Brushes With Fame
I once played with Michelle Shocked while with the Sunny Isle Blues band. It was a Sunday night at the Maryland Inn and Michelle sat in with us. She was incredible and I doubt she would remember me, but it was a blast!
I almost auditioned for.......
In the 80's after the breakup of one of my favorite bands, Lost in the Shuffle, I used to routinely answer ads in the back of the Village Voice and literally run to the train from my construction job, bass in hand, to make it from Jersey to NYC in time for an audition. In one of those giant rehearsal spaces in Manhattan, I was waiting for my turn to audition for some crazy sideways-mohawk-blue-epoxy-hair band and while in the hallway, I saw a bass player leave the rehearsal space next to ours.
A guy walked out a bit down and seemed to be the one holding the auditions. We got to talking and he shared how he was having a tough time as he and his wife were splitting. In his slight British? accent, told me nightmare stories of brushes with sucess with the music biz only to be crushed by some part of it. We had a good talk and he noticed my bass and asked if I wanted to audition. I didn't know this guy at all. And back then, typically the auditioner and auditionee would go through extensive phone calls and tape trading to make sure each one liked the other's idea of music and style and we had done none of that. But I said sure what the heck let's give it a try. Just then, the door opened to the band I was there to audition for and I had to go.
I told him I would check his room after I was done to see if he was still there. We shook hands and it seemed like a great connection. That audition was a dud, but when I got out I went back to the guys rehearsal room. Nobody there. Oh well. Just another in a sea of auditions. This as before widespread internet and cell phones, so the chances of finding this guy was about zero. But I wrote his name down in my little audition book anyway. I was reading a music magazine weeks later and noticed a name that seemed familiar but I couldn't place it. When I was going through my audition book I stumbled on it. Richard Thompson. Doh!
My tenure with The Tower Of Power Horns
I was invited to play the Labamba benefit concert at the Stone Pony in New Jersey in the 80's by nature of the fact I played trombone in Lost in The Shuffle. All the local horn players were invited. Now trombone is not my main ax so to speak, so I wasn't exactly a confident player, but I was ok. I was more in tune with doing impressions of cows and playing along with the section. Anyway, before the show there were about 20 horn players milling around from every band around INCLUDING, and I don't know who had the connection, the guys from the Tower of Power horn section. It was amazing just to be in the same room as these guys. You know they are some of the best players in the world and the rock stars of horns that play with bands. This also instantly makes me start looking for the exit sign before I really embarrass the crap out of myself on this damn conch shell I pretend to play.....and somebody (which might have been Tracye the house sound man) was making a list of names to go with players for the announcer.
The idea was that the show would open with the lights going up and then the rhythm section would start vamping and each player would blow a little improvised lick as their name was announced. I knew I could just barely hold my own playing with the group as a whole and not so much doing any kind of solo on the bone. So I tried to hide during the list making, figuring I would just come up after everybody else did their thing and sort of meld with the group. But at the very very last minute before the show began and before I could head to the door, the guy making the list came to me and said "nuh-uh you gotta do it- what's your name?"
So I tried to object in a low-key sort of stalling/whining way and one of the Tower of Power guys came beside me to put me at ease which was sort of a wild thing just in itself. He says in his coolest beatnik but genuine voice "hey don't sweat it - we all get it- just, you know, do a little ditty. It's all for a good cause" Ok. do a little ditty. I know he's right about a good cause and all. Now the meaning of "a little ditty" from a guy in the Tower of Power is not something I am even close to being able to even conceive of playing. After rock star horn man takes the time to come comfort me what else can I do? I'm stalling and the clock is ticking and finally I watch the guy put my name on the list, but he had run out of room at the bottom of the page, so he put my name at the very top and ran off to the mixing board and I get that feeling in the pit my stomach like when you walk into a hospital and something bad is about to happen. I'm dreading this.
I have no idea what to play for my little lick and it's 10 seconds to go. And now I've made this cool connection with my new awesome friend who is genuinely reaching out but I get this sinking feeling like someone who knows the fuse has been lit on a bundle of dynamite and you are running away as fast as you can, but you also know you won't quite make it completely out of range before you are partially splattered.... and I hear "Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the Labamba benefit with special guests, The Tower of Power Horn Section featuring (and then a little pause) ......and he says MY NAME.....holy crap. The band is vamping. The lights go up. What? Ummmmm ...you mean right now? Wait, what, I'm in the Tower of Power??!!! .....Ummmmm... this is when I'm supposed to do my "little ditty"?.....The spotlight is on the Tower of Power horn section AND ME. Because that little piece of paper that didn't have enough room at the bottom combined with a dutiful announcer has determined that, oh yes, I, the one who does impressions of cows on the trombone, tonite, I am IN the frigging TOWER OF POWER. And the band keeps vamping.
The Tower of Power guys are casually and coolly waiting - nonchalantly bopping their heads just a bit to the music....so at ease in the spotlight waiting for their turn to shred their special lick... Now they are all looking over at me just going with it and giving me knowing smiles and quasi winks like "hey dude great to have you in our section, let's blow". Oh I can blow alright. Cow farts baby. Sometimes you gotta go with what you got.... The spot light is on and in reality it's probably been about 1.5 seconds. But that 1.5 seconds lasted about 10 years. For me it was one of those scenes in the war movies where the bomb has just gone off and everything is in slow motion and all the sound is muffled with ringing in your ears as you survey the smokey, bloody scene around round you. I put that damn thing up to my mouth and I let out the biggest, meanest one note cow fart that could come out. I had gone from mysterious new potentially awesome guy in the Tower of Power to "what the hell was that" and a sea of audience heads with the posture of the RCA Victor dog....
Contrary to what I imagined, no bomb went off, no blood came from the ears and just like showbiz, the intro did go on. The rest of the guys in my new band (did I mention I used to be in the Tower of Power?) did blow their incredible licks after their names were announced. But as the announcer got farther and farther into the list, he started grouping names together as it was getting too long. By the end of the list (where I would have been), the guys weren't even playing their licks after they were announced and just played the vamp with the band which I could have done no problem. But if I hadn't tried to hide, I would hardly even remember this night. For 1.5 seconds not only was I in the Tower of Power, but they were my buds .....and there was so much potential. It was a night I'll never forget.