Crazy Gig Stories by and for Working Musicians

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Unfair Treatment of Musicians is an Understatement

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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.

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