My dad lived a pretty colorful life prior to settling down to have a family. It’s a life I have had a great desire to map out and understand after his passing. My dad was a very sociable man, yet, as his daughter, I didn’t get to connect with him on the level that many others were able to. In fact, very little I know about my father is firsthand knowledge. I don’t know if either he thought I was too young, my mom would disprove of it, or he thought I didn’t care. No matter the reason, his passing has left a long perceptual list of questions—all unanswered. It is only posthumously that I have come to learn more about my father.
**Note that I am only recollecting these stories as I remember them. I’ve done my best to accurately embody the storytelling approach of each person.
My dad and his family lived in Riverside, CA, through the 1960’s. My dad was drummer during the time that surf-rock was the popular sound. I don’t think that my dad was a “hippie”per say, but I think he aligned himself with ideologies of experimenting with drugs and music all the same.
Before my Grandpa passed, my favorite thing to do was sit at the floor below this awesome (literally awe-some) man snoozing on and off all day in his mighty throne of a “lazy boy” recliner. I’d bide my time with my mom or photo albums until he would stir. When he was awake, I was showered with stories of my family. These cozy days with the man I deeply appreciated for giving me, and most of the people I loved, life are some of my fondest memories. My Grandpa was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. He had this way about him that would make anybody quiet down and turn to listen.
“I remember, one evening, hadn’t seen Dave for a week or so, and here is he walking up to the house with Dick Dale. If he didn’t have someone with him, I’d have laid into him. His mother was worried sick. We all knew about Dick because ‘Miserlou’ was on the radio a lot. He introduced us and I could see Dave’s eyes were bloodshot. But I didn’t do anything about it. We said grace, ate and Dave talked about how they’d been at the beach all day. I never saw him happier than he was hanging with those big name guys.”
I can’t remember where I had first heard of it, but it came to my attention that my dad had had a stay at the San Bernadino State Hospital and was treated with electroshock therapy. I asked my Grandpa about this and I remember him sighing and thinking of how to talk about it before speaking.
“Dave was playing those shows all night long and was taking classes all day. If he slept, I never saw it. I don’t know what he took to stay awake–I think it was those uppers. I’d try and tell him, ‘Take er easy, Dave—That music stuff isn’t worth your grades slipping.’ But he wouldn’t hear it. Your dad loved drumming. He loved it so much it made him crazy.”
“His mom was having a time with Colin and his accident, we couldn’t handle Dave and what he had goin’ on. He’d come home strung out talking about God-knows-what. He needed help, and not the kind he got from those friends of his.”
My Great-Aunt (my Grandpa’s sister) lived down the street from my Grandpa and she would pop over or babysit from time to time, so she had a good understanding of what was going on at the house. I asked her about my dad when they were living in California.
“Dave would come to the house for meals, but I don’t think he was living there. I was over one day and he came home with a few of his friends with him. He wasn’t looking too hot. While he was smoking a cigarette, he took his lighter, lit it, and held the flame under his hand. That’d make anyone scream, but not Dave. He just stood there, staring at his hand and letting it burn. He said it didn’t hurt, that he couldn’t feel anything.”
“One night I heard him outside howling at the moon in the pitch black.”
Not long after these occurrences, it sounds like my Grandparents decided to admit him to a hospital to get treatment. My Grandpa said it was one of the hardest things he had to do.
“These doctors seemed to think he was bad. They said he had a 50/50 chance of living or dying. He wasn’t eating, sleeping; he couldn’t even play drums. Sounded like the drugs were frying up his brain, that happened a lot with kids at that time. Someone turned him onto that stuff and walked away.”
Thankfully, the treatment worked and my dad (after I don’t know how long) was discharged, deemed fit for society again. But I don’t think he was ever as passionate about drumming again. He drummed small gigs, most recently in a polka band at the time that he met my mom, but nothing like he was doing at the peak of his drumming career. My dad used to sometimes share with me these little stories about his time as a drummer before the drugs really took hold of him.
I remember telling him about the new Johnny Cash movie that was coming out called “Walk the Line”. He said he’d have to check it out. He didn’t seem too taken with the movie; his review was pretty memorable though.
“I didn’t care for that movie—it’s not how it all happened. They really romanticized him. He left his wife and left his kids, to be with June. They were all over the magazines, no one cared that he did that. It wasn’t pretty. They didn’t touch on his drinking and drugging nearly as much as they should have. That’s the only way he could play—loaded. I played with him on American Bandstand and he was late. When we were standing there waiting for him and going over the set, he laid down his guitar case, popped it open, and he had two bottles of vodka in it. He opened one of ’em and drank almost the whole bottle before we went on.”
“That part about him being so loaded that he jumped on the TV trolley was true. I saw him do it. He was absolutely an alcoholic.”
My dad had apparently played drums for a lot of famous musicians. It’s my understanding that he was essentially a “drummer for hire”, one of the ones that do a one-time gig for a show when they don’t have anyone else to do it. He told me about the first time he met Cher—he didn’t like her very much.
“I went to their house to meet them and set up some time to practice. Sonny answered the door and shook my hand. He was real nice—I always liked him. But Cher was a real bitch. She was there in the room and turned and ran up the stairs the second I stepped in, ‘no pictures without my make-up!’ Like I was some papanazzi. What a bitch. But I always liked Sonny. He was too good for her and she ruined him.”
I can’t remember if it was American Bandstand or what that he played with them. I probably asked but have forgotten. He said he also played for Chuck Berry, too, but again, no idea where or when. I really wish I did. I’d assume that, especially with being on American Bandstand, that there would be a recording of it somewhere. Nothing would make me happier than seeing him doing what he loved best.
My dad’s first wife, and the mother of my half-brothers, wasn’t well liked by our family. But my dad was pretty smitten with her and they got married in the early ‘70’s. My Grandpa had his reservations about it, but not much he could do. After my brothers were born, things went south pretty quickly. She moved with them to Arkansas, and my dad followed, trying his best to keep his family together. But it didn’t work out. He gave up and moved up to Iowa with his sister while he got back on his feet. He did, however, have to go back down a couple of times to get his things and visit the boys. My Grandpa remembered one of these times pretty vividly.
“I went with Dave down there. I didn’t trust them to do the right thing and let him get his stuff. It had been three months and they’d already sold most of it. He had a few sets of drums but he only made it out with one of ‘em. She was living with his parents with the boys at the time so that’s where we went. We get there and Dave goes up and out comes her dad with a shotgun to his chest, pushing him back. He’s threatening him while I’m standing there. He doesn’t care. Dave clears his throat and says, ‘If you think shooting me is going to solve your problems, you’re wrong.’ After some talking, we got his things and had to leave. She wouldn’t let him see those boys and he blamed himself.”
The next time my dad went down there to get a few other things, my Aunt had him take her son, my cousin. I was surprised learning that since his ex-wife’s family was so nuts. But she seemed pretty sure they wouldn’t have the audacity to do anything to my dad if a kid was involved. And she was right, it didn’t sound to be nearly as eventful.
I struggle finding out anymore about my dad. It’s been almost ten years since he died. Many people that would know a lot about his early life have since passed or aren’t able to accurately recollect what I’m asking. I blame myself for not inquiring about it more when he was alive. I feel like everyone else is tired of me asking about him. Or they just want to let it be. My inquisitiveness eats at me, though. I try not live my life in the past, but with my father, it’s all I can do.