Growing up I always liked to hang out with my uncle Tom. He is my mom’s younger brother and is about 8 years older than I am. Close enough in age to be like a big brother.
When I was really young I would stay at my grandparent’s house and he and I would stay up really late and build models and watch scary movies, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone. I got the shit scared outta me more than once but it was so cool to hang with him. He would buy models of cars (remember those?) and of the movie monsters. He was pretty talented so he would paint them up in great detail and we would put them together.
I had a Superman suit I had gotten for Christmas. It was from the original series when I was a youngster. I had that thing on and one of his friends was there and kept giving me shit about not being able to fly like the REAL Superman. That no good sonofabitch – I could be wrong, but for some reason I think his last name was Butters. Yeah… just like the character in South Park. How DARE he state the obvious to me; did he think I did NOT try it out?!?! Tom made him stop. I wish I could remember his name so I could go over and give him the finger now.
I remember the earliest days of a band Tom was in called Nickel Plate Road. His weapon of choice was the undisputed king of 60s/70s rock – the Hammond B3 with a Leslie. It was the epitome of the sound of that era in rock music and was one badassed piece of gear, especially with a Leslie speaker or two hooked up to it. I remember playing on it, sliding the drawbars changing the sound. I could not play it for shit but I was a rockstar in training, by God. I thought it was also cool (and still do) that Steppenwolf borrowed it to play in KC as I remember.
I remember when the band first started they would practice in the living room. I was there a few times and one time I was there was the first time I saw a skin magazine. Hell yeah… Uncle Tom was THE man! All his bandmates thought it was pretty funny because they were laughing.
Tom turned me on to some great music. “Steppenwolf Live” – one the THE best live albums ever recorded – was one album he gave me that I listened to and played the hell out of over and over. What a great album, and I still listen to it to this day on my iPhone.
I remember going to see his band play live at various places and helped load gear as best as I could (guess THAT was a sign of things to come later in my life!). That B3 was a heavy bastard and quite awkward to load into the old GMC van my grandparents had that they used to go do their gigs all over the area. I helped as best as my scrawny ass could (another omen!).
Before the B3 was a Vox Continental organ – the old gray and red keyboard typical in 60s rock. If I remember correctly that one was loaned to The Buckinghams (“Kind of a Drag”) to play in KC. Again, big coolness.
Before he got out of the music biz his band recorded a few albums in a studio in KC. This was in the late 60s, maybe 1970 or even ’71. I have those songs on my iPhone as well. There is a Bloodrock song they covered, as well as a couple of songs by Deep Purple and another one by Uriah Heep. They still sound pretty good today and they are pretty true to the original versions. Now THAT was WAY cool in my eyes.
He had some cool cars as well. He had a Chevelle SS, possibly a 1970 with a 396 or a 427. An American classic piece of true wickedness. At one point he had a Triumph GT6. I remember when he got rid of that one. I rode with him to get rid of it and it was the first time I heard a particular curse word I will not repeat on these pages. Oh man… he said WHAT?!?! LOL.
One of the other ones was his Firebird Formula 400. That was a cool one and probably the last of the good Firebirds. It was kinda like a T/A in performance if I remember right, but with the snorkel hood scoops and no dead chicken on the hood. I wanted one just like his.
I remember going over to his house several times when I was young and walked over from my grandparent’s house since he lived just a few blocks away. He was with a chick at the time named Barbara. I always thought she was a babe – yes, even at that age I was checking out the older women.
Life carries on and you lose touch and have to do things in your life, which we both did. We did some hanging out again in the early 80s, but then life interfered again for many years.
We exchanged a few e-mails here and there lately, and we kinda caught up on what had been happening with each other over the previous few years.
Recently, on one of my trips to Kansas this past summer, he came out and we visited extensively at my parents’ house in Leavensville. It was really good to catch up and we talked for several hours. It was really good to see him again and sit and just talk about shit in life. He restores and collects old Honda motorcycles and he said when I come back next we will go riding. I said that sounds great, though inside I thought “oh shit… been a LONG time!”.
A month or so later I made one last trip to drop stuff off before I left Colorado, knowing it might be some time before I can get back since I was moving and starting a new job. We made plans to go ride. Now keep in mind I have not ridden a bike in 30 years, and these are collectible bikes (plus I have no health insurance). I had a Honda 750K SS back in the early 80s, and that was the last time I rode. He decided we were gonna go ride his two CBX1100 bikes – six cylinders of pure adrenaline. To warm up he sent me around the block on a 750 and it all came back to me pretty good. A bit rusty still, but good.
I got back to his house and we hopped on the 1100s and took off. His was not running right, so after the dog bit him and some expletives were tossed about and the police report filed, we went back and he got on the 750 I rode and we hit the road. That CBX1100 is quite a machine indeed. It is a 6 cylinder bike that runs, well, fast, and has a sweet engine sound. We took back roads all over, probably riding about 40 or 50 miles in a few hours on twisting highways. I did find a straightaway or two that I was able to lay into it on and hit about 70 in nothing flat. It was awesome, and on a nice warm night riding roads like that (and getting a speed rush) was a great time.
We stopped in Bonner Springs for a malt at DQ and talked some more and then headed back to his house. That night way way too short, especially knowing I may not be back for a while. We got back to his house and talked for hours more. Finally, around 1 or 2 AM I needed to get back to Leavensville and we both needed to get some sleep. What a great time I had, and I hope we can somehow do that again sometime soon.
Thanks, Tom, for letting me look up to you over all these years and putting up with having a shadow when I was a pesky little kid. We are actually quite a lot alike (and, looking back, always really have been in many ways, I guess). Whether that is good or bad who the hell knows (or cares), but hey… there is nothing wrong with it no matter which it is.