joe rian

1990 Rock Falls, Illinois

In 1989 I was living in Mesa Arizona and won a guitar on a radio contest. I’ll tell you all about that entire story in some other post. The main point is that I won a guitar and I ended up in Rock Falls, Illinois after my mother’s death.

That was a pretty shitty Christmas dinner since she fell into a coma after we finished eating. I guess I could say it was a really good dinner but dessert really sucked. In the shock I moved back to be with my dad and help out in the machine shop.

That guitar you ask? Yea, it was really awesome. American Stratocaster signed by Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I think they gave out 20 of these signed models in support of a tour they did together. The guitar itself must have been a B model because I never, ever got the low E string to intonate correctly.

My playing you ask? Again awesome. I had learned “Smoke on the Water”, some of “Suffragette City” and that one part at the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven”. Believe me when I tell you, my dad was a saint for listening to that dribble being emitted from downstairs every night.

Guitar Magazine was always featuring dudes with big hair from some shitty band that could out shred the next shitty metal band. Every lesson was some fucking shredding technique.

In 1990 there were plenty of hair bands and even a little spandex here and there. Florescent colors were all the rage. Van Halen broke up and The Cars had quit putting out records. Even Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were quiet. Locally it was all hair and all shred. One trick poney.

When I figured out that working in Dad’s machine shop was too damn boring I got myself enrolled in the community college (again). You see at this point I had already flunked out of Saint Ambrose. Well technically I hadn’t flunked out. Technically I was unable to play football with only 13 credit hours after a year. At least I had a B average.

I moved to Lasalle Peru, IL to try to get my shit together at another school. I guess the only problem was school. I didn’t like it and at this point was just building a bunch of debt.

I moved to Arizona, got married for a couple years, worked as a telemarketer, a salesman and a hot air ballon chaser. I finally found myself working for minimum wage at Handy and Harmon a precious metals refinery in Phoenix Arizona.

They say it’s a dry heat but let me tell you something. I would loose 6 lbs of water weight a day working in that shithole. In the dead of summer when it was 120 dgrees outside I would be standing in front of a furnace pouring liquid gold and silver dressed in a flame retardant suit. It was hot as fuck.

I’m sure to have some kind of cancer from cleaning the asbestos bags in the air collection system. It was a nasty job and it was the very thing that got my ass back in school. Finding the description of Idustrial Design in the ASU handbook didn’t hurt either.

I was really into groups like Big Audio Dynamite and Janes Addiction. Yep it’s 1989 and to me the the Alternative AM Radio that was coming out of some garage in Tempe Arizona was where it was at. If it wasn’t that it was Blues or the Grateful Dead.

None of this stuff was on the radio. Shit that was like 35 years ago and they are still playing the same rock crap on AAA radio they played back then. If I hear “Black Magic Woman”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Layla” one more time…

Back home at the comunity college I ran into my friend Clay at the Art 201 drawing class. Clay is a fluid guy. One of those people that can walk, chew gum, play drums and do a slap bass Flea impersonation at the same time.

Of course you can’t go to art class and not be stoned right? Clay thought the same thing so needless to say we car pooled the rest of the semester. He was into the Chilli Peppers, Parliment and anything funky. I remember we’d play Intersellar Overdrive and some other original instrumentals we had made up. My point is that I really sucked at guitar and being a 21 year old art school kid in Midwest small town America kinda sucked. It especially sucked when your father-in-law at the time was a Sterling cop and he’d have you followed around at night. Apparently he had read the “How to Be an Asshole” book.

If you grew up in the suburbs around Chicago you could go to The Fireside Bowl to see a punk show every weekend. Well, Rock Falls is no Chicago suburb. There was no internet back then and if you wanted to hear anything good you had to go to the library. There I would check out all the cool Blues records and make cassette tapes of vinyl.

In the ol’ Rock River Valley there was a classic rock station out of the Quad Cities, one local am radio station and a local fm that was run by a robot. Every day at lunch dad would turn up the “The Trading Post” on the am station WSDR.

I’d love a recording or two of that phone in radio show. You see it was kind of the equivilant of Craig’s List today. Instead if posting an item for sale you’d call into WSDR and tell them all about the three used 205/70/R15 tires you had with plenty of good tread left for $15.00 a piece or a burn barrel that was free for the taking. The caller would then their phone number on the air in case you wanted more info.

If the Jerky Boys had The Trading Post on AM radio in New Jersey they would of had more hit cassette tapes. I can hear it now. “Hey this is Frank Rizzo and I wanted to know more about your rubber tires” who? “Frank Rizzo, open your ears jackass”.

I regret to inform you that the station is now owned by Fox and serves up healty doses of Hannity and the rest of the fair and balanced real news to my hometown.

There were a couple of bars you could see music. The main one for me was John’s Bar. If you liked listening to someone trying to be Metallica and watching a bunch of greasers rocking out then I guess you’d be happy. I didn’t get it really but at least it was live music.

I liked blues and the dead and alternative music. I grew up listening to classic country and let me tell you a fact. “What Goes On Behind Closed Doors” is a shitloads more interesting than someone screaming about something in a microphone pretending to be their favorite rock star. What’s the use of being someone else when it’s so much easier to be yourself? There was no country, no blues, no rockabilly. Just metal.

So that’s the stage. 21 years old going to my 4th comunity college wanting to play music and nothing but Metallica, Docken and other crap that sounds like it being performed locally. I’ve grown to appreciate it now that it’s not the only option. Back then I hated that crap.

Clay called me one Friday or Saturday and told me he was going to be playing drums out at Charlie’s. Great guy. He did a stint in the armed forces after high school and swore that they had planted a chip in him. He was not joking. He ran away from his wife and went missing in action for a number a days. I remember the authorities were looking for him. He had killed himself. I think the story was that he had gotten exposed to some liquid weed killer monsanto shit and went off the rails. He was a real sweet guy that loved music and had a heart of gold.

He had rented a farmhouse outside of Sterling in a little town called Galt. There was a music room there that the Padilla brothers would practice at. Clay would sit in on drums. I came with my guitar and wide eyes hoping to play but these guys were really good. I mean Mike for sure knew all of Stairway to Heaven and another 40 songs. His brother Tom could sing and play bass. I remember their band The Spitfires played our high school dance.

I had finally found it. A group of guys that played good songs and were nice enough to let me hang around and play when they were finished.

As far as John’s Bar. Yep, it’s still there and there are still dudes playing metally rock that I don’t identify with. I heard they have country bands there some nights. I was back there recently and it still has the smell of beer and body odor. In fact a childhood friend of mine bought the joint and is keeping it alive. Seemed like it was doing well last time I was home.

There is no more trading post on the radio. That cop that would have me followed around is retired and moved to Tennesee. From what I hear the department couldn’t have been happier. Clay married a great Irish girl from Donagal. The Padilla Brothers along with Scott Seally will be performing a small set of original material between my sets April 14 at Blue Island Beer Co.

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