How I met Karch

MVCOM-KARCH 1Blogger’s note: The following account of how I met Karch has been refuted by my bassist/brother, Voger. He sez I remember it all wrong. But anyways, I’m tellin’ it like I remember it. I guess it’s a lesson of how time colors memory. When I recently watched “Return of Count Yorga” (1972), which I saw in a movie theater when I was 12, I remembered some key plot points incorrectly. So I guess I’m officially at that age. Crap.


MVCOM-MM BUY ITI’ve been goin’ back to Sojo (South Jersey, that is) lately to record with our band Mad Jack (or whatever we’re gonna call ourselves this time). It’s four guys. I’ve known ’em a long time: Karch since 1976. Fro since 1972. Voger since 1961 (when he was born … he’s my little brother).

Karch plays guitar. That’s an understatement. He’s the most naturally gifted musician among us. He seems to do everything on instinct. He reminds me of Jimmy Page more than anyone. Not necessarily his playing style, though he sounds very Jimmy Page-esque on “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused.” More for his “burnt-ness.” Like Jimmy Page, Karch sounds like he might fall off a cliff at any moment, but he never does. Karch can employ speed, but he’s no shredder. Sometimes when you listen to Karch, it feels like 1977. You kind of feel like you’re high.

Here’s how I met Karch. It was September of ’76. I was a freshman at the College Formerly Known as Glassboro State. I commuted during my freshman year. I decided that to make this college thing work, I had to quit the band and concentrate on my studies. I recall that one Saturday afternoon, I was working on an article for the college magazine. It ended up as a critical piece about the practices of the Student Activity Board, which booked entertainers, lecturers, movies and other events. I was working on it at the kitchen table of my folks’ house.

Karch played sizzle-burnt-toasted riffs.
Karch plays sizzle-burnt-toasted riffs.

Meanwhile, my little brother Voger, who was/is our bassist, was carrying on without me — him and our buddy, the Bummahead, our singer. In the previous year, the three of us had been in two bands: the Creeps (a lot of Bowie) and Squadron (a little Robin Trower). So Voger and the Bummahead were trying to start a new band. They were gonna jam with a drummer named Norc (who was Cherry Hill East class of ’76, like me) and some guitarist buddy of Norc’s called Karch. Voger remembers that this guy Karch, who Norc called “Burly” (which was a joke, ‘coz this guy was pretty scrawny), showed up to the front door, a long-hair carrying his guitar. It wasn’t even in a case.

So there I was upstairs in the kitchen working on this article, while from the cellar, I hear these guys start to play. Man, it sounded great. Norc really hit his drums hard. And Karch, well, Karch played like a real rock star. He was the best guitarist we’d ever heard play live outside of the Philadelphia Spectrum.

That was September. By December, I was back in the band. I really don’t remember what happened in-between. I don’t know what kind of a conversation I had with my brother about coming back in. I’m sure he can enlighten me; he’s got the magic memory banks.

Our first gig was that December. We played an event hosted by the Cherry Hill Police Athletic League. Who knows what B.S. we told them about our band to get this gig? We told all of our friends to come to the gig. (By “all of our friends,” I mean a lot of long-haired dirtbags.) So there was an inordinate number of long-hairs at this PAL event.

But the cops were being really cool to us. They were talking about search-and-seizure, it turned out — a subject near and dear to our hearts. (You can guess why.) The cops’ underlying message was anti-pot, of course, but the long-hairs had a lot of pointed questions for them. The long-hairs would raise their hands and ask questions like, “If someone has something illegal in their locker, and …” blah blah blah. The cops would answer their questions earnestly. But what was really going on was this: The long-hairs were picking the cops’ brains to find out how not to get busted with weed. I suppose it still worked out in the cops’ favor, because by being forthright about the whimsicalities of search-and-seizure, they decreased the chances that the long-hairs would have weed on them at the wrong place at the wrong time, which perhaps made the world a little bit safer.

Oddly, we got this gig without having decided on a band name. As I recall, Norc was pushing for Sonic Attack. Voger and Bummahead wanted us to be the Back Street Kids, which was a Black Sabbath song from the Sabs’ then-current album, “Technical Ecstasy.” It had lyrics like: “Nobody I know will ever take my rock ’n’ roll away from me.” Me, I was leaning toward the Back Street Kids, because at the time, I was obsessed with Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who died the previous March. Koss’ solo album, which I lived on, was titled “Back Street Crawler,” as was his solo band. So I was down with the Back Street Kids. But I think Norc won the decision somehow. However, when the person who was going to introduce us asked our name, he happened to ask Voger and Bummahead, not Norc. So Voger and Bummahead pulled a fast one and said, “Back Street Kids.” When we were introduced as such, Norc gave Voger and Bummaheard a dirty look.

Our opening song — the first song this 40-year-old band ever played — was a not-very-original original, an instrumental we titled “The Back Street Boogie.” It was just chunky rock ’n’ roll in E. This led into “Remake/Remodel” by Roxy Music. So already, we were playing stuff nobody wanted to hear.

But the infusion of new talent — namely, Norc and Karch — really changed us. We sounded “real” for the first time. Plus, Norc and Karch introduced some songs that (gasp) weren’t Bowie or Roxy. The two I remember best are both Foghat songs: “Nothin’ I Won’t Do” and “Honey Hush.” We sounded kinda mean. I remember our old drummer JohnYoung was there at the PAL gig. He had always pushed for this harder stuff, but we kept with the Bowie. So here we all were on this particular evening, and JohnYoung’s not in the band, and lo and behold, we’re doin’ harder stuff. I remember JohnYoung saying something like: “This is the kind of stuff I wanted to do all along!” He was a little pissed.

So Norc and Karch gave us that edge. Karch is still one of my best friends in the world. Karch is the kind of guy who just makes you laugh. For a while, he always brought me a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to practices. Thanks to Karch’s awesome guitar playing, the Back Street Kids got respect at the Galaxy on the White Horse Pike in Somerdale. That was important to us. We couldn’t have done it playing our shit covers of “Suffragette City” and “Watch That Man.” But we did it with our own songs, thanks to Karch more than anyone. Karch played real stuff.

Then our band name got wussy-fied by the Back Street Boys, and we had to change it. Oh, the humanity.