Deep Purple, Buffalo 1974. Photo by Paul Ruta
In high school in the mid-70s it was your duty to choose a favorite band—or ‘group’ in the parlance of the day—and you had to stick with it for the whole grade or else you cheated. Jocks chose no-brainers like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and felt no urge to update their selections in the ensuing decades. Girls liked the Beatles but settled for just Paul McCartney because of the rules: no broken-up groups and no actually dead people. Guys with their bedrooms in the basement picked the New York Dolls or something dark and stinky like Frank Zappa. Dungeons & Dragons players chose Genesis, if anything. Stoners liked the Allmans and Doobies. You’d go for Bowie if you wanted to get pounded for being a homo, and if you didn’t want to get pounded by Led Zeppelin fans it was wiser to opt for T Rex. I could have honestly chosen a different favorite every week: Steely Dan, War, Robin Trower, Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder, even Cat Stevens just to impress the ladies. In the interest of fair play I decided on Deep Purple because a) it wasn’t safe being a Bowie fan in public, and b) Ritchie Blackmore was the best guitar player I could think of who wasn’t dead or in Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple was the first big, loud British band I saw, and I was beside myself with excitement at the concert. If you look closely at the picture, that fuzzy lump on the right bent over a guitar-shaped blur is Ritchie Blackmore. A lousy shot, I know, but it makes me happy.
Al DiMeola, Buffalo 1975. Photo by Paul Ruta
By the time jazz rock filtered down far enough to reach my white suburban ears, it had been distilled into the single album, The Inner Mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Allman, Page, Beck and Howe were suddenly amateurs in a world that contained John McLaughlin. This discovery launched an insatiable quest for every ounce of electric jazzy goodness I could find. Enter Al DiMeola, Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Herbie Hancock and ultimately Miles Davis, who pioneered the genre. I was a sucker for DiMeola’s fiery technique and the bite of his Les Paul. After this concert we rolled down the windows and drove the streets of Buffalo shouting, Al DiMeola Is God! In hindsight, and after a string of lame record releases, I now feel we were hasty in our assessment and that God is, by all accounts, still Eric Clapton.
Dave Byron, Uriah Heep, Niagara Falls NY 1975. Photo by Paul Ruta
My ears rang for days after this concert. It is auricularly unwise to stand, as I did, thirty feet from a stack of Marshall amps played through by Mick Box, he of Uriah Heep semi-fame and one of England’s loudest and least handsome guitarists. I have difficulty imagining him with even leftover groupies, not that I try very hard or frequently. I lost my Mick Box photos, so here’s a shot of Heep’s remarkably untuneful singer Dave Byron, who was later kicked out of the band and drank himself to death, as you do.
Mick Rogers, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Niagara Falls NY 1975. Photo by Paul Ruta
You never knew who was in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band one year to the next, and I wonder if they did either. I believe the guitar player du jour pictured here is Mick Rogers. I had to look that up. Their big hit at the time was Blinded By The Light. It still is.
Eric Clapton, Niagara Falls NY 1975. Photo by Paul Ruta
Concerts at the Niagara Falls Convention Center were often general admission. The sooner you got there, the closer to the front your square foot of concrete would be. Keeners like me would arrive well in advance to stake our ground outside and sit for hours, holding our water like camels rather than lose our place in line to go find shrubbery to piss in. When the doors finally opened, the inward sprint was a prison break in reverse. Even if I arrived late I’d weasel my way to the front, a boorish tactic that normally results in justifiable homicide. But I had a Camera, you see—not an Instamatic and a packet of flashcubes, but a Grown-Up Camera where you change the lenses. There was respect. People seemed almost happy to let me all the way through until my elbows were on the stage. It was the summer after 461 Ocean Boulevard came out, and the first time I’d seen anyone so good so close. In my head I can still hear the slide guitar of Motherless Children, a beautiful thing on the album but mind-blowing loud and live. The opener was Santana, a band that in 1975 I felt was past their prime. They were far from it, of course, easily providing your money’s worth by themselves. For the evening’s encore, Clapton and Santana jammed together onstage. Double bills don’t get much better than that.
Carlos Santana, Niagara Falls NY 1975. Photo by Paul Ruta
This is not a blurry photo. It is a portrait of Carlos Santana’s spiritual kinesis, an encapsulation of his fluid essence, his transcendental mellifluous persona, his cosmological gist. I’m not limited by that whole focus thing, man.