Band reunions are dicey propositions, as any music fanatic is keenly aware. The problem, as I joke, is being asked to go home again...when you were 16, and you didn't have to face any of life's ugly little responsibilities yet...only some yo-yo's changed all the locks, and you can't get back in! So goes life in the bigtime rock 'n' roll technocracy.
Thankfully, local bands have a different dynamic, one that's focused around the joys of playing those favorite songs one more time – 'cause there sure as hell isn't any big money changing hands, right? Still, had luck and timing run their course just a little differently, many of these outfits could have crossed the finish line to everlasting fame 'n' fortune.
At least, that's how things panned out for White Summer, who roared out of Benton Harbor in 1973, and built a formidable live following – built around the pyrotechnics of blind guitarist Jimmy Schrader, and the deft drumming of Jimmy Watkins – who remained the band's mainstays during its original run. Along the way, White Summer recorded four platters of original material – beginning with WHITE ALBUM (1976) – and garnered praise from the likes of Eric Clapton, and Neil Young.
In many ways, White Summer's story reads like a movie, but not one that attracted support from management companies and major labels. Weary of that same-old, same-old phenomenon, White Summer called it quits in 1991. Inevitably, though, the boys couldn't stay away forever, and began to regroup with bassist Randy Brown, who toured for five years with the band during the 1980s.
The shows happen in Michigan, or Florida – which Brown and Schrader now call home – and have typically gone off about every other year, which is how I found myself catching White Summer's latest get-together at Czar's 505, in downtown St. Joseph.
Due to various boring tasks that invariably commandeer my attention, I don't make it down until the second set – but it's not too hard to figure out what's happening, as Dave Carlock makes clear to me outside, on the sidewalk: “Do you hear that? Jimmy Schrader's just killing it!”
Indeed, he is: I can hear those gut-wrenching strains of feedback and sustain floating off the main floor, up the stairs and outside, just long enough to hang in the air, and ring out into the night. On the main floor, the traffic is packed, as Watkins fronts the band – while his son, Adam, deputizes on the drumkit, something that he'll periodically do throughout the night.
The song happens to be a Doors classic, “Roadhouse Blues,” and the elder Watkins doesn't miss the opportunity to lead the crowd through a tradeoff on those telling lines in the last verse, the snapshot that Jim Morrison saw fit to offer his fans back in 1970: “Wellll, I woke up this morning, and I...”
Back comes the answer: “GOT MYSELF A BEER-AH!”
“Well, I woke up this morning, and I...”
“GOT MYSELF A BEER-AH!”
One, two, three, four: “Well, the future's uncertain, and...”
“...THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR-AH!”
All in all, not a bad start for my night, although my ears are taking a real old- fashioned mauling – because I've staked out a spot on stage right, under one of the speakers. However, when you've got a standing room only crowd, you hug that particular corner... because it may not be there when you get back.
I pray that the Feedback Gods will be kind on this occasion, and concentrate on click-click-clickin' away, as the band winds through its second, then third set, which focuses heavily on Hendrix territory. Schrader naturally gets lots of room to stretch out on well-worn showcases as “Red House” (for which the crowd sits down, because it's not a danceable number, per se), “The Star-Spangled Banner” – segueing into “Purple Haze,” Woodstock-style, of course – and “Fire,” with Randy Brown's fingers running nimbly underneath all the fretboard fireworks.
But that's half the fun, naturally: however much these songs got pounded into the ground via too many Classic Rock stations, whose formats carry the stink of mothballs and long-ago-discarded Rolodexes left by the umpteen different program directors who passed through their portals...
...White Summer brings them alive with a conviction that's impressive, as if they'd written these well-known numbers themselves. That's half the battle of interpretation, right? Close your eyes, and you can hear what kept the folks coming back to all those countless holes-in-the-walls, fourscore and so many nights ago.
We also get one-off raids of nuggets from ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughan (“Cold Shot”), and – to round out the night – Billy Idol's 1982 mega-smash, “White Wedding...y'know, the song that effectively punched his ticket out to Beverly Hills, generatin' oodles of cash 'n' cover versions that seemed a long way off to a certain W. Broad, back in certifiably fallin' apart late '70s-punk-era Swinging London...
...only tonight, the song is provisionally re-dubbed “White Summer,” as in: “It's a nice day for, a...WHITE SUMMER!” The bodies are back in force on the floor, roaring their full-throated approval, especially when they get to the punchline: “Well, it's a nice day to...STAAAAART AGAINNNNN!”
Last call is creeping around the bend as usual, but everybody seems bound 'n' determined to wring one last chord or two out of the boys onstage before the night slips out the back door..as it should be, eh? Here's hoping that we don't wait long till the next time, and that the Feedback Gods are kind to me once more. Time will tell.