Sam & Dave Take Me to School, 1968

Sam & Dave Take Me to School, 1968
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I never saw Alonzo Daniels' gun... but, I believed the rumor.
The whole school just sorta knew that he carried a loaded .38.
This was back in the days when teenage weaponry was limited to home-made zip-guns and switchblades. Alonzo was equipped with real no-kidding gun!
That was incredibly, radically, heavy shit.

My homeroom was right across the hall from his homeroom. Alonzo did whatever he wanted. He came and went as he pleased. Totally against the rules, during homeroom period, he'd laconically lounge out in the hall, always with a toothpick peeking out of the corner of his mouth. Mr. Spielman, the deeply feared discipline enforcer/assistant principal, the single genuinely scariest adult in the whole school, would walk by, smile and politely say, "Good morning Alonzo..." And Alonzo would smile back and say, "Yyyyyeah..."

I saw and heard that with my own eyes and ears.

My seat in my homeroom was directly opposite, and the closest to, the room's back door. I was able to watch Alonzo every morning. I even interacted with him now and then. I can see still his face. He was sleekly handsome, looking a bit like the rapper, Rakim. He was 16 and still in junior high school, having been left back twice. Yet, I remember sort of getting why and how he could have the 35-year-old (!) girlfriend we'd all heard about.

While most of the bad brothers in Rothschild JHS 294 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn were wearing bold and bright striped Sinbad sweaters and gaudy neon sharkskin slacks, Alonzo's style was quietly, but obviously also expensively, non-flashy... mostly subdued charcoal grays and muted browns and beiges.

He was granite hard. Shark's eyes. Wow... I can still feel that fear-vibe decades later just picturing his stare. He also had that kind of smooth confident easy going manner some psychos have as a natural facade. He was always polite and even friendly towards me. Throughout the entire school, having the longest hair at Rothschild, I was "Beatle". Alonzo called me that, too. But, I do recall him snapping at me once when I said something that I thought he'd laugh at but that he took as out of bounds. It was just a split second snarl but it was seriously scary! Then... he let it go. I felt a flood of relief as I saw that he'd moved on and that I didn't mean shit to him.

One afternoon, my pal, Siggy and I were doing some document organizing for Mr. Spielman for some kind of extra credit. Alonzo sauntered into Spielman's office and announced, "Good afternoon, fellas, I'll only be a minute..." and, while we sat, frozen and fascinated, he walked over and opened up the top drawer of Spielman's most important file cabinet. He found his own folder, removed two yellow referral cards. There were two different color cards. The blue ones were bad. The yellow ones were worse. He turned to us, holding up two yellow cards, and, as he tore them into little pieces, he said, "One more of these and I'd be expelled. [chuckle] I can't have that. Now, you know I was never here, right."

Siggy and I nodded and said "Sure, Alonzo."

"Be good, boys." and out he strolled.

Oh man, Sig and I were just outraged and, of course, we loved it.

Alonzo Daniels was surely headed to an early death or jail or ill-gotten riches or all of the above. But, if there was ever a genuine thug...!

Yet, even with daily interactions with guys like Alonzo, even though my friends and I were going to this hard-ass all black junior high in Brooklyn, it was still a tremendously trepidatious thing to venture uptown to 125th St to catch the Soul and R&B acts that we loved at The (legendary) Apollo the year that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

But, then, two Saturdays before Christmas, 1968, I was one of three little paddyboy white kids from Brooklyn (along with Benjy and Andy, both from the same school, both in fearful awe of Alonzo the way I was, both music-freaks like me) making our way to the Fillmore East and into a sold out crowd of other paddyboy white kids... musical thrill-seekers all, there to witness The Sam & Dave Review. A super rare chance to see these deities somewhere 'safe'.

And while the anticipation was/is always high before the headliners' set, the Fillmore East crowd that night had an absolutely giddy and crazed vibe as Show Time neared... All of us knowing we are about to witness The Real Muhfuggin' Thing.

We'd scored killer tickets... Like third row of a ten row lower mezzanine. Dead center.

Quick Digression... Looking back... one of the most amusing moments, for me, in the Fillmore East's history was when Bill Graham announced, that due to all kinds of rising costs, ticket prices were gonna go from $5.00 for the orchestra and $4.00 for the mezzanine and $3.00 for the balcony up to the unheard of, the scandalously blatant ripoff prices of, $3.50, $4.50, $5.50. The radical weekly, The East Village Other, and less-but-still radical Village Voice were calling for boycotts, etc. A fifty cents increase. Two quarters. Damn that Bill Graham, capitalist pig!

Anyway, the lights finally went down, the weird old b&w cartoon that Joshua's Light Show was running faded out, and out walked four dapper black guys in hot pink silk Nehru jacketed suits. It was Sam & Dave's drummer, bassist, organist, and guitarist. They kicked it off with a fast and blistering take on, of course, "Green Onions".

Oh... My... God! It wasn't Booker T and the MGs... but this was a stone-cold actual Stax/Volt band... and these four were playing at that level of lethal expertise and stone grooooooove. They followed it with a killer version of Booker T's "Time Is Tight".

The guitarist then stepped up to the mic, and in a smooth deep voice, intro-ed the sax section, and four dapper black guys came out in lime green Nehru jacketed suits. They quickly launched into another wicked instrumental with two tenors, a baritone, and a bass sax.

Then, stepping up to the mic, one of the sax players intro-ed the horn men... two trumpets, two trombones. Four dapper black guys walked out in skyblue silk Nehru jacketed suits.

They did one last instrumental. This band was blindingly tight. All 8 horns were in perfect tune. The sound mix was perfect. The 8 brass guys all did real dance steps!

The sax players' moves were different than the horn players' moves. This was serious shit. And the guitarist and bassist did a Soul version of the Judas Priest/KISS/ZZ Top tandem moves with the necks of their axes. The paddyboy white kid audience was losing its collective minds. My friends and I were swooning in Real Deal musical ecstasy.

During this instrumental with all 12 musicians onstage, I turned to my pals and broached an all-important subject with Ben and Andy. We had a quick fierce debate, probably like half the audience, no doubt, over what color Nehru jacketed suits Sam & Dave were gonna be wearing. Hot pink, lime green, sky blue were already up on stage...

So, what was it gonna be? Ruby red? Livid lavender? Psycho orange?

We went through every pastel, every day-glo, every flourescent... stumped!

Someone then stepped up to the mic and announced, "And now... Ladies and Gentlemen, it's truly Star Time... Please welcome... SAM... AN... DAVE !!!"

And out of each wing, one from the left and one from the right, walked two dapper black men in... BLACK Nehru jacketed suits.

Ben and Andy and I all looked at each other and didn't say anything. We just shook our heads in awe and admiration, knowing we'd just been absolutely taken to school.

The Cool was utter! The Confidence was utter! The Elegance was utter! The We Mean Business was utter! When you are deadly bad, there is no need to flaunt!

We are Sam & Dave... I am Alonzo Daniels... We don't need no stinkin' pastels!

You know that old "We're not worthy" bit? Well, there were about 3000 white kids bowing and scraping as we roared with dazzled delight. Fawning? Fuck it... That was exactly how it felt.

To say the energy level that night was dazzling doesn't bring you close to the moment. It was an event of pure joy and worship.

Sam & Dave don't seem to be well remembered as performers, more like two good singers who got lucky to have had that batch of songwriters. But, they was dueling charisma on a monumental level. And, if you think about it for a moment, you'll realize we were treated to about a dozen actual Greatest Hits. An incredible batch of classics.

As fantastic as "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'" were, "I Take What I Want", "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody", "You Don't Know Like I Know" were better. On "I Thank You", the band dug in and just tore us all to shreds. And "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" pretty much just stopped the show.

But, peepus, let me tell ya... having raved about all those hits...

40 years later, I get that chill up my arms when I think about Dave's ending of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," the Otis Redding masterpiece.There was no question that Sam Moore was the Man of the two... and he was flawlessly, deliciously, stirringly, brilliant all night.

Maybe that's what drove Dave's performance on "IBLYTL".

Mr. Prater soul-screamed like a man possessed, spending half the time on his knees, for at least 3 minutes (by your clock!) while the band just kept pile-driving the whole coda forward... Louder, and ever more aggressive... The drummer pounding, the horns blasting, the guitarist solo-ing. An amazing display of building and sustaining... A scorching groove and soul crescendo that put me in a bliss-trance.

Sorry, I know I'm writing like someone at Cosmo... but, typing this out got me all hot and bothered. Gimme a glass a water.

Anyway, suffice it to say, whether or not my own style always complied, the Life Lesson of The Black Suits has remained with me always.

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