In 1982, I loved the Clash. They were such an alternative to groups like the Who, and its albums like “Who’s Next?” I was in my punk/new wave phase, and I wanted something different when it came to music. I had cut off my hippie hair, bought a black leather jacket, and tossed all of my bell bottoms, in favor of tighter, narrow-legged Levi’s 501’s. So on October 20, 1982, I accompanied three friends to the Kingdome in our town of Seattle, Washington, to see the Clash play with — the Who. My friends, Karl, Mike and Ray, had not embraced the punk scene, so they were more interested in the Who; but I went to see Joe Strummer et al.
I’ll give the Who credit: they had embraced or at least acknowledged punk rock, and I’m sure they made a mindful decision to add the Clash to the bill. (The show was opened by a relatively unknown singer-songwriter, T-Bone Burnett. He was pretty much thrown to the wolves. Everyone in the huge, concrete, domed stadium was booing, or talking and visiting during his set. I tried to hear his music, but his sound reinforcement was grossly inadequate. – He’s not so relatively unknown now! Oh Brother! )
I wound up enjoying the Who’s show. If I didn’t know the words to their songs by heart, it would not have been as much fun. Because once again, the sound system didn’t reproduce their vocasl that well, and the words were hard to make out. But since I knew the words….
But as I said, it was the Clash I really wanted to see. Up until that night, I’d seen opening acts get an ample (or even overlong) time slot. Well, the Clash didn’t get enough time, and I was mad about that. Plus, the sound system did them no justice at all. — I played nine shows there myself, with the northwest groups, Stampede Pass and Wickline, and we did better when we faced a smaller area of the stadium, rather than trying to play to the entire, cavernous building.
Nevertheless, I saw the Clash; and seeing them was a milestone for me. They did a lot of songs from their latest “LP”, “Combat Rock”. They were dressed like guerrillas, in military fatigues and berets. Security personnel kept having to push people away, off the stage – or hurl them would be a more accurate term! Everyone close to the stage was getting rowdy. As were the Clash! – They put on a great show, discounting the P.A. system problems they, T-Bone and the Who had that night.
But that is not even the whole story! Let’s back up a bit: did I mention that my friends were tripping on LSD (I wasn’t)? Yep. And as soon as we entered the huge, grey Kingdome, an hour in advance of the concert, I was very chagrined to spot a family friend, King County Sheriff’s Officer Frank Kinney, who strode right over to say hello. Normally, I would have been happy to see Frank; but not while babysitting three friends who were tripping on psychedelics. I’m not sure how Karl, Mike and Ray handled this in their addled brains. They were not, thankfully, peaking yet.
Frank was a true friend, not just of mine, but of my Daddy’s. I was “normal” – not on drugs, so I did all the talking for our little group. I introduced my cop friend to everyone; he was cool, and he just wished us all a good time. I’m sure he was well-aware that many people would show up stoned for a Who concert. He probably was focused more on making sure everyone stayed safe. He was a very kind guy. He was in law enforcement for all the right reasons. Still and all, I look back and I feel sorry for my friends – sorry that they had to go through that. I can only imagine how frightening the experience could have been.
Frank Kinney had also been an adult-education teacher, working with my Daddy. They helped unemployed people gain the skills needed to find good jobs. But, the fact that my Dad and Frank worked together was a coincidence. That’s not how I met Frank.
But my big connection to Frank? I was in a band with his son, Sean. Sean was only twelve when we started playing together (I had just turned 30); but he was already a fine drummer. We were in a family band, led by his Grandfather, L. Z. DeSpain. Some of the band members were way older than Sean; they didn’t relate to him, and they picked on him. He was a super-talented youngster, who he still did “kid” things. He would put Hot Tamales cinnamon candy on his floor tom and eat it between songs. He would cry sometimes, or get mad, or pout. — He was a normal twelve year old. But I saw his talent. I was a little closer to his age than most of the band, I played electric guitar, I took him under my wing, and we became great pals. I became his traveling partner when we went on the road to places like Canada.
Did I mention we played in a square dance band? Yes! The Cross Cats had their beginning as the Boeing Company’s square dance band. Many Boeing employees were in square dance clubs with their spouses. L. Z. DeSpain, an exec at Boeing, just happened to be a pretty good bass player. Wanting to start a square dance band, he began recruiting his fellow employees: L. Z. asked a jazz rhythm guitar player named Bob, who was in his early 60’s, to come aboard. Bob’s jazzy style definitely added a swing-influenced flavor to the Cross Cat’s music.
Next, L. Z. invited a very accomplished banjo/fiddle player named Dick to join the gang. Dick haled from a storied old-timey Puget Sound group, Rag Daddy. Somewhere along the line, L. Z. made the choice to put his drumming grandson Sean in the band. A young accordion player named Val came along, to fill in the sound, and add some melody. But he wasn’t available to play every dance. So I was added on lead guitar. We played behind callers, who did singing calls and talking calls. We had to know a ton of songs. Every caller had his favorite songs (I don’t think I met any female callers), and we needed to know them. We had to sound fairly “country”, as the music the American Square Dance Association appreciated was a blend of old-timey and country, with a little bit of contemporary sounds thrown in. Well, let me tell you: with the addition of the “tween” Sean Kinney’s Kiss-flavored drum fills and my verging-on-psychedelic guitar solos, we definitely added a contemporary feel to the music! I would employ a “fuzz-tone”, straight out of 60’s garage music, on some of my solos. Bandleader L. Z, would sometimes ask, “Randy, do you have to use that thing? It makes it sound like you’re playing through a torn speaker.” Whenever L. Z. said this, Sean would immediately pipe up, “I like it!” Not once did he fail to have my back when L. Z. questioned my use of distortion in a square dance band. Thank you, Sean. – See why we were pals?
A little bit about my background: when I was sixteen, I helped start a legendary psychedelic garage band, The Velvet Illusions. The fuzz-tone laden 45-rpm records we made in 1966 and 1967 are collected world-wide. (We’ve even released a retrospective CD and LP, in our old age!) After I left the Velvet Illusions, I led a psychedelic blues band, “Felix”, until 1971. I made extensive use of distortion and feedback in Felix.
After I disbanded Felix (for nearly every band breaks up), I played in what can only be called a psychedelic country band in Yakima, Washington, with one of the greatest steel guitarists on the planet, Tokyo’s Katsuhiko “Katz” Kobayashi. Katz was one of the first players to use a fuzz-tone on the steel guitar. And! When he bought a new one, he gave me his old 1960’s vintage unit: a Honey Bee fuzz tone, which I used for years. So, you could say that a fuzz tone was an essential element of my trick bag.
I mentioned that Sean’s drum fills could be Kiss-flavored. Well, he showed me his room at the Kinney house, back in 1980. It was a shrine to Kiss! Really — a shrine. If he still has that collection, wow! It would be worth a small fortune. — Floor to ceiling posters and memorabilia. Other than paying for his drums, Sean must have put all of the money he made playing in the Cross Cats into his collection of Kiss artifacts. And he spent hours drumming along to Kiss records. To him, it wasn’t work. It was a joy, and something he was born to do.
One day, Mrs. Kinney, Sean’s mom, had me come over to the house to teach Sean and his two young pals, one on guitar, one on bass, to play a rock song for a talent show. Sean was head and shoulders above the other two boys as far as chops go. The bassist wasn’t bad; the guitarist was young and needed more time and practice to learn how to solo properly. I won’t say the session went extremely well. I taught them to do an instrumental (none of them sang, at the time) based on a Santana-styled chord pattern. I’m not sure if they liked it; I’m not sure if they used it. But: I’d love to know who the other two boys were, because Sean Kinney, my little drummer pal, wound up being a founding and continuing member of one of my favorite bands on Earth, Alice In Chains!
4/7/16 Update: I just watched an interview with Sean Kinney and Jerry Cantrell. Sean said he had been playing with Mike Starr, Alice In Chain’s original bassist (RIP) since they were eleven or twelve years old. So: when I was jamming with Sean and his two buddies at his folks’ house, was that bassist whom I described as being pretty good Mike Starr? Wow…. It just gets more interesting.
Click to read a particularly good fan report of the Who/Burnett/Clash concert, written by Chris Troyer: http://www.thewholive.net/concert/index.php?id=486&GroupID=1
Obligatory Wikipedia reference: If you don’t believe my story, just search for Cross Cats in Wikipedia! We’re there!
When I worked at Experience Music Project from 2000-2004, I hadn’t seen Sean in about twenty years. My co-workers, including Mark Newman, an Alice In Chains roady, told me not to worry; Sean would eventually drop in. — I never saw him at EMP, and to this day, I haven’t seen him. To me, he’s still a thirteen year old. Please, if you know him, say hi? Tell him I continue to rock the fuzz-tone, in my senior apartment. At low volume.
The perfect ending would be to give you an embedded video of me doing an acoustic cover of “Rooster”. It’s not going to happen…. However, I do perform a song, as my tribute to the one and only Kurt Cobain, which Nirvana covered: Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (Thank youi, videographer Brad Kilgas.)
In case you need reminding what Alice In Chains sounds like, here you go. We’ll let them do “Rooster” It has about 13.5 million more views that my little video, but we won’t hold that against them. Sean! Quit eating candy!
And here is/are the Who from that very concert on October 20, 1982, doing “Who Are You”, which addresses the punk rock phenomenon.