Life in Lakewood, 50 Years Ago... Drums and Sons... (A Tribute To Declan Simon)
It's well-known among my readers that every now and then, I like to do a column about music. If you know ANYTHING about Gary Rice, you know that a great portion of my life has been connected to the world of professional music. This particular tale goes back fifty years, and begins with a pair of drums.
The drums that you see in the photo are Ludwig™ 400 model snare drums. At the time, those drums were truly considered to be among the best snare drums in the world. Turns out, all of you have heard that kind of drum on more songs than you could probably count. That type of drum was an in-demand piece of studio equipment, providing that essential back-beat and distinctive "rifle-crack" sound that defined the essentials of modern Rock and Jazz music. That professional-level drum sold for quite a bit of money back then, and as a result, was not always purchased by parents as a student's first drum.
In the early sixties, these two drums were purchased at Educators Music in Lakewood by two sets of caring parents who had sublime faith in the talents of their two young sons, both of whom were beginning their journey in the world of music.
This column tells the remarkable story of those drums... and those sons.
One of those drum sets went to me, and the other one went to Declan Simon. Declan and I shared the same drum teacher: Frank Tichy, who was one of the finest percussion instructors in the United States. Declan took his lessons from Mr. Tichy on Fridays at St. Clement's school. I took mine later on those same days, when Mr. Tichy came down to Educators Music. Declan and I played in school bands, and both of us occasionally had our issues with the "powers-that-were" at the time. Both of us went on to high school and graduated...and oh yeah, we both got involved with rock bands. In those days, "Rock" was still in a process of development. The term "Hard Rock" had just developed out of the Blues band tradition, and that style of Rock was indeed sprouting its wings of controversy in the fields of political commentary and social justice, as well as "pushing the envelope" in what would later become known as the societal counter-culture. That style of music became a primary area of interest for our bands.
Just as you have young ball players who compete on their respective fields of play, so too do young musicians compete among themselves--sometimes formally in area musical recitals and competitions, and sometimes less formally, like in a "battle of the bands." Declan and I met under those circumstances on a hot steamy night in Lakewood Park on July 22, 1970. More about that later.
Lakewood was a rather conservative place in those days. Surprisingly, however, there were plenty of places for young bands to play live music at the time. Junior highs, the Lakewood "Y," the high schools, and local churches regularly used live bands for teen dances. There was even a teen drop-in center coffeehouse at Lakewood City Hall. Occasionally, the local theaters would permit live music shows as well. As times got (shall we charitably say) a bit rowdier, these venues started to close, one by one.
I remember many special musical moments back then, like at age 12 when I was playing my snare drum in the living room along with the muffled drums on TV on the day of President Kennedy's funeral procession in 1963 after his brutal assassination in Dallas. I also remember our rock band's first "gig" in the basement of Lakewood Christian Church, and our lead singer whispering, "Don't open the curtain! If you do, I'll throw up!" Well, we did, and he did, and the audience LOVED it and the show went on. I remember junior high school band with my dad at Harding, and marching band with Mr. Strang at the high school. There are so many other musical moments too. Maybe you were there, and shared some of those memories with me? Declan was there with me at Lakewood Park in 1970, and the moment we shared together back then was sublime indeed.
As far as drummers go, next to me, Declan was the best (depending on whom you might ask, I write...with a smile). His technique was superlative, and his showmanship? Out of this world. His band was called "Haze" and my band was "Skie." In Lakewood's great "Battle of the Bands" that night, it came down to his band and mine. Mine was first up, and I'd like to think we were pretty good. I played a double-bass set of drums that was finished in champagne sparkle. My snare drum cracked sharply with rim-shot after rim-shot. We loved every minute of our time, as did the audience, apparently.
And then? It was time for the Haze to take the stage. NEVER have I heard a better rock band anywhere, and NEVER have I heard a better drummer than Declan Joseph Simon. His hair, in some sort of impossibly cool frizziness, flew all over the place as he attacked HIS snare drum as a snare drum had NEVER been attacked before. He virtually danced behind his silver sparkle drum kit. The Haze band was tight and incredibly cool, and Lakewood Park was stunned by that exposure to "Hard Rock" in its purest form. People still stop me on the street to talk about that evening.
Supposedly, our bands tied for first place. Both bands received similar trophies, both of which have been lost to time. We lost Declan too, not long ago. While enduring his illness, Declan still found the time to play his music, volunteer at his church, and participate and inspire others in both religious and support groups. To many, he was a true hero as he endured the many challenges that came with his condition. To many more, he was an angel of assistance to the needy, helping with community meals and numerous inner city activities.
Declan was truly a part of the pulse of this city. Oh my friend, how I miss you. This may sound a bit egotistical, but at this point I could care less: This city didn't even HAVE a pulse until those two drums of ours gave it one!