But there is no crowd. It’s a Tina-in-Klamath-Falls kind of night. When booking the tour for Fred and Toody’s latest musical endeavor, Pierced Arrows, their agents didn’t pay any particular attention to the fact that the band was playing Salt Lake City on a Monday night. Mondays were typically light, sure, but it was a paying gig—gas money and dinner at the least. Except that in Salt Lake City, the epicenter of all things Mormon, Monday night is Family Home Evening, reserved for meals, prayer, and devotionals with relatives. Even for the less-than-pious, it’s tradition. Nobody goes out.
Looking out at the empty room, a lot of bands would’ve packed it in. Particularly when three of the four paying customers on this night end up being friends of the opening act and bail immediately after that group’s set is over. But Fred Cole plugs in his red Guild S-200 Thunderbird, looks the lone patron in the eye, and begins hammering on a chord. Goddamnit, he thinks to himself. If Tina can do it, I can do it. He presses his lips against the microphone, opens his mouth, and begins to scream.
WHEN COLE FORMED Pierced Arrows in 2007, it marked at least the 15th different moniker he’s performed under since 1964. The band’s upcoming album, Descending Shadows, is—as near as anybody can tell—Cole’s 35th collection of songs, its 11 tracks pushing his total number of compositions toward 300. And when Pierced Arrows finishes its current West Coast tour, Cole’s personal odometer will flip further into the hundreds of thousands of miles—most of them seen from behind the windshield of a rickety white Chevy van that runs on diesel and fervent prayer. Touring has taken him across the United States, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Australia, and a few countries in Eastern Europe whose names he can’t pronounce.
Cole is what’s known in rock ’n’ roll circles as a lifer: a living, breathing, chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking relic of an American art form’s past, present, and future. He once roomed with Stevie Wonder; he’s played bills with the Doors; and his songs have been covered by alt-rock superstars like Cat Power and Pearl Jam. For most of the past two decades he’s been making jittery punk, hard rock, and blues anthems under the moniker Dead Moon—with Toody laying down the bass line and contributing vocals. He’s recorded and cut his own records in the home he built outside of Clackamas, using the same lathe that carved the Kingsmen’s iconic “Louie, Louie” into vinyl.
But you’ve probably never heard of Fred Cole. Most people haven’t. His albums don’t sell. His cheaply recorded, hook-heavy hard rock is an acquired taste. He’s never had a hit. But among musicians and connoisseurs—especially those in the Northwest—Cole is considered both legend and curiosity, an archetype for the DIY model that, 34 years after he started living out its laws of music-first creative independence, has now become an ethos (even a marketing ploy) in thriving music scenes like Portland’s. He was among the first of his breed, and considering his age and his drive to keep playing past the age of retirement, maybe the last of his breed. After all, it’s easy to be hypnotized by rock when you’re young, when the promise of sex and drugs and adventure is enough to sustain a band on mad dashes across the country. But to keep doing it for 45 years?