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A generation grown older recalls influence of The Rolling Stones

The summer Patrick Keem realized playing the accordion was not cool was the summer he took his golf caddy money and bought a white Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.

His twin brother, Mike, picked out an electric piano. They spent the next six months in their parents’ Cheektowaga basement learning to play Rolling Stones songs.

It was 1964. They were 14 and had no inkling of their eventual careers as a dentist and a veterinarian. They were aiming for the bluesy rock ’n’ roll they saw in the shaggy-haired Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Many other teens in the ’60s had similar dreams after coming under the spell of the Rolling Stones. But after giving rock ’n’ roll a whirl, teens like Keem moved on with their lives while the Stones kept rolling along.

Still, as Keem prepares to see the Stones with his brother and their old friend and former roadie this weekend in Orchard Park, he thinks back on how the Stones changed his way of looking at life as a teenager.

After seeing and hearing the Stones back then, it was obvious that singing “Time is on My Side” to screams from the audience was better than the polkas they had watched with their proud Polish mother on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Goodbye, Lawrence Welk. Hello, Mick Jagger.

“The girls weren’t attracted to accordion players. It was an epiphany,” said Keem, now the Orchard Park supervisor and aretired dentist.

“ ‘We’re quitting the accordion, Mom,’ we told her. … Her heart was kind of broken. ... Little did she know how far we were going to go with music,” he said. “I ended up paying for half of Canisius with it.”

Until they were 20, it worked. Girls came to practice, listening from perches on the basement stairs. He can remember how exhilarating it was see the crowd dancing to his band’s rendition of “Under My Thumb” at a park pavilion in Lime Lake in the summer of 1967.

“You get paid for having fun,” he said. “I’m sure that’s why the Stones are still playing. They’re not doing it for the money.”

Between 1964 and 1970, Keem sang harmony and played Stones tunes as he made his way through four bands, in high school and at Canisius College.

So when tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. on April 19 for this weekend’s concert at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Keem was ready. He was at Town Hall. A municipal meeting was about to start. He stepped out.

“The whole world stopped,” he said.

He had his ticket-buying account set up and ready.

“I hit the computer. Bang.”

He was 10 minutes late to the meeting, but he had tickets. Six $170 seats for his brother, their friend who drove the equipment around in a borrowed restaurant truck and their significant others.

“Who would have thought 50 years after we were in a basement ... ,” he said. “Fifty years later, we’d be going to the Stones. If you put that in a storybook, people would think that was an exaggeration.”

Decades have gone by since he and his brother stopped practicing so they could get their grades up for graduate school. The old red Gretsch Tennessean that he bought after trading in the Stratocaster is still in the basement by his amps. Without his old finger callouses and practice, the best he can do with it now is strum.

To conjure up the songs he used to play, he pulled out a legal pad and made a list in chronological order. They started with “Time Is on My Side” in 1964. Then came “The Last Time, Heart of Stone,” “As Tears Go By,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Satisfaction,” “Paint it Black,” “Under My Thumb,” “19th Nervous Breakdown” and finally “Ruby Tuesday.” They played Beatles and Monkees songs, too, but the Stones tunes got people dancing.

Once they had 20 songs together after learning to play their instruments, neighborhood buddies joined them with drums and guitar. They settled on the Orions for a name, after the constellation they used to spot stargazing out in the country with their dad.

Gigs at school dances eventually morphed into street concerts and bar shows. By 16, they were playing out even though they weren’t old enough to drink. His parents weren’t happy.

“But they understood,” Keem said. “We were making money and we were good kids.”

One summer, they tried another job, working at the lumberyard where their father drove a truck. After taxes and union dues, they each got $9 a day.

They got triple that splitting up the $300 for a night of playing at a bar. The Animals’ 1965 song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” on their set list summed up their thinking.

The choice was obvious.

“Are you kidding? Having fun? Playing bars where you were illegal?” Keem said.

In a few weeks, he turns 65 and he doesn’t look anything like the skinny-jeans-wearing Rolling Stones.

He has a big, gold Canisius class ring, hair trimmed short. His usual daily wardrobe involves a sport coat and tie. He is a Republican. Two years ago, after retiring from a 30-year career as a dentist, he ran for a second time for town supervisor and beat the incumbent by 144 votes.

There is not much left over from his rock ’n’ roll days. Back when he was playing, people didn’t videotape. He has no record of Infinity and the Thatchers, bands that followed the Orions.

He does have one surviving photo in his wallet – along with pictures of his children and grandkids – Keem and his brother, both with wavy brown hair almost to their shoulders.

In the photo, Keem stands in front of the microphone, playing the guitar. His brother, in an Ecology Flag T-shirt, is beside him at another microphone, tambourine in hand.

He’s pretty sure it’s from July 1970. That was the last of four summers of regular playing at the motorcycle bar across from the Westinghouse plant on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga. The defunct Olympic Village, now a Hertz rental car business, was their best client.

The pay was good and they had a following. They played three nights a week. A bouncer stood at the door collecting $5 a person. The dance floor was always full. People were on the wilder side, and there were lots of cute girls.

“We packed the place,” he said.

They quit a month later. Keem’s brother wanted to be a veterinarian. Keem, who remembered how his father had him swish his mouth with whiskey for a toothache, decided dentistry would be a good way to help people.

Now with the Stones concert just a day away, he has only one regret about his life. Putting down the guitar for so long was a mistake.

“I wish we would have kept playing,” he said.

To see the Stones play in what might be the last show of their last concert tour will be a temporary, magical fix. Keem will be rooting for a rendition of “Satisfaction.”

“Bringing the past back to the present,” he said, “that’s a very exciting thing.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com