From Bongos To Head Banging To Maxiwhacking
By Andy Hedden
Originally published in 2005.
It all started when my Aunt Pat gave me a set of bongos for my 6th birthday. They say some people are born to play, and I guess it’s true, because 42 years later I’m still a drummer. I still have those bongos, too. But it was a long road to becoming an unknown part-time rock star, with many detours and speed bumps along the way.
On Feb. 9, 1964, 10 months after receiving my life-altering birthday gift, came another musical watershed for me: The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. I decided right then and there I was going to become a musician. My brother Rob will tell you he had the same experience, as I’m sure millions of other kids did around the country. The next day Rob and I stood in front of my Dad’s hi-fi, strumming tennis racquets along to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” But for me, strumming didn’t feel right. The next day I traipsed into the kitchen, pulled out all of my mother’s Reverware and started banging away on a makeshift pots and pans drum set with a pair of spoons. She firmly but nicely asked me to stick to my bongos.
Just for the record, I admit to experimenting with other instruments. In third grade I pathetically attempted “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” on harmonica at an El Morro talent show. I also dabbled with the violin. This was at the behest of the school’s music teacher, Mr. Austin. He spoke with a thick German accent. “Look at za boyz chin. He vaz born to play za violin,” he told my Mom. What I remember most about Mr. Austin was that he used to pick his nose in class (presumably when we weren’t watching) and wipe the boogers behind his ears. No, really. I can’t make this stuff up. Again, the violin didn’t feel right, despite my supposedly God given chin. In fourth grade I bought a snare drum with the total savings from my allowance, $10. From that point on the die was cast. And by now my brother was strumming a real guitar instead of a tennis racquet. We were halfway to a band.
By sixth grade I had pieced together a drum set. Although Rob had formed a combo, I wasn’t invited, so I played along to records. My first big drumming chance came at a Top of the World talent show. I played along to “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. My buddy Dave Ross was in charge of the record player. Back in those days, there was a variable speed knob on the players. He thought it would be funny to speed up and slow down the record as I played. Yeah, hysterical. I was all over the song like a drunk on an icy road. My performance climaxed with the tom-tom attached to the kick drum falling into my lap; I hadn’t tightened it down properly. I learned two valuable lessons that day: choose your roadies wisely and always double-check your equipment.
By eighth grade Rob and I had come to an artistic agreement and had formed a band with his friend, Joe Epps. Rob played rhythm, Joe played lead. We had no bass player; it was kind of a dysfunctional power trio. We called ourselves “The Griefo Brothers.” Griefo was slang for marijuana. Now mind you, this was way before the Doobie Brothers ever hit the scene. I had a big fluorescent cannabis leaf painted on the front of my kick drum. Forget the fact that I had never seen or even smelled pot. Our biggest gig was playing at a school dance at Thurston. To this day I still can’t believe they let me through the door with that stupid leaf painted on my set.
Rob and I continued to play through my freshman, sophomore and junior years with a variety of different players. We were no longer the Griefo Brothers, but for the life of me I can’t remember what we called ourselves. We didn’t play any dances; we were more of a party band. The gig that I’ll never forget from those days was a huge bash at the Newporter Inn. It was a very big deal for me. It was the largest crowd I’d ever played for, maybe 500 people, and the first time I’d played for an all-adult audience. And when I say all adult, I mean it. Sponsored in part by Playboy magazine, it was petty wild. At one point a beautiful and thoroughly inebriated woman jumped up on stage and stripped naked from the waist up. She came over to my drums and started smashing my cymbals and banging my tom-toms with her hands. Not that my 15-year-old eyes were looking at her hands. I could barely hold on to my sticks. She danced over to the edge of the stage and lost her balance. Trying to steady herself, she grabbed on to one of our large PA speakers and ended up taking a header off of the stage. Fortunately, the speaker broke her fall. Now that’s what I call entertainment.
My senior year Rob moved up to Santa Barbara to go to college. We played parties up there, but they were few and far between. I really missed being in a steady band. Fortunately, that situation soon changed. I was working at the Gulf gas station that used to be on the corner of Legion and Coast Highway and one of the mechanics played in a hard rock band. They’d been having trouble with their drummer and he asked me to sit in. They liked what they heard and I got the job. I’d never played hard rock before and musically speaking, it gave me a chance to stretch my drumsticks. And all of the players were much older guys who lived in Mission Viejo, which seemed like the dark side of the moon to me. We used to call those people “Inlanders,” like they were some alien species. As it turned out, I made a lot of new, cool friends. The name of the band was Pinnacle. We played a bunch of parties and dances, including a couple at Laguna High. Not to beat my own drum, but we were really good, deftly covering such popular artists as the Doobie Brothers, Alice Cooper, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Brownsville Station. Remember the tune “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room?” But as most groups do, Pinnacle eventually disintegrated. Truth to tell, I was okay with it. I was burnt out on all of the head banging.
After that I went a long time without playing in a group. Then Rob came home from college and the greatest band I’ve ever played with was formed: Quayton and The Maxiwhackers. One of the things that set this band apart from the others was our eclectic repertoire. We covered groups like Steely Dan, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, The Jazz Crusaders, The Eagles and Loggins and Messina. We did original tunes as well. And Quayton and the Maxiwhackers had major production value. We had professional lighting and pyrotechnics, thanks to our buddy Mark Vuille, who is now a top lighting designer in Hollywood. Some of our most spectacular shows were at his house. For one such event, he actually had to tap directly into the power pole outside to get enough juice to run everything. The band also had persona; we didn’t go by our real names. Rob was Quayton and The Maxiwhackers consisted of yours truly as Stix Herculite, Doug McIndoe as Troy Nebula and Richard Perez as Apollo Antares.
What also made The Maxiwhackers different was that when you hired us, you got two groups for the price of one. We would often appear in costume on the same bill as a “guest band.” At a Christmas party, we did one set as Svenge and The Rudolph’s. I was Svenge, dressed up like an elf. The rest of the crew had on reindeer outfits, replete with light-up red noses. Rob played drums so I could sing lead. The big number in the set was “Jingle Bell Rock.” Rob prerecorded high-speed background vocals a la Alvin and The Chipmunks, which the rest of the group lip-synced. Right before the number, The Rudolph’s sucked on balloons filled with nothing more than air, telling everyone it was helium, so that people would think they were actually singing. The partiers bought the gag hook, line and antler. Man, we played lots of great gigs, including the opening of the food court on Broadway (there used to be a stage there). But without a doubt the zenith of the Maxiwhacker experience was our “Whack in the New Year” party.
The Laguna Beach Woman’s Club, December 31, 1981. The hall is at bursting capacity with all in attendance ready to party, party, party. But the natives are getting restless; the band is nowhere to be seen. The music was supposed to start at eight, and it’s nearly nine. Lifetime friend and master of ceremonies Tod Moore comes up to the microphone and announces that The Maxiwhackers have been arrested and that the police will soon be there to confiscate their equipment to make bail. Shouts of disbelief and angry cries go out over the crowd.
Just then a squad car rolls up, lights blazing. Four cops roll out and charge onto the stage, to the jeers of the New Year’s Eve revelers. But instead of confiscating the equipment, they pick up the instruments and explode into song. You guessed it; we were the cops, authentic uniforms and squad car courtesy of a friend of ours who worked for the L.B.P.D. At the end of the first set the whole band took turns doing a Chippendale’s style strip show. The “guest band” for the second set was a new wave group called The Splorks. At the end of the set we did a Devo-style rendition of The Beatles “Ticket To Ride.” On this tune, Rob played drums so I could sing lead. When it came time for the guitar solo, I instead whipped out a chain saw, fired it up and played it like a madman. I even jumped off the stage and chased people around with it (we’d removed the blade). After a break, the Maxiwhackers, dressed in more traditional rock garb, returned to the stage and played well past midnight. We really pulled out all the stops that night. We had a horn section for some numbers and guest vocalists for others, including Rob’s soon to be wife, Jan. We even made up “Whack in the New Year” buttons that were passed out to everybody at the party as mementos of the evening.
I’ve played hundreds of gigs, but nothing’s come close to topping that one. That being said, since then I’ve been lucky enough to play in a lot of great groups with a lot of talented people. If music is the food of life, I’ve feasted well.