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Bad ’56: On Being Almost High ‘n’ Dry

October 12, 2014

People are often idiots, and unfortunately, on 28 October 1981, people included 17-year-old me. That was the night I saw the young, soon-to-be massive Def Leppard in concert and could not be bothered to care.

My buddy Gary and I were pumped to go see Blackfoot as I drove us from Ogden to Salt Lake in my hopped-up 1956 two-tone (brown and tan) Chevy pick-up with heavy duty springs on the back that made it sit way forward and the 350 V-8 engine — with overhead cam and a four-bolt main, whatever the hell that meant — that had been pulled out of a ’69 police cruiser.  We were blasting “deep album cuts” on FM 99 radio through the 100-watt speakers that sat tucked away behind the saddlecloth-covered seat mounted in wooden boxes custom made for me by my friend Scott in shop class.  As we flew along the freeway with the windows down, we had no doubt that we were living up to the claim made by my ride’s personalized license plates; we were definitely the “Bad ’56.”

Bad '56

Just outside Bountiful however, our buzz got harshed big time when a loud clank was followed by my bad-ass ¾-ton Chevy limping its way over onto the shoulder before it proceeded to stall completely.  It would turn out that I had thrown a rod and destroyed the motor, but I didn’t know that at the time.  All I knew was that Blackfoot were set to southern rock the mountainwest in less than two hours and we were screwed.

My 1956 Chevy 3600 3/4 Ton Pickup - "Bad '56"

My 1956 Chevy 3600 3/4 Ton Pickup – “Bad ’56”

Despite the setback, Gary and I had three things going for us that would save the day.  First, in those pre-cellphone days, the truck had given up the ghost within a short walk of a gas station with a payphone.  Second, it turned out my parents had already gone to Salt Lake earlier that day to visit my grandparents and were only about 7-8 miles away.  And third, I had a stepdad and grandpa who, while they couldn’t have given two turds for my beloved hard rock, were nonetheless selfless men who took pity on dumb-ass teenagers who routinely got themselves into fixes.

Within an hour, stepdad and grandpa had come to the rescue with two more trucks – with functioning stock engines vice souped-up jerry-rigs – and a tow rope.  With fed-up head shakes and pissed-off grumbles, the two much-loved grown-ups sent us idiot kids off to our rock and roll malarkey in one truck while they stayed behind to tow the now differently bad ’56 to the shop.  Gary and I made it to the Salt Palace with only minutes to spare and settled into our reserved seats ready to rock.

The opening band, which we had never heard of, came onto the stage and started to jump around like jackrabbits to the tune of some apparent greeting song with a repeated chorus of “Hello America.” The singer was wrapped in a huge flag and appeared to have just mainlined 10 cups of weak American coffee.  When the front man finally tossed aside the stars and stripes, we saw that he was wearing tight spandex trousers and Union Jack-bedecked sleeveless T-shirt and high-top basketball sneakers.  He shrieked and screamed “Woo!” a lot and led his band of skinny lads rapidly through seven or eight songs in what seemed to be an amped-up effort to finish the set and get offstage as quickly as possible.  I remember thinking that the band members looked really young, like around my age, and that seemed wrong to me somehow. How could these punk kids with their too-fast, too crunchy music be on the same stage that the glorious Blackfoot would soon own?

Def Leppard (punk kids)

Def Leppard (punk kids)

I don’t remember a single song played by Def Leppard that night other than the opener.  They were touring their 1981 album High ’n’ Dry, which would end up regularly played by my friends and me as we dragged the boulevard the very next spring and remains my all-time favorite Leppard LP.  But on that 28th of October, I just wanted this crap band out of the way so the real show could begin.  As it turned out, I don’t think I was the only one in the crowd that cold Salt Lake City night that couldn’t be arsed.  I remember plenty of boos, although I guess the folks could have been yelling “Doo-eff Leppard.”  What I’m sure of was that there was no encore, nor even minimal call for one. Idiots, the lot of us.  Man, if I could go back in time… what kills me most is that they probably played what would become my most beloved Leppard song, “Mirror Mirror (Look into My Eyes),” while I inattentively scanned for scantily-clad groupies and pined for some southern boogie.

Mirror Mirror

Of course, it is only in hindsight that the concert was not all it should have been.  The mighty Blackfoot thundered like a marauding herd of buffalo, fitting as they were touring 1981’s Marauder album.  I most recall singer/guitarist Ricky Medlocke and bassist Greg T. Walker towering over the stage that those doofus English kids had previously unsuccessfully tried to fill.  Highlights were the grooving “Every Man Should Know (Queenie)” with its lyric for the ages ”You mess with my honey / I’ll mess with your face” and a blistering extended live take on “Highway Song.”

Highway Song

Blackfoot (Not Punk Kids)

Blackfoot (Not Punk Kids)

The ’56 Chevy was never the same.  It went through three engines over the course of the few years I had it; rod throwing was apparently my thing in the early ‘80s.  Roughly 15 months after the Blackfoot show, the Pyromania album made fools of all of us who had dismissed the crappy opening band and launched Def Leppard into the teenage Utah stratosphere as if propelled by a Thiokol-built rocket booster.  As for Blackfoot, Marauder ended up being the last of their releases deemed worthy of my “discriminating” juvenile palate and I unceremoniously moved on.

Maturation, personal evolution, and developing openness to new things are wonderful processes all, and I’m glad I’ve since learned to want to give stuff a chance.  Nonetheless, I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a time machine today that would carry me back to that October night at the Salt Palace so I could tell my punk self to please turn around and listen!!

Def Leppard - High 'n' DryBlackfoot - Marauder

From → Music

  1. You know, I didn’t get early Def Leppard are first. It was too wild and out of control. Pyromania was what I considered the start of “good” Def Leppard.

    Then I heard High N’ Dry and changed my mind!

    But I still think On Through the Night is a little too rough. A little too unpolished. I guess the band were just that way naturally eh?

  2. Really enjoyed this and it’s great to have you back.

  3. Don’t beat yourself up too much. Many people ignore opening bands only to regret it a year or two later. I would have love to been at this concert, good write up.

    • Thank you, and many kudos to you, sir. I have especially appreciated your couple of pieces on the Plasmatics over recent months.

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