Points of No Return
Fall, 1968. Kids don’t miss much. Seeing life from the waist down gives the average kid a very different perspective. To a kid, the lives of adults are mysterious, peculiar, riddled with contradictions, and full of seemingly nefarious activity.
The only rationale I could come up with to account for all this, was that something must have happened ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ – something in the adolescent years; something akin to the salmons’ instinct to spawn in the stream of origin, which caused them to, en masse, up and join the Loyal Order of the Buffalo.
What else could explain the constant shaking of hands, the aimless shuffling about the room, and the meaningless, repetitive conversations? It all smacked of ritual. All that seemed to be missing were the furry hats, the rolls of secret parchment and a big bell. One thing was for sure: I knew when I grew up I wanted none of it to look like this.
Well … the best of intentions … As a young adult, I found myself doing plenty of tribal dancing. Still, even in the thick of it, I never forgot those early thoughts, and I remained wary of drifting into a willing conformity with the folks in the middle of the bell shaped curve. Mind you, I don’t remember framing it that way at the time. I was young, arrogant, feeling my oats, and rather more prone to grunting my adolescent conceits like a wart hog releasing gas at the water hole.
Truth was, I was scared to death of conformity. The endless tucking in of untidy edges, the dotting of i’s, the crossing of t’s, and the constant couching of the language gave me a belly ache, and I found myself wondering whether I could do something a little less … well … normal.
That, as it turned out, wasn’t a problem. I was already in a band playing the hits of the Ventures and the Shadows, and bushwhacking through the local forest was taking up more and more of my time. Instinct told me that these were my paths, yet I continued to hear those insistent, nattering voices in my head – the societal sirens.
So off I went to college and, predictably, felt like an impostor the whole time I was there. Marine biology, as it turned out, wasn’t my path. In fact, the only positive experiences I remember from that period were listening to Fontella Bass on the the jukebox in the student lounge, seeing an early incarnation of Jefferson Airplane in concert, and finding Woody.
Ron Woodson was enrolled at Simon Fraser University. He was, like me, studying sciences and doing a shoddy job of the whole business. Mostly because all he really wanted to do was play music. I guess that’s what prompted him to stick the note up on the bulletin board; the one that said: ‘Bass player looking for R + B band,’
The timing was perfect. As fate would have it, our band had recently turned to Rhythm and Blues, and we needed a bass player. Ronnie turned out to be the perfect man for the job. He had the feel, the time and the ear. He sounded just like James Jamerson – bassist on hundreds of Motown hits; and when he joined up, everything changed.
When you’re playing, there is nothing quite like the feeling of ‘sitting in the pocket’ – laying down a great groove where all of the parts are working. You just don’t want it to stop.
I remember one situation where a great groove almost lost me a gig with Bo Diddley. Bo had hired my current trio to back him up at the Egress Nightclub. He had finished his show and we had already played him off, but we were so deep into the groove that we just didn’t want to stop, and we took our sweet time finishing the tune … way too much time. Finally, an exasperated Bo had to come back on stage to conduct us out. We were young, but still … sooo unprofessional! It never happened again.
That first little R + B band of ours had no trouble playing in the pocket, and a large part of that had to do with Woody. I would look over at him every now and then as he pounded out those funky bass lines with that big grin on his face. He always looked like a cat digesting a particularly tasty canary. He was in his own personal heaven.
Woody died at a young age in his car. It was all in the fine print I expect. I know I wasn’t consulted about the damn thing. I still mourn.