Rockin’ in San Rafael

I’ve been playing in San Rafael for easily the last 30 years or so, in one way or another, either at rehearsal spaces like Hun Sound, The Music Spectrum or Marin Recorders or at clubs like

New Georges

Pete’s 881


Or the Fourth Street Tavern

So when the AC/DC tribute act High Voltage asked me to sit in on bass to play the Tavern on Jan 3, 2009, I jumped at the chance. Now, mind you, being a musician comes with quirks.. we just can’t help it.. we all have silly/stupid things we do or don’t do before a show. Back in the day with Southbound, I wouldn’t eat at all before a show. Southbound was a Southern rock tribute act that I was in for 10+ years and we were a 4-set, 9-1am deal. Typically I’d eat at 2 in the morning somewhere. The Graycoats, Flanelhed, and many 1-night stand acts were all 1 set acts, but typically the 1 set in those bands took up as much energy as the whole night in a cover or tribute act.

So my buddies would all go out to eat and I’d hang at the club and they’d come back with tales of Italian, Pizza, Chinese and Sushi. I may have had a bag of chips at the bar. It was just something I did.

Even now I have to have ’space’ before I go onto a stage to ‘get my head together.’ It drove my wife crazy. ” What the hell’s wrong with you??” was the usual. It only seems to happen when I’m going onto a real stage. Playing a casual gig or the corner of a bar doesn’t invoke the same emotions. If I have to sing for a 4 hour show then no eating before, but I digress.

Now that it doesn’t take as much for me to ‘get my head together’, this particular night I think I’ll step out and grab a bite of something lite.. Pizza? nah.. Chinese? Thai? Italian… nah.. Ah.. Sushi.

I belly up to the bar (sushi that is) and order up the chef’s combo. A California roll and 5 pieces of fish. No sake or beer.. I have a show and I’m sure I’ll be drinking later. As I look around, it dawns on me what a freak show San Rafael has become.. between the wanna be gang-bangers and flat out weirdos, you could easily think you’re somewhere in San Francisco. So I finish up and make it back down to the Tavern.

Mind you the Tavern is not Taj Mahal. It’s what I would describe as a mid-level dive bar, but a cozy fireplace and pool table and a long haired bouncer to keep the real A-Holes out, and it makes for an OK vibe, as long as you’re not a single woman by herself. I walk in and see the person I’ve known for 3 years but have never actually seen or talked to.. my NBF Mel. We met on the internet (Stop it..we’re both married with children) and have stalked each others web presences and it was almost like seeing an old friend again, for the first time.We carry on a little and meet all the companions and all is good.

Sound check is next and, mind you, I’ve never played with this band.. never even rehearsed with them, so sound check, to me, is almost like the audition for the rest of the night… “is he gonna suck or not?” they’re all thinking. We whip out Rock and Roll Singer (which just happens to be one of my favorites and one I actually knew well) and seem to have passed the audition.

We hit the stage about 10p.m. and I have 2 t shirts on, one long sleeve and a short one on top. Bad Move. By the 5th song I’m drenched in sweat and my hair is soaked. Shaking your head for 5 tunes is more work than I recalled. We have a nice first set and off the long sleeve shirt comes. The second set is fairly uneventful as well. The band sounds pretty tight and if you didn’t know I wasn’t their regular bass player, I don’t think anyone would have known.

The third set is where the action starts. I’m starting to sweat again.. and not the ‘whoa it’s hot’ sweat.. but the hot flash sweats. I think ‘Dude.. you’re getting old.. suck it up’ but they don’t stop.. and then the mouth starts salivating… and it gets worse. I then start to think ‘Dude, you’re gonne puke..’ I try the whole mind over matter deal but matter is winning out.. and fast. During the middle of the namesake song, High Voltage, I make it to a point where Angus is going to take a lead break. Thats it. I hang up my bass, dash out the door around the corner to the alley and the Sushi makes an encore appearance.

The band has no idea where I went or what happened. So after the song they find me in the alley. At that point I’m feeling pretty good. I have a little water and then they ask “Are you Ok to finish the show?” I think for a minute.. what would the real Cliff Williams do? He’s a f-in rockstar.. Of course you finish the show!! So I strap it on and we bang out another 4 tunes.

I’m not going to name the Sushi bar but let’s just say it was ‘killin’ me and i don’t think it was the fish as it tasted fresh, the crab salad in the California roll seems the likely culprit. I’m sure I’m not the first person to hurl in the alley outside the tavern and am pretty sure I won’t be the last, but, once again, a new tale gets added to not just my book of tall tales but the bands as well.

Long Live Rock and Roll…

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