Suede Potato, Millburn, NJ, 1989-1992

David Zweig sent in this beauty which he titles "Why I’m A Gibson Man."

Suede Potato underwent many incarnations over the years, including the poor marketing sense of changing our name with each new gig until we settled on the Potato sometime in eleventh grade. In ’89 the lineup was Ken on drums, Darren on bass, Jason on keys, Alex on lead vocals, and Jon and me on guitars.

Our first gig, when we were then known as Pressure Point, was in the junior high cafeteria. It was the inaugural evening of Teen Night, a non-alcohol “safe alternative” activity that the PTA had dreamt up. We were the headliners. Our moms dropped us off a few hours in advance to get ready. Unloading my gear from the trunk of our sedan I caught Darren’s eye as he wheeled his amp across the parking lot. We didn’t need to say anything. We both knew, finally: we were cool.

Jon’s two friends, Pat and Dan, a year older, from another school, and both with long hair, arrived shortly thereafter with a PA system and knowledge of how to work it. They were to help with set up and to run the board during the gig. They played Rush’s Moving Pictures over the PA while we hung out before the crowd arrived. As if they weren’t already unreachable – (see: year older, long hair, owners of a PA) – Dan played the opening riff of “Limelight” on my guitar.

As we ran sound checks and kicked back waiting for the crowd to arrive, I felt utterly relaxed and in my element. This is exactly what I should be doing, I thought as I finished off my can of Sunkist. My anxiety started to build, though, as I watched the clock tick toward showtime and the kids start to file in. The place was packed. I think the whole grade came out. We were, after all, a genuine rock band and their peers. And for exactly one night in junior high, we actually were cool. My nerves never truly subsided, but I was able to channel them into a positive force of rock power as we tore through U2, Clapton, and REM hits. The Led Zep medley, that would later become a staple of our sets for the duration of the band’s run, was a searing tour de force. We even played two originals, one each by Jon and me. (Jon’s tune was catchier than mine, though his chord progression was suspiciously close to “R.O.C.K. in the USA” and was secretly mocked by the rest of the band.)

During the finale of the show each of us took a solo. While I was in the zone during our performance up to that point, my nerves roared like Sunkist fizz in my ear as Jon ripped his solo and mine was just two bars away. I was a rhythm man and a wild strummer, still am, and enjoyed the physicality of playing, not noodling up and down the fretboard. Solos, let alone naked ones where all the other instruments drop out, were alien territory. I had a little pentatonic riff memorized. It wouldn’t shred like Jon’s but it was soulful and dirty, the way good rock should be. I was playing a Strat replica in those early days. It had the volume knob and two tone knobs in a diagonal row just below the humbucker pickup. I gripped the neck tight and stared at the sweat and smudge marks trailing off the pickups. Jon’s last note rung out, the measure finished. Go time. I barred the E and B strings, gritted my teeth and winced passionately doing my simple pull-offs and hammer-ons making dramatic flourishes with my right hand. Yet within a few notes something had gone horribly wrong. There was no sound. Since the band had dropped out, there was only the sound of Ken keeping the beat as the audience watched my scrunched Rock God face quickly morph to one of terror and confusion. I pictured myself as they saw me, a mime madly plucking silent strings. Somehow, after just a couple seconds I figured out that my volume knob was all the way in the off position. I manically, angrily wound it forward but my two bars were up and the band kicked back in.

I hit a couple big power chords in unison with the band as we closed out the set. Weirdly, each chord got successively quieter. At that moment I grasped what had happened, twice. My hand had been strumming so wildly that I hit the volume knob on each downstroke, turning it a quarter turn with each pass. What sick person would design a guitar with the volume knob right next to where your hand strums? Within a month I had a ’62 SG
Reissue. All four of its knobs way off, safely to the side.

As Ken’s ride and crash sizzled out from their final hit the crowd chanted for an encore. Since we had played everything we knew we launched into “Sunshine of Your Love” for a second time.


"Sweet pentatonic riffs!"
"Something’s horribly wrong! There’s no sound! "
"What the fuck?! Is it the amp? The chord? No, it’s the volume knob!"

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great story! At one of our first gigs in the high school caf, I walked too far and unplugged the 50' cord I had bought for the occassion. So I had to run all the way back to the bass amp and plug it in while the band played on without me. Smooth. I think the song was "can't you see" !

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