Steve Perron: A Guitarist Who Almost Made It — Then Came Smack
But for a few missed junctions, a few missteps, a few too many needles and pills, Steve Perron might now be wearing suede and fringe instead of hospital pajamas. He might be performing for thousands instead of singing for a solitary visitor in his room in a mental hospital.
For Steve, the breaks didn’t come and he missed the junctions and took a few wrong steps and a few too many shots and pills and his band dissolved and he hit rock bottom.
To find him a year or so ago, you could call Lou Adler’s offices at Ode Records; today, all you have to do is to exit off loop 410 in San Antonio and take a right through a recently bulldozed expanse of dirt which surrounds a blockhouse-like private mental institution, Park North General Hospital.
Inside room 208, Steve Perron struggles to awaken. He has managed to make his room somewhat livable, with the addition of a phonograph, TV, guitar, tape recorder, and posters of Mick Jagger, B. B. King, Gene Autry, and Steve’s group, the Children.
Their name probably isn’t familiar, but their story – and his – will strike a responsive chord with anyone who’s ever been associated with an “almost” band, one of those groups that struggles along for years on the periphery of success, almost on the verge of making it. Always almost. Eventually, the situation of trying to live and work on an “almost” basis extracts a certain toll. For Steve, that point came last November when he realized that he was virtually to the point of no return. He had kicked speed, survived hepatitis, cold turkeyed heroin once, got back on smack and then exchanged that for an unshakable dolophine (methadone) habit that was up to 300 mg. a day when he finally sought help.
Today, after about three months’ treatment (which consists mainly of a gradual reduction of dolophine dosage), he’s down to 40 mg. a day but still hurting.
He is 26 and has played professionally about seven years. His first “successful” band was the Argyles, who moved onto the bandstand at the Blue Note Lounge in San Antonio after Sir Douglas finished his long engagement there.
The group later became known as the Mind’s Eye, named after Perron’s club here, which he says was the first psychedelic club in the South. They were christened the Children by Davy Jones when the band was brought out to California by the Monkees for an unsuccessful go at the big time. That was their first L.A. outing. More about the second later.
Steve pushes aside a slice of cherry pie, locates his cigarettes, lights up and begins talking. His words come hesitatingly at first and he sits cross-legged on his bed, his eyes closed.
“Cassell [Cassell Webb, the Children’s female singer] told me that Johnny Winter has been in the same shape that I’m in and that really surprised me,” he begins. “Johnny used to be our back-up band when we played at Love Street in Houston. We always used to talk backstage that if we made it big first that Johnny could trail along behind us and he always told us that if he made it big first, we would sure be his back-up band.”
That was in the days when the Children were recording for Atlantic-Atco and were virtually the local band in Houston. Fever Tree had their hit (“San Francisco Girls”) but they were chiefly a studio success and didn’t have a large local following. The 13th Floor Elevators, pioneers of acid rock, were disintegrating and the only real competition the Children had was Shiva’s Headband of Austin, who regularly played Houston. The rest of the Houston bands made their perfunctory trips to California and came back to Texas and vegetated.
“We were back in Houston and I think we were destined to stay there,” Steve half – laughs through a cloud of cigarette smoke. “We did do one job with Johnny after that, in Fort Worth. Bloodrock was also on the bill and Johnny did us a favor and at least got us billed above them. After that, things went … crazy for us and – well, I got hepatitis from speed. I had only shot up like three or four times in my life but I really dug it, really really really and, uh, people here in San Antonio that I’d known all my life and that were wealthy and well-to-do and everything were doing it so I figured it was all right for me and I was behind a six pack of malt liquor and just got off and lo and behold about six months later I had hepatitis.”
He had a good case and spent seven months on his back. That gave him time to think, he says, to think about whether or not he would ever get back with the band and if they would ever get going again.
They did and went on to enjoy moderate success. They were playing an outdoor concert in Hermann Park and while they were on stage a black man ODed on acid and drew the attention of police as well as several crazies who loudly proclaimed they weren’t going to let “the pigs rip off our brother.” The police closed the park.
“Meanwhile,” says Steve, “there were about 10,000 kids in the park who could have gone either way. So Cassell and I got on the mike and started rapping about peace and love and we cooled that scene and it could easily have exploded. You know how the Houston cops are. What really got me though, and which says something about how hard it is to make it in Houston, is that Space City, the underground paper, ran a story on that and just mentioned us, just a bare mention. All they talked about were the pigs. I think they were pissed at us because we had an AM hit, ‘From the Very Start,’ and Houston is an FM town. I think they were mad at us for not pushing the kids on. They would have dug it.”
Lou Adler, who was then producing Brewster McCloud in Houston, happened to be in the audience that day and that, says Steve, is when his association with the Children began.
Adler took them to L.A. where they received the full treatment: “When we landed in L.A. we were picked up at the airport by a Rolls-Royce that had a cassette movie player in the back seat with quadrosonic sound and an ice box and there were photographers everywhere and they took us right to see Hair and we met the cast. The next day we went to the studio and Adler gave us each $300 and said to go out and buy some nice clothes, and we got in the union right away. Adler treated us right and it was all so fast. He put us in the studio and let us record what we wanted. Cassell and Louis [Louis Cabaza, keyboard and touch bass] and I had had the Hollywood treatment before when the Monkees had us out there. We were livin’ high. Kenny Cordray, our lead player, was just 15 years old then and you can imagine what kind of effect this had on the kid’s mind. He thought this was how it was gonna be forever.”
Back in Houston, the Children’s breakup began after they played a benefit for the Texas Rose Cafe. Cabaza called a band meeting and said he was quitting to go into club work unless they could promise him $900 a week.
“I said no, there ain’t no way, but if you’ll just stick it out with Adler and have faith in me, I think you’ll be makin’ a lot more than that in the future. Louis said he had already signed some contracts with some pizza parlors. So I said OK, but what about next weekend at the Whisky? Alder had us this gig at the Whisky, our California ‘debut.’ Louis said he was sorry, he couldn’t make it. I had a knife, I had pulled a knife on him earlier, you know, just kiddin’ around. We used to kid around real violently, you know, just kiddin’ around. ‘Hahaha I’m gonna cut your guts out, Mexican,’ or something. Big deal. So he quit. That was it.”
Then Kenny Cordray was injured in a car wreck. That left only a drummer and a newly-acquired bass player to back up Cassell and Steve. They had also been contracted to do a tour with B. B. King and they decided to forget the Whisky gig and concentrate on the tour. Perron called Adler two days before their engagement and of course that didn’t sit well with him. But they went ahead with the tour and called Bill Gibbons, the lead guitarist for Z. Z. Topp, the Houston blues band. Gibbons and the band stayed up for 48 hours rehearsing and then were off to Huntsville to begin the tour.
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