Being born on Friday the 13th might seem like being born under a bad sign.
If every person had to choose a song that was meant for them, Born Under a Bad Sign would be my song. Why? Simple, ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all’, and, it all started the day I was born, Friday the 13th.
Just so you know, I don’t suffer from Frigga triskaidekaphobia. Bet you had to look at that a couple of times to even try to pronounce it, never mind figure out what it means. It means a fear of Friday the 13th, which I don’t have, although there were many days when I wondered if the superstition was true. However, I’m pretty sure the Friday the thirteenth birthday thing had nothing to do with the problems I faced growing up. I think most of my mishaps were certainly not unique to me. I’m sure they happened to most kids growing up.
Like when I was six months old, my cousin dropped me off our second floor balcony. Thankfully there was a big snowdrift below the balcony. I don’t remember it but my mom said I was seriously pissed off and screamed any time my cousin came near me. When I was two, I crawled under my aunt’s deck when we were visiting one day and found a nice fluffy black and white kitty to play with. Thankfully I was wearing old clothes and bathing in tomato juice is kinda fun. I was careful not to pee in the bath ‘cause it tasted good too. When I was two and a half, I learned why you shouldn’t stick things into electrical outlets. Thankfully I already had curly hair. Then, when I was three, I learned why you shouldn’t climb into the drier if you have a six-year-old brother. Thankfully it only took Mom a few seconds to wonder what Josh thought was so funny in the laundry room. I punched him in his little doey and made him cry the first chance I got.
And so it went, year after year after year until I turned thirteen. I had somehow survived my first thirteen years with relatively few scars. Then, a week after my thirteenth birthday, the ultimate stroke of bad luck hit me. With this stroke of bad luck I wasn’t so sure there was going to be a thankfully part. It was more like there was only an unfortunately part. Unfortunately, I had found an Internet site with pictures of guys…doing things…and playing football wasn’t one of them. After looking at them for a several minutes, well okay, an hour, I realized I wanted to do the things they were doing. Shit!
It didn’t take long to come to the realization that I was the one thing all my buds made fun of. I was a poof...a faggot...a queer…a fudge-packer. I don’t even think they knew what fudge-packer meant. Needless to say, I did not jump up and do the happy dance. Which was probably a good thing, as I was wearing tight jeans and would have hurt myself if I had. However, I’m not stupid. I did bookmark the website I was on.
Speaking of which, for those of you who do not have your own computer, bookmarking a gay porn site on your mom’s computer is NOT a good idea. Thankfully my mom had no problem with me being gay. Unfortunately, it was one of the few times she called me Matthew Jameson Carter instead of Matt, and I might not be on the Internet again until I move out and have my own apartment.
So what does a gay thirteen year old, who, ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck, wouldn’t have no luck at all’, and who will never touch a computer keyboard again until he’s twenty, do? The only thing he can do. Ask his mom to buy him a Fender Stratocaster and learn to play the blues. I mean...duh! What else?
That is exactly what I did. Now considering my penchant for bad luck, you would automatically think I would have electrocuted myself plugging in the amp or something, right? Well, I didn’t. In fact, as it turned out, I was a natural. I don’t know where it came from but it was there. Within a few months, I could play better than my instructor. I could listen to a song a couple of times and I could play it, note perfect. Scary...huh? Well the neighbours thought so and wanted us evicted a.s.a.p….assholes.
Mom did go shopping and bought me a set of headphones. There should be a warning on those things to turn the volume to zero before you plug them in and turn them on. My ears were ringing for a week... and, fuck that gets annoying fast. Anyway, I was soon adding my own riffs and taking it to a whole new level. It wasn’t even like I was playing the music. It’s hard to explain. It was like the music was coming from somewhere else and being channelled through me or something. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t focus on it. It just happened.
One day when Grandma was over, my dad came into my room to see who I was listening to, and probably to give me shit for playing the stereo so loud, cause even Grandma could hear it. He nearly fell over when he realized it was me. It’s not like he hadn’t heard me play before, but tonight I was on a roll. I mean I was cookin’. He stood there for almost half an hour listening to me with his mouth hanging open before he ran into his and Mom’s bedroom, grabbed his amp and bass guitar, ran back to my room, and we jammed. We got totally lost in the music, that is until a friendly police officer came into the house and reminded us that it was midnight and a couple of the neighbours actually wanted to get a few hours of sleep in before they had to go to work tomorrow. Go figure.
By the time I was fifteen, I had a band, aptly named Bad Sign, and we were playing at a number of venues like blues clubs and community events around the city. Our signature opening song was, what else, Born Under a Bad Sign. The band consisted of me on lead guitar, my dad on bass guitar, and my best friend, Bobby on drums and vocals. Bobby even had one of those deep raspy voices that was just perfect for singing the blues. When I would break off into a ten or fifteen minute guitar solo, people would go nuts…dancing and clapping. Most of the time I never even noticed though. It was just me and my guitar. The crowd and the rest of the world would simply vanish.
We were actually invited to play at Calgary’s blues festival. It was at the festival that I met Reg. Reg was the keyboardist for a band called Rocky Mountain Blues and when it came to the keyboard, he had magic fingers. As I watched him play, it immediately became evident he was something special. The grin on his face, his body language, everything, told anyone paying attention that he wasn’t just playing the blues; he was living the blues. I could tell he was like me, the rest of the world disappeared and it was just him and his keyboard. Even if he had been eighty years old, five six, three hundred pounds, and hadn’t been able to see his feet without a full-length mirror for the last thirty years, I still could have watched and listened to him for hours. In actual fact, he was six two, about a hundred and forty pounds, and had no problem seeing his feet.
As soon as they had finished their first set, I caught up to him backstage and offered to buy him a drink…soft drink of course. When I introduced myself and asked if he wanted a Coke, he just smiled and replied, “Yeah, please,” and we walked over to the confection stand. After we got our Cokes, burgers, and fries, we walked over and sat under a big tree in the park. We chatted about almost everything, but mostly about our love of music and the blues. We hit it off instantly. Almost before we realized it, an hour had passed and it was time for his band’s second set and we quickly made our way to the stage.
He had seen us do our second set earlier and was really impressed so at the end of their set, he called me up and asked me to join them onstage for an encore jam. I grabbed my guitar and amp and was ready to go in two minutes. He started. He was mesmerizing and I had to actually force myself to pay attention so I could step into the jam and do my thing, and I did. We finished the set alternating back and forth, challenging each other to keep up or better the other. When we wrapped up the jam, the crowd went absolutely wild. They were cheering, clapping, shouting, whistling, and demanding more. It was an unbelievable feeling. Not just the applause, but also the feeling we shared as we jammed. We were one on that stage.
It wasn’t until one of the officials came up to us that we realized our jam had lasted forty minutes. Fortunately, the band that was to follow was enjoying the jam so much, they didn’t mind starting a half hour late. The write-up we got in the local paper was amazing, but nothing compared to the write-ups we received in a couple of blues magazines and ezines. We had become the blues phenomenon of the decade, the future of the blues, blues reincarnate, and countless other metaphors. Wow…we had just gone from being kids in a band to being a metaphor. Now, if I knew what the hell a metaphor was.
There was no way either of us wanted to lose the other. The feeling we got playing together was just too awesome. That made the big topic of conversation the two of us playing together…and that did pose one problem. He had a band and I had a band and both of us felt a strong loyalty to the guys in our bands. It didn’t seem right to split everyone up just to further our own careers. Reg’s band consisted of him on keyboards, his mates, Jason on bass guitar and Rob on lead guitar, and his dad on drums. As you know, my band consisted of me on lead guitar, my dad on bass guitar, and my best friend, Bobby on drums.
It should have taken some work, but it didn’t. I know it makes us sound callous, but we simply got rid of the parent factor….well sort of. Now we had Reg on keyboards, me on lead guitar, Rob on rhythm/lead guitar, Jason on bass guitar, and Bobby on drums. Reg’s dad and my dad became our managers, drivers, teachers, and backup. We had a couple of practices, but we hardly needed them. We jelled from the first note. It was like we had played together for decades. The new Bad Sign was raring to go. It wasn’t long before we were invited to appear on several local television shows, and to perform at several more blues festivals. We even appeared as the opening band for two of the top blues bands when they were in town. It was truly becoming the most exciting time of our lives.
We were even asked to perform at the Big Valley Jamboree, which is a huge open-air concert held south of Edmonton every year….in Big Valley…duh. Some of the biggest Country, Country & Western, Bluegrass, and Blues bands from Canada, the US, Europe, and all over play there every year, so it was pretty cool to be asked to perform. We arrived there on the Friday night and were scheduled to play Saturday afternoon. We had my dad’s motorhome and Bobby’s dad’s motorhome as well as Jason’s pickup with a camper on it. All our equipment was in Jason’s camper.
Reg and I wanted to go over our song list for the next day. Rob, Jason, and Bobby joined us for a couple of hours. At about eleven, they decided to call it a night and just Reg and I were left. We chatted for another half hour about the songs we had chosen before we were ready to go to sleep as well. We set up the fold out bed in the living room part of the motorhome, undressed down to our briefs and crawled under the covers. When I woke up the next morning, Reg was laying half on top of me with one leg between mine, and his face pressed against mine. I just lay there for several minutes enjoying our closeness when I felt him move and snuggle up even closer. I could have stayed like that forever. Unfortunately, the bedroom door to the motor home flew open and Jason came bounding out. At that point, of course, Reg woke up. When he realized how cosy we were, he sat up in a flash.
Jason looked at us for a second and then apologized because he didn’t want to embarrass us by interrupting something. He said he should have known we were together, since we had chosen to stay up late. Reg just sat there with his mouth open for a few seconds before a tear rolled down his cheek. I think at that moment, Jason realized he may have jumped to the wrong conclusion and had just outed Reg. He sheepishly stepped out of the motor home and then poked his head back in a few minutes later to quietly announce breakfast would be ready in about fifteen minutes.
“I’m sorry,” Reg said, after we had sat there for several minutes in silence.
“Why?” I responded with a smile, “I’m not.”
He just stared at me for a minute as my smile grew bigger. After a minute or so, I took his hand, brought it up to my lips, and kissed it. When I did that, it dawned on him what I meant.
“You’re,” he started before pausing.
“Gay,” I finished for him, “Yeah.”
His face immediately broke out into a huge smile. “Seriously?” he asked.
“Yeah seriously,” I replied, “And, by the way, I could easily get used to you breathing in my ear when I wake up in the morning.”
“There is a God,” he whispered.
I immediately leaned in and gave him a kiss which he returned. It could have melted our socks if we had been wearing any.
“Wow,” was all he could say, as we pulled apart.
“Yeah, wow,” was my equally eloquent response.
“Uh, I really gotta pee,” was his next comment…which kinda broke the mood.
“Yeah, me too,” I replied, “And then I guess we should get dressed and go eat. I’m starving.”
I’m not sure when the other guys slipped out of the bedroom and out of the motorhome, but fifteen minutes later, Reg and I made our way over to Bobby’s dad’s motorhome. As we walked in, Rob and Bobby were grinning, but Jason just glanced at us and immediately looked down at the table. The poor guy was totally embarrassed for outing Reg and was bracing for the worst. When Reg and I sat down beside him, Reg gave him a little jab in the ribs then quickly leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. The look on his face was hilarious. First, I don’t think he could believe Reg had just kissed him, and second, I don’t think he could believe that Reg wasn’t totally pissed with him. When he finally looked up and saw the grin on Reg’s face though, he knew…he knew things were cool. So did everyone else, judging by their grins.
“I hope you two got a few hours of sleep last night,” Dad said, as he set our breakfasts down in front of us, “Don’t want you dozing off in the middle of your gig.”
I’m not sure what shade of red I turned, but Reg’s cheeks turned the most amazing shade of red-burgundy. Having everyone else in the room roaring with laughter didn’t help. I guess we had been a hot topic during the fifteen minutes it took us to get over there. I assume Jason must have said something about outing Reg. My guys knew I was gay and Reg’s guys knew he was gay, so it was assumed that we knew about each other and that’s why we slept together…or didn’t sleep. Then again, I think Rob and Bobby exited the motorhome during our sock-melting kiss, but didn’t tell Jason because they were enjoying his embarrassment…assholes.
When I could finally speak, I made it very clear that we had slept all night and were well rested. I’m not sure if anyone believed us but it really didn’t matter anyway. There were definitely going to be nights in the near future when we didn’t sleep…together. When Reg squeezed my leg under the table, he confirmed it…and, yes, that’s all he squeezed.
As soon as we finished breakfast, we spent the next hour tuning guitars and making sure we were ready to hit the stage with a minimum amount of notice. When it was time, I was amazed at how quickly the stagehands got one band’s set off the stage, and ours on. All we really had to do was give a few directions about Bobby’s drum kit and in five or so minutes, we were ready to go. We opened with possibly the raunchiest version of Born Under a Bad Sign we had ever done. All of us were totally in sync and on fire. An hour later, we were listening to the crowd shouting, “Encore, encore!” We looked over at the stage manager. He gave us the nod and we burned into a version of Guitar Slim’s The Things That I Used to Do, a 12 bar blues tune he released in 1953. I thinkthat we would have made him proud. Fifteen minutes later we were receiving a standing ovation as the stagehands made our equipment disappear.
It literally took us a half hour to come down from the high we were on. It was totally amazing. What was even more amazing was having a guy from one of the ultimate Blues labels approach us. Many of the Blues legends had recorded or did record with them. Reg’s dad and mine were right in there talking to the guy. He had recorded our performance and asked us if he could present it to the founder and head of the company in Chicago. Needless to say, we didn’t say no. He got all our details and told us we would hear from them within the month.
Exactly three weeks later, we got a request to appear at their main studio the following week so the head of the company could hear us first hand. I can’t tell you how excited that made us…or how nervous. Obviously he had liked us, but this would not be just a gig where everyone applauded and went home. This was for a record contract.
They made hotel reservations for us, supplied transportation from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the recording studio the next day. They even paid for all our meals. We were told we didn’t need to bring our instruments, but I took my guitar anyway. It looked like a worn out piece of junk, but it had the most awesome ‘Strat’ sound and I was so comfortable with it, I had to have it with me. I don’t think anyone slept much that night. I know Reg and I didn’t…and not for the reasons you’re thinking…well maybe partly.
When we got there, the guy we me at Big Valley who scouted us, met us at the front desk. He led us to one of the recording studios where the head of the company was waiting. I think we were all somewhere between nervous and terrified but, after a few minutes, he had us totally relaxed. We listened to our demo and talked about it a lot. He was very impressed with the obvious chemistry we had, especially between Reg and me. After about an hour, he asked us to go into the studio and play Born Under a Bad Sign. When we did, he would stop us here and there and ask us to emphasize or de-emphasize something we were doing. When we were done, we came out and listened to it. I couldn’t believe how different it sounded. Again, we talked about it some more.
Then he asked us to play an original song we had written. We chose one that Bobby and I had written, Almost the Truth. Reg and the guys had played it with us a few times. We spent considerably more time in the studio getting it the way he wanted it, but when we listened to it, all the time was worth it. It sounded great. When we left that afternoon, we had a signed contract with A & B Records to put out three albums in the next year as well as do a cross-country Canadian and American tour. We would be hitting most major Blues clubs and festivals. That meant we now definitely had some major work to do. Although it would still be totally fun, this was not just for fun anymore. It was also now business.
The first two albums would be a mix of cover songs and original songs. The final album would be all original songs and that was not only a bit scary, but was going to take some effort. If suddenly having a recording contract wasn’t mind-boggling enough, we would be starting on our first album in two weeks. We decided on Born Under a Bad Sign by Albert King, The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King, Texas Flood, and Cold Shot by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stormy Monday by T-Bone Walker, Hideaway by Freddie King, If Trouble Was Money by Albert Collins, The Things That I Used to Do by Guitar Slim, and our own Born Loser and Almost the Truth.
To say we worked our asses off would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a blast playing together, but we were going for nothing less than perfect. If we wanted the audience to feel it, we had to feel it. A lot of guys can do the high tech flash crap, but very few can come through with real feeling and passion. Live it and allow the listener to live it. When we were finally done and got to sit back and listen to what we had created, it was close to the greatest feeling in the world. We were all on cloud nine for days.
The next step was touring to promote and sell the album. We would start in Austin Texas where the one and only Stevie Ray Vaughan and every blues legend has played, and finish in Calgary. Our schedule was one hundred and twenty six concerts in one hundred and seventy two days. We would be opening for several different blues legends in front of thousands of people, as well as being on our own at festivals, hopefully playing in front of hundreds of people. I can’t explain how excited we were. I also can’t tell you how exhausted were by the end of the tour. If it hadn’t been for some great advice on how to stay relaxed and yet focused at the same time from some of the touring veterans, I don’t think we would have survived until the end. I can’t speak for the others, but having Reg around didn’t hurt either.
The best part, other than playing the concerts and festivals, and becoming friends with a bunch of truly famous blues players, was our reception and record sales. Now if you believe that, you are either very old, not too bright, or shouldn’t be reading my story. Those of us with a clue know the best part was Reg and I not sleeping…together. Of course, the fact that we were no longer some unknown bunch of kids from Canada, had little to do with that. We were Bad Sign, and thanks to our concerts and the festivals we attended, blues fans knew who Bad Sign was. Not only did they know who we were, but they wanted our autographs and they wanted to hear and buy our music. It was too cool.
Of course, Reg and I grew closer as the tour progressed and I will never get tired of waking up to him breathing in my ear. Nor will I ever get tired of working with him or him and Bobby, creating new music or learning as many of the great blues standards as possible with all the guys. And that is exactly what we had to do as our second album would be due out in a few months. Life was good and it was only going to get better. I was doing what I loved with the man I loved. I mean, seriously, what could be better than that? For a kid born under a bad sign, I couldn’t have been happier, and without a doubt, Reg and I would be playing under a Bad Sign as long as we were having fun…forever.
Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.
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