Saturday rolled around and Keith picked me up around noon.
I threw my guitar and amp in the back of his truck and hopped in.
We drove out to Ernie’s place, threw his drums in the back of the truck and drove back in to town.
We got to Keith’s place and started hauling equipment down to the basement.
I carried my Peavey guitar and my little Backstage Plus amplifier.
I had never really thought about how much work goes into setting up a drum kit until I watched Ernie drag his drums down to the basement.
I remember being very happy that I was a guitar player.
Keith was running a Les Paul thru a Marshall Stack, so needless to say, but, I was outgunned.
Keith started doing scales at a blistering speed.
He might have been better than the guy from Lyxx!
He didn’t look like Eddie Van Halen but could play like him.
He trotted out every riff in the book.
“Bark At The Moon”
“Run To The Hills”
“Hot For Teacher”
I just sat there in awe.
Ernie did a couple of fills making sure everything was just so.
Keith said “Well, what d’ya wanna play?”
I knew of one song for sure that I could play without falling completely apart.
“I know how to play “Lick It Up”” I said.
And with that, and as far as I was concerned, we launched in to a kick ass version of the Kiss classic.
De de de de de de de Daa Da Da de de de de Daa Da Da…
It was loud.
It was so fucking loud.
After ten minutes or so Keith turned to me and yelled “Sing, man!”
“Sing? Are you fucking nuts?” I thought to myself.
I remember thinking that this must be what it feels like when the parachute instructor opens the door to the plane and yells “Jump!!!”
Let me put it this way; if we were playing “Lick It Up” on a plane that afternoon and Keith turned to me and said “Sing, man!!!”
I would’ve jumped.
“Look out below!”
What an idiot!
I never should have said that I was a singer, too.
What was I thinking?
Fuck, what a fucking moron!!!
Thankfully, we didn’t have a microphone or a P.A. system to run it through. So I just sang along under my breath and way under the overall volume of guitars and drums.
We played all afternoon.
Along with “Lick It Up” we played “Summer Of 69”, “New Girl Now”, “Johnny B. Goode” and, of course, “Stairway To Heaven.”
After three of four hours, we packed up our gear, threw it in the back of Keith’s truck and drove across town.
Ernie’s parents owned a restaurant called “Bonnyville Steak And Pizza” so we went there for a plate of fries and gravy and a pitcher of Coke.
I couldn’t believe how great life was.
It really was, without question, one of the greatest days of my life.
We were excited and talking a million miles an hour about what other songs we could learn and when our first show would be and what the band name would be.
Keith said “Hey, how about “Diamonds In The Rough”?”
Thank God there wasn’t a tattoo parlor nearby, because I’d probably and regrettably have the name “Diamonds In The Rough” on my arm somewhere.
But there it was.
We were now “officially” a band.
“Diamonds In The Rough”
Then came my first of countless bad ideas in the music business.
I put down my fork and said, “Oh man, guys, fuck, I have a great idea! How about we spell the word “rough”, R-U-F-F! I mean, could that be any more awesome?!?”
As far as I was concerned, with a band name like “Diamonds In The Ruff” we were on our way.
Ernie, who was 14 at the time, thought it was pretty cool too.
Not so much.
Wisely, and thank God, Keith stood his ground.
A couple of weeks later, Curtis Joly joined the band to play piano.
Curtis was great, ridiculously talented, likeable and one of the more popular kids in school.
I knew Curt pretty well already because we played on both the football and hockey teams.
He could play anything on the piano.
His big influence was Billy Joel.
It goes without saying but he wasn’t the biggest fan of our set list.
The stuff we were playing was way beneath him and way over my head.
About a week after Curt joined the band, Al Brundage came in to play bass.
He was 19 and already out of high school.
He worked in the oil patch.
I couldn’t believe I was playing in a band with someone that old.
Someone who had a job.
Curtis, Keith and Al all had a musical background and as well as training.
They had music theory down pat.
They understood harmony.
They understood how chords worked together.
Ernie and I didn’t have a clue.
We didn’t know a C note from a hundred dollar bill.
On weekends, and in between football and hockey games, we jammed.
We played the same bunch of songs over and over.
We got tighter and tighter as a band.
I still wasn’t singing a note and nobody was asking me to sing either.
But it certainly was the pink elephant in the room.
I guess they just assumed that I was gonna sing when the time came.
On November 10th of 1985, a bunch of us, my brother Chris included, all piled into Keith’s car and drove to Edmonton to see Mötley Crüe on the “Theatre Of Pain” tour.
Autograph opened for them.
Their big hit at the time was “Turn Up The Radio”.
We couldn’t have agreed more.
“Yeah, fuck, yeah, turn it up?”
Then came the Crüe.
The song “Crew Slut” played as they walked on the stage.
What a cool tune!
“Don’t make a fuss just get on the bus and be a crew slut…”
I didn’t even know what a Frank Zappa was at the time.
Mötley Crüe couldn’t possibly have been cooler.
They couldn’t have been louder.
The songs couldn’t have been more raunchy.
Northlands Coliseum was going crazy.
Girls were groping Vince.
What a life!
For Tommy’s drum solo his entire drum riser flipped to a 90 degree angle.
During Mick’s guitar solo he pulled out every trick in the book, with the talk box, the whammy bar and everything else that would drive a 17 year old rocker like me crazy.
Nikki Sixx was drinking Jack Daniel’s straight out of the bottle.
Oh man, these guys were cool!
Then they rolled out the grand piano for Tommy to do the intro to “Home Sweet Home”.
“Oh, fuck yeah, this is my song, man.”
“This is gonna be wicked!!!”
…pling plong pling plong pling plang pling plang pling plong…
“You know I’m a dreamer, but my hearts of gold….”
Then as Tommy went running back to the drum kit to start the big drum fill going into the rest of the song he bent over and mooned us.
We all went crazy.
Though now, looking back, I can’t imagine why we, a bunch of guys, would cheer after seeing some guy’s ass, but, we did anyway.
They closed with “Jailhouse Rock”.
The entire two and a half hour drive home we just talked about how great that fucking show was.
“Oh man, did you see Tommy when he threw his sticks 60 feet in the fucking air and fucking caught them again? Fuck, man!!!”
“Or how about when Vince said ‘Fuck, yeah…’ when that chick flashed him….”
“Man, I’d be so hammered if I drank that much JD, man….”
“No doubt, man…. no doubt.”
And on and on and on.
The next day was November 11th, Remembrance Day.
I woke up at noon and looked at the tour booklet that my brother and I had bought.
I stared at those pictures for probably and hour a day for the next year or so.
Later on that week at school Keith said that we should sign up for the Christmas concert.
“Fuck, yeah, our first gig!”
You couldn’t shoot the grin off my face.
It was still over a month away but we needed to practice.
Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me that I had to sing.
“Now what? What in the fuck am I gonna do? I can’t sing…”
We rehearsed for the next five weeks.
I was excited to play but I scared to sing.
So I didn’t.
Not a note.
I just sorta sang to myself and just enough so that everyone knew where we were in the song.
I’d never sung in front of anyone before.
In 3rd grade, my Mom had convinced me to sing an a cappella version of “Let’s Twist Again” at some local talent show, but other than that… nothing.
I’d never even sang at home.
I’d lip synced around the house, sure.
I mean, I could lip sync the hell out of the Huey Lewis and the News album “Sports”
“dit dit dit dit dit dit dit the heart of rock and roll is still beating…”
But that was the extent of it.
The night before the Christmas concert we moved all of our equipment onto the stage at the BCHS gymnasium.
We set up for one last rehearsal.
Regrettably, this ended up being an open rehearsal.
We had an audience of maybe 10 people.
Again, I was scared to sing.
I was too embarrassed to sing.
We just played the songs through a couple of times.
I could tell that the guys in the band were getting annoyed with me.
I didn’t blame them for a second.
I was sick of my not singing.
I’d think to myself, “Fuck it, Plume, what’s yer fucking problem? Just fucking sing, would ya, Jesus Christ!”
But I just couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth and sing.
We had worked up. “Johnny B. Goode”, “Lick It Up”,”Summer Of ’69” and “New Girl Now”.
Al Brundage and his girlfriend, who was a vocal coach, were talking to me about singing and how to breath and all that technical stuff that I had never even thought of.
Then Al said, “Well maybe we’re playing these songs in the wrong key for you, Mike.”
Jesus, I didn’t even know there was more than one key!
Now I find out that every note can be the start of another key.
Well by this point, I was too confused for words and if it wasn’t 30 below zero that night I would’ve walked home and found something else to do with my life.
I just sat there with everybody staring at me.
Keith started playing “Summer Of 69”.
I was never so scared in all my life.
Then, very softly, I started to sing.
Nothing more than a whisper.
But, I was singing and apparently, I was in key.
Looking back, I can’t even believe how encouraging everyone was.
I can still hear Al telling me that I could do it and that I just had to believe in myself.
Keith and Ernie, too, were very supportive.
Curtis, who had gotten more than a little tired of me being too chicken shit to sing, even seemed to perk up when I finally started to sing at a volume they could hear.
I can still see his smile from that night.
If you know Curt, you know the smile.
Finally, we played a song in its entirety.
Vocals and everything!
I kept looking to Curtis to see how I was doing.
He’d give me a wink when things were on the money and an eyebrow when things were a shade or two off.
At the end of the day they were probably all just thankful that I finally started singing.
For some reason, and in a foreshadowing of things to come, I called a song that we had never even played before.
I said, “Hey Curt, do you know how to play “Hey Jude”?”
“Yeah, I think so…”
He fumbled around for a minute or so and figured it out.
I was in complete awe.
“How in the hell can he do that?” I thought to myself.
He played the first chord.
It took me a second or two to find my note and then…
“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song….”
It felt unbelievable.
I felt my voice sitting on top of the music.
I know this sounds stupid but, it was like learning to fly.
I felt so much joy that I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I couldn’t stop jumping up and down.
I was, for the first time in my life, lost in a song.
I didn’t even care that people were looking at me or what they might think.
And just like that “Hey Jude” was in the two song set for the next day.
Then we decided to play “Johnny B. Goode” as well.
The band played with supreme confidence as I sang in full voice.
I hadn’t even been ten minutes into my singing career.
What a feeling.
It’s amazing to me but, on Thursday, December 19th 1985, my life changed forever in the time it took to sing “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still wasn’t much of a singer but at least I wasn’t scared to sing in front of people anymore.
Or at least, so I thought.
Friday, December 20th. 1985… the first gig.
All morning long I watched the clock tick closer to the inevitable.
I felt like a guy waiting to be executed.
I thought about calling in a bomb threat.
The Christmas concert began at noon in the student common area known as “the Pit”.
I remember the BCHS cheerleaders started the show with a bang.
After that, everything’s a blur.
I do remember that, at some point during the show, I walked up to one the cheerleaders (I think it was Traci Kiernan) and asked if they would be interested in joining us on stage for the big “Na Na Na…” ending of “Hey Jude”.
They all thought it was a great idea!
It was my first act of showmanship.
I mean, if you have a chance to bring a bunch of cheerleaders on stage with you, do it. Don’t even think twice.
It makes for a better show.
Not too mention, no one will be watching you, they’ll be watching the chicks with the pompom’s.
Right before we went on, my buddy, Jamie Girard, came up to me and said, “Are you nervous?”
“Nah, it’s cool, man…” I said, lying through me teeth.
“Well, break a leg….”
“Thanks man, I’ll talk to you after…”
I can’t remember who the MC’s were, but they were talking to the students, killing time as the guys in the band set up their gear.
I didn’t have anything to set up.
I was just the singer.
I stood in the wings and watched Keith, Curt, Al and Ernie set up their stuff.
I couldn’t take it.
I paced up and down the hall.
I went in the boys locker room and thought about throwing up.
I heard Keith hit a couple of chords.
I heard a snare shot.
“Oh fuck, here we go…” I thought to myself.
I took a deep breath and walked out.
The MC said, “Alright, here they are, the last act of the day… A big hand for Diamonds In The Rough!!!”
There was a roar of applause.
It was all I could do to walk out there.
I could feel my legs shaking.
I looked at Keith.
He was sweating like he was being interrogated.
Al looked like he had a million gigs under his belt.
Curt was as cool as could be.
Ernie was fidgeting with his cymbals and trying to stop his kick drum from sliding around.
I looked back at Keith.
We made eye contact.
And with that he launched into “Johnny B Goode”
“MA NA NA, NA NA NA, NA NA NA, NA NA NA, NA NA NA, NA NA NAH…”
CRACK! went the snare drum.
BOOM! in came the band.
Fuck what a feeling!
A rush like I’d never experienced before.
For some reason, I jumped straight up in the air.
As soon as I landed I jumped again and again…
I remember thinking, “Fuck, their cheering already!!!”
What we lacked in talent and finesse we made up for in sheer ear splitting volume.
“Way down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans….”
I went from being a wallflower to standing on the lip of the stage singing my heart out in the space of 12 bars.
It was unreal!
I wasn’t any good, but I was fucking singing, man!
When I wasn’t singing I couldn’t stop jumping up and down.
Over the music, I could hear people cheering, screaming and laughing all at the same time.
I looked over my left shoulder and Curt gave me a look like “We’re fuckin’ rocking the dump, man….”
Keith was all business.
Al was smiling.
Ernie was trying to act cool.
We finished the song and the applause was deafening.
I couldn’t believe it.
Curt played the opening chord to “Hey Jude”.
He emphasized the opening note of the melody to help me get started.
“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.”
The next thing I remember is being surrounded by cheerleaders singing “Naaa naaa naaa… na na na naaa… Hey Jude…”
I think the whole school sang along with us.
I had no idea how to end a song, I just kept singing until Keith counted us down.
People clapped and cheered.
I wished everyone a Merry Christmas as they headed for the doors.
Ten minutes later, the school was empty.
My first gig was now behind me.
It was just me and the guys sitting around.
My English teacher, Mrs. Perry, came up to us said “It was wonderful, just wonderful, boys. I didn’t know you were a singer, Mike?”
I was embarrassed.
“Neither did I, Mrs. Perry, neither did I…” I thought to myself.
My Social Studies teacher, Mr Chase, came up to me and said how much he liked it.
He also said he liked some of my moves.
I remember thinking “Moves? I have moves…?”
He told us about how he went to school with the drummer from the Guess Who and told me to stick with it.
A couple of cheerleaders wished Curtis a Merry Christmas.
I just sat there on the steps of the Pit completely lost in thought.
As they were walking by me they said “Merry Christmas, Mike…”
I couldn’t believe they knew my name…
“Hey, thanks, Merry Christmas to you guys too… bye…”