We met at Williams Junior High School in Davenport, Iowa. I can’t remember which class we had together, but I do remember this guy looking really out of place with his white dress shirt and neatly combed hair. Because I was so out of place and “uncool” myself, I felt sorry for him and decided to try and make friends. We just hit it off. We used to fool around in class passing funny (to us) cartoons back and forth. We also used to write funny stories which I continued doing even after we started touring on the road in Silver Laughter. I learned his name was Jon Ludtke and that his family owned a pony farm out on West Kimberly Road.
I think in all the years I knew him, I only tried to ride one of his ponies once. The horse kept rubbing me up against the stable trying to knock me off. I guess just watching cowboy shows wasn’t enough to become a horseman. It was such a dismal failure, I am not surprised we decided to find something else to do. The Ludtke family took me to a couple of pony shows where the kids, Jon, Kim, Jonee and Lolly all competed in various riding exhibitions. If memory serves, they won a lot of trophies. One embarrassing memory I have is the day they took me to one of the shows, and Jon, Kim and I all pigged out on a bunch of junk food and orange soda pop. Then when I started feeling queasy Kim started talking about a roller coaster or some sort of ride (“up, down, around and round”) over and over again. I tried to get him to shut up, but eventually when he didn’t stop, I puked in the back seat of their old De Soto (which eventually became Jon’s car). Jon’s parents, John and Lois, were very kind in cleaning me and the car up and letting me sleep all the way home! Come to think of it, I never got even with Kim for that prank of his!
Jon and I were best buddies all through Junior High and High School except for a brief period where I went off to pal around with Ken Wiles and his friends; Lily, Randy, Robin and others. Before that though, we did little pranks like knock down political signs with our buddy, Steve. Or go around and steal those pink flamingos from people’s yards and place about 50 of them in another friend’s yard in the dead of night. All the time, we were laughing at the thought of the friend waking up in the morning to a sea of pink flamingos! It didn’t take much to amuse us teenagers. The three of us were like a little gang.
Eventually, we got into some trouble when Steve urged us to drive over to the house of one of our teachers and throw eggs at it. The three of us had tossed eggs at it before, but from the car as we drove by. We wanted more accuracy, so this time we thought we’d be smart and park the car about a block away. Creeping over in the darkness we three unloaded a couple dozen eggs at the front of the house then laughed all the way back to the car. Imagine our surprise when we returned home to the Ludtke’s house only to find Jon’s parents angrily waiting for us. Apparently we had parked in front of a police officer’s house to do our mischief. So our first real try and being juvenile delinquents was thwarted right off the bat!
The cop figured out what we were doing, probably used his resources to track down the license place of Jon’s old De Soto, and eventually the word got back to our parents. We were all grounded for a couple of weeks, and we had to go back during the day to wash the eggs off. It was humiliating having to clean up the mess with the teacher looking on. However, I do remember joking under our breath that we shouldn’t have to clean off the ones we threw the week before! After all, we hadn’t gotten caught for throwing those eggs only the newer ones. Since were had all just gotten our drivers licenses, I am sure our grounding resulted in losing those privileges too.
That’s about the time when Jon and I became interested in music. After all, young lads need an outlet. Both of us were too shy to meet girls. The only high school dance I ever went to was the Sadie Hawkins dance where Joleen, a girl who sat next to me in study hall, asked me out. Anyway, Jon and I thought starting a band would be the best way to get girls to come to us. We were right. Suddenly we became the cool guys, not necessarily in school, but at least when we played at night for school and church dances, we were the party!
I had taken piano lessons for a number of years and did a lot of song writing of my own doing little numbers on the piano which I played by ear (no sheet music). The piano teacher finally decided I was incorrigible because I refused to learn to read music (my motto: you LISTEN to music. You READ books.). So I continued copying Beatles tunes like “Martha My Dear”, “Let It Be”, “The Long and Winding Road”, etc. and writing my own songs on the old upright piano that was in our basement. (Note: I didn’t find out until years later that it was my grandmother, my mom’s mom, who bought it for us… and I thought she hated me!) Eventually, I picked up a guitar, but it seemed everyone was playing either lead or rhythm guitar. We needed bass players and drummers, so I switched to bass. However, I didn’t have money for an instrument so I took my 6 string, removed 2 strings and tuned the remaining ones down to play bass lines. As I have said elsewhere on this site, Ken liked to tease me about that for a long time. He probably would today as well if the topic came up! Thankfully my mom had a cousin who worked in a music store who managed to find me an imitation Hofner Beatle bass. I learned every Beatles tune I could, copying Paul’s bass lines note for note. He is still one of the greatest melodic bass players in rock and roll.
Jon and I rehearsed in his parents’ converted attic on our equipment, sad as it was. Our first band was Duffy England. Since the only two big groups around at the time were The Contents Are: and The Night People, we did whatever they were playing; Beatles, Byrds, Stones, The Yardbirds, Kinks, The Who, etc. Eventually we formed the Assassination of Sound doing all of the same material as everyone else. For some reason my memory becomes unclear as to why I decided to leave Jon and the others to start the Todd Beat Group. Shortly after that I was asked to join The Contents Are:. Through it all, Jon and I remained friends. So when the opportunity to join Silver Laughter, a real touring band, came up, I was ready to go!