Sound Impressions

When I was fourteen I started a band with Neal Turen, Mark Berkowitz and Jeff Sarokin.  Full disclosure: I wanted to be cool so the girls would like me.

The boys in the band. Jeff Slater, Neal Turen, Mark Berkowitz and Jeff Sarokin

I had a little musical talent but it is not something that will ever appear on a resume or get listed as a hobby. My brother Mitchell and sister Diane both exhibited more talent at piano and performing. My wife has extraordinary musical ability so I know greatness when I hear it. My youngest daughter Fanny plays a mean guitar too.

But I was in it to impress girls.

Meet Gretsch - my new ticket to ride

Let’s just say I thought playing guitar might give me a certain aura of hip which to a 14 year old boy is very important currency. With the Beatles, Dylan, Rolling Stones and countless other bands from this era, any teenage boy knew that a guitar could be a passport to cool. From Zappa to Lennon to Hendricks, if I couldn’t play like them, at least let me have the hair and do a good job dressing for the role. (please note the ID bracelet- believe me they were cool back in the day)

Rondo Music on Rt 22 in Springfield
Through great persuasion and even greater whining, I convinced my father to take me to Rondo Music Store on Route 22 in Springfield. It is the kind of place that is stacked with Fender, Gibson and Martin Guitars as well as sheet music and every type of guitar pick made. Sounds like heaven.

My father, being a generous and loving man, thought that music and other artistic ventures would be a good thing for me. 

I remember that Dad made me pay for half of the cost which might have been $150 in 1969. This amount was a small fortune to a 14 year old though I had recently gotten some money as gifts for my Bar Mitzvah. But that Bar Mitzvah money was tucked away at Crestmont Savings Bank towards my first car. 

Dad's encouragement meant the world to me as did his contribution. I could barely scrape together my half from my job at Karlin’s Paint Store so I needed Dad's help so I could buy my dream guitar. 

Little did he and my mother realize that I had already agreed to allow the band to practice in our basement.  And by practice I mean play really loud rock and roll music. The more we played the more we assumed we could eventually find that special sound. Our style could be generously described as LOUD. And as we got better we got louder not unlike a lot of rock music. 

One criterion for a successful practice was making the house at 20 Warwick Circle rattle with loud musical vibrations. Occasionally we did play at Neil’s parent’s house (thank you Florence and Nat), but I think they too liked the idea of 20 Warwick Circle as the birthplace of this band…plus they hated the noise more than my folks.

So Dad and I bought a beautiful Gretsch electrical acoustic guitar. If memory serves me well, it was the Sunrise professional model for its sun burst coloring. It was a big and heavy guitar and when in the hands of a pro, made a beautiful sound. And of course Poppa George was there to take my picture to make sure if I didn't sound good- I looked good. 

Unfortunately, I was still working on learning the basic chord changes of C to F to G so my guitar didn't exactly sing. I did take pride that I got the tricky but all important chord of A minor down flat. It was a mysterious chord that sounded ominous and important.

Unlike my friend Jamie, who diligently studied jazz piano and really worked hard at it- I was a bit more interested in the image than the substance of music. I watched my sister Diane practice music for hours and days on end. It looked like real work. It didn’t really resonate with me besides I knew I needed to spend time getting my hair to look just right. Since my objective was to establish a band to make me attractive to the girls in my junior high school class, the music was somewhat secondary. 

I hope you appreciate my candor since wanting to be popular is was the goal I remember.

The band
The band consisted of four buddies. Neal played the electric organ. Mark played bass and the other Jeff played drums. They were all talented and had taken classes and studied. I recall taking some lessons but to me this band was like my first experience in marketing and promotion. It was a bit more about perception than reality. I didn’t think this was my path to Julliard and even at 14, my true passion was more connected with a camera than an amplifier and guitar.

I knew we needed to name ourselves properly by choosing the right image. We needed to sound cool- not lame. My role model was another band from high school called The Forty Fingers. To me they were as cool as it got and happened to be very talented. 

So I thought through a few choice names and eventually came up with The Mirrors Image. After convincing my friends that this was a much better name than their anyone else’s suggestions, we agreed on my idea. Our tag line was The Best in Music.

My business card from 1968 saved in one of my photo albums

We may have overstated things just a tad.

I thought our name, The Mirrors Image, was very existential. It was as if the reflection of a mirror had exactly the right vibe. Hip but not too obtuse. Where did I get this stuff?

In hindsight I was totally clueless but I did really dig the fact that the business card had some shiny qualities to it like a mirror.  It is painful looking back to see how self-absorbed I was but there it is – Jeff as a 14 year old in 1968, a reflection of my growing ego.

Our musical genre was basic rock and roll. I know we played Gloria (G L O R I A) because it was about the only song we really knew well. The song was written by Van Morrison who first released it with his group “Them”. The most popular version was recorded by The Shadows of Knight. If you can’t hear this song in your head while I write the letters G- L- O- R- I- A- than you are either too old, too young or you missed out on that whole ‘60’s thing.  Mark was our lead singer and had a pretty good voice. I sang back up and some lead but I’m not sure I really could carry a tune. Fortunately in this genre (junior high school rock band), talent wasn’t a prerequisite for success.

We probably played a few other tunes like House of The Rising Sun by the Animals. It had a simple enough chord change that even a novice like me could follow. I’m sure the fact that it was about a house of ill repute had great appeals to this fab four.

There is a house in New Orleans 
They call the Rising Sun 
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy 
And God I know I'm one

-Lyrics by Anonymous

We also did some instrumentals like Wipe Out in part because it gave Jeff Sarokin a chance to show his chops on the drums. I even learned the lead guitar lick which I must have practice over and over to get it right.

And of course we completed our repertoire with Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones…

When I'm drivin' in my car
and a man comes on the radio
he's tellin' me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to fire my imagination.
I can't get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that's what I say.

Lyrics by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

We did make some money as a band. Well, we had at least one gig. I love using the word gig because it made us feel like it was a real job in music. On April 7, 1968, I think we played a sweet sixteen party at Pal’s Cabin in West Orange. I can’t remember the girl who was having the sweet birthday but like much of my life, I do have pictures as we got ready to leave for the event. Once again, Poppa George, thanks for keeping these photos in albums.

My first dollar I earned in music. Also my last. 
I’m not sure that I ever achieved my goal of cool in junior high school but I did learn a few great life lessons. I learned how much fun it is to pick out a dream and that the urge to be creative can mature and hit a new chord. 

I have no regrets. 

Well, maybe I should have lost the hat and glasses. 

Too cool for school

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