The High Life
My lucky sticks.
since 1974, when I toured Northern British Columbia with The
High Life. Not a bad name for a band. The High Life.
guitarist, and con-man.
So, Leo sells some
bullshit story to a Vancouver booking agent, and lines up six
weeks of gigs. Now he needs a band. That’s the kind of guy he
is, books gigs without a band.
Suitcase and I meet
him at a jam on Hastings. Suitcase plays bass and I play drums.
Leo asks us to join his band. Three weeks later, we’re on the
road. High Life’s the Name - Rock & Roll’s the Game. We play
Stones, Beatles, Elvis, Chuck, CCR, and lotsa
The gig pays 250 a
week, with free rooms. OK bread for 1974. Suitcase plays in his
band, but he can’t stand the guy. Calls him Leroy Van Spricken.
Our first gig is
Burns Lake, B.C., at the Alaska Way Cabaret. Nice ring to it,
the way it rhymes: Alaska Way Cabaret. Owner Jack VanOort,
another Dutchman. We are in like flint. The people like us cause
we rock. VanOort keeps us on for three extra weeks, over
Christmas and New Years. Five weeks in all. We settle into small
town life. At the liquor store they call us by name.
Suitcase hooks up
with Mona, half native, the eighteen-year old cook. I meet
blonde Krista Van Kamp, married, lives out in the sticks. Leaves
her husband, and moves into our hotel, The Tweedsmuir. Hangs out
with our band. While we’re in town, she’s my girlfriend. Livin’
the High Life.
Our next gig is The
Frontier Inn, Fort St. John, land of the New Totems. The new
totems are the high oil towers all over the frozen land. The
oilmen, bored out of their skulls in the barren oil fields, go
nuts when they get to town. Throw their money around, drink like
fishes, hire hookers.
One night a couple of
young girls tell us they love our band. Groovy. One sits
on my lap, gyrating her money-maker, trying a little too hard to
turn me on. I see on her forehead a tattoo: a Christian cross.
Reminds me of Charles
“Hey, Drummer Boy,
why don’t we go to your room after?” I don’t say anything.
“What’s your room
number?” It comes to me: She’s a hooker.
“Gonna buy us a
drink?” I go: I’m broke. Suitcase goes: I borrow from him.
She’s mad. “Oh yeah?
your band stinks, anyway. Drop dead, jerkoffs!”
Leroy is pissed.
dey go. Two
“Leroy, you numbskull. They’re hookers. Can’t you tell?”
Leroy rolls this idea
around, and goes, “So what? What could dey cost? What duh hell?”
Suitcase goes: “Go
ahead, Romeo. Pick the Manson girl. She’s a sweetie. No disease
there, right? And after she finds out your room number, no one
will break into it while you’re on stage. Whores are very
trustworthy. Right, Leroy?”
Fort St. John is a
hellhole. We rock on to Kitimat, Prince Rupert, and Terrace.
Reelin and a-rockin,
til the break of
dawn. People follow us from town to town. They lay dope on us:
pot, blow, amanita
shrooms. Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Livin the High Life.
But we have no gigs
lined up after Terrace. We call our agent in Vancouver every
day. Any gigs? Any gigs? Ant gigs yet? He’s got dick.
We limp out of
Terrace with no gig, no home, no bath, and no bed. Where to go?
How about Burns Lake? Mona and Krista. Maybe someone will put us
Leroy drives through
a mountain blizzard. Suitcase and I huddle in the back under
piles of blankets, drinking beer, and smoking blonde Lebanese
In Smithers a neon
sign flashes, “Live Bands - Six Nights!” Leroy slams on his
brakes, skids on the ice, hops the curb, and just misses a
Suitcase yells: “What
Leo goes: “Look. Read
duh sign. Live Bands.”
“So, we go in, and
say we’re duh band.”
“That’s stupid. What
if the real band shows up?”
“Look, it’s snowing.
Dey might not show up. I’m goin in.”
I follow Leroy to the
hotel desk. Leroy goes: “We’re duh band.”
The fat desk clerk
narrows his eyes: “Are you The Gem Tones?” He points to a poster
on an easel. It says: “Dance to the Rockin’ Rhythms of the
Fabulous Gem Tones. One Week Only!” A picture of the band shows
four ugly short-haired guys in red shiny coats with black
We are not the Gem
As I leave, I hear
Leroy still trying to convince the guy: “What a mistake. Our
agent called us. He said we’re booked. We’re The High Life.”
Back in the van, I
down half a beer. Suitcase looks at me sideways: “Dick?” Yeah.
Leroy gets in the
van. Suitcase taunts him: “Hey, Leroy. How much we getting paid?
Do we get the penthouse suite? Where we going now, Leroy? Got
any more bright ideas, Brian Epstein?”
Leroy turns up his
At 4 a.m. we stagger
into the Tweedsmuir Hotel in Burns Lake.
The desk clerk Ralph
slaps two keys on the counter, and we gotta pay for them. What a
drag, to have to fork over folding cash for the same rooms ya
had before, free of charge.
Ralph tells us the
new band is upstairs. They call themselves The Hive.
Suitcase goes: “Those
bastards are up in their goddam
The next day in the
café, we meet The Hive’s drummer, Jacko, and lead guitar, Wally.
Their rhythm guitar is asleep. He never gets up til the sun goes
down. They are just kids, about 19-20 years old. They start
brewskies early in
the afternoon. Waiting for their bass player to arrive from
At nine, an hour
before first set, we zip over to the Alaska Way Cabaret. Mona,
Krista, and the owner, VanOort, are all smiles and hugs.
Suitcase goes: “Hey,
man, that new band is shit. Ya
fire them, and hire us.
Leroy goes: “Duh
equipment is right out in duh truck.”
VanOort waves us off:
“No, No, Boys. This new band, The Hives, is under contract for
two weeks, eh? Their sheet says they’ve been around, y’know.
Played Saskatoon, there.”
At nine-thirty The
Hive buzzes in, still missing a bee, their bass player. Suitcase
is on stage in a wink. Talks to Jacko, shakes his hand, returns
to our table, and goes: “Their bass player is out. They hired
me. I know most of their songs. I’ll fake the rest.”
The Hive’s first song
is “Release Me,” by Engelbert Humperdinck. Sad, sad, sad. They
sound like a Legion Band. They wouldn’t know a rock song if it
jumped up and bit their ass. No one dances. People sit there
with sour faces, and leave after one
VanOort tears his hair out. The drummer is drunk, keeps dropping
his sticks. The singer can’t sing, the rhythm guitar stands with
his back to the audience, and the speakers buzz. After the set,
Suitcase unplugs his bass, and climbs on a barstool. “Bummer,
man. What a downer. I quit. I need a beer, a shot, a zombie.”
Now they have no bass
player, but they tell VanOort, “Don’t worry, man. We’re
professional enough to play without one. No problem.”
VanOort takes them
into his office. After five minutes, he comes back. “OK boys, I
fired em, eh? Get up there. You’re my new band.” What a break! I
We play a helluva
set. The stage is our home. We are tight after all those weeks
on the road. The people jump up and dance. Phone their friends,
and by last set, the joint is half-full. The guys from The Hive
don’t take it hard. I guess they know they suck.
VanOort hires us for
two weeks. He calls the Tweedsmuir, and tells them to give us
our rooms back, free of charge. That night, after two, we down
victory drinks with Mona and Krista. And when we kick open the
door of the Tweedsmuir Hotel in triumph, with girls and booze,
we do not have to fork over any folding cash to Ralph.
We are back in the