Kevin Mc Donough, tall, blond, and smart—a trifecta of possibility—once wiped out on his skateboard and landed on his keister in my driveway. “Big Kev,” as my underclass friends and I called him, logged one of the best nights of high school at the 1975 senior dinner-dance at the New Smyrna Beach Yacht Club. He tells history in his own words:
Morning sun reflected across the Indian River to the surface of the New Smyrna Beach Yacht Club pool as I hosed down the deck, cleaned the pool and placed chairs around the perimeter. I glanced up at the white stucco art deco building and excitement rumbled through my gut. Tonight my class was in for a surprise.
I scanned the pool to make sure it was empty and detoured to the men’s room beside the deep end. While taking care of business, I heard the pool gate open and bang shut.
Quick, little feet ran past my stall, a pause, then the hollow sound of the feet pattering the length of the diving board.
Mrs. Musson’s familiar voice yelled, “Neil! No!”
As Neil catapulted himself off the diving board and sunk like a 35-pound boat anchor, I raced to the poolside, tying up my trunks.
Mrs. Musson screamed as I dove to the bottom.
Neil suspended about eight feet down with his eyes wide open. He laid back into my hands as I grabbed him behind his neck and around his waist.
Pushing hard off the bottom of the deep end, I rocketed straight up pushing Neil above me towards Mrs. Musson’s outstretched arms.
He gurgled up some pool water and screamed as I placed him in his relieved mother’s arms. The excitement ended as fast as I had gotten wet. Fifteen minutes later Neil munched French fries while rigging ruffled against the masts of the boats bobbing in their slips nearby.
My mind turned back to that night’s party. What my classmates did not know was that I’d wrangled permission from Robert Thomas, front man of the evening’s rock band, to play during the breaks. I had spent a lot of hours on my back porch playing my grandfather’s looks-much-worse-than-Willie-Nelson’s 1930’s Harmony guitar. The instrument had been sat on a time or two, was missing the twelfth fret, and had nylon (gut) strings. It was not a show stopper.
On my lunch break, I headed to the music store on US 1. Fifteen minutes later, I’d convinced the music store manager, another Kevin, to let me borrow a brand new 12-string that cost a month’s lifeguarding wages.
Maybe I wouldn’t be visiting the submarine races tonight at the other end of the Yacht Club’s island, but I had my date for the dance.
At six-thirty the Class of 1975 swarmed the buffet prepared by Chef Joseph—who made my free lunch every day. The night marked the end of an era. Soon, we would scatter to military enlistments, college, marriage, life, and babies.
Robert Thomas hit the first ZZ Top guitar licks and the dance floor exploded in a joyful panorama of polyester, high heels, go-go boots, blue jeans, tropical shirts, and disco leisure suits. Commodore and Mrs. Kenney, Mr. and Mrs. Musson, and my parents sipped cocktails and smiled from their seats.
Halfway through the band’s first set, I headed to the Yacht Club watchtower where I’d stashed the 12-string under a tablecloth. I opened up the case, sat at the top of the stairs, and quietly worked out each song.
Downstairs, the music stopped. Applause was followed by the sound of people talking. It was now or never. I calmly walked down the stairs and across the Yacht Club interior. On my way, Les Williams, Scott Bauer, and Mike Nelson all asked me, “Where did you get that guitar?” I smiled and kept walking, because through the doors, was the stage.
I stepped onto the stage, not even registering it was empty until I’d climbed over a few amps and electric guitar cases.
Minutes earlier excitement had pumped from this stage. I froze, dead center—without a clue how I was going to get my voice and guitar amped. Panic clenched my gut.
Band leader Robert Thomas walked up to me. “What the hell are you doing?”
I smiled. “If you and your friends ever want to swim in this pool this summer, how about getting me all rigged up?”
His face broke into a grin. “I didn’t think you would show up. Let’s do this thing!”
I retrieved the bar stool I’d stashed behind a curtain.
The crowd quieted and milled around the edge of the dance floor.
Commodore and Mrs. Kenney and Mr. and Mrs. Musson spoke to my parents, probably asking what the heck Kevin was doing.
Robert Thomas made a two word introduction, “Kevin McDonough.”
Just like I planned, the 12-string rang out the bluesy chords of Roller Derby Queen. At the end of the song, I looked up to see WSBB’s Mike Oakes, the youngest professional disc jockey in Florida , smiling back at me. He loved Jim Croce too.
I made a dumb joke and forgot to dedicate Elton John’s Your Song to the Class of ’75. But the song went so well I called an audible towards the end and created an Elton John medley by launching into Candle in the Wind.
To my amazement, the crowd listened politely and applauded after each song.
In the middle of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby my left leg spasmed. I’d been keeping time by moving my left foot to the music. My left heel, jammed into a 70’s style platform shoe, had cemented to the barstool rung. I hoped no one would notice, but Les Williams spotted my jerking leg. He and his buddies—then the rest of the crowd—cracked up as my spastic leg jack-hammered my guitar.
I searched for a trap door, but had to finish what felt like the longest song I ever played.
I grabbed my jumping-bean leg, pulled it off the bar stool rung, stretched it out. I took a bow. If little Neil Musson could survive, so could I.
I grinned at the crowd. “Clap and keep time with my leg.” I made those 12 strings wish they were at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Pretty soon, the crowd jumped around just like they were on Grandma’s Feather Bed. Big smiles spread around, especially on the adults who grinned at my folks. The band scrambled back on stage for their second set.
Robert Thomas moved my mic stand. “Way to play, Kevin!”
All the cool music guys came over to ask me questions about “my” 12-string and LeRoy Henry invited me to jam with his band for the summer.
On Monday I returned the guitar and walked out with a black Hondo Les Paul electric knockoff for fifty bucks. I was going to rock the world.
The evening paled only to saving a certain toddler.
Guest Blogger Kevin McDonough—Kevin’s high school career careened through Junior Class president and putting on the first prom held in our gym since the ‘60s. During his senior year he led our Student Government Association as co-president while holding down a 3.9 GPA and scoring third on the Florida 12th Grade test. He landed a full-ride R.O.T.C. scholarship to Stetson University. After college he started his own mobile x-ray company and later became a regional sales manager for a radiation monitoring company based in California. In his spare time, he still plays gigs around central Florida with his band. Kevin and his wife, “St. Debbie” have been married 32 years with two beautiful daughters, Amy and Megan.
Related Posts About New Smyrna Beach
by Ann Lee Miller