Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Anecdote #555 part one
one night in 1976 I was playing in a dark dank biker's bar in nashville. it was called "fanny's". the inside was painted black. the way the club was laid out, when you were onstage you could see the people entering down a long hallway. imagine my surprise to see frank zappa walking toward the stage with a small group of strange-looking rock musicians and his huge body guard john smothers.
frank had played a show in nashville earlier that night and was looking for somewhere to go afterwards. he asked his chauffeur for a recommendation. terry pugh was the chauffeur. he was also a big fan of the band I was in.
sweetheart was known regionally not just for our killer covers of songs by steely dan and stevie wonder, but also for our radical appearance. to be in sweetheart you had to cut your hair 40's style and wear authentic 1940's vintage clothing. all the time! even in the daytime if you were going grocery shopping, the rule stood: you dress like a gangster. three-piece suit, tie, tie pin, fedora hat; the works. it was actually a lot of fun, especially finding and buying the clothes. we scoured warehouses and old jewish tailor shops across the midwest and south and found some remarkable deals on clothing that had been in storage since WWII. the look was way ahead of its time, before the vintage craze that caused gabardine pants to soar in price on melrose avenue.
anyway, there was frank zappa unmistakably seated in front of me. to me he was the only person in the place. I played and sang with a fervor. I was excited to play for a legend. after 40 minutes the zappa entourage were leaving. we were playing give me shelter when frank came up to the stage and reached out to shake my hand! I bent down and he said, "I'll get your name and number from the chauffeur. I would like to audition you". wow. that was a thrill.
despite the cool threads and great band, life was not easy. I lived alone in a small two-room apartment on 21st avenue south. the rent was $300. I drove a used beat up VW. sweetheart was considered a top band on the cover band circuit which included mostly small clubs and frat gigs. on a very good week with sweetheart I might earn $125. but many weeks were not very good. some weeks I earned nothing.
funny the little moments you remember indelibly. I was driving up 21st avenue south one day when a new song by david bowie came on the radio. it was heroes. the guitarist on the song was robert fripp. the producer was brian eno. I loved that song. the vocal was so emotional, the guitar playing searing. within 2 years I would be playing that song in david's band.
that seemed impossible in 1976. things got worse in a hurry when just six months after shaking the hand of mr. zappa, sweetheart decided to call it quits. I knew very few people in nashville and had to scrounge fast to find work. weeks went by before I ended up in a disco band called 11o in the shade. nice people but a dreadful band. we had a keyboard player named "stormy". every night somewhere during the third set I would hear a loud rumbling. stormy would be face down drunk asleep on his organ. it was a "weekend warrior" band. the first time we went out of town to play a show I was in shock. with sweetheart we at least afforded cheap motel rooms to share. 110 in the shade slept in stormy's van. before I knew what hit me, I was 3 months behind in my rent, in a band with no future, and going nowhere fast.
that's when frank zappa called.