The fateful day that Ray (the Human Jukebox, guitar player, vocalist) called to tell me that he was mustering out of the Air Force hit me like a ton of bricks. He said that he would be heading back to his old stomping grounds in southern Illinois in early May so his last band jobs with Knockdown would be at the end of April. I appreciated the fact that he let me know three months ahead of time otherwise I would have kept booking jobs into the next summer and found myself without a band to fulfill those gigs. When the Twig ended, it matched up with the end of our high school years so it was a natural transition after our four years of playing together. Having played with Knockdown for two years, the end happened at a more chaotic period for me. I found myself trying to plan for multiple changes that stacked up all at once. I felt like a juggler tossing balls in the air without any clue if they were going to come down again.
I really enjoyed the stability of playing in Knockdown. We played 2 or 3 nights a week with only two Christmas weekends off over a two year period. Coupled with my summer work at the Huron Mountain Club, I was able to finance school, buy a used truck, and still have time for a full schedule of classes. We had a large repertory of songs in many styles so we found we were comfortable playing teen center dances, wedding receptions, bar gigs, office parties and the occasional frat party. The Air Force guys in the band couldn’t join the musician’s union (AFofM Local 213) so I was the guy who booked the gigs, paid the contract fees, did the band schedule, filed the tax forms, and issued the payroll checks. I learned enough about handling schedules and paperwork that it made a pretty good addition to my post college resume.
While I got to play “small business owner”, Ray was the guy who fine tuned the music end of the our well oiled machine. Ray was one of the finest singer – guitarists I have worked with and his encyclopedic knowledge of musical styles meant we could play just about anything the audience requested. Ray would soon be gone and he would leave a void that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fill quickly enough to keep the band going. Lee and Rich were disappointed that I wasn’t going to keep Knockdown afloat, but they decided to try and replace both Ray and I and keep playing. I wished them well but was not at all surprised when both versions of the band they tried to rebuild broke up by the end of the summer. Both were accomplished players but there is more to keeping a band rolling than just being able to be a sideman. Knockdown was one ball I tossed in the air but didn’t try to catch and even though it was sad that the band had ended, it turned out to be the right time.
The second ball I tossed into the air was, “What am I going to do for a summer job?” After three summers working at the Huron Mountain Club, most of the crew I had worked with were moving on. I was not looking forward to being the only ‘old guy’ returning to the kitchen crew. I confirmed this when we drove to the club over Christmas Break to visit Ted the kitchen manager and I more or less told him, “Thanks for helping me work and play band gigs over the last two summers, but I won’t be back next summer”. Ted understood as he was also getting restless to move on. I entered the winter semester knowing I wouldn’t have a summer job besides the band. Two months later, I learned I wouldn’t have a band to fall back on either.
There are times when one has to step back and be patient (not one of my main character traits when I was younger). In this case, I didn’t have much choice. The plan was to get my new semester classes rolling and then start worrying about the summer. I walked into the Geography Department office on the first day of the semester to hear my up the street neighbor (and eventually my graduate advisor and boss) Pat Farrell say, “Hire Ken.” Ceta, the department secretary, looked at me and asked, “Do you want a job?” and without asking any of the important questions (Doing what? How many hours? What is the pay?), I said “Sure!” Perhaps I thought they were kidding but that ball came down rather quickly when Ceta said, “Great! Write out your class schedule and I will figure out when you can work your 20 hours a week.”
The Geography Department generally employed a couple of work study students to do general office work. Both of their fall workers had dropped out of school after the first semester. When I look back at it now I marvel that I found another job without actually having to look for it. I was now a 20 hour a week secretary and I got to do the work that was normally split between two students each working 10 hours per week. Maybe I should have also considered another possibility: “They must have been desperate!”
In essence, this was a ball I caught before I even tossed it in the air. My semester as a secretary coincided with one of my education classes where we were required to learn how to operate all of the machines that we might encounter in the education game. Xerox technology was just gaining traction over the old fashioned mimeograph and stencil machines so there were all sorts of office type machines we had to demonstrate mastery over. We had to make an appointment at the Learning Resources Center (re: The Library) to demonstrate for the work study student in a back closest that we could indeed make copies, run a tape recorder, create and copy a test and so forth. I ended up showing the poor work study girl at the LRC how to use most of them because I was already using them in my Geography Department office job (including film strip and movie projectors and a new fangled, reel to reel video tape machine). Apparently I was her first customer so we learned her job together..
Handling the professors in the department was a different matter. I have had nothing but the utmost respect for office managers since watching Ceta manage the eight or nine “bosses” she worked for without knocking a few heads together. Ceta was as charming as can be but she did not suffer fools lightly. When one of the “bosses” got her dander up, they knew when to retreat. A couple of times I got the brunt of the abuse for something I did or didn’t do (or at times, things they thought they told me to do – the stereotype of the absent minded professor isn’t always a myth). When someone took issue with something we (or I) had done wrong, Ceta could be like a mother bear protecting one of her cubs and I learned the best defense was to keep my mouth shut and let her vent a little righteous anger. I was disappointed when her husband got transferred to Dubuque, Iowa at the end of the semester but I made sure I took her out to lunch before she left to say “thank you” for teaching me the ropes. My third job working for the university was just an extension of my 20 hour a week job. I was asked if I would be available to handle Ceta’s office during the six week intersession between the end of the winter semester and the beginning of summer classes. Working 20 hours per week without having to go to class was almost like a working vacation so I filled the secretary void until a replacement was hired at the beginning of the summer session.
If you check your scorecard, you will find that I just fielded my third university job ball from the sky. Number two had actually occurred a mid-semester when Pat Farrell had asked me what I was going to be doing for the summer. “Taking the Geographic Field Studies class at Cusino Lake with you,” I replied. “Good. Take another class and you can be my assistant manager for the summer.” Had I been trying to keep Knockdown together, I would not have been able to move to Cusino Lake for the summer. This turned out to be another great resume item and when upon returning to civilization in early August gave me a whole three weeks to contemplate the fact that I had no job, no band and no prospects for either going into my senior year of college. Fate again intervened by putting me at the last gig of Barry Seymour’s Chicago style horn band, Sunstone. A brief discussion with Barry during a break got the ball rolling for the band that would become Sledgehammer and it began to look like the end of Knockdown wasn’t going to be the end of my band days.
There are two more parts of the story to tell covering time I spent with Sledgehammer and Easy Money but it is time to move on to something else for a while. If there is a moral here it is simply the old adage “When one door closes, another door opens.” Maybe we can also write a new one: “It doesn’t matter how many balls you throw into the sky as long as some of them come down.” In my case, I seem to have thrown up less than I had come down. It is possible that “The End” doesn’t have to be as final as it sounds and in some cases, a job finds you and not vice-versa.
Top piece video: Joy to the World because it was one of my favorites from the Knockdown days – it was indeed a Joy to play with Ray the Human Jukebox . . . also to have jobs fall out of the sky when they were needed!