Editor's note: Over the past year, Christian McPhate has been collecting stories from Dallas rockers whose brushes with fame offer inside looks at the people who devote their lives to rock 'n' roll.
Bob Haydon's ears perked up when he overheard a fellow student, sitting behind him in study hall, complain about his aching fingers. The student, Steve Miller, had stayed up until 1 a.m. playing guitar until his fingers nearly bled.
At 14 years old, Haydon, like many aspiring guitarists, knew the feeling well. He’d often stay up late at night with his brother, who also played guitar, and surf radio stations in search of bluegrass music. He’d moved with his family from Washington, D.C., to Dallas in the late 1950s because his father, who was a lover of big band music, had been offered a better job opportunity. He’d recently started attending St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas when he met Miller in study hall.
“None of us thought that Steve Miller would be a famous name,” Haydon recalls.
Miller was destined to be more than famous. Hits such as “The Joker,” “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Take the Money and Run” led to numerous gold records and a 2016 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But in the 1950s, Miller was just a 15-year-old kid trying to start his first rock 'n' roll band. When Haydon turned around and told him that he played guitar, too, Miller asked him if he wanted to join his band as the rhythm guitar player. He accepted and took his Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar to meet Miller at his barn that wasn’t a barn but more modern inside.
Miller pulled out his electric guitar, a Gretsch, and started playing “Guitar Boogie,” an instrumental piece by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. Then Haydon followed suit and played “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. “Can you play this?” Miller asked Haydon and started playing Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk,” a popular rhythm and blues instrumental.
Haydon’s and Miller’s fathers purchased them a couple of Gibson Les Paul Juniors — sunburst-colored — and they began practicing every weekend for several months before playing their first birthday gig. Another classmate from St. Mark’s named Baron Cass had joined to play drums. The first time he came over to sit in and add his beats, they spent all night jamming.
They started writing their own songs with titles like “Rockin’ Rs,” “Mr. K,” “Windmill” and “Haydon Opus III.” Their songs showcased Miller’s influences like Jimmy Reed, B.B. King and Muddy Waters, the music he heard spending time in his father’s live recording sessions with a Who’s Who list of ’50s blues musicians, including Mary Ford, T-Bone Walker and Les Paul, who gave Miller his first guitar; he even showed him how to play a few chords.
“Through his own process of musical osmosis, Miller retained many of the remarkable riffs and styles that played out in front of him,” Haydon says. “It was a down payment on the future of a wonderfully talented musician.”
Haydon, Miller and Cass’ first gig was a neighbor’s 12th birthday party. They called themselves “The Marksmen Combo.” They earned $15.
“We had been watching the Ozzie and Harriet show on TV where, at the end of the show, Rick [Nelson] and his band would suddenly be transported to a school dance or party and do a few songs,” Miller says. “We felt that we could copy that scenario and get some jobs. It turned out to be true.”
To spread word about their new band, the guys created business cards and sent letters to area churches, country clubs and schools to let them know that they played rock music and they were ready to perform.
Word about The Marksmen Combo began to spread, and the aspiring Dallas rock stars played their next gig for Miss Finley's Dance Studio at a church in Dallas. It was their first big job: More than a 100 kids showed up, and it turned into a regular gig every Sunday night. Then those 100-plus kids told other kids, and the invitations to play at private parties soon began to arrive as if the band’s name had gone viral. But their biggest break came when Neiman Marcus invited them to play a fashion show for teenagers in the Zodiac Room downtown.
Haydon says he felt the excitement, the electricity in the air because bands weren’t playing fashion shows at the time. The young models loved it, he says, and they surrounded the guys after the show, begging them to jam at their schools.
“It gave you chills up and down,” he says. “The thing about being that age is you're fearless, and all those girls are leaning, looking at you and smiling and you could just feel it. They just loved it. It was a real exciting time.”
The Marksmen Combo began playing fraternity parties at places like the University of Oklahoma and the University of Houston. Appearances in the media soon followed. Their first center spread appeared within the pages of Prep, a magazine dedicated to Dallas teens.
Angus Wynne, a younger classmate from St. Mark’s, remembers watching them play a gig at Umphrey Lee Center at Southern Methodist University. It was a dressier version of the sock hop, Wynne recalls, and they’d play the breaks in between the dancing. “They were just blasting out the good ol’ Texas chording,” he says and pauses. “Well, I don’t want to say ‘Texas,’ because there was nothing Texas about it.”
Miller had taught his older brother Buddy to play bass so he could drive them to gigs, Haydon says.
Boz Scaggs and Rodger Gaulding also joined as backup vocalists. Their 15-minute sets turned into four hours of a full program’s worth of material, and they began playing gigs across Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“We were insufferable at the age of 15; we were all rich,” Miller said in a 1974 article.
Drummer Baron Cass points out, “We were rich from playing so much, but we were also rich in other ways, too.”
The early ’60s brought an end to The Marksmen Combo. Miller and Haydon had been kicked out of St. Mark’s before their senior year began. Haydon later recalled Miller telling him, “They felt that we did not represent the school because we were a band. They didn’t care for rock ’n’ roll, and I had real long hair.”
The original band wouldn’t reunite until 1983, when they played a reunion concert at St. Mark’s. “We hadn’t lost a beat,” says Haydon, who’s now an accomplished bluegrass artist. “We performed a rousing show, even though Boz arrived from California just minutes before we went on stage. Whatever we had then, we still had it.”
Chad Lovell will never forget the night he partied with Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley in Dallas in the early '90s. The memory comes back particularly strong every April on the day of Staley’s death.
Lovell remembers Staley, surrounded by dominatrixes, living it up on a wild night on Greenville Avenue — with a little help from local guitar legend Dimebag Darrell.
“It’s been 14 years since Layne passed on,” Lovell wrote in a Facebook post. “Loved Alice in Chains. Here is a quick rock story.”
It was an October night in 1992. Staley and the rest of Alice in Chains were in town opening for Ozzy Osbourne. A Rolling Stone reporter was following them as part of a cover story, later titled "Alice in Chains: Through the Looking Glass" (though omitting many of the deeds that Lovell recalled in his Facebook post and later to the Observer).
Lovell, who played in the band Course of Empire at the time, says he met Staley at a Fishbone show at Deep Ellum Live, which was next door to where The Bomb Factory is located now. Staley and his bandmates knew the guys from Fishbone who were also friends with Lovell.
Not long after he met Staley, Zakk Wylde and Randy Castillo from Ozzy Osbourne showed up. “It was a time when music was kind of fractured,” says Lovell, who now works as a sound engineer at the Curtain Club in Deep Ellum. “You had people into rock 'n' roll. There was the new hard metal like Pantera and the grunge, which is what Alice in Chains was lumped into.”
After the Fishbone show, Lovell says the after-party began. He climbed aboard Ozzy’s tour bus with his bandmates from Course of Empire, the guys from July Alley and Fishbone, Staley and the rest of Alice in Chains and, of course, Wylde and Castillo.
Wylde asked Lovell, “Where do you go in Dallas [to party]?”
Lovell took them to The Basement, a rock 'n' roll club known to showcase big hair bands. It was also known as a melting pot on Sunday nights.
“It was basically turned into an S&M club,” Lovell says. “It was like a strip club for dominatrix. It made The Church look like they were kids at play.”
The rock stars were all about it.
“Zakk was like, 'It’s on,'” Lovell recalls.
When they arrived at The Basement, they walked inside and ran into Dimebag Darrell and his brother Vinnie Paul Abbott of Pantera. It was as if fate had intervened.
Wylde and Dimebag bonded over shots, pool and their love affair with the electric guitar. The 25-year-old Staley, who had a broken leg at the time, spent the rest of the night at the bar with the reporter, and the owner of The Basement quickly closed the club to the public and turned it into a private party for rock stars.
“It became a huge rock 'n' roll party,” Lovell says. “It was 1992, and we were all in our 20s, rock 'n' roll dudes with money.”
The Rolling Stone reporter wrote in his Nov. 26, 1992, article that on that Sadistic Sunday night, the whips came down hard at The Basement as several dominatrixes in body paint lashed a patron’s back with riding crops before digging their fingers into his shoulder blades only to pour vinegar into the wounds. Staley was drunk off his ass, laughing it up and trying to join in their fun, but the pins in his left foot prevented him.
Lovell doesn’t recall Staley participating in the debauchery, either. He was quiet for the most part, not feeling his best.
“Everybody was partying, and he was sitting at the bar. I took a moment to invade his space. He was nice but so removed from it all … in his own head space," Lovell says. "I thought at the time, 'Well, he has a broken leg.' Looking back, that was just him.”
He’d only see Staley one other time, at Lollapalooza in California, before Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine at the age of 34 in April 2002. Dimebag Darrell would follow him in death two years later when a crazed fan charged the stage in a small bar in Ohio, spewing bullets and hatred before a cop with a shotgun stopped his rampage.
But on that Sadistic Sunday night in October 1992, the rock stars partied until morning, ending the night with an impromptu jam at Choice Studios on Paramount. The only recording of the night lay in the memories of the people who experienced it.
“Incredible night, incredible experience,” Lovell wrote on Facebook.
An old photograph of Phil Anselmo from Pantera and Layne Staley from Alice in Chains hangs in Stuart Taylor’s sign shop in the small town of Pantego not far from where Pantera’s lead guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott grew up. Taylor took the photo of the rock singers in the Concrete Foundations forum in L.A. in the early '90s. He framed it and later hung it among the other memories of rock stars he’s captured over the years as a rock photographer for various heavy metal magazines and the late Dimebag Darrell.
A poster of Dimebag, who’d just been nominated for guitar player of the year in the '90s, hangs not far from the old photo of Anselmo and Staley. He’s sitting in the back of his pickup, surrounded by his equipment, holding his Washburn guitar and grinning rather maniacally. A confederate flag waves in the background, and the words “Wanted: Most Valuable Player” are in large type above the old photograph Taylor had taken underneath the railroad tracks on Division Street in Arlington. Dimebag Darrell signed the poster with a black marker: “Stuart!!! Hey man, no. 1 Baby — you are! — Roll on….”
“He’d been drinking all night long at a tittie bar on 360,” says Taylor, whose hair is still long, thinning some with age. “He called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I need you to come and take some fucking pictures, man.’ He’s lit like a motherfucker. We took this photo shoot [in the morning], and then we went to the 2300 Club; but he started to get real combative and stuff, so we had to get him out of there, drive him home and put him to bed.”
The next day Dimebag Darrell called him, and Taylor recalls him saying, “Hey man, you can’t use those fucking pictures, dude. I look like shit.” So they did another photo shoot, but Taylor says Washburn guitars loved the original photos so much that they ended up making the poster.
“They also made a cut up [cardboard] doll,” he says. “It’s at my house.”
Dimebag Darrell has been gone since Dec. 8, 2004, but there isn’t a day that passes by when Taylor doesn’t think about his old high school friend. They used to spend Christmas together when they were younger, and Taylor lived with him for a time at his mother’s house. He’s lived with quite a few people in the North Texas metal scene since he was a young metalhead. His stepfather kicked him out of the house because he wouldn’t cut his long hair in the early '80s.
Jerry Warden, who claims he originally started the metal scene in North Texas with his band Warlock in the early '80s, says Taylor lived with him 10 to 15 times over the years. “His stepfather used to beat his ass,” says Warden, who published a few of Taylor’s photos in a short-lived fanzine called Cut Throat Press. “I’d let him sleep on the couch at the Warlock Shack.
“The Warlock Shack was a refuge for many metalheads,” he adds. “Parents weren’t diggin’ the idea of their kids becoming headbangers and, when they were tossed from their homes, they would stay at the Warlock Shack.”
Taylor’s stepfather was a military man, and they’d recently moved to Texas from West Germany where he’d been stationed since the late '70s when Taylor was 12 years old. But Taylor was tainted by his love of metal long before they moved to Texas.
It started when he saw a picture of Ted Nugent on the cover of a German magazine, and he noticed the photo credit, though over the years he’s forgotten the photographer’s name.
“So I’m thinking, OK, I want to be Ted Nugent,” Taylor says and laughs. “That’s what you wanted to be when you were kid. Some wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to be Ted Nugent.”
Taylor, who was 15 years old in 1979, soon learned that Nugent would be playing at one of the military bases in Germany. He picked up an instant camera from some dude and headed to the concert to take photographs of the legendary rocker who had recorded such hits as “Stranglehold,” “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” in the '70s.
“It’s the loudest thing you’ve ever fuckin’ heard,” he says of the concert and pulls out an old faded photo with an orangish tint. “See there is Ted Nugent right there [in the distance]. I didn’t fight my way to the front or anything, and the fans waved all these posters and shit in the air.
“So I come home thinking I’m going to have all these pictures,” he continues and points at some of his magazine cover photos on the wall. “I’m thinking I’m going to have all these pictures. That’s what I thought I was getting, right? So I get these fuckin’ pictures back, and I go, ‘Oh man, these fuckin’ suck. They don’t look anything like this other shit.’ So I was like fuck that, and I gave that dude his camera back.”
Taylor decided photography may not be the route for him to go. Then Van Halen came to town.
The Van Halen concert took place on June 16, 1979, at the Frankfurt Festhalle in Frankfurt, Germany. Taylor remembers it being a free-for-all concert where only general admission tickets were sold. He recalls a gang of bikers pulling out sticks from their boots and whacking people as they rushed inside toward the front of the stage.
Taylor says he was able to make his way up to the front and soon found himself right in front of bassist Michael Anthony. “This is when Van Halen was badass,” he says. “I remember because I got a guitar pick from him.”
But then he realized he should have brought a camera.
“Well, me, I thought, ‘Fuck me, man. If I had brought that fucking cheap shitty camera, I could have gotten some halfway decent pictures,' even though I didn’t understand that it was a very small negative,” he says.
Taylor worked the whole summer for the military in Germany to buy himself a 35mm camera. He started sneaking it into concerts and taking photographs of rock stars. He took pictures of Jethro Tull, but they sucked, he says. Then he took pictures of Led Zeppelin at their June 30, 1980, concert, which was part of a 13-day tour of Europe to prepare them for their massive American tour.
The Frankfurt Festhalle where Led Zeppelin played, Taylor says, was one of those places where students would have to skip school to line up at the gates because it was general admission. He says he saw people dying from drug overdoses and vomiting as they waited in line because they’d been there all day doing drugs. Then when they finally opened the gates, everybody started trying to kill each other to rush toward the front of the venue.
“Like when AC/DC played, there were like shoes everywhere because people lost their shoes trying to get in this motherfucker,” he says. “It’s amazing that no one got killed.”
Taylor says over the years, music critics haven’t discussed the 13-day European tour. “But I got some cool ass fuckin' pictures from that tour,” he says.
Those cool ass fuckin' pictures ended up in a recent book about Led Zeppelin and their 1980 “In Through The Out Door” tour, which ended abruptly when their drummer John Bonham died in September of that year. They never played again, but Taylor continued to take photos of rock stars, sneaking his camera into a big winter coat with the film shoved into his sock. “Like I got badass pictures of AC/DC in '82 because I would be the only motherfucker at a concert in August wearing a full winter jacket because I had my camera and my lenses in my jacket and my shit in my socks,” he says.
Taylor sent his photos to fanzines, which were underground publications of metal bands, and eventually got a break with Metal Forces, a magazine that started as fanzine. It was the break he needed. He eventually landed an agent in New York and one in London.
Over the years, Taylor’s photographs of rock stars have shown up in books about Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Slayer and Pantera (as well as other metal stars). He’s had even more appear in magazines such as Circus, Hit Parader, Metal Edge, Metal Maniacs, Revolver, Rock Tribune, Guitar from Germany, Premier Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Legends, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Thrasher (skateboard) magazine and many more. His photos have also appeared on VH1.
When metal magazines began to disappear in the '90s, he focused on snapping photos of Pantera and all the bands they jammed with, and then, after the band broke apart, he took pictures of Dimebag Darrell and his brother Vinnie Paul’s new band Damageplan.
Since Dimebag Darrell’s death in December 2004, he’s been working at his sign shop in Pantego, which he opened in the late '90s, and snapping photos of mostly bands he knows. He recently snapped a few photos of Vinnie Paul’s band HellYeah when they played a show in Florida.
“But I wouldn’t count on the money,” Taylor says. “I didn’t make shit when I did it. But I had a fuckin’ hella time.”
It didn't sink in at first for Darren Caperna that he was actually auditioning with AC/DC. As the singer of Dallas-based AC/DC tribute band Back in Black, he knew their songs inside and out. But he didn't feel the full weight of what was happening when he received a call from the band’s tour manager, nor on the plane ride to Atlanta, nor when he spoke with AC/DC’s manager in the hotel before the audition.
It sunk in during Caperna's audition, in the middle of "Shot Down in Flames." When late singer Bon Scott tells guitarist Angus Young, "Angus, shoot me," Caperna turned to deliver the line and there, right in front of him, was the real Angus Young.
“He comes over and starts getting into it, and I’m like, 'Holy crap, this is really happening,'” says Caperna, who was flown in to audition with the band in March after their longtime singer, Brian Johnson, was forced to leave the tour. “That’s when I started looking around and noticed [bassist] Cliff Williams and [guitarist] Stevie Young.”
Caperna's rock star fantasy ultimately came up short, as he was bested by no less of a rock star than Axl Rose. But simply getting the audition was a dream come true.
For the past 16 years, the 47-year-old Caperna has been channeling both Scott and Johnson onstage in a tribute band he co-founded with guitarist Mike Mroz called Back in Black. But he’s been imitating AC/DC since he was a kid standing in front of the bathroom mirror with a hairbrush in hand.
“AC/DC’s music was so straightforward, a constant pounding, and you just couldn’t help but bang your head and move with it,” he says. “They never tried to be fancy. It was just plug in the amp, no crazy drum solos, just straight forward, in-your-face rock 'n' roll.”
Caperna’s adventure began when Back in Black drummer Ken "Da Crusha" Schiumo received a message from AC/DC’s people on Back in Black’s Facebook page. Lead singer Johnson, who’s 68, had to drop out of the tour or risk losing his hearing, according to news reports, and they needed a singer to finish out the band’s remaining 10 dates on the tour, which visited Dallas in February.
“They wanted to know if Darren would be interested in auditioning, and we were like, 'Highway to hell yes he’d be interested,'” recalls Mroz, whom Schiumo frantically contacted after getting the message.
They in turn called Caperna, who recalled screaming like TV’s Bobby Hill from King of the Hill. They wanted to share the news with their family, friends and social media followers, but they were told not to tell anyone about the audition, not even their mothers.
“I’m there during the rehearsal [with AC/DC],” Caperna recalls, "and my friend texts me and says, ‘I saw Brian Johnson is out of the band. Why don’t you rehearse for them? Lol.’ I wanted to respond so bad. It was hard not to respond.”
Caperna and Mroz flew to Atlanta for the audition on a Sunday, checked in at the hotel and met with the band’s manager, who gave them a rundown of the next day’s events. For Mroz, the whole experience felt surreal until they walked into the rehearsal studio and he noticed Young’s guitars.
“It hit me big time,” he says. “Then it was like, ‘This is going down.’”
An even bigger shock came when the tech guys ran Caperna through soundcheck.
“It was the loudest stage volume,” Mroz says. “I'm calling it AC/DC loud, and those sound waves truly move you.”
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After the soundcheck, Angus Young, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, appeared, and he and the crew regaled the pair with old stories from the band.
“They treated us like fellow musicians, peers, and that was such an honor,” Mroz says. “For some reason, we didn’t expect that. They wanted us to be there and wanted to get to know us. They made us feel incredibly special.”
Caperna’s audition with AC/DC led to one of the most successful years ever for his tribute band Back in Black, Mroz says. He credits it to the credibility they gained with AC/DC fans.
After the audition, AC/DC invited the guys out to one of their concerts in Buffalo, New York. They attended the show, then hung out with the band backstage. “We are now part of the AC/DC family, which is truly incredible,” Mroz says.