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January 27, 2015Bob Popyk - Member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)
For the last couple of months I’ve been writing about awful gigs. I know that, as an AFM member you’ve also had funny gigs, crazy gigs, and memorable gigs. I’m sure that, as a professional musician, you’ve played them all.
I remember playing at a piano bar in a waterfront restaurant where the walls in the cocktail area were indoor waterfalls. One night a drunk decided to take the soap dispenser off the wall in one of the restrooms and pour the soap into one of the waterfalls. Funny huh? Over the years I’ve had to quit playing because of electrical failures, smoke alarms, and bar fights, but until then, I never had to leave a gig because of a giant avalanche of soapsuds.
Last month, I got a letter from Earl Cava of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), along with a clipping from the San Leandro Times. He wrote: Of all the different types of gigs I’ve worked, the nudist colony was a night to remember. I got a call from my pal Buzzy, who had a trio, asking me if I had ever worked a nudist colony gig. I said, “No, but it sounds interesting. Count me in.” I asked Buzzy if there was a dress code. He told me just to wear my birthday suit. So, not knowing for sure if he was kidding, I brought both my bass guitar, and an upright bass. (I could play the upright and hide behind it, if necessary.) Buzzy gave me the directions to the Sequoia Nudist Colony in Castro Valley, which I didn’t know existed. As I approached the main gate I was greeted by three women in their birthday suits. They gave me directions to the club and told me the dance started at 8:00 p.m. People always ask if we played in our birthday suits. I dodge the answer, and I still dodge it to this day. I can say, however, that when we took our first break, we talked to all the club members. I can tell you that they were friendly and the nicest bunch of people.
Crazy and memorable gigs are endless. I was talking with my pal Vinnie Falcone of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) the other day about funny things that have taken place during gigs throughout the years. He remembers a lot of crazy stories from when he was pianist/conductor with Eddie Fisher, Steve and Edie, Robert Goulet, and Andy Williams. Some are written in the Frank Sinatra book we did together. He says the wacky things never stop. Lately he’s been conducting for Don Rickles and Jerry Lewis. He told me that recently he did a gig with Lewis. During the show, he plays piano, while Lewis sings five or six songs. This time, Lewis was doing his bit, and forgets that Falcone hasn’t been called out of the wings to sit down at the piano onstage. Lewis goes into his first number and sings the entire song “a cappella.” He finishes, and realizes he did it without accompaniment, turns to the audience and says, “Damn, I forgot my piano player.” Falcone couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could the audience.
Mike Bennett, Dixie clarinetist of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), says his craziest gigs are the ones where musicians don’t show up or go to the wrong place. He recently played a church gig with a Dixie trio. They were supposed to play at a precise time for a service. It was a well-advertised, good-paying gig. Ten minutes before the time they were supposed to play his piano player was still not there. (He later found out that the pianist went to the wrong church.) It’s tough to play a Dixie trio without a piano player. Bennett says he started to sweat. The church was packed to capacity. He was thinking about how he could possibly pull it off, when the pianist came through the back door, slid onto the piano bench as if nothing happened, and they kicked off the first tune right on the dot. Bennett’s blood pressure dropped 50 points and the gig went on. Some jobs can be a real adventure.
If you have a crazy or memorable gig story you’d like to share, send me an e-mail. My address is RPopyk@aol.com. The ones that are more off the wall might end up in this column. You never know what’s going to happen on your next gig to make it more interesting.
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