I had landed in New York to find my fame and fortune as a trombone player. Shortly thereafter, I got a call one day from a drummer who was the contractor for an interesting sounding gig. The fame and fortune thing was not yet in full gear so this gig sounded appealing. A businessman had been building a race track in Oklahoma City which needed a house big band. This was in the early 80s and $750 a week was good money, especially for a trombone player. They also needed a tenor sax player, so my good friend and I decided to both take the gig.
As the weeks went by we were in frequent contact with the drummer/contractor who was confirming the gig, our arrival, and other details. I had given up my apartment and my friend had handed the reins of his small business to a friend coming from Canada to run it for the year we would be gone. Everything was working out just fine.
Then one night, I received a call from the drummer. He had gone to the businessman's house and found something very different than he had expected. Yes, it was a big house, but is was a total wreck. It was a complete mess with cigarette burns everywhere, broken windows, and even dead rodents in the microwave. There was no racetrack and no gig. It was all a figment of a broken old mind. No malice intended. Just the fantasy of a sick old man.
So there we both were in New York with no apartment, my friend with no company, me with all cancelled gigs, having told everyone we would be gone for the next year. What did we do? My friend found a cruise ship needing a tenor sax and trombone player and away we spend a year cruising the Bahamas. All's well that ends well!
My cover band's management at the time was infamous for throwing us, at last-minute, all the gigs his bigger, more-popular bands would turn down, or would dump the second they'd get a better job. We got the call around 8AM to work an out-of-state gig that evening, nearly two hours' travel away, at a club I'm certain none of us had ever heard of. Yes, we were that desperate.
Our caravan finally arrived at the end of some pretty shaky Internet directions, in the dark, around 8PM. The club had an unlit sign along its side entrance, and the only window in it's outer brick wall was a lone neon beer light. We loaded our gear inside and found a fairly large bar that had seen far-better days. The interior was a bit like your typical lodge rental hall, with a single bar on one far end, about 50 feet of lonely empty space that would've been much happier with some customers to occupy it. The nine people at the bar could've been cardboard standees considering how little they reacted to us.
The club manager found us and showed us where we would set up: not near the bar patrons, or in the vast openness that was the empty venue...
We performed in the coat room.
At least that's how it was being used. A small room the dimensions and look of a kindergarten class, with a long coat closet covered by an accordion-fold plastic sliding door. Several foot-tall risers stacked in the middle of "class" made us look like a high school choir, with amplifiers. Our PA speakers were stationed outside our "class" where they could blare across the void and hopefully reach the barflies' ears. Thanks to some monitor trouble, we could barely hear ourselves. Our guitarist, also our soundman, would frequently dart from the risers to the doorway to check our mix. Bless our singer, who was charismatic enough to make cadavers dance in their coffins, gave it her all, using her wireless to get upfront and personal with the drinkers. Of course, as the sound echoed through the unused space, she ended up singing behind the band, making it sound like a typical graduation speech. (another school reference)
Afterwards, the pissed club owner refused to pay us, saying we didn't bring in enough people (from another state on no notice) and the club was empty of locals because we had no light show (that the town was apparently supposed to see through a two-foot front window behind a neon beer sign). Our guitarist/leader had gone upstairs to the office to negotiate with the guy, but finding a number of heavies and fearing a Goodfellas situation, wisely headed downstairs, woke up management back home on his cell, and we sat outside the bar in the cold for 90 minutes while these two shouted at each other over the phone about money. We got paid just over half, used a large portion of it for breakfast at a diner, and took the long ride home, swearing off playing any more coat rooms.
For five years, I played in the horn section for a famous soul singer. We’d play a gig or two, and then weeks or months would go by and we’d have another gig or two. He was and still is a great singer and a nice man, but his wife/manager (The Wife) seemed to want to make sure that every time we’d go out, there would be some kind of catastrophe. Usually she succeeded. These are my stories.
I got a call from The Wife asking if I was available for a gig in a neighboring state. I said, “Yes, what are the details?” She gave me the dates and the venue. I asked, “How much does it pay?” She said, “Hold on, I’ve got another call coming in. I’ve gotta go.” Next time she called to clarify some gig details, I asked, “How much does it pay?” She said, “I can’t hear you, I’ve got a bad signal, I’ve gotta go!” Then my plane ticket arrived in the mail, which sort of locked me into the gig. But I still didn’t’ know how much I was making. Neither did the other horn players who I’d recommended for the section. Next time she called, I asked how much it paid. “We’ll figure it out on the road! Gotta go!” Click. On the road, the whole horn section surrounded her and asked how much we were getting paid. She shouted, “I THOUGHT WE ALREADY FIGURED THAT OUT!!! WHY DO WE HAVE TO KEEP GOING OVER THIS?!?”
We arrived in Vegas for a gig, and The Wife informed us that there was not one gig, but two. No extra pay, of course. “We’ll be doing a two-song medley for this one event at [Famous Casino], and then a limo will pick you up and take you to the hotel where you’ll have a few hours off, and then we’ll play a full-length show at [Famous Blues Venue].” We rehearsed at the Casino, played the two tunes, and she told us to wait at the main entrance for the limo. We waited, and after a half hour, no limo. We called The Wife. “You’re at the wrong entrance! Go wait at the side entrance!” So we carried our stuff to the side entrance. After an hour, no limo. We called The Wife, who didn’t answer her cell. We waited. After a half hour, she called back. “YOU SHOULD BE WAITING AT THE OTHER SIDE ENTRANCE!!!” So we carried our stuff to the other side. After an hour (all of this outside in the Vegas sun), no limo. We called The Wife. She shouted, “GO BACK TO THE FUCKING MAIN ENTRANCE!!!!” Back to the main entrance. Finally The Wife walks out and screams, “THE LIMO COULDN’T FIND YOU GUYS BECAUSE YOU WERE WAITING IN THE WRONG SPOT! NOW WE GOTTA SKIP THE HOTEL AND GO STRAIGHT TO THE OTHER GIG!!!”
We soundchecked at the Famous Blues Venue, and the sound was horrific. Monitor mixes were a disaster, side fills were at full volume, feedback, the stage volume was deafening, etc. We’re trying to sort things out with the soundman, and The Wife walked up and screamed “IT SOUNDS LIKE SHIT!! YOU GUYS NEED TO PLAY WITH SOME FUCKING DYNAMICS!!! QUIT PLAYING SO FUCKING LOUD!!!! And then she decided that she was going to help sing background vocals, and so they set up a mic for her. Except on the gig, she kept singing wrong notes, and she’d flinch and back away from the mic. Then she’d go yell at the soundman because she couldn’t hear herself. After the gig, a limo picked us up (yay!) and drove us to the hotel. The limo driver told us she’d meet us the next morning and drive us to the airport. Just to be sure, I made note of the limo company’s name. The next morning, we waited and waited in front of the hotel, and the limo never showed up. I dialed information and asked for the limo company’s number. “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have a listing for that company.” “But I just rode in their car last night!!” “I’m sorry sir, no listing.” So we had to pay for a cab at the last minute and never got reimbursed. Oh well, at least we stuck the bari sax player with the cab bill.
Next gig was to fly to LA and play on a national TV show. We got on the plane, and then the pilot told us that President Clinton was flying into LAX (where we were headed), and they were shutting down the airport while Air Force One landed, and so it would be about a 45 minute delay. So we sat there lined up at the runway. After about 45 minutes, one of the musicians stood up and announced that he was going to the restroom. The stewardess told him to sit down because we might take off soon. “You’ve been telling me that for hours now!! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, JUST PISS IN MY PANTS?!?” The last part was loud enough for the whole plane to hear. He was at the back of the plane at this point, a dozen rows from his seat. Just then, the pilot hit the gas and we started to take off, with the musician standing in the aisle. The stewardess started shouting over the intercom, “SIT DOWN, SIR!! SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW!!” The plane lifted off and was climbing at a very steep angle, and the musician was trying to claw his way up the aisle, like climbing up a playground slide the wrong way. He was sliding downhill and the stewardess was shouting at him, and people were reaching out to push him up the aisle, and finally he made it. The stewardess threatened to have him arrested at the airport when we arrived. When we arrived, he found out his instrument had been damaged. So he threw another fit.
At the taping, they asked us if we could play one of the tunes (a big hit that we’d all played a million times) from memory, instead of with music stands. Everyone was fine, except for Mr Happy. He threw another fit, claiming that he couldn’t possibly memorize the tune. Somehow, we made it through the taping. Afterward, we took a walk from the hotel a few blocks down a hill into Hollywood. On the way back, it started to rain. We hailed a cab to get out of the rain for the last half mile or so. All except the miserable guy, who wouldn’t chip in. The cab ended up costing each of us a dollar to avoid walking up hill in the rain. But miserable guy stomped the whole way back in the rain in order to save that dollar.
A few weeks after that, I got my check from the TV studio. A little while later, I got a bill for union dues from the LA musicians’ union. It had been chewed up in the mail, and arrived a few days after the due date. I called their office and asked them if I still owed the work dues if I wasn’t a member of the LA union. The lady at the other end shouted, “Everyone owes those dues, do you hear me?!? EVERYONE!!!” OK, OK, I agreed to pay it. Then I mentioned that I was being charged a 50 cent late fee because it had arrived late in the mail, and could they waive that fee? She put me into someone’s voicemail, where I explained the situation and told them I’d mail the dues, but not the late fee. Never heard back. They sent me a quarterly bill for 50 cents for the next two years, until I finally mailed them two quarters.
Next gig would involve teaming up with a World Famous Piano Player. We did a rehearsal in someone’s basement where we met him and said hello. At one point, there was a question about what chord he was playing. So we asked him,“What chord are you playing?” Famous Piano Player said, “I don’t know,” like he was doing us a favor just to talk to us. “Is it major or dominant?”, we asked. “I don’t know.” Can you tell us the notes in the chord? Finally, he banged them out on the keyboard one at a time so we could figure it out. Thanks for being so helpful, famous person! At the soundcheck for the gig a few days later, the band was standing out in the broiling sun while Famous Piano Player sat eating a hamburger under an umbrella. The Wife asked him if he’d like to rehearse his tunes with the band. “Nope. Burp.” Thanks again for your help, famous person!
Next gig involved splitting a concert with a major symphony orchestra. After the gig, I watched the orchestra manager hand The Wife her check. She walked over to us and said, “I thought they were going to pay cash, so I’ll have to mail you guys a check. It’ll go out tomorrow.” OK. After about 20 tomorrows came and went, I called her about the check. “Our grand-daughter drove the car through the garage door, and it cost us seven thousand dollars to fix it! That’s why I haven’t been able to pay you.” Uh, so you spent the band’s payroll on house repairs?” “FINE!! MEET ME IN 30 MINUTES AND I’LL HAVE YOUR CHECK!!”, and she hung up on me. So I drove 20 miles and met her, where she gave me a single check for the entire horn section. It was drawn on a Nashville bank, 2000 miles away. Just to be sure, before I paid the other guys (which was not my job, but at this point somebody’s got to handle it), I called the bank and asked if sufficient funds were available to cover the check. There were not. So I called The Wife and asked he when the check would be good. “I JUST MADE THE TRANSFER NOW, AND THE CHECK IS GOOD, GODDAMMIT!!” So the next day, I called the Nashville bank. Still, there were no funds available. So I called The Wife. “THE FUCKING MONEY IS IN THE ACCOUNT!!” So I waited another day, and called the Nashville bank. This time, there were funds. So I deposited the check, wrote and mailed checks to the other guys, and never heard from her again. Whenever I read an interview with her, she’s always talking about unfair treatment of musicians.
We were hired to provide jazz for a restaurant after auditioning for the owners and being told they loved it. We played on 2 separate occasions. The first was very well received.. one of the owners was there and really liked it. I was playing a steel pan -but not caribbean music- and I had an acoustic guitar player. The agent plugged in the guitar to the PA and mic'ed the steel drum. I also brought my lower pitched drum at their request, but only played a few tunes on it.
At the next gig, the agent wasn't there at first and the sound equipment wasn't there. We decided to go acoustic. Halfway through the gig, the hostess asked us to "turn it down" because a patron had complained. We tried our best, as we weren't amplified. We had a lot of tables in front of us full of people engaged in the music, smiling and giving compliments. The agent finally arrives at our break and tells us we need to play softer. We try to explain we're already acoustic, but will do our best. He then asked where my lower pitched drum was. I said I didn't bring it for this gig, because at the last one he and others had given such high praise for my higher pitched one. He insisted that I had brought some other, louder drum than I had the last time. I would think I would know since it is my rig! And, it wasn't even amplified this time like it was last time! And of course he was drunk, and very unprofessional.
The second set was worse, he kept telling us to play quieter until we were LITERALLY so soft, no one could hear us. The people listening were giving confused looks because they couldn't hear it! They even told us so! All this, and the two of us got paid $25 each for a 2 hour gig. Tough times.
This is really a two-night anecdote - a study in wackiness out there in gigland. One night I played with a jazz quartet at a posh downtown hotel. We were human ambiance for a group of about 200 corporate types in a small ballroom. We were playing some nice quiet standards, minding our own business as usual. At several points during the first set some cheese from the "end client" came rushing up to the bandstand to tell us that we were too loud. This was utterly ridiculous. First, we don't play loud; we have been doing this kind of work for decades and the prime directive of this kind of gig is to play sotto voce enough for the guests to be able to converse normally. This usually results in there being a dull roar of voices accompanied by a barely distinguishable music track. 'Music for an ant farm,' one of my friends calls it. Also, I was observing people right in front and to the side of the bandstand. None of them were leaning into one another to be heard or shouting or showing any signs of aural distress. It got to the point where we were practically miming.
Then the very next night I played an event at a large, well-known store in downtown Chicago. We were on a small stage in a sizable open area. This was a piano, bass and drums jazz trio - not a very powerful group, volume-wise.
As the festivities were about to commence, we noticed that the recorded music was still "on" in the room (in fact, it was the second movement of Beethoven's 6th Symphony). We asked our contact to see if it could be turned off and she got right on the horn to call the A/V dude. We sat there on stage waiting for a healthy ten minutes. Finally, we were asked to start playing and assured that the recorded music would be terminated momentarily.
So we played a tune. As we were finishing up, the final chord was swallowed up by the sound of some song by Prince. Apparently, the classical music had been replaced by dance music and was, of course, much louder and more obnoxious. So we sat there again for ten or fifteen minutes, waiting for the aforementioned engineer to, you guessed it, turn off the music. Again, and this time less pleasantly, we were asked to start playing regardless of the utter absurdity of trying to make music over this din. But - we're pros, so we soldiered on.
Eventually, someone high enough on the managerial food chain managed to find the "off" switch and we were left to our own sonic devices for a few minutes. Suddenly we were interrupted yet again, this time by the sound of the DJ literally blasting from the center of the store. It was teeth-rattlingly loud. We were well over a hundred feet away but we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone play anything coherent.
I flashed back to the previous night and pondered the philosophical implications of just what, exactly, too loud might mean. Clearly, anyone even close to the DJ's speakers couldn't possibly hold a conversation above that decibel level, but we were told that this is what the store wanted. They wanted to create the impression that the people over there were in a dance club. Meanwhile, we were supposed to be playing in an intimate jazz bar or some such silliness.
Luckily it was only a five hour gig.
In the mid 1990's, I was playing a corporate country gig at a Scottsdale resort. I was on bass and vocals with a band that had two other vocalists. I was singing the Vince Gill song "I Still Believe In You" and was coming up to the dramatic last chorus, when the event planner, who could have whispered to one of the other singers, stood right in front of me and yelled "would you announce that the buffet will open in 5 minutes?"
The fiddle player almost dropped his bow!
I played a gig in the early 80's at a club in Traverse City, Michigan. This was at the end of the Disco era, but this club was still decked out as a Disco. We came in, played the week and tore the place up. We were playing AC/DC, Aerosmith and current rock covers of the time.
At the end of the week I bellied up to the bar to get paid, and both owners came over. One owner (Hippie guy) said it was the best week they had ever had and couldn't wait to have us back. The other owner (Joe Disco) was upset that the agency misrepresented the band since we didn't play any Disco tunes.
The next thing I know these Two guys are in a fist fight behind the bar...I looked down, saw our money laying there on the bar, grabbed it and walked out the door. I never found out who won the fight, and never played there again.
I think that was the night Disco died.
I was booked by an agency to play sax on a jazz gig on Thanksgiving Day for a corporate client at a very nice resort. Thinking there would be good food, as I was used to working for bands rather than agencies, I didn't eat lunch in preparation for my Thanksgiving feast at the gig. Surely they wouldn't keep us from the buffet on Thanksgiving!
5:00 call time arrives. I set up, sound check, and listen in horror as all the other gentlemen on the gig are discussing the dinners they just had.. at home. As it turned out, the gig was for a Canadian company, who don't observe Thanksgiving on the same day as we do in the States, and it was plated. We wouldn't be fed.
By the time the gig was over (10 PM) and I packed up and headed home, I was starving. Naturally, not a single business was open on Thanksgiving Day at 10pm, not even a grocery store. I got home and had to call my roommate and beg him to bring me leftovers from his family dinner so I could have something to eat.
To add insult to injury, I didn't get my check from the agent until February of the following year. Worst Thanksgiving Ever.