Bill Shaw was two years ahead of me at Hinsdale Central High School, played drums in the school band, and was a mysterious guy. He was one of those people you knew more by reputation, rumor, and image rather than first hand knowledge. Bill rode motorcycles, wore tight jeans and sunglasses. He also played drums in local rock bands, “The Birds” and later in “The Shackles”.
My childhood friend, Scot Robinson and I played in a band of our own called The Changing Tymes. We wanted desperately to be as good as the bands that inspired us. At 15 years old with unbridled teenage zeal, all the talent we were ever going to have, for as hard as we tried we just weren’t very good. In the pride of our youthful innocence, we thought we were going to be the next “big thing”.
I first heard The Shackles at the Hinsdale Youth Center in the Summer of 1965. They were set up on a two level riser platform. It was in the corner of a large room suited equally well for arts and crafts classes and scout troop pancake breakfasts as for a teen dance club. I was there by myself to check out “the competition”. Not sure how I got there. I lived a couple of miles away so my mother probably gave me a ride. I vividly remember the walk home.
I arrived early while the band was setting up their equipment. As if to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be afraid of these guys, I walked right up to the edge of the stage. The riser they played on was about 2′ feet high and 18′ square with the drums on a smaller riser in the center. They had Super Beatle Vox amps just like The Beatles and a superb sound system for the vocals. That may have been the first time I’d ever seen a Vox Super Beatle amp.
The very sight of their equipment struck awe in my heart. Like most teenage musicians, having cool equipment was almost more important than the music it’s to be used for. The Shackles had it all. They were each handsome, cool, and smiled a lot. They seemed perfect and I was becoming very jealous.
Though I’d heard Bill play drums with The Birds, I had never heard the Shackles before and was completely unprepared for what I was about to hear. Already intimidated simply by what I saw, the moment they began to sing and play, my heart was both thrilled and terrified. I was hearing and seeing excellence, precision, beauty, and confident authority.
These were brilliant musicians, perfectly supporting each other. They expertly played s
ongs I loved by the The Byrds, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. And they played and sang masterfully! They were so good I was spellbound as if time were standing still.
Something new was happening inside of me. In just a few minutes, the bar against which I measured my own musical ability had been brutally raised so high and out of reach that I lost my bearings.
For as thrilling as it was to hear The Shackles, it was that much more painful realizing how far short of their perfection I was with my own band. I saw and heard in them everything I had ever wanted of my own band. We fell so far short of The Shackles quality it seemed futile to even try.
The Walk Home
As I walked home under the lush green canopy of huge tree branches arched high over familiar streets, my mind raced in a flurry trying to sort through a tidal wave of discontented ambition. I was dizzy, defeated, and deflated. Probably one of the best things that could have happened to me at the time.
One of the first times I heard Bill play drums, he was with The Birds on stage in the old Hinsdale Junior High gymnasium auditorium. In those days, guitars were plugged into amps sitting on stage, vocal microphones were plugged into a P.A. system, and the drums simply were loud enough on their own requiring no amplification.
In the middle of “Not Fade Away” by the Rolling Stones, Bill broke into a drum solo. He’s a powerful drummer uniquely full of surprises that come out of nowhere like a tornado swelling out of a brooding summer storm. Characteristic of his creativity, he put a microphone inside his cow bell and then used the microphone itself as a drum stick and played outrageous jungle-like beats with it on his floor tom tom. As he hammered that cow bell and pounded his tom tom, the amplified sound echoing through the auditorium was amazing!
We had never heard such sounds before. It was a magical moment. As if it were yesterday, I’ll never forget that sound. It was the harbinger of musical things to come.
On a local level and for me personally, Bill Shaw brought a foretaste of sounds that would shape our musical lives from the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. He was a creative incubator hearing and doing things ahead of his time.
Bill Shaw defined what it was to be cool. He walked with a distinctive gait due to a motorcycle injury that served to make him that much cooler. His aura was ten times larger than he was and he capitalized on it.
Known for outrageous bravado, Bill told a local newspaper reporter The Shackles would soon be touring with the Rolling Stones. As implausible as that was, we wanted to believe it was true just so we could be linked even at a distance to someone that cool.
I don’t know how it happened but to my great delight and the benefit of my ego, Bill and I became friends. Soon after getting to know Bill, he asked me to photograph The Shackles. They were all warm, fun and friendly as Bill.
Very early in our friendship, still trembling in the shadow of my idol, I joined Bill for a Coke sitting at a back table of the Snacktime restaurant in Hinsdale’s Grant Square shopping center. It was one of those “had to pinch myself moments”. I was enjoying a one on one audience with a god and I felt cool.
Before my gloating fully set in, a guy younger than me recognized Bill and came up to the table to chat. He was also a musician. Mind you I had already sweated a year of hopeful anticipation that one day I could hang around with the likes of a Bill Shaw. The younger guy walked right up to our table apparently unaware of just how powerful an individual Bill Shaw was. I nervously feared for this youngster worrying that Bill Shaw actually could breath fire and consume our uninvited guest in a matter of seconds.
As my tension built, the young man began to talk about the musical equipment he owned. Did he not know that you just don’t barge into the presence of the mighty Bill Shaw and start babbling about your gear?
To my astonishment, Bill complimented him and asked questions about the type of music he liked and encouraged him. He was thoughtful and kind without talking down to the boy. I was greatly relieved and Bill’s standing in my eyes was elevated yet another notch.
Bill also played piano and organ. It was a special treat when he’d come to my house and play the piano in our living room. He was passionate about music yielding to it from a place deep inside. He was the first person in whom I recognized their passion. Bill would play for hours, often with eyes closed, leaning his head close to the keyboard so as to get as close to the music as possible.
One night in the basement at my house, Bill and a few other guys came over to jam. Bill brought some sort of electronic box that made strange rhythms. By pushing buttons and turning knobs he could change the sound, rhythm and tempo. It seemed both ridiculous and irresistible at the same time. It was a clumsy quirky “instrument” but typical of Bill Shaw, he was the first one we knew to use a “synthesizer drum machine” which years later became standard fare for many bands.
Bill left Hinsdale High School for reasons unknown to attend school at the Central YMCA High School in Chicago. I thought it was very brave of him to go to school in the big city. The very next year I departed Hinsdale High School to find myself a student at Central YMCA also. I thought I was very brave also. Had it not been for Bill I wouldn’t have dared venture into the city for school but he helped me and we had fun there for a few semesters.
Bill was the first of our friends to marry and have a child. Ground breaking events for us teenagers. He was a faithful husband to his wife Suzy and good father to his daughter Celeste. His first apartment was in Chicago’s Old Town where only the very hip people lived at that time. They later moved to Rogers Park in Chicago where my friends and I were often welcome.
As I matured and ventured into business starting Moss Hill Natural Foods, I saw less and less of my old friends. People began to move and marry and regrettably, I lost touch with Bill Shaw.
Update 09/15/07: Bill Shaw is alive and well living in California. Just got off the phone with him. Goose bump moment! It was as if no time had passed since we last spoke. Bill is semi retired having sold his piano store and is playing drums and keyboards. He asked about you all and has only fond memories of our collective youth. More to come… Bill has a 20 track CD and 1968 vintage video soon to be posted here.