1969 was a monumental year for me. It was the year of my high school graduation. It was the year that I was finally free from those high school years that I absolutely hated! My high school graduating class was huge and it really made it difficult for most to make a lot of friends. It seemed that, especially as a boy in the 1960’s, you had to be a jock or a trouble maker who partied and drank alcohol. I was never good in sports, didn’t like sports and was afraid of doing things that would get me in trouble. I saw my older brother always get in trouble and argue with my dad all the time and it made me not want to ever go there! This left me pretty much a loner. I had a few friends but never close ones. I didn’t mind school but I had many teachers who were probably either tired of teaching for so many years or just weren’t there to help students realize their potentials. I couldn’t wait to get home everyday and stay as far away from any school events as possible. When I graduated from high school, I felt as it a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders!
I had been taking organ lessons for a few years and also had played professionally for a while in a local restaurant. I didn’t particularly care for playing there as it was for six hours on a Friday and Saturday night and it was just playing background music of older songs from before my generation. I didn’t mind the music but the whole experience was not pleasant. It felt more like a job.
I began listening to the music that was changing everything. It was the revolution of The Beatles, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Santana. Soon during that summer of 1969, a guy who I actually graduated with but didn’t know had heard that I played the organ and he and a few of his friends asked to come hear them play. It was amazing! They were playing Hendrix and Motown and before I realized it, I was starting to practice with them and loving this new sense of belonging to something! I had some close friends and I was playing great music and even singing background harmonies. It was an awakening of my life!
With the help of my father, by helping us purchase instruments and a sound system, we wanted to begin performing. We soon got our first gig playing in a bar in the area. Later we found out it was a very rough bar where bikers often came and there were many fights. We learned to get friendly with a few locals who were always at the bar by playing music they loved. They became our security and watched out for us. I was actually too young to even play music in a bar so my father and other family members would always come just in case. It didn’t bother our fathers to have an excuse to watch the topless dancers either! One night, the Liquor Control Board did raid the place, looking for violations and it was a good thing our parents were there. Sometimes a very tuff looking guy would ask us for a certain song and if we didn’t know it, we would go outside in our van and learn it quickly, as best we could by ear, to prevent him from beating the crap out of when we started playing again. We really had some great times and we could not believe that someone would actually pay us to play, which was really just having amazing fun! What a way to earn a living! We were all bitten by performing music and it would be a huge part of all of our lives forever.
One night we all packed into the van with some girls who were friends of some of the guys and went to the drive-in movie. I didn’t know what we were going to see, but it didn’t really matter. I was in a world in my mind that I had never explored before...a world of fun, music, laughter and girls. I didn’t need drugs. To me, as I had never done anything outside of my home before, this was unlike any high I had ever known. It turned out that the movie was “Woodstock”. We were all in awe of all of our heroes, playing at that history making event in music. We, of course, each in our minds pictured being part of playing the same music that was from Woodstock. We were part of the revolution that was happening, although we didn’t realize it then.
As this is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, there is a lot of information in the media about it. Here is a great site with a lot of pictures from those who were there.
USA Today has a great article about some of the performers of Woodstock and what they are doing now:
Then and now: Catching up with Woodstock stars