Mark Opsasnick doesn’t much care for new music. In fact, says the 40-year-old Prince George’s County resident and Montgomery County employee, his musical tastes “haven’t changed one iota” since 1976, when he was 14. “I’m like Al Bundy,” he jokes, “listening to his high school record collection over and over again.”
That obsession with rock’s past is reflected in Opsasnick’s recently reissued Capitol Rock, a 460-page love letter to the Washington music scene as it was between the years 1951 and 1976. The book was born from Opsasnick’s inability to find good resources on obscure local bands and long-shuttered area clubs. “I wrote the book that I couldn’t find on the library shelves,” he says—though he might have thought twice if he’d known what he was getting himself into.
“The writing of the original book took four years, from January 1993 to December 1996,” says Opsasnick. He spent his weekends doing research at local libraries and listening to old-timers reminisce at Strick’s, the legendary country venue in P.G. County where, from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s, such musical greats as Patsy Cline, Jimmy Dean, and Roy Clark played for a roughneck crowd of white Southern transplants.
“During its heyday,” Opsasnick says, “Strick’s was open 24 hours. It was wild. The band would play a set of music. Then a big brawl would break out. Then everybody would patch everybody else up and the band would play another set. Then another brawl would break out. It would go on like that until dawn.”
After quickly selling out a first, self-published printing of Capitol Rock, Opsasnick spent another two years working on a revised edition. “There was a continuing interest,” he says. “Copies on eBay were copping as much as $100.”
He’s published the new version through Xlibris, a print-on-demand publisher that he calls “a godsend.” Indeed, Opsasnick likes Xlibris so much that he also plans to use the service to reissue three of his other books: The Cultural Badlands Tour Y2K: An Outsider’s Guide to Obscure Landmarks and Offbeat Historical Sites in Prince George’s County, Maryland; Miscellaneous and Unknown: Cultural Souvenirs From Prince George’s County, Maryland; and Washington Rock and Roll: A Social History.
But it’s Capitol Rock that’s Opsasnick’s own In Search of Lost Time, a detailed and encyclopedic evocation of a period when starry-eyed locals formed British Invasion-
influenced groups such as the Hangmen and Cherry People, Jimi Hendrix performed in Adams Morgan, and a band of relative unknowns called Led Zeppelin played before a crowd of about 50 at the Wheaton Youth Center.
When asked about his favorite piece of local-rock history, Opsasnick chooses the infamous 1023 Club on Wahler Place SE, a cavernous biker joint so tough that regular performers Link Wray and the Raymen were in the habit of chaining up their guitars between sets, and where Link once leaped into the audience with a pistol to tame a threatening crowd.
“I would have liked to have been there on the hot summer night in August 1966 when the club got attacked by residents of the area’s housing projects, who’d gotten tired of this enclave of white bikers on their turf,” he says. “The locals heaved bricks through the windows and everybody fled. Link Wray ran out of the club, only to find his car destroyed. He was standing there looking lost when Billy Poore, who was one of the original members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, said, ‘You can ride with me.’
“Link said, ‘What about a helmet?’ Whereupon Billy hands him a football helmet spray-painted purple. And that’s how the famous Link Wray made his getaway from the 1023 Club: on the back of a Pagans motorcycle wearing a purple football helmet.” —Michael Little
Opsasnick will sign copies of Capitol Rock from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug, 24, at Joe’s Record Paradise, 1300 E. Gude Drive, Rockville. For more information, call (301) 315-2235.