Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'm not really a booking agent, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night...

when disco music exploded in the seventies, it wiped out most live venues. club owners realized they could simply play anything which had "ump pa ump pa ump pa ump pa" as its loudest part and dispense with human beings altogether. this greatly affected my livelihood which was based on playing in those venues for a pittance. I was starving in fact.
one afternoon I happened to walk into a lounge where an acoustic guitar duo was rehearsing. Barry Howell and Dave Rumpke played the Holiday Inn circuit. barry was the singer/frontman while dave added a second guitar. they were looking to expand so they could move into larger lounges. barry didn't know I played guitar but remembered me as the drummer for the denims. he offered me a job playing drums with them. the pay was a remarkable $350 a week!
trouble was I had no drum kit. so I sold my first guitar, a Gibson Firebird, to Dave Martin who was a local guitar collector*. the price was $300, just enough to buy a small used Ludwig drum kit, which I did. for the next two and a half years I avoided the "disco drought" by playing 5 sets a night in Holiday Inn lounges.

one of the first orders of business was to go downtown to the biggest Cincinnati Holiday Inn to meet with the all powerful booking agent. I'll call him Don Sheik. his office sat on the top floor with a nice view of the Ohio River. don was indeed powerful and in control of Holiday Inn lounges across the country. he decided who worked and who didn't.
in a suit and cigar with a broken looking nose, he looked like a pudgy boxer who had fought one too many rounds. he talked coarsely about "broads".
don read us the law (shoes must be shined, etc.) and presented us with a list of names to choose from. the name selected was the sound assembly, an ironic choice for a trio with no bass. as his first blessing don assured us a two-month stay at one of his best rooms, the Crow's Nest in Corpus Christi, Texas. located on the gulf coast and only a half-hour drive from the beautiful white-sanded Padre Islands, it was a sought after gig.
don was famous for showing up unannounced at the finer Inns around the country to check on his bands. he would yell at band members whose shoes weren't shined enough, give his pronouncements on what songs you should "drop", fluff up his feathers and leave.

the sound assembly settled into to the Crow's Nest lounge and life got better. in the lounge circuit you got your own room free. you played from 7:00 to 1 a.m. every night, but you had all day to yourself. those two months in corpus christi I spent nearly every day alone on the beautiful white beaches.
eventually barry came to appreciate my guitar playing. I would help him work out new songs. barry figured I should stop drumming long enough to come out front to play one song on dave's guitar. it was a new ballad from Kenny Loggins . I used a volume pedal to swell notes, nothing special really but it was a nice change of pace.
one of the very first times we included this bit I looked out at the scant audience and there he was: Don Sheik! what a surprise. he looked like he had just swallowed his cigar. what a scowl he had on his mug. after our set we dutifully went over to don's table. he was not pleased. he wasted no time in telling barry a plethora of things he disapproved of.
don ended with, "and don't ever let that guy play guitar again. never!"

my favorite Don Sheik story:
one of the large Holiday Inn bands (the kind with horns and girl singers) had just moved to a different Holiday Inn, which was customary after a month or so. on their first night the Inn manager frantically called don to complain.
"the drummer is too loud," the manager said.
"have you got his drums miked up?" asked don.
"well, mic them up and turn him down!".

*incredibly Dave still has my first guitar. I'm afraid to ask what he would sell it for.


  1. Great Stories!

    I have vague memories of Holiday Inn bands. Where I lived in northern Michigan there was a resort called Schuss Mountain where they would always have a group in the summer called the Schussy Cats. Eee gads! I guess it provided employment for musicians and college students majoring in theater.

  2. OMG! - after almost starving, $350.00 a week (back then) would have felt like heaven - especially with a room included with the gig.... could one almost say - a lucky break...? Certainly better than going hungry - even if you did have to play that 'lounge music' - I shudder at the thought ;.(
    Although 2 months on the gulf coast, being able to go to the beach everyday, wasn't such a dreadful sentence - for a while, anyways.... Leaves me wondering how long you had to endure 'the lounge gig from hell'?
    Thankfully you never let 'Don Sheik's' advice stop you from playing the guitar...! Have you ever had any contact from 'Don' in the years since that Holiday Inn stint? Or from Barry Howell and Dave Rumpke, for that matter?
    I sure hope that 'Don Sheik' finally realized just exactly how misguided his judgement was of your talents!

  3. i'll tell you something:

    Here in Mexico the people don't have good taste for music, and every musician is pay for less than 1000 mexican pesos ($900 dls).
    I'm a keyboard player in a Bar when the people just hear what the Radio wants to.

    We are trying to turn the comercial pop song into jazz, 'cause we want to have fun playing covers from latin bands like Mana, Caifanes (Jaguares), Belanova, but with improvisation and rare sounds with my keyboard, a computer with a SuperCollider software and other music devices that turns every song into a rare explotion of fantastic noise, and the manager don't say "you need get shoes shine" he gives us beer, tequila and any drink for play "so happy", and we enjoy it very much, But... But... But...
    I need to play my music (with out drink) and I don't care that the boss say "shine your shoes" if it means tha I can play my music.

    The tranforming of covers is something that I have learn from Mr.Belew. (I remmember songs like Heroes, If I feel - and other by The Beatles)

    What is the cover that you have enjoy too much to play?

  4. I write mistake, I mean around $90 dls for a week (1000 mexican pesos) for give fun to a lot of mexican drunks... Is so sad when I see a KC, or Yes video and I say "Oh God please give a drummer like Pat, or let me play with a bass player like Chris Squire, or a great singer like Mr Belew"

    PS: Hey men hear "The Mars Volta", is a great band that you had influensed.
    Have good week Ade, read you later.

  5. Nice story, Adrian. As if we needed another reason to hate disco... :)

  6. great stories adrian!

    joe c, that is one of the main reasons we hated disco music so much back then. disco wiped out the live music scene everywhere. back in the late 1970's and early 1980's it was really hard to see a live band anywhere. every bar owner quickly replaced their stages with dance floors and mirror balls. actually, it wan't until the early 1990's that live music made a comeback. things are so much better for music now.

  7. Good point eardrum... thanks for giving meaning to the flippant comment.

    I will say though, when I got to college (1995) it was pretty common to have a local band at our parties -- now it's almost always a DJ. Hope it's just a local phenomenon... I love a lot of electronica (including Amon Tobin, whom Adrian once hinted that he might be working with), but it's sad to see anything displace live music.

    Mike Watt (onetime Minutemen bassist) still exhorts the audience at the end of his shows with one last dose of adrenaline: "Paint your own picture, write your own book, start your own band!" That's an incredibly powerful benediction, the passing of the creative power just at the moment of climax. Do people need to hear it more now than they once did?

  8. These days its commonly referred to as "Oontz" not ump pa. As in "Oontz oontz oontz oontz";)

  9. You say "hate disco" but there's something worse: It's called "Reggeaton".
    This is a very poor mix betwen Reggae and other latin rhyms, with sexuality lyrics that only referres to have sex and vulgarity for the woman. Is horrible!!!!!
    The lyrics and the music insults the women and is sadly to see women dancing and singing this terrible music at the bars of latinamerica... I prefer the disco.
    It sonunds like "Oont da hm da Oont da hm da" while a latin nasal voice sings "subete la minifalda hasta la espalda" (in english: up your skirt to your back)

  10. I love to hear stories of the great Holiday Inn circuit days!

    I too was travelling in a band during those glory years, working in lounges across the country.

    It all changed, although it wasn't just disco that killed the full time live music business.

    Drinking laws, bad economy, and a back to health movement also contributed.

    Mark W. Curran
    Author, "Getting Gigs With or Without An Agent"