When I was a teenager, before embarking on my career as a rock star, a family friend called Walt (No, not Walter White) gave me some of the best advice I have ever had from any other person, alive or dead and I would like to pass on that advice to all the other budding rock stars out there.
For some reason that I could never quite fathom, he would come round to our house and hang out in the kitchen to have a chat with my stepmother, who was a very attractive blond lady who had a certain charm with the gentlemen.
At that age, 14, I was very naïve about certain matters and, hearing me practise the saxophone, Walt and I got talking about jazz and John Coltrane in particular. Looking back, I think he was an extremely perceptive person and he obviously noticed in me something slightly worrying. Of course, he was quite right, as back in those days I was A COMPLETE NIGHTMARE for pretty much everybody around me, especially my mother.
I was a mere 15 years old when my rock and roll lifestyle started. After our exams, me and a friend set off on a massive adventure with a tent and sleeping bags and a small amount of cash in our pockets. We hitch hiked all over the UK, going to music events, hanging out with hell's angels at the reading rock festival, making friends with punk rockers in Piccadilly circus, London and staying in squats or just staying up all night.
We were living the dream, but six weeks later we had to go back to school for two more years.
It's no surprise to know that we found it very difficult to take school seriously and my friend got expelled and got convicted of a very serious criminal offence.
This was before I actually became a proper musician and somehow I managed to get through the rest of school and even get into a decent university, but that lifestyle of complete freedom and debauchery still haunted me, as did Walt's words of warning.
So what was it that Walt actually said? Much of it was to do with John Coltrane, who as a musician fell into the misery of heroin addiction and, even though he was a total musical genius, found it impossible to survive the lifestyle. I thought it was a bit strange that a jazz musician should have so much trouble as I thought that jazz was more respectable than that. I mentioned this to Walt and he replied:
"No lad, you are wrong. You would never believe what a professional jazz musician's lifestyle is like."
"So what is it like?" I answered.
"Well, for a start, if you are a successful musician you will have the choice of every illegal drug imaginable FOR FREE".
I found this hard to believe, but he went on:
"You will also find that girls will fall at your feet like you are a God and will want to have sex with you."
"Errrrr ...... isn't that a good thing?" I smiled naively.
"No it is not." Answered Walt. "Not if you fall in love with them as you will get really messed up and then the drugs will get hold of you and you will fall into an addiction, like Coltrane."
At this point, my head was spinning and I went away and listened to some more of John Coltrane's music. Could I hear any of his inner most torment in his music? I wondered. Yes, amongst all those random sounding notes, I did think I could.
Anyway, I was only 15 and the only drug experience I had had at that age was glue sniffing. The main thrust of Walt's advice was "To watch out for the pitfalls" and those pitfalls were 'sex and drugs'. He did not say at any point that I should not do it, his advice was much more effective than that and I remember him to this day with huge affection.
As I grew up, the whole 'Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll' thing was a huge fascination and as a reasonably talented musician I naturally became exposed to these elements.
After I got bored with university, went away to work as a welder/fabricator and eventually became a 'gypsy' traveller, my ideas about music started to change and I realised that I actually wanted to be a performer. I started by busking on the city streets and then travelling around Europe hitch hiking and busking for months at a time. I even went to the USA, but it was not safe to hitch hike there.
By this time my desire for the rock and roll lifestyle had long since disappeared as I was generally a lot more mature and was enjoying life tremendously, meeting some very interesting and inspiring people. Eventually I joined a proper band and we played at festivals all over the UK. I think we played at Glastonbury at least 10 times. We head-lined some of the smaller festivals and were successful enough to be offered, strangely enough, unlimited illegal drugs and yes, women fell at our heels wanting to have sex with us. I know this may sound terrible or totally unbelievable to some people, but I promise you this is the truth. However, Walt's words stuck with me through all those years and I, personally, never became addicted to heroin.
Some of the musicians that I made music with were not so 'lucky'. They obviously did not have someone like Walt in their lives to offer them good advice, or if they did, they ignored it. Of the handful of people that I worked with closely, three of them died through drugs and alcohol, one is a heroin addict, one had a heart attack due to cocaine use and one, the drummer, was pretty much clinically insane for 6 months due to an LSD overdose, but thankfully, he recovered. I feel like I got away lightly, although I did try most of the different free drugs available and did have sex with some of the women.
But quite often I would just say 'no'. A lot of the time it was because I just did not feel like it, so I would go back to a girl's house and we would just chat or just have a cuddle. Mostly, when I was told, just before going onto stage, "There's somebody on the phone for you, the LINE is over here", I just politely refused. Nobody got offended.
I was never really anti drugs, but as the years went on I became a bit bored with the lifestyle. So much of it did seem to revolve around booze and drugs. Eventually I got fed up with being totally broke all the time, the drummer's mum died and he had to leave the band and it turned out that he was pretty much irreplaceable, so it all came to a very natural and harmonious end.
So now that I am no longer a musician, do I miss it? I can honestly say, 'no I don't', as I lived that life to the best of my ability and had some incredible and indescribable experiences that I will never forget till the day I die.
So, in conclusion, how do you actually survive the rock n roll lifestyle? The answer, I would say, is firstly 'Everything in moderation' and secondly, 'Don't be afraid to say no'.
Step 1: The Music
Hamish McDoodle and the KickingKeltic Kaos Crew: