The date was Sunday, October 24, 1976. The place was the Historic Redford Theatre. The curtain was about to rise for the first headline concert by the rock and roll band “Merlin”. The audience out front was noisy and expectant. The band, Arthur Littsey, Marcus Dawson, Jim Lifton and Richard “Oval” Wood, was nervous but ready to go. In a matter of minutes, the audience started clapping for the show to start. The air was electric. But wait one dog-gone minute! The story doesn’t start here…it ends here!
This story actually begins in the summer of 1976 and if I recall correctly it was probably late July or early August. Like most bands we advertised in the entertainment circulars and we got a call from a guy who said that he had seen our logo, which was the “Goat of Mendes”, and because he believed it was a sign (from who or where we didn’t know) he felt or hoped that we were the perfect band to work on the project he was developing.
For those of you that don’t know, the “Goat of Mendes”, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is a pagan deity revived in the 19th century as a figure of occultism and Satanism. It appeared as a term for a pagan idol in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the 14th century. The name first came into popular English-speaking consciousness in the 19th century, with debate and speculation on the reasons for the suppression of the Templars. Since 1855, the name Baphomet has been associated with a “Sabbatic Goat” image drawn by Eliphas Levi. When we came up with the name for the band, we were looking for something that symbolized magic and when I came upon the “goat” it was a slam-dunk decision. You have to remember how popular Satanism was at the time (Rolling Stones “Her Majesties Satanic Requests/Symphony for the Devil” and everything Led Zeppelin) and though a lot of bands were not into the occult and the devil, to be associated with it was pretty cool. In fact, there was another band that tried to use just the head of the “goat” as their logo, but since we were firmly identified with it, we were able to get them to stop using it.
So this guy that was drawn to our logo asked to meet with us to discuss a project of the utmost importance. Like most of our adventures of the time, we didn’t have a clue as for what we were letting ourselves in for. On a dark, hot and rainy Friday night, our mystery unfolded with a meeting with a guy who led a group called “666”. He and several of his aides or “followers” drove up in a black Cadillac hearse with skulls over the headlights and taillights. He walked in wearing a cape, looking like he had escaped from the mind of Sir Graves Ghastly, dressed in black of course, skull tips on his boots, skull rings and lots of chains and crosses around his neck and chest. We were very amused. After all the movie “The Omen” had just been released and though we had probably seen it several times ourselves, it was still kind of funny that somebody was taking it to the extremes that this guy was. It was a very hot time of the year and our guest and his associates must have bathed, in the popular fragrance at the time, “Musk Oil” cologne to hide their funky body odor or to chase mosquitoes or to do both.
He said his name was “Chris” and he began with a discussion on how symbolic it was that he came across our logo and how it must have been an act of the devil that he was so fortunate to have seen it and therefore found us. He went on a bit about the power of the sign and how much good fortune we surely must be having as a result of our using it to represent the band. Fortunate? HA! The type of luck that logo brought us was…
- The fire and demise of the People’s Ballroom (Ann Arbor)
- The kitchen fire in our home (South Lyon)
- Held hostage in Roscommon at a biker party
- The fire and destruction of our home in West Bloomfield
- The upcoming furnace explosion and subsequent fire in Wixom.
Plus there was the time we were set to play a dance at St. Bartholomew on “Good Friday” and when the priest saw our banner with the logo, we were fired on the spot or the time we were setting up to play for the prom at “Immaculate Conception” in Hamtramck and when the nuns saw it they gasped, crossed themselves several times and insisted we take it down or we could not play. Yeah, it was lucky all right. NOT!
But, for some reason we hung on to it and continued to use it. We weren’t superstitious…we didn’t practice witchcraft or worship the devil, so we didn’t feel it was necessary to make a change, everybody liked it and we did too! So as our guest went on and on about the powers we could wield if we did believe, we managed to keep the smirks off of our faces and sat there, waiting patiently for the real reason for this get-together to be addressed.
As it turned out, “Chris” was looking for a band to write the music score for a play that he had written. His story was to be based on the parts of the bible where the devil is expelled from heaven and when the fight over the souls began. Right then is where our problems began, for it was right then and there he had us. A music score? A rock opera? Raise your hands and shout…Hallelujah! We were jumping up and slapping hands like we were at a church revival! Why hadn’t he gotten to the point sooner! And just like the beginning of the Kentucky Derby and the announcer, at the sound of the bell, says…“and their off”, we were off to the races. We were in the same league as “Wagner”…“Handel”…“Gluck”…“Mozart”… “Lennon & McCartney/The Beatles”…“Townsend/The Who”… and “Anderson/Jethro Tull”! Finally, somebody had come along and had recognized our genius…our skill…our aplomb! A rock opera…yessireebob! We could do that!!! Did we care it was about the battle between good and evil? No! Did we care it was about the Satan? No! Did we care about getting paid? OH HELL YES!
It was the desire to make money that appealed to us the most on this venture. It had been a good but yet a slow summer and we were not playing often enough and in the right rooms to separate ourselves from a lifestyle of small food portions or dining at our parents houses as much as possible. So the prospect of getting paid for a project that on the surface looked like a great idea…well it was “HEAVENLY” to say the least.
The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 2
So after the excitement of getting paid wore off and our cries of jubilation died down, we began to ask the questions that were standard requirements of any discussion on compensation, like…
- What denomination were the bills?
- Were they going to be unmarked and in random sequence?
- Was it in U.S. currency or Canadian?
- Did we have to wear masks when we went to pick it up?
The answer or answers to our question were the domain of the project’s backer, and let’s call him “Ron”.
Ron was a synthetic-wearing, cigar-wielding huckster that had gained some legitimacy and notoriety by his frequent appearances in the local entertainment weeklies. Ron wanted to be a film producer along the lines of Russ Meyer and unfortunately for most but fortunately enough for him; a lot of people were in awe of his “rainmaker” energy. He didn’t need a camera to frame a scene. Sometimes in mid-sentence he would break away, frame his fingers and say “Rrrrrrroll-em” and start to direct an impromptu scene. To be honest the first meeting we had with Ron, we kind of got caught up in it and with unbridled enthusiasm went along with shtick. The reasons why, would have been quite obvious if you had been there. You had the “still naïve about the ways of world” band in one corner and in the opposite corner were a bevy of bodacious beauties that we found out were professional strippers. Ron was a smart guy! I don’t think any man or even some women could have resisted their charms. Everything they did hinted at great possibilities. Let your imagination just wander…go ahead…and while you’re thinking about what if you get a touch or you hear the laughter that says, “Yes, I’m with you…all the way”!
Now I know exactly what you are thinking… “WHAT A SAP!” “WHAT A SUCKER!” “HOW NAÏVE CAN YOU GET!” Well, you do have to understand that not being the type of young men that frequented such establishments or associated with women that flaunted their sexuality in such a casual manner…we were overwhelmed. It was for me a mind-numbing…knee-knocking…heart-thumping…toe-curling…spine-snapping…palm- sweating experience. Sitting there knee-to-knee with this princess of sexual delight, I think we were all on a high…mommy wouldn’t have and daddy never did say that there would be a day like this! If that wasn’t enough, two of the girls brushed their lips together and added fuel to our burning fantasy of our first rock and roll orgy. Just like the devil he was, Ron thought that was the best time…the most opportune moment to produce the contract for the music and concert. Though we were severely distracted and under much physical stress, we were not so far gone that we didn’t do a collective “WHOA!” and break out of our stupor and immediately focus on the document before us.
Demonstrating that we weren’t “born stupid”, we insisted on taking the document home for further review. We then went back to our lusting!
The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 3
We took the contract to our local union office to have them look it over for us. As paid-up union members, we thought we should take advantage of our member benefits. Our representative looked it over for us and deemed it fair and detailed enough for us to sign. He also added that if we filed it through the union they would provide us with legal support if Ron refused to pay us. We had the protection of the union so we were all set, or so we thought!
Our next meeting with Ron was more of the same. The only difference was that he had only the prettiest girls with him. One of them was especially nice and though she flirted, she more or less came across like Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “Scarface.” She smiled and “cooed” a lot and even wangled a ride home, but we all knew would never see her again. And we were cool with that.
After that we went to work on writing songs for the play. They had given us an outline to use and off we went. We came up with several good songs that had a “King Crimson” or Emerson, Lake and Palmer feel, a lot of reverb, echo, rotating speaker effects, synthesizer and percussion. We also adapted some songs we had already written too. These were straight ahead rockers and always got a great response when they were performed.
As we progressed, something else was going on. We never saw Ron again and the visits from the “Gang of Sixes” became less frequent as time went by. Ultimately, they stopped all together. We went to the union and they said there was nothing they could do. Image that, after all of that “speechifyin” and “folderol” we were subjected to. There is nothing they can do! So in the spirit of those great “Andy Hardy” movies starring Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Lana Turner, we said “LET’S PUT ON A SHOW!” And so we did.
The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 4
Since we decided to go on with the show it was up to us to make all of arrangements, secure contracts, place advertising, and sell tickets, etc. It was fun, but not without a few trying moments. Nerves got frayed, but we mustered on. We, like anybody that ever had a dream, took it to the max. We rented tympanis, a gong, and a melotron. Jim even got a chance to use the theatre’s famous pipe organ. I have the tapes of the two classic performances we gave that night. Time has not been a friend to the audio quality of the tapes but the last time I listened to them I just closed my eyes and I was transported to a large concert facility in anywhere, USA and we were rocking it out! I called upon every guitar god’s technique I had ever admired…Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck and Ted Nugent of course. But the best part was when we were asked to do an encore; the song we chose to play was “Louisiana Blues”, the Foghat version, but it was “Muddy Waters” nonetheless!
A few weeks after the show, we got a letter from Chris/666. He said that he saw the show and that we had musically done exactly like he would have wanted it to be. It was a piece of creative beauty because it had all of the elements his play would have required and that we had done well by our logo (hahahahaha). Like I said, we never heard from Ron nor saw any of those girls again…not even in the entertainment weeklies. It really doesn’t matter…it’s a nice story with a happy ending anyway!
- XV The Devil (ankhafnakhonsu.net)
- Readers Write: In A City Now Lousy With Fake-Ass Neighborhood Names, Devil’s Pocket Is Oh So Real (philebrity.com)