Tag Archives: fun gigs

Crazy Gigs Can Be Learning Experiences

Thanks for all the e-mails about the memorable, out-of-the-ordinary, and crazy gigs. Many of these events become learning experiences for the musicians involved. Rich Mansfield, member of Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA) realized after playing a nudist camp gig, that“some people should never take their clothes off.”

There were a lot of funny wedding gig scenarios. Ed Weis, member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), played an outdoor beach wedding in Malibu. He wrote: “when during the ceremony the person presiding said ‘… and if anyone feels that this union should not take place, let them speak now or forever hold their peace …’ the cellphone in a musician’s gigbag started ringing. It was the old “Ma Bell” ringtone. They couldn’t find it right away, and it kept ringing. It took what seemed like an eternity to find it and to shut it off. The lesson of the story: set your phones on vibrate or turn them off when playing.

There were also quite a few “fight” stories. Ellen LaFurn, member of Local 16-248 (Newark-Paterson, NJ), talked about her bar gig on South Orange Avenue in Newark. She wrote: “I was the female singer with an organ, guitar, drums trio. As we were playing on a stage behind the bar, people started slowly leaving the club. By the time we finished the set, there was no one in the place except two men at the bar, the bartender, and us. All of a sudden one guy pulls out a gun and cocks it while arguing with the other guy. Now we knew why the place emptied out. We hit the floor—cowering behind the bar. In a flash, the two guys took off, and the bartender locked the door. We got up and sat at the bar. The guitar player turns to me and says, “Aren’t we taking kind of a long break?”

Then there was this letter from Bo Ayars, a Local 802 (New York City)  musician now living in Portland, Oregon: “Years ago, I was working in a country-western piano bar on North Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. It was right next to another famous country-western establishment, the Palomino Club, and just down the street from a large long-haul trucking firm. The place was always packed with truck drivers. The piano, a small spinet, was positioned behind a piece of furniture made to look like the top of a grand piano. During my first time there, to make friends with the local patrons, I accepted their drink offers. My favorite off-hours exotic drink at the time was Amaretto, straight, on the rocks. I ended up with six shots lined up on my piano bar. At closing, I explained to the bartender that I really wasn’t a drinker, but didn’t want to do or say anything that would hurt his bar business. He told me not to worry and for me to keep asking for shots of Amaretto.

“For the next several nights, that’s what I did. Toward the end of the evening, there were six or seven shots sitting on my piano bar. When I did take a sip now and then, I noticed each one was very weak with just a hint of liquor. Obviously, the bartender was watering my drinks, but that was his department, not mine, so I kept ordering Amarettos.

“Then, about the sixth evening, an older trucker, after buying me a drink, frowned as he noticed all the shots lined up on the piano. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘you can’t be drinkin’ all of those by yourself. You’d be pie-eyed, that’s for sure.’ ‘Well,” I began, ‘I kind of space them out over the evening and …’

“‘Here, let me help you,’ he said, taking one of the shots and downing it. The next few moments are still a blur. It started with his yelling something unprintable to the bartender. He kept yelling and cursing about watered-down drinks, picked up one of the shot glasses and threw it on the floor. He then turned and stomped full steam straight towards the bartender, bumping into people, chairs, and tables as he went. He was really angry, and this mood transferred to some of the other truckers sitting at the piano bar. They, too, started grabbing shot glasses and tasting them. When they realized how the drinks had been poured, they joined trucker number one and headed for the bar, yelling and cursing.

“Arriving at the bar, the first trucker continued yelling about how he’d been robbed, having to pay full price for a watered-down drink, and what kind of place was this, anyway. He was egged on by those sitting at the bar and the other piano bar truckers who had now joined him. The noise intensified until the bartender pulled a handgun from under the bar and fired it once into the ceiling. It was a .45 and made a hell of a racket. That really got everyone’s attention, and it suddenly became very quiet. Looking at the ceiling, I noticed there were several holes; I guess reminders of past disturbances. I can’t remember what the bartender said, but several customers and truckers left, still upset.

“So, what was I doing prior to the gunshot? When the first trucker threw the shot glass on the floor, I instantly stopped playing, ducked down behind the piano, and kept my head low. Then, as the other truckers angrily followed the first trucker, I slowly peeked over the piano’s music rack. All the commotion around the bar reminded me of an old Keystone Cops movie. Without even thinking, I started playing in that genre—the sound of a honky tonk piano playing as the cops all pile into a small car and chase the bad guys. Everything ended all right; no one was hurt, but that was my last night playing that club.”

I know not all gigs are easy. If you got through it, got paid, and learned something from it, that in itself is a plus. You’re a professional. Just go on from there.

Crazy and Memorable Gigs

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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