those things and you can play their parts."
"This is Taylor Bernstein, on drums here, Mac. The keyboard player is Janet Elms. You are much too humble, my friend; I haven't heard very many leads that can do what you do. Go ahead and do your warm up exercises so they can get a handle on you."
I shook my head again, but did as he asked. My warm up was a set of scales and riffs that got faster and faster till at the end I was doing what I called the bumble bee. I would be picking as fast as I could and running up and down the neck at the same time. The whole thing took about 5 minutes.
When I finished Dana was standing in the door and all three girls were staring at me. That was the day I joined Slip Stream.
The songs the girls had when Rex and I met them were of the pop and bubblegum variety. Rex had already started to move them to a more hard rock stance before I joined. "Wild Child" was as far as he had gotten them by then. Once I was in we kept getting harder and harder. Dana and Janet could really wail the vocals as we moved them more into our area of expertise. We practiced hard and were able to play out at some parties, and when there was a battle of the bands, we ruled. Slip Stream was the darling of the northwest Indiana area and we worked hard for the last couple of months of the school year.
Taylor and Janet were second year students at Purdue and Dana was in her first year. Janet and Taylor were doing liberal arts, while Dana was into engineering. I thought about asking one of them out on a date, but when practice or the gig was over, I disappeared to them.
I wrote a lot of songs over that school year. I wasn't dating, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Most of the songs were just mediocre, but some had impact. The best one came out just after spring break. I had been in my room working on riffs, when I started thinking about what a perfect summer would be like. "Summer Nights" flowed out of my fingers and the words just seemed to follow naturally. When I played it for Rex and the girls after they got back from Florida, they all loved it. We worked it up pretty fast, and even made a few recordings. That was what led to today's trouble.
Dana had read about a summer song contest at the music store, and entered us in it. She hadn't paid attention to all the details, so here we were, parked outside the entrance to Naked City Indiana. We had already found out that the entry money was non-refundable, and in order to win, the band would have to play nude. The prize was a pretty good one, $10,000 and a recording contract, but there is no way I can do it. Rex acts like it is no big deal, and even the girls aren't hyperventilating, but my heart is beating so fast I think I am about to pass out.
"Come on, Mac. It's not that different from spending a weekend with a girl at a cabin or something. What's your problem?"
.... There is more of this story ...