Someone recently sent me an e-mail along with a photo from 1980, asking if I was the same Dennis Shaughnessey who played guitar at her wedding.
I opened the attachment and saw someone who wore a younger man’s clothes sitting at a picnic table in someone’s back yard, plucking a Yamaha F-160 acoustic guitar and singing a memory. I don’t know what song I was playing, but I can almost be certain that it was sad and it was sweet and I knew it complete. I wore long, curly brown hair, and after a bit of investigation I discovered that, yes, it was taken at a friend’s wedding during an after-reception party at the home of the groom’s father. I had performed two songs during the ceremony inside the little Alvirne Chapel on Route 102 in Hudson, N.H.
I no longer have that guitar — how I lost it is a long story for another time — but it was nice to see it again. It was also nice to see the young man in the picture again. Those were good days, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I found myself in the middle of the Greater Lowell music scene. I didn’t have a band, per se, but there were a number of bands for whom I “opened” or performed between their sets.
People didn’t seem to mind too much and I never had anything thrown at me, so I guess I wasn’t all that bad. My repertoire included a bunch of Beatle songs, Neil Young, James Taylor, Dylan, Seger, and the like. During one of my very first shows, at which I was so nervous I thought I would lose my lunch, a group of bikers came in, walked up to the stage where I was playing some little mellow Paul Simon folk number, and loudly proclaimed, “We want to hear some rock ‘n’ roll!”
I gulped hard, stopped whatever it was I was playing and launched right into Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” Just me and my acoustic guitar. I pounded on those strings with all I had. “In the shuffling madness. . .” I began. Soon, the bikers were high-fiving each other inches away from me, pumping their clenched fists into the air, and snarling right along with me. “Old Charlie stole the handle and the train, it won’t stop going. No way to slow down.”
There were two big local bands vying for attention back in those days, playing in such venues as Mr. C’s Rock Palace — the former Commodore Ballroom and current location of the Robert C. Maguire Transportation Building on Thorndike Street in Lowell — the Three Copper Men on Suffolk Street in Lowell, the Willowdale Spa in Tyngsboro, and the old Thunderbird, also in Tyngsboro. Oh, there was also the Bowery at Salisbury Beach.
Awaken consisted of guitarists Don Viera and Mark Parent, bassist Ron Couillard and drummer Guy Merlino. Excellent musicianship, great harmonies, flashy wardrobes and a explosive light show. Highlights of their set list included Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” and Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.” Don, Ron and Mark all took turns singing lead.
I was billed as Awaken’s special guest on all the storefront promos, but, truth be told, The Flaherty Brothers Band had the greater following. Lead guitarist Mike Flaherty played an absolutely spell-binding Gibson Flying V. Steve “Panama” Flaherty was more than serviceable on rhythm guitar. Jimmy Sousa was a manic bass player and a leather-gloved drummer Paul Husson drew constant comparisons to Zeppelin’s John Bonham. And barefooted frontman Mark Kelley, a cross between Mick Jagger and the late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, was a flamboyant showman and great vocalist.
My guitar still gets a lot of use. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t pick it up at least once. The strings need to be changed, that’s for sure, and my wife is constantly finding guitar picks in the laundry. These days, however, playing is limited to Bible studies with the residents at Archambault Towers in Lowell and occasionally providing special music at a church service.
But every now and then, I get together with other writers and editors from The Sun, who also play and sing and together, and we let the good times roll.
E-mail Dennis Shaughnessey at email@example.com.