“People out there turning music into gold.”
Gold - John Stewart
One balmy Saturday afternoon, Tomas Gunderson rode the #126 bus home after work and a visit to the popular 69th Street record store Mad Sam’s. After school on weekdays and on the weekends, Tom Gunderson, big for his age, worked security in his ‘uncle’ Maurice’s Pharmacy/Drug Store/Luncheonette on Ludlow Street. His most demanding task, the one most fraught with danger, was to escort the old man to the night deposit box built into the east wall of the bank, the next block over. It was an easy way to earn spending money. And it kept Tomas off the streets.
Tom Gunderson was overjoyed. While he was browsing through the new releases, Mad Sam himself got on the PA to announce a flash overstock sale. For the next fifteen minutes only, buy any four albums, get two absolutely free. It was payday, Tommy was flush with cash. He left Mad Sam’s with a dozen awesome albums that would influence his singing in these, his undiscovered years. Tom couldn’t wait to get home to start wearing the vinyl out.
Tom was reading the back cover of one of the Stones albums when Barry Stockwood the feckless lead singer/guitarist of The Stockwoods sat down across the aisle from Tomas.
“You’re Tom Gunderson, you did that acoustic version of ‘All Shook Up’ in the talent show last month, right?” It kicked ass.
“Right. Thanks. Who are you?” Barry was the youngest Stockwood brother two years behind Tomas at Hazen High.
“I’m Barry Stockwood. Me and my brothers have a band. We played the Halloween dance?”
“I remember you guys. You really killed it that night.“ Tomas did not intend ‘really killed it’ to be taken as praise. Yet it was. The Stockwood brothers could play well enough. But none of them could sing worth a shit. What those boys needed, he thought, was a gritty rock and roller’s voice like Jerry Lee’s, Elvis’ or Tomas Gunderson’s.
“What you got there man?” asked Barry Stockwood.
“Mad Sam’s was having a sale. Check it out. I got all these. Elvis, the Beatles, a couple of Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Dion and the Belmonts and Sinatra. Frank, not Nancy. I can’t wait to get home and listen to them.”
This led to a comparison of their respective sound systems which led to an exchange of addresses which led to the decision to listen to these albums on the Stockwoods’ far superior hi-fi system. Which was within walking distance of the Gunderson’s row house two blocks east, one block south. There were still hours before supper, no chores to do and a bunch of music to listen to.
Old man Stockwood was some kind of engineering genius. He had wired a professional grade microphone into his hi-fi system so his wife and sons could sing along with their favorite vinyl. Tomas Gunderson singing ‘SusieQ’ along with the Rolling Stones captured everyone’s attention. That boy could sing. The brothers huddled for practically a millisecond before deciding to invite Tom to become The Stockwoods’ lead singer and rhythm guitarist.
Thomas Gunderson knew he could cover Chuck, Elvis, Buddy and Jerry Lee as well as any of those Brit turds. The only thing preventing The Stockwoods+Tom from becoming the next big deal was exposure. They hadn’t any. Which was a problem. But, thanks to some nifty teenage magical thinking, they concluded that The Stockwoods+Tom had to be seen on national TV. Which meant an appearance on America’s Got Bandstand (AgB.) Local acts Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and Chubby Checker had turned their records gold after appearing on the hit TV dance show. AgB was produced at and aired live from WWWW-TV a local network affiliate located not ten miles from the Stockwood’s garage.
The only way their AgB fantasy could become reality was if The
Stockwoods+Tom had a hit record or at least one bubbling its way onto the charts. Which meant they needed to make a recording they could go on live television and lip-sync to.
Even if it had been equipped to handle such a technological challenge back then, America’s Got Bandstand would never take the risk of allowing underaged musicians to sing and play live and uncensored on the nation’s, then puritanical airwaves. That meant the band needed money to produce, at least, one kick-ass single.
For those of you who grew up with modern technology at your fingertips, a struggling, dead-broke, hobbyist band’s need for expensive recording studio time, or exposure on live national television must seem so anachronistic, so primitive. ’Yo Stockwoods+Tom! There’s apps for that!’
Back then, it cost a bundle for even a well-rehearsed band to book enough studio time to record a dozen or more releasable tracks in monaural. Two bundles for stereo. Not so well rehearsed?
Autotune and multitrack recording had yet to be invented. It was strictly a ‘live to tape’ proposition, just like in the clubs that weren’t booking unproven boy bands. Back then the standard recording studio practice was to record a bunch of takes and hope for the best.
Money was also needed to press and release a single, still more needed to wine, dine and payola the deejays and distributors. Afterwards all that would be left to do would be to look cool while lip synching their hit record on America’s got Bandstand and during their obligatory chat with Donnie Clarke who routinely asked just two safe questions. “How did you fellows get together?” “What are you guys going to play for us?”
Tom Gunderson as well as the Stockwood brothers were making do with hand-me-down instruments and amps even ghetto pawnshops couldn’t unload. It was one of the main reasons that The Stockwoods+Tom had yet to generate a positive cash flow.
The Stockwoods+Tom pros and cons:
+ They were scruffy, young, rough looking bad boys, which was very okay.
+–They did not have matching haircuts and did not dress identically.
+ They had, to a one, mastered the sneer, the smirk, the knowing smile, the Elvis Snarl and the ’Dankworth Squint.®’
+ They were from musical families.
–They could only practice on the weekends when the oldest Stockwood brother, tone-deaf Campbell took the car to Cherry Hill, New Jersey so he could bang his faithless girlfriend, Susie Maresca.
–Their budget amps and tinny tiny speakers, were not loud enough to fill even a one car garage with acceptable rock and roll sound levels.
Things remained on the gloomy slope for the promising young band until, one sunny Sunday while the boys were working on a Chuck Berry melody, Brenda Burger, in technical violation of her learner’s permit restrictions, rolled up in her mother’s brand spanking new, candy-apple red Ford Thunderbird convertible, top down. Riding shotgun was, Brenda’s bestie du jour, Joanie Nussbaum, home-coming-queen hot, who was dating home-coming-king runner up, Lucas Stockwood the boy band’s drummer.
Joanie wanted to show Brenda’s bitchin’ ride off to her dreamy boyfriend. And vice versa, if she had to. Joanie couldn’t see Brenda hitting it off with any of her scruffy boyfriend’s scruffy boyfriends and planned a short visit so’s Brenda wouldn’t start getting all antsy and sarcastic. Embarrassing.
Even though she was often a buzz kill, Brenda was okay to pal around with. Mainly because everything was always ‘my treat!’ Despite her financial largess, Brenda had a way of souring even the cheeriest small talk. Her sutnist, like her mother’s, was dark and unappealing.
Like most teenage boys of that era, Tomas Gunderson had a thing for cars. Anyone driving a candy-apple red T-Bird was A-OK in his book. Even if it was Joanie’s homely sidekick, who was still behind the wheel, trying very hard to look the bored sophisticate with far better ways to spend her precious time. She puffed a Pall Mall through a scrimshawed cigarette holder and appeared to be thinking deep thoughts.
“Pop the hood please.”
Brenda stared at the stranger.
“Pop the hood please, I’d like to get a look at your motor,“ said Tomas doing his very best Elvis, “It’s thumping somethin’ awful.”
Brenda stared at him blankly. ‘Poppadahoodpleze?’ Made no sense to her. Brenda wished she had paid more attention in ‘Social Studies:Street Language: An Introduction.’ Everyone told her it was an easy A. Brenda got a C-minus. She had no idea what that beautiful boy was saying. All she knew for certain was that whatever it was, he was saying it to her, Brenda Starr Burger who rarely received any attention from the opposite sex. Even boys she categorized as losers ignored her.
“I can’t understand you. You speak-a da English handsome?“
“Sweetheart, I just want to get a look inside your motor box. It don’t sound right. I should take a look. Worry not fair maiden, I am a professional.” Tomas even bowed.
Brenda finally gained enough control over her sensory input system to decode this demigod’s instructions. She replied, “I don’t know how to poppadahood.”
“There should be a release of some kind on your left, low under the dash.”
Brenda was short. Very short. She had the seat pulled forward as far as it could go and she was further elevated by a piano stool cushion. This made it extremely difficult for the somewhat top-heavy Brenda to contort herself comfortably enough to reach the just out of reach hood-release handle.
Tomas offered his help and permission to reach into the T-bird’s cockpit was granted. He leaned his hip against the door frame and reached his left arm towards the footwell and the hood release, bringing his head very close to Brenda’s heaving bosom.
Brenda thought, closer up, this Tomas Gunderson was way beyond gorgeous. In a scruffy sort of way. Slicked back blond hair, blue eyes, muscular arms defined by the henna tattoos circling his biceps. Was anyone hotter? And, bonus points, he wasn’t afraid to make eye-contact.
Tom Gunderson had officially become just the third person Brenda Burger was considering to honor with her cherry the very instant her sweet sixteenth birthday bash ended. That was the plan anyway. The other candidates were Frank Sinatra and James Dean. She had yet to hear back from either of them. The heartless bastards. A loud click broke the spell. The hood rose as did Brenda’s heart rate yet again.
Let’s be clear, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the brand new T-Bird’s ‘revolutionary M-Code engine.’ Tomas Gunderson was acting on some sage wisdom from grandpa Bjorn, who long ago had advised him, “Young Thor, listen up! Trust me when I tell you, it is just as easy to love a rich one as it is a poor one.” This was Tom’s first clear shot at a rich one. Had he known how rich, he might have worn cleaner overalls.
Tommy had Brenda shut the engine off, start it up, give it some gas and several other equally irrelevant tasks to aid in his “diagnostics.” Behind the raised hood, Tommy fiddled and clanged, he artfully smudged splotches of grime on his face. He then took Brenda through the procedures all over again and again to establish his expertise.
Brenda Burger had been raised to know the difference between shit and Shinola. Between Shinola and Cartier. Between Cartier and Le Goff. She wasn’t sure how to brand Gunderson’s particular strain of bullshit. She did know for certain that it was bullshit. She let him play the expert for as long as her attention span would permit which was, unsurprisingly, not all that long. Before that threshold was reached, Tom Gunderson dropped the hood back into place.
“That should do it fair maiden, those M-Code engines sure are finicky. She’s good to go now.”
“Thanks, what was your name again?”
“Tomas Gunderson at your service, milady.“ Answered with another genteel bow.
“Tell me Tommy, do you dance?”
“I’m no James Brown, but yeah sure, I’ve got some moves.”
“My school’s having a Sadie Hawkins Day Dance next Friday night. Want to come?”
“What’s a Sadie Hawkins Day dance?”
“Don’t you read the funnies, Tommy? It’s just a regular Friday night sock hop, except that the girls invite the boys. You’re supposed dress like a hillbilly. You have been officially invited. And, good news, you can come as you are.”
“Did I mention ‘Danny and the Juniors,’ and ‘Dion and the Belmonts’ will be playing. We’re still working with Chuck Berry’s people. He has an open date and he owes Donnie a favor.” Brenda aced Sociology:Social Climbing:name dropping.
“So, are you coming?”
UnOfficially the dumbest question of the week. Tom was, as they used to say, ‘a teeny bit slow on the uptake.’ After processing Brenda’s spiel, Tom asked, “Donnie? Donnie who?”
“Well, Donnie Clark, silly. You do know who Donnie Clark is?” Tom nodded. Wheels began to spin.
“Yo Tommy, stop fucking around and let’s get back at it. We’re gonna lose the garage soon. I just heard that Sue dumped Campbell because the grapevine said that he was running around on her. Campy was running around on Sue?
Tommy leaned on Brenda’s car door and invited her to watch them rehearse. Brenda Burger inherited her father’s head for business and even in these, her bitchy/bratty teenage years, paid rapt attention to father’s spirited tales of his many business deals. She often prompted him for the nitty gritty details, the nuts and bolts stuff. She was a natural entrepreneur. Too young and too female to be taken seriously in the business world just then.
Yes, Brenda was physically attracted to Tomas Gunderson. Who wasn’t? That aside, after listening to The Stockwoods+Tom rehearse the Chuck Berry medley, she was convinced that, with a few minor tweaks, Tom Gunderson+The Stockwood Brothers had profit potential. Lot’s of it. The band was so-so, but the lead singer was to die for.
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