My Reflections On Cub Koda
1949 - 2000
"To Mike...thanx 4 diggin' the Big Picture, Cub Koda - 1993 - "
Here I was trying to relax and enjoy my July 4th holiday, taking a break from work and in comes an email from my friend Scott:
DETROIT (AP) -- Michael "Cub" Koda, the singer and songwriter behind the 1970s hit "Smokin' in the Boys' Room" and the guitarist once described by author Stephen King as "America's greatest houserocker," died Saturday of complications from kidney dialysis. He was 51. Borrowing his nickname from the character "Cubby" on television's Mickey Mouse Club, Koda in 1969 formed Brownsville Station and wrote "Smokin' in the Boys Room," which in 1973 rose to No. 3 on Billboard magazine's charts and sold more than 2 million copies. Brownsville Station disbanded in 1979, six years before "Smokin' in the Boys' Room" was revived by heavy metal band Motley Crue. Koda later played in groups called the Points and the Bone Gods, as well as releasing solo works spotlighting rockabilly and blues. In his dedications to his Bachman Book collection, King labeled Koda "America's greatest houserocker." Koda co-authored "Blues for Dummies" in 1998 and has written a monthly column called "The Vinyl Junkie" for trade magazines.
It's funny how your life can be encapsulated in a paragraph. I supposed Cub's life could have been encapsulated in a single sentence: "Cub Koda, songwriter of the million selling 'Smokin' In The Boy's Room' has died at age 51". A mere footnote.
It was the early seventies. As with any era, you had to sort through the tons and tons of musical crap to find the music that would rock your world. In my little musical world, Glam was the thing. This was a time when Roxy Music, T. Rex, Sweet and Gary Glitter ruled. And that was good stuff. But, being a teenager, sometimes you just had to drink a bunch of beer or avail yourself to whatever other mood enhancing substances were around and just party and ROCK. With the group of teens that I hung out with, there were two bands that would be the appropriate soundtrack for the release of our teenage adrenaline: Slade, and Cub Koda and Brownsville Station. Slade was still Glam and Slade was still British, but it was good, fun, party music. And yes, we loved Iggy and Alice, but when we wanted to run around the room in circles playing air guitar, only one American band was appropriate: Brownsville Station.
Cub Koda was a God to us. Cub Koda was the ultimate in cool in our stuffy, my-music-is-better-than-your-music lives. We'd ooh and aah over pictures of him in Creem magazine, standing on top of the speaker banks in his referee outfit and his thick black plastic glasses. And how we wished that the band would come to our little hick town so that we could party with the band. But it was never to be.
In 1973, I was not the model student nor the model teenager. And yes, there may have actually been an occasion when I could be found smoking in the boy's room. I was a bad boy and I had bad friends. The popular guys and the popular girls would have nothing to do with us. So, we'd find ourselves at the junior high dance, surrounded by kids who didn't like us, listening to a DJ spin music we hated. So, we'd just stake out our little corner of the cafeteria, minding our own business, generally just hating the whole high school experience. But then, suddenly, as if there was a school policy that said that you had to play at least one song for the bad kids at every dance, Cub's voice would speak to us...How ya doing out there? Ya ever seen there one of those days when it just seems like everybody's gettin' on your case from your teacher all the way down to your best girlfriend? We would instantly transform, on our feet, flailing around like maniacs, not caring what anyone else thought. We were in three minutes of pure bliss. My bad friend Paul got so excited, he grabbed a metal folding chair and threw it. It landed on my left pinky, severing the tip. The tip of my finger was only still attached by a small piece of skin. I informed one of the chaperones, one of my teachers named Mrs. Evans of my condition. She took me into the kitchen and held my severed finger under running water while I cursed Paul up and down for his stupidity, occasionally taking a break to apologize to Mrs. Evans for my strong language. Her reply: "Everybody has their own little idiosyncrasies." She was a cool teacher who wore go-go boots and short skirts and I really liked her, but I remember saying something to her like "I guess you will never be in a situation where you won't find it appropriate to interject a seven syllable word!" My parents were called and they took me to the hospital so that I could have my finger stitched back on. So, in a way, Cub was partly responsible for the scar on my finger and my inability to use that finger properly to, for instance, play the bass guitar. But I forgive him. I don't forgive Paul, but I forgive Cub for getting Paul so wound up.
The fact that Brownsville Station covered a Lou Reed song on the "Yeah!" album, the album with "Smokin' In The Boy's Room", proved to us that he was wired correctly. But when the band did a revved up version of Gary Glitter's "I'm The Leader Of The Gang" on the next album, "School Punks", we knew that the man's taste in music was beyond reproach. His coolness just could not be questioned. In 1975, the "Motor City Connection" LP was released. I traded my bad friends in for a different set of bad friends. My new bad friends loved Cub even more than my old bad friends. 8-track tapes were popular back then, and everyone I knew had a copy of "Motor City Connection" on 8-track. I used to hang out with a guy named Bill at his place. We would usually be partying all night long and would occasionally take a nap in the afternoons in his parent's basement. I was never a fan of 8-track tapes, but one thing about them was that they played endlessly. So, he'd plug in "Motor City Connection" and we'd just chill on the couches in the basement. And although you could certainly party to the LP, we'd actually doze off to it. There's a nine minute opus on the LP called "They Call Me Rock 'N' Roll", broken up into different segments, explaining the Rock And Roll experience. As sappy as it sounds, and as rocking as the movements got at times, it was all very soothing. It was soothing that someone could verbalize what Rock And Roll was, and share that "Nobody knows what the music means to me." But we did understand, because we were outcasts and music was our only savior, so when the band sang "God bless Rock 'N' Roll", we'd just mutter Amen, and fall asleep.
By 1977, disco was about the only thing you could hear on the radio anymore. It was just insidious and awful. It was maddening. In 1977, my friend Alan worked part time at a gas station. He would gas up a car owned by some music marketing guy who was passing through, and the guy would open up the trunk of his car and give Alan an LP with a bunch of guys in leather jackets standing in an alley. The band would be called The Ramones, and it would be music like we'd never heard before. But that would be a few months after Brownsville Station released their next album, simply called "Brownsville Station." Of course, we expected the album to be good, as usual, but we could not have possibly anticipated the balls-to-the-wall, in-your-face, reach-out-and-grab-you-by-the-throat manifesto that the album would be. The album would not leave our turntables or 8-track tape players for months. Massive amounts of alcohol would be consumed. It's hard to believe now, guys being guys, that we would uninhibitedly run around the room playing air guitars and rocking our brains out in front of each other, but we did. And we were not ashamed.
"Brownsville Station" was and is one of the great all-time Rock And Roll albums. It's actually criminal that it was never re-released on CD. When Rhino Records released a Brownsville Station Greatest Hits CD a few years back, they only included two songs off of this rock album to end all rock albums. They included the two songs that got some FM radio airplay, "Martian Boogie" and "Lady (Put The Light On Me)". And they didn't include any tracks off of their farewell album, "Airmail Special", another great album. And then, it was all over, and I graduated from high school.
As fate would have it, after high school, I packed up my things and moved from my little rural town in Pennsylvania to the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. I was 18, and this was 1979. All I had were some clothes, my record collection, 1000 bucks that I had saved, and the 1967 Buick Skylark that I bought from my Grandmother for 100 bucks. A mechanic told me that the car would never make it to Michigan. He was wrong.
When I got to Detroit, I spent two thirds of the money that I had on the first month's rent and the security deposit on an apartment. Detroit was a gritty, blue collar town, and I had to grow up fast. But Detroit was a great place for an 18 year old who loved music to be, because Detroit loved music. In Detroit at that time, you only had to be 18 to get into a bar, 21 to drink. But, usually, once you got into the place, you could get served. And there were bars with bands on every corner. The fact that I could go to a corner nightclub and see The Dead Boys speaks to the musical climate I was in. And as a record collector since junior high, it was an awesome place to rummage through the countless used record stores and the weekly record shows held at American Legions and such. At one record show, I grabbed a newly published magazine called Goldmine directed toward record collectors such as myself. As I leafed through the pages, I found a column called The Vinyl Junkie. It was written by none other than Cub Koda. Every month I picked up the magazine, and Cub would very entertainingly discuss his latest record finds. Hey, Cub was a serious record collector, just like me! How awesome, but not surprising. For years and years I would look forward to every issue of Goldmine to read Cub's column. I have saved all of my old Goldmines so I can go back and read his wonderful columns any time I want to.
I was looking through a local magazine which listed the bands appearing in the local night clubs, and I saw a listing for a band called Cub Koda and Mugsy. I just HAD to go and see him. I was so excited that I thought I would explode. The club was called Uncle Sam's. It was a large club with a large dance floor and it had two ceiling supports on either side of the stage. I pulled a chair and a small table across the dance floor and put it between one of the supports and the stage. I thought maybe a bouncer would run up to me and say I couldn't do that, but nobody said anything. So, I took in the show at point blank range. Mugsy was this very popular and hot local Detroit band that originally had five members. Cub hooked up with the drummer, guitar player and bass player. These guys were young leather jacketed Rock And Rolls thugs. In other words, they were perfect as Cub's back-up band.
The band started playing and Cub was no where to be found. Suddenly he walked up on stage, grabbed his guitar, stepped up to the microphone and sang those immortal words: "Welcome to my job. This is what they pay me for...I don't understand why some people want to act like big rock stars. Wearing their platform shoes and driving those big long cars. I just sing and talk too much, play this old beat up guitar, but I like it. I wouldn't do nothing else even if I got religion. Welcome to my job." After the welcoming message, Cub and the band just proceeded to tear the paint off the walls with all of the fury of the "Brownsville Station" album, but cranked up a few notches. There was no doubt in my mind, that at that moment, this was the greatest Rock And Roll band on the planet. A waitress actually came to my rogue table and served beer to me while I watched the master showman doing his job. Occasionally, Cub would look at me a little funny, because I was the only person up that close. But I wasn't going to let a little thing like self-consciousness deprive me of witnessing the show I had always dreamed of seeing. It was a night I will never forget.
I saw the band again at Uncle Sam's when they had their record release party. For some reason, they had changed their name to Cub Koda and the Points. Another amazing show. I went out the next day and bought the Points album. What an incredible, smokin' slice of raw, blistering Rock And Roll! They had actually captured their live sound on vinyl, pink vinyl to boot! This is just the all-time great crank it up, drink beer and hoot and holler album. It still jumps off the grooves like the band is playing in your living room, with guitar riffs that cut right into your nervous system. It's primal.
My final time seeing Cub Coda and the Points was at this dinky little bar on Grand River called The Driftwood Lounge. This was like on a Tuesday night or something, and I had to work the next day, but I didn't care. The place was small, and there was hardly anybody there. A friend named Dave and I sat at the table closest to the stage. Unfortunately, we were carded when we asked for a pitcher of beer, so we had to watch the show sober. Despite the fact that there was hardly anybody at this little dive, Cub and the band played like they were performing for thousands of people. After playing for a little while, he talked to the people there from the stage. "Are you guys having a good time? Are you maintaining the proper amount of alcohol consumption?" I yelled out "Cub, they won't serve us any beer!" Cub stopped and looked down at us, and then looked over at the bar and said, "I want you to get a pitcher of beer and bring it over to these guys right now." And I'll be damned if they didn't do it. And they continued to serve us all night long until we were loaded. I will never forget that.
Eventually, I left the Motor City and moved back to my Pennsylvania homeland, leaving those amazing Motor City nights behind. I settled into a slightly calmer lifestyle. I started a band of my own. One day as I was browsing through one of those night life magazines, I saw that Cub Koda was playing only an hour and a half from me in York, Pennsylvania. He was playing with a band called The Bone Gods. I had a van at this point, and I gathered a group of guys together to go and see him. The bar had some people in it, but it wasn't full. We sat at a table in the middle of the bar for the best view and started the requisite alcohol consumption. It was a different band, but it was still Cub, the master showman, there to rock the house. We had such a great time. Cub was not a poser. Cub loved Rock And Roll. Cub loved to perform. This was not Detroit, his home turf, and I'm sure he thought he was playing for a bunch of hicks who had only heard of him through the song "Smokin' In The Boy's Room." But I was going to change this. We started hooting and hollering and yelling out song requests that only somebody intimately familiar with the man's body of work could possibly know. But what really tripped his trigger was when we started yelling out the simple word "Detroit!". He just got all revved up. At one point, he said, "You guys had better stop that because if you keep it up, I just may play until dawn." The more we revved him up, the more he put on a show. At one point, I remember him holding his guitar vertically with only his left hand, playing one note with his left hand, for an eternity. Just one note. But nothing else would have been as Rock And Roll as that at that moment.
After the show, we asked one of the Bone Gods if they would ask Cub to come down to talk to us. Cub came down the stairs from the dressing room and talked to us for a long time. He looked at me and said "You look familiar. Do I know you?" And I related the story about how he demanded that the staff at the Driftwood Lounge bring beer to my table, and he remembered that. We talked with Cub for a long long time, while someone kept trying to pull him away to take care of whatever it was that he was supposed to do. In that time, he espoused his philosophy of Rock And Roll, his philosophy of life, and was the most gracious, warm, down-to-earth man you could ever want to meet. And he thanked US for making it such a great night! We were not exactly sober and we had a long drive home, but we couldn't get the smiles off of our faces or come down from that cloud during the entire drive.
A little while later, I decided to write to Cub. I didn't know his address, so I mailed it to Goldmine magazine and asked them to forward it to Cub. I didn't know if it would ever get to him. I related some of my experiences seeing him and how much it meant to me and my friends that he took the time to talk to us, and how much I listen to his music. And basically, I told him that he was...my hero. To my amazement, I received a package in the mail. Cub had sent me an album he had recently produced and a rare single that he was involved with, and being that I collected anything I could that he was involved in, it made me very happy. He also wrote an amazing letter to me. He said that he had received my letter and read it a couple of times, and that he read the whole thing aloud to his wife, Lady J, over breakfast. He said that it meant a lot to him that he knows that his life is an inspiration to others and that he would never let me down. And he never did.
When my band was ready to cut a record, I thought it would be perfect if Cub could do an intro ala "Smokin' In The Boy's Room" for a song called No Hidden Track, because I had read something he wrote railing against hidden tracks, and I felt the same way. I had lost his address, but was able to contact his manager. The manager told me that Cub had agreed to do it, but he needed, I think $300. Well, $300 was just a mere pittance compared to what we spent on making the album, but somehow it didn't feel right. I knew that it was the manager's job to try to handle the business end and I'm sure he made a percentage on whatever income he could generate. But It just didn't feel right. I knew that if I had been able to talk to Cub personally, he would have loved to do it for nothing. So, I never went through with it. But in hind sight, I wish I would have paid the money and had Cub do it. That would have been such a wonderful thing, to have him participate.
There are people who know the things about Cub Koda that I do. But it's actually tragic that his legacy is not more widely known. I remember having to spend a week in Paramus, New Jersey, one time, and I made a special trip into New York City to go to the Hardrock Cafe to search out the little tribute to him. Encased in glass was his referee shirt and whistle and his thick black glasses. I thought it was cool that it was there, but I knew that he'd never be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. And that's where he belongs. He would belong there even if he had never played a note of music. His work as a music historian and preservationist alone should get him inducted. But above all, and this is hard to put into words, and this may sound sappy, but his greatest legacy is being THE example of how the love of music can be a life long mistress, any kind of music that you love. And music can be your savior, and vice versa. Cub didn't just play Rock And Roll. Cub didn't just write about Rock And Roll. Cub WAS Rock And Roll.
So, as I sit here on this July 4th, when I could be outside soaking up the sun, and I'm thinking about what an influence you've been on me, and as I'm still coming to grips with the fact that you're no longer with us, I'm taking comfort in the fact that when I had the opportunity to tell you that you were my hero, I did. And I promise that I will never let YOU down. You may only be a footnote in history, but you have been a blueprint for me. God bless Rock And Roll, and God bless you, Cub.
Mike Hoover - July 4th, 2000