Golfing with Gentle Giant
By Michael Clay
Ages I ago I detailed some of my encounters with GG and I think I told the story of how my band, then called Prism and later Hands, were fortunate enough to open for GG at a place called the Electric Ballroom here in Dallas. This place used to be called the Sportatorium and local, semi-professional wrestling used to be broadcast from there. It was essentially a huge barn made of tin. When I was a small boy I used to watch the likes of Fritz Von Eric and Chief "Wahoo" McDaniels "wrestle" in a very poor, grainy, black and white broadcast from this barn. That the likes of Fritz Von Eric and Kerry Minnear, within the same decade, performed under the same crappy roof is one of my favorite ironies. Anyway, Prism secured the opening spot for GG and the Electric Ballroom management was kind enough to let us set up very early that day. We were scheduled to arrive at 2:00 P.M. I think. Now our drummer John, a very fine man and a killer drummer, (still) but perhaps a little insane back then, decided to show up early because he had the largest collection of noise making devices known to man. He also wanted to schmooz John Weathers without anyone else there. So early he arrived and found his beloved Weathers amiable and receptive.
For John the distance between piece of junk to art object to unique percussion instrument was a short one. His engineering skills were such that he could polish and mount these various found objects in a professional manner. His "kit" was an organic monster that grew exponentially. Bruford-inspired and trained in traditional jazz (Krupa, Rich, etc.) he could make an incredible racket. John, like the rest of the band, had a straight gig during the day. He was groundskeeper at a golf course. One night he stole a part of a machine that is used to dredge golf balls out of the water and pick them up from a driving range. The back part fo this machine is made of several metallic disks with a central axel running through them. So John fabricated an "instrument" that was like several concentric and flat cymbals mounted on one tall stand. It made a sound like a cowbell but with a little smoother tone and varying pitches. The rest of us ridiculed this thing for two years. We made fun of John's found sounds and were sometimes embarassed by the looks people gave his set up. So to think that he was going to foist these things off on one of our idols was really embarassing. But John had the last laugh.
At the sound check John was able to show Weathers his setup and explain it in detail. To our suprise Weathers was impressed and interested. It was truly surreal to see Pugwash banging around on all this crap (with enthusiasm) that the rest of us had been more than a little critical. "O well" I thought. Later that night, after the end of a dream come true gig for us, John and Weathers were hanging out together and they decided that they would get their gear tommorrow. I suppose that Weathers like to be there when the roadies tore down the stuff. I really don't know. Prism had no roadies so we had to be there to tear our own stuff down. So that next day John wanted to give Weathers a gift for being so cool. Weathers really liked the golf ball thing and so John tore it down and gave him most of it. (he kept some of the disks to torture us with) "Oh no!" we thought. How stupid to give our heroes a piece of fabricated junk as our only gift. Weathers thanked him profusely and promised to use it on the upcoming album which turned out to be The Missing Piece. "Yeah right," we all thought. That's the last of that. We all worked very hard after that to remove a lot of "found" percusssion from our music. We thought the thing was finally gone.
Some months later The Missing Piece came out and naturally we bought it right away. I remember Ernie the guitar player calling me and asking if I had heard Winning yet. "No," I said, I hadn't had the chance to hear the album yet. I could hear him grin over the phone. Later that evening I pulled the cellophane off the LP, sat down with a joint and my girlfriend to hear the new Giant offering. Then Winning started. There it was... the thing! True to his word Weathers played it for the percussion intro and the percussion breakdown in the middle. As our only legacy with Gentle Giant there was the clanging piece of junk from a golf course. More irony fom the Electric Ballroom/Sportatorium.
So pull out your CD's. Give a listen. The thing is there and has an unmistakable (for me anyway) clanging sound. If you can hear it then you'll know why this album really is The Missing Piece (of junk) for me.