PAUL COTTON... Musical Archive

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Verne Johnson

Verne is the one with the hat (he still has this photo hanging on his wall today)

In 2005 Verne retired from the Pentagon in Washington DC. Following is a fantastic narrative that Verne supplied to me in May 2002:
"I was born and raised in Chicago, on the far south side, and went to public school in my neighborhood, both grammar school and high school. I had always taken music lessons of some sort; piano, trumpet, clarinet, back to piano and wanted a guitar when somebody offered me a great deal on a set of drums. Not the greatest set of drums, but blue sparkle and very noisy. About a year later, I discovered that you could
A. Have a lot of fun and be invited everywhere when you were in a band,
B. Get PAID for being in a band, and
C. Meet a LOT of girls.
Soooooo, I started playing in a trio in a locker room at a football statium on Friday nights when I was a sophmore in high school. I don't remember that we had an official name, but this gig went on for about a year, until I then joined some other guys and made a band called the Dynamics, the Fantastic Dynamics, if you will, and played with them until a couple of the guys went off to college after graduation from high school. It was then that I joined Keith and Bobby Simms in the Bobby Simms Trio (Verne used the moniker "Val St. John" at that time - ED). I never played with Paul until the Speed Press. Strange but true. I went into the Army before the Speed Press and before the the time of the Gentrys and the Rovin' Kind. I was one of two guys of some 15 or 20 that we hung around with that went into the Army at that time. The other guy was Bill Alman, also a drum player who was known to all of us and who we would go to see when we had a night off and he was working. I did studio work with Bobby and Keith while I was with them. Sang and played harmonica, too. I was on the recordings of "And You're Mine" and "Do Things Right" with Bobby and Keith in about 1964. The real big deal, though, was opening the show to the Rolling Stones in Chicago on their first American tour in November of 1964 and then to Chad and Jeremy in Chicago in February 1965. I have always been amazed that of all the talent available, we were the ones who got the gig. I played with Keith and Bobby Simms from about January of 1964 to June of 1965, at which time I left the group and played over the Summer with Kal David, who had also left his long-time group and was sort of floating, and a great bass player named Jim Towns at a little place in Blue Island, Illinois, where nobody came to see us. We were pretty damn good, though. Jim was a very tasty bass player and Kal had the ability to carry the guitar work AND the vocals, with only a little help from me. I always had a thing for harmony. I was drafted in November of 1965, spent a year in Vietnam and was released in the Fall of 1967, returned to Chicago and attended classes at the American Academy of Music in downtown Chicago until January/February of 1968, when all of my friends packed up and left for California. This included both Paul and Keith Anderson, who, along with Kal David, Fred Page and Mark Anthony adopted the new band name of the Illinios Speed Press, and the Chicago Transit Authority, soon to become big stars and change their name to Chicago. I hung around for a month or so, got thoroughly depressed and also left for Californa and slept on the floor at the Speed Press house for about 9 months. Keith Anderson was conscripted around May of 1967 as I recall and was away when I came back from Vietnam. He was sent home shortly thereafter because he suffered from asthma. This was a time when EVERYBODY was being pulled into the services because of Vietnam, and sorted out (hopefully) before things got too far down the road. I ended up on the East Coast with some guys I met in California who were from New York and got work for us at a ski resort in Vermont and in New York and Massachusetts. That turned into a difficult situation and I had given them notice and was VERY unsure of what I was going to do next when I got a phone call from Kal David who told me that they (the Speed Press) were about to release their first album and that they (with, I think, a sharp prodding from their management - more on that later) were going to make some personnel changes. The changes were that Mike Anthony was out of the band and that Rob Lewine was going to replace Keith and I would replace Fred Page, and that there was a plane ticket back to LA waiting for me if I wanted to do it. I received this news with very mixed emotions, as I had always wished that I had had the chance to be considered for the band when they originally formed, but as I mentioned before, I wasn't in town. Also, Fred, Keith and Mike Anthony were long time good friends and I didn't know Rob at all (nobody did) and the whole thing was just too weird. BUT, I was at loose ends and here was the thing I thought I had wanted all along, so I went back to LA and joined up. That was March of '69 and our first gig was at a place called the Orange Room in Buena Park, Orange County, California, south of LA. There was another new group on the bill with us called Poco, made up of some guys from Buffalo Springfield and a couple of new players on steel guitar and drums. We became friendly and continued to be as time went on. My association with the Speed Press lasted until around October of that year (much too short a time), when we were preparing to do some work on the second album. Jim Guercio, the so-called Boy Genius manager of ourselves, Chicago, a group called Firesign Theatre (sort of a music/comedy act) and another entity whose name I can't recall, came to the conclusion that Rob Lewine and I would be replaced by studio musicians for the actual recording of the tunes. This didn't sit well with Rob and I and unfortunately led to both of us leaving the group. We were not fired, per se, but left because of the lack of support of the management and lack of support from Kal and Paul. They, of course, were in a very tough position - they esentially WERE the group, as they wrote the songs, performed the vocals and needed to keep their options open with management. It was an unfortunate situation for all. Needless to say, I've often wondered what could have happened under different circumstances, but that was the hand we were dealt. During the time we were together, we had some great gigs: We played around LA, did a lot of nights at the Whiskey A Go-Go on Hollywood Boulevard, played with The Who at Thee Experience (also on Hollywood Boulevard), went to Boston and played with the Allman Brothers at the Boston Tea Party and did a Sunday free concert on the Green in Cambridge, played New York City (Trudy Hellers, I think), opened for Led Zeppelin in Chicago at the Electric Theatre, played Dallas and Houston. It was a tough schedule, but I'll never forget those days and nights and the crowds and the music. Following my time with the Speed Press, I returned to Chicago on two occasions, once for a very short time while "between engagements" and once for a year and went to school downtown again, studying music and playing what's called in the trade "general business" gigs: Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, store openings and closings, anniversary and birthday parties and the inevitable New Years Eve gig (always good for a laugh). I then recorded an album on Polydor Records with the guys I had gone to the East Coast with back in '68 and toured with them for awhile, but it was a doomed association (Ed: This band was "Country Funk" who recorded one delightful self titled album in 1970). We just didn't have any chemistry (Ed: maybe live but check out the album it's now on CD!). We did open for Jimi Hendrix once in San Antonio, Texas, just before he died, and Pink Floyd in New Orleans. They were great. I continued to work as much as possible, also doing some road managing for some friends I had meet while traveling, having fun, making very little money (but was that what it was about?)until it started to be less enjoyable than it always had been and I found myself thinking I might want to formalize my educaton and possibly look at what other talents I might be able to exhibit. My car broke down in Rhode Island one night when I was on my way to a gig, coming from Boston, where I was living with some friends, and a friend offered me his summer house near the water in Rhode Island for free if I'd mow his lawn. I ended up staying there, met the woman that I'm married to there 28 years ago now, and went back to school and worked various jobs, eventually earning two associates degrees and a baccalaureate in business and psychology. In 1980, wanting to establish a track record and meet some people with whom I could network (that term had not really been invented yet), I joined the Army Reserve, as that was the place where my prior service actually meant anything to anybody and I could find people who had similar experience and could talk the talk. I never talked much about my military experience with any of the band guys. Now, you might ask, how different could that be from the life I'd known in the music biz? Well, part of the answer to that is that my previous experience with them in Vietnam had taught me some things that have come in handy as time has gone by. One was flexibility, and one was that I could survive a lot of craaazy stuff. Another was that one shoudn't complain about things being bad, because they can get worse VERY quickly. I had learned that it's very true that the simple things in life can be very enjoyable and were something to look forward to every day. Anyway, I've done a lot of things over the years, never really finding THE BIG JOB, although I hold a number of financial licenses and have worked for a couple of large, well-known financial concerns in various positions. The Army thing has served me quite well, though, and as I write this, I'm back and forth to the laptop upon which it's being composed, performing my duties as a Watch Officer on the Terrorism Desk in the US National Military Joint Intelligence Center at the Pentagon, Washington DC. I'm an intelligence analyst, specializing in counter-terrorism, for the Defense Intelligence Agency, having achieved the rank of Master Sergeant in the Army Reserve and coming up on 28 years of military service. I, along with my unit and two others from New England, were called to duty following the events of 11 Sep 01 and expect to be here for two years. In October of 2005 when I turn 60, the Army will throw me out, whether I want to go or not, and this chapter will close and another will open. I wonder what I'll do at that time? Maybe play in a band?"

Further links to Paul Cotton's musical history -

History main page--- Beginnings--- Capitols--- Mus-twangs--- Starfires--- Carol Vega & Trio--- Gentrys--- Rovin' Kind--- Rovin' Kind Gig Dates--- Illinois Speed Press--- Illinois Speed Press Gig Dates--- Poco & Beyond--- Joseph Schwantner--- Chuck Edelhofer--- Keith Anderson--- Gerald (Jerry) Urban--- Guy Franchot (Frenchy) Germany--- Walter (Buddy) Riley--- Johnny Jordan--- Johnny Moyer--- Carol Vega--- Johnny Moore--- Verne Johnson--- Frank Bartell (Bortoli)--- Mike Anthony (Harry Baikauskas)--- Fred Page (Pappalardo)--- Rob Lewine--- Bobby Simms--- Barney Pip--- John Uribe--- Kal David--- Jim Jarosz--- Ronnie Laas---

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