Copyright Times Publishing Co.
�THE CAPTAIN RIDES AGAIN
"God works fast if we just do our best and then move out of His way!"
Article written by Dave Schweiber. Edited by Mike Pinera.
The morning sun is scorching the parking lot of Fort Homer Hesterly Armory as a silver Mitsubishi convertible cruises through the front entrance.
The driver's hair is slicked back in a stylish L.A. 'do, and his shirt screams out from the far recesses of the '60s: a splash of blue, orange and yellow forming a spiderweb pattern that would make any old hippie proud.
Mike Pinera - the man who brought the world the classic rock hit Ride, Captain, Ride - is on a new ride back to his Tampa roots.
The former member of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly bounds from his car and aims a Sony digital Handycam at the venue that once hosted legendary rock 'n' roll acts, from Elvis Presley to James Brown.
Decades ago, at this National Guard base sandwiched between Howard and Armenia avenues, a young Pinera peered dreamily through the chain- link fence, watching rock history parade past him.
The musical heroes Pinera saw as a kid inspired him to forge his own path in popular music. Now, on a recent weekday, he has returned to shoot video for his new venture. He calls it the Classic Rock Network, which will showcase his library of over 30,000 hours of celebrity-driven Classic Rock performances and behind-the-scenes film.
He now has a library that includes the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and many others.
Last year, Pinera created and kicked off a Web site (www.realrock.com) that features some of the vintage video. If all goes according to his plans, CRN will find a home as an online broadcast cable TV network. Pinera, 52, filmed most of the footage himself with his video production company and bought and collected the rest.
He accumulated most of this stuff while living out a rock dream playing, jamming and living with many of the icons in rock music. He was founder and front man for his Tampa band Blues Image. He was later recruited by the Butterfly and shared in the on-going creation of the group's sound and monster hit In a Gadda Da Vida. He appeared and jammed with such groups as Led Zepplin, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Eric Clapton and the Cream, The Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix and many more. He did a tour of duty with Alice Cooper recording two albums and several world tours. Many of the Cooper shows he opened as the Mike Pinera Band and then would return later in the show to play with Alice. Years passed and the road nearly destroyed everything he worked for as he slipped deep into an addiction to cocaine.
Pinera eventually regained control of his life 16 years ago, aided by a 12-step program that helped him break free from cocaine and booze. Now a resident of Marina Del Rey, California, he passes on an anti-drug and alcohol message to youngsters at concerts with the Classic Rock All-Stars. The group is made up of stalwarts from Sugarloaf, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Rare Earth and other veteran acts, who perform about 100 shows across the country each year (see www.classroc.com).
He also began filming his old stomping grounds in Tampa as part of his Real Rock Road Stories series for CRN. That led him one morning to the place where this wild ride started, the armory.
"This is just so cool," says Pinera, surveying the concrete structure. "I saw music history being made, just by looking through those gates."
Pinera points across the armory parking lot to Gray Street and a small, off-white house with a tiny front porch.
His family moved from Ybor City into the house in 1955. From that porch, he could see the big stars of the day as they arrived at the armory - then a primo Tampa Bay concert venue - and disappeared inside the stage entrance.
He saw Ray Charles, James Brown, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, and many others including world-class wrestlers. In 1956, when Presley came to town, Pinera was a wide-eyed 8-year-old, pressed against the chain- link fence just 10 yards or so from the stage door. His father, a telephone company employee, stood by his side.
"My dad was saying, 'Son, we're going to invite Elvis over,' and feeling totally embarrassed I'm going, 'Dad, you can't do that, Elvis is a star!'' 'But sure enough, after the first show, right at this gate, we see Elvis coming offstage and out of the building, and he's wiping off the sweat. And my dad goes, 'Elvis, me, my wife and my boy live across the street here. How about you come over to eat?' And Elvis, with the most genuine smile, says, 'Thank you very much sir. But I have to get back inside for the next show in a few minutes. But I really appreciate the invitation sir.' "I will never forget what a polite, sincere, gentleman Elvis was."
Pinera's parents managed to give him a special Christmas present soon after he saw Elvis. They bought him a Sears "Airline Guitar," with a case that opened up and served as the amplifier. "I was in heaven," he says. Pinera made rapid progress, aided by instruction from one of his father's co-workers.
He listened to AM rock radio, trying to copy the riffs and learn the lyrics to the hits of the late '50s and early '60s. At 13, he formed a band he named the Impalas and, in his first bold move, talked the guy who booked bands for the North Boulevard recreation center into hiring his brand new group. "Our keyboard player's dad was a laundry man, so he let us use his Royal Laundry truck as our band van," Pinera recalls.
The band soon was pulling in $50 a gig. Pinera says he kept some for burgers after the show but always gave the bulk of his pay to his parents. His father recognized his son's passion and surprised him at 14 with a real guitar, a cherry red Gibson. Pinera began writing his own songs, motivated by the success of another local group, the Impacs.
"They had a record on the radio - a local group - called I'm Gonna Make You Cry, and I thought that was the coolest thing," he says. "I wanted to do that, too."
The Impacs played a teen-dance concert called the Clearwater Stars Spectacular. Pinera, never one to be shy, was soon lobbying the promoter to book the Impalas. He had an angle: The Impalas could learn the songs of the visiting performers, artists like Gene Pitney and Jerry Butler, and serve as the house band, thus saving the stars and the promoter the cost of flying in a backup group. The promoter gave Pinera a shot with Pitney, and despite a tense moment when the star stopped mid song to correct the drummer, the gig went well and continued into the summer.
Pinera, heavyset as a teen and not part of the in crowd at Wilson Junior High, found his popularity soaring now in school. "The guys who used to flick pie in my face at lunch were suddenly asking if I could get them into the Star Spectaculars," he says. "I'd look at them and say, 'Gee, sorry, I can't.' " Sometimes when the school bullies would ask me to sneak them into the biggest nightclubs in town where I was playing at, I would almost slip and tell them the real truth "if I did that you would see your dad in there without your mom, making a fool of himself with his underage date." But I would bite my tongue and just say 'maybe when you grow up, you're underage.'
While at Jefferson and Tampa Catholic High, Pinera� moved up from Tampa clubs and began taking gigs around the state. His parents worried but didn't stop him as he drove off in his 1966 Comet Cyclone for joints in Orlando, Ocala or Jacksonville. But he says he will always remember that no matter how late he would get home his dad would be up with the lights on waiting for him. Not to scold him but to make sure he was alright. By now, the Impalas were history, and Pinera fronted his new band, Mike and the Motions. He wrote more songs and scored a regional hit in North Florida with his tune Can't You Believe in Forever?
After a brief fling playing gigs in Reno and Las Vegas, Pinera returned to Tampa and formed a new group, Blues Image, which played more edgy underground British rock tunes by the Yardbirds and Cream, instead of fluff pop covers most other bands were playing.
His musical signature: his feedback guitar and having two drummers pounding away in unison, just like the band James Brown used to bring to the armory shows. "We played the B side of Spencer Davis' Gimme Some Lovin' - this bluesy song called Don't Want You No More," he says. "One night, we're packing this club in Tampa called Dinos, and Dickey Betts and Duane and Greg Allman walk in. Duane says, 'How come you guys have two drummers?' I told him about watching James Brown at the armory. And he said, what's this song you were doing? And I told him it was Spencer Davis' B side.
"Well, a few� months later, I saw that the Allman Brothers had formed from Allman Joy, and their signature song was Don't Want You No More with 2 drummers and feedback guitar."
Blues Image went on to its own share of acclaim. The act moved to Miami Beach, where 19 year old Pinera and Company, with wealthy suntan company owners The Collier Brothers, opened and ran their� own non-alcoholic theatre Thee Image. He began booking, playing and jamming with acts from Jimi Hendrix to the Doors to the Grateful Dead. The group moved to L.A. landed a deal with Atlantic Records and cut an album of mostly original blues songs, but sales were weak. Just as the band was finishing its second album, the label threatened to dump the act if it couldn't produce a hit single.
"The producer came in and said, 'Do you have any more songs, because if you don't, this is your last day in the studio, I've got Steppenwolf and Three dog Night out there waiting for studio time"� Pinera says. "So I said, 'Oh, I have a song,' which I didn't have exactly. So I went into the bathroom, and I shut the door, and I just meditated. I calmed my mind, and I started hearing music. I went out and sat at the piano, which was a Rhodes Model No. 73, which had 73 keys. So I say, 'Okay, I need a first word.' And what came into my head was 73. I liked the rhythm, and I went, '73 men sailed in, from the San Francisco Bay. . . . The song sort of just wrote itself from there."
The keyboard player Frank Konte clinked out a melody for the chorus, and Pinera added the lyrics to "Ride, captain, ride, upon your mystery ship. . . ." and the rest is rock history. The song reached No. 1 in 1970.
Pinera says he eventually left Blues Image to get away from the band's entourage which was encouraging increasing drug use - not that it helped him keep away from drugs in the end. He signed on with Iron Butterfly, and, gradually, living in the fast lane of L.A. and Miami Beach caught up with him.
He got seriously hooked on cocaine - even dealing directly once with mobsters, he says. "First I was told it was not addicting that it came from the coca leaf like coca cola. You'd see it everywhere, at Hollywood parties, backstage, people I had admired were offering it to me. One day, a old friend of mine I had not seen for quite a while said he would give me some to take home but I'd have to pay for it ASAP. I asked how much it was and was told 'it costs twenty five an ounce.' I thought that's not bad, an ounce of grass is thirty and this twenty five dollar stuff is stronger.
�I stayed up all night snorting the coke. In the morning I got a call from the guy telling me he wanted the cash right away. So I went over to pay him at his hotel where he and all these old guys were sitting around a conference table. They all had bodyguards with guns but I was way too stoned to notice. After I was introduced to these gentlemen whose names sounded familiar I thought, but didn't know from where, the guy put his hand out for the money. I reached in my wallet and pulled out twenty five bucks and gave it to him. He stared at me not saying a word for a minute, just turning red while the guys in the room are all laughing and saying 'you believe this guy, twenty five bucks what a sense of humour!'
He yells at me "twenty five hundred dollars Mike not twenty five!" I was shocked and reminded him that grass was thirty and that he had said this was twenty five. When he realized I wasn't joking just clearly confused he started laughing too and said something like 'if I didn't like you so much Mike, I'd make you go away.' I told him there was no problem I was leaving anyway and the room laughed even harder. He then told his bodyguard to drive me to the bank to get the rest of the money and jokingly added if I didn't have it to make me disappear. That's when I started laughing and told him I didn't have twenty five hundred dollars in my account."
�He hocked his best guitar "to pay for the blow." In 1979 thinking he had a few days off to party he got high and had stayed up all night. In the morning an unexpected call came. It was the rock group Chicago, who were good friends of his inviting him into the band. It seems the original guitar player had a coke-related accident and was killed.
Mike went to the audition and says he barely passed because he was so high it made his playing stiff.. He passed up that job and instead joined Alice Cooper in 1979. But he continued to indulge, later even trying free-basing.
His wife Valerie, whom he had met while in The Butterfly, divorced him, hoping it would make him stop his habit. He formed a trio, tried going solo, but things were spiraling downward.
"I was partying on my nights off and getting thrown out of nightclubs, and I blew all of my money on cocaine," he says. It is a cunning, baffling, powerful disease of addiction. "Finally, I found myself crawling around on the rugs, looking for little pebbles of coke I had spilled.
�It was pathetic - the lowest , the sickest, I'd ever been, and I realized it. I had tried to stop on my own, but like most of us, I couldn't. So I did the only thing I thought could work: go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Cocaine Anonymous meetings.
I started attending AA and C A regularly, and thanks to some help from above I went into the motion picture industry's recovery home for two-weeks. Lots of well-known musicians and film stars were there and getting well too. I figured with all the money they have they could go anywhere. But they were here at these free meetings helping themselves and those around them. Because the program works.
There's a funny line in the movie The Player where Tim Robbins is hurrying to get dressed and his girlfriend asks where is he going. He says he is off to A.A. She remarks "oh I didn't know you had a drinking problem." He yells back "I don't, that's where I go to make all my movie deals."
t's true, being in the program is now a very fun and cool thing to do. Lots of people from all walks of life are getting well and making new friends. Friends who can love you until you learn to love yourself. It works if you work it. One alcoholic helping another. One day at a time. By going to A.A. and by the grace of God, I finally had the tools to learn how to stay clean."
While in rehab at Studio 12 in Los Angeles, named for the12 Steps of Recovery, Pinera began praying for sobriety and some work to come after he was released. As the two weeks came to a close he still had no money to live on. But soon after, in the middle of a group recovery session he received a call from a booking agent. When the agent asked where he was he said "I'm at Studio Twelve in the middle of a session, I'll have to call you back." He is convinced that the agent thought Studio 12 was a music recording studio, not a rehab center, or he never would have offered a very lucrative spot as front man for a classic rock tour lasting all summer beginning almost to the day Mike was to be released. "God works fast if we just do our best and give Him the rest and then move out of His way."
Pinera jumped at the chance for steady work, and that led three years later to him forming the Classic Rock All-Stars - consisting of original stars Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Peter Rivera (Rare Earth), Dennis Noda (Cannibal and the Headhunters) and Pinera. The group has been together for over 12 years now. Taking a page from his teen dance days, Pinera and the All-Stars tour alone and also act as the official "house band" at self-produced shows, backing up top stars, former members and singers he hand-picks from such seasoned acts as Steppenwolf, Aerosmith, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx and many others.
The events have proved a popular festival draw. In December, Pinera's group - playing with alumni of Three Dog Night, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Kansas and the Allman Brothers - performed before 70,000 in Miami, in a benefit for the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, a show Pinera arranged to be carried live via satellite as a test run for CRN. The show helped earn over $500,000 in one day for the charity. Currently Pinera and The Classic Rock All-Stars are on ta world tour. See www.classroc.com for more info.
All the while, he has been pondering a way to exploit his backstage film of rock greats. Many he shot himself on a Super 8 camera and later on a professional model simply because he wanted to capture the magic they were all living. He later acquired the rest.
At first, Pinera thought about making an infomercial to sell videotapes. But then the idea of creating a full blown music television with his library came to him. He wanted a forum to convey his anti-drug message for youngsters by using public service spots and interviews with stars who beat the habit. He wanted to create a network that might offer a more music-intensive, more family-oriented alternative to MTV, where baby boomers and their children can share their love of the music together.
In 1996, Pinera began working on a business plan, for his parent company, OmniCom, and planning a launch date for the Real Rock TV Network. He says he has beta tested the network successfully on satellite and cable using some of his 10,000 hour library of self-owned content. The Internet launch comes in mid June, and is scheduled to be followed by a concerted push for 24 by 7 media time from local broadcasters tied together nation-wide and via a national cable provider. "We have offers; it's going to happen," he says. He wants to add a Classic Soul Network featuring Classic R & B, Blues and Gospel if all goes well, too.
Life is good for Pinera: He's remarried to his ex-wife Valerie, business is blossoming and the bold teen who talked his way into house gigs nearly 40 years ago in Tampa is riding again.
"I may have bent a lot of rules along the way," he says, "but I've always tried to be good to people, and I've always kept my dreams alive."