I have had a very unusual path in my musical life. I have played with an amazingly diverse collection of musicians and groups, and some of these experiences are almost not believable. Nevertheless, they really happened. Today, I will relate the story of how I played several parties with Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and Will Farrell drum off champion), in the summer of 1979. And how he conveniently forgot to pay me for the Southfield Swim Club gig.
It was the summer of 1977, in suburban Detroit that I started playing bass. I was fifteen. I bought a Fender Jazz Bass copy with a tiny amp from Rick Bogani for $40 before school let out for the summer. I proceeded to play every day, practice every day, and in short, became completely obsessed with everything that had to do with the bass. I would sit in my brother’s bedroom when he was gone, and play along with records. This involved playing along until I got lost, stopping my playing, setting my bass down, lifting the stylus gently from the record, repositioning it, and playing the phrase again. I did this hundreds, if not thousands of times. I would watch local bands, and bands on TV, and watch the bass players’ hands. This was harder than you might imagine, as bass players almost never got any camera coverage (John Paul Jones – see what I mean?). I am pretty sure I was insufferable to my friends, but they put up with my one track mind. Anyways, this is how I learned to play bass. I have never had a bass lesson in my life.
By the time I was a senior at Groves High School (with an impressive GPA of 2.34), I had hit a growth spurt, lost my baby fat, got contact lenses, bought some Levi’s bell bottoms, and grown my hair out. By now, I was also a very capable bass player, and to my utter surprise and delight, I began to be invited to play with various groups.
The bands’ names were almost all works of genius: Toads on Parade, Musical Dystrophy, Refuse, the Fizbin Blues Band, and some unnamed collections of guys jamming to have fun or make a few dollars. My association with Chad Smith fell into the last unnamed category.
Before I proceed, I need to tell you about one of the musicians we all aspired to play with. Scott Porter was pretty much the local guitar legend. He had long curly hair, played lead guitar, had a Marshall stack (I think), and all the girls went nuts for him. He was also a genuinely nice guy. At least to me. I always liked Scott, and was never enamored over him like some of the other local bass players. I considered his guitar playing to be the real litmus test , which was quite good, but not really any better than the lads I was playing with. I was also not too crazy about the music his band played, which was more hard rock and heavy metal. I perceived this as a great weakness. I was into the right kind of music. Blues based rock. Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter, Clapton, the Stones. You get the picture. So, an alliance with Scott Porter looked pretty unlikely.
I was jamming at a party one Friday night, and Scott was there. During our first break he finds me and tells me how great we sounded. Typical polite musician banter, I thought. But then he says, “No, man, I mean you sound REALLY good”. Me: “Well, hey, you know. Thanks man”. Then he tells me that he needs a bass player for a gig that he and Chad were going to play, and he really wanted me. Didn’t see that one coming. I was kind of flustered. And I realized that I really didn’t want to play a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock, and I was already playing practically every weekend that summer, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So, I said, “Yeah, man”. (We all said “man” a lot back then). “Sounds great. But I really don’t want to do it if we don’t play some blues, you know, like me and Ricky do”. Scott: “Oh, man, I WANT to do that stuff, man! That’s why I want you to play!”. Me: “Man! Sounds great! Let’s do it!” There was most likely a lot more colorful language in the exchange, but that is the basis of the communication.
So, next thing I know, I am in Scott’s basement with Chad, and we are practicing for our first gig together. Chad was an excellent drummer. Crazy energy, very fast and very precise, and he could drive the songs. He was fun to jam with. I remember that Chad was really into My Sharona by the Knack that summer, but we couldn’t play it because we only had one guitarist – Scott. Also, I think it was a bit too New Wave for us. The other song he wanted to do was a song written by Willie Dixon and covered by Pat Travers: Boom Boom. (Out Go the Lights). This was a total blues rock tune, and I was impressed that he wanted to do it. So we practiced it, got it down, and it was one of my favorite tunes I did with Chad and Scott. We practiced a bunch of other tunes, until we had enough for a couple sets.
Our first gig together was at a gorgeous home out in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was a house party. There was an in-ground pool, and we set up next to it. It was a lot of fun, and they loved us. My bass (a black on black beautiful 1976 Fender Jazz Bass) went missing after the gig. I had no idea what happened to it. I made a number of frantic calls the next day, and found out that a girl had taken it because she wanted to meet the band members. I went over and picked up my bass from her house the next day without incident. Oh, the life of a Rock Star.
The next gig we did was somewhere out in Southfield. Another house party, and we played in the garage. Some of my bandmates from Toads on Parade and The Fizbin Blues Band showed up, and they thought we sounded great. I can’t remember for sure, but I think we did I Wants to be Loved by Muddy Waters. This was one of the songs I insisted we do with most of my bands. I sometimes did the lead vocals, but there is no way to sound like Muddy Waters, so you have to make it your own. Anyway, again, it was a lot of fun, and we had a very appreciative audience.
The last time I played with Chad, it was at the Southfield Swim Club. We were going to get paid real money for this gig. $150. Split three ways, that meant I was going to make $50. We played outside, next to the pool again, and we had a great response from the crowd. They were mostly Swim Club kids, and they were pretty star struck. I have never really been able to understand why musicians have such an appeal. I mean, we were just some long-haired guys that played mostly 3 chord songs. Oh well. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the attention. And looking back at it, we had a lot of energy, and were actually quite good.
So, the day after this last gig, I remembered that we were supposed to get paid. I called Scott and he told me that Chad had been the one that had been paid. So, I called Chad. I left a message with his mom. No call back. No $50. I wasn’t really too worried about the money. I played because I loved to play, and most of the gigs back then paid us in beer. This was new. I never played with Chad again, and I don’t think our paths crossed from that day until now.
So, I never called him back and forgot about it. Until a friend of mine told me in 1998 that Chad Smith was the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was skeptical, but then I looked it up, and sure enough, there was the Chad Smith I had jammed with back in the day. Older, but it was Chad. I was tickled to be able to say that I had played with this guy before he got famous with RHCP and playing at the Super Bowl and all that. And then I remembered the $50. What a great story! Nobody is going to believe me, I thought.
So, that’s the story. Chad Smith, drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, still owes me $50 for the Southfield Swim Club gig we played in the summer of 1979 with Scott Porter.
Chad, if you read this, congratulations on your wild success! It was great to jam with you, and I remember those days fondly. And about the money, I won’t even charge interest. But, hey, I am sure you can afford to mail me that $50 check.
I’ll let you all know if and when I hear from Chad. It would be pretty fun if I do hear something.