This chart was inspired during my Summer of 1980 southwest tour with the Bobby Claire band, a motel chain touring act that presented third-rate ripoffs of Elvis Presley and Mac Davis Vegas shows, complete with polyester jumpsuits, a smoke machine, and a huge American flag.
The vertical scale on the chart measures from our best-case scenario — the Palm Beach Days Inn Lalo Shifrin Room — down to our worst-case: a 1950s’ fallout shelter in the Buena Vista subdivision in Moedee, Oklahoma. The horizontal scale measures the amount of time spent on the job including rehearsals. Notice how the sharp decline in singer quality precedes the meteoric rise in ego and room quality. Also, band members’ room quality and attitude drop off sharply as rehearsals end and the singer actually arrives on the scene.
Black line – singer’s room quality
Red line – singer’s ego level
Blue line – singer’s talent level
Brown line – band members’ room quality
Legendary drummer Harold Jones talks with me about growing up in Chicago with legends Herbie Hancock and Frank Strozier, and touring with Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Duke Ellington, and countless others that would make your jaw drop. He reflects on the great clubs of the 1950s and 60s and the fertile ground they offered young musicians seeking to grow and learn. And he waxes philosophical about playing with dynamics and understanding what the music calls for. A great chat with a great musician. We spoke on September 11, 2012 in Austin, Texas when Harold was in town for an Austin City Limits recording with Tony Bennett, who he has toured with for many years.
His name is Luis Gasca. And this is my story.
I was the drummer for a Luis Gasca big band gig at Austin’s 6th Street Live stage in the early 1980s. As I remember, Luis hired everyone in town that owned a horn or some congas. I think there were 24 people on stage — six saxophones, every trombonist between San Antonio and Waco, trumpets galore, drums, bass, piano, and two percussionists. To say the gig was overstaffed would be like saying a Michael Bay movie is loud. At our afternoon rehearsal, Luis passed out the charts we would be performing. They were quite simple. Did he really need a sea of brass and reeds playing Girl from Ipanema in unison? I quickly came to see it didn’t matter. Luis expected me to make up for it all. I learned later that he was notorious for reducing grown men to sniffling basket cases with his explosive tirades. On this day I was the privileged target. Two bars into Ipanema he cut the band off with a flurry of his arms and very energetically exclaimed to me, More power from the drums! Elvin, Blakey, Max Roach! Kick ass! I took this to be Luis’s way of encouraging me to play the piece with more strength as he combined the names of famous jazz drummers with an invitation to commit violence on my instrument. So he counted us off again on this country club bossa nova favorite. We made it through two bars before the arm waving re-commenced, this time accompanied by a shaking face with loose cheeks flapping from side to side. Come on man! More power! Elvin! Blakey! Kick my ass! I jacked it up another level.
Do you know how hard it is to play drums wholly against your instincts regarding taste? It was like eating Velvetta cheese on purpose — big mouthfuls. But I still only made it two bars in. Oh man, can’t you play those drums!?! I want you to KICK MY ASS! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
At this point I was about ready to kick Luis’ ass, and maybe Elvin Jones’ and Art Blakey’s as well. But being a nonviolent person and having no idea of my chances against this man I had just met, I decided to see how far our amped up leader would take this. Ipanema was counted off for a fourth time and I gave my best impression of Girl from Ipanema by AC/DC. MORE POWER DAMNIT! I WANT MORE POWER! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! KICK MY ASS!!! The band members’ heads were in their hands and I was in that tender space between hysterical laughter and going postal. Luis counted the tune off one last time, shouting and spitting, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!!!, like Der Fuehrer rehearsing a chorus line of SS troopers. Realizing there was no place for me to go musically, I stood up from the drum stool, leapt into the air, and came crashing down with all my might into the cymbals. I repeated this circus-like move, rapidly, for a solid two bars creating a very loud, disturbing sound (imagine a dump truck driving through Bed, Bath, and Beyond.) I looked up and noticed the dramatic cut off sign coming from Luis, who appeared to be brushing away a swarm of African killer bees. YOU *$@?*#! CAN’T YOU PLAY THOSE DAMN DRUMS?!? I WANT POWER, YOU @!#&? !*%$!
I’ve never been involved in a band fight before, but I’ve heard about them. I stood up from the drums ready to rumble as my thoroughly disappointed conductor approached, screaming profanities at me and my mother, who was not present. One of the percussionists stepped in front of me like a secret service agent cutting off access to the President. Both Luis and I backed down and I began to pack up my drums. Clearly he was looking for a different kind of drummer — one with a chain saw and some logs. The band members implored me to stay on as no one else in town would be willing to step into Luis’ furnace. I looked at their pathetic faces and turned to mush, agreeing to finish the rehearsal and play that night’s gig. Luis had nothing more to say to me, and all was well. Looking back, I think he’d just had some bad oatmeal or something. When we played Ipanema that night, I played it the way I wanted to, with no complaint from Luis, who sounded quite nice as I remember. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers-rehearsal was behind us, and there was peace on 6th street for a moment or two.
To be honest, I still have this nightmare about getting arrested with Elvin Jones and Art Blakey after a dance-floor brawl with Luis in some place called Ipanema.
The answer this time around seems to be, one month shy of a year. Where have I been? Doing this and that. Working, playing music, trying to understand my adult kids. But writing? No. I think I need to get back to it.
But until I have an idea for an original post, which I anticipate arriving sometime in the next 2-5 days, here’s an old YouTube montage of a Gilbert Gottfried standup from the late 1980s. I find it hilarious, even with the audio and video about 3 seconds out of sync. The opening line alone is one of my all-time favs from Gilbert.
Watching young Roy McIlroy destroy the golf course at Congressional today was impressive. It also took me back to many contrasting golf memories. Like Charlie Willet’s cigar-stub swallowling collapse on #6 of the back four at the Delta, Colorado Municipal Golf course in the early 1970s. I was around thirteen-years-old and caddying for my dad when I remember Mr. Willet, the attorney in my dad’s regular foursome, missing a two-foot put and losing a third consecutive hole. He cussed angrily, swallowed his cigar stub and gagged, then casually headed off for the little bridge over the canal that led to #7. He paused on the bridge and unceremoniously dumped his entire golf bag of clubs into the canal. My dad whispered an intense “NO!” as my brother and I prepared to go for the clubs.
Tim Atmar, a golfing buddy of mine during college, is the source of many un-PGA-like memories, like the time he rolled a golf cart we were riding in while speeding crazily down a fairway in a blinding rain at Morris Williams golf course near the old airport in Austin, Texas. After retrieving the clubs strewn up and down the fairway and attempting the straighten the bent golf cart canopy, we ditched the cart 100 yards from the club house and made a beeline for the parking lot.
Tim also shares a great story of watching under-talented retirees teeing off at Pebble Beach. My favorite is that of an elderly gentleman in full neon-bright golf attire slicing his initial tee shot so wildly on the first hole that his ball left the tee box at a 90 degree angle and rocketed right through the window of one of the high-priced bungalows lining the fairway. As Tim tells it, the man replaced his driver in his golf bag and marched off down the fairway as if nothing had gone wrong.
Man, I love golf.
Facebooks “pull-another-feed-in” feature is haywire. I blog three entries over more than a week and they all hit my wall today at the same time. Imagine if mealtime unfolded this way? Say your serving French-style at a big banquet, holding a big platter with peas on one plate, carrots on another, mash potatoes here, steak medallions there. And you walk up to each diner, say “open up,” and then shove it all in. Appalling, yes? Please don’t let Facebook make you throw up because of my fire hose blog entries.
Speaking of French-style banquet serving, I did that one day in 1985 at the famous Plaza Hotel in New York City. There was a hotel workers strike, and a lot of musicians living on crackers and peanut butter were scabbing to make 80 bucks for a couple of hours work. The word was, perform well and you will have a job until the strike ends. I walked into a chaotic kitchen/staging area just off a main ballroom in the Plaza Hotel. Someone said “Put that on,” pointing to a maroon jacket with those Sargeant Pepper shoulder tassels and some black pants. Both were so tight that I felt like I had sprayed them on, which was made worse by the fact that I would be one-handing a very large tray of food at head-level around a banquet room of 500 chefs and their wives. Talk about a tough crowd for my first gig.
I took the first tray out to the first of my tables, loaded with serving platters of peas, carrots, potatoes, and a meat I’ve forgotten. I had to hold a big serving-size spoon and fork in my other hand and move all of this food, with grace and ballet-like art, from the tray to each diner’s plate, going over their shoulder, mind you. It was a nightmare. I dropped one pea into a man’s coat breast pocket, one lady had five peas on her plate and ten on the table next to her plate, and the buttery new potatoes were behaving like lab mice running for their lives. And that was all at the first table.
By the time we arrived at dessert, I knew they would not be calling me back to the Plaza. The chefs were peeved, their wives forgiving. One gently whispered to me, “You haven’t done this before, have you?” As I approached the first table again, this time with a tray holding a large, heavy platter of iced raspberry mousse, I could feel the fear sweep over me and the table. The first wife I served escaped unharmed. Her husband’s experience seemed to be going well until I saw him lift his eyes to me with a look of total contempt. I responded with my “what did I do” look, and he dropped his eyes to his pant leg to guide my self-discovery. There, I discovered a palm-sized scoop of red, juicy mousse perched on his thigh, slowly oozing into his Armani suit pants. As smoke escaped from his ears, I rushed to the kitchen to retrieve a rag. When I came back, he insisted that I clean it off for him which was sort of like petting a Rottweiler who is preparing to bite your face off. I smiled, wished them all a lovely remaining lunch, and retired to the kitchen where I had my tassels ceremoniously removed, suffered a dishonorable discharge, and fled back to the comfort and safety of Club crackers and peanut butter.
“Mr. Laningham! Put the phone down, and step back, Sir!! Do it now or I will taze your phone and then you!”
I keep wondering when I’m gonna hear this. It must be coming soon. My aggressive txting in the last few days, with thumbs flying and then a rapid push of the return key, has yielded such cryptic doozies as “Fathom, did you sea my postal about the vinaphone program,” and “Tomatoes ate ready for a late UFO.” The first one, I can remember, was intended for a co-worker who, to my knowledge has never gone by the name “Fathom,” however cool that sounds. “Vinaphone” is of course … uh … a Vietnamese mobile network. I don’t remember knowing that before just now Googling the term, and certainly didn’t when my phone chose to insert it for whatever I actually typed. I can’t remember anything about my second note. I have no recollection of what I was intending to type when my phone chose, “Tomatoes ate ready for a late UFO.” But I love that sentence. There may well be a song in there somewhere.
My colleague Jenny Sussin interviewed me on a break during our work at a big tech conference this year. It’s offers yet one more peek into the history of Moose In My House.
Donkeys like dragging people
I love that headline — the title of my daughter Rachael’s latest blog entry. It is funny. Check it out. She’s a writer with promise. I also think that would be a great title for a movie, or a band. DOUBLE BILL TONIGHT AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN! LADY GAGA AND DONKEYS LIKE DRAGGING PEOPLE!
Has a nice ring to it.