Sunday, 17 June 2012

Wheels Come Off

Cocaine. Lots and lots of it.

Mixed in with the smell of what the sports jocks use on their muscles – what’s it called, Wintergreen? That’s what I remember most about supporting the boys on their stadium tour in 1975.

Backstage in the football changing rooms, there were roadies with razor blades, chopping out lines for the guys, before, during and after. Sumner kept his in a little dark wood Peruvian box, like it was snuff or something. In Chicago, someone dropped a mirror, and they all laughed.

We worked our way up the States from L.A. The format was, I went on first, just me and my Gibson, as the warm up. Then the guys would come on and be my backing band – a couple of numbers, then I was done, and they were into their set. If I was really lucky and they remembered, I came back for an encore with them at the end.

San Francisco was great. Of course, it was the guys they mostly came to see, but I always had a real hard core following in San Fran. Someone released balloons with flowers tied to them – still no idea who: it wasn’t planned, but it was great. We sang San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) as an encore.

Some of the Bible Belt was a little cooler. By the time we reached New Orleans, it was hurricane season. Let me tell you, playing guitar in a rainstorm, with your guitar plugged into the biggest Marshall stack in the history of the world, isn’t my idea of a relaxing evening.

The tour bus was a bone of contention. I mean, the band’s last album had sold in shed loads, but that didn’t mean they knew enough to change their socks. Around about Nashville I got together with Shayla and Cherry, their backing singers, and organised a clean up. Sweaty towels, dirty clothes, food containers – we got the driver to stop, and threw the whole lot into a field somewhere in Davidson County. Might still be there, for all I know. It’d be worth a lot on eBay if it was.

By the time we reached the northern States, what with all the coke, who actually stumbled on to back my last two songs was a matter of conjecture. I remember one gig – was it Portland? – where it was just Mitchell, banging a tambourine he’d borrowed from Shayla. Out of time.

Mitchell was the most paranoid of the lot of them. Maybe it comes with being a lead singer, but he was always worrying about the band’s position in the rock n’ roll universe. “Forget Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” he’d say, to any groupie who’d listen. And the groupie would just nod, and smile, and play with Mitchell’s moustache. They were kids, all of them.

Not that Sumner got to get involved in all of that, because he and Shayla were an item at that point in the tour. So there’d be the two of them off in a corner, and me in another, reading a magazine or trying to write a song, and all sorts of madness going on in the middle. Don’t know where Cherry, the other singer, went after gigs. To bed with a good book, very possibly.

Canada was so cold, in more ways than one. Playing ice hockey rinks instead of football stadiums. It seemed a long way from L.A. and the Troubador, and nobody was talking to me. Things came to a head when they tried to set me up with Bill, one of their roadies. I mean, nice guy, but not my type. As Sumner well knew.

So, one freezing morning in Toronto, I got Shayla to help me pack, and drive me to the airport. The flights were all over the place in those days: took me two days to reach California, criss-crossing America, and getting stuck inside of Cleveland with the Memphis blues again. But that’s another story.

Shayla wasn’t too sad to see me go, although she made a big show of hugging me at the airport. Poor girl. I don’t think she lasted as long as the end of the tour, apparently. Thinking back, I should have poached her and Cherry to be my backing singers. We would’ve made a good team.