They were just ordinary infantry soldiers serving 110 miles behind the Iron Curtain, who went on to jam at the “foot” of the Berlin Wall and beyond. The Cold War never rocked so hard! This is the true story of HAZE!
“Wow, can these really be our barracks? Are we still in the army?”
That’s what I said when I first saw our quarters at McNair Barracks. My name is John Karnatz and I served in the Berlin Brigade, Company B, 4th Battalion, 18th Infantry, from 13 Mar 1971 to 2 May 1972.
1970 to 1972 were very confusing and volatile times for our country, especially for someone who was drafted into the army. After having completed infantry training at Fort Lewis, Washington, my fellow grunts and I were elated to find out that our orders for Vietnam had all been changed (thank you “Tricky Dick” …) and our entire company was going to West Germany! When I arrived in West Berlin, I was amazed when I saw our modern, quality quarters at McNair, furnished with a full-size bed and comfy bed-spread, two big wood closets, night stand, a side rug, and nightstand lamp..…accommodations that were a far cry from the creaky old steel bunk beds, the OD green steel lockers, and the drafty frame buildings we experienced at Fort Lewis.
During off duty time in April, 1971, I began going to the All American Service Club at McNair. They had nice facilities there with some music practice rooms and musical equipment that you could reserve. Being a guitar player and singer, I started going there regularly to have some fun and play guitar. I met a number of other good musicians and jammed with them. Around the middle of April, I met and jammed with this really great bass player (Gary Pinkston – aka “Pinks”) who also sang. About a week or so later, I jammed with a phenomenal lead guitarist (Steve Tack) and a really good drummer (Harry Marion).
Beginning the first weeks of May, the four of us (Pinks, Steve, Harry and me) started playing together and worked out some songs. We found out there was going to be a talent show around the end of May at the All American Service Club at McNair. It was rumoured that the contest was a kind of audition for groups that might be selected to play at the 1971 Berlin German-American Volksfest. None of us really knew what that was or meant (being pretty new to Berlin Brigade), but since we heard it could mean some Special Duty (SD – temporary duty) “get over” sham time, we all said “Let’s do it!” I don’t exactly remember how we decided on the name HAZE…. but I do know beer and other “enhancements” may have been involved!
The talent show was held at the All American Service Club on Saturday night, 29 May. As I remember, there were several soul groups, a couple country acts, a jazz group, maybe a few other acts…and Haze! The place was packed. There must have been over 300 people in attendance…all rooting for their favorite act, mostly along partisan, racial lines. We were a little nervous (at least I was) but we sounded really good on the four songs we did. As it turned out, we came in second place in the contest and afterwards, one of the judges came up to us and the conversation went something like this:
“Hey, you guys are pretty good. I really enjoyed your playing. I’m Enzio Napoli and I’m the Berlin
Brigade Special Services Entertainment Director. Would you be interested in being one of the bands for the Volksfest this summer?” Enzio said.
“Thanks. Wow, that would really be cool,” we all enthusiastucally replied. “What do we have to do?”
“Well, you’ll have about two weeks before the Volksfest to practice and then you’ll play a one hour show everyday during the Volksfest festivities. Of course, you won’t have any other regular duties because you’ll all be given SD status for the entire time.”
“Holy s…,” we all thought, our eyes bugging out at each other. “How awesome is that…..being in the Army and playing in a rock and roll band!”
Enzio continued, “Also, the Army is starting something new. They’re looking to have more local and regional activities for USAREUR troops stationed here and will have a sort of show-band contest sometime in November. Winners of the contest will participate as a touring show-band unit throughout USAREUR for a month or so after the contest. Of course, the winners would have SD status for that entire time.”
When we heard that, we all got so excited that we almost forgot we were in the Army, stationed 110 miles behind the Iron Curtain..…….almost.
Over the next 3-4 weeks, we practiced at the AAS Club at night while performing our regular army duties during the day (luckily, my duty included playing on the B-4-18 team in the newly formed Berlin Brigade company intramural softball league-another USAREUR innovation). I talked off and on with Enzio Napoli about getting ready and situated for the Volksfest. Enzio also had further information about the USAREUR Showband contest. He said there would be an initial Showband contest held in Berlin Brigade and if we won that, we would go on to the USAREUR showband contest finals to be held in Mannheim. WOW!! FAR OUT!!
Another amazing thing was happening to me. At the end of June, my girlfriend (soon to be fiance) Pam Werkheiser came to West Berlin to study in an Historical Landscapes College Masters Program for the summer. After much ticket confusion, communication problems, and my taking cabs back and forth between Tempelhof Airport and some East Berlin/Polish area , Pam and I finally met just before midnight at Tempelhof. She looked amazing! We went to the Holiday Bar located on Clayailee near Berlin Brigade headquarters (“Your Song” by Elton John became our official love song that night). We stayed at the Dahlem Guest House for a few days and then, thankfully, we found Pam a cool old place in Dahlem, located at 89 Unter den Eichen.
WELL…all four of us Haze boys were supremely elated when we got our coveted “SD” status for the Volksfest! We began practicing in the gym at BB headquarters two weeks before the Volksfest started. The field area behind BB was being set up and was looking very “Wild West”authentic and awesome. The Volksfest officially opened on Friday, 23 July, and we started playing our one hour sets on the BB gym main stage (along with the other performing bands). We got free Volksfest passes (for rides) and were given tickets for free food and drinks almost every day. It was an unbelievably great time! What with Pam being there, our Haze band performances and buddies, free food and beer, and hanging out with other bands from the “Zone”, we were tripping the light fantastic and just generally grooving with the festivities!
Many other GI’s also got to work the concessions and various Volksfest duties. They also had great fun and got some awesome get over sham time (not to mention feeling like they were just ordinary guys again, having some fun as if they were “back in the world.”)
Oh yeah………Pam and I got engaged during the Volksfest! We celebrated with our Haze buddies and some Volksfest friends, went duck-pin bowling at a German bar, and enjoyed beach time and water skiing at the Wannsee Rec Center! (“Hey Karnatz, are you sure you’re still in the Army?” I thought to myself.)
Ending ceremonies for the Volksfest were on 8 August. I was able to spend some time with Pam afterwards, but about ten days later, she left to go “back to the world’ and be a schoolteacher. It was a tearful goodbye.
I was back on regular duty again. My company (B-4-18) had just received orders for the next Spandau Prison guard duty, and I landed on the guard duty roster. The only prisoner left at that time was Rudolph Hess, an apparently indestructible World War II survivor who was the only remaining resident at Spandau. The continuance of guarding Hess and the existence of Spandau Prison were extremely sensitive cold war, political issues at that time. The USA, Great Britain, France, and the USSR all shared in performing guard duties at Spandau.
Spandau Prison guard was actually pretty good duty, both from a political and historical perspective. Also, there was a lot of comradery on guard duty, what with playing board games, foosball, and especially as the reality of being a USA soldier 110 miles behind communist lines manifested itself. When I got off Spandau duty, Gary Pinkston’s company had just come back from the “Zone,” and Haze was able to rock the Wall again! If felt great to be blasting ten on those funky green Supro amps at the AAS Club….
Lots of other cool things were happening then in Berlin Brigade. Among them, the new companywide intramural sports program was continuing to be a huge success with flag football (“Yeah, sure, Sarge, I can play quarterback…”), exciting news of a six-month drop for draftees was circulating, and some guys became absolute monsters at playing foosball! Oh……. I wound up getting an awesome job as a 4-18 battalion mail clerk, thanks to a great new friend, Cliff Bergman, the 4-18 head battalion mail clerk. Cliff was introduced to me by a good friend and B-4-18 Company Clerk, Ron Williams. Thank you, Ron! Thank you, Lord!
Back when Haze was playing in the Volksfest, we had met some young kids from BAHS (Berlin-American High School) who liked our music and were in a band called the Pacific Stones. They were a three-piece outfit who also played some in the Volksfest. They were kind of a Grand Funk Railroad influenced band, so we really liked them. Anyway, they asked us to play with them for a BAHS football season dance in September. Of course, we said yes and did the gig. As we were up on stage playing, I remember thinking, “…. funny, we don’t seem to be that much older than some of these kids……”
Around the beginning of October, Haze landed a contract for the 1971 BAHS Homecoming Dance to be held at the Harnack House on 6 November. WOW! I’m sure the guys from the Pacific Stones had a hand in giving us a good referral. I bought a new black Hofner guitar (kind of like Alvin Lee’s) from a music store on the Ku-damm for DM 570 (about $ 175). Haze also continued to practice for the dance and the Showband Contest.
On 31 Oct, the Berlin Brigade Showband Contest semi-finals were held at the All American Service Club. The place was packed with a loud, enthusiastic audience. Haze wound up taking second place. First place went to a nine-piece soul band called The Ghettos. Their lead singer was a guy name Stanley Wallace who literally could sing better than Smokey Robinson! But we were headed for a final’s showdown.….
The Berlin Brigade finals for the First Annual Original Magnificent Special Services Showband Contest were held on Sunday, 7 Nov. We had played the BAHS homecoming dance the night before at the Harnack House (a great gig with our BAHS buddies), so we were totally jacked and ready for the finals! You could feel the electricity running through the All American Service Club. When we played our set, it sounded like a rock and roll cannonball bouncing off the club walls! The place was super packed again and vibrating with excitement!!
After what seemed like an eternity, the judges finally rendered their decision and…well…
After the contest, Enzio Napoli congratulated us and said we would get special duty assignment beginning the next week. A bunch of other people also came up to congratulate us. I think we all wound up going out somewhere to celebrate Haze’s victory……we may have gone to the “White Horse”, a popular nearby local bar frequented by GI’s stationed in West Berlin (especially by the McNair Barracks guys).
Things started happening fast after the contest. We practiced a few times at the AAS Club and learned a few new songs. When Enzio Napoli gave us of our Showband Contest SD assignment, we were ecstatic to learn that we would be SD beginning 18 Nov through the end of the month. Also, if Haze won the USAREUR Showband finals in Mannheim, we would get an additional 36 days of SD to participate in the touring showband unit for the Europe Showband Contest tour. “WOW!! We four Haze draftees must be the all-time Army “get over” kings,” we said. Unbelievable……
For the Berlin Brigade tour, we traveled around in our very own 37 seat passenger bus. It was just us four Haze guys, Tom Schultz (Special Services entertainment assistant and tour manager) and our own bus driver. We totally felt like rock stars! All the gigs we played were a great time. In particular, the gig we played at the British Sector Summit House was especially fun (the Brit GIs loved us and kept giving us beer all night!). A friend of mine, Pete Hoffman, helped as a roadie and sound man and we recorded that gig using a two-track reel-to-reel tape deck. The tape actually turned out well.
On 20 Nov, we went into the AFN Berlin Studios (located across from U.S Army Headquarters) to record some songs for the Manheim Showband Contest Finals. We had played at the Hi-Lite Service Club the night before and got in pretty late. But the Army didn’t care—we were scheduled to be at the studio at 08:30 hours and that was that! Pinks and I had very sore throats from all the singing we were doing lately, but we literally “soldiered” on and recorded our songs. Most of the songs were done in just one live take.
On a chilly Thanksgiving morning, 25 Nov, Haze again boarded a 37 seat passenger bus (along with Tom Schultz and our equipment) and left for the Showband Contest. We advanced through Checkpoint Bravo which was the main Autobahn border crossing point between West Berlin and the GDR. The ominous “You are leaving the American Sector” warning glared down at us from the bridge overhead as we passed under it. Continuing through the GDR, we were struck by how few cars there were and by the rough buildings and landscape and the harsh living conditions that seemed to exist……all a far cry from what we had experienced in West Berlin.
By early afternoon, our bus arrived at Checkpoint Alpha in Helmstedt. Checkpoint Alpha was the only Autobahn entry point that could be used by the Allies to get to West Berlin by land. The guys at the Helmstedt Detachment were cool and we had a nice Thanksgiving dinner with them. We played at their service club that night and a good time was had by all (it might have helped that THEY apparently had been drinking grapefruit juice and vodka since mid-afternoon!).
Around midnight, we took a train from Helmstedt to Frankfurt and arrived early Friday morning. A bus was waiting to take us to Mannheim so after loading our gear, we left (making a quick stopover at the Rhein-Mein Airport for breakfast). After getting situated in our Mannheim barracks, Haze and all the other bands went to band meeting at the contest venue ——the Benjamin Franklin Village Sport Arena Mannheim.
“WOW!! This place is humongous!” we all said in amazement. There were two huge stages set up at one end of the building with tons of stage lights and spotlights shining on each stage from the rafters. Even though it was primarily a huge Army sports arena, it felt like we were going to be playing at the Hollywood Bowl! But now came the hard part—–we had to compete against six other talented bands from all over USAREUR.
On Friday night, we played at a service club in Heidelberg. The club was reputed to be one of the best service clubs in the area and it certainly lived up to its billing. The place was exceptionally nice. We met some friendly people there and invited them to come to the Showband contest. We sounded good at the gig and were jacked afterwards. But Saturday was when the incredibly fun stuff started to happen….
The contest format called for each group to play a 20-minute set on Saturday and a one hour set on Sunday. A random playing order for bands had been determined. Haze was to come on at 9 pm on Saturday night. You could feel the anticipation and excitement in the air Saturday as the arena doors opened and the crowds started streaming in. These people were ready to rock!
When we took the stage, there must have been around 2,000 people in the audience. We had shivers running up and down our spines as the stage manager announced, “….and now from Berlin Brigade, HAZE!”!
WHOA!! WE WERE SUPER PSYCHED!! With silly grins on our faces, we looked at each other in wonderment, thinking, “Can you believe this??? How did we get here??!”
We opened with “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk. Our bodies seemed to be overtaken by some rock and roll spirits as we continued to blaze through our set with “Brown Sugar”, moving and playing like we were The Rolling Stones! When we finished with “I’m Going Home” (Steve Tack playing and singing like Alvin Lee at Woodstock), the crowd went crazy!! They were yelling, “Haze, Haze, More, Encore!!” But the contest format did not allow for encores, so we left the stage to a tremendous ovation from the crowd. We were totally walking on rock and roll cloud nine.….
After we finished our set, we sat out in the audience to listen to some of the other bands. Two exceptionally talented groups plainly stood out. One was a group from Sued Bayern called, “East of Underground.” They were a very talented seven-piece soul band with some amazing harmonies and outlandish costumes. The second was a group from Hessen, called “Soap.” They were a four guy, two girl, definitive variety showband with professional stage costumes and a wide range of material.
The finals were held on Sunday and each group was to play a one hour set. Haze was to go on at 5:00pm.
As we walked on stage, we were amazed to see people had actually lined up 5-10 rows deep at the front of the stage to see us play. When the stage manager announced, “….and now, Haze…”, the crowd gave us a thundering ovation and we launched in to “Closer to Home”. We played our ASSES off!!! It was a tremendously moving and thrilling show, each song seemingly drawing more applause than the previous one. When we ended with “I’m Going Home”, we brought the house down and over 2,000 people started screaming for more. It was……
When all the bands completed their one hour sets around 10 pm, it was time for the judges to render their decision. They deliberated for about an hour. When the stage manager came back and said the judges had reached a decision, a lot of people in the crowd starting shouting, “……HAZE, HAZE……”
One of the five contest judges was Kurt Loder who was a reporter for the Overseas Weekly at the time. Of course, he went on to be an MTV icon later in his career. Kurt had talked with us a few times during the contest and seemed to be a good guy. His story on the Showband Contest appeared in the 19 Dec issue of the Overseas Weekly…….
No..……Haze did not win the Showband Contest. There was a first-place tie between those two exceptionally talented groups we saw—–East of Underground and Soap. It was rumored that there was actually a three-way tie between East of Underground, Soap, and Haze but we never verified that. Kurt Loder did have some nice things to say about Haze in his article (see bottom of column three). Haze may have taken second in the Showband Contest, but we knew we finished first in the hearts of the rock and roll crowd in Mannheim!!
When we got back to West Berlin on Tuesday, we were all completely drained physically and emotionally. It had been one crazy, exhausting whirlwind ride over the last few months. Haze did make the Berlin Observer one more time (the editors congratulated us on our second or third place finish, depending how you count).
Enzio Napoli and everybody in the Berlin Brigade AG Special Services Entertainment Section were very happy for us and applauded our showing at Mannheim. Even the top brass was appreciative as we accepted an award and got some special notices from our commanding officer, Brigadier General Miller…
Kind of a funny side story….…for the past few months I had been growing my hair longer and plastering it down with Dippity Do so that my superiors wouldn’t hassle me about getting a haircut. Amazingly, General Miller didn’t have the slightest bit of a problem with my hair!
What a wild ride!! I would not trade my Haze experience for anything else, in or out of the army!! Ironically, even though I did not choose to be in the army, these incredible events over the past nine months could not have happened to me, a drafted grunt stationed 110 miles behind communist lines, without the army.