by Jeff Costello, October 11, 2017
Within a month of my 18th birthday, the draft notice arrived in the mail. It was 1964 and I knew nothing of Vietnam, but had no intention of going into the army. Besides not being soldier material, I had other plans. The end result of ongoing family matters was repossession of the house I'd lived in for the past dozen years. I was now homeless in a small New England town, but consumed with the idea of going on the road with my rock and roll band. After spending a night sitting/sleeping on a gas station toilet and sneaking into a friend's car and sleeping in the back seat, I got hired to play guitar backing a country singer named George Avak, a former quick-draw artist who had taught TV cowboy actors in Hollywood how to draw their guns. He was known in some circles as the The Fastest Gun Alive. He was a decent singer and had a steady gig on Sunday nights at the Hotel Worthy. Avak drove a white Cadillac convertible with Texas longhorns for a hood ornament. His license plate said "Avak."
The Hotel was in the sleazy part of Unionville, Connecticut, which is saying something. Unionville was the sleazy end of Farmington, famous for Miss Porter's school for daughters of the rich, where Jacqueline Bouvier had learned correct and proper mannerisms suitable for the wife of a President. Unionville, literally the other side of the tracks, was quite another matter. In high school terms of the day, Farmington was where the "preps" lived, and Unionville was the province of the "greasers." The hotel was occupied mostly by old drunks, but had a "ballroom" where people could go drink and dance to country music, served up on weekends by George Avak. This would not have been tolerated in proper Farmington. I had scored high on my school tests, and was placed in college preparatory courses. Hence the term "preps."
The others in these classes turned out for me to be the wrong people, who lived on the Farmington end of town and dressed in the collegiate style, blue blazers and khaki pants, and Bass Weejun penny loafers. 16 years old and already devoted conformists. They found me "interesting" in a perverted sort of way. Kids who dressed and behaved like me weren't "supposed" to be smart. Or smart-assed, a tendency my father had warned me against. After lucking into the gig with Avak, I was able to rent a room upstairs in the Hotel Worthy for eight dollars a week. The common bathroom at the end of the hall was tolerable. The old drunks were fairly benign and spent much of their time downstairs in the bar, playing 3-card gin for fifty cents a hand. I was the only young down-and-outer in town except for Bob, the singer in my road band-to-be. One or two nights a week he would throw a pebble at my window, the signal that he needed a place to sleep. I would open the window and Bob would climb up over the porch roof. Luckily the bed in my room was a double, so we could both sleep in it. This is about the closest I ever came to knowing what it was like to have a sibling.
Eventually we were able to glue the band together, rehearsing in the basement of the bass player's house. Bob somehow got himself a car and we were off "on the road" to Glens Falls New York, where we were booked into a rough-and-tumble joint called the Northway Inn, where we had the privilege of room and board - one big room with several beds, no hot water and a freezer full of hamburgers, which we ate every day with abundant amounts of ketchup and wonder bread. A modest beginning for sure, but it was away from Unionville and the start, to some small and very modest extent, of a professional career in music.