Friday, March 30, 2012

Hype, Glitz, Glamour, And Other Such Sorry Bullshit

Earl, probably in the early 1950s

So, a female singer who abused drugs most of her adult life, drank like a fish, romances a bunch of different guys, has more conniptions than we can count. This girl poisons herself to death with drugs, and the media has nothing more to talk about every night for almost two months. Few months later, a real musician who hugely contributed to a whole new style of playing, mastered his music & his instrument of choice, stays married to the same woman for over 60 years, was always a gentleman, inspired countless banjo players, always carried himself with class, never used an ilicit drug in his life, never abused alcohol. He dies, and barely gets mentioned on the nightly newscast even once - on the day of his passing. Unbelievable.
This kind of thing bothers me to no end. You can go into any ghetto and find hundreds of little girls who can sing every bit as good as Whitney Houston, but I don't know a handful who can do what Earl did on any given day. It's all about hype, glitz & glamour, being hip, and generally being a bunch of goddam phonies. Our beloved media dictates this, and most just blindly follow - sickens me.

Greatest Banjo Player Who Ever Lived

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pecos River Cafe

It's 1982, I'm in San Diego with my wife of a year, and newborn son.  I have no work, ended up in San Diego because my old transmission shop boss said he could use me.  Well, that lasted about three months - at which time they couldn't stand me, and I couldn't stand them.

I played in a band at some little amusement park called "Big Oak Ranch", owned by this crazy guy who I knew as Rock Kreitzer.  He somehow had a lot of money, and would bring big name acts there - to play for anywhere from 20 to a hundred people.  In the few months I played there, we opened for Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Milsap, and Freddie Hart.  This didn't happen because of anything I did, I just happened to be playing in that band at that time.  Not only that, but we weren't even any good.  I did manage to also work with a semi nationally known fiddle player named Billy Armstrong.

My new wife, one day, asks me if I would teach her how to play bass, and maybe we could start our own band.  I told her I would, so she said, "Ok, we'll get up every day at 8 am, and we'll go till noon".  I agreed, and we did that for a little over a month.  Amazingly she did well, she had the basics down, and knew most of my songs by memory, and could even sing and play a few female country songs.  Well, since we kinda knew the Hawaii scene, we decided to move back there and start our own band, so, off we went.

We started out at Pecos River Cafe in Aiea, the country music scene was still going strong as a result of the Urban Cowboy craze.  Pecos was a tiny place, seated maybe 30 people, and maybe another 20 upstairs, plus standing room, so, maybe 75 people could fit in there on a crowded night.  The place did get crowded on the weekends, we were the house band there - we called ourselves "Dakota" - that was Lynda's (wife) idea.  The band consisted of me, Lynda, a self serving ass named Gene Davis on rhythm guitar and some singing, and Pumkin Don on drums.  "Pumpkin Don" got his name from another drummer friend who noticed that Don's drums sounded like pumpkins.  I thought it was because Don looked like a pumpkin - my mistake.  Gene ended up assaulting Lynda by punching her in the face across the table one night, and, after getting punched back, and then of course being fired from the band, I find out that he had stolen our band name - he had gone down to Commerce & Consumer Affairs and registered it in his name.  We changed our name to "Rio", hired this dimwit named Allen Stolz, and replaced Pumkin Don with Jerry LeCato.  Jerry was a huge improvement, while Allen was just more of the same - self serving, full of himself, and the most goddam obnoxious little bastard I'd ever run across up until then.  Allen lasted about three months, while Jerry stayed with us until he left the island about a year later.  Well, there was a booking agent in that town - Jim Mitchell - the typical cigar smoking, fat ass, bearded shiester type, who had us all believing that if you didn't work through him, you weren't going to work.  He approached me, said he could get my band working all over the island, make lots of money - you know, the whole shit filled spiel.  Long story short, he screwed us out of thousands of dollars, made enemies for me, tried desperately to promote his wife's band (Tina Marie and the White Buffalo Band), mostly at my expense.  He tried every trick in the book - lying to club managers, telling them that Rio was busy, but Tina Marie happened to be open on whatever nights they were asking for us, filled her schedule (30 nights a month), while the rest of the 5 or 6 bands would end up with 10, 11 nights a month.  He would book Tina, and advertise us, so she would have people to play to - until it backfired one night at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Base - where, when the guys saw that it was Tina's band, and not Rio, started booing, yelling, then wadding up wet napkins and throwing them at the stage.  My good friend, Joe Fabrocini - Tina's drummer - was the one who told me about that night - laughing about it the whole time.  That lowdown varmint, Mitchell even tried booking us there on a Rock & Roll Sunday afternoon - to follow a full on rock band - figuring we would fall on our faces.  That backfired too, we had those guys screaming, yelling, and dancing the whole night.  Mitchell says, the following week, when I went to pick up my paycheck, in a sour tone, "So, you whipped the fiddle out on 'em, huh".  After a year of this, 3 different managers from 3 different military clubs called me in the same week, asking how the hell they can get us in their club, that their customers are beyond sick and tired of Tina Marie, and that Jim Mitchell had been telling them that we (Rio) were booked up so we were not available to work at those clubs.  So, I stormed down to Jim's office, told him what I thought of him, made it clear that he was no longer our "booking agent", and left.  I had 3 or 4 days to book some nights for my band for the following month.  Amazingly, I booked 17 nights for that following month, and after that, we worked at least 5 nights a week, making good money, and working in places that we could never get in through Jim Mitchell.  Another of Mitchell's doings was this.  New Year's Eve, we're playing at Wheeler Air Force Base in the NCO Club.  Some smart ass Army Sergeant (Sergeant Harris) decides he's gonna screw with me, so he dances by and tries to elbow my mic stand off the stage.  I'd seen him coming, so I grabbed my stand and it didn't move.  He tried this 4 or 5 times before I told him he better knock it off.  Of course, being the pathetic little punk that he was, he puffed up his chest and invited me outside.  Luckily, I had only one more song to do before it was break time, so I did it, then went outside.  We walked past 5 big bouncers, and the manager woman who booked me there, all of whom did absolutely nothing to stop it, I follow this army sergeant out into the street, where he tries to grab me, I flatten him - face a bloody mess.  MPs came, took statements, they said, "Don't worry about it, nothing will happen, this happens sometimes, it's fine".  Well, 2 weeks later, I get a certified letter from the Air Force Commander in charge of the whole Air Force in Hawaii, saying that I'm banned from any and all Air Force installations in the state of Hawaii for a period of one year.  Three guesses who was a retired Air Force guy, and three more who got that commander to pull this on me.  It didn't hurt us any, we still worked just about every night, while his wife's band couldn't get work to save her life, AND, after all the other country bands on the island saw how much better off I was by booking myself, they all left Jim Mitchell and started booking themselves, leaving MItchell with only his unhireable, crappy band fluttering in the wind - the wind that she and her lowlife husband created.  It wasn't long after that when Jim and Tina Mitchell left Hawaii, moved to Missouri, where Jim got a job changing tires and his wife's dad's tire shop.  By the way, Jim Mitchell was something like 62 years old at the time, Tina was 24.

It sure was nice to have that power back in those days, power that I certainly don't have now.

Well, that was only the first couple of years of being in Hawaii with our band, Rio.  The next 6 years were the best years of my life (musically and professionally), I'll tell about that here soon.

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