McVay & the
The music scene in America appealing to young people is alive and well with performers like, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis. I have not embraced this music as my own. Blues and jazz are also a staple, but not for me. I have responded to the British Invasion, inundated with cute English bards, possessing a boyish charm that teenage American girls surreptitiously drink up. It is quite an unquenchable thirst, a taste of the English accent coupled with the melody and the new up-tempo beat.
Bands like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, have all followed on the heels of the Beatles to put British music on the map. And in this feeding frenzy there is actually some powerful music taking hold, music, I will discover, like that of the Animals, which feels a little more edgy and dangerous.
I am thrilled to learn Herman’s Hermits are coming to Memorial Hall. Peter Noone is cute and I love their catchy tunes. “Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a lovely daughter,” is the irresistible verse. Three girlfriends and I arrive at the venue where I will cater scores of shows in the next two decades. The Animals are also on the bill. The boys from the tough working class town of Newcastle have a rawness to their appearance and a power to their performance that is a real contrast to the clean-cut headliners from Manchester. Although I have come to see Herman’s Hermits, I leave with a new fascination for the Animals, slightly bewildered by the dark charm of their intense rendering of ‘House of the Rising Sun.’
the show, my friends and I head for the large hotel down the street,
hoping to find the
rock stars. Bribing the garage attendant
with food, we extract information that the bands are on the fifth floor.
He also grants us entry onto the forbidden elevator. On the way up,
stopping at the lobby, Karl Green, bass player for Herman’s Hermits,
steps onboard. He is cordial and charming, playful eyes, mischievous
smile, obviously enjoying his celebrity. Without blowing my cover,
I get his autograph and continue on up, ascending the portal to heaven.
feeling of unrest has carried me through the corridors, it is
that forces me upon this portal within a portal. I boldly
push the door open a bit, sticking my head in. I have learned well
from my dad, who while teaching me to drive when entering into a stream
of traffic, would instruct me “get your nose out there.”
Without answering his question, I ask if he is from England and with the tour. He smiles and tells me he is Terry McVay, road manager for the Animals. The other girls have found me by now and Terry is delighted to see the group of us who have managed to slip past security. Could he be for real? Soon another good looking Englishman, with a dark moustache and twinkling blue eyes, enters the room. Terry introduces us to Barry Jenkins, the drummer with the band.
The girls and I decide we can divulge who we are, as if we are less than obvious. We enjoy the next 30 minutes talking with the two men about silly, unimportant things. The rivers converge below; the city outside feels a little different somehow. It is an afterglow in which elements of the show come together to register the medicine, study the potentialities, and cradle the intangible magic in music that magnetizes us into the same space. We are sacred observers in the aftermath of a strange storm, the British Invasion succeeds in the heartland, across the farmlands and into the cities, it is a storm that encompasses us, wildly dramatic, tornadic, transportive energy, beyond which is a spiral, a journey is unraveling before me, compelling me into open doors and new worlds.
As much as I am thoroughly enjoying myself, I notice suddenly how time has elapsed beyond midnight. My mom has not given me a firm curfew. Her generosity, vulnerability, and trust ground me. Not wanting to press my luck, I remind them all of the time. One of the girls has borrowed her parents’ car to drive us here tonight and we don’t want to take advantage of that privilege either.
Terry and I have a particular connection. It’s in the timing of how our eyes come together and deflect the moment without hesitation, nothing more is attached. There is a cleanliness to the encounter. We say “goodnight.” As I excitedly make my way back to the parking garage with my friends to the big, roomy Buick, I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I encounter Terry McVay.
The next day my mother announces that she wants us to take a trip to Detroit to visit her sister. Still excited from the events of the previous night, the trip sounds good to me when I realize that the tour is going to be in Detroit at the very time of our holiday. I’m ecstatic. In two weeks, I will re-connect with the road show that marks the early stages of a touring industry that will reach gargantuan proportions. Rock and roll is on the road, and I will be there.
We arrive in the Motor City on a hot summer day, after a long drive across the Midwest roads lined with fields of golden corn. The seeds that I will plant this summer will continue to grow and bloom. I will harvest my rock and roll dreams some twenty years later when as a concert caterer, I find myself relating with another rock star whose origins also trace back to Newcastle. The importance of the music for me, from middle class /frontier town origins in a place like Argentine, and the recognition and familiarity with these English lads escaping their own working class beginnings, seeking sanctuary, freedom, in the frontier of the open road that music has afforded them, is what is felt in the glistening corn, streaming by the open window on the road to the Motor City in July of ‘66.
Prosperous relatives greet us warmly. Nice restaurant. Big city lights. On the day of the show, my friend and I are deposited at Olympia Stadium in the heart of downtown Detroit. The British have stormed the home of Motown Records, the R& B capital of the world.
My mom and Aunt Millie smile enthusiastically, unconcerned when they drop us off. We make our way to the barricaded hallway outside the backstage area and I ask someone there to find Terry McVay. Shortly thereafter, he appears and is amazed to see me. Smiling broadly, his quiet eyes are tired but shinning. I introduce him to my friend. He tells us to come back to the same place after the show. His friendliness is never disingenuous and his welcomes are constant. He will greet me in different cities with other tours, years on down the road.
But already I am a quick study. And just as the music of both bands becomes familiar to me in Detroit that summer, so does the music scene. We meet Terry again after the show and he tells us that he is too busy with load-out to chat, but if we want to come to their hotel tomorrow, we can hang out and visit then.
Load-out, the very word echoes in my head with a profound resonance. It will mark for me, in years to come, the end of long workdays, as I go from show to show in those years when I will cater nearly every tour that sweeps through the Midwest, and feed nearly every band. Caterer to the Stars. My own load out will follow the departure of the touring crews. I will come to know the utterance ‘load out’ as a mantra signifying variable relief, sometimes easy, sometimes extended, usually grueling and gritty, hard work, closure, followed by the body eventually collapsing into deep sleep. Upon first hearing the words however, it is the feeling of unrest once again, that consumes me all night long.
We can’t believe our good fortune, an invitation to the hotel the following morning and we are ten feet off the ground. Such easy joy in continuance. When Peggy and Millie come to pick us up, our heads are swimming in little pools of rock and roll possibilities.
In the morning, my trusting mother once again drops us off. Huge hotel, bustling metropolis, the inside track to a band carved out before us like the yellow brick road, a grand feeling. Teenage girls swarm the lobby. We swim, we glide, we dance through. The day is unforgettable. Over lunch we hear the stories that will open us up to inner circles of rock and roll. Terry buys us each a copy of ‘Aftermath,’ the current Rolling Stones album. He tells us he was there during the recordings and claims they were all doing LSD. We discuss the music and the subject matter of the songs, touching upon a strange new territory of mind that has been opened up. A phenomenon is at hand; it can hardly be defined at this stage, but sitting there at lunch we know we are on the front lines of a very special time in history. Peggy arrives in the evening to pick us up and finally meets Terry in the hotel lobby.
In November, back in Kansas City, I am more determined than ever to get close to the music, to enter the inside of the music scene, to contact her people. The ‘Dick Clark Caravan of Stars’ comes to Memorial Hall and of course, I am there. On the bill are Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Brian Hyland, Bobby Hebb, and the Yardbirds. Although I like all the bands, my interest is in the Yardbirds, the English band of the tour. The music of the Yardbirds is harder, more intense. The electricity of the music while jarring to some, stirs something deep inside me. I am especially enthused about seeing their striking guitar player, Jeff Beck. I am disappointed when an unknown guitarist named Jimmy Page replaces him.
As I hang around by the stage after the show, Page comes out to break down his gear. He is his own roadie at this stage of his career. I ask him if he knows Terry McVay. It is a long shot, but I am starting to sense it is a relatively small circle. Jimmy lights up, “Yes, I know him.” We continue to talk and he will sign his autograph on the only paper I can find, my tenth grade report card.
As the encounters with Terry continue over the next few years, I become a pen pal to not only Terry but also his mother. In ’68, my senior year, after corresponding with them back in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for months, he calls me at home on a Sunday night wanting to know who he should contact to book the New Animals into Kansas City. Although I have no idea, the next day I decide to call the local radio station WHB, and ask to speak to someone in charge. When I call Terry back with a contact number; the band is booked into the Municipal Auditorium within weeks. I am suddenly the local contact for one of the hottest British acts at the center of the music revolution.
There is no fee for my labor of love, a labor that will become defined under the role of the local promoter in years to come, for an absurd fee. But it is different then. It isn’t about the money or the industry. One interesting fact is that of the revised Animals, the new guitar player is Andy Summers, whom I will meet 15 years later with another popular English band.
In ’69, I take on a new level of responsibility in rock and roll if only for a moment. Terry returns to Kansas City with Eric Burdon’s latest incarnation, War. I will meet him at the show at Freedom Palace, a short-lived but memorable concert venue with psychedelic paintings and hippie head shops. After this show, Terry will entrust me with a briefcase full of cash receipts from the box office to carry back to his hotel for him.
Later on in the same tour, I am living with my sister and her family in Denver and will connect again with Terry there. Several days later, the band will play in Colorado Springs where my brother Ronny and his family live and it is then, that Mr. McVay will come to eat dinner at their home, along with Hilton Valentine. Hilton is a founding member of the Animals, playing the underrated complex guitar work for the band. His involvement with War is behind the scenes this time, doing production work with Terry.
and I will never meet again after that dinner at Ronny’s.
In the 70’s, when I begin catering, I will call him in Los Angeles.
After a long conversation we lose touch over the years, though I will
wonder about him and how different my life might have been had someone
else been there to greet me when I crossed the threshold into my rock
and roll fantasy. His enlightened manner, his gentleness, his fatherly
perspective on my impulse to be backstage, his support, his trust,
becomes the fuel that will propel me into my rock and roll career.
(And it does come to pass when I read about him this year in the recent biographies of Eric Burdon and Andy Summers.)
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