Garage Band Memories
The rise and fall of another teenage garage band
Playing in a garage band is a part of growing up to be cherished and experienced by all teens of the world feeling the itch of rebelliousness. Even if it was only for a weekend and all you did was strum on an out of tune guitar while your brother shouted "Mac and Cheese is the Bee's Knees", for that moment in time you were rock stars. Well, maybe not stars, but at least you were better than anything Elton John has recorded since "The Lion King" soundtrack. Just play "Candle In The Wind" and get off the stage, Elton! Excuse me, Sir Elton.
I should also mention that none of the pictures you see are actual photos of the band, but you'll get the idea.
It all has to start somewhere and for me it was in Math class. During my Sophomore year of high school, while ignoring Mr. Butler's latest Geometry lecture I noticed a 6 foot 4 dude in a KISS shirt. I guess it would have been hard to miss him since he was sitting right in front of me, his name was Galen.
After class I talked to him about these "Devil-Worshippers" he had on his shirt, he said they were a band called KISS and they rocked. I really thought these guys were just another Marilyn Manson type band and they scared me. At this point I was still very sheltered and only listening to Weird Al Yankovic and I think I had Alanis Morrisette's "Jagged Little Pill" album, no Metal did I know.
Over the course of a few weeks Galen introduced me to the wild world of KISS, Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC. KISS won out as my favorite of the three because of their symphonic ballad "Beth"-man, I was a wuss.
Galen also happened to mention that he had been learning to play Bass and that his friend Bill played guitar. It turns out Bill was on my Freshman football team and had been the guy on the line that would always to tell me which way to run for each play, since I knew nothing at all about Football. I was just fat, so they said I should sign up and I did.
Bill had grown his hair out since our days on the field which is why I hadn't recognize him on campus until Galen re-introduced us. They mentioned they had wanted to put a band together but neither of them could sing, that's when I heard the call: It's time to rock and roll.
I was always singing, whether it was a TV theme song or something by The Monkees, it didn't even stop during classes. I had been doing it since Kindergarten and teachers always just stuck me in the back of the class to get rid of me-they could have told me to stop, but that would have required too much effort.
With 15 years of singing to myself under my belt, I figured I was perfect for the job-Sign me up, boys! They gave me a tape of some Black Sabbath songs and told me to learn the lyrics.
Now they were really blowing my mind, with songs like "Paranoid" and "Electric Funeral" taking me into the depths of Heavy Metal, as far as I knew. Yeah, I wasn't really quite what they were looking for, but I guess they saw potential.
What really sealed the deal was the fact that I had a PA system and I didn't even know it. When I told my Dad that I was forming a band he said, "Well you'll probably need mics, speakers and a PA system, here you go".
Apparently they were left over from early church meetings in the 1970's he helped organize before the actual church house had been built in the 80's-sweet! Thanks, Dad.
As you can imagine the early rehearsals were nothing to be proud of, our timing was off and I was no Rob Halford or Paul Stanley. But we recorded them on audio tape anyway and I played them for my friends, who were less than impressed. I prefer to think they were jealous, but that's just the ego talking.
Our meeting place was Galen's garage and over time it became more and more of a rock and roll loft, as we moved in couches and concert posters alongside our amps and speakers.
Early on I pushed for us to branch out from our repertoire of Black Sabbath and KISS covers and write original material, so I came in with a song called "Caragh" that I had written in Junior High about this girl I had a crush on.
They just about threw me out of the band right then and there for bringing a sappy, pop ballad to be played by a Heavy Metal band.
I went to the other extreme with my next offering, a song called "Sex Nazi", which was about my best bud's girlfriend making him ditch his friends for some nookie. I later toned down the title to "Miss Bossy", but it was still a no-go.
The main problem with getting my songs in was that I didn't have any musical talent, so I could only make the air guitar sounds with my mouth and I guess it was hard for Bill and Galen to transcribe fancy humming to chords and notes.
The other problem was that we didn't have a drummer or another guitar player which really inhibited our sound. We might as well have been singing "Mac and Cheese is the Bee's Knees" for the quality we were getting out of our collaboration. Word went out that we needed a drummer and fate smiled on this little garage band in the OC.
Bill's mom worked with a lady whose son was a drummer, he was also 26, but was willing to play with anybody, anywhere, anytime. Kind of a "Have drums, will travel" type of guy.
His name was Chris, but he preferred to be called "Shorty" and short he was, like 5 foot. But he was a kick-ass drummer and really made the rest of us rise to the occasion. There was some debate as to whether we should let our final member into the group. His name was Donovan and he was a guitar phenom, but unfortunately he had the attitude to go a long with it.
We had him in a few times to jam with us and he would stop Bill in the middle of Metallica's "The Four Horseman" and say, "No, no, no, you missed a note there". But in the end, he was just too good to pass up. The roster was full, it was time to play ball.
There is no bigger rush than being in the middle of pounding drums and screeching guitars while you sing your heart out, even if it is in a suburban garage. During the summer we rehearsed every other night and on weekends, adding a lot of Metallica to our list of songs.
Mostly covers of covers, since we were playing stuff off of their "Garage, Inc." album, although we had some classics like "Fade To Black", "Of Wolf and Man" and "Nothing Else Matters" in there too. But again I urged the group to consider writing original songs so we could be more than just wanna-be Metallica.
Over a week the maestros went to work and recorded some instrumental tracks and had me put lyrics to them. The first of these songs was titled "Natural Fear" and when the time came around for us to pick a name, since that was the only original thing we had put to paper, the name stuck.
We later considered changing our named to "B.O." or the Big Oafs, since we were all 200 lbs or more (except for "Shorty"), but "Natural Fear" won out in the long run.
Our first gig was at our High School and I remember after I made the announcement over the PA system some of the guys that came to watch said, "I thought your name was Natural Beer, man. Where's the booze?"
I had pushed for a uniform look for the band, like we all wear black or something, but the other guys were just about the music, not the show. At that first gig on the steps of the high school theater we looked like a bunch of misfits: the guitarists were wearing Hawaiin shirts, Galen had a KISS shirt, I had a black dress shirt and our drummer, wait, where is our drummer?
As we later found out, the axel fell out of his truck on the way to the show and he didn't make it-but we played anyway. I had arranged for some of the girls in the dance class I was friendly with to make an appearance as Go-Go Dancers, so that was a crowd pleaser.
We even got some applause for our original song. It was a great show and we were told that a student garage band hadn't played in 10 years at the school, so we were getting that tradition started again.
Remember when I said there is no bigger rush than singing in a garage, well there is, singing for an audience is way better. We all decided that day, that we had to do that again, somehow. We kept on rehearsing and putting on private shows for anyone who would listen. We even played a New Years Eve show, that only we showed up for where Galen got so drunk he fell down the hill behind his house and climbed back into the living room covered in shrubbery.
The funniest gig we ever played was at a Latin Club Convention, yes, Latin Club Convention. Most of the band took Latin for our language requirements in school and the high school across town was hosting the regional get together for Latin nerds. We went to the convention for about 5 minutes and decided it was lame, but we also noticed an empty parking lot and a lot of bored people AKA an audience.
So we ran to Galen's garage, picked up our gear and set-up in the parking lot. We played for 2 hours and even the photographer for the local newspaper was bored, so he started taking pictures of us instead of the convention. We never got hassled, just raked in the applause.
During our Senior Year we played "Psycho Circus" by KISS and Metallica's version of "Whiskey In The Jar" at the school Talent Show, where I attached party streamer poppers to my mike stand and set-off bunches of 10 at once during the songs as low grade pyro.
It was pretty funny, because we ended the show and during our last song all the other acts came out to bow and then stayed on stage to rock out until the curtain came down.
We also played another show at lunch, this one our drummer did make it to, which included new cover songs by Rage Against the Machine (Zach de la Rocha went to our high school) and The Misfits. We also had finally agreed on all black and I was a little more metal than I had previously been.
We even had a Roadie at this point, our friend Mike AKA Big Fatty E, who had to fill in for Galen on Bass for a couple songs, since he had injured his elbow during a wrestling match the previous weekend. Then came our final show, the Battle of the Bands.
The Battle of the Bands 2000 was Natural Fear's farewell engagement, but you couldn't have asked for anything better. At this point we had all been playing together for 2 years, writing music and having fun. This was also the only show that any of our friends and family had attended.
I can still see my Dad in his suit, standing in the back of the auditorium bobbing his head to the beat and my friends in the front row screaming out for more. We even had some Natural Fear groupies who threw some panties up on stage, which Galen's girlfriend quickly confiscated.
We also debuted our newest original song called "Midnight Fire" which crescendoed into a high energy solo by Donovan on lead guitar that blew the audience away. We got second place, having lost to a band with an original song called "Broke Pokemon" which was actually pretty hilarious. Then the dream was over.
After this show, Natural Fear was no more. Chris stopped returning our phone calls and mysteriously disappeared. Maybe it was the shame of coming in 2nd place to a bunch of high school bands, but we always told people he blew himself up fishing with dynamite in Mexico.
I was never able to figure out why we didn't just look for another drummer and keep on going. We all still hung out at Galen's house, went to concerts we just never got ourselves pumped for any more rehearsals or shows. Eventually we graduated (except for Donovan, he was a year younger), Galen moved to Long Beach with Big Fatty E and went to ITT Tech, Bill kept his job as a pin-monkey at the bowling alley and I got a job as Goofy at Disneyland.
I never felt that we had a proper closure for the band, so I got together with a friend of a friend who had a private recording studio and put together a Natural Fear anthology album. Basically we polished up all of our demos and live performances and I added some vocals to previously instrumental tracks to produce a retrospective of our short time together.
I set up a listening party at Galen's Long Beach bachelor pad and everyone got a copy with a custom CD sleeve I put together. It was a great way to say goodbye to the good ol' days.
So what about you all? Who else had bands? What were the names, let's hear it.