Chapter 42 1976 - The solo year

I’s decision to go solo caught the press by surprise and Rod was overwhelmed by requests for interviews from Rolling Stone, Circus, Creem and all manner of major news magazines. I refused every one.

“There’s no better publicity than no publicity,” I stated. “Keeps ‘em curious.”

The former members of Golden Fingers were not equally silent. Spike, once I’s closest friend, was now his most vocal opponent.

“It may have been I that was the star of the band,” he told Rolling Stone, “but it was I, meaning me, that got the band going in the first place. That ungrateful bastard had no right to do what he did.”

Harsh words even came from the keyboard playing Osgood, “I joined the band to support Spike. I never even liked I.” Harsh words indeed, coming from the normally meek Osgood.

I did not let the negative press affect him. “It’s just sour grapes,” he told Rod. The fans are all that count, and they are as faithful as can be.

“Tell you what,” said I. “Throw them a bone. Put out a press release that I’ve got a new solo album in the works. That should silence the naysayers.”

“But you don’t have any such thing,” protested Rod.

“You know that and I know that, but they don’t know that,” claimed I. “But like I said, keeps ‘em curious.”

Rod left to work on that, and I considered his options. He could rely on the older group material, or he could release a solo album and really bring in an even larger audience, with him playing everything. On tour, he could use a band, but would rotate among all the instruments. That day, he started writing his first solo album.

During the next month, I wrote and laid down the basic tracks for twelve new songs. When it came time to record, Rod hired some session musicians to fill out the arrangements.

During the first recording session, it was clear that it just wasn’t going to work. The session players weren’t getting into the groove, and I kept firing them, one by one, until no one was left in the studio besides him and Rod.

“Now what are we going to do?” asked Rod. “There’s no one left in town that wants to play with you. You’re all on your own!”

“That’s not a problem, Rod,” I explained. “I can multi-track everything and it will truly be a solo album. It’s not like it’s the first time anyone’s done it. But it will be the best time!”

I’s recent attitude towards others was not reflected in the care his gave his music. He carefully laid down track after track after track of licks, fills, rolls, solos, riffs and everything else musical. He overlaid vocals on top of vocals, brought in every horn he had mastered, and even included a clarinet feature. In two months of extraordinary effort, I had completed his greatest work, perhaps the greatest work of all time for anyone: The Real Golden Fingers.

Sales were through the roof, and the album was still weeks from release. Advance copies to reviewers were in agreement; this was easily the finest recorded moment of all time.

Only a few months after Golden Fingers successful world tour, I was on the road again, but this time, he was the only star.

The arrangement was this: Rod had hired stage musicians, but I insisted that they not share the stage. They would be set up off stage, but with their amplifiers on the stage. A full ensemble of additional instruments was at I’s command. It was an effort to faithfully replicate every sound on the new album. I even brought in a twenty piece orchestra, again, sequestered off stage. Every empty instrument space had its own spotlight, and there were runways built into the audience so that I could share his greatness with the crowd at an intimate level.

The arena on opening night was beyond capacity. Press and cameras packed the first rows, the equipment for the worldwide simulcast was in place, and I was backstage.

Rod was amazed at the success, “You're really big time now, I.”

“Yeah, I never realized how much that band could hold back my full potential.” He looked out from the wings. “Imagine, just me on the stage and those people are just gonna eat it up.”

“It your biggest show ever, tonight,” Rod said. “If this one's a success you're home free. Your album has already sold nearly a million copies and it's still two weeks from release. Capture this one tonight and we'll ship gold!”

I held up his hand, “You can depend on these golden fingers for sure.” He reached into his pocket and with a magician’s flourish, produce some M&Ms. “Like one?” He popped a couple into his mouth.

“No, thanks.” Rod held up his hand in a stop motion. “I'm trying to diet.”

I seemed surprised. “You? Diet? I thought you were underweight.”

“It's a new thing I'm trying,” Rod explained. “If I diet now, I won't have to diet if I get fat later. Some old doctor told me about it. Says he read it somewhere.”

I was perplexed. “Sounds crazy. Who is he?”

“His name is Orson,” Rod revealed.

I’s eyes widened. “Dr. David Orson? From California?”

“Yeah, that's right,” Rod confirmed. “Why? Do you know him?”

“I sure do,” replied I. “He delivered me!”

It was Rod’s turn to be confused. “Where to? Did he used to be a cab driver?”

I couldn’t believe Rod’s dimwittedness. “Come on now. He’s a doctor. What are you thinking?”

Rod mulled over I’s statement before the light bulb flashed. “Oh!”

I let it slide. “Sure you don't want an M&M? Melts in your mouth.”

Rod defensively replied, “Yeah, I know all that garbage. I do watch TV, you know.” Finally, he relented. “O.K., I guess I'll fudge on my diet.”

I warned, “Better watch it. Those things are habit-forming.”

Rod assured him, “I'll watch my step.” He took a glance at his watch and extended a second warning. “You're due on stage in a few minutes.”

I replied, “I'm up. Although I gotta piss first.”

Rod glanced again at his watch, worriedly. “Save it for the stage. It'll set them on their ear to do something like that out there.”

I wasn’t so sure that was a great idea. “Naw. My dad always said ‘When natures calls, don't refuse it.’”

Rod took yet another glance at his watch. “Make it quick. Two minutes to show time.”

Without warning, calliope music began to play, and two clowns suddenly began marching in front of Rod and I. One of the clowns was carrying a sign that read 2 minutes to show time! The “2” was in a big red circle, and there was a picture of an animated hot dog and a bag of popcorn marching in their own parade.

Rod was taken aback. “What the hell was that?”

I was similarly affected. “I don't know, but it sure scared the piss outta me!”

Rod glanced at his watch once again. “Good thing, because you wouldn't have time now. Just one minute to show time.”

Once again the clown parade appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, accompanied by the calliope music and carrying a new banner claiming 1 minute to show time!

Rod yelled out, “Who hired these clowns, anyway?” He looked around and nobody admitted their guilt. Turning to I, he asked “Are you ready?”

I was pumped. “Yeah, they're gonna eat it up tonight.” He picked up his bass and headed for the stage. “Here I go!”

I’s appearance on the stage caused the crowd to go into a roar. I called for the crowd to quiet down, and he began his own introduction.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'm glad you came to see the World's Greatest Musician” The crowd started in again. I again called for calm. “I know I deserve your applause, but could you hold it back for just a minute?” The din finally subsided. “O.K., tonight's the first show of my new solo tour and it's gonna be great!” The crowd noise began to swell again. I yelled out, “Just give me your undivided attention with liberty and justice for all!”

His booming bass began the song. Those in the first row caught the full brunt of the deep sonorous experience. After thirty seconds of bass intro, the brass section began with its intro. The audience seemed a bit surprised when they saw no additional musicians on the stage.

I began to sing:

I first picked up my bass guitar at the age of seventeen.
I really wanted to be a star and I was playing clean.
After the first few notes, I could already tell that I'd be playing steady
'cause only golden fingers could play so heavy.

The crowd began to cheer at the words “Golden Fingers.” The anticipation, the possibility, that Golden Fingers would now join I on stage brought the crowd to a frenzy. I kept playing the bass part until the crowd noise diminished, and the off stage orchestra began to swell. I began the chorus:

Crowds would gather when I played.
Sometimes so many they even paid.
They hadn't heard music any finer
Than that which came from my golden fingers.

The crowd once again reacted to “Golden Fingers.” Surely now we would see the legendary group? I had to solo again for a while before the calmed down.

He continued singing;
I played in my first rock and roll band at the age of seventeen.
It didn't come off the way I had it planned, and so I split the scene.
I wrote some songs and I sang some tunes, and I knew that I was ready
'cause only golden fingers could play so heavy.

The realization began to set in that Golden Fingers would not make a surprise appearance. The Isaac fans in the front row sat down, disappointed. He sang the chorus, again.

Crowds would gather when I played.
Sometimes so many they even paid.
They hadn't heard music any finer
Than that which came from my golden fingers.

Then I took an unexpected mellow turn:

But life can't always be heavy;
Sometimes you've got to take it light.
But if I had my way
I'd play those heavy lines all through the night.

I returned to a heavier groove.

And now I've got it made, there ain't a cat alive who doesn't know who I am
And I play every night doin' my funky jive in a concert or a jam.
And if I wanted to, with my powerful sound, I could break down the levee
'cause only golden fingers could play so heavy

Crowds would gather when I played.
Sometimes so many they even paid.
They hadn't heard music any finer
Than that which came from my golden fingers.

The disappointment of an imagined, yet failed appearance by Golden Fingers had the crowd a bit subdued in their final response to the new song. I knew he had a big hit on his hands, but this was not the response he was expecting.

“You’re a bit foolish if you were expecting something else,” he told the crowd. The crowd murmured, but I went on. “But we’re all fools, aren’t we?” The crowd warmed a bit at the self-referential joke. “Well, I’m a special kind of fool!”

A fifties style beat began from the sound system, a piano keyboard banging out the introduction to I’s next song. I switched to electric guitar and began wailing. After an extended solo introduction, he began to sing.

I'm just a rock and roll fool.
Never went to rock and roll school.
Always breaking the rock and roll rules.
When I play my guitar
I become a rock and roll star.
I know that fame and fortune can't be very far.

Jump up, Jump back, give it a chance.
If you know how, get up and dance.

I is my name;
Rock and roll is my game.
They tell me that a crowd like this is so hard to tame.
But I just call to the mass,
"Quit smoking all that grass,"
So that you can witness what has come to pass.

For no apparent reason, I stopped, and the offstage musicians gradually faded out.

“Did you hear that last lick?” I called out to the crowd, “I surprised myself with that one. I guess nobody knows how good I really am. Not even myself!” He resumed singing and playing, after a leap in the air.

Jump up, jump back, give it a chance
If you know how, get up and dance

So you can call me your rock and roll king.
Playing guitar with that rock and roll ring.
It's something you'll remember, that rock and roll thing.
Now here's a rockin' goodbye
To get you rock and roll high.
Rock and roll will live 'til I die.

Jump up, jump back, give it a chance
If you know how, get up and dance

I finished up with another blazing solo, then stopped abruptly.

“Whew! Really burned up my fingers on that one,” he explained. “Hold it while I go back and get some water.”

I left the stage, and the crowd was puzzled by his behavior. It was a full five minutes before he returned. Some responded with “Boooooo” and not a few even gave up their seats and started to leave.

I moved into the classic Golden Fingers song “A Most Amazing Man” but the feel with full orchestration and brass did not conquer the crowd. More boos and hisses arose from the audience. When the statement of I’s greatness was sung, many in the crowd raised their rancor even higher. I couldn’t understand why everything had turned so ugly. If these were fans, he wouldn’t want them either.