Playing for the 127th

Here we are as the Swingin' Banana at the Longbranch Saloon, the 127th's "nightclub," performing for our company.  Look closely and you'll see our homemade mike stands – mine's bamboo and duct tape, Jessen's is a bit of bent re-bar sunk into a scrap of 4x4 on top of the Farfisa organ.

Our first gig for the 127th didn't go over as well as I'd hoped.  Thinking back now, I'm glad it didn't.  If it had, we might never have played anywhere else, for soldiers who really needed it...

"Woo-wee, baby, we smoked 'em!" Ioli shouted as we wrapped up our third hour.  He stood to stretch and he and Sugden exchanged high-fives.

"Rocked and rolled, buddy, rocked and rolled," Jessen said, coming out from behind the organ, grabbing Ioli by the neck and giving him a playful noogie.

Sugden put down his bass and sparked up a cigarette.  "So, what'd you think, Dean?" he exhaled.

I shrugged.  I didn't want to spoil anybody's post-concert high.  "Yeah, it was good."

Ioli trotted over. "What, you don't think it was good?  It was freakin' good!  You don't think it was good?  I'm telling you, it was good!"

"Yeah, I know, I know, it was good, okay?" I said, returning my guitar to its case.  I slammed the case shut.  Geez, enough.  "Didn't I just say it was good?"

Jessen grabbed a beer from behind the Farfisa.  "Well, you're acting like you think it sucked."

I took a deep breath and held it.  Let it out.  I unplugged my amp.

"It's just not the reaction I expected," I finally said, winding the cord.

"What? They dug it!" Ioli said.  "Didn't you hear them clapping and yelling?"

I didn't say anything as I started breaking down my microphone.

"Oh, I get it," Jessen said.  "You wanted them dancing on the tables, like back at Bragg."

"Swinging from the rafters," Sugden added.  "Right?"

I didn't know what I wanted.  Just something… more. What was wrong with these guys?  Where was everybody?  Didn't these ungrateful assholes get what had been done for them? We chased down all the equipment, invested our own money, practiced all these weeks.  For what?  To be the background noise at the enlisted men's club?

I didn't care if we ever played for the company again.

I grabbed my gear and turned for the door.

"Yeah.  Something like that."

• • •

 Ioli was walking back from the motor pool, hot and sweaty after checking in his patrol jeep.   He was excited.

"I just talked to a guy who said there's a lieutenant over at MACV who handles the entertainment for all the Army clubs in the area," he said as he pulled off his helmet.  "He said that this guy could probably book us into some clubs."

"Play other clubs?" I said.  "For other companies?"

That was something I'd never even thought about.  We weren't even sure the Banana was authorized to perform for Dodge City's troops, let alone any others.  Yeah, Leadbetter was making it work.  But I was pretty certain the Army Code of Conduct never said anything about rock bands.

And judging from the company's reaction to our first gig, I wasn't sure I ever wanted to play for military guys again.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe it would be different somewhere else… with a different audience…

I shook my head.  "I don't know, man."  We headed to the mess hall.

But I just couldn't let the idea go...


Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2023