Last fall I played a 7 week contract on P & O Sky Princess. We had five sea days crossing from Alaska to Japan. Winter was coming; we hit a huge storm out in the middle of the Pacific. I had never seen waves of that size. They were swells at least 50 feet from cap to trough.
Our 70,000 ton ship was tossed about like a rubber ducky in a bathtub. Those cruise ships are the size of a small town so you get the impression that you are experiencing the longest earthquake ever. The cycle of movement of a ship so large is something like a minute. It went on for over 24 hours and lots of people were getting seasick.
I felt a bit queasy that morning when I got up but attributed it to having had a couple of beers in the crew bar the night before. I only realized I was seasick as the day went on. If you've never experienced seasickness, I'll describe it like this: first you think you're going to die. Then you WANT to die.
Of course the people working on the ship were supposed to be immune to all this and act totally blase so as not to upset the passengers. So our trio was expected to play in spite of the fact that it was impossible for anyone to dance and there were only 5 people in a lounge that holds 300. I figured I could grit my teeth and make it through a set.
I was wrong. I got eight bars into the first tune and then I had to toss my cookies right there on the bandstand. Fortunately I had the bag ready. Then I kind of slumped down behind a coffee dispenser they'd moved in off the deck.
Why do I think this is so funny? Because the song we were playing was "Watch What Happens" by Michael LeGrand.
As I was lying there on the floor I seized the opportunity to make those disparaging comments about the band I'd been saving up: 'You call that a groove? You guys make me SICK. How dare you call yourselves professionals!'
Some years ago I was on the road with the '60s group the Shirelles as their guitarist/ musical director (they had hits such as: "Soldier Boy", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "This Is Dedicated To The One I Love", etc.) We would go out on gigs across the country and the promoter would supply the musicians for me to rehearse and do the gig with.
One time, we did a gig in West Virginia and the promoter told me that he had gotten the best band in the area to do the show. They showed up for rehearsal looking like the Grateful Dead, which is okay if they could play and had some other stage clothes. I gave them the charts and as we started to rehearse I realized that I was in big trouble. I walked over to the bass player to point something out on his
chart and he had it upside down -- I turned it over but it didn't make much difference. Anyway, I figured the best way out of this is to just have them 'keep it real simple stupid' (KISS) and told them just play the note for each chord and for the drummer to play a simple 12/8 pattern.
When it came time to do the gig, they informed me that they were tripping their asses off, man (LSD, you know). I just smiled and said okay, let's rock and roll. So we went
out on stage, played the intro music and when the Shirelles started to sing they turned around to me and had this look of horror on their face. It was incredible what these guys were doing/playing. I told them to stop playing and just make believe, lip sync, and I'd pay them anyway. I said, "Don't play any more if you want to get paid," and I did the gig with me playing loud chords and banging my heel on the stage for a backbeat while these guys just made believe with their amps off and the drummer not hitting the skins. The show went well and we did two encores. I guess anything on a Saturday night in West Virginia is entertainment.
My most satisfying gig came the night that rats chewed through power lines at the Stanford co-gen energy facility, shutting off power for the entire university and surrounding area. It was late into a night with a new moon
and I took my Maxi Mouse battery amp and just sat on a small platform in the middle of campus and cranked fingerstyle guitar into the pitch blackness. No one knew who was playing, no one could really see me and, since I didn't have a microphone, I couldn't have talked if I'd wanted to.
An hour and a half later, I had probably the biggest crowd I'd ever had on campus.
This story is every musician's frustrating nightmare. My bass player and I were playing for a small restaurant/bar called the Oaks. We had been waiting to get our feet in the door for some time. The building sits on a corner down in the heart of town, with surrounding windows for all to see you play. Quite the pleasurable place for a musician. We where right on that night . We had a good crowd and everybody seemed to be in to what we where doing.
The doors where opened and we where pulling customers from the bottom basement Mexican restaurant called La Fondas. I remember we were getting paid well for the gig, and one of the bartenders put a beer pitcher up on the surrounding oak railing for tips. I will have to tell you, I never seen so much tip money than that night! I remember during a song looking at people dropping twenties in the pitcher, and thinking to myself, "Man this is great!" We felt so good, and so proud of ourselves, that we decided to take our first break after playing two sets. When we went to our table of friends, we sat down and enjoyed complements, when I turned my head and admired the tip jar full of green. I remember looking away for a fleeting moment then looking back to see it gone. Somebody at the bar got up , took it and boldly walked out the door in front of GOD and everybody.
My feelings? Everything from, thinking that's the most lowest desperate thing that anybody can do, to, just feeling empty and violated. The owner was so mad they where combing the streets to see if they could find the thief. Never found him. The owner felt bad and gave us an extra twenty out of the cash register. I went home that night wanting to ring some ones neck. So fellow musicians, watch your tip jars closely. Seems people are fresh out of dignity theses days.
A good friend of mine, a Navy Chaplain, hired me to assist him with some acoustic music for a funeral. It went down like this: we were sitting in a dimly lit room directly adjacent to the 'viewing area' of a mortuary. We could see through a little one-way partition from the back of the flower arrangements to the open foyer and the casket area. We spent about an hour in that little room, mostly talking and laughing -- and when we saw someone come in to view the body, one of us would start playing some music- he on an old electric organ and me into a solitary microphone. He did old hymns and I did stuff like "Blackbird" and "You've Got A Friend" instrumentally. There were speakers in the viewing area, so people just assumed the music came out of nowhere. Well, it didn't...
Never did see the guy I was playing for, but I got paid $25 for the gig. That was in 1978.
I moved to Southern Ontario a couple of years ago to find that almost everyone was a "New Country" fan. Being a solo guitarist specializing in flamenco and classical music, I immediately began having problems. To people here, Spanish flamenco music has quite a different meaning. I got booked at a restaurant 100 miles from my home and arrived to find a manager who asked me where my Sombrero was. They were having "Mexican Night" with a menu featuring tacos and refried beans and I was hired by an agent who knew I played that "Mexican flamingo stuff". I survived this night better than some of the customers, and I still think they believe they were hearing traditional
I remember when my metal band, Saddleback Shark, opened for Dokken in 1996. I grew up listening to George Lynch, so it was great to meet and hang out with him, and he really liked my guitar playing.
So, overall, it was a good 'live' experience. I had fun that night, even though the stage was cramped and we didn't get much of a sound check. But we played pretty good -- in front of a sold out crowd.
Back in the mid '80s I played in a heavy metal band called "Cyanide". It was a band that presented a lot of shock value in the live shows. We were once scheduled to play in Tampa and when we showed up for the gig the location was worse than a dump -- it was a sandwich shop! We decided against
better judgment to play!
In the middle of the show someone pulled the plug on
my Marshalls. It was a disaster! After the show the redneck owner refused to pay us. Needless to say the night ended with chairs and fists flying. It was the battle of the band vs. a bunch of backwoods pork rind eatin' rednecks!
The police soon showed up to end the night of mayhem and disaster! I quit the band the next day -- what a low in my music career!
I once played in a cover rock band who gigged often in the worst of seedy biker dives. The other guitarist, whose name was Tim, was standing at the men's room urinal when some leather jacketed biker dude pulled a switch-blade knife on him. It wasn't a typical mugging. His line was, "Play 'Freebird' or die."
Reality check: One of my former bands did a run of four nights a few years back. Three of them were opening for Black Sabbath in coliseums and the fourth was in a small local club. Guess which one we were paid the most? If you guessed the fourth you would be correct. Of course playing before 14,000 people in your home town of Cincinnati at Riverfront Coliseum had many unseen rewards.
Our worst gig on the tour we did last spring was in Nashville. We were coming off a very good gig in Memphis, and looking forward to playing in Nashville. We were to open for a band called Brave New South, which featured members of .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd. We pulled into town in good
spirits as we had a whole day off to hang in Nashville and this was the last show, so we'd soon be on our way home. We picked up the paper and saw the listing. Everything was in order. I had confirmed everything the week prior, but as we were to soon find out, things still have a way of changing.
The night of the gig, we got to the club for load in at six o'clock (the time that was discussed). The doors were locked and nobody was around. We waited until 7 PM, then I phoned the owner at home. I was informed the band canceled the day before. Well, it would've been nice to get a call! I asked if we were still playing and was told yes. They would be opening the club shortly and we would do our opening set. Well, we (a rock/fusion band) ended up opening for a country band. We played probably one of the best shows of the tour. The room sounded great, but the audience absolutely hated us! The band we opened for
was also unfriendly because they didn't find out there was an opening band until they arrived at the club and we were onstage. We finished the show and decided instead of staying the night, we'd drive fourteen hours straight home.
My old band, Joyride, scored a gig opening for Drivin' And Cryin' at the now closed T-Birds in Portland, Maine. First of all, we had no truck at the time so we had to spend 40 bucks on cabs to get our gear to the club. Once we set up our stage gear we proceeded to we thought was our dressing room and started eating and drinking from the wonderful spread of food and beer. About an hour or so later, in came the club owner. Boy was he ever pissed off that we drank and ate the headlining act's beer and food. Lucky for me he loved the band or we would have been fired right there.
We were going out on a two month tour with several other bands. We are from Kansas City, and needed to meet up with the tour bus in Indianapolis. We rented a Hertz cube van and headed to Indiana. After a brief police episode (we had the back door of the truck partially open because the drummer was riding back there -- apparently this practice is frowned on by the Illinois police) we had to do a bit of "bribing" with CDs and tour hats, but they graciously let us go.
We arrived at the Hertz rental place in the industrial district of Indianapolis at 4 PM as planned. After waiting several hours, for the bus to arrive, we got a phone call from them saying they broke down, but should be
there later. We waited. The problem was, the Hertz place closed at 10 PM and we had to turn our truck in. So we unloaded all of our gear on the sidewalk in front of the building and turned the truck in. The place closed, the lights went out, and the staff all left. So there we were sitting on
4x12 cabs and drum cases in the questionable section of Indianapolis in the middle of the night, not knowing when or even if the other bus would ever get there. They finally arrived...at 2:30 in the morning! We had to haul all night to get to somewhere south of Washington D.C. to do a show the next night. We made it. Life on the road is fun!?
This was in the early 80's when the whole New Wave and Punk scene was really popular, and a bass player friend throws together a band to do a few gigs he had booked. The material we put together fit the New Wave bill big time! Anyway, he books a gig at a college and we're thinking, great! A college crowd -- what could be better?
It turns out that some "older people" had rented this small hall out for the evenings festivities, and some cheap agent had hooked him up with the gig. It was hard to spot anyone under maybe 60 as we loaded in. They looked at us -- we looked at them -- well, you get the idea.
We decided to play some bluesy shuffles and swings on the spot, and then we slowly interjected a few 'lighter' tunes into the party. Well, much to our surprise, these people got up and danced, applauded, offered us food on our breaks, and even boogied to a couple of Clash songs! They were one of the most appreciative audiences I'd ever played for.
It just shows you -- you can never really read an audience. Watch those nickle and dime agents!