How I Really Kinda Wish We All Had Cell Phones Back In 1985!!

As much as I consider cellphones and social media itself a public nuisance that preys on our worst inclinations and takes precedence over REAL human interaction, I kinda wish it had been around just a little sooner.

The date is September 6, 1985.

There I am, 19 years old, not a care in the world, just kicking it at home when – suddenly - the phone rang.

A guy from Sunshine Promotions (a major Indiana concert promoter that I had besieged with demo packs and phone calls for months) called, asking if my band could fill the opening slot for that night’s Stevie Ray Vaughan show in South Bend, Indiana. Turns out the scheduled opener’s van had broken down between Indy and the venue.

“Sure,” I said, barely able to contain my excitement. He then gave me all the necessary details. As I hung up, my heart was beating so hard, I could feel it in my temples.

I figured two calls; one to my guitarist Jim's house, the other to bassist Mark's house, and the three of us would be burning down the highway towards the big-time.

In the little town we lived in, push-button phones were still considered a luxury so there I stood winding the rotary dial. Those 7's 8's and 9's seemed to take forever and heaven forbid your finger slipped in the process and you had to start all over.

Three rings later, Jim’s mom answers. I explain the situation and she becomes just as excited as I am. Jim, of course, had the kind of parents every would-be musician should have, not only putting up with our ceaseless rehearsing in the basement below them on the arena-worthy PA system that they had purchased for him after we declared ourselves road-worthy.

The only problem was that Jim wasn't home.  He and his girlfriend (who would later urge him to give up music after roping him into marriage) were out on a date. She thought they may have gone miniature golfing. Of course, there are three possible mini-golf courses in our immediate area.

The first one says there are only three customers, none of them answering to the name Jim. I quickly call the second golf course, where my request is greeted harshly. I then explain to them, in no uncertain terms, that this is rock & roll history in the making and that it’s their duty to help. I then ask to speak to a manager, who turns out to be a whole lot nicer and actually walks around to all the golfers on the course, asking if their name is Jim. He returns to the phone and informs me that Jim isn’t there.


The third one, a bona fide Putt-Putt golf facility, is my last hope. The girl who answers is friendly and eager to help. Within seconds, she is on the course’s PA system announcing, “If there is a Jim Allen here, please come to the front desk. Your band is opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan!”

Jim, of course, thinks it is a practical joke, but heads to the front counter anyway. She puts him on the phone and I explain the deal to him.

I then call Mark’s house, whose Mom also answers. She tells me he and his pals are out for the evening. She thinks they either went bowling or to a movie.

Sigh. I hang up, not knowing quite what my next move should be.

I figure I’d better get my equipment loaded into my car and head over to Jim’s. We’ll worry about Mark later..

Before I am even down the stairs, the phone rings. I run as fast as I can back up the stairs. I pick up the phone, completely out of breath.

It’s Mark.

I quickly give him the 411 and tell him to get over to Jim’s as fast as he can. There’s only one problem; he doesn’t believe me. Mark is convinced I’m kidding around. I am literally hyperventilating as I explain to him for the fifth time that I am dead serious. Out of frustration, I hang up.

As I had never hung up on him before, this is apparently enough for Mark to realize this is legit and that he should probably haul-ass over to Jim’s.

We pulled up to the load-in area of a concert hall I’d been to at least a dozen times as a fan, never as a performer, and gazed at the huge buses and liquid precision with which everyone operated. We, on the other hand, tumbled out of Jim’s dad’s bright yellow pickup truck, unloading our gear with all the coordination and grace of a hillbilly boot-fight.

We were in way over our heads, man. Thankfully, none of us realized it until afterwards.

Instead, we rocked like supreme bad-asses that night, putting on the show of our lives. We had strict instructions from SRV’s tour manager to keep it to forty-five minutes and by the time we got to the last song, I gotta admit, my knees were shaking, I was so tired.

Then, from stage left, I see SRV’s tour manager signaling us to keep it going.

We oblige, rocking the house with continued intensity for what turns out to be another thirty minutes but seems like only a few.

After the show, people who didn't know a thing about us an hour ago are now complimenting us and, for the rest of our lives, when someone asks us about our big break, we'll tell this story.  It is now a part of our folklore and everyone knows all great bands have their own folklore.

Sadly, none of that actually happened.  I really, REALLY wish that it had.  Heck, I wish I could say "we went out and completely stunk up the joint" because even that would be something you could tell the grand kids.

What really happened is that I never felt more fucking helpless in all my life and neither Jim or Mark had a fucking clue until later that night, long after I'd exhausted all leads, made every call that I possibly could, to no avail, and finally had to tell the guys at Sunshine Promotions that it was a no-go.

Hours later, of course, Jim and Mark each arrived home to word from their parents of the opportunity that had been missed.

They each called me as soon as they heard, wanting all the details, but, quite frankly, I was so exhausted and defeated by then that I could barely stand to relive the moment.  There was no joy in the retelling.

If such a thing had happened, say, today, Stevie Ray Vaughan would probably be the most thankful because that would mean that he didn't die in that horrific helicopter crash and actually got to experience the rest of his life and have the career we all wish he'd had.

I would be just as thankful, trust me, to have been able whip out my trusty cellphone and simply text "HOLY FUCK!  THEY WANT US TO OPEN FOR STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN TONITE!!" to Jim and Mark and, regardless of where they were, they'd have gotten back to seconds.

We'd have played that show and it would have been the beginning of a new chapter for us.

Instead, some guy at Sunshine Promotions did exactly what I'd hoped he'd do when I sent him our demo tape - offered MY BAND an opportunity any other young band would've killed for -  and I had to tell him that I couldn'

Thing is, it remains both the lowest and highest point of my musical career, which would still manage to sputter along for another couple decades.  No other such opportunity would ever present itself and our band would eventually fracture as a direct result of the lingering frustration.  See, from that moment on, I decided that the only way to catch a second such bolt of lightning was to completely sell out at every conceivable turn.

Our new manager wants us to change our name?  Sure thing.

A local producer willing to give us free studio time wants a chunk of our publishing?  Not a problem.

The first label that expresses even the slightest interest in signing us suggests we add a fourth member and record outside material?  Where do we sign?

My confidence had been so shaken by that one disappointment that I changed my approach and, in doing so, fucked up the whole damn thing.

Sure, the band broke up in '86, but, within two years, I'd be a solo artist with my first album and the experience of recording it with a band I considered my biggest heroes (the Elvis Brothers). Yes, I managed to catch a few breaks, but I literally had to beg, borrow, cheat, steal, swindle, double-talk and plead for each and every last one of them.  Tom Petty may have sung "Running down a dream/It never would come to me" but, let me tell you, I've lived it and, to quote one of your own songs Mr. Petty, "You don't know how it feels."

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

1 comment:

  1. Great story! But when you mentioned the Elvis Brothers, whom I had the opportunity to see but once -- in Milwaukee -- my day was made.

    Mark R
    Brooklyn, NY