After I stopped lifting in 1972, I proceeded to enthusiastically degenerate. I became skinny-fat and out of shape for the first time in my life. I had drifted into a rock and roll lifestyle, hanging with a true pal from my old neighborhood. Junior was someone I'd known since age 12. Apparently as compensation for his impoverished, hillbilly white-trash upbringing, God gave the boy a golden singing voice. Junior could sing loud and perfectly in pitch; his voice was strong and gruff, akin to powerhouse vocalist Tom Jones.
In addition to a booming gruff voice, he was good looking, cocky, street smart and a true alpha; he was a scrapper and a hustler that now had the world by the throat; as in-demand front man and later as a tyrannical band leader, all the dollar bills just started dropping into his hands. He needed people he could trust so he turned to those who were good to him back when he was the dishwasher at Pop's Pizza. At age 15 he had impregnated a 15-year old girl (another tale) and the teen couple and newborn got an apartment while Junior worked on his music on the side.
The most prized commodity in rock and roll is the charismatic front man. Junior had charisma in spades; he reeked of it. Initially he fronted other bands, but that didn't last long…he was unmanageable and obsidante. Topflight players fought to get into Junior's new band because his band packed clubs effortlessly and immediately. This made him a God to musicians (good pay, steady work) and it made him a God, a terrible and wrathful God to club owners.
He demanded half the gig fee up front in advance in cash. The other half, a check, was due after the show or shows. Being a true hillbilly originally from Mud Lick, West Virginia, he placed the cash in mason jars and buried the jars in the backyard of his hillbilly mansion (the nicest house) in his hillbilly neighbourhood (the crappiest neighbourhood.)
Junior was the real Dewey Cox in the Walk Hard movie. This was Trailer Park boys. I was Julian and Junior was Rickey - only Rickey was burying $5,000 a week in cash in his back yard. It was like hitting the lottery - better - winning the lottery doesn't include free liquor, groupies, recreational drugs and a cast of backstage characters that were right out of the Star Wars bar scene.
Junior fronted the hottest rock and soul unit working the lucrative Washington/Baltimore/Ocean City live music club scene. Junior packed houses wherever he played, lines around the block, anywhere and everywhere. I rode solo with Junior: I was the closest friend of the boss. We grew up three blocks from one another and though he was two years younger, he knew and respected the Gallagher Brothers. I saved his ass a few times growing up and we reconnected the year I got out of high school.
I was the first to say, "Damn son, you got a voice like Ray freaking Charles - seriously, you need get in a band." So when fate and circumstance conspired to make him noveau riche, he turned to me as someone he could trust. I became a rock and roll aide de camp and consigliore. I went, on average, to 100 gigs per year, as an honoured guest. I sat at the bar and drank free top shelf booze all night long; I met smoking hot women, hipster bartenders, criminal club owners and drug dealers galore. The backstage antics I saw and participated in are too numerous to relate - however I offer these tantalizing titbits...
I drank Hennessy and milk backstage with an incomprehensible Muddy Waters when Junior played the same bill; I partied with Root Boy Slim while two nude groupies "had relations" on a nearby couch; I broke up a fight between Tina Turner's monstrous road manager and our band's inebriated guitar player. Mike had a run-in with three honey-dip donuts and demanded to see Tina. That did not go over well. I partied hard backstage with Sam and Dave when Junior opened for them. I drank and smoked with Junior Wells as Buddy Guy tuned up his poka-dotted Gibson five feet away…
...I met power players from the Clinton White House (George Stephanopoulos loved the band) and at the height of his career, the band played at the White House. Bill Clinton dug the hell out of the band. Every summer I travelled with the band, plus soundmen and roadies, when they relocated to Ocean City, Maryland. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, the band played the top club in Ocean City, five nights a week, four sets a night, 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off. The band was a super tight funk party unit and Junior ran the band like Stalin on steroids.
Crowds went crazy. The band was housed in a giant beach house that was the real Animal House: imagine eight musicians, two roadies and a soundman sharing a 12-room beach house. Junior stayed in a private four-bedroom condo. I stayed with him. He was an excellent tennis player and played tennis with club owners and ocean city elite types during the day. Life was one extended party that went on for years….Lifting?? Somehow it faded.
Eventually the poisons took their inevitable toll. I had one too many bad hangovers and one too many times waking up without my clothes in some strange place. So I cut back. No I didn't quit. No I didn't get religion and no I didn't start a micro-biotic diet. I cut back. Tuesday was no longer a reason to celebrate.
I joined a local YMCA a few blocks from where I was living and began doing some bench pressing. It was low key and innocent. Yet that tiny bit of lifting felt so comfortable and so familiar that I naturally did more. Simultaneously, I got involved with the martial arts. I hooked up with Robert Smith, a true internal martial arts master. I would lift, but without competitive aspirations. My muscle memory was so outstanding that within six weeks I had added a lot of muscle and dropped fat.
I would lift twice weekly. Every morning I would get up at 5 am to do 60 minutes of martial arts. In 1978 I reconnected with Hugh Cassidy. I went to see him at a strength seminar he was putting on at the University of Maryland. He recognized me immediately and greeted me warmly. He was impressive: now 40-something, Hugh had reduced his bodyweight from 300 down to a rock hard, bodybuilder-ish 195-pounds. He invited me to come train at his mini-farm in rural Maryland. Now I had two fabulously credentialed mentors: each man was a legend in his respective universe and each man was a highly regarded professional writer. I had long wanted to try my hand at article writing.
Both men would influence and guide me athletically and equally important, both would guide and influence me in my writing career. For the next five years I settled in, settled down and immersed myself in the disparate physical arts: one physical art, powerlifting, was the yang essence of yang and the other, the Chinese internal martial arts, was the yin essence of yin. They say opposites attract and I felt I was squaring this yin/yang circle. I was fired up to write about my discoveries in a compelling and persuasive way. My first published article was co-written with Cassidy and published in 1979. Since then I have written over 1,000 published articles.
In fairly short order I morphed from an out of shape, skinny-fat 190 pounds into a rock hard and scary 225. My squat went from 400 to 700. Smith was enthused as I muscled up; he felt I was "far better" insofar as my progress and performance in the three fighting styles when I was bigger, leaner and fitter. I had never been more supple and pliable in my life. The two extremes were forging my body and molding my mind and my changing my perspective. I stayed in this groove for a long time, marinating in wisdom at the feet of real Masters. I learned everything and this period formed the foundation for everything I think and believe 40 years later.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.