I graduated from high school in late May of 1972, and wanted out of EP. I hated to leave the music scene at the Coliseum, cause the venue had become such a happening place. I ended up missing Creedence Clearwater as a result.
I’d been in touch with my brother Vince who had settled in Tacoma after his 3 year stint in the army, including a long year in Viet Nam. He said the local sawmill was hiring and to come up and check it out. Two weeks later I was flying to Tacoma, Washington – a town and state that were Greek to me since I had never traveled north of California before.
I soon found out Tacoma lies forty miles south of Seattle, which proved noteworthy later.
Vince worked at St Regis, an old lumber mill established in 1928. He worked swing shift from 4pm to 12:30 am stacking 2 x 4″ x 8 foot boards they called “studs.” I got hired as a rookie just of out school and immediately felt like the proverbial fish out of water. I started on the same shift but was sent across the street to a building called Mill C, with a spot on the “green chain table”.
Situated outdoors under a covered roof line, the green chain was basically a very long horizontal conveyor table with with five chains made of large flat links that moved on metal channels. The lumber fell onto the chain from Mill C’s shoot, dropping all sorts of widths and lengths. The chain moved along at all times unless stopped momentarily by a dangling power cable above our heads.
One could only stop the movement momentarily to sort though the pieces that sometimes got partially buried underneath others. Then someone would tug the wire to start the chain again, cause the lumber had to move along for other guys to stack the lengths assigned to them.
I faked being an older guy and picked up on the other worker’s threads of choice. I bought a levi jacket and jeans, a flannel shirt and my kicks were my brother’s old pair of army boots, which proved to be a positive addition (some guys thought I was ex-military, so I never got hassled for being the rookie and from out of town). I replaced Mike who was going back to school. He showed me how to sling the 16 and 18 foot long boards onto different stacks, learning right away this spot was the busiest on the chain.
I was puzzled as to why they hired me on a Friday, and with countless heave-ho’s I continued pulling and swinging lumber left and right that evening. Come Saturday morning I knew why I was hired on a Friday. My arms and shoulders felt like lead weights…I was sore as hell. Then my brother revealed that my first check wouldn’t come until the end of the month. I groaned again.
About six weeks rolled by and one day Don, a guy who worked to my right, came over and said to me, “Hey…you cost me $20”. Puzzled, I said, “How’s that?” He went on, “We made a bet that you wouldn’t last a month!”
I raised my eyebrows, “Who you bet with?” He pointed to a weasely dude that filled-in when we took our breaks. I nodded as Don walked away. He wasn’t mad but I guess he just felt like he had to tell me. $20 bucks was a sizable bet back then and obviously the guys didn’t know I was hungry for cash.
This job was gonna make me or break me.
Roger worked inside the factory and would pop outdoors and chat with others on the chain. We would talk music and BS as he regularly made his rounds. One night, out of blue he said ,”Hey want to get something to eat after work?” Huh? “At midnight?”, I asked with hesitation….”Yeah, theres an Italian place just ten minutes from here”. Ok sure.
So there we were at a place called Bimbo’s ordering a couple plates of beef pasta at 12:45 in the morning. I got stuffed. It was a first for me to eat such a massive amount of food at that hour of the night. (But to this day, I have never had a better sauce than Bimbo’s. That place was for real).
I started a fad at work. I had found a record shop at the mall that sold battery powered FM headphones. I bought a pair and wore them during work while others thought they were noise reduction head gear. A couple friends picked up on this bought some. After a while we’d be the only ones bobbing our heads to rockin’ music while the older guys stared and smirked.
It got to the point where we’d take turns going to the tally shack and would call radio DJ’s to request songs by Foghat, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin.
It was during one of those evening broadcasts that the radio advertised an upcoming Uriah Heep concert at the Seattle Center Arena. The band found instant popularity in the states with album releases in May of 1972, “Demons & Wizards” and in November of 1972 “The Magician’s Birthday”. Their “Easy Livin” and “Sweet Lorraine” hits from each album got loads of radio rotation.
I had no idea how to get to the venue, so when I bought the tickets Vince was okay with going and being the chauffeur.
At work, chatty Roger stopped by and I couldn’t help but mention the concert. He asked if I needed some smokes for the show. I never was a regular smoker, but if the opportunity arose, why not?
The next day he gave me three numbers which I didn’t think was much, but hey – they were free.
The night of the show we arrived at the arena where my bro and I had seen Deep Purple’s outrageous Machine Head tour the previous summer. He opted for the bleachers, and I made my way to the front of the stage as close as possible.
The arena’s festival seating capacity was around 8000, and I was about fifty feet from center stage. Not bad. The lights went out and the floor’s audience stood not only to welcome the band, but remained standing for the entire show.
The evening’s openers were a glam-rock quintet called Silverhead, who filled in after Spooky Tooth failed to make the gig.
Inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy alter ego, Silverhead wore heavy mascara which took me by surprise. But their music was driven by double lead guitars that rocked on every song. Two girls stood to my left and I shared the first stick with them.
It didn’t take long for the effect…this stuff was noticeably different and punctuated the rockin’ sounds of Silverhead.
I then stared at the band that appeared to be moving and playing in slow-motion. I remember thinking “They look like puppets, but without strings”. Their show ended with a barnburner called “Has Anybody Seen My Rock n Roll Band”, which drove the audience nuts at the end of a fun and energetic show.
During intermission the main floor audience sat and relaxed as the stage equipment was getting moved and set up for the headliners.
After a half hour break, the lights went out again and the crowd rose to their feet, this time with hundreds of cigarette lighters acting as tiny beacons in the darkness, a spectacle I had never witnessed before. It was amazing how something so simple looked so beautiful in a darkened indoor event untouched at that moment by special lighting or lasers.
Mesmerized, I slowly looked around as nearly eight thousand fans held their tiny welcoming torches for their new favorite band from London.
An eerie keyboard chord began its haunting notes and built an exhilirating intro as the band joined in…”Sunrise” was the opening track and sounded loud and clear with a heavy rock groove. The vocal harmonies locked in and the song crescendoed into an anthem-like show-stopper. The crowd went crazy with only the first song of the night. I shared the last two numbers with the ladies and as the music played on, I didn’t realize right away I was entering another realm.
After a monster synthesizer jam with “Gypsy”, the band slowed things down with a track I was not familiar with. An eleven minute blues-rock ballad called “July Morning”, that after six minutes in, transforms into a guitar and keyboard pyrotechnics jam I hadn’t heard the likes of ever before.
During the song’s torrid and lengthy instrumental portion, I lost track of my surroundings. The potent stuff in my mind messed with my peripheral vision and I could only focus straight ahead to the stage and the band.
Several other altered states took place simultaneously: everything around me went a dark grey to black. The dozens and dozens of rows of people in front of me disappeared. I could only gaze at the musicians and their playing, who looked like they too were in slow motion, but this time the sensation was more intense. The music pierced my mind and seemed to bounce around inside my mind as it got louder.
Then things got really weird.
The multi-colored lights augmented the ominous music and I felt something in the air above and in front of the stage. A presence. A very strong yet invisible force that permeated the auditorium. Worse yet, it felt evil, making me extremely uncomfortable and frozen in place.
This sensation felt like it lasted a long time during a real altered state where time was twisted and elongated. I then startled myself back into reality and looked around realizing I was at the concert, as if waking from a literally deep and lucid dream.
This WOW moment subsided, dissipated and I didn’t second guess anything at the time. I didn’t ask anyone around me, “Did you feel that?”, but continued watching the show as the band played on.
The Heep rocked into the night switching musical gears for their encore with a eight-minute medley of American oldie hits: Roll Over Beethoven, Blue Suede Shoes, Mean Woman Blues, Hound Dog, At The Hop and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On, complete with harmonizing vocals and doo-wops that included the audience. This massive musical mayhem ended with a celebratory bang that left the audience screaming and cheering long after the house lights came back on.
I met up with Vince at the car and we talked about the music and especially the rock and roll encore which was right up his alley since he’s six years older than me. My second Seattle concert was a heightened experience unlike any other show I’d seen, and by now I had a bunch under my belt. It was fun and definitely entertaining, even though some bad juju had filled the air.
The story can end here, but there’s one last detail.
You still remember the lumber mill? It wasn’t until I went back to work that I found out something that made the Uriah Heep show stand on its end. Like a movie with a double whammy ending: you get blindsided at the end, then you’re thrown an unexpected left turn to the story.
It was two days after the show, which was still bouncing around in my head; both crazy bands, the great music and the other weird stuff was tagged forever in the recesses of my mind.
One evening the factory broke down, the green chain stopped and we all stood around waiting for it to get going again. We’d seen it happen before. Power surge or something. Guys went on smoke breaks and others huddled and BS’d. John, a tall long haired guy worked at the end of the chain where XL boards were stacked. I never spoke to him ever since I was hired. I’d pass him up and nod, that’s it.
I decided to go chat with him since he was standing there by himself. I walked up and said, “Hey, you think we’re gonna get sent home?” He mumbled “Hope so, that’d be nice”. Out of nowhere he says to me “Did you hear about the concert the other night?” Curious, I asked,”Uriah Heep at the arena on Saturday?” “Yeah, that one”, he continues, “A couple of friends of mine went to it and they left early.” “Huh?”, I said surprised,”Why would they do that?” John casually replied, “They told me they felt like they were in the presence of the devil”.
The green chain started up again and I didn’t say anything else. I walked back to my spot now feeling doubly weird about that night and what I had just heard. I had never spoke to John before then, yet something made me walk over and chat with him. His friend’s comments kept distracting me during the last hours of my shift as I tried to make sense of it all.
Like clockwork, the next day Roger shows up and says, “Hey, how was that pot?” I said “It was different…weird stuff.” “Yeah”, he smiled walking away, “I sprinkled it with opium”. “Thanks, Roger”, I said sarcastically.
After that episode, I gave up smoking for good.
José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous columns HERE