There are so many “firsts” in my life that occurred in the month of December. In this entry, we’ll talk about a “first” that was a real turning point in my life. When I saw that this Saturday was December 4, my cousin John’s birthday, it made me remember this episode.
John Hattan is my first cousin and was my best friend while growing up. We did everything together. John was and still is a very talented drummer, and we have performed in bands together for years. But it was the December of my 14th year that is perhaps the most memorable performance…it was my first gig.
I had another cousin who was getting married, so he called my brother, Randy, to see if his band could play at the reception. Randy wasn’t in a band at the time, but he was one of those people that a) accepted any job offered to him and b) knew enough musicians that he could always scrape a band together. I had been learning the bass guitar, and so when Randy got off the phone and told me he took the job, I asked him who was going to play with him. He simply replied, “You and John.”
I couldn’t believe it! After following my big brother around for years and longing for the chance to be on stage, my break had finally come. The three of us had a few practices, and we were ready to roll. Randy on guitar and lead vocals, John on drums, and me on bass and back-up vocals.
The night of the performance I was nervous as hell, but Randy and John, two veteran musicians, told me to relax…after all, we were playing for friends and family. The first set went pretty well, and the crowd was digging it. Of course, they were all getting pretty blasted, too, so we were probably sounding better with each drink.
Near the beginning of the second set, the good ol’ boy who was tending bar came over to us and said, “If you boys will play a country song, I’ll give you each a beer.” Nuff said. Randy was immediately over on my side of the stage teaching me “Folsom Prison Blues.” We played it, not too convincingly, but we pulled it off. Sure enough, we were each rewarded with a 12 ounce plastic cup full of beer. The more we played, the more beer we received until, at one point in the third set, I turned around to see John taking big swigs from a bottle of vodka. How the hell did we get to this point?
Needless to say, at the end of the gig, about 1 am, we were all pretty buzzed except for John…John was trashed. When we went outside to start loading our equipment, it was raining hard, and the low temperature meant that ice and sleet were falling as well. I helped John load his drums. He was typically very protective of his gear, but that night he was just throwing things in the trunk, not caring if it got wet or not. As we were ready to hit the road, Randy said, “You’d better ride with John to make sure he gets home ok. I’ll follow you.”
Before we reached the edge of the little town of Wenona, John had almost hit approximately three cars, a couple of trees and a house. I told him to flag Randy down. As soon as we stopped, I went to Randy’s car and told him that I refused to go any further with John because I was sure we were going to get killed. Randy jumped out of his car, walked back to John’s ’64 Bonneville, and opened the driver’s door. His next words came as somewhat of a shock to me… “Move over John…Rick’s going to drive you home.” A lot of things immediately crossed my mind. For one thing, I was 14 and didn’t have a driver’s license. I knew how to drive, but had never driven in this kind of weather. On top of all that, I had had a few beers myself, and was still feeling a little buzzed.
Nevertheless, I jumped in the driver’s seat and took off to cover the 15 or 20 miles to our hometown of Minonk.
I remember that we had to take the highway for about 3 or 4 miles, which made me nervous because I was sure a state cop was going to pull me over, and I wouldn’t be able to drive legally until I was about 80. Finally, I found a turn-off and drove a mile over to the black-top that would take me into the east side of Minonk. I was going pretty slowly since visibility was making travel tough. I had been on these roads before, but had never driven on them…and who pays attention when you’re riding?
About 7 miles from home, the true test of my driving skills came into play…how to drive while slightly intoxicated on icy roads in the middle of the night…while the person next to you is vomiting all over themselves. Words cannot describe how grossed out I was, but the one thing I kept thinking was “glad it’s HIS car.” We finally made it to my mom’s house and stopped there, since it was on the edge of town, and Randy drove John home from there. I collapsed into bed, reliving the events of the evening…and feeling pretty good about myself.
The next day, all John could do was laugh about the whole experience, telling me that I was now a true musician. I just sat in disbelief as I watched him spraying down the interior of his car with a garden hose.