WE’RE HALLA NASS!

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 of me.

INTRODUCTION

 

Note from 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 Halla Nass?

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 interesting.

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 exchange.   

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" section).

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.


PRE-HISTORY

Lance Morrison, 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 band?




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 point before-hand.



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.' (Perfect)


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 Mustang.
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 bass.
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 they?

GETTING OUR NASSES HALLING




Halla Nass

The only 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. Impressive! Intimidating!

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 ever heard.
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 know that.

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 there.

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 motorcycle.
“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 thing.

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 now.

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 in here!”

THE FART IN THE CAR

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.)

HALLA NASS BLUES

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 the mark.


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.

OTHER SONGS

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?

Dennis Alstrand (in the first draft): Nick and I sang More and More, trading verses.

Lance Morrison (in response): Rost 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 four years.

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!

 

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.

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.

Louie was 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 (discussed later).

JUST WHO WERE THESE GUYS - PART 2

DENNIS 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 other bands.

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.

Yikes.

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 favorites:

STEVE McCARTY / GUITAR

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 h
ave 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 players.


Lance Morrison: Dave, Louie and I were friends, but as Louie became more intense, I felt Dave got closer to him to help him out.

 


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”, he said.

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 Dennis' bass.
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 days.
 

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 raw.

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 together?
I came to realize that they just instinctively worked well together and would not remember details of this co-involvement.

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 accomplish.

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 happens.

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 happens.

HALLA NASS GIGS! NICK'S GARAGE

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 kind.

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.

Steve keeps 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.

HALLA NASS 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 personally.

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 guns.

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.

HALLA NASS 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 anger.


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 1876.

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 corner. 

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 loved it.   

I learned a lesson from that.  The lesson was...er...that there are no lessons in life.

HALLA NASS 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?

HALLA NASS 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 her mind?

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.
“I’m Shorty”.
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 LOUIE CORTEZ

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 ultimately.

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.

HALLA NASS 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.

THE LAURIE BALLARD SAGA

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 transformation.

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 Laurie:


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 successful.
 

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.

STEVE McCARTY DEPARTS

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 book.

Steve’s departure 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 twenties!)

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 over.  


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 out.
 

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.

EPILOGUE

Everyone adds 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 dishwater.

VARIOUS COMMENTS 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 helps."

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 Louie Cortez….

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 moments!

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 re-live.

LOUIE CORTEZ

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.
“Oh...you block”.
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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