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Iraq War era stuff UNCLE SAM & THE JDAMs' "Iraq 'N' Roll!" The JDAMs are here.

Cold Beer and Fisticuffs:

Reverse Boogie Through Hard Rock With Dick Destiny & the Highway Kings

Ideally, you should read this essay with a recording of "Mad Dog Boogie: Live at 4G's" by the Highway Kings at volume loud enough to roil the neighbors. In lieu of that, Ted Nugent would probably do. [Note: Arnold & the Gropinators satire now moved to the bottom. Page down a couple times -- you'll see it.]

MP3 of "Highway Patrol" from the Highway Kings' LP/CD Arrogance. Remastered. "That's two DUI and one expired licence; I'm pullin' 'im over -- ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Ramblin' Rose -- Live at the Airport Music Hall, fifteen or so years ago, close to the last Highway Kings gig.

E-mail: Dick Destiny

"What a bunch of finky guys, what a bunch of shuckers!" -- from the movie, "Born Losers."

Let's go back to 1990. Dick Destiny & the Highway Kings are playing at the Four G's, a seamy bar located in a slum of the washed-up eastern Pennsylvania steel town, Bethlehem. God, Guts, Guns and Glory was what the moniker supposedly stood for -- named by an owner who was an ex-commando. A martial arts magazine with his menacing picture on its cover hung over the bar, lending some credence to the claim. In truth, the owner was an agreeable fellow who gamely attempted for years to make the place into a refuge for musicians whom no one else in a very musically conservative town would tolerate.

And, on balance, the Four G's mostly definitely succeeded in an environment where it was viewed only as a vague annoyance. Through the end of the Eighties and the first half of the next decade, the Four G's played host to most, if not all, of the independent underground rock that was worth listening to along the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton axis. Sixties-style garage band revival, death metal, straightforward rock-and-roll, art damage -- if someone performed it in the Valley, they could find a sympathetic ear (or ears) at the G's.

It was also a hub for the summer community staff of Lehigh University's radio station, many of whom were regulars.

The Four G's was also a place where beer was served only in one brand -- and exclusively in sixteen-ounce cans. No draft. Girls and assorted sissies could, perhaps, purchase a feminine drink known as a Grasshopper.

In truth, at one time or another, we've all been in places like the G's. Every city has at least one. Take my current locale: the 'burbs of Los Angeles. The City of Angel's "Four G's" is the Viper Room. (Another close match would be Al's. And even more startlingly similar was the now defunct Bar Deluxe -- don't you love the names -- in Hollywood.) For example, after making acquaintance with the Viper Room, the differences between it and the Four G's can be summarized simply:

1. You did not get frisked by ex-cons hired as doormen to look for concealed weapons upon entrance to the Four G's.

2. Parking was free at the Four G's.

So, if you've ever been to the Viper Room in LA, imagine the same vile decor, many more drunks, and fewer phonies. And if you discount the cachet of volatile celebrity, the level of talent, in terms of entertainment dollar, was/is about equal in the two places.

But back to the G's: In the audience you could find the Big Runts and Salty Dogs, hard rock bands that often supported the Kings in the house. The Big Runts were a trio of goons, two of whom went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem. The Runts lived in a manse way out in the fields of Lehigh County where they were pretty much free to host nutso parties that would be the object of mass arrests in most places. After they graduated from the Bethlehem school, they stayed on in the area as computer consultants and slummed at the G's, the only club with the stones in the Lehigh Valley to let them onstage as head-liners on an off-night.

The Salty Dogs were a band of recent high school graduates from Quakertown. They sounded like first album Van Halen (well, maybe not quite . . . but that was the aim, I think) without David Lee Roth. While their singer, a fellow by the name of Jewels, was no DLR, he was always game to do a fair imitation of a man who'd lost all his marbles. Jewels played harmonica, too -- rather badly. In the context of the G's, however, this worked quite well. Art, shmart. It was always satisfactory ear damage.

In addition to the Big Runts and the Salty Dogs, the Highway Kings attracted a lot of no-goodniks, their "chicks," former wrestlers, pre-cons, power topers and other miscellaneous degenerates whom no one would want to be seen with in normal company. At a typical Four G's show, one intoxicated woman stood up in front of the Kings and commenced to idiot dance, blocking the views of other "customers." Two drunken men immediately objected and tried to remove her. She pulled a rather pathetic-looking knife and there was a fight. Of course, the men immediately gained the upper hand. Two against one, about 400 lbs. to 120 or so -- and in the melee that ensued she was thrown backward onto a table, which collapsed. Half the crowd went out the door. My ex-wife, who was there, never came to see the Highway Kings again after that. It was standard fare, actually: way over served men and fewer women scuffling pointlessly. Very American.

Another memory recalls a local semi-professional dominatrix trying to recruit a slave during a gig. This woman had fixed upon a fellow whom she supposed looked openly masochistic. Apparently there was a foot fetish involved, too, because the potential slave's was encased in one of those big open-topped medical shoes that you infrequently see upon the swollen feet of patients recovering from bunion surgery. It was said that he had an infected bone in his instep and the dominatrix, in an effort to demonstrate how sadistic and forceful she was, chased the fellow around the G's for the balance of the night, attempting to grind her heel out on his inflamed foot.

All this happened pretty much as normal activity on the part of the local flora and fauna. If you played in places like the G's and had this small manner of fandom, you had to be philosophically and constitutionally prepared for such behavior, even inspirational to it. Ergo, the two long rants on the "Mad Dog Boogie" CD encouraging debauched drinking and utterly disgraceful personal conduct.

"Brutal volume was also an essential tool..."

Brutal volume was also an essential tool. You could intimidate an audience with a handful of Sunn and Hiwatt stacks. I would regularly have Walter Jarrett, the bass player, occupy the attention of the more aggressive among the boozers with short extremely high-volume solos. (This always effective and stagey rock and roll tactic continues to this day. Recently I witnessed the Men of Porn batter the crowd with it at Spaceland in Silver Lake on a Saturday night.)

When not playing the G's, a typical gig would have us opening for Pat Travers or Robin Trower, semi-major guitar stars from the Seventies fallen on hard time in the haunch of the Eighties and reduced to performing in the coal town of Jim Thorpe. The venue, called Flagstaff, was an old resort from when Jim Thorpe, originally called Mauch Chunk, had an actual upper class of coal barons in residence around the turn of the century.

Like the south side of Bethlehem, Jim Thorpe was quite depressed. But since Flagstaff furnished very cheaply-priced big-league guitar rock in destitute Carbon County, fans turned out regularly.

Flagstaff was split into two sections, a main floor with an outside balcony that wrapped around the building -- and a restaurant. During the shows, the lines to the conveniences would become overlong and the local custom was for the male patrons to march to the outdoor balcony and . . . well, you can connect the dots. When practiced by such a large group audience it was quite an astonishing site and, I am told, fabulously irritating to the residents of Mauch Chunk who lived further down the hill from Flagstaff.

By 1991, the Highway Kings were also opening shows for a number of unusual major label acts when they trudged through the Lehigh Valley. One of the more memorable performance was with a band for which Epic Records paid a puzzlingly staggering sum of money, the Cycle Sluts from Hell.

The venue sold out for the Sluts/Kings bill and a number of real bikers -- and this is an important point -- showed up. (The Sluts, you see, had just been on Morton Downey for one of those quaint TV chatterfests on the vileness of popular music. Curiously, I never found the Cycle Sluts to be particularly profane or banner examples of the seedy nature of popular entertainment. In my small experience, they were well-mannered, sophisticated women. And in the fullness of time I find I can also no longer recall any real dirt, obscenity or profanity on their CD or from their performance. However, they looked appropriately domineering and wicked in black leather and it was show-biz. Apparently, the buzz from this TV segment influenced the turn-out in Bethlehem greatly. The Cycle Sluts did manage one record for Epic. It carried a subtle undercurrent of dry good humor which was poorly-appreciated at the time. I would have liked to hear more from them.)

"The Cycle Sluts looked appropriately wicked and domineering in black leather."

Anyway, the Highway Kings blew the Sluts off the stage and the crowd emptied halfway into their set. TV celebrity and Manhattanite followings at the Cat Club and Rock Hotel didn't carry much water beyond ten minutes in front of the hardcase audience that was standard issue in the Lehigh Valley. The predominantly biker crowd, dismayed at the Cycle Sluts who, after all, weren't real cycle sluts (actually an asset since it avoids the addiction to sulphates), didn't connect with them.

I'm not sure what the crowd expected from what was, in essence, a pure novelty act, but the bikers were unmoved by joke-metal equating hogs with "washing machines" and songs called "I Wish You Were a Beer." They were more into the Savoy Brown-type thing, which is what the Kings were good at.

The Big Runts, of course, were present and one of them purposefully attempted to storm the Sluts' stage. Security was compelled to toss him into the parking lot.

But maybe now you want to know a little about the Highway Kings in close-up.

Drummer Brian Mills Carson (credited as Carson Mills Carson on the "Arrogance" and "Brutality" LPs until he made me change it): Carson lived in a trailer park and was an auto-body painter for a big Oldsmobile dealership in the Valley. He was an easy pick to be a Highway King because he had a really big drum kit and a small public address system -- useful for practice. Have you ever noticed how people with vocal P.A.'s automagically find their way into rock bands both famous and obscure? Kids, take note!

Bassist Walter Jarrett was the victim of a shotgun wedding and occupied himself as a short order cook at a home for the crazy and decrepit. That was the final line-up of the band prior to break-up around 1991.

"Our bassist was the victim of a shotgun wedding and occupied himself as a short order cook at a home for the crazy and decrepit."

However, let's backdate to 1985. I had just home-produced "Arrogance," an indie album which unexpectedly generated some publicity in Creem magazine. Some of this spiel is still in print in Chuck Eddy's "Stairway to Hell" (Da Capo). You can even buy this book from Amazon!

Of "Arrogance," it was said:

"Right away you hear a lick plagiarized from BOC's 'The Red and the Black,' then suddenly men in blue are pulling over commie freaks who cheat at solitaire . . . It's got plenty of those kind of ugly riffs that stick to your heels so you can't even scrape 'em off with a hacksaw . . ."

It was said "Highway Kings" was the only Godz tribute, ever. Find a copy of "Arrogance" if you can, listen and you tell me.

And a Spin writer opined:

Like a steel-toed boot . . . the Highway Kings kick-start 'Arrogance' in a style that will knock your socks off. Dick and his pals romp through filched Texas roadhouse bamalama with a fiery biker-metal glee. Mr. Destiny lays down his party line with the edict: "We wanna ride our machines without being hassled by the man/We wanna be free to beat people up if they try to take away our chicks and drugs . . ."

By the way, I stole the idea for that particular "lyric" from a motorcycle gangster-delivered soliloquy in a movie. Check the end of The Wild Angels, right before Heavenly Blues, played by Peter Fonda, and his goons trash a church and beat up its pastor as prelude to a funeral service.

This unexpected critical generosity meted out to the Kings indicated that it might be necessary to train them for public demonstrations. So I enlisted one Byron Goozeman on second guitar to join bassist Earl "Bud" Hossler (aka Jim Mertz) and the ever-present Carson Mills Carson. Photos were made ready and even published in Creem Metal.

Then came the long march of altie-scene crowd hostility.

The first and second Dick Destiny records found their way to college radio for reasons which mostly elude me. As a result, we got the "opportunity" to play some venues that catered to the college radio altie-rock underground in the northeast. Big mistake. Byron Goozeman, Bud, Carson and I toured it a couple times and playing for students enamored of college radio and the concurrent 'zine scene was always a disaster.

Since when did college students become such pansies, we wanted to know? When we had been in school, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were hip.

But it was a different decade and we got to play on stages with watered-down rock combos and clownish pop acts. Some names: the Lyres, the Dead Milkmen, Plan 9, Classic Ruins, Naked Raygun, They Might be Giants and Ween.

Ween, for example, had not yet been "discovered" by rock critics and college radio when they went on before us on a triple-bill in Trenton, New Jersey. Imagine two jittery little nerds doing jumping jacks and other calisthenics backstage to warm-up before going out to mime over pre-recorded tapes of miscellaneous rubbish. At the time, they were part of an emerging and growing number of alternative acts that turned being calculatingly wretched into a fringe music entertainment that could be sold to people in their twenties.

Audiences that went out for this type of thing were a few years younger than us -- and they had no taste for heavy rock-and-roll unless a special dispensation had been made for it that week by an altie newspaper or radio station.

Very few of these gigs were productive. The only one that was, actually, transpired in Hoboken at Maxwell's opening for an Australian band, the Celibate Rifles.

MP3 of "Rumble" from the Highway Kings at Maxwell's in Hoboken ca. 1987. Link Wray bludgeon riffola through wall of Marshall and Hiwatt stacks.

There was a tremendous hype surrounding the Rifles, generated by lickspittle airplay at college radio and an article on Australian rock which had been published in Musician magazine. So the Celibate Rifles were supposed to be heavy. However, in practice they were only some rock writer's idea of heavy.

The crowd was a sell-out and some people were actually there to hear the Highway Kings, too. Word of mouth had apparently served us well this one time. WFMU, a local college station had also put "Roadkill," the first number on "Arrogance" into heavy rotation. It also can't be ruled out that a local independent record store might actually have been selling copies of the LP.

A 'zine editor in attendance wrote a few weeks later in a recap of the show:

"The true gem of the night wasn't the Rifles but Dick Destiny & the Highway Kings. Now their LP was kinda great, true biker grunge. And here on an unsuspecting Hoboken crowd that had been spoonfed loads of hype concerning the Rifles, the Highway Kings unleashed a monster of a wall of sound with biker/chemist Dick Destiny poised in front . . . The Marshall stack always does it, I'll tell ya. . . . the Kings [embarrassed] 'em . . ."

In matter of fact, the Celibate Rifles were a trifling bunch. Greasing them onstage was about as challenging as stealing lunch money from the class milquetoast. The Highway Kings' idea of Australian rock was AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Buffalo. That was manly music.

Around this time the Kings largely swore off out-of-town altie-type gigs in favor of playing to alcoholics.

Right away, a semi-private drinker's establishment in Easton called the Ukrainian Club was pressed into service. We played the place until repeated noise citations wore out its potential for live music. The Kings would line its back wall with stacks of amplifiers and startle the club-members who quailed at a sight they thought reserved for arenas. They adapted quickly, however. Alcohol in sufficient concentration impairs the auditory nerve, acting as a chemical earplug, so to speak. At the Uke, it was the first time I had ever seen a bartender use an industrial broom to sweep the inch or so of spilled and regurgitated beer accumulated on the floor into a corner drain.

The next memorable appearance was at a VFW, again on the south side of Bethlehem. It was rented out, complete with open bar, as a private party put on by the community staff of the local college radio station. As the Kings hit high gear, partiers became so overcome with the joie de hard rock, they began to engage in fisticuffs. A chocolate cake was produced, tossed into the middle of the fray and stamped into a mush. The VFW would and could not abide such an audience. In view of the immediate circumstances, the vets jumped to the mistaken conclusion that a number of our fans had defecated upon their dance floor.

It was at this time that Byron Goozeman and Earl Hossler chose to bid the Kings adieu. Their zest for the battle to achieve hard rock glory had taken a year-long mauling and they couldn't get it up for the cause any longer. No hard feelings in 2000, guys.

It took about a week to replace them with rhythm guitarist Chris X. Gomez and bass player Steve Ace Moyer, picked from the ruins of the Bethlehem hardcore punk group, the Follow Fashion Monkeys. {"X. Gomez" was Chris Joseph, a very good fellow who now plays drums and records in a power pop band called The Villas. At a time when the Kings had no formal rehearsal space, Chris enabled The Kings to set up in his mother's garment factory -- a considerable favor.}

Of the time, in the words of Chris X. Gomez, from an article on the Highway Kings published in the entertainment section of the local Allentown/Bethlehem newspaper:

February 6, 1988: "Hardcore seemed to be on its way out. Ace and I had both liked hard rock before hardcore - bands like Blue Oyster Cult, Slade. We saw these guys -- The Highway Kings -- and were pretty impressed with their sound. As part of the Follow Fashion Monkeys, we even opened for them at the Ukrainian Club and the Airport Music Hall . . . One time when we called asking for other dates, we were told the band was looking for new players."

Ace and Gomez were gamers. They supported "Brutality," and, hey, I even got their pictures into Creem.

[How to look tough.]

"Brutality" again garnered good reviews but the novelty of seeing your name in print was on the wane. Good word in music periodicals, I noted, was often not quite worth the paper it was published on. Having written regularly on hard rock for various pro publications over the years, I'm fairly sold on the idea that "good" reviews of heavy bands are mostly for the benefit of the "reviewer." That is, they have negligible effect boosting an act's profile. Silly you if you thought that was the idea. Indeed, I could write a chapter on the fine details of this subject.

However, it really boils down to the fact that music journalism predominantly fits into only -two- categories. The first: Material generated by a large hack/flack corps which can only justify its contribution to entertainment news sections if the subject is served as part and parcel of the regular schedule of mainstream music industry product. (This structurally ensures only puff-writing and hagiography in service to whatever is the publicity driver of the moment. Indeed, have you ever marvelled at the need and logic behind editorial choices that result in hundreds or more of almost exactly the same review of the same record nationwide? Quite naturally, many rational people have learned to tune a lot of this out ensuring that it only has effect on children -- or those as suggestible as children.))

And second: Music journalism as a flavor of bankrupt pseudo-social science in which pop music trends are analyzed for their value as pure SchadenFreude (that's "glee at the public shame of others") or relationships to things like the scapegoat class, feel good empowerment movements and/or the current national Zeitgeist. Subscribe to any of the Sunday editions of the three largest US newspapers for a year, scan their Sunday magazines and Arts sections and you'll eventually see what I'm getting at.

I'm really sorry, rockers!

Whoops! Wound up in a whole different country for awhile there.

"The Highway Kings often played to houses filled with handfuls of testy scumbags..."

But, back to "Brutality" in 1988. Of this, it was claimed:

". . . giant-muscled, hog-butcherin,' non-shavin' tough guys, Carson Mills Carson's skinpounding truly comes into its own on this record, the blooz-ooze of which leaves whitewall tire tracks across your physique and attains a viscosity level comparable to early Point Blank . . ." -- from Creem (reprinted in slightly different form in -Stairway to Hell.-)"

". . . guitar avatar Destiny wreaks sonic havoc throughout, behind which the Highway Kings jam open the rhythmic throttle . . . Buy this mother of an album at once or miss one hell of a party." -- excerpted from FUN, ca. April 1988.

Dutifully, Gomez and Ace soldiered on for about half a year. Their hearts were in the right place but the constant playing to houses filled only with handfuls of testy scumbags proved too psychologically exhausting. They split, Ace Moyer to form a cover band-type version of the Highway Kings to find only that ersatz-Highway Kings even without ol' crabby and weird Dick in tow was still a hard sell. To his credit, the idea was jettisoned and two women and a couple friends were enlisted in the formation of a much more successful pop covers and dance band. I forget their name.

Even Mills was worn out by the three year haul. He took a few months off to decompress and I went about looking for new acquaintances to dismay.

This pause ushered in the most satisfying of my runs with the Highway Kings.

With the help of two nice ladies, also rock musicians, Maureen "Moe" Jerant and Gina Balducci, I was able to produce some new Highway Kings tracks. At the same time, we collaborated in the construction of a rehearsal/recording studio about a half-mile from Moravian College in Bethlehem. You can hear Moe and Gina on "Move Over for Dick Destiny," which Gina helped produce. They were the most perceptive people with regards to the hows-and-wherefores of hard rock in the studio I ever had the pleasure to work with.

With the placing of a newspaper ad, Walter Jarrett wound up as the Kings' final and best bass player. Walter showed up for an audition actually wearing a suit. Wanting to be in a rock and roll band, you wear a suit? If you'd a been me, you would've told him he was in on the spot, too.

While neither Mills nor Walter contributed any writing to the band, they influenced the sound and direction a great deal. They were very good at flat-out hard rock that appealed to bikers and friends they hung out with on the day job. Don't ask me to explain precisely why, though. I have always found frank irrationality a better explanation than calculation with regards to this type of music.

Walter and Mills continued on with the Kings until the last gig at the G's, sometime in late 1991. You can hear them in full cry and in their most appropriate surroundings on "Mad Dog Boogie."

Years later, I know the Highway Kings still tugged at them. While they liked the money and steady nature of their continuing cover band projects, they missed the frisson of potential misadventure and the wild sound of rock and roll played by rabid animals. They were never again permitted the kinds of things the Highway Kings were routinely able to do with bludgeoning decibels and voltage in the dives we landed in.

And while I would hate to suggest everyone live by the hard-and-fast rule that heavy and hard rock and roll is best found in crumbling wooden pits, it has always worked for me.

Dick Destiny, November 2000.

A sample of college radio tearsheets.

Here's a playlisting with "Brutality at #2 in early 1988 on KALX in Berkeley, California. And here's another from WRCT in Pittsburgh, also from February 1988.

Footnote: Today, the Four G's no longer stands on the southside of Bethlehem. It was bulldozed after a fire gutted it in 1999. At the time of the blaze, the club had been shuttered and condemned, long sold to the city of Bethlehem which found it so wracked by disrepair and building code violations that making it ready for sale would have cost more than its net worth. The mayor of Bethlehem was relieved by the conflagration, a happy circumstance he called "fortuitous" in the local newspaper. But what would you expect from such a bourgeois Philistine?

Such bugs and goblins in my life!

Photo credits: Carol A. Smith.

Miscellaneous archival credit: Byron "the Gooze" DiPaolo.

[The Gropinators in Arcadia]
"First, I would like to get to know you..." -- Arnold
I Think We Should Make a Carla Sandwich. Arnold & The Gropinators: Venice Beach garage metal -- Arnold sings, additional lyrics attributed to Arnold -- like "We should make a Carla Sandwich" -- reprinted in the Los Angeles Times as told by women who spoke out on the big man's gropinating. Some Blue Cheer and Austrian oompah band influences. The Gropinators: Arnold, vocals; Ted Klutchewski, guitar/vocals; Sven Dianabol, bass; "Jolly" Rog Oberheimer, drums.

"You like discipline!" -- Arnold
Gropenfuhrer Boogie: Subtitled, "We're Not Gonna Take It," The Gropinators explain the politics behind the big man's success, using rock and roll. Our leader's election came not through reasoned judgment, but a good old angry and mentally ill snapout, a desire of the polity to strike, to lash out, to schlag -- someone in government. We weren't going to take it! Take what? Who cares? But someone, like Gray Davis, had to be made to pay and Arnold was the benefactor. Lyric: You sent him to Sac-ra-men-to; No rotten car tax, no, no! We sent 'im to Sac-ra-men-to; We're not gonna take it, no, no! Arghhh! Danger! Get out of the way, we might have to hit you.

Gropinators in the news! In the November 3rd Los Angeles Times it was said: "...'Gropenfuhrer Boogie,' swings to lyrics [as above]"

"And the A-side title, 'I Think We Should Make a Carla Sandwich,' is taken from a description in the The Times of an alleged movie set incident in which Schwarzenegger and his stand-in trapped [a stand-in named Carla] next to a food service table. Schwarzenegger supposedly said: 'I think we should make a Carla sandwich,' and the men squeezed her between them. After they released [the woman] ... Schwarzenegger stuck his tongue in her mouth."

Update - 15 November 2003 - 02:10