|In the photo above, Bruce
tries out the seat in Bill Pitts' famed 'MagiCar' top fueler during the
1999 California Hot Rod Reunion held at Bakersfield's Famoso Raceway.
With the end of his career
as a Top Fuel team owner, in mid-1969, Bruce began to devote more time
to his many other interests. Music, especially rock 'n' roll, was his main
passion in those heady days.
As a relative newcomer to
the ranks of those opposed to the growing conflict in Southeast Asia, Bruce
became the de facto publisher of a budding underground D.C. newspaper,
The Quicksilver Times. Although an extremely radical paper editorially,
the local arts scene was not ignored. Bruce took on the job of 'entertainment'
editor for the paper, and that led to instant backstage access at many
of Washington's better club and concert venues. And, in turn, friendships
with many of the area's rock personalities flourished. These associations
would later open doors that would lead Bruce to a new career in the music
business, but, for now, all this was still two years off.
A short while later, while
working part-time at a Washington head shop, Bruce became aware of the
upcoming Woodstock Music & Arts Fair that was scheduled for mid August
in upstate New York. There was no question that this was something not
to be missed! Eventually Bruce (and then-wife Bobbie) found themselves
in the middle of a crowd estimated to be in excess of 400,000, and that
weekend would forever change his life. (The enormity and focus of this
event is well documented, so a few more words on the subject at this point
in time would do little to convey how great it really was!)
Soon after Woodstock, and
the tragic '69 U. S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Bruce and
Bobbie ventured north on an extended motor trip that found them driving
through much of New England and Eastern Canada. After some six weeks, and
many thousands of miles later, the Wheelers returned to D.C. in mid October.
Upon their return from Canada
they packed up and moved to rural Northern Virginia, to a large farm near
the town of Delaplane, some 55 miles west of Washington.
Barely five months later
Bruce's relationship with Bobbie ended.
Free and single once again,
Bruce adjusted to his new life by quitting smoking, and traveling - at
first to Gainesville, Florida, for the Gatornationals drags, and later,
a four month odyssey that had him visiting most of the states west of the
Mississippi River, and parts of British Columbia, Canada, too. In between
Gainesville and his so-called Great Western Tour, Bruce managed to survive
a serious motorcycle accident that totaled his bike, and left him badly
bruised and sore for nearly two months. (Life does have its ups and downs!)
Upon his return from the
west coast in October, 1970 Bruce made a move back to The City, to an apartment
in Alexandria, Virginia.
In the spring of 1971 Bruce
began to do roadwork for a number of D.C. area rock bands, including, for
a brief period, the group Grin, fronted by recent Bruce Springsteen guitarist
Nils Lofgren. These were 'mostly for beers' deals, but that time was very
well spent learning the tricks of the trade.
Also during that period Bruce
struck up friendships with a pair of local entrepreneurs who, among other
things, were producing concerts for both the D.C. and Arlington (Va.) parks
departments. Through this relationship, Bruce was able to go on the road
for two weeks with Edgar Winter's 'White Trash' band (which included guitarist
Rick Derringer.) In August of '71, Bruce connected with the band SeaTrain,
acting as the local liaison between the promoters and the group's road
management. As a result of this, Bruce was offered a full time gig with
SeaTrain, pending the availability of funding for his salary. This finally
came about in November, and on the 15th of that month Bruce found himself
moving north to Lynn, Massachusetts, close to where SeaTrain had their
rehearsal studios. In April of '72 Bruce moved into a charming 19th century
cottage in old town Marblehead, Mass. During his ten months with SeaTrain
he was able to see a large amount of the country as the band played dates
from Maine to California. SeaTrain, while not a major act, was still very
popular on the college concert circuit, particularly in the eastern states.
They had no trouble filling halls of up to 5,000 seats, and their signature
tunes, 'Thirteen Questions' and fiddle player Richard Greene's version
of 'Orange Blossom Special' often received standing ovations.
During this time Bruce was
able to connect with some of rock's major acts from that era, including
Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Hot Tuna, It's A Beautiful Day, Loggins &
Messina, The Beach Boys, Seals & Crofts, Taj Mahal, John McLaughlin's
Mahavishnu Orchestra and Sly and The Family Stone, to name but a few.
At the start of Bruce's employment
with SeaTrain he was mostly a 'gopher', relegated to setting up and striking
equipment at shows, and lots of truck driving. Later he took on additional
responsibilities such as stage lighting and sound mixing. He frequently
acted on behalf of the band's members in making 'subtle' invitations to
any numbers of women spotted in the audiences at their gigs, to join the
guys backstage after the show. Much to Bruce's delight, many of these young
women chose to be with him instead. This caused some weird friction that,
in turn, resulted in Bruce's ultimate termination from the group in September
of '72. (Of course there was the matter of the overturned equipment truck,
but that's a whole other story.)
In November, 1972, Bruce
moved to San Francisco.
(Bookmark this page, there's
more to come!)