Jun 7, 2015


Gonads. Cojones. Balls.
These are the words that come to mind when I think of what my youngest child did in the winter of 2003. Michael was a 25 year old, accomplished musician who threw caution to the wind, boarded a plane with four strangers and flew almost 7000 miles to Asia to play in a band who entertained troops stationed overseas. I should probably set the scene.
Michael had been earning a living as a guitarist/keyboardist with several local bands. Gigs were frequent as he was very talented. When he broke out the solo for Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride & Joy”, if you closed your eyes you would swear that Stevie was on the stage himself laying down those soulful licks.
Michael had indeed come a long way since I’d heard his first few notes coming from his upstairs bed room before he was even a teenager. Mike’s mom and I both played guitar, mostly around the campfire, entertaining those few campers who enjoyed a good sing along as much as Laura and I. We certainly encouraged both kids to pick up an instrument but Michael was the only one to do so. He began with drums, on a cheap toy set that we got him to test his interest. By this time I had set up a small studio in the house with a four track recorder and was testing my recording abilities. Michael expressed interest early on and would sometimes play along with dad and just jam. Later, I moved the studio upstairs to a more soundproof environment and decided that he needed a better drum kit. This is when I started introducing my son to the world of seventies era rock bands. Little did I know that his knowledge of the era and genre was already far superior to his contemporaries and I was also surprised to learn that he had become a Beatles fan.
Some of my contemporaries were musicians whom I had met after moving into our small town and some were from my musical past. I had been in a couple of bands prior to and just after getting married, even playing a Battle of the Bands one year in my hometown of Greenville, SC. Marriage and parenthood would change the trajectory of my life and I had to make do with the occasional campfire performance. One thing that I really enjoyed was jamming with my new found musician friends and inviting a couple of the old friends down for a day of partying and playing tunes. I actually recorded one such session with these friends, consisting of Christopher Crowder (who has since gone on to record several excellent releases of original material); Greg Hutto (former bassist with Up Spook Hill and now bassist for the legendary band GodStar out of the Myrtle Beach area); and Dave McCullough (former bassist/guitarist with a variety of bands and recently relocated to the Las Vegas area to ply his trade). These jams were always fun and spontaneous and produced ideas for several tunes that I had banging around in my head. Michael was always hanging around these sessions, drinking in the knowledge that these fine players would impart upon him. As he got older, I would take Michael to jam with other musicians in the area, to hopefully give him a taste of the joy that playing tunes with other talented folks would bring. Meanwhile, Michael had switched to guitar and had discovered Metallica, a band that took me several years to fully appreciate. Listening to the sounds coming from his upstairs bedroom, I had to imagine what my dad probably thought of my attempts at playing Black Sabbath in the early seventies…”WTF is that?” Also, Michael had introduced a couple of friends into the mix and the upstairs noise became a great reason for Laura and I to visit our upstate friends or go out for a good dinner. One of these friends had a family member with an empty building and soon our son and his entourage had moved all the gear to that location. The last time I really heard any bad notes coming from the band was on a visit to the new practice location…they were getting better but still had a long road ahead of them.
Fast forward a couple of years. Michael is in high school and is a sousaphone-playing  member of the award winning Newberry High School Blue Brigade, led by the legendary Lorraine Paris. Miss Paris certainly didn’t suffer fools lightly and her teaching skills were beyond reproach. Being from my hometown (and coincidentally my neighborhood), I got to know her pretty well during Michael’s time there. I also spent countless hours with the band as I videotaped nearly every performance and practice to put together a year-end commemorative videotape as a fundraiser for the band, and was with Miss Paris as awards were presented and honors were awarded. Whenever we talked about Michael and his progress, she assured me that, while he was certainly struggling with conforming to other subjects and the rules of various teachers, he was a whiz in the band room and a very promising musician…to the point that he could probably make a good living doing it. When his class graduated in 1995, Miss Paris retired.
 Now South Carolina is not known as the state where you go to break into the music business and, at that time, there were not a lot of opportunities for a musician to make ends meet besides playing bars and weddings. So bars and weddings were played.  Michael also supplemented his income pulling duty at a Columbia area music store, pushing amps and guitars to established and up-and-coming musicians.  It was here that Michael started making connections and would see new opportunities arise. He met one guy who needed a guitarist for a CD he was producing which led to a CD release party, which led to the need for a commercial to announce said CD, which led to me producing my first-ever  CD release commercial for and with my son. That was fun! After Michael cut the voiceover, and the spot was completed, we celebrated…say no more…say no more!
Fast forward a few more years. By now we have been watching our boy play bars and had seen his skill level increase beyond our wildest imagination. He was in demand as a guitarist and was fast becoming known as the go to guy if your sound needed a scorching guitarist. Bands are kind of like girlfriends – you change them as often as you change your underwear. Some last for years, but since it is an ego-driven business, egos clash and bands break up. After several incarnations, certain members may drift back together, and good relationships are established. This happened with Michael. Two drummers come to mind: Jason Summers and Mark Riebe. Both superb drummers, I’ve heard some excellent music coming out of bands comprised of Mike, these two drummers and various other excellent musicians that have popped in and out along the way.
In 2002, our daughter passed away quite suddenly after contracting a vicious virus. Michael and his sister had been at odds for years as siblings tend to do, but now their maturity had brought them together and they were both healing old wounds and making amends, or that’s how I saw it. When she died, Michael sought out friends to help with the grieving process…family seemed a bit too much to handle at the time. He seemed to be moving on and accepting that which seems so unacceptable. Losing a sibling anytime would be difficult, but at only 27 years old, I can only imagine.
Meanwhile, Michael told me about an opportunity that may be coming his way. He had heard about a band that toured overseas and had gotten to know one of the founding members. I didn’t give it much thought at the time as I had a variety of things on my plate, but thought that it may be a great opportunity should it ever arise. It would arise soon enough. The founding member, however, had decided to not tour again and that they would be looking for a guitarist/keyboardist who wouldn’t mind being away from home for an extended period of time. Michael would spend the next few months mulling it over, wrapping up previously booked engagements and working a notice for his day job. I got a call one evening after work.
“Dad-I’m going overseas”

What brings this story to mind is a series of messages that I received from Michael when he was in Japan and Korea. After re-reading these, I drifted back to that time and wondered how he had managed to keep it together during all this. Or was he running away from a painful situation? The answer would hit me all these years later after reading his messages – he needed to go. He needed to perform. He needed to expand his horizons. Below is a short message I received after they had opened for the band Quiet Riot in Korea:

Hi dad! It is great to get mail from you. Things are going well
It is monday evening at 11:00 now, tommorow I am going to Tokyo for sightseeing. I am going on a high speed train. Very cool because I have never ridden on a train. I have pics to mail of the quiet riot show and korea. I will do that soon. That is about all so far. I play wed. and fri of this week. Love, Mike
p.s.   I showed my ass onstage sat. Just had to whip it behind my head for pride and joy! got pics of that too!

Another message from Japan:

Hi dad,

It is great to receive mail once again.

Things here are beginning to pick up. We all 
chose a cover song so I made them do working man.

Last night I became an honorary 517th squadron firebird. 
The fellows took me out to bar row and got me tanked. 
The funniest thing about it was 
that little ol mikey outdrank them all!
Leaving sunday for yokosuka, which is a naval base. 
Apparently the carrier just shipped out 5000 guys leaving 
loads of women! :) That will prove to be interesting.

Well, that is about all for now. Mail me soon! I love you guys.

Side note: I was able to get in touch, by email, with a soldier stationed at a base where Michael was playing. As a long-running joke, Michael and I would flip each other the bird in a very subtle way, hoping to make one or the other 'look down' to see the bird. I explained the game to the young female soldier and asked her if she would carry out this task, as I could not be present to do it myself. She agreed and I waited patiently for the resulting picture. When I received a picture from her, I opened it and waited for it to download. While waiting, I was patting myself on the back for such a clever prank. As the picture downloaded from the top, I could see the heads of the band members, then the smiling faces, then - all of the band members and the soldier were flipping me off! Backfire! Michael later explained that, not understanding my request, the female soldier had handed him my email...the picture was Mikey's idea.
Mike would go on to do two more tours of the far east as well as a couple of tours stateside, entertaining troops the world over. For this, I am not only very proud of my son, but I know that he has balls…cojones…he’s fearless! And what a musician!!