By Julie Horner
Picture Thanksgiving, 1976, San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. The Band is performing its last concert coming down from 16 years on the road. Some numbers they do just them, other songs include guest artists. Together they played tribute to “the friendships, the harmonies, the hijinks, and the wear and tear that add up to a last waltz.” (IMDb, “The Last Waltz,” 1978)
On Sunday, November 29, 2015 Don Quixote’s hosts The Dr.Madd Show, an evening like no other featuring a full cast of local music legends including the Doctor himself (guitar, vocals), Louie (sax), Diana (keyboard, vocals), Johnny (drums), and Norm (bass). Doc says they’ll be “playing some of the good originals, getting some of the old band members on stage.” There’s going to be a lot of variety: Rock, country, their own pieces, and “Louie doing some blues…joyous covers, swingy and easy, with creamy sax that’ll get yer trotters shakin.” And all timed perfectly for Dr.Madd’s 70th on December 1.
The man known as Dr.Madd grew up in McKeesport, PA, near the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers where the biggest steel mills used to be that manufactured iron pipe and sheet metal that was shipped to Detroit to make cars. “You could wash your car and an hour later you could wipe the dust off with your finger.” Blast furnaces at night made the sky glow red and “people would go down, park, and watch the slag dump…pig iron…I can say I know molten hot metal.”
He was a medic in Viet Nam stationed at two neurological hospitals. “We got all the head cases. I remember thinking, I gotta do something with these hands.”
“First time I played rock n’ roll was in the spring of 1965 in army medic training, talent night, played the drums behind a Mexican kid doing a Peter & Gordon song…that was before they sent me to Germany.” He remembers walking back to the barracks one night. “I got in the middle of a mortar attack…the ground shakes and your spine rattles and instantly you know there’s a round coming. Instead of a weapon I had an electric guitar.”
One night he walked into the service club after dinner. “A guy runs up starts shaking my arm, ‘You gotta hear this! You gotta hear this!’ It was Bob Dylan.” After the next pay day, he went out and bought a nylon string guitar and started finger picking, buying Dylan records. “Then Jimmy Hendriks came along and turned everything on its head.”
He wound up playing bass for 35 years. In 1969, after his stint in the war, he lived in Philadelphia “when Led Zeppelin was new.” It was then that he “turned his back on rock n’ roll and started studying jazz…from Coltrane to Louie Armstrong.”
He left in the middle of the night, “started hitchhiking with a couple of knapsacks from Philly to San Jose” eventually hooking up with “an unmanageable dozen or so” musicians from music theory class at San Jose City College. They became the legendary outfit, Dirty Butter, gigging around San Jose and Sunnyvale until ’73, when the Doctor and some of the other members moved up to Boulder Creek and stumbled upon the now-infamous Club Zayante. At some point some of the members lost track of each other. Dr.Madd went to New Orleans for a while to play on a yacht in the Dr.Madd & Jesse James Band, which cycled through a few players to become “The Dr.Madd Show.”
Dr.Madd says it’s been quite the trip: “50 years of rock and roll and you survived.”
At the November 29 gig at Don Quixote’s, they’re playing the first set, “all our covers and originals.” The second set will be “like The Last Waltz…with all the old friends.” And the venue, he points out, is veteran friendly with easy wheelchair access. It will be a night rockin’ good times to remember.
(c) 2015 Julie Horner
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: email@example.com On the Web: San Lorenzo Valley Post