- Tommy Thompson
6th Movement: "Rockwell"
Updated: Feb 15
"If music be the food of love, play on.”
-- William Shakespeare
Pat and his younger brother Preston (to whom I have already briefly alluded earlier in this tawdry tale, and about whom y’all will hear more a li’l bit later) had an older sister named Pam. She was my age and had been in my same-year class at Alameda High School as me. Their mother’s name was Maggie Thrall, who in her own right was a very talented entertainer, both as a stage actress and vocalist.
And so, it was at this point in time that Maggie, who also worked at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital in a variety of ways, decided one fine day to move her entire brood out of Alameda. And in the hills of South Berkeley/North Oakland was where she found the perfect new home in which for her and her kids to cohabitate.
The street was named “Rockwell” and it couldn’t have been named more appropriately even if you tried. Especially after the family moved in, and our li’l band of musical miscreants invaded the premises and turned it into our new rehearsal hall and, generally speaking, “band house” and home- away-from-home.
It was a gorgeous place with 3 levels. Main living room, kitchen, dining room, den and such were on the middle level. The bedrooms were up in the clouds on the third level. But, the huge bottom level finished-basement area was the turf that she very graciously allowed us to turn “over-under-sideways-down,” and mold it into our musical laboratory.
The first day that Pat asked me to come over and check out the new digs
is one I'll never forget.
Hey, forget about the two upper levels, at least for now - after all we’re talkin’ about teenage musicians here, right? No, what Pat did was immediately drag me downstairs into the bottom lair and show me where we would be rehearsing. As I finished walking down the steps into the basement catacomb, the very first thing I saw were two very attractive young gals crackin’ balls all over a spankin’ brand new pool table.
A pool table? Are ya kiddin’ me? Whewie!
A new place for our band to get a fresh start, polish up and create new and better music…and with a pool table already complete with a complement of hot chicks with whom to play games, so to speak. Ohhhh, yeah. Things were already lookin’ a lot more rosy than ever for us Mamas, lemme jus’ tell ya that, dear reader. And all this was before we’d even brought in our gear or played a single note of music.
So, we set a date for our first rehearsal. Day arrived. We humped in our gear. Drums. Amps. Guitars. Cords. Crappy PA system. And even worse microphones. You know, just the usual stuff that any late-‘60’s teenaged rock band had at their disposal in the ol’ musical gear arsenal. We set it all up, and justa startin’ wailin’ away. Perfect, right? Well, it was perfect. For about 44 minutes…
And then the cops showed up.
Apparently, this particularly nice n’ quiet neighborhood had never before been inundated with these types of typhoon decibel levels of sheer volume: a soaring sonic saturation which we were now putting out thru the walls, windows, doors, ceiling, and even the cement floor. The entire audio onslaught was emanating unhindered from beneath, above and through every inch of surface surrounding our li’l basement music camp.
And, as a result of that aural blitzkrieg, a rather large number of our new neighbors - both within the immediate vicinity, as well as blocks away - had called in copious complaints to local the constabulary in regards to the “noise” emanating from an area somewhere in the vicinity of ???? Rockwell Drive. Guess we were done for…hmm?
Nope. Maggie to the rescue.
In her usual calm, collected and completely classy manner, she somehow managed to charm and appease the local lawmen enough to keep them chatting amicably at the front door. Eventually vacating the premises thinking that they had done their job. That’s what happened. What did not happen, was that they did not get inside the front door…cuz if they had?
Well then, the very slight yet unmistakable waft of marijuana smoke oozing and stinkin’ its way up thru the cracks of the basement door would’ve most certainly “Sounded the Death Knell” for all of us.
Remember, it’s still 1969 at this point of the story, dearest reader, and so being in possession of even just one joint of Jumpin’ Jiminy would most certainly wind you up before a judge. And get you nailed with a lifetime-long felony charge. Ain’t it so, Kesey?
So, I guess you assume that Maggie was just simply fine n’ dandy with us smokin’ pot in her home, right? Well, yes and no. YES, she pretty much knew that we smoked the stuff from time to time - this lady was no one’s fool - but, NO, she didn’t want us to put it right in her face. And after her recent li’l tete-a-tete with the Berkeley cops, she informed us that she not only did not want it done inside her home...but, she also did not want either herself or any of us to end up in the pokey.
So, immediately after this rather concerning close-call cannabis caper, we found other places outside the walls of the castle in which to indulge our herbal predilections, so to speak.
However, we now had another equally concerning and even larger issue to deal with here. How the hell were we supposed to rehearse our thermal nuclear rock music without upsetting the neighbors and getting Maggie and the rest of us all in trouble?
So, we came up with our own teen-aged version of a low-budget remodeling plan. We explained the whole thing to Maggie in as much detail as we could. And being the totally supportive “Band Mom” that she always was to all of us, she agreed to let us try it out.
Someone (probably Vince, cuz he was always the innovative builder and fixer-upper guy in our group) told us exactly what we needed for our amateur imitation of a professional sound-proofing project. As well as how and where to find these materials on-the-cheap.
We met the next day at Studio Thrall with everything on Vince’s list: Hammers. Sacks of nails. Staple guns. Rolls of duct tape. Old blankets. Sheets. Rugs. Sleeping bags. And pillows. But, most importantly: a boatload of empty egg trays…you know, the ones that hold like 24 of the li’l suckers? Where Vince found all these “eggie” trays, I never knew, nor do I ever want to know.
All I do know is this: We worked like banshees for two weeks.
Sheets were nailed up and allowed to hang down just slightly, but yet still completely cover the already low ceiling. Blankets and pillows were stuffed into and around the windows and their wooden frames, and then nailed in and/or taped over. A beggars banquet collection of rugs was thrown down to cover the entire basement floor area. A couple of flea-bitten sleeping bags emitting questionable odors were taped together and then nailed to the inside of the one and only ingress/egress door leading in and out of the backyard. Yet still allowing it to be opened and closed.
And, approximately 9,147 empty egg cartons were painstakingly nailed or stapled directly into and thru that really cute kind of nice-looking, but fake, thin-wood paneling that was so popular back then for finished basement walls.
(OK. 9,147 is a wee bit of an exaggeration. But you get the general idea, right?)
We put up Fillmore and band posters galore. Added in a couple selections of psychedelic artwork. Engaged the on switch for the ever-popular and always-requisite-for-the-times lava lamp. And completed our li’l "Hippie Chic” couture by installing colored light bulbs in the 2 or 3 available ceiling fixtures. As well as into a few table and floor lamps that Maggie loaned us - yet somehow apparently didn’t mind getting eventually and inevitably totally demolished.
And finished off the whole mess by plugging in the longest and, by far,
the biggest "Black Light" tube ever known to mankind.
Having completed our home improvement project, we were now ready to bust it all out, take it for a test spin, and see how she flew. Fired up the boiler in our music train, and started back rehearsin’ just like we did two weeks before. And, ya know what? No complaints from the local gentry. Not a one. Woo Hoo! We were back on the fast track, rollin’ in the chips, and ready to keep rockin’ n’ rollin’ at even bigger and brasher volumes than ever.
Blue Cheer, eat your heart out.
Completing this remodeling project seemed to have an immediate and very positive effect on all of us - and the subsequent new musical ideas which were soon to follow. Maybe it was just the new location: “Berkeley Hills,” particularly at that time, just had a certain ring to it, ya know?
Or perhaps it was the fact that Maggie had stood up for and supported us with John Law and the neighbors. Or maybe it was the new colored lights. Or the Fillmore and other hippie posters. Or the larger space in which to set up and play. Or the fact that the neighbors were no longer, for the most part, complaining about the sound levels. Or the new pool table complete with hot chicks. Or the fact that were all very proud of the all the hard work we’d done together as a band and a team in order to customize our new downstairs musical work shop.
Or…well hell, it was probably all of that…and more.
But, all I know is that upon completion of the “Cookin’ Mama Studio,” we all just got a real itchy musical bug up our respective rear ends. And so, right out-of-the-gate we got our collective herd of horses up to a full gallop, and started hunkerin’ down and seriously gettin’ to work in order to scratch that itch.
We rehearsed pretty much every day with the exception of gig days. These were marathon sessions, folks. Which was easy for us cuz we were all just so excited and having so much damn fun playing music with and being around each other. Going up to Rockwell to rehearse or just hang out together as a band became the main thing in all of our young lives. From the very moment we woke up every morning. Anything and Everything Else would simply have to be arranged around our much-honored band time.
New tunes and dual guitar & bass harmonies came to us in abundance. I showed Pat some of the chords he didn’t yet know. And he showed me some “non-Surf Music” lead guitar techniques: the Rock n’ Blues licks and bends and “wiggles”(finger vibrato), and guitar pick grips which he already had incorporated into his own lead guitar playing.
Vince and Lou had risen to a whole new level in the rhythm section. Grooves were getting thicker, stronger, and deeper – an absolute rock-solid foundation upon which for us to erect our new musical mansions.
Also, I had been writing songs with Lou back when we were a 3-piece before Pat got into the band. That collaboration continued on swimmingly. But, for me, the really cool new thing that happened was that Pat and I found that we worked together very well when it came to, not only coming up with complementary guitar parts for our songs, but for songwriting itself, as well.
Some days I’d show up early before rehearsal, or stay late afterwards, and Pat and I would just woodshed galore. Sharing with each other all the new chord progressions, and guitar licks, and song melodies, and lyrics that our creative young teen-aged minds were spewing out from a seemingly bottomless musical wishing well.
We also began to mess around with new drum beats and different kinds of time signatures.
(remember, Pat started off playing the drums…poor guy).
Musician Joke #1
“What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians?”
Pat, Vince & Tommy headin' out of the house for some post-rehearsal local high-jinx