Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Phil Kelso, Paul Pfeiffer and Black Sabbath

It's rainy this afternoon in Boston, which according to this BusinessWeek item I saw today, is the 4th-best city in America.

It's not bad here.

Pondering this while driving these soggy streets, the Black Sabbath classic "Iron Man" came on the radio.

Sabbath got the band back together and their new album, 13, is No. 1 on the British charts. It's their first chart-topping appearance in 43 years. Not bad. It's kind of cool that a band with a guy named "Geezer" in it can rock even when they are all now actual geezers.

I was 14, or maybe 15, when I finally heard the album -- Paranoid -- that put Sabbath on the map. The first side of that album is rock brilliance: War Pigs, Paranoid, Planet Caravan and Iron Man.

In the early 70s rock music was entering a new phase of disillusionment. Elvis was a joke, the Doo-Wop, D.A.-types of the 50s were nostalgia for the Happy Days set. The Beatles had broken up. Hippy-dippy characters had given way to lovable lightweights like Elton John and the Eagles. Jimi, Mr. Mojo Risin and Janis were dead. Disco was lurking. Punk would then sneak up on disco and murder it, thankfully.

The Stones were still great, though, and you had a few acts/bands still mining the dangerous side of rock. Dylan. Neil. The Who. Pink Floyd. Zeppelin.

Then there was Sabbath.


I was in a Minyard store on Garland Road and Peavy Road in Dallas one day as a pre-teen, and two long-haired hippie freaks were talking near the grocery carts. I listened as one asked the other if he had heard the new Zeppelin album. Hippie No. 2 had not. "It's heavy," said Hippie No. 1.

I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded cool.


If Zep was heavy, what did that make Black Sabbath? Because these motherfuckers were dark, dangerous, mysterious, and scary.

To my teenage mind, even the name of the band was illicit. In the early 70s, edgy things like Black Sabbath were inexplicable to a lot of people. In redneck Texas, that could only mean one thing: the band were Satan's minions, and their fans were devil worshipers.


It seemed to me that the only people who could buy a Sabbath album had to do so in secret. As if the albums were sold under the counter, by request only, and cloaked in a brown paper wrapper. Further, if you bought the album you were either the aforementioned devil worshiper, a dope fiend (dope being either pot, LSD or heroin, or all of the above), a hippie, a hippie freak, a subversive, a communist, a goddam communist, a goddam communist hippie freak, or worse.

The good news is that you couldn't be black, because the blacks were probably too afraid of Black Sabbath to be Black Sabbath listeners.

I don't know if other people felt this way, but it seemed that Sabbath was somewhere way over the line of acceptable.


Paranoid was released in September 1970. I figure it must have been 1974 or 1975 when I first heard it, although I had surely heard some of it on the radio.

And it was the unlikeliest of heroes -- Phil Kelso -- who provided me with this unforgettable experience.

I wonder what happened to Kelso (that's what everyone called him). He looked like Kevin Arnold's best friend Paul Pfeiffer on The Wonder Years. (I also always thought of Kelso when watching That 70s Show's Ashton Kutcher play a guy named Kelso.)

Kelso was unquestionably smart, but looked a little nerdy. In fairness though, when I look back on it, except for Perry Plummer, Scott Harvey and Keith Burns, every dude I went to middle school and high school with looked a little nerdy in the 70s.

Because Kelso was also perceived as pretty straight arrow, I was a little surprised, shocked (and more than a little impressed) that he had gotten access to a copy of Paranoid. One overcast afternoon, he invited me to his house to listen to it.

Kelso lived near the high school, on the other side of Fuzzy Rock, not far from Stephanie Matthews' house. (Any boy with half a brain or more had a crush on Stephanie Matthews. I had half a brain or more.)

I remember listening to the album as if it happened hours ago instead of almost 40 years ago.

And I remember as it ended with the confrontational "Fairies Wear Boots" that I felt like I had entered another world. And there was no turning back. I distinctly remembered looking around the room after hearing the album. I had done something dangerous and edgy.

But Paranoid had made me paranoid.

I can't help but like Sabbath. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is an amazing record, their best IMO.


I wrote all of the above before looking up Kelso on Facebook. Sure enough, he's got a page, and it's filled with winger stuff. Which surprises me a little bit.

But that's why I waited to look until after I wrote the main stuff. Kelso in a way changed my life, helped me grow up a little, and will always be a part of my memories. That's cool, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I still remember being bullied by Paul Hopkins and John Branson, so they're part of my memories too.

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