As a kid born and initially raised in California, my Uncle Wayne also lived next door to us with his then-girlfriend, Pam. Even though he was always there, I don’t remember doing much at my uncle’s house except listen to music. That’s not to say I didn’t play with toys at home or with my friends at the daycare/pre-school thingy, but my uncle was never a “play with toys” kinda guy. Yet when it came to kicking back and playing music… maybe that’s why I enjoyed going over.
Being a fan of hard rock and heavy metal has its benefits. I was very much a certified headbanger, and for me, to be a headbanger means you have embraced heavy metal as your savior and you look the part. By looking the part, you feel that you are one with the spirit of metal, and I was very much that, and while the keyword here is “was”, my love of heavy metal still remains.
In this case, I don’t remember anything but the fact that he had two albums that I liked listening to. As part of the listening ritual, it also meant looking at the album cover. One album my uncle loved was Black Sabbath‘s third album, Master Of Reality, released in 1971. It was on the army green Warner Bros. label so it was one of the first pressings before Warner Bros. moved to their Burbank tree painting label of the mid-70’s. While I was able to enjoy the music of Santana and War at home, the music I heard on Master Of Reality was just brutal. Okay, I’m sure at 3 years old I didn’t know what brutal was, but the guitars were cool sounding and loud. I loved “Sweet Leaf” because it was someone coughing before the song, but I also liked “Embryo”, “Children Of The Grave”, and “Into The Void”. A few years later, when we moved to Honolulu, my Uncle David (brother of Uncle Wayne) had the album too and I would listen to it when I went to his apartment. I sat there, and at one point the cover freaked me out. Those of you who know the cover are going “um… why?” Here’s the cover.
For those who have never held the original vinyl pressing, the cover consists of Black Sabbath in purple lettering, with the title of the album, Master Of Reality, embossed in black lettering on black. This creeped me out because it was “dark”, and when you’re a kid, “dark” (as in “without the lights on”) meant spooky. Will a ghost get me? When the end of “Children Of The Grave” came to its close and the song had the sounds of Tony Iommi playing the guitar in a manner that sounded ghostly, along with a few voices going “oooh” and a faint “children of the grave” whispered every now and then, this was just creepy. In time, kinda cool. As a kid who would eventually learn about spiritual and religious things, I wanted to know who this “master of reality” was, and if it’s a person, how come his picture isn’t anywhere on the cover. The back cover had the lyrics for the entire album, so as I sat there not knowing what was going on in the front, I could read along and initially not know what a “sweet leaf” was (until I realized it was what my dad was smoking). As for “Children Of The Grave”, I was a child and I wondered if a grave was in my near future. Who are these children, and are they the ones going “oooooh” at the end of the song? It would be awhile before I learned “Into The Void” was an environmental song.
What I loved about the music was that it was my initial exposure to something one would call “heavy”: lots of guitar, lots of distortion, booming drums, deep bass, with an incredible groove that I’d love. I also liked it because there are parts of their songs where they’d break out of these heavy grooves and play fast (as they did in “Sweet Leaf” and “Into The Void”) but then return to creating these cool grinding sounds. This love of low-end heaviness would refresh itself in high school with a bunch of goofy kids from Montesano, Washington, and when it did, it would remain there from that point on.
My Uncle Wayne also had another cool looking-yet-scary album: Led Zeppelin‘s Houses Of The Holy. I remember sitting down, holding the “big” album cover in my hands, not knowing who these naked girls on the cover were (not realizing that one of them was a boy, and that the full cover was just a collage of the nude brother and sister team). Open the cover, and there was a man (a father?) holding up a little girl (his daughter?) I know I saw this and thought “what is the dad going to do with his little girl? Is he going to throw her off of the mountain? What was cool about the cover? The orange and yellow tones of the outside photo, and the green and blue tones of the gatefold.
But what I loved the most about the cover was the idea that all of these kids (again, just a brother and sister) were living in holes. Why were these kids living in holes that are in rocks? Where are these rocks? How do they live? It looked like some of the rock formations and reefs that are around Honolulu. When I was able to swim far enough to reach reef formations, I’d try to see if I could find my own Houses Of The Holy. I came close when one of the blockages at Magic Island had a hole where you could go inside and hide. But these were man made holes, but it was enough to where you could sit inside and just chill (or if you were someone who smoked or did a few drinks, get polluted until your heart was content or you coudn’t feel your legs.)
My uncle also had Houses Of The Holy on 8-track for his car, while an auntie had the album on cassette. Both the 8-track and cassette were in pink plastic shells, which was the coolest to me because I had never seen any cassettes, other than Disneyland read-along stories, that had a color other than white, black, or grey.
What I loved about the music was old bold and victorious “The Song Remains The Same”, as if it was coming in from the mountain that the father and his daughter was on, down to find the kids. Those jangling guitars sounded like power and strength, the drums would kick in, and then you’d have the power trio just playing. In the mid-section you have guitarist Jimmy Page just digging into the guitar with some wicked riffs, and then doing it again once more in the song’s last minutes. My Uncle Wayne would always sing one part of the song, and before I knew the lyrics I had no idea, other than “he likes this song”. Then one day when I found a lyric sheet, I knew:
Sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu star bright
The song remains the same
These were things of delight, but it was a part of the song that referred to Honolulu. It was a reference to home for my uncle, and it’s something I would eventually single out in my life too, it may have originated from here. It’s the idea that even though you are miles away from home, you tend to want to find and single out any and all references to where you were from. Then again, the end verse was kinda cool too:
Sing out hari hari
Dance the hoochie-coo
City lights, oh so bright
As we go sliding, sliding
Sliding, Sliding, Sliding, Sliding…
It sounded cool, but eventually when puberty hit and you realize about the wonders of those you are attracted to, and how, “you know, sometimes words have two meanings” and that a lot of the songs you knew and love could be re-interpreted into many different, perhaps more exciting things. What was Robert Plant sliding down, or was someone sliding down on him, or were he and a lady sliding down together? I wanted to find a lady I could slide down with too, experience all of this “sliding, sliding, sliding, sliding”.
What I also loved about Led Zeppelin was those drums. It was just a lot of “boom”, “bam”, “chsssshhhh’ and “pop”, but once I understood what he was doing, there was so much to learn and love about this John Henry Bonham. I didn’t want to be a drummer then, but his drumming would never leave my consciousness.
When we were living in Honolulu, we lived for awhile at my grandma’s house in Honolulu. My grandma had one of those wooden cabinet phonographs that looked and felt sturdy, if I could fit inside (and no I did not try), it could be a cozy place to stay. It had a radio, the plastic seemed durable, the metal on it looked as if it could never break or melt. Those wooden cabinet stereos had a distinct smell, a mixture of the wood and the components of the electronics inside. I honestly never remember my grandpa ever playing any music on this stereo, and since we arrived in Hawai’i when my grandfather was sick, I have no idea if the stereo was something they both enjoyed or if it was something one of them preferred more. This was in the mid-1970’s, and yet this thing looked like it came from the 1950’s or early 1960’s. Was this the stereo that my dad discovered some of his first records? It wasn’t an issue again so the question never came up.
As with anything to do with grandparents and their things, you never meddled in their business, or in this case my grandma’s business. She always seemed a bit quiet and reserved, but her husband had died and was still dealing with the loss. Yet even as I got older and would visit her often, she kept to herself. I do remember her scolding me a few times, for what I don’t know, but I do remember her being in the kitchen. Sometimes she would make a dish that was my dad’s favorite, and sometimes it would have ingredients that I would try and go “what is this?” Actually, I probably said something like “yuck!”, I honestly don’t remember a dish from hers that I liked. When we had our own place, my mom would still make some of my dad’s favorite dishes, but tweaked with some of my mom’s preferences. One of them was curry stew, a Hawaiian style concoction that involved ground beef, carrots, chopped potatoes, and curry powder, then poured over white sticky rice. This would become one of my favorite dishes among many. Yet when it came to music, I don’t associate anything with my grandma.
There was a day when I had two records to myself, and what felt like an empty house. I don’t remember where my parents where, my guess is my dad was maybe in the garage fixing his car. I don’t know if my mom was there. The weird thing about this story is that somehow I obtained these two records. At this point I wasn’t actively going to stores and saying “mom, I want this” or “dad, this is cool, can you get me this?”, I would simply play what may have been near me. I have no idea where these records came from, but now that I had them, I wanted to hear them. At the age of 6, I wanted to play these records on the big grandma stereo, which was in the dining room. I looked around, and I walked towards it.
The two albums in my hands were the Taiwan pressing of Led Zeppelin III, and a U.S. pressing of Alice Cooper‘s Easy Action. I remember it being the Taiwan pressing because the cover was the cheap paper and plastic version, with no wheel to spin. The label was also blue, with a circle instead of the Atlantic logo. I pulled the record out, put it on the turntable, turned on the phonograph, lifted the tone arm, and put it on the first Side 1. “Two… three… four…” All of a sudden, “Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I loved what I was hearing, this was cool. I knew who Led Zeppelin were from Houses Of The Holy, and I felt I was having a good time until my grandpa came out from nowhere and said “turn that off! Turn that off! That is the devil’s music!” Devil’s music? What is the devil’s music? I just remember her looking at me as if I did the naughtiest thing a 6 year old could ever do, and I was unhappy. My mom and dad let me play this music, my uncles and aunties loved this music, why is this “devil’s music”? As for Alice Cooper, I remember playing the record another time but don’t remember any of the songs. I wouldn’t hear it again until high school. Yet I loved the cover photo of the band, whose faces you could not see because they were not facing the camera. COOL! If my grandma thought Led Zeppelin was evil, one wondered what he thought of the cover where all of them had long hair and were shirtless. The devil, indeed.
(SIDENOTE: I believe this was also the first Taiwan pressing of the album I had ever seen, which were plentiful in Honolulu in the mid-70’s. I had never seen them in stores, but always when my parents would go to a swap meet. My guess is that this album was bought at the Kam Super Swap Meet, which was held at the Kamehameha Drive-In Theater, where you could get a lot of things for dirt cheap. It was not the first swap meet I had been to, as I remember one visit to the Rose Bowl Swap Meet in Pasadena, California. I don’t remember what was purchased, but I remember walking to see the big Rose Bowl sing and thinking “wow, this place is big”. My dad may have been looking for car parts.
Years later, I became aware that Taiwan pressings had not only cheap and flimsy covers, but the quality of the records were piss poor too. However, when one could not buy, find, or afford a proper U.S. pressings, and you just wanted to hear the music, a Taiwan pressing was acceptable, albeit barely. In my early teens, I would obtain the Taiwan pressings of Blind Faith‘s first and only album, and Black Sabbath‘s Master Of Reality, with a photo of the band on the cover that I later discovered was found in the poster of original pressings of the record. If there’s any benefit of Taiwan pressings, it was to see the different look of the front or back cover, especially if an alternate photo was used.
Also, any and all Taiwan pressings are counterfeits, along with any pressings from any part of Southeast Asia. There were no major label affiliates in Taiwan, it seems whoever had a recording would press it up. At least with Led Zeppelin III, the album was released three different times on three different labels, each showing the name on the label on the cover. No idea if these were three different counterfeit copies or just one entrepreneur pressing it in three different ways.)
I believe the first hard rock band I got into on my own terms was Kiss. I know for a fact that my Uncle David saw them when they played at the Neal S. Blaisdell (NBC) Arena in 1976 (after doing a search, a Wikipedia entry shows they played in Honolulu on February 29, 1976 for the Alive tour. Amazing: Kiss did live shows in support of a live album that for the most part was not live.) I think what I liked about Kiss is what everyone else liked about them: they were four distinct characters, hidden in costume and make-up, and they rocked. They did songs that sounded good, or at least they felt good. I know over the years, people said that Kiss played nothing more than dumb rock’n’roll, but it was a style of rock’n’roll people loved because they put on an awesome spectacle. Fans were consumed by the show and the myth and mystery. My parents bought me the Alive album on cassette, and I would play it like crazy. Loved Paul Stanley when he spoke about drinking tequila, vodka & orange juice, and then at the end of one of the songs where the crowd noise flanged.
Eventually I would get Destroyer and Love Gun but in 1978, I went to DJ’s Sound City, a record store in Ala Moana. This was like the playroom I wanted to live in, where everyone wanted music, everyone was buying records and tapes, and earlier in 1978 I had went in and heard Van Halen for the first time. A few months later, with a regular visit to Ala Moana, I would go to the record store. In Ala Moana, you also had House Of Music, which I also liked because they had record booths where one could listen to records before you’d buy them. I also liked House Of Music because back then, each record store was distinct and this felt like a true house of music, with items I would never see anywhere. DJ’s Sound City sounded like the kind of city I’d want to live in when I grew up, because they had a great name. My goal in life back then was to be a radio DJ, so a disc jockey where he could go to a sound city and just rock on? RIGHT ON, and my dad would make regular visits there to browse or buy.
One day, I entered the store on my own. The plan was, as my parents would do their shopping and or browsing, usually at a store nearby, I would go to the record store. This was my safe haven, my Toys-R-Us, and employees did not make an issue of a 7-year old kid on his own, in a record store. I knew how to navigate myself through. Pop and rock was always in the front, those were the big sellers. Soul/funk records were mixed in with pop and rock because they were popular, and it was the 1970’s, soul and funk were huge. The uncle who had a good amount of hard rock and heavy metal also loved jazz, but that was due to the guitarists who were on some of those albums. One jazz album I remember was Live Evil by Miles Davis. The cover looked very similar to a record I was familiar with, Santana‘s Abraxas, but the artwork was creepier. Miles Davis looked cool inside, just simple black & white photos where it looked as if he was talking behind the counter or in a recording studio. When I was at my uncle’s place, he would put on the records for me, but sometimes I’d listen to them with the stereo speakers. Most of the time, I would have to wear headphones, adult-sized headphones that were way too big for my young head. But this meant the music was doing “direct” to my head, and it was warm and cozy like a good couch. Now imagine a 7-year old kid listening to a bit of fanatical jazz fusion where I had no idea what was being played or why it sounded like this. When I pulled out the record and looked at it, there was maybe one or two tracks on each side. These songs are long, but that meant more time listening and concentrating to the music. Again, imagine a 7-year old kid listening to Live Evil and looking at artwork like this:
Now, I was used to the two nude women on the cover of Abraxas, an illustration of a lady with tattoos, another of a woman sitting there for all to see with a strategically placed bird. But Live Evil: what the hell was going on? Here was a nude black woman, pregnant, with another woman kissing her stomach. Fair enough, but what are those ripples on her stomach? Then I see people in the background: who are these people, and where are they going? Then I flip the cover over and I see a blonde gorilla, sitting with webbed feet or whatever with peas all over the place. I now realize that the gorilla-type beast is meant to be J. Edgar Hoover, but as a 7-year old, those peas freaked me out.
I bring this up because when I went into DJ’s Sound City in September 1978, I knew to go to the jazz section in the back, because I could see other Miles Davis albums with equally weird covers. I remember seeing a Keith Jarrett box set on ECM (Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne and back when 2-record sets were “special events”, and I could only have them if I was a good boy (read “good grades”), I always wanted more. Then I look at the wall, where new releases for the week and month were sold. I looked and saw something I had never seemed nor dreamed. This was too good to be true. What did I see? FOUR SOLO ALBUMS FROM EACH MEMBER OF KISS!!! Forget the Keith Jarrett box, I want to hear all of these. I stood there for what felt like hours, just staring, but most likely it was a few minutes. When my mom or dad came to pick me up, I most likely pointed and said “look, everyone from Kiss has a record, I want them all.” Pffff, forget that. Getting one album meant I had to be good and exceptional, but a kid getting four records, four “big records” (albums) at once? I was following the habits of a music loving household, but most of the time my collection would be primarily 45’s, with albums for being “good”. No way would I get all of those four Kiss albums.
Not all at once, at least.
I don’t remember if I got Gene Simmons‘ or Ace Frehley‘s album first, but I know that I liked them both. I liked both of them because Gene was the devil guy with the blood and cool hair, while Ace Frehley was far out and from outer space, as he would sing in “Snowblind”. I liked Paul but he was the “Starchild”, which at the time I felt he stole from Parliament. These two were on the same label, how come there are two Starchild’s? Plus, Paul always puckered and seemed “girly” but his album was quite good too. Peter Criss‘ album was okay, but I played that one the least, although I remember his cover of “Tossin’ And Turnin'”. Eventually, all four of those Kiss solo albums would be released as 12″ picture discs, but they were more expensive and while I don’t remember asking for them, if I did, I would’ve been told “go get a job”.
I used to think that being able to get all four Kiss solo albums must’ve meant I was really good, or that my dad was feeling extra happy about something. However, I remember reading in And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records by Larry Harris that, while Kiss were being pushed and promoted as the hottest band in the land, they had created massive attention towards these four albums. It was a chance to not just buy one Kiss album, but four. However, more albums were pressed than were sold, which lead to record stores turning the album into a budget-priced cut-out. Eventually you could find each of these albums at supermarkets that would have a small devoted section to records that were essentially failures (the RSO soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was always there, along with the Pickwick Records knockoff. At the time, as a growing Beatles fan, I wanted the soundtrack but instead my mom bought me the damn Pickwick knockoff. The music sounded like shit.) My guess is that some, if not all, of the Kiss solo albums were bought as cut-outs, so they were cheaper than they were when I first saw them at DJ’s Sound City. I would know this too, because of part of the cover was clipped off, I knew it was most likely bought at a supermarket.
My Uncle David also loved Aerosmith, especially the albums Get Your Wings and Toys In The Attic. I would enjoy them too, but the album I found myself really enjoying their 1976 album Rocks. My uncle was still living with his dad at their apartment in Waikiki (my uncle was still 15), and one day I remember him wanting to play me a new record. It was a 45 on Columbia, and he asks me “guess the name of this song.” I enjoyed how the sound started out slow, before it changed 20 seconds in to the groove that would become the main part of the song. I really liked it, and wanted a “little record” as well. I heard the singer sing “home… sweet… home” and I told my uncle “is this called “Home Sweet Home”?” He said no. I couldn’t understand the singer’s screams at the end, could’ve been “I found a lass chao, a just a boogin da bee”. After the song faded and the record player stopped, I picked up the record and saw that it was Aerosmith’s “Last Child”. I had to have it. I didn’t get it then, but I would get that 45, most likely bought by my Uncle David or an auntie.
One day, my parents dropped me off at my grandfather’s apartment so he could watch me, and he would take me to Records Hawai’i, one of his favorite record stores since it had a lot of Hawaiian music. It may have been on Friday, perhaps a pay day, and I know he bought some records so he could listen to it during the weekend, a ritual for him. He then asked me to pick an album that I wanted to get. I don’t remember if I looked at anything else, but if “Last Child” was on my mind, then this is why I immediately went for the Rocks album. When I got home, I played it, looked at the inner sleeve and wondered why Steven Tyler was eating oatmeal or Cream Of Wheat with the food all over his mouth? I didn’t get it, nor would I, but it didn’t matter. I had an Aerosmith album, and loved Side 1. I’d play it over and over. When I would go to my uncle’s place, I would be able to hear other Aerosmith albums and since they were on the radio too, there was never a true need to get more. My uncle would have the record, I can go listen to it there but if I wanted to hear Rocks over and over, I could do so at home.
I’d listen to other hard rock and heavy metal groups, and many of my discoveries would be through my Uncle David, a guitarist who seemed to buy a wide range of albums to perfect his craft.Scorpions‘s Tokyo Tapes and Animal Magnetism; AC/DC‘s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and If You Want Blood You Got It; UFO‘s Lights Out, Pat Travers Band‘s Force It; Judas Priest‘s Sad Wings Of Destiny and Unleashed In The East; and the almighty Live album by Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush. I loved the volume of it all, the power and majesty of it, the ability to rock out, and at times hearing some incredibly weird sounds played in the form of guitar solos that were not a major part of my listening at home. My parents weren’t against heavy metal at all, but going to hear what my uncle had? I wanted to hear more. I know there were times when my parents would come to pick me up, I didn’t want to go home. I was not done listening to music with my uncle. I’d probably get into a fit and acted like a fool. What did I want to do with my life, after being exposed to the music that my uncle loved? “I wanna rock!”
As the 1980’s started, I could never have imagined all of the changes that would happen, not only in my own life, but with how I was able to listen to and find out about music. If my days as a single digit boy felt exciting, especially as this new thing called video games was becoming another means of great entertainment, it was only a mere climb of the metaphorical roller-coaster before I’d reach the top, only to grip the edges before speeding down into the great unknown from all angles. It’s a ride that continues to this day.