Boomer Learns Stuff

Boomer's ready to get to work.

He's 3-1/2 years old, and he's sitting on what will become the roof of the addition to the family home in Western Springs, Illinois. He's got a hammer and nails, with which he will become very familiar over the seven decades to come.

Boomer (on the right) is helping his dad, a mechanical engineer, build the addition. Boomer's holding the end of a chalk line while his dad reels it in.

In between them is Bluffalo Bob, Boomer's younger brother, in a caveman crouch. A one-man wrecking crew, Bob holds a stick in his hand, looking for something to destroy. 

Boomer began working at age 12 when he had a paper route delivering the "Chicago Daily News." He mowed lawns and weeded gardens, worked on a factory assembly line, and learned to run lathes and mills at Miles Machine Shop in LaGrange, owned by a Czechoslovakian machinist who had fled communism when they seized power in Czechoslovakia after World War Two.

In 1964, Boomer saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. The girls were going crazy over them, and Boomer decided that he needed to learn to do what they were doing. He bought a Korean-made Conrad bass, and a year later, sold it to buy a Hofner violin bass, just like Paul McCartney. He played bass guitar at a few parties with his high school rock band, the Red Light District.

After graduating from Lyons Township High School, Boomer attended the University of Illinois in Champaign, majoring in Biology. He sold the Hofner and bought a Fender Precision Bass, and stopped shaving and getting his hair cut.

After his second year, he quit attending classes after he learned that he would not get drafted and sent to Vietnam because he would be 4-F (unfit for military service) due to being underweight. He figured that he could always go back to school, but he wasn't going to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a living playing in a rock 'n roll band: "Girls and Grub, Fun and Fame."

From top to bottom (Boomer's up a tree and out on a limb, as usual): 

Boomer (Fender Precision Bass and Vocals), Johnny B. Three (Hammond B-3 organ), Mister Big (Drums), Floater (Gibson Les Paul and Vocals), Jimmy M. (Fender Jazzmaster, Flute, Congas, and Vocals) 


Boomer played full-time in several Champaign-based rock bands, including Smith Seed Company, the Nickle Bag, and Genesis. (No, not that Genesis – the American bar band named Genesis. Boomer's band had been using the name "Genesis" before those Englishmen.)  

Boomer also played bass and sang in a folk-rock trio that performed at churches. He'd play Santana's "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman" and "Soul Sacrifice" at the Club Peorian on Saturday night; help pack up all the equipment and drive back to Champaign; and then Sunday morning, play Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" at church services in Mattoon or Farmer City.

Boomer Sang and Played Bass in Bands at:  

Champaign: The Red Lion, Chances R, The Brown Jug, Kam's, The Beacon, The Illini Student Union  

Bloomington: The Red Lion, The Library, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University  

Rantoul: The Officers' Club and the Servicemen's Club at the U. S. Air Force Base  

Charleston: The Warehouse, Sporty's Lounge  

Peoria: The Club Peorian, The Someplace Else, Warner Brothers' Circus  

Decatur: Mr. B's Lounge and an after-hours club that was used during the day to auction repossessed cars  

Tolono, Quincy, Farmer City, Effingham, Sadorus, Mattoon, Danville, LaGrange, Chicago, Lafayette, et al.

Genesis was working steadily, but little of the money was trickling down to Boomer. He was subsisting on toast and beans and brown rice, and was sleeping in a 5' X 10' walk-in closet with a window in a big Victorian house that was about to be torn down. He was having a great time but wanted to earn more money.   

During a break while playing on the main stage at Warner Brothers' Circus in Peoria, he had seen a one-man band perform in the second-floor lounge. Boomer realized that he could make a lot more money as a single, but it would take years of practice to pull it off: He would have to learn to play guitar with his hands while playing bass with his foot. And he couldn't play guitar well at all.

In 1972, he returned to the Chicago area and took a one-week course in bartending. He worked for five years as a bartender and beverage department manager at suburban Holiday Inns, studying (and occasionally playing with) the live musical acts in the lounges and banquet halls. 

He worked double shifts, saved his money, and bought an old two-flat in Aurora. He lived in the dilapidated upstairs apartment and rented out the already-remodeled downstairs apartment. He used the rental income to rehab his apartment and the exterior of the house. 

When his new solo musical act was ready, he quit working behind the bar, and started playing on the stage. Accompanied by a Roland Rhythm 77, an early drum machine that he turned on and off with his right foot, he sang and played guitar while using his left foot to kick out bass lines on a set of Moog Taurus bass pedals. 

From 1977 through 1979, he worked the Chicago nightclub circuit as a one-man-band, performing five or six sets a night, five nights a week. During the day, he continued his pre-med courses at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.