It was a new decade. 1980 ushered in more than just a new set of numbers to write on the top line of my bank checks. I was ready for it– or so I thought–when I heard the group Styx proclaim, “Don’t look now, but here come the ’80s!” from their 1979 song “Borrowed Time.”
In January I received a call from Stan Morse, musical director and arranger for the Columbus, Ohio-based American Entertainment Productions (AEP). I was asked to fetch my guitar, place the phone down and play whatever set of chords or song-pieces he asked for. After apparently passing the audition, I received another call requesting I fly out in just a few days to meet the group at the Toledo airport.
I knew my dream was to be a professional musician, but the sudden opportunity jolted me. My biggest prospect up to that point was to get a proper job since my year as a college student didn’t pan out so well. I had just passed the test to become a school bus driver, and I was ready to start my new phase of life when I received the call from AEP. I took advantage of the few remaining days before my plane left on Sunday to pull together a suitcase and some new clothes. I was 19-years-old, for goodness sake–the wet behind my ears was still glistening, and I was leaving home for the first time.
The gentleman who eventually hired me said the group would be on the road for at least six months before any break was possible. My heart sank–I wouldn’t see my family for a long time.
The one time I took a plane trip by myself was the previous summer, when I flew to visit a friend in Colorado Springs. Now, a few months later, I was standing in the nearly-deserted Toledo airport with my guitar, waiting for my luggage to appear on the conveyor belt. I stood there with a lump in my throat, not knowing that my family back home in Fullerton were also having a tough time adjusting to the cyclone that just blew through our lives.
I made a seamless transition into road life over the next several weeks as we zig-zag’d across the US several times in a van. By March we all boarded an international flight to perform for the USO in Iceland and Germany. I was taking large leaps into the big unknown. My eyes, ears and heart were filling with new sights, cultures, accents and landscapes. I was creating what would one day become cherished experiences and life-long friendships.
|There we are on Harrah’s marquee: Sunshine Express with The Raisers!|
By year’s end, the news of John Lennon’s assassination was a constant presence on the lounge TV at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. We were booked there as the opening act for two different week-long runs: one with the great ’60s band, Paul Revere and the Raiders; the second with blues legend B.B. King. What a mind-blowing experience that was–going from almost becoming a school bus driver to playing music professionally, meeting stars and letting a stagehand roll my amp into place. I was ready to see how the new decade could surprise me any more. Dennis DeYoung of Styx was right: the 80s ushered in what would change my life forever.