Sunday, November 27, 2011

Potty Breaks

     A lot of factors come into play on your way to becoming a successful musician/songwriter/entertainer. You spend years listening to your favorite bands, studying their sounds, emulating their moves, how they write their songs and then you go out into the "real world", and try to make money with your talents and your skills. Once you find a band, whether they are a bar band, or what we used to call a "society orchestras" band, which played a slightly higher grade of gigs such as weddings and anniversary parties, bar-mitzvahs and confirmations, you found out that you needed to conform/comply (what disgusting words to a teen!), to a somewhat rigid formula. If it was a simple bar band, you needed to play music that your audience liked, and we usually did that by checking out the various clubs where we thought we might like to play and seeing what they had in their "juke" box. In the late 70's this was mostly classic rock and pop songs. When I tried to get into some "society orchestras", at first I was shocked and disheartened to find out I had to learn a lot of 50's music and even go back to the 40's and learn Big Band music and the dreaded Sinatra songbook!  There was also a lot of Latin, Italian, German, Polish, Greek and even more Hebrew and Jewish songs than I already knew! Now I had to listen to music I had never really liked when I grew up. I mean, this was my parent's music! When I considered my choices, such as going back to school to become a Doctor, Lawyer or Engineer as my father so succinctly put it, I just shivered and wished I could die on the spot. Then there was always the option of going into my dads' business of vending machines, where you had to wake up at 5am to get a head start on the day in order to fill up and service the machines that were in various locations such as Bowling Alleys or Game Rooms and basically any other place where you found Pinball (Fun!), Cigarette (Yuck!) and Candy (Yummy!)machines. After I weighed my options, I guess learning some other music wasn't such a bad prospect, If I Could Just Get Paid!
     And so I met an agent at the Local 802 Musicians' Union named Nat Mash, of whom I spoke about in my first book "So, What Do You Really Do For A Living" at great length. He hooked me up right away with a "Club Date Band" which was another nickname for the "Society Offices, and I was off and running. I had to get a Tuxedo, learn how to get around to the various catering and banquet halls where these kinds of parties were held, and learn an awful lot of new tunes. This was a really different scene from the bars I had played in my twenties. That was a lot easier and while it didn't pay very well, maybe $50 a night, I had been playing mostly rock an roll and blues and some top 40 hits. We could stick to the music we liked a little more.
     The first band Nat hooked me up with was with an unbelievably schlocky guy who while he was pleasant enough, just butchered the material we were doing. It was just so sloppy, except when he added on a great trumpet player named Herbie who had actually played with Sinatra for awhile. He was very kind and taught me a lot of the older tunes and made them much more palatable. I actually started to think that maybe there was something I could learn from someone older than myself. This was a huge breakthrough for me, because  I had a real chip on my shoulder after the upbringing I had in my home (mostly from being strapped for misbehaving) and in public school. Obviously I didn't fit in very well and had enormous attitude problems and at a young age was disciplined, as I said, literally with a "strap across my back" as Mick Jagger put it in Jumpin'  Jack Flash.
     Anyway, to get back to the story, these bands usually had a "core" which consisted of a Drummer, a Keyboard player that played what we called "left hand bass", sometimes a guitarist and our Leader, in this case the guy I mentioned, who I don't have the heart to mention by his first name. he's probably retired in Florida by now, which is where all the old "Club Date" Leaders go when they put them out to pasture. And sometimes if the client wanted a bigger "Orchestra", they would add on anywhere from one horn player to a whole horn section consisting of trumpet, saxophone and trombone. There were also gigs where we had a violinist strolling and playing exotic Eastern European music and Klezmer music and I had to learn this material too so i could accompany them. Sometimes we had a whole string section just like the trumpets, so it really was an orchestra of sorts, with 20 or more of us playing.
     After a year or so of this, I had had it and asked my agent to find me another outfit to play with and so he again immediately hooked me up with another band leader. This one was different because he was much better organized and from the get go, he had tons of sheet music he gave me to learn and lots of very specific routines he performed with this great Jazz/Rock Drummer and a Sax player that switched off on Electric Guitar and he was tremendously talented on both! I mean he could play be bop and standards on either instrument and then turn around and wail on blues and rock and roll.
     At first it was a wonderful change from the first band and we played two or three times every week and were the "house band" at a country club on Long Island. He paid cash even though he didn't pay as much as the first band, but the music was on a much higher level and I was learning so much and getting so much better, I thought it was a good trade-off. This leader seemed happy with me and every week he would call me around Thursday evening and tell me a song or two to learn for the upcoming gigs, such as a first dance for the bride and groom, and also give me directions for the gigs. This was before MapQuest and GPS devices. This was also where I learned how to finesse some of the finer points of playing with a society band. 
     One of the first problems I had was being accused of being too aggressive at the "Cocktail Hour" which is the first part of the party where they pass around those wonderful smelling hors-dourves and have various buffet stations set up all around the room. They said that a client said that I rudely pushed them aside in order to get some of that tasty steak tartar or something. Can you imagine that? Me being accused of unruly behavior? Imagine that? Oh well, so I was banned from participating in the cocktail hour for about three months and one day I guess they felt I had learned my lesson and I had my privileges were reinstated. I will say that it worked and I am more careful even 30 years later when I am at a gig. I never got in trouble for that one again!
     So you might be asking yourself at this point, What Does This Have To Do With The Title Of The Story and when is he going to get to the point? Well I'll tell you now. After learning how to play music from many cultures and time periods, and sing in several languages, get the right gear, dress in a tuxedo, study with more teachers, you would think that that was enough. But NOOOO!!! Now you had to learn how not to be uncouth in public at the cocktail hour and oh yeah, learn how long you could hold it till you could take a bathroom break.
     So one time, I got a call from my new boss to play with him as just a duo for a Chanukah party. This should have been an easy gig, a piece of cake as they say. Actually, things had been devolving after about a year of playing. At first it was like the proverbial "honeymoon" where everything was perfect and all I got were compliments. "Oh, Cory you look great in your tux, I loved the way you sang that disco song, and with you playing left hand bass, it sounds as though we have a real bass player in the band! 
     Then, strangely, after about a year, this leader started telling me about all the things I did wrong and the list got longer and longer with each gig. Finally, I had to say "Listen, when I call up for the details for the weekend, all I want to hear are the directions, how much it pays and any special songs I need to know. You're not paying me enough to cover the Therapy I'd need to deal with all your complaints and craziness! 
     I didn't mention it until now, but the down side of playing with him was that, while he was much more organized and clearly a better singer and leader than my former band, he had a nervous condition called Colitis. This was a stomach condition and was usually associated with stress. he would go off on the band at random times and generally be high strung, but he paid well and got a lot of work so we all put up with it most of the time. The drummer guitarist/sax player were together for a long time with him and did a little too much coke and smoke sometimes and liked to pull pranks on this leader. Like one time, they found out that if you put Visine into someones' coffee it would give them the shits. So they did this in the middle of a gig one time, right after he was having a rant at us. They put it in his coffee and told me about it and we all watched and waited until it kicked in and all of a sudden he turned to us in the middle of singing some love song and made this awful face and then he dropped the microphone and had to run off stage to the bathroom! We were besides ourselves and almost couldn't keep playing it was so funny! Revenge is sweet indeed! I can still see the pained look on his face. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!
     So a few minutes into setting up for this Chanukah party, somehow he knocked into me and a cup of coffee that was sitting next to my keyboard spilled onto some of the keys and messed up my keyboard. This was how the party started, however, we lucked out and found another keyboard in a back room of the Temple and used that one.Things were going OK and on the first break (it was only a 2 hour party so we probably took one break), I went to the bathroom. This was one of those amazing Temples in Great Neck, Long Island, NY where there were 20 urinals and stalls and the bathroom was bigger than my first apartment in the city where I lived. This place was gorgeous, like a Museum or City Hall. I was just standing there at the urinal peeing and I heard someone come in and then I heard the sound of a gun being cocked! I turned around and there was my leader in a crouched position aiming the gun directly at me. Now keep in mind, this guy had a nervous condition to start with. I calmly asked him what the f**k he was doing and he laughingly told me he was a volunteer cop in his town and had a license to carry the gun. I asked him if it was loaded and he said Yes! Yikes!! Double Yikes!!!
     The next day I called my agent first thing in the morning and told him what had happened and he told me not to worry, I should call the leader and tell him that I quit and that he would get him another keyboard player. . My agent told me that from now on I would never work for a single band again and that I would be able to free lance after this time, and that was true, because he hooked me up with a million people after that and I started to do what we call "singles", where you go out with a drum machine and keyboard and because I played left hand bass and sang as well, I could do the whole gig myself.  Now I could work as a solo act and always add more pieces, which I do to this day. So I was becoming a leader, I guess, in my own right. But not until I  suffered through almost 10 years of bar bands and another three years with these two leaders.
     So I had the pleasure of calling this idiot the following Monday and telling him I quit. His immediate response was "Sure after I taught you all my stuff, now you're gonna go out and make a lot of money on your own. You know, kid, I made you everything you are!" To which I responded, "get in line with all the others that have said that to me." And I never worked for a steady band again.
   As a postscript of sorts, this guy did actually call me from time to time over the years to do some duos with his wife, who also sang pretty well and the odd single that came their way. Then I didn't hear from him for a long time until one day the phone rang almost fifteen years later and it was him. He wanted me to play for Chinese New Year party on the Circle Line that cruised around Manhattan off the west side. I never really cared for boat gigs, but I said I would do it for old times sake.  So I showed up at the gig and there was a guitarist I knew and had worked with many times before,  and we were were just starting to set up when this leader blew in and told us he had locked his keys in his car with the motor running and had to wait for AAA. We had some time before the gig started and so after the guitarist and I were set up, we went to look for the leader and we could see his car in the garage as we leaned over the side of the ship! The next thing we knew, he came running back onto the ship cause it was about to leave and we had to start playing and we could hear him moaning as he took one last look over the side of the ship and saw the AAA guy breaking the glass of the window of his car in order to get into it!!!
It was really fabulous watching him cry and groan and moan as the boat pulled away from the dock and it felt just like old times!!!

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