Please enjoy a few pages from my new book entitled, GIGS. During a 50 year career, I've had quite a few interesting experiences. These stories....both funny and heart-grabbing will hopefully interest those in the community of entertainers as well as those simply curious about the ins and outs of what this crazy business entails.
In a fifty year existence of kicking around in the entertainment field (with much of it kicking right back) I have played piano and have sung in fine venues around the world, written three musicals, committed 19 original scores to films and videos and have recorded many a variety of prolific songs. Yet, any number of individuals in the street could bump right into me and not know who the hell I am.
There are a great many artists (thousands upon thousands worldwide) with backgrounds that include years of hard work and effort without achieving stardom. We have all spun this musical roulette wheel well, but the winning number just refuses to come up. Still, we play on because that’s what we’re wired to do. Music is our drug.
My personal career has never been designed to seek stardom. It’s been about survival! Even from the very start when I first thought about pursuing a performing career I had no dreams of limos, yachts, private jets, killer mansions. (Well...maybe a little in my sleep.) But, I did feel confident enough to entertain enough to make a living. I knew I possessed the basic tools. I knew I loved to share my music with people. I knew what my purpose on earth was.
During my life-long musical journey I have met individuals who have guided yours truly along when lost and others who did everything they could to make sure I stumbled and fell off a cliff. The competition can be fierce and unforgiving. One must learn how to swim in a sea of relentless turmoil and do so with determination to at least earn a decent position in the race.
In my case, I’ve always been able to observe things from behind humorous eyes. I have vivid memories of incidents and situations that might’ve crushed someone lacking a thicker skin. Dear reader, I present this volume of memoirs with the intent of presenting verbal portraits of a way of life filled with laughs and tears. It is filled with triumphs and failures. It is filled with colorful characters rom all walks of life. It is a world unto it’s own and I shall be your tour guide.
To those young performers trying to commence your climb up the ladder, some of the tales to be found in the pages ahead will give you a taste of what to expect if you really COMMIT to a “full time” challenge. For those who have spent a lifetime slugging your way through the trenches like me you will most likely be reminded of similar chapters in your own book of life. Finally, to those who enthusiastically support music and entertainers, please enjoy the reflections and insights offered here. Welcome to our world!
Let it be known that throughout this book I have painstakingly removed or changed names to protect the innocent...mainly ME! I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in court all day. Some people might be a bit hinky about their name being used in such a text. So why stir up a hornet’s nest when not necessary? Don’t worry folks. I’ve got you covered!
A woman once stripped naked standing on my piano!
(Now that I have your attention...)
Music is my life. It has been since age three when I first sat down at a piano and started picking out little melodies for no particular reason. Millions of people around the world possess this same ability to listen to music and replicate it somehow by ear on the instrument of their choice. I am simply one member of this world-wide collection of human musical antennas.
SIDE NOTE #2
Many people refer to the natural ability to play music sans written notes as “Playing by ear”. I cannot think of a less romantic phrase than that. I am a solid advocate of the phrase, “Playing by heart!” I always have been and always will be!
The first songs I ever butchered on a piano were titles from the stage and screen. I don’t know why. My family never went to Broadway shows. My parents couldn’t even afford a radio. To top it off, we didn’t have a real piano. I did have an oversized wooden toy edition which I tinkled on every day. (Should I rephrase that? Nah.)
So where exactly did the music I heard come from? Perhaps it was a record player blasting throughout the house that captured my attention. (Younger readers please google RECORD PLAYER.) Or maybe somebody sang in our house. But who was it? It certainly wasn’t my parents. Due to the fact that I was adopted, the talent instilled into the fiber of my being came from a different soul. This is not to say that my adoptive father didn’t love music. He did! In fact, he played a decent clarinet. More importantly, an aura of joy surrounded him when playing a tune regardless of the fact that when he produced sound through that licorice stick various birds flying around the neighborhood thought it was mating season.
I seem to recall hearing a family story about a baby sitter who sang really well and inspired me in some way. I wish I could glorify this little story by stating that she had gone on to become an actress or a famous singer. But, most likely, it was just some kid looking to pick up a few bucks and she entertained herself with Lerner and Loewe. (No, those were not her boy friends in the
I fully realized the depth of my passion for music and performing via an experience I had during middle school. I guess you could say this was an educational gig of sorts that paid off in very special dividends.
When I attended what used to be known as JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, my interest in piano had shifted a bit to guitar. This is due to the parade of singer/songwriters dominating the charts at the time. Great talents such as James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary plus many others enriched my musical world.
A fellow student and close partner in after school crime, Steve Schneider, (a real name I present proudly) suggested that I purchase a guitar. In addition, he offered to teach me some bar chords. Subsequently, through the years, I used these chords in many a bar.
Our school presented a yearly talent show. Or perhaps, it might’ve been a holiday showcase. I think it was a combination of both. In any case, Steve and I auditioned for the extravaganza performing as a duet, attempting to channel Simon and Garfunkel. Personally, I don’t think we were on the right channel. But, for two green horns, I reckon we were pretty good.
Whatever the hell we did seem to impress the coordinators and two slots in the showcase were granted to us. This was my first exposure on a real stage. With fresnels throwing light and colored trim bulbs washing the stage in technicolor, we stood before the crowd and gave it our best shot. Each performance elicited strong ovations and I think the positive energy from the experience helped spark a pilot light inside me.
MORE FUEL FOR THE FIRE
I attended a high school that offered outstanding theatrical and musical curriculums. Ironically, I did not participate in any of those activities, but rather felt compelled to take advantage of an invitation to join what most people would identify as your everyday “garage band”.
SIDE NOTE #3
I’m not entirely certain that our band, THE CONQUISTADORS, fully qualified to be labeled a garage band since we never once practiced in a garage. (We did do a gig in a garage one time now that I think of it.) Give us a basement or living room and we were happy campers! However, I’m not certain how happy the neighbors were.
The style and repertoire of this band was unique, to say the least! While most bands delved into the world of “rock” we worshipped the gospel of Herb Albert and Sergio Mendez. We even had two female front singers, both named Marlene. That’s a good thing too because nobody else, including me, could sing worth a shit. After a few gigs, only one Marlene remained.
In an attempt to create a new sound, the band was pieced together with an aggregation of unexpected instruments. There was a marimba, an organ, a piano, no bass, a vocalist who was studying opera at Roosevelt University and drums. I think if somebody had bagpipes we probably would’ve thrown them in too.
SIDE NOTE #4
The sound of a bagpipe drives me crazy and I do not mean in a positive way. The damned instrument was originally invented as a way to antagonize enemies while infiltrating the front lines. I know the instrument is used during formal and dignified ceremonies and funerals. I respect that. But it should end there!
One time a hotel venue I was performing at decided to hold a ST. PATRICK’S DAY celebration. They invited a bagpipe player to stroll around through the lobby, various banquet halls, the main restaurant and the piano lounge. This might actually have been fun had the bagpiper played his instrument without sounding like a goose being strangled.
Our manager (whom we’ll call Mr. X) was losing his mind by the time Mr. Kilt made his third go-around. Now it must be known that Mr. X was a very nice gentleman. He was the kind of boss you wanted to please because he acknowledged effort.
Mr. X walked up to me just as I finished a set, leaned over and spoke to me ever so quietly. “I don’t want to be indelicate, but this son of a bitch has got to go!” said Mr. X. “ I haven’t the heart to ask him to leave. You have a way with words. Please see what you can do.”
There are several tactful ways I could’ve handled the situation. I could have said, “The manager is quite busy and asked me to thank you for coming. We’ll see you another time.” Or I could’ve said, “We appreciate your work but we have diners who prefer things subdued and quieter. You’re a fine musician. Thank you and have a good evening.”
Here’s what I actually said. “IF YOU LET IT’LL STOP SCREAMING!” Maybe it was the delivery of the line with a twinkle in my eyes that caused him to actually burst out with a belly laugh. He understood, said bye bye and drove off into that good night. Mr. X gave me a hug. I would’ve preferred a raise.
Over a short period of time, I drew very close to Marlene. There was a spark. We hung out and toyed with my tape recorder doing everything from comedic improvisational bits to attempted duets.
One time, while playing her a new song I had written and recorded ,she blurted out words I never thought I’d hear, particularly from one who studied opera. “You sing very well!” she said. “You have a very nice voice! You should sing more!”
In my audio archives, I have some of these early vocal attempts. I never did like to listen to myself during those early developmental years. I had good breath control, phrasing and I sang on key. But my voice sounded like I had inhaled helium.
more to come....