I Was a Rock & Roll God: The All-True Story of Ted Forth’s Band Coach
Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out had social media been around when I was a kid. Not simply because my preteen social awkwardness and crippling naiveté would have almost certainly made me the target of any predator—including lions with wifi—but because of how Facebook and Twitter could have altered the very fortunes of my rock band. A rock band that didn’t feature a single guitar, bass, keyboards or legitimate set of drums. A rock band that had the questionable foresight to record every single one of its albums on eight-track tape. A rock band that—as so many before it—imploded due to infighting, commercial indifference, and The Love Boat.
Like most of my more memorable experiences from childhood, the band was the brainchild of my great friend James. James had previously been responsible for introducing our neighborhood to “Acorn Wars,” in which each fall all the kids divided into two warring factions (everybody vs. James and me) and then proceeded to hurl acorns as hard as possible at each other’s head. It soon proved to a popular tradition, lasting ten seasons and both highlighting the very point of Lord of the Flies as well as inadvertently causing half my childhood home to burn to the ground, forcing my family to live in a trailer on our own driveway with a pipe leading to the garage toilet for the better part of two years (but that’s for another tale).
James also came up with the idea that we should each own a “pet robot,” a concept that tested both the limits of mid-1970’s technology and eight-year-olds’ wiring capabilities. Those obstacles notwithstanding, James eventually succeeded at his dream by inverting a flower-patterned wastebasket on a small pull-cart and topping it off with a wig that clearly said “severed mop.” I never got past drawing circuits on a cardboard file box and then wondering if I had accidentally crossed them, resulting in an evil automaton. Alas, a few months later James sadly put away the robot, citing that its soul was being held captive in a cave by the Viet Cong.
But by the end of our elementary school years, James—having exhausted all that projectiles and technology had to offer—came upon another idea. An idea that spoke directly to anyone about to face the visceral thrills and absolute horrors of junior high school. An idea that could be summed up in five short words—“Let’s start a rock band.”
Now, truth be told, this was not the first time we had tried to start and maintain a band. Back in 1976, James, our friend Bruce, and I formed the jazz combo “The Winston Woodchucks” (named after our development, “Winston Woods”). The trio—perhaps the only one to feature two clarinets and a tuba—played such standards as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the chorus to “Convoy” as well as our very first original songs, all of which were inspired and defined by the very limitations of our band. Our first single—“The Car”—brilliantly captured the driving, horn-honking sound of heavy rush-hour traffic. Our next single—“The Train”—beautifully portrayed the propulsive horn-tooting of a 20th Century Limited. By the time I showed up to practice with the sheet music for our third single—“The Boat”—we had all become painfully aware of the musical trap we had set for ourselves.
But, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of “The Winston Woodchucks” rose the “Lazers” (spelled with a “z” instead of an “s” so as not to be confused with the real thing), an entirely new instrumental band featuring a tuba and only one clarinet (I had given up the instrument a few months earlier). The “Lazers” lasted less than a month but it was during that time James happened upon an idea that would shape our very lives…or at least the next few years.
“What we need,” he said with complete authority, “is a drummer.”
And so in the summer of 1979 James and I embarked on forming our two-man supergroup (featuring the major forces behind “Winston Woodchucks” and “Lazers”). James would handle lead vocals, lead clarinet, and press the “record” button on his eight-track tape deck. I would sing backing vocals and play the drums, the latter hampered by just two little facts:
1. I’d never played the drums.
2. We didn’t own any drums.
But for James, such facts were minor inconveniences at best. He quickly fashioned a complete kit, using a Duraflame box for my main drum, a Gunsmoke lunchbox for my snare, and a teapot filled with screws for my cymbals. After a few practice sessions—during which I eventually proved my proficiency at holding two drumsticks concurrently while no longer making guitar sounds with my mouth—we were ready to grab our seats at the rock & roll banquet table.
All we needed now was a name. After much deliberation we winnowed it down to two choices—“Coach” and “Joe Booger and the Eight Nose-Pickers.” Further discussion led us to “Coach,” if only because it sounded serious, and if there’s one thing a 12-year-old boy wants when hammering down on a Duraflame carton after a blistering clarinet solo in a cover version of “Toys in the Attic,” it’s to be taken seriously.
And so having decided upon a name, having proven our musical chops to ourselves, and having purchased several blank eight-track tapes for recording, Coach set up shop in James’ parents’ basement, under the watchful eye of his younger sister’s Shaun Cassidy poster. It was there that we spent almost all of our free time over the next four years, trying to set the world on fire one song at a time, every single one of them recorded for posterity on now defunct technology.
So with that I present to you the admittedly incomplete discography of Coach, capturing forever the rise and fall of a childhood friendship over the course of seven full-length albums and one movie soundtrack. Some exact titles, some “concepts,” even some entire albums, have long been buried both by time and by several hundred tons of garbage somewhere on Long Island. But the story remains as fresh today as the day it started in a suburban basement with one eight-track tape deck, two childhood friends, and at least 12 fistfights.
Coach Original (1979): Our very first album also set the template for every recording to follow: 14 songs (12 originals plus one Aerosmith and one Ramones cover); every song played on lead clarinet and Duraflame drums; album art cribbed from another source (in this case, the package design for Atari 2600’s Space War). Coach Original also featured our one and only hit, “I’m a Fighter,” first penned during the “Lazers” years and obviously influenced by the theme song from Rocky, down to a few of the lyrics. I call it a hit because it remains the only Coach song title I can still recall (although as I write this I’m not completely certain if the title is actually “I’m a Fighter,” “He’s a Fighter” or “Let’s Just Fight”).
Doubleheader (1979): Released a mere two months after our smash debut, Doubleheader followed the Original pattern with another 12 original songs, two covers, our signature “clarinet/box drum give-and-take” and album art copied from an Atari package (this time Video Olympics). The album not only managed to avoid the sophomore slump by being successfully recorded over a microphone, but also further solidified the Coach sound, best summed up by James’ mother’s response to my constant clanging of the teapot cymbal as “Armageddon meets Chinese New Year.”
Coach Alive (1980): The seventies had been a heady time for concert recording aficionados, thanks in part to such major releases as Frampton Comes Alive! and Kiss Alive! With two full-length albums, 24 original songs, and what might have been either an EP or an accidentally-taped practice session, James and I felt the time was right to release the Coach live album, made possible by simply lifting the crowd response from Cheap Trick at Budokan (during one song you can actually hear 20,000 screaming Japanese girls chant “Cry! Cry! Cry!”). In addition to being recorded “in front of a live audience” (and featuring cover art practically lifted from Styx’s Paradise Theater), Coach Alive plays a significant role in our band’s oeuvre for two reasons:
1. I actually sing lead in one song
2. My voice actually breaks during said song.
So thanks to Coach I have recorded proof of the very second I hit puberty. Immediately after the song I suggested we take advantage of the moment by “laying down tracks” for a cover version of Peter Brady’s hit, “When It’s Time to Change.” James was never more insulted in his life. It was our first “professional” argument.
I should also note that we reused the Cheap Trick crowd sound when serving as back-up musicians for my little brother Marcello’s solo album. Marcello—also inspired by Kiss—had created at age six a stage persona he dubbed “Fat Tushie,” whose every lyric was simply a string of whatever curse word popped into his head at the time. (Sample lyric from his hit single “Fire”: “FIRE!/ASSES BURNING HIGHER!/FIRE!/AUGH!/ASSES!/AUGH!” and follow-up “Smokey 1-9”: “Smokey 1-9/Smokey 1-9/They always know how to take a shit.”)
Soundtrack to a Science Fiction Movie Never Made (1980): Not so much an actual Coach album as a soundtrack to a film James and I had longed to write, direct, star in, edit, produce, and somehow market. Featuring only two original Coach songs in addition to ten illegally recorded AOR hits of the day, STASFMNM is a sad reminder of what might have been. Since fifth grade James and I had been working on a full-length sci-fi movie that incorporated characters and plotlines from both our comic strips (which was another way of saying it incorporated elements from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica). This being a time before not only digital cameras but also the prevalence of VHS camcorders, James insisted that we do it on 16mm film stock and rent real movie cameras, resulting in an initial budget of $47,000. James, always being the far more optimistic one, said we could easily raise the money. I said much like a depraved squirrel he was fucking nuts. We didn’t speak to each other for an entire month. Looking back, it’s somewhat sad that I had opted against wiping out my parents’ life savings to finance the vision of two 12-year-old filmmakers. After all, seeing a rocket ship dock at a spinning space station to Johann Strauss II’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” is one thing. Seeing almost the exact same scene reenacted with cardboard and string to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” well, now that’s just art.
Junk Rock (1980): Very few musicians can say that they were directly influenced by Sonny Bono. Even fewer can say they were influenced by a Sonny Bono guest-turn on The Love Boat. It was during one such appearance that Sonny played an Alice Cooper look-alike called “Deacon Dark,” the leading light of a musical genre the show called “junk rock” and singer of such hits as “Smash It” and “Step, Step, Step on Toads.” Eventually, Deacon sees the errors of his hard, head-banging ways and even wins the heart of a deaf girl by switching to soft-rock ballads (she can feel the vibrations when he plays on the piano). But the idea of “junk rock” stuck with James and I, both because it sounded so damn stupid and because it seemed like just what our band needed to offset the increasing tension of our practices and recording sessions. (We were now arguing every half-hour for every hour we played and were often on the verge of a fistfight). Fortunately, James had just recently switched from the clarinet to electric guitar and was quite eager to blow the roof off of Dix Hills, Long Island. By all accounts the album was a raucous (read: “ungodly”) affair, concluding with our major opus “Crash It.” Clocking in at just over 27 minutes, “Crash It” featured the two us of destroying our instruments as well as part of James’ parents’ basement before spending the final ten minutes beating the living shit out of each other, all of it captured in eight-track glory. And just like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon ends with the now iconic heartbeats from “Eclipse,” Coach’s “Junk Rock” ends on an equally celebrated audio moment—the sound of James’ mom screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!” as James and I banged each other’s skulls against his ping pong table.
The Breaking of the Dawn before the Morning (1981): Over the next few months James dedicated every waking second to mastering the guitar—taking lessons, learning how to read music, writing more and more songs—everything possible to help him become a real musician. At the same time I was becoming mortified with every single aspect of my life, from the way I looked to the things I did to how I sneezed when alone in my room. Already pathologically shy to the point of trying to hide behind dust motes in school, I threw myself into the rather solitary art of cartooning and writing, which after several years would eventually win me a few friends as well as result in me getting very temporarily suspended from school, being threatened with a slander lawsuit from a student’s mom, getting my locker searched a mere two days after the law allowing such was passed because of of a confusion with my dad’s “Original Orgy” shirt, and having to spend time with juvenile detention officer Sergeant Jablowski (memorable for both his ridiculous name as well as the fact that he appeared to have three nostrils). Meanwhile James, who was now an actual musician, wanted us to start playing actual concerts. In response I pointed out my Duraflame carton bass drum. James cursed me out for having never invested in a real drum set. I then cursed him out for not knowing I can’t play drums. We then spent the next two hours threatening to beat each other senseless before recording The Breaking…, which James ensured would be our first “serious work” if only because I didn’t write any of the songs or make a single musical suggestion. The claim of seriousness was ultimately tested, alas, when James’ mother walked in during a soul-searching power ballad, only to break into uncontrollable laughter.
Sunday Afternoon (1982): By now James was a confident, outgoing teen. I was fat, more or less friendless, and almost incapable of speaking in public. James had become an excellent guitar player. I couldn’t look at my Duraflame carton without getting ill. And yet we still met every so often to try and make the band work. The result—recorded over eight months which was eight months longer than we had ever spent recording a Coach album—was Sunday Afternoon, an all-acoustic album written and sung entirely by James and somewhat inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. For an album put together by a high school sophomore who had just taken up the guitar two years prior, it was by no means a bad collection of songs, marred only by an unfortunate cover of Aerosmith’s “Kings and Queens and Guillotines.”
Album Whose Title for the Life of Me I Can’t Remember (1983): James and I now traveled in different social circles (if you could call my slowly pivoting alone in my room lost in thought a “social circle”). We had gone from hanging together almost every afternoon to a couple of days a week to every few weeks to eight months down the line when we happened to cross paths. James said he was recording a new Coach album. I came over and played drums on one song, but by this time my presence was completely unnecessary. James was now not only an accomplished guitar player but had also taught himself rudimentary multi-track recording, allowing him to play all the instruments as well as provide his own back-up vocals on the very first Coach album committed to cassette…and the last Coach album ever recorded.
I never joined another band again. After all, I never really possessed any musical talent. No matter. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I played the hell out of that Duraflame box.