This is an essay by Dennis
Alstrand, with input from Steve McCarty, Lance Morrison, Dave and
Gary Rost, Louie Cortez, Gary and Mike Alstrand.
The title comes from our introduction, delivered, fortissimo, by
Dave Rost when we came on stage. It always motivated the heck out
2005: When I first wrote this in 2002, I was having some fun
with Steve McCarty our guitarist, and what I put in turned out to
be fairly demeaning. A lesson I never learn!
Judging from comments he made later via email, he wasn't very
happy with the way it was written. Sad to say because
Steve had great things to contribute. He is a very good
writer and well-spoken. And he was an absolute integral part
of Halla Nass, easily the most energetic and vibrant member of the
band. While I wish I could go back in time and change the
original writing to put him into the better light he should be in,
he's probably only seen the original version.
Meanwhile, all contact information I had regarding Steve has been
lost. Did you ever feel like a horse's ass?
Here's the story:
As I write this, it’s
late in the year 2002 and I’m sitting in the midst of an
incredibly beautiful jungle 2,000 miles from Newark, California,
where this story takes place.
At the moment, the jungle beauty is being amplified by a wicked
thunder-storm that is rocking the house once every minute or so.
Similarly, Halla Nass existed 2,000 miles ago and, while a lot
of the experience was incredible, it too certainly had a stormy
undercurrent. With that analogy, it seems like a perfect time to
pull the old files out of my brain, dust them off, and see what
comes together before they’re all erased from old age.
For some unexplainable reason, Halla Nass had jumped out of the
dark recesses of my memory about six months ago. I hadn’t really
thought much about the band throughout the years, but there we
were again, playing center-stage in my brain. I knew I had to do
something and I thought about a history I'd written of another
band I had been in. It was a lot of fun regrouping the memories
of that band and people seemed to enjoy reading it. What about
I got to thinking about grandparents. How many of us have
first-hand accounts of our grandparents’ adventures? Those who
do are the lucky ones. This, if it were interesting enough ,
could be something for all of our grandchildren. Ah, but there
was the rub; how to make it interesting?
A short time ago, I picked up a book about the old Canadian TV
comedy, SCTV, written by one of its writers and actors, Dave
Thomas. I liked the way the book was done. It had input from all
of the members (with one exception) and it struck me that this
would be the way to do it. Instead of just my limited view of
the band, what if I were to contact all the members I could find
and see what they thought of it? If they were to get involved
with the project, that is how I could make it
There were six of us in that band. Fortunately, I have remained
very close friends with one of the members and I am still very
close to the brother of another of the members. That’s two easy
contacts and, fortunately, two of the leaders of the band. I
hadn’t seen the guitar player or drummer since the band broke up
almost thirty years ago.
Contacting the guitar player, Steve McCarty, was one of those
investigative jobs that are so much fun to do. Looking in
Yahoo’s People Finder, I discovered that there was still a
McCarty that lived on the same street Steve had lived in all
those years ago. This must be his parents, I thought, but I was
nervous about calling. His parents did not care for the name
Halla Nass, and I knew back then that they were concerned about
our corruptive influence on their young son. But I couldn’t let
a little thing like fear of rejection stop me, could I?
Not me. I just put it off for quite a while, but finally threw
danger to the wind and dialed that number. A woman answered, and
I introduced myself as a guy who “played in a band” with a Steve
McCarty some years ago (carefully avoiding referring to the band
name). Luck was on my side! She was very receptive, and even
said “do you mean the band, Halla Nass?”. The weight fell from
my shoulders and we had a very nice conversation.
I got Steve’s phone
number and we, too, had a very nice talk. During the phone call,
Steve kept saying things that would be obvious great quotes for
the story, thing said in a way I would never have thought of
(see his discussion about band names in this story for an
example). I had no way of writing them down as he
talked and my only hope was that he could write, via email, as
well as he talked on the phone. Steve agreed to provide
commentary for the history and we set up an email
Next was one of the trumpeters, Lance Morrison. Lance and I
became friends through Halla Nass and have remained like
brothers ever since.
An email to him was quickly answered. Yes, he would answer some
questions. He also later agreed to write some
full-on sections for me (see the commentary in the "Mrs. Howard"
Dave Rost, another of the trumpeters, was next. After finally
finding his email address, I wrote him and he responded that he,
too, would involve himself. He answered my myriad of
questions and more.
Louie Cortez, the third of the trumpeters, had already provided
me with his answer – to be seen at the end of the story.
Nobody knows what happened to our drummer, Nick Miller. Well,
none of us do anyway. I imagine someone knows, but
there is no input from Nick to be found here.
I also contacted my brothers who were both involved in one way
or another, along with Dave’s brother Gary. This story is
written by all of us.
The only editing I did on the comments from the band members was
to change the direction of their comments when referring to
me. If they said "you", I changed it to "Dennis".
Otherwise "you" would have read this story and thought these
people were talking about "you".
Here, then, is the story of Halla Nass, straight from the
horse’s ass. I mean mouth, and it's time to start telling it.
Louie Cortez and Dave Rost all went to Newark High School at the
same time, graduating around 1970. They all played trumpet and it
seems to me that they drifted together because they were the three
best trumpet players there, and probably the three best to go
through the school for some years.
Out of high-school, Dave was drafted into the army and served a
stint in Vietnam. For those three years, Lance and Louie
became aware of the growing popularity for horn bands. Blood
Sweat and Tears were still going strong as were Chicago who went
strong for a few centuries, it seems). They were listening to jazz
greats and growing more and more inspired to put a band together.
Why not create a horn
| Lance Morrison: ( The band) was a
brainchild of Louie and I. Then Dave came out of the
service and we just decided to do it. Dave knew Dennis and
we went for it. We felt that horns were going to change
the world. We wanted to get people to try listening to a
horn band. Of course, it could have been worse...we could
have played the accordion...
| Dave Rost: I haven't thought about any
of this in a quarter of a century (am I that old?). It's
fun reaching back so far. Halla Nass was, to a great
extent, a battle of egos between Lance and Louie. When I
got out of the Army in July of 1973 I had been totally out
of music for three years and I was dying to play again.
Lance and Louie had been playing together during that
period but hadn't really got anything together.
Think about that,
languishing in Vietnam and who knows what your friends are doing.
Were they on their way up? Was he forgotten? If
it were me, I’d be pretty frustrated too. The odd grouping made
for some good sounds. I always like the idea of people with
different views, different directions, combining those directions
into one. It’s far more powerful to me to do it that way than to
have one person guiding the whole process. To put the band
together, they needed a drummer, bass player and guitarist. It so
happened that Gary Rost, my best of friends all through childhood
(and still) was Dave’s younger brother so I had always been around
and it’s fortunate for me that he must have heard me play at some
| Dave Rost: I had known Dennis for years
before we played any music together. At the time I thought
he was a developing bass player who was getting better all
of the time.
| Lance Morrison: Louie thought Dennis
was too new. We thought he was too cool to be around, and
he learned exponentially.
So here it was, 1973, I
was eighteen and my aspirations were to play in a three-piece
power trio, like my then-bass-hero, Jack Bruce, had done with
Cream. I was waiting for my brother Mike to get out of the army,
because we were going to form that band.When I got the call to
join Halla Nass, though, this was a serious break-through for me.
These were older, more experienced guys who wanted me to play with
them. Thinking back, I wonder if I was at least a bit intimidated
by the idea, but I don’t recall being so. I said “Yes!” and hoped
they would not change their mind.
Nick Miller was hired on as drummer. I hadn't heard of him before;
from whence did he come?
| Dave Rost: Nick was my friend, who I met
while at Ohlone (junior college in Fremont. I don't think
either Lance or Louie cared much for him or his playing. I
spent a lot of time selling him to them.
Steve McCarty was sixteen
years old when he became the band’s guitarist. But how did he get
the call? I had no clue. Neither did Dave or Steve himself.
| Dave Rost: I can't quite remember who
first brought Steve in. We all knew his sister but, it may
have been Nick who knew him as a guitar player.
| Steve McCarty: I really can’t remember.
It may have been through Louie Cortez being at our home
one evening and saying they were looking for a guitar
player during a casual conversation to my parents. My
parents knew and liked Louie as he played in a Brass Choir
with my older sister.
| Lance Morrison (solving the mystery for the
ages): Steve got the call after I spoke to his
mother. She had described his 'noisy guitar playing.'
But what had Steve been up
to up until then?
| Steve McCarty: I had just been playing
in a rock band "Crimson" (I love the way people throw out
these old band names. 99.99 % of the time they will ring
pale and mean nothing to whomever you are speaking, but it
somehow would be irreverent if you didn’t say it. To
yourself and its members it’s a label that can encapsulate
years of every kind of emotion in the one or few words it
takes to utter it) The band didn’t go anywhere but a few
jobs. We were all so young maybe one or two of us had our
driver’s licenses, then few other attempts with a few
other start ups. However, I thought it was the greatest
thing there was to play in a band.
What kind of instruments
did we all play?
Steve says he played a blonde, rosewood neck Pre CBS Fender
When I joined, I was still playing my first bass, a hollow-body
red violin bass. Soon afterward, I bought a black Gibson SG copy
Nick had a Slingerland drum set as I recall.
There was a valve trombone owned by someone in the group. Lance
and I recall it being his, but Dave's memory is different.
| Dave Rost: Lance had a Conn Trumpet. Louie had
King Flair and I had a Getzen Severenson.It was me who
played the valve trombone. Having not played for a long
while, my range wasn't as good as Lance or Louie's so I
tried some other things to add to the sound when we had
all three horns in. This included valve trombone,
Flugelhorn and harmonica (which I play pretty well). I
bought the Flugelhorn but rented the trombone from a store
in San Jose.I forgot to return it when I left for Canada
and after some angry phone calls from the store, my dad
had to return it for me.
I know this is wrong, but
I'm going to leave it that they both had valve trombones.
So now we have the lineup. Lance Morrison on trumpet and valve
trombone, Louie Cortez on trumpet, Dave Rost on trumpet, trombone,
flugelhorn and harmonica, Dennis Alstrand on bass, Steve McCarty
on guitar and Nick Miller on drums.
All of us grew up right in Newark, California.
It took Steve McCarty to point it out to me here recently, but
it is clear that Halla Nass was a two-tiered band. The tiers
consisted of Lance, Dave and Louie in the upper tier, and the
rest of us happily riding along below. Why the two
tiers? The upper tier were the talented ones who
were driving the boat. Once accepted into the band,
the rest of us naturally fell into a lower role. It was
the best way for our band to work. I know I would
not have wanted to be in a leadership position in that band (and
have merrily avoided the role ever since), and Steve had similar
feelings. Who knows what Nick felt about it? He was just
the drummer anyway. Only real musicians have feelings, don’t
GETTING OUR NASSES HALLING
known image of Halla Nass in existance
From left: Dennis Alstrand - Dave Rost - Louis
Cortez - Nick Miller Lance Morrison - Steve McCarty.
Dave Rost: Halla Nass was from an amazingly free
period of my life. Before, there was school, then the
Army. After was marriage, a business and children. I
certainly don't regret any of those things but, for a
brief period, we could live a dream.
Lance Morrison: Halla Nass was the first good and
bad experience in music...a microcosm of what was to come.
The tension was borne of a relative lack of talent. All 3
horn players were good, not great. We got much better
later, and then only with a solid group around us. For me,
Halla Nass was about tolerating Louie and his difficult
demeanor and losing a friend (the lost friend was Dave
after the incident that ended the band).
Steve McCarty: I loved that I was part of a sound.
I had always wanted to be in a band since I was in third
grade. Regarding Halla Nass, I had no idea what I was
getting into. I was excited, but I also thought that these
older guys (college age) wouldn’t want me around as I was
so much younger, sixteen at the time. That’s a pretty big
experience gap. I was happy just to be there and was
concerned not to draw undue attention to myself. I’ve
always been outspoken amongst my peers, but in that
environment I knew I was along for the ride and the seat
was fine with me. I didn’t want to blow a good thing. I
just wanted to play.
I remember the beginnings
of the band like it was yesterday, not thirty years ago. The
reason the memories are so clear is because I loved playing in
that band. Talk about a learning experience, this was it. I mean,
I learned. At the knee of the three leaders, I started
learning about horn music, and especially brass.
They would play Blood Sweat and Tears records, and jazz trumpet
greats, guys I’d never heard of, and they’d talk about what was
going on in the music that they were playing for me. It was
flowing through my brain and knocking my senses around. I recall
Louie Cortez having a discussion about Maynard Ferguson,
contrasting his style with some other player.“Maynard Ferguson”, I
thought. What a wimpy name. A guy with a name like that has
to be boring, doesn’t he? Boy was I wrong. And I recall Lance and
Dave talking to me about jazz trumpeter Don Ellis who had a song
called Bulgarian Bulge. They showed me the album cover and on the
back was a transcription of one of the measures in this song. The
measure was in 33/16. 33/16! Thirty three beats in one measure.
And then there was Blood Sweat and Tears. Listening to them
transformed me for life. I had never heard such amazing horn
playing and brass arrangements. Dave had me listen to their
version of Sympathy for the Devil and I remember thinking that
this was some of the greatest music I had ever heard. To this day
I think the Rolling Stones version of that song is weak and
lightweight by comparison, especially considering the subject. Not
many agree with this opinion, but it makes no difference to me.
BS&T played it as if the devil himself had arranged it.
Instead, it was put together by their ingenious in-house trombone
player, Dick Halligan who went on to arrange for Don Ellis later.
I still place that amongst the greatest arrangements I’ve
BS&T was strange. They had the strangest, purposefully
dissonant, close harmony horn arrangements I’ve ever heard, and
yet their music was very accessable. As I started thinking about
Halla Nass again late last year, I went out and bought BS&T‘s
second and third albums. They strike me with the same sense of
excitement that they did back then. And, back then as well, they
were the chief inspiration of this new band I was now a part of.
It was an exciting, tremendous time for a young man who thought
he’d only play in three piece hard rock bands and I seriously have
a lot to thank Lance, Dave and Louie for by taking the time to
educate me. Or was it that I was just listening to them while they
talked to each other?
Like Steve, I felt lucky
to be in this band of talented musicians. I could play fast,
quick lines and – at first - this sort of worked against me in
Halla Nass. I wanted badly to impress the “big boys”. I
really wanted them to say “Wow! That guy can really play!”
So, I overplayed. I played too many notes and I didn’t listen very
well, being more concerned with my own playing. I recall a few
times where someone would stop a song during rehearsal and say
“you’ve got to listen to what the whole band is doing. Maybe it’s
because you haven’t played with so many musicians before?” This,
true as it was, gave me an easy out that I immediately went along
with. Not only had I not played in a band with six guys, I hadn’t
really played in a band with anybody but I didn’t want them to
If you're an excited young musician who wants to impress, you tend
to not listen to what the others are doing. But, to hear
what the other band-mates are playing, to understand it, and to
add to it is one of the great lessons a musician can learn. They
made sure I learned it. At first, I resisted in a way. I was
trying to show them that I could do the job, and the fact that
they had to teach me something was going to show them that I
didn’t already know it all. But soon enough, I came to realize
that I was passing up some great opportunities not to listen to
and learn from these talented people.
HOW DID WE COME UP
WITH THE NAME HALLA NASS?
Aside from The Band, every
group that ever crawled from the sea had to come up with a band
name. And, in 98% of the cases there is a meeting to
determine what the name of the band is going to be. During this
meeting, everyone will be afraid to give their serious ideas at
first so the jokes run rampant for a while. We had a band, but we
didn’t have a name, though Lance apparently had already had
designs on the name Halla Nass. We had one of those meetings at
Lance’s place. I know none of the early suggestions were serious;
someone (probably Lance) came up with “Louie and the Maracas”.
| Dave Rost: The name Halla Nass was pure Lance.
It is his humor totally. I went to visit him at work one
night and he suggested Halla Nass as a group name as kind
of a joke. The more I thought about it though, the more I
liked it. Before the night was over we were going to go by
Lance Halla and David Nass. Thus Halla Nass. As I recall
it was me who was left to sell the name to the rest of the
band. Which, by the way, wasn't easy!
I liked the name a lot. I
still do. The name looks good to me as I read it, far better than
“Hauling Ass”, don’t you think? In 1972, the word ass wasn’t
as acceptable as it is now so it was a pretty rebellious
name. Dave must have done the selling at the meeting I
referred to above and it may have been accepted because none of us
really wanted to be called Louie and the Maracas.
| Steve McCarty: I thought the Halla Nass thing
was clever and funny but I didn’t think it would stick. It
seemed to be a better inside joke. I knew it would not be
good for business. What legit business or
institution--thinking of area High Schools for dances and
proms--would want to hire us? I voiced this, but it was
glossed over. I didn’t expect my opinion to carry weight.
I also knew I wanted to keep this from my parents, which I
did until they confronted me to ask if I was playing in a
band called "Hauling Ass". If it wasn’t such a direct
"sounds like" to the obscene, it was a classy name and
fit, but of course that was the jocose barb.
We were now called Halla
Nass. The only problem with the name for me was that every single
time you told someone the name of the band, you had to follow it
up by quickly adding “not Hauling Ass” then you’d spell it out.
Lance suggested that we call our first album “Soul”. Get it? Halla
Nass Soul. Read it quickly. Maybe it was funnier if you were
there. Or maybe it was only funny if you were me and you were
JUST WHO WERE THESE
GUYS? - PART 1
Intertwined into this story are
sections on each of the players, mostly my thoughts of what each
person was like at that stage. I asked each of the
contributors to talk about the other members of the
band. Only Steve responded to these, and I'm glad of
that, but the rest of the memories are from me.
DAVE ROST / TRUMPET
Each of us, in all of our
walks of life, have dealt with the issue of how we are treated by
those older or more advanced than us. When we are breaking into a
profession, we might find that our mentors are cruel and unwilling
to impart with the information that we crave. Dave was not like
this at all. In my case, there was even the added issue that I was
his younger brother's friend.
Through all the years of childhood, I had known him only on that
level. But now he had brought me into this new project and the
barriers were immediately broken down. It was a real change,
personally, and I think it goes without saying that he deserves a
lot of credit for making this happen.
When you're a smart-ass like me, it becomes important for some
reason for people to laugh at your jokes. It creates a kind of
equal level, so to prove to Dave that I was no longer just a kid I
worked on getting laughs out of him. Once, the band went to a
grocery store and I came up to Dave and Louie who were in the
pickles section. Dave turned to me and showed me a jar of India
pickles and asked "Why do you think they call them India Pickles?”
Ahh, Of course. “Because when you eat them, they go inda
ya”. It made him laugh. This quick response
wasn't that good but to me it was a triumph of sorts.
I never had the feeling that he looked down on any of us
"youngsters" in the band.
Steve McCarty: I remember Dave had gotten back
from Vietnam, had to shave regularly and drove a new
aluminum block Vega. I didn’t know him that well, but he
was always kind to me too.
Dave's mix of enthusiasm and sincerity was solidifying
and he was dedicated to making the band succeed. He apparently
spent a lot of time selling to Lance and Louie ideas about what
might help the band progress. In fact I think he may have been
the lone voice that was really concerned about the fact that we
were in the straights without a good vocalist.
He was a good singer, and had a good soul to his voice. He was a
fine trumpet player and had a great easy-going sense of humor,
especially for a guy just back from the war in Vietnam
LANCE MORRISON /
CO-FOUNDER & TRUMPET
Lance, like Dave, had absolutely no issues with dealing with cub
musicians like Steve, Nick and I. I never for a moment
felt as if I was on less than a par with him. I had met Lance
once before joining Halla Nass, playing in a mud-soaked football
game at a park. My feeling at the time was that he seemed like
one of those cool older guys that you would never really get to
know. Instead, a friendship began during the life of Halla Nass
that will last until the day he dies.
| Steve McCarty: Lance was fun,
big-hearted and kind. He had a lot of joy in him as I
now look back. He was just a nice guy and also the
first vegetarian I ever met. We’d go to MacDonalds and
he’d keep the bun and toss out the meat.
If you wanted to have a fun time, just get Lance and any of
his brothers together. One time his brother Scott was over and
we saw a newspaper ad about a guy selling a motorcycle. Scott
had a plan and called the guy up, acting excited about the
“What size engine? Yeah?! Perfect! What year? Alright! What
color? Blue?! Oh, sorry, I don’t like blue”, and he hung up.
Lance called about five minutes later and went through the
same thing. “How many miles on this baby? Perfect! What size
engine? Great! What color? Blue? Oh….sorry. Blue’s not my
color. Thanks anyway.”
Ten minutes later, Scott had me call. By now, this guy was
depressed. When I started getting excited about his bike, the
first thing he said was, “Um….it’s blue. Is that okay?”
“Okay?! I love blue! Blue is my favorite color!” He was
audibly relieved, so I asked “What year is it? 1975? I hate
that year. Sorry.”
| Lance Morrison: The Todd car
sale incident was sooooooo funny! It was a Pinto,
and it was brown....great memory.
I say Scott, motorcycle, blue. Lance says Todd, Pinto, brown.
Some great memory.
By the way, Lance got me into the band he joined after Halla
Nass, "United Sound Corporation". It was led by a very serious
guy, Dennis Frese. Shortly after Dennis took on a new
girlfriend, he wanted to impress her with this band of his, so
he recorded one of our performances. A big mistake. After we
were done, we saw that his tape recorder was still going so
Lance and I stood around the microphone going on and on about
what a cold blooded asshole Frese was. We made up all kinds of
stuff about him. The next time we saw him, he was pissed off,
telling us how he had played the tape for his girlfriend and
she'd heard everything we said and now wondered what kind of
guy he really was. Anything for a friend.
Lance always had good ideas about what to do in a band. One of
them was that he should be brought on stage in a casket. We’d
open it up and start playing music which would draw him
relentlessly from death to the task of playing trumpet. I
couldn’t think of stuff like that. Which is probably a good
NICK MILLER / DRUMS
Nick and I got along really well. It was with him that I
learned a lot about playing outside of the standard 4/4 time.
Away from Halla Nass practices, we would get together and
write out tunes in stuff like 20/4 time. It was one of his
goals was to get to the point where 4/4 seemed like just
another time signature. He also introduced me to Yes, a band I
am a big fan of to this day.
He was dedicated to becoming a good drummer and was taking
lessons from perhaps the top drummer in the Bay Area at the
time, Bill Nawrocki. One thing he was not dedicated to was
becoming a good singer. We have to give Nick credit. He tried
to sing, but he just couldn’t. Neither could I at the time,
which is probably why I try to give him some credit. But he
didn't even want to get better. I asked him about practicing
vocals and he had an excuse for every possibility. He couldn't
practice singing with a pitch pipe because he needed an
instrument to sing to, yet he wouldn't practice to a piano
because it might be out of tune. He couldn't practice to a car
radio because the ride would be jerky, etc. etc.
By the way, I think Dave was right when he says Lance didn't
think highly of Nick. I asked Lance if he knew where Nick was
| Lance Morrison: I heard that
Nick moved to the east coast. I wish Louie would
have gone with him.
| Steve McCarty: For such a
straight kid as me at sixteen/seventeen years, Nick
Miller was the closest thing I came to as a walk on
the wild side --he had a mustache, long hair, and
sex with his girlfriend. His exploits gave me
something to hope for. He let me drive his
convertible Mustang one time--I have a soft spot for
that vintage still. Nick invited me to go see the
"Exorcist" at the fancy movie theaters in San Jose.
***** Maybe that was the time there was a fart in
the car and I feared they were going to blame me and
let me out then and there *****. I had never seen a
movie like that before.
He used to play in a band with a guitar player I
liked to listen to, so I thought Nick was damn near
professional. He even told me once that I played as
well as the other guitarist. I treasured that
compliment although I never believed it. Nick’s
irreverence always caught me off guard. One time
when were practicing at Nick’s house, his mother was
cooking something in a pot on the stove. During a
break, Nick walks through the kitchen, sniffs as he
lifts the lid and comments, "Smells like a butt-hole
THE FART IN
The fart in the
car. I certainly recall going to see the Exorcist with
Nick, Steve and Lance. I remember how fired up we were
walking in and how decimated we were walking out. But I do
not remember the fart in the car. Steve mentioned the fart
incident when we talked on the phone and referred to it
again here. Can you imagine having to worry about getting
fired from a band because of a fart? It could have easily
been either Lance, Nick or me.
| Lance Morrison: Believe it
or not, I don't recall the fart incident. (See,
Steve, I did my homework.)
I’ve never since
been in a band that had a theme song, although a band called
Crossroads had a built in one when we played the Cream song.
But Halla Nass wrote one. We were practicing in Dave's back
yard when someone (probably Dave) talked about having gone
to see a performance. The band had come out with a strong
theme song and that this was something we should composer.
Steve was right on the spot and said that he had been
thinking about using a Gm7 to C9 progression and started
playing. Even now I can hear how he played it on that very
day; it had a tremendous, undeniable drive and energy to it.
Nick and I immediately took it up, playing along. The
trumpet players took a moment and came up with dynamic and
driving horn lines. It seems to be the case with the best
songs that they come quickly.
Later, practicing in Louie’s garage, we decided someone
should quickly yell “One two three one two three”, and we
would break into a quick ¾ intro piece. I wanted the yeller
to be me, but Nick got the nod. The first time he did it, he
was so embarrassed that he ripped his cap off his head and
threw it to the ground, whispering “one two three one two
three”. Not quite the showy intro we were hoping
for. Here was my big chance, I thought, and suggested that I
could help Nick out by doing the count in myself. But cooler
heads prevailed and Nick kept the count-in. It just seemed
like a drummer thing to do.
It is my memory that Lance came up with the horn lines so,
for whatever it's worth, I would give song-writing credit
for Halla Nass Blues to McCarty/Morrison. It may be that
Dave and/or Louie should get credit to.
I can hear the entire arrangement clearly to this day. It
was a very good song and I was always quite proud to come
out on stage and have that big brassy, showy intro to our
band. I asked Lance if my memory of our song was close to
| Lance Morrison: This is a
complete and accurate portrayal of this 'blues'
number. Looking back however, it isn't really blues.
That makes things perfect in retrospect.
It wasn’t even close
to a blues number. I had never thought of that.
After writing the first drafts of this, Lance and I got
together and recorded the song. The December 2002 version
was BIG FUN to do. Lance played trumpets, trombone, guitar
and drums while I worked in bass and keyboard parts. The
drums on Halla Nass Blues are without doubt the hardest to
play and Lance did a fine job there but hearing him play
that trumpet again was....well...yes, I'll say it...music to
my ears. Beautiful. It's just unfortunate that we live so
far apart, otherwise I think there would be a pretty good
Morrison/Alstrand music recording team.
Along with the theme
song, there were some real favorites of mine played by the
band. One of the first songs we worked on was “More and
More” by Blood Sweat and Tears. This song moves well, right
from the opening trumpet line and I loved playing it.
There’s a nice bass break in the middle of it. If there was
one thing I could do, that was to overplay, so of course I
liked that. But who sang it?
Okay, I'm willing to
compromise. Only because it's the truth. Dave sang most of
More and More, but Nick and I took parts of the middle and,
see, Lance is still laughing about that voice breaking thing
I did. Probably the funny part is that I had strode to the
microphone very seriously and with great intent to deliver
the knockout line but instead just broke. It is kind
of funny when you think about it and, even funnier, I lost
all confidence in my part of that song as it came up. In
fact, I’ll bet if I sang that song today, I’d freak out when
that line came up, just sure that my voice was going to
break again and, sure enough, it would happen. And sure
enough, Lance would be there.
| Dennis Alstrand (in the first
draft): Nick and I sang More and More,
| Lance Morrison (in response):
sang More and More
| Dennis Alstrand (with proof that I,
at least, sang part of the song): I must beg to
differ. I can almost recite which lines Nick sang
and which I did. Maybe all three of us sang. I
remember, in fact, once at practice singing that
line "Like a SHIP that's drifting baby", and when I
sang SHIP my voice broke like I was a teenager
(which I was). You laughed about that for at least
| Lance Morrison (starting to sound
like he's right): I beg to
differ back, my fine man. My memory is Dave singing
More and More and Go Down Gamblin.' I think we had
the vocal insertions from others to give contrast.
Yeah....'Like a ship....' is an all timer!
We’d open our set with Halla Nass Blues and end it with
Beginnings. In between, we might play Funky Nassau (the best
part of that was that everyone got a little solo in
it..."Listen to the bass man gonna get that same funky
beat"), Helen Wheels and My Love by Paul McCartney and
Wings, Feeling Stronger Every Day and Dialogue by Chicago,
and Go Down Gambling, More and More and Lucretia MacEvil by
Blood Sweat and Tears.
going to be late for one practice and we decided to
surprise him by learning the Beatles song “Birthday”. I
raced home and got my copy of the white album and we
learned it in minutes. When Louie showed up and we played
it for him, I remember him being ecstatic, bouncing around
and rocking along with us. A good Louie memory! We
also did Harry Nilsson’s version of “Without You”. I
remember the horn section playing the string arrangement
at the end, but can not remember who sang it. Lance
maintains that it must have been Louie because he was a
real Nilsson fan. But I have this sneaking memory of Lance
singing the high part (I can’t live…if living is without
you). It may be that this was another of our mixed-bag
vocals, Louie singing verses and Lance covering the high
chorus. Sometimes we’d do an original of Lance’s called
“Melissa’s Eyes”, written for his daughter who, by
sheerest coincidence, is named Melissa. My contribution to
the song selection was a Jack Bruce song called “Never
Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune”. I was sort of
grateful that the band actually agreed to play it because
it wasn’t all that easy to learn.
But, just like most of our others, Never Tell Your Mother
was far from being a dance song. Looking back, I can see
where our mistake lay.
We didn't envision ourselves as a dance band so we
purposely did not fill our set with danceable songs. We,
all of us, wanted people to listen to our playing and went
with the feeling that our brassy arrangements would knock
people out. They almost invariably failed to do that.
There are a
million bands that do this same thing. They pick songs
that move them and feel that performing them is a
representation of their "art". I can't count the hundreds
times I've heard serious young musicians say that they
would not "sell out" their art to play commercial music
just so people would like it. And, though I don't recall
any of us speaking those particular words, maybe Halla
Nass did the same thing.
When you think about it, it's an incredibly absurd path to
follow! You have a young unknown band and are looking for
a start. So, what do you do? Of course, you play songs
that aren't designed with your intended audience in mind.
What do you get? The frightful gigs Halla Nass got
JUST WHO WERE
THESE GUYS - PART 2
ALSTRAND / BASS
I remember having
absolutely no fear about playing live. As I look back, our
first gigs were utter disasters. These were the kinds of
disasters that make some people never want to be seen in
public again, let alone play there, but I don’t recall
having one moment of doubt about the whole playing thing. It
wasn’t until reflection years later that I realized that
almost every band job Halla Nass did should have made me
think twice about going to the next one.
Yet, I tell you, I loved the whole Halla Nass thing so much
that I get filled with enthusiasm just thinking back to
those days and playing with those guys. It must be why I
remember so many details so vividly after so many years and
| Steve McCarty: Dennis liked
Jack Bruce, laughed easily and was also very nice to
me although I didn’t know him very well. I recall
him wearing to our performance, a T shirt displaying
on the back a cat in a Burgundy type glass with
"tight pussy" written on it. I wasn’t quite sure
what that meant at that time except that it must
have been cool, as he received a lot of comments and
that maybe I should have something like that too.
| Lance Morrison: As far as
Dennis' bass playing, he was the newest player in
Halla Nass. We literally saw him develop by the day.
The group seemed to be the key that lit his engine.
He began thinking in the language of the fret board.
He got very good, very quick. He learned more about
music than any of us in that same time period. He
became a musician. Later, as in the next band we
played together in, he could carry a group with his
solid bass, much less avant-garde soloing.
As I say, this band
may have been my favorite all time band because it is indeed
the one that I grew the most in. I felt like I was clawing
for knowledge and there they were, right there! People
people to get it from with no need for resorting to
fisticuffs. But enough of me. Let's get to one of my
STEVE McCARTY /
From the time Steve
left Halla Nass until I started this project, I had not had
the pleasure of speaking to him. We had a memorable phone
conversation about the band and music. It was my hope that
he would be able to be as poetic with his email responses
(that comprise his quotes in this writing) as he was during
that phone call. Turns out, lucky for me, he was.
As it turns out, although he was "the kid" in the band (all
of a year younger than me), he was a big part of it. I did
not know that he was as nervous as he was about playing in
Halla Nass, but he says he was frequently worried that we’d
discover that he was just a lame kid and we’d immediately
toss him out of the band. Instead, I think he brought a
great youthful intensity to the thing.
Sometimes, we’d give him a pretty hard time, like when we
discovered that he was an Eagle Scout, the highest honor in
the Boy Scouts. I mean, you just can’t let something like
that go by without making some cracks about it. But neither
he nor I remember any serious knocks made on him or his age.
I know I would have been in no position to do so.
He claims he was not a good player, but he wasn’t bad. What
I hope he realizes is that being a good band member doesn’t
have everything to do with musical talent. If you are
surrounded by good players, sometimes all you have to do is
provide a drive, or be a good guy, or learn all the songs on
time. There’s a myriad of things a person can do to be
worthy of a band. I have no memories of his “lack of talent”
holding us back in any way, so I’m putting the kibosh on
that notion right here and now. He was good enough.
And he made us laugh. For example, one evening Lance's
parents had the band over to their house for dinner. Steve
had just got a joke book and was saying things like "Did you
hear about the guy who traded in his Honda for a menstrual
cycle?" and - when we were leaving - he said "Well,
lezz-be-on". Of course, part of that was the shock value of
seeing this young guy spouting jokes like that in front of
the kindly Mr. and Mrs. Morrison.
However, the biggest laugh he got out of me was kind of
unfortunate. He was excited about doing “No Time” by the
Guess Who and showed up at Lance’s place all jazzed up about
it. He played that opening guitar line and then went up to
the microphone with a very serious face, singing “No time
left for you” in a low voice. I looked at him and started
laughing. He looked so damn serious about this idiotic song.
I felt bad, and he stopped singing, asking me what was so
funny. I don’t know if I ever told him, but he’ll read this
and know now. We never did end up doing that song.
I was hoping for more feedback from the other members about
him, but got only this:
| Dave Rost: Steve was also
young. Sometimes he played some great stuff.
Back in the Halla
Nass days, I know the McCartys thought we were going to
corrupt their son, eagle scout that he was. Once, after a
practice at their house, my younger brother Gary remarked
about that to Lance who replied, “Yeah, they’re worried that
we’re going to spike his Bosco”.
They may have been worried about us, but they put up with
some loud rehearsals in their garage. I liked them and
still do. His Mom told me that she always knew when we
were practicing loud when they weren’t home, because we’d
knock some wall photos out of alignment. The only
disagreement we had with them was regarding feedback. His
Dad was of the opinion that if a PA fed-back, then the
band was playing too loud and he made this opinion quite
clear during our practices there. The frustrating thing
was that it’s not true, but we weren’t about to stand
there arguing with the man whose garage we were using and
whose neighbors we were annoying.
LOUIE CORTEZ /
CO-FOUNDER & TRUMPET
Louie would probably
be more of a fascinating study for somebody with a degree in
psychology than he was for me. He was a dedicated musician
but thought pretty highly of his own talent. If you were not
at his perceived level, you knew it without a word spoken to
you from him. I know he never allowed me to “rise up” to his
level like Lance and Dave did and yet, I still have good
memories of him while we played in the band together.
My everlasting image of him is talking into that trumpet
with his speedy delivery and soft voice, fingers always at
the ready to play more notes. I liked that side of him
because that’s how I am, always wanting to play instead of
talking about it. As I’ve said, I learned things from
him by listening to him talk to other people. He had
interesting things to say, albeit in a pretty smug way,
about various jazz musicians and had different interesting
things to say about me when I wasn’t there.
He had a great respect for Paul McCartney (as did all of us)
and I recall a song he had written, actually a pretty nice
song, called “Let Me Know the Way”. It sounded as if it
could have been straight off an early 1970s Wings album.
Halla Nass worked on it but we never performed it.
There is no
doubt in my mind that Louie would have been happier in Halla
Nass had they enlisted more seasoned musicians on bass,
drums and guitar and I don’t blame him for that. It took us
younger guys a while to come up to any kind of par and by
then he had lost interest. If the band had started out with
solid jazz players who knows what might have happened? He
might have stayed around.
As time went by, Louie became more and more difficult to
work with. All these years, I thought it was only me, but
apparently it had not gone un-noticed by the other horn
| Lance Morrison: Dave, Louie
and I were friends, but as Louie became more
intense, I felt Dave got closer to him to help him
| Dave Rost: He had though
some very real and serious mental problems that only
got worse as time progressed. It's too bad because
it got in the way of his playing.
Here’s my ‘Louie in Halla Nass story’. We were practicing
over at Nick’s house, in the garage. During a break, Dave
and Louie were in the kitchen. I walked out of the garage
and casually told them that, gee, by accident I had tripped
over a microphone which knocked one of the trumpets over.
Diving to save the endangered horn, I had fallen over my
amplifier which tipped over and knocked over the PA and it
fell on the drum set. Something like that, anyway. Dave and
Louie stood there for a few moments and then, at exactly the
same instant – an incredible move – they both ran over each
other trying to get out to the garage to see the carnage.
When they came back out, relieved that everything was really
in one piece, I was in the refrigerator getting something to
drink and it’s one of the few times I ever remember Louie
talking directly to me. “We never know when you’re serious”,
After Louie left the band, one of our gigs featured us as
well as Louie's new band. I don't remember much about this
occasion, but Lance remembers it as a time where Louie would
see that I could play that damn bass after all. It was also
a time for Lance and Louie to have a musical stare down.
| Lance Morrison: Of all things,
Louie and I met at a party that involved a Hispanic
family. Per tradition, the family had a salsa band
for early entertainment, followed by a top 40 band
for dancing. Louie was in the former, and we (Halla
Nass) were the top 6 band that followed.
Since he had become difficult, argumentative and
erratic, that alone made the meeting of horn players
a bit tense. The horns were likely a metaphor for
rams' horns--the butting of egos.
Since Louie had always derided Dennis' bass playing
(after all, Paul McCartney had dark hair), I was
particularly anticipatory regarding his ears and
You were a bonafide stud, and Louie had you pegged
as a Proud Mary bassist (ed note: I read "Proud Mary
bassist" as "Brain-dead And No Talent"). You blew
him away. It was great.
My brother Todd sat in on a rickety old piano that
night as we played Summertime. Todd really wanted to
impress, but the mic was way too low and he had to
pound on the damn thing to make a sound. It bummed
him out, and he felt he blew his chance for
recognition. He was wrong...I recognized him right
away, asking, " Who in the Hell told you that you
could play the piano?" Ultimately Todd became a
piano stud--he wails to this day. Of such bitter
disappointment is reclamation ensured.
Louie and I had a solo-off in the song Summertime.
He got really befuddled as he tried to play a
complicated, 'intelligent' solo, and I just decided
to pattern a style you suggested recently. I
trilled, slurred and played in the upper register
and had a great time. It was like getting a turd off
my shoe. In essence I was telling him that playing
should be free of tenseness, that it should be fun
and liberating. I was saying 'so long' through the
bell of my horn.
DOSE GUYS DONE
PLAYED GOOD TOGETHER
What about those
horn players? I'll tell you what: they were damn good. But
what did they think of each other?
| Dave Rost: Lance and I
had known each other for years and had become closer
in High school, both of us playing trumpet. Louie
was my best friend in high school. We spent a lot of
time together. Louie was very talented and could
have been a great player. Lance was and is a very
talented musician. He played a lot of trumpet but
never worked on trumpet. This is not a knock on
Lance. He played what he wanted to. As for myself, I
had a hard time coming back from that long period of
inactivity. I was working hard but was playing
catch-up most of the time, especially in the early
| Lance Morrison: Dave was a
good trumpeter. He liked technical methodology, and
I liked slurring and being on the edge. I took
exception to his comment that I didn't work hard at
the horn, but frankly, I always wanted to escape
from the trumpet and move to new instruments. I
didn't realize how simple that would have been--just
do it and work hard...Anyways, Dave played hard and
well. Louie had a great harmonic brain. He had a
good sense of how to end a phrase. He would have
been a good jazz trumpeter with more practice in
that direction. We both played until our lips were
The reason their
commentary about each other is in here is because it was a
matter of importance to me that I find out what they each
thought of each other as players. So I put the question to
them in many different ways. The above two quotes are
compilations of many different responses I received from
them. They are quotes about each other individually, but I
did not get a lot of feedback about how they worked together
as a unit. For example, how did they put horn arrangements
I came to realize that they just instinctively worked well
together and would not remember details of this
I was an extremely interested observer of their musical
interaction. They were the guys who put this whole thing
together, the real masters of the band and I instinctively
wanted to know how all this worked. So, in the absence of
their commentary, I offer my thoughts on their interaction,
told from an onlooker’s point of view.
From the beginning of our band, they were quick studies. If
we decided on a new tune to do, they would have the horn
parts arranged in minutes. This is not easy to do, to come
up with three connected harmonic parts that not only worked
with each other, but were correctly layered on to what the
three of us in the rhythm section were doing. When you
consider that none of us had experience playing with horns
before, this could not have been an easy task for them to
I couldn’t tell you which one of the three carried the
biggest weight regarding the arrangements of their horn
parts. In fact, it was amazing to me just watching them do
it. They’d talk about it for about one minute, we’d play a
bit, and they’d stand there with their horns up to their
mouths, emptying their spit valves, talking through their
mouthpieces at high speeds, telling each other what hadn’t
worked like they thought it would and what parts they should
now play. After a few words of discussion, they’d try the
part out and it would sound perfect to me. Just as I would
start to say “wow! Great!”, one of them would say, “Not
working. Bzzzz buzz bizazz, you drop to a fifth,
bzzzz, buzz, I’ll stay on the third, okay?” “Okay”. They'd
try it together. Another great sound. They’d try it with the
band and we were all set. It always worked by the second
time. Then, when whomever it was got his valve trombone,
they must have had to re-work all their parts out,
although I don’t recall any discussion even about this
change. They now had an instrument that played in a lower
register and so everything changed, and it did completely
change our sound, in my ears and on the recordings. It was
what our theme song needed, for example, a fuller range of
sounds in the horn section. The same holds true with songs
like Beginnings that were originally arranged by Chicago’s
trombone player and featured him prominently. Now we sounded
like them. But through all of that I don’t recall ever
standing around long waiting for the horn players to get
their parts together. After all of my guessing and
estimation about their horn arrangements, Lance makes it
sound a lot easier than it really was.
| Lance Morrison: The arrangements came
about so easily because we all listened to fine,
fine players...Freddie Hubbard, Don Ellis, Maynard,
etc...not to mention B S and T. Trumpet lines are in
many ways like tackle football...the energy goes
where the ball is, and everyone piles on. It just
One final note about
their interaction would be that I learned from that, too. I
had always assumed that good music requires hours and hours
of preparation. When I thought of Blood Sweat and Tears, I
would picture a man at his drafting table at 3AM, a cup of
coffee at this side, and a trash can overflowing with tossed
out chart ideas. Now I learned that it didn’t have to be so.
Some of the absolute best music ever created comes during
practices when something is needed and someone fills that
need. Sometimes great ideas come from mistakes made by one
of the musicians and it makes the song better. Sort of like
evolution. And, what Lance says is true: sometimes it just
HALLA NASS GIGS!
Attention, all you
young musicians out there. If you want to make sure you will
never get a swelled head about yourself, be sure to join a
band like Halla Nass right away. It will either leave you
with the ability to laugh at yourself or you will become a
research assistant and never mention to anybody that you
ever even thought of playing music.
Here’s how our first gig came about: One day, Nick told the
band that his parents were going to throw a party and that
we were invited to play out in the garage. To me, this was
exciting news! It was to be my first ever performance of any
And, boy, did we ever practice for it. My memory is that we
actually practiced seventeen days in a row in Nick’s garage.
I’m pretty sure that’s correct. It got sort of boring after
a while, but we had to learn a lot of songs to play an
actual party. I’m surprised we survived that rehearsal
ordeal, but everyone had good spirits.
The garage floor was of the typical style, made of sturdy
cement. The kind of cement that is not friendly to falling
instruments, so when someone accidentally walked into the
valve trombone (whose ever it was) there followed one of
those slow motion moments. It tottered and then started a
long slow fall towards that cement. None of us were within
diving range and all we could do was watch. I can clearly
see it's descent to this day, and can also see the bent up
shape it was in afterwards.
Finally, the big night of the party came.
I thought about what kind of performer I was going to be. I
mean, you have to do this before you have your performance,
don't you? Will you be one of those studious deadpan guys?
Or, perhaps, the angry young man? What about the faggy lead
singer type? I thought for a few moments about how I would
be and decided I would be one of those guys who moves around
a lot. As I was a really expressive guy, really expressive
playing was what I would do best.
That night was fun. I followed my plan and moved around a
lot while playing and thought that the people that came out
to the garage now and then to check us out must really think
I was something. Instead, I was told I looked like those
guys in Paul Revere and the Raiders. Remember them and their
goofy and moronic antics on Where The Action Is? But a good
story came out of that evening.
| Steve McCarty: I remember
Lance introducing Dennis as Icles and then stating,
"This next piece had a really hard bass part and it
will test Icles. I’m sure there was a story to
remember at each job.
reminding me of things I'd forgotten. There’s more to the
story than that, and I’m the fall guy in it. Dave had a good
line. He introduced me on a song I was going to sing or
something, saying “This next song features our bass player,
Nad Alstrand. GO NAD GO!” (say it quickly). I thought it was
hilarious. Being new to this performing business, I
introduced him the same way during our next set, yelling “GO
NAD GO”. I admit, it was weak using his same joke. Lance
immediately came up with the testicles line Steve referred
to. I was shot down and am still amazed that he could come
up with that so quickly.
GIGS! MILPITAS HIGH SCHOOL
This was our first
true gig. We may have even been paid for it, I don’t
remember. Milpitas is a little town down by San Jose known
mostly for the smell that wafts from the sewage treatment
plant in town.
What I do recall is that the mostly Mexican audience thought
we stunk and stunk hard. Well, I’ve played for a lot of
audiences and have come to find out that the worst audiences
there are, when it comes to not liking you, are Mexican
audiences. This is no knock on the nationality, maybe it’s
even a compliment, because they will absolutely let you know
how they feel, whether they love you or wish that you were
never born. Especially the young men. They will sit there or
stand there with their arms folded throwing stares at you
like they were seriously thinking about replacing these
thrown stares with fists. This was certainly the case at
Milpitas High where we set up and played in an outdoor
cement amphitheater. I was just glad that there was quite a
separation between us and the students. In retrospect, this
being my first real gig as a musician, my first time
“playing out”, I think I was happy to be part of a band.
Because if you’re part of a band, the jeers and sneers and
tossed objects are directed to the unit and not you
When they started throwing coins at us, it got a little
scary. The glares are a bit nerve-wracking because of the
tradeoff that you are giving them music, hopefully art, and
they are giving you hostility. Even that wasn’t so bad, but
any potential damage to a musical instrument, such as it
being hit by a hostile coin, brings out the worst in us.
I had just bought a new, shiny black bass and the thought of
some bastard dinging it up because he didn’t like what we
were playing brought out some dark emotions in me. I haven’t
asked them, but I can guarantee you that the others in the
band felt the same way as I did. Your instrument is absolutely
your baby. It’s like a ballplayer’s glove, a dancer’s
shoes or a politician’s hairstyle. You cherish it and polish
it. You lovingly put it in its case when you’re through and,
when you open that case up again, there it is waiting
for you to play it again, and you’re proud of it. So the
sound of coins zinging across the stage was as the sound of
So there it was. We had played for an audience and got our
feet wet as a band. Despite the anxious moments, I knew
there was no harm done and was excited about us having
played out. I have no recollections of any verbal comments
made about that long-ago gig, but I am willing to bet that
1) I was excited and happy, and 2) the others wondered what
I was so happy about. We had flopped miserably.
GIGS! NEWARK HIGH SCHOOL GYM
My brother Gary came
with us to tape record the performance. Unfortunately, the
tape has long been lost, but a lot of my memories of how the
band sounded come from my memories of listening to that
tape. It’s so much easier to hear the whole band while
listening to a recorded performance and that gym-echoey
sound tends to be what I hear when I think of us playing.
My brother says that he was getting harassed by some of the
Chicanos there, as if his very association with us - by way
of the tape recorder - brought out their hostility and
| Gary Alstrand: Why shouldn't
they give me a hard time? I am white and I am
responsible for stealing their land in 1847. They
are all dead by now, or in prison getting a tossed
salad for breakfast, fucking ignorant grease balls.
I had it backwards.
They - along with my provocation of his memory - brought out
his hostility and anger.
Back at the gig, ho-ho!, we came out, fired up and ready to
rock ‘em. Nick did the Halla Nass Blues count in “One Two
Three One Two Three!”, and we lit the place up with our
theme. We really set it on fire. Well, that’s what I was
thinking anyway. We got to the finish of the song and the
(again, mostly Mexican) crowd greeted us with a huge volume
of silence. This was serious silence, aside from some guys
playing ping pong and some other guys sounding like they
wanted to fight.
To our credit, we did not let this get to us! We marched on,
pulling out every conceivable song that they could not
possibly like. Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, it all died a
fiery death not unlike the way the city of Chicago did in
And then it happened. We were playing some long forgotten
song and they started dancing. A group of them actually
started dancing. We all started looking at each other
excitedly. "Yeah! They’re dancing to us! We’re going over!",
our eyes said. For the first time, we were connecting with
the crowd. Smiles lit up band-members’ faces as all eyes
peered intently toward the dancing group. What was it, we
were all wondering, that was suddenly working? Was it the
song? The rhythm? The bass playing (well, of course!)?
We got to the end of the tune, a big drug out rock-show
ending and stopped. But there was no reason for the dancers
to stop with us; they were dancing to a juke box in the
We faced it, they didn’t like us. But unfazed, we took a
break and returned with a different configuration. Lance sat
down on drums, Nick picked up my bass, and Steve was on
guitar. We decided to become a band that had just come over
from England called Mormilac (Morrison, Miller and McCarty).
With a British rock star accent, I introduced them that way
and played the valve trombone. We did You Really Got Me by
the Kinks, most of us on strange instruments that we
couldn’t play well at all. Yep, you guessed it. The crowd
I learned a
lesson from that. The lesson was...er...that there
are no lessons in life.
GIGS! HIGHLANDS INN MONTEREY
My memory is so dim
of this, with some exceptions. It was Lance's brother’s
wedding and we were hired on to provide the musical
entertainment. We drove down in two cars. I was in the car
with Louie and he showed, during the long trip, that he
could actually be a lot of fun to be around, even though his
thing in those days was to read every sign he saw backwards.
For example, if he saw a sign that said “Camel Filters”,
he’d say “Sretlif Lemac”. It was kind of impressive for the
first hundred miles or so. But then he came up with some
strange things for us to do, and I had a good time being
part of them. Come to think of it, he turned us into a sort
of a visual band for the entertainment of the other cars.
We’d all jerk our heads back and forth in time with each
other, facing a passing car and then facing forward, back
and forth. Then he’d have us act like we were all eating
soup, raising hands to mouths as one. These stated memories
are kind of weak, humor-wise, but it was a fun trip being in
his visual band.
Nick was in the other car and must have felt that he was up
to the humor challenge because I remember looking over to
see his bare ass plastered into the passenger window.
At this wedding, Lance's daughter Melissa came up and sang
“Melissa’s Eyes”. I think she couldn’t have been more than
three. I also think that a photo of her singing this (with
none of us in it, probably fortunately) is the only “photo
of Halla Nass” that exists.
Seeing a piano by the bandstand, Louie sat down and did a
performance of Hey Jude. Maybe he did it a bit smugly, or
even really smugly, and he was given a real hard time for
doing it by the band afterward. I feel pretty strongly that
anybody who has the guts to go on stage and try something is
doing alright already even if they fail. So I give him
credit for giving that a shot. He never sang it with us
again, I know that.
It’s easy to play at Highland's Inn - with its view of the
ocean - and have an enjoyable time. But this was for Lance’s
family and friends and hence, this is a good time to discuss
something that is not well known about performers. Playing
for friends, family or co-workers is one of the harder
things to do. No matter how natural a performer tries to be,
when they go on stage they become something different. It’s
the nature of the very beast.
These friends and family know you as your normal self,
though, and it’s difficult to ride along as a total part of
a band when you’re thinking about that. Co-workers generally
really know you as a different person. It’s all a
bit hard to explain, and when I’ve talked about it before,
people say “screw em! Just go play!” It’s much easier said
than done and I really feel that just about every performer
will agree with that.
With that in mind, the good reaction by the Morrison family
was comforting. We played, and they liked it. Maybe it was
because there was no juke box in the room?
GIGS - SILVA Jr. HIGH, NEWARK
Ahh, the Silva gig.
Everybody in the band remembers it pretty well. For openers,
when Dave and I went to sign the contract, they refused to
allow us to use the name “Halla Nass”. Dave conceded the
point and we were to be called Hallan’ for this gig.
I had known and feared the principal at this school, Mrs.
Howard, from my days of attending her schools of
horror. She was a real arch-typical old school type
and the authority figure of every 1950s school movie made. A
bit of a stickler for manners. I remember her walking
into my classroom once and yelling at some poor kid because
his shirt was untucked. I know that if they still
allowed authorities to beat kids, she would have been riding
in her glory. Put it this way, everyone agreed that Mrs.
Howard was a bitch. So, when Nick arrived wearing a
certain t-shirt I knew we were in for a difficult time.
Lance and I discussed the incident recently and I realized
he could tell the story far better than I had done
originally so I asked him to write this one out for me.
| Lance Morrison: Lost in the
ether of memory is just how young and inexperienced
we were. A sure fire clarification resides in the
fact that we were excited about playing at a junior
high school dance. Nick Miller had a white tee shirt
with the words 'FUCK OFF' imprinted with bold red
coloring. When Ms. Howard saw the shirt, she
immediately told the young Miller fellow that he
needed to take it off. That was the wrong thing to
tell a kid who grew up in a nudist colony. Nick
would have taken it off--all of it! However, Nick
had competing interests: He was a nudist AND an
anarchist. He hated authority. His brain immediately
went to the right side and his mouth told her 'no.'
She insisted, mainly because she was Nick's inverted
image--she WAS authority. As part of this inverted
image she was the antithesis of a nudist. She likely
wore clothes in the shower. The battle between
controller and rebeller took a quick and defining
trajectory. Nick called her a 'fucking bitch.' She
about had a coronary right there. All she could get
off was a stuttering," You are a very rude boy!"
Nick's senses were alive, and he knew his vitriol
reigned supreme. he countered," Well you're a
fucking bitch, so fuck you!"
I need to step outside of the story for a moment to
do a fair accounting. You see, I was out of the
story as this was happening. I wanted to play.
Badly. I wanted the glory of a junior high dance.
Never mind that the the amount of metal the girls
wore on their teeth was surpassed only by the
padding in their bras. Never mind that I was Silva
School graduate and I innately knew that fun was not
allowed there. I wanted to play! Dennis had his
brother along to tape the band, and posterity
demanded that Halla Nass be memorialized. There was
a lot riding on this yin and yan of civility.
In my desperation, I had to pull rank. You don't
like to resort to professional courtesy, but I
pulled out the only card I held. I approached Ms.
Howard (who was easily recognizable as the woman
with the garden hose for a carotid artery) and
introduced myself as a fellow school district
employee. It was true that she was a principal and I
was a janitor, but I figured we both dealt with a
lot of shit and took a lot of garbage from people.
She did recognize me, as once she told me I needed
to dust her desk more thoroughly. I asked her if she
knew Nick Miller and she said she didn't. I then
informed her that he was not in the mainstream
because he had emotional problems. I said he was
prone to outbursts. She seemed to have no problem
believing me. I told her that I would ensure that he
took off the shirt. (memory alone will verify that
one Nick Miller played the entire gig shirtless) To
my utter amazement, she agreed. My anxiety
eviscerated! We were going to play! We did, by the
way, and better men than I have recounted that
dance. But that moment--that intersection of
rudeness and authority--of profanity and prudity
leaves me ponderous to this day...Why did she change
The answer came to me some 30+ years later. She
wasn't happy that Nick called her a bitch. Hell, she
was mortified. Yet even Ms. Howard was a realist.
She knew that she was a bitch. As cold met hot, as
moist met cutting rawness, nature had to respond
with thunderous resolution. Forced to choose between
being a purist authoritarian or embracing her inner
bitch, Ms. Howard acknowledged who she was. Out of
chaos comes order. The dance that wasn't, was. The
universe was restored honorably, and Halla Nass
resumed its elemental course. Soon enough, just
playing in that band was a straight up bitch. Still,
in that moment in time, we played, and it was good
Lance tells the
story is told far better than I could dream of telling it.
Until my dying day I will not forget the two powers
meeting on that evening. Hearing Nick Miller tell
Mrs. Howard "well you're a fucking bitch so fuck you" is
sort of indescribable. You know it's true but it's a
truth that probably doesn't need to be revealed at that
point in time. Aside from that incident, it was not
a bad night. It was, easily, the best gig that Halla
Nass ever did.
Even though we were supposed to change our name to
Hallan', we came on stage and I can still hear Dave
clearly shouting into the microphone, “We’re Halla Nass!”,
then Nick with the “One two three one two three”, then
that brassy opening.
It was smooth. The only other thing that happened contrary
to plan was that there was someone there named Shorty who
apparently played bass. All night people kept shouting out
“Let Shorty play bass!” “Let Shorty play!” It was pretty
annoying and it caused me to play better, or more
probably, play more notes and louder. But they all thought
Shorty could play better. Instead of titling this chapter
"Silva Jr. High", I ought to call it “Shorty plays bass!”
Meanwhile, Lance had come up with a great idea about how
to end the show. We finished our set with “Beginnings” and
the three trumpeters each took a solo and fled the stage
as if there was a fire. Then Steve played a guitar solo
and immediately pushed his amp behind the curtains. I had
a bass solo and pushed my amp off. Now there’s only Nick
playing a drum solo. One by one his cymbals and drums were
taken away by the rest of as he was still playing. Finally
he had only a snare, and then when that was taken away, he
was on the floor pounding with his hands.
Three of us then carried him off stage, writhing like the
maniac he was. I mean, this was a good idea, and
it worked. No doubt about it, if you can make junior high
school students cheer, you’re doing alright, and they were
cheering that one.
By the way, during my bass solo at the end, I played the
best I possibly could ever play. I wanted to make sure
that there was no way Shorty could touch what I did. I
played fast and wild, sixty notes per second and was
convinced I'd scored a clear victory. When we were
clearing up, a kid walked up to me.
Figuring he’d tell me how good I was, I gave him a
paternal handshake and friendly smile. He said “You should
have let me play. I’d have walked all over you.”
THE DEPARTURE OF
If my memory serves,
and I’m not sure if the sequence of gigs I’m providing is
correct, that was the last gig that Louie Cortez played with
us. He just was not getting along and so he quit. Better
put, he really felt there was a serious lack of professional
talent in the band and so he quit. Hindsight, being what it
is, shows that he was probably correct in this decision.
| Lance Morrison: Louie quit
because he was a self obsessed person who was very
contrary to be around. He saw himself as Paul
McCartney talent and John Lennon depth. The shallow
end of a pool looks deep to a non swimmer. He was
too difficult to be around...we let him know that
Louie came to one
more practice, maybe to see how much we sucked without him.
I was singing Parchmann Farm at the time, a ripping blues
tune by Mose Allison. While he stood there, I sang it and
gave it everything I had, feeling as if I was sitting under
the king's judgment. His expression afterward was something
between shock and a desire to be somewhere else. But, I want
my last words about him to be positive. He was, indeed, a
fine player and I did learn some things from him. And it is
for absolute certain that I played with some guys over the
years that were far harder to get along with than him. And,
maybe it’s true that beneath the smugness, Louie was a good
guy who was afraid that people would see that he was just a
bit of a harmless dweeb.
With Louie gone, Dave and Lance must have spent some time
reworking the horn parts and charts. Bathing suits aside,
it’s not easy to go from three pieces of anything to two
pieces. I can vouch for this from vocal bands I’ve been in.
The third part to a harmonic ensemble of any kind is the
part that fills so much in. It makes a major difference in
the sound of what you are doing. With a third part, you can
sweeten things up. There are neat little tricks you can do
to make your three instruments sound like a full ensemble,
which they had done. Sometimes you can have the third part
play or sing in unison with one of the others at times and
this really can sound powerful. With two parts, you are now
relegated to two-part close harmony. With Halla Nass, since
the three parts were trumpets, they could get away with it
because it sometimes sounded like a brass choir. With
two trumpets, or one trumpet and one trombone, you are more
limited. My opinion is that, if you are going to be limited
to two horns, a trumpet and a sax would be more ideal and,
in fact, in the next band Lance and I played in, that was
the horn configuration for years.
But what were they to do? There were no more Louie Cortez’s
walking around looking for work. It would be interesting to
find out what Lance and Dave’s frame of mind regarding the
horn section was at this time.
Were they nervous about the reduction?
Were they relieved to not have to concern themselves with
Louie’s personality any more? Maybe they just didn’t concern
themselves with it as a problem (which is generally what
young men do) and just decided to move on.
This sounds right to me. It was how I felt anyway. What is
for sure is that we did go on, with or without Louie Cortez.
GIGS! ALAMEDA NAVAL AIR STATION OFFICER'S CLUB
This gig, we felt,
would be a real door-opener for us. Instead, it was a
door-closer in a way. If my memory serves correctly, it was
our last gig with Steve. And what a last gig for him it
turned out to be. Who can blame him for leaving even if he
claims it was for other reasons.
First of all, I don’t recall there being a stage in the
club. This may not sound like a serious problem but it is. I
really dislike performing without a stage. Even if the stage
is one foot tall, it creates a barrier between the audience
and the band and that is no minor detail. Without that
barrier, or a separation point of some kind, you lose any
sense of authority in the situation. Having no stage makes
it much easier for dancers, especially after a few drinks,
to whip around and slam right into your microphone, usually
while you’re singing. In fact, the only times I can recall
becoming furious on stage were when that has happened. There
you are, concentrating on singing a song, playing an
instrument at the same time, and BLAM, you’ve got a fat lip,
loose teeth, a bad attitude and the people that did it have
never ever even realized they have just made you want to
take their drunken heads and slam ‘em together until
cartilage comes out of their nostrils!
Maybe even worse than that, it makes it much easier for
people to walk right up to the band when you’re in the
middle of a song, and talk to you or to yell comments from
the floor. This is what happened at the Alameda NAS gig.
The band set up and the officers started trickling in. Being
officers, they were in uniform, had military attitudes and
haircuts and looked about as removed from any sense of
musicianship as they possibly could. And of course, being
officers, they felt right at home shouting out their
feelings about what we were doing. Oh, they didn’t like us
at all. Guys sitting five feet from us with drinks in their
hands, would shout things like “Your vocals STINK!” Then
another guy would join in with a similar compliment. Man,
that was a long gig, one of the longest I ever remember and
I say that after thirty years of performing and playing for
people. It just went on and on, and it became sort of a
competition amongst these bastards to see who could come up
with the best shouted insult.
One guy started counting off the band members. “Your
drummer’s pretty good, your guitarist is good”…. At this
point I was primed for a compliment, but no. He went on
“Your bass player’s all-right, but your vocals are
TERRIBLE!” The bass player’s all-right, indeed. What an
insult. I told myself that I played an instrument that
nobody listens to anyway, but the thought provided no
comfort. Of course, they were right about the vocals thing.
We did need a lead singer. In retrospect, it might be that
it had just become more apparent now that we had fewer horns
to dazzle people with.
Things went from bad
to worse now. We knew we needed to do something, to make
some sort of personnel change, but what would it be? Should
we get another horn player? A lead singer? The prospect of
new lead singers has always been distasteful to me simply
because lead singers become the image of the band. If you
think about any band you’ve known that got a new lead
singer, I’m sure you noticed that the band changed
considerably. Well, maybe aside from Van Halen. Or AC/DC.
But other than that, it’s a major thing. When David
Clayton-Thomas joined Blood Sweat and Tears on the heels of
the departing Al Kooper, the band was completely
transformed. Now, we were talking about a major
There was an audition with yet another local Newarkite by
the name of Laurie Ballard
| Lance Morrison: I thought
Laurie was a knock because she was too eclectic, or
jazz oriented. I thought she could have taught us a
few things. I did like her a lot--she and I had
played in school band together.
| Gary Rost: ...the quest
for a lead singer, which was needed. I think Laurie
Ballard would have fit in.
| Steve McCarty: I thought she
had a good voice. I really don't know what happened,
I thought she just lost interest or couldn't get
scheduled. As an aside, I knew her brothers and
family from scouting.
| Dave Rost: It would be
good to combine my memories of our first gigs with
the story behind Laurie Ballard's Non
involvement. Vocals were a big problem for us,
as you know. Musically we had a lot of potential
but, as is the case with a lot of bands, our vocals
were very weak. Lance and Louie alternated on most
numbers with me doing one or
two. Laurie was one of my
best friends and, the most talented person I had
ever known. She was doing club dates around San Jose
at that time and was happy doing the folky stuff she
was writing and performing. I spent a whole evening
persuading her to join our band and by the end of
the evening she was pretty excited about it. As far
as I was concerned this was going to put us over the
top. When I presented the idea to Lance and Louie
they went ballistic. I was totally shocked. They
wanted no part of a vocalist, especially a female
vocalist. Her audition with us was an embarrassment
to me. Laurie was very hurt and our relationship was
never the same after that. My feeling is that
neither Lance nor Louie wanted to give up the
vocals. They would never admit this, but, it's the
truth as I see it.
I recall weighing in against having her in the band, but
don’t remember being knowledgeable of the spot Dave was in.
I might have been. Maybe it’s easy to forget if you’ve
helped make someone look like a jerk. Well, it was Laurie’s
folky stuff and style that I didn’t care for. I felt we were
a power band, and Laurie was a very studious, quiet person.
She was, indeed, an excellent singer and a really good sax
player. That alone probably should have done it, but I knew
that if we were going to add a person, I wanted it to be a
sparkplug for us.
Also, and I hate to say this, but the fact that she was
female was a detriment to me too. I’m treading in some deep
water here, but it’s the truth. I’ve since been enlightened,
but in those days I really did not think that women -with
some clear exceptions - could rock. I also didn’t think that
women could have an all out, open sense of humor. I thought
that I’d have to start watching what I would have to say. I
wasn’t making a quick judgment there. Having been a close
friend of her younger brother I, too, had known her for
years. Like Dave, she was a friend’s older sibling. Maybe we
would have gotten along great on an equal level.
Either way, I doubt if Steve, Nick or I had much say in the
subject, which was okay. As Steve says, we were along for
the ride and the seat was just fine. The Laurie Ballard
topic is an important one in the Halla Nass saga.
With this type of history telling, written along with the
other participants, it is nice to be able to have some
point/counterpoint. Here’s Dave’s response to my notes about
| Dave Rost: She most
certainly would have affected our style. To draw an
analogy, John Madden has said that the best way to
approach the NFL draft is to pick the best athlete
available when your turn comes up regardless of your
specific needs. Laurie was the best musician
available to us. She sang very well, played alto sax
and also guitar. I think if we would have picked her
up we could have been a working band. It may have
been that I had less at stake with the change. I was
more into jazz. Also, Lance and Louie were composing
at the time. They may have had a direction they
wanted to go in. But I still feel that there was a
chance, maybe a probability that we would have
become "Laurie Ballard and Halla Nass. I frankly
didn't care at the time. I just wanted to be
A NEW PA
Here’s another note
that is just about thankfully forgotten to history. The band
bought a PA (public address system). We had been using a
Shure Vocalmaster which is a terrible sounding system, but
one that every band around used. We upgraded to a Peavey.
Now, we entered into an agreement that never has
worked in the history of bands. The agreement is that the PA
is bought on credit, in one player’s name and it’s owned by
the band. If you leave the band, then you leave your
interest in the PA. In this case, the PA was bought in Nick
Miller’s name with his Dad as co-signer. We all pitched in
for the monthly payments. Up and coming musicians take note:
this practice is destined for failure as we’ll see later.
When Steve quit, it
was a serious shakeup to the band, but what was the reason?
I never knew until now.
| Steve McCarty: Conflicting
demands for time as well a lot of pressure from my
parents over the band’s name. I was still living at
home. They were sure I was getting wrapped up in
some venture which was to "lead me astray". I was
embarrassed they could apply so much pressure, but I
also knew enough about myself to pick my battles.
There were other skirmishes I wanted my chits for. I
was able to fill my cup somewhere else and was
fortunate to play guitar my senior year in the high
school jazz band, which went to, and performed many
places in Japan the following summer.
| Lance Morrison: When I think
about it...what were we without Steve...a bass,
drums and 3 horns?...not even enough for a bar
mitzvah. When I think about it, it is really a great
story about the music bug that was culturing inside
all of us. We were still infants with dreams that
traveled faster than our ability. Steve kept us less
serious...he was younger and we were having fun.
When he left we were perched to try something
better, but we were not sophisticated enough in my
created a hole that was never quite filled, in my opinion.
Other guitar players, some quite good, came and went. But
I’ve always felt we lost a real part of our personality when
he left. We went from having a youthful, enthusiastic
guitarist to older, experienced ones (I mean, guys in their
First we tried out a guy, right in the McCarty’s garage. He
played a beautiful black Les Paul and could play great light
jazz. He had a Ricardo Montalbaun haircut and demeanor. Mr.
and Mrs. McCarty liked this guy, but Blood Sweat and Tears
seemed like a different language to him so he wasn’t invited
to join us.
Next, a guy named Jim “Bear” Boyer, yet another Newark High
alumnus, joined. Bear was a very good jazz player. One of
those guys that women listen to and say “He could make that
guitar talk”. I don’t recall why Bear didn’t hang with us,
but maybe it had something to do with the fact that most of
the members of the Partridge Family sang better than us.
Finally, a guitarist by the name of Wayne joined. He could
actually sing too. He was one of those big, long-haired guys
who just strums that guitar and sings. It was around this
time that David Clayton-Thomas left Blood Sweat and Tears
and was replaced by two singers. They turned rocker on their
next album, No Sweat. So, we wanted to turn rocker too. I
don’t recall Wayne being much of a rocker. He was more the
type that was at home with songs like Lazin’ On A Sunday
Afternoon, which he did sing with us. During that time, my
brother Mike played with us a bit and we had two drummers
for a short time .I thought that would be powerful
and it was. I recall thinking at the time how much more
powerful Nick and Mike played together than did double drum
setups like the Allman Brothers and Charlie Daniels had.
Instead of playing separate roles as those bands’ drummers
did, Nick and Mike strove for power drums, which I liked.
They worked out drum fills together.
Meanwhile, we tried out a trumpet player named Nick Candea.
That didn’t last long at all. The main thing I recall about
trying Nick Candea out was that I was so happy that it
wasn’t me who had to guide and help him. As hard as he
tried, it was really pretty hopeless.
| Mike Alstrand: I think I was
involved in maybe two rehearsals. I remember one at
(later to become Mike’s wife) Sue’s house in their
converted garage/den. Sue's brother, Nick, played
with us at that time, at my suggestion, on trumpet.
He had played in the high school marching band. Nick
Miller was thinking of getting a clear drum set like
mine, and we would set them up side by side, one
going to the left for a left-hander, me, and one
right. He was also saying that if the band wanted
him to play more percussion, instead of drums, he
would. He is the guy that got me started taking drum
lessons (with Bill Nawrocki).
Despite the new
blood coming into the band, Nick Miller and Dave took off
for a walking trip across Canada. They were gone for months.
When they returned, I felt that the band would start getting
together again, but it was nothing doing. Lance was working
as a janitor, so I went to see him to find out what was up
only to find that there was some kind of trouble between
Dave and him. He sent me to see Dave who sent me back to see
Lance who sent me back to Dave. I started feeling like a
ping-pong ball, but this was important to me. What was going
on? From their comments, it became sadly apparent that the
band was over. Things had really blown up between Lance and
Dave in a way that meant they could never be friends again.
The band was
| Dave Rost: First of all,
I don't think there was any evil involved on
anyone's part. Things sometimes just happen. A lot
of events were set in motion long before Halla Nass
ever got together. I offer no excuse on my part, but
again sometimes things just happen. As for
friendships, who knows if Lance and I would have
remained friends? I don't really have any of the
same friends from that period of my life. Time
changes a lot of things, including people. It's
interesting how they come and go, into your life and
| Lance Morrison: Most
importantly: All is forgiven, not forgotten. It is
uncomfortable. Halla Nass as an accomplishment and
an experience means much more then why it broke up.
I grew from the experience. As far as Dave--he is
like Halla Nass. I look back. I learned some things.
I have no ill will. It can never be the same
Draw your own
conclusions about what happened. Enough said. Dave was out.
Once Nick heard that Dave was out, he quit as well.
This left Lance and I as the only members.
Not much of a band, although we did some nice duets
together. But it occurred to me that this also meant that
Lance and I – as the final members – should now be proud
owners of a Peavey PA. We went and saw Nick, and brought up
the agreement to him. He told us he’d talk to his Dad about
it and get back to us. Weeks went by, and I finally called
Nick up. He had been hoping we’d just forget about it. He
then weaseled out of the agreement by saying his Dad
wouldn’t let us have it.
something to the band and it is undeniable that when Louie
left, the band lost the sound of his experience and talent.
Steve’s departure lost us too much of our youthful drive.
Probably the two most replaceable members from the original
lineup were Nick and I and we were amongst the last to go.
Considering how he turned out to be untrustworthy in a
business agreement, maybe Nick could have been replaced
earlier with no problem.
When Halla Nass broke up, I was left with an empty feeling.
All the great band practices were no more. When you get into
a band that has some energy and drive, you get caught up in
it. Interpersonal relationships change, and that goes both
ways. A person you might never have met, known or got along
with otherwise now becomes a friend. Conversely, long-time
friendships can (and did) end. If the band is serious and
motivated, there will be casualties. Every band seems to
have them, because every band is, unfortunately, full of
musicians. Musicians are, almost by definition, individuals
with completely different ways of getting to where they want
to be. And there are very few of us who have business minds.
When I think of friendships and the incredible circumstances
that must take place for friends to meet, it seems almost
scary. If the horn players in the band had not played in a
brass choir with Steve’s sister, and then needed a guitar
player I am sure I would never have met Steve. We were in
two totally different universes and it’s a happy fate that
we did meet. If Dave hadn’t gotten out of the army with a
desire to pick up his horn and get back with his old mates,
and if he hadn’t felt I was a worthy potential on bass, our
relationship wouldn’t have changed to equal footing as it
did and, damn if I don’t think I would have ever met Lance.
Further, had that not been the scenario, I think I would be
a different, and lesser, musician than I am today. That’s
because I learned a lot about people playing well together
and it has been a motivating factor for me, all because this
amazing and unique trio of people needed a bass player and
then I knew one of their brothers. Wow. That’s a slim thread
to hang one’s hat on Perhaps the biggest lesson
learned, for me, was that bands are about the people who are
playing with each other more than the music they put out.
The one problem with this story is that it’s real. There
should be a big dramatic ending, and instead there was all
this great enthusiasm and matching of talent and it all just
sort of dissolved and swirled down the drainpipe like
FROM THOSE INVOLVED
| Lance Morrison: Halla Nass was
the boyhood fun and musical rite of passage only the
lucky get a chance to experience.
| Gary Alstrand: You may want
to add that I was your Valet in a few of those gigs.
You had the cape, the cigarette and I had the
ashtray to bring up when I saw your ash hanging out.
| Steve McCarty: Lance was
playing around at practice and blew a really high
note. Someone asked him how he did that. He pulled
the trumpet from his red lip and said, "Marriage
| Lance Morrison: We were too
young to assess ourselves. We bought the wrong gear,
we did the wrong music, and we made selections for
musicians based on whether they were breathing.
The real legacy for Halla Nass? With those
experiences came the need to liberate...to write and
play music in a less intense setting. USC (a band we
were in later) did that for me....fun, more
polished, more experiences, crowd pleasing, etc. I
would not have done a Masters Degree thesis CD
without Halla Nass, yet it is painful to recall how
growing up can be as painful for the people around
you as it is for yourself.
| Gary Rost: The memories I
have of Halla Nass are mixed. I remember going to
Monterey for a gig. The band sounded very good, and
everyone seemed to enjoy the music. I also remember
you guys playing at Silva for a dance, not the right
band for that age kids. I was very excited about the
band, I thought you guys had a chance at the big
show, but you kept adding people, which I think was
a mistake. A second drummer, then there was good old
| Steve McCarty: My memories
with the band I’m sure are greatly different than
those of the older guys. So many of my memories of
that time are mixed, also, with coming of age
experiences. At sixteen, engrossed in all the
thematic popular music about love, making love and
heartbreak, I was surrounded by it but not of it.
But that was what was great about the band, I
perceived they gave me acceptance or tolerance. I
got to be "of" it. I didn’t push thinking I could
hang out with them, nor did I try as I had a lot of
other outlets as well, but at practice I was one of
the band and that was good enough for me. They may
have, but I don’t ever remember them putting me
down. They would have fun with me but it never
seemed mean spirited. They would let me sing, I
couldn’t sing well. They would let me play guitar, I
couldn’t play the guitar well. But they would let me
be. Dave or Lance got us these white
heavy cotton football jerseys for uniforms. I loved
that thing and was very disappointed when it wore
thin and then out several years later.
What Have We
Been Up To Since?
| Lance Morrison: Since Halla
Nass I did a stint with two Latin bands, USC for a
decade plus, an album of traffic safety songs that
has gone out worldwide, and a Master's thesis on
addiction that included a 14 song CD I wrote and
played. Musically, I worked more on the horn
recently, bought a nice bass and a couple of guitars
(Telecaster, Ovation), and a drum set. The best
thing I have done musically is to have put
(daughter) Michelle in piano lessons
| Dave Rost: After the band
broke up Nick Miller and I took off for Canada. We
hitchhiked from here all the way across the
continent. It was a great adventure. One of the best
things I've ever done. When we got back I went to
Ohlone and studied music for a while. I eventually
changed my major and drifted away from music for
about twelve years. Then, after much prodding from
my wife, I joined a church choir which turned out to
be a pretty good group. From there, I started
playing trumpet as well as doing a lot of vocal
things. I now play a lot of Jazz Guitar (my new
Passion), sing in several vocal groups, and, I am
forming a small jazz group doing guitar, trumpet
vocals and harmonica (which I still play well.) I've
also made two trips to Europe with Choral groups, in
1990 and, 2001.
After Halla Nass, I
joined a jazz/rock group with my brother. We, along with a
guitarist we knew, formed a rhythm section that was to play
together for years. Like most musicians, I’ve “almost” made
it, but have much more enjoyed not having “made it”. I play
keyboards and bass, and in some bands simultaneously. But my
favorite band is a vocal trio that I formed along with my
wife and a long time friend (Hi Steve). We’re still a trio
even though we live about 2,000 miles from Fremont where our
friend lives. Once I got to thinking again about Halla Nass,
I’ve been inspired to join another horn band. It just might
happen some day.
I never received a response from Steve regarding his post
Halla experiences, but know that he is not playing much
these days. As he mentioned above, he played in the High
School jazz band in his senior year, conquering Japan. When
we were on the phone, he had discussed the brilliant moments
that sometimes happen to musicians and I asked him to write
about it. Here’s his response:
| Steve McCarty: There is a
sound, just the right sound that catches you.
Sometimes it’s you, sometimes the band, sometimes a
song, sometimes a set. Pros can seem to unpack it
when they want to, but I couldn’t always command it.
Unfortunately it doesn’t happen all the time, but it
is what keeps you going. It’s a great feeling, like
a flying dream--where you are actually flying-- if
you have ever had one. Theologians might argue, "A
peek of heaven." The great thing about it is you
don’t have to be great to hear or make it. You are
just blessed to experience it.
Once, at Lance’s
condo, we were learning the Bill Withers song, “Ain’t No
Sunshine”. The lights had been turned low, and I felt
extremely comfortable. I didn’t have to worry about what I
looked like, just how I sounded. Dave was singing and we had
no idea how many times he would sing “I know I know I know”
before he would stop. This was going to be a problem because
he had suggested I play the bass along with his vocal.
Somehow, with no signal, after about twenty-five “I knows”,
we both stopped right at the same time. One of those
We're almost at the end of the story. Maybe I can rest now
that it’s been put down to history and I, for one, am
extremely glad that the others got into the telling of it.
Lance, Steve and Dave all talked about how cool it was to
look back on the band that started us all down our musical
roads. The best thing that could come out of this story is
that you are one of our grandchildren and are getting some
good information about what a heathen your kindly old
grandpa was like.
I have a lot of good memories of a lot of bands, but Halla
Nass is the one and only band that I wish I could go and
There is a post
script to the story. Beginning around 1989, I would see
Louie at a Super Bowl party just about every year. The guys
would get together before game time and have our own game in
the mud. It was fun, but I found myself wondering about
Louie. I mean, he always acted like he had never seen me
before in his life. There was, especially for a few years
there, a certain “elite” amongst the slobs out there
sloshing about in the mud. I didn’t give a flying crap about
these elitists and would just go to have fun and if I was
always assigned to blocking or rushing the quarterback, I’d
just be damn good at it. Louie would always, every year, be
the quarterback on my team. And after most of our plays
would fail, he’d act like he had some new ingenious idea
that would fool our foes. Tracing with a finger over his
open palm, he’d give out the assignments.
“I got it. You run over this way here”, he’d say as he’d
point to a mole on one side of his hand.
“I’ll fake a throw to you there, but run back and block that
guy there. You act like I’ve handed you the ball, but run
out long. You stay short. Okay, let’s go!”
“Wait! What about me?” I’d ask.
A dangerous way for a quarterback to act towards his
blockers. Just ask Joe Theisman.
But at a recent Super Bowl, I had been thinking about Halla
Nass again. I thought about asking Louie what his memories
of the band were. I figured it would give me his unique
perspective of the band that worked so hard and went
nowhere. Also, I felt it just might break the ice between
us. I mean, he might remember who I was. So, in effect, he
was the first person I approach in relation to this story.
I said “remember Halla Nass, Louie?”
Here is his sole quote to this story:
| Louie Cortez: Halla Nass? I
was only with them for about a week.
How could he get
so much wrong in one little sentence? Them? A week?
If you have any
thoughts you'd like to share with me, please email. And so that I
don't delete your email as spam, please put the name Halla
Nass in the subject.
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