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Blackfoot

The Beginning
(of the end)
1983-1984

    Fall, 1982: By now, the relatively new practice of radio stations playing new albums in their entirety, uninterrupted, was pretty much in full swing. Listeners could now preview all the latest albums and tape the ones they wanted for free. That was great for the listeners, but not so good for some of the bands. Record sales took a nosedive.

    Knowledgeable music industry people agree that Southern Rock is dead and Heavy Metal is the new King. The consensus among our management and the Atco team seems to be that the band is stale and could use some new blood to help freshen up the material and "modernize" the band's image.
    We decide to add a keyboard player. Immediately, two names came to mind: we had always thought that Ken Hensley, formerly of Uriah Heep, and John Lord, from Deep Purple, were the hottest Hammond organ-playing rockers that a guitar player could hope to play with.
    We heard that Ken might be available, but we were having a hard time getting in touch with him directly. The way I heard it, his manager was worried about losing him, and wasn't letting Nalli near him. So, we got sneaky- we had a friend of ours call and say that he had always been a huge fan of Hensley's and wanted to GIVE him this Hammond B-3 organ. Ken would just need to give him a call, and it would be his.
    That did it. When Ken called, we told him that we wanted him to come to Ann Arbor to discuss joining Blackfoot, and if things worked out at the meeting and he joined us, we'd give him the B-3 as promised. The rest, as they say, is history.


 

    We record the "Siogo" album in Ann Arbor, telling the record company that "siogo" was an Indian word meaning "closeness" or "togetherness". Actually, our road crew had coined the word during previous tours, an acronym taken from a sign they had put in the front lounge of their tour bus. The sign said something like this: "If you are reading this, you must be a slut, since, otherwise, this sign would have been taken down before you got here. Suck It Or Get Out!". (I never said we weren't sexist pigs!)
    The folks at Atco Records discovered the true meaning of "siogo" soon after the album was released in early 1983, when their publicist was calling all the Atco field reps to tell them all about the new Blackfoot record. One of the reps who had been on the road with us for a while and knew the truth began laughing hysterically when she told him "Siogo" meant "closeness", and he told her the real story. Atco was not amused. (I never said we were rocket scientists, either!)


    Early 1983: As part of the "modernization" scheme, I suppose, the management asks if I would be willing to have my hair cut, substantially, by a hairdresser they recommended, and I do so.

    As well as the new musical influences Ken added, he also brought in new fashion ideas. Soon, for the most part, Rick stopped wearing his trademark hat, boots, and duster, and more often wore the same kind of tight, wide vertical striped yellow-and-black or pink-and-black pants and Capezio dance shoes that Ken wore. I have to admit that I also tried wearing weird shirts with all the zippers and buckles and crap, but I felt pretty stupid about it.
    Later in the year, I actually gave in and bought a pair of nylon "parachute pants" to wear on stage, with somewhat embarrassing results. It was on October 31st, and we were in Washington, D.C. to play at the Wax Museum. On the afternoon before the show, we were walking around town and came across a "new wave" clothing store. Well, I bought these dumb-ass nylon pants with zippered pockets all over, and that night, onstage, during the first song, the crotch blew out from stem to stern (so to speak!). Sure enough, I wasn't wearing any underwear, and everything just came tumbling on out. While continuing to play, with my guitar hung extra low, I got the attention of one of our roadies, who went to our dressing room for my jeans; then I changed pants behind the p.a. stacks between songs. That was my last appearance in any of that NYLON crap! Hey, I TRIED to go along with the program, OK?!

    In Los Angeles, we tape our first two production videos, " Teenage Idol" and "Send Me an Angel". MTV gives us a little airplay, but not much and not for long.

    Summer, 1983: Mid-tour, in Los Angeles, manager Al Nalli calls us to his hotel room for a meeting. Album sales are not good, our next album may be our last, and we had better get to work on the material for it NOW. After some discussion about some of us not being able to write on the road, the meeting adjourned.
     Later that day, Hensley and I went out to the tour bus and recorded a few song ideas on my 4-track cassette recorder, and gave them to Nalli. Ken and I sent several tapes to Nalli during the rest of the tour (Nalli told me later that, to get them fired up to write on the road, he had told Rick and Jak that, if they didn't start writing a lot, and soon, that Hensley and I would be writing the next album by ourselves. Nalli said that Rick had replied that there was no way that would happen).

    Kansas City, Kansas: We're touring with Molly Hatchet when, with no warning, Hatchet's singer Danny Joe Brown, and guitarists Steve Holland and Duane Roland, fly home one night after a show, right in the middle of the tour. Only lead guitarist Dave Hlubek, drummer B.B. Borden and bassist Riff West show up in Kansas City the next day.
     That night, after a real quick "rehearsal" in the backstage dressing room, Medlocke and I sit in with Molly Hatchet for their set. Medlocke took Danny Joe Brown's place as frontman, and I played rhythm guitar behind Hlubek's lead, with rhythm section B.B. and Riff. It wasn't pretty, but we pulled it off. The rest of Hatchet re-joined the tour the next day.

    Fall, 1983: The band is off the road, and Rick, Jakson and Ken are in Ann Arbor working on new material. Nalli tells me that the guys don't want me involved because they think my playing style is "not modern enough" to keep up with the band's new style (I understand that Greg was also excluded from some of these writing sessions).

    In November, we all meet in Atlanta to record Vertical Smiles with former Yes engineer Eddie Offord. This is the first time we had gone into the studio without having the entire band at the pre-production stage, and, the way things were going, it was obvious to me that I was no longer considered part of the team.
     Early on during the sessions, manager /co-producer Nalli came to me and told me that the guys had said my suggestions involving musical parts and arrangements were "distracting", and were not welcomed by the band, and that I probably wouldn't be playing much on the new record. Nalli says that although he agrees with some of my opinions and ideas, this is the band's last chance, and he has to go along with the majority this time.
     Nalli also told me that the rest of the band thought that the biggest problem we had was that the we couldn't attract a younger audience ("like Quiet Riot did") because I looked "too old" and played "old-fashioned" (not enough like Eddie VanHalen).
    I told Nalli I thought that was crap. I said that we shouldn't obsess over Quiet Riot's new-found success, and that we should just BE WHO WE ARE. I told him that I thought the band's latest approach to writing new material (purposefully trying to write "for the tastes of teenagers, the demographic that has the most discretionary income to buy records") was a much bigger problem, and if they thought that I was the one responsible for the band's lack of success, they should fire me.
    From that point on, I mostly stayed away from the studio. I spent most of my time in the band's Atlanta apartment with my 4-track tape deck, writing and recording my parts on cassette copies of the previous day's rough mixes and hoping for the chance to record them for real, but getting more and more discouraged and frustrated.

    From day to day, different individuals within the band would also become "the problem". One day, there would be a band meeting about "what the hell is wrong with Jakson (or Charlie)". The next day, we would have a meeting about "what the hell is wrong with Greg (or Ken, or Rick)", and so on, day after day. Nalli called it "the Dead Man's Sweat", something that happens when a band is on a downhill slide and everyone tries to place the blame on someone other than himself.
    I decided that I was not going to let myself become the scapegoat if the new album was not well received. I had known for years that nothing lasts forever, and, sadly, I felt in my heart that my time with Blackfoot was coming to an end.


    Early Jan., 1984: Vertical Smiles is completed, without my having played on it, and is submitted to Atco. The record company is not satisfied with the album, and wants it re-done.

    On a short (7-date) tour between rehearsals, I confront the entire band about all of Nalli's statements to me, and they all confirm their feelings about me being the main problem. Since the record company had just rejected the new album, which I hadn't played on, I tell Nalli and the rest of the band that the next time I hear them blame me for all the band's failures, I will quit the band. The last show of the run, and my last show with the band, as it turns out, is on Jan.7th, at a club called 'Roadies' in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Several days later, in a conversation with Nalli after a writing session in Gainesville, I asked if the guys still really wanted me to leave, and he replied "yes".

    Jan.26th, 1984: At home in Gainesville, Florida, and miserable at the thought of going to another rehearsal, I decide to give the rest of the band what they say they want. At 2:30 in the afternoon, I call manager Al Nalli and tell him that "I want out". I go out of my way not to cause the band any problems when I leave, accepting the settlement they offer and disappearing quietly and quickly from the limelight.

From my point of view, this was the end of the original Blackfoot.