The Fourth Day Of My Professional Touring Life.
and so it was in June of 1977 I moved to L.A. to begin rehearsals with frank zappa. I rented a non-descript one bedroom apartment on Canyon Drive in North Hollywood not far from the famous Hollywood sign. who says 'nobody walks in LA'? I sure did. I had no car. frank's brother-in-law Midget Sloatman was often my ride and my only friend.
one curious thing happened. one night I dined alone at a famous spot called Musso's and Frank's, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. frank had taken me there for dinner once. it was a long walk back to my sad apartment and I had nothing to do, so I stopped in a bookstore along the way. I bought a book on Elvis. I never knew much about his life and this book was written by his bodyguard Red, reportedly close to Elvis all those years. I took the book home and settled into a long read on the couch. I fell asleep about 2 AM. the next morning the world's headlines read:
Elvis Is Dead!
he had died that night while I was reading about his life.
rehearsal's were held in a huge movie studio on Melrose Avenue where they used to make Laurel and Hardy films. for 3 months 5 days a week we rehearsed there before we ever stepped in front of a real audience. most friday nights I went home with frank for the week-end to get a jump on learning next week's material. I can't say I enjoyed the rehearsals which were long and tedious. I felt like an outcast. it seemed like the other player's were custom-made to be in frank's band. all of them were readers, very familiar with zappa material, and all of them actually lived in LA. it was a lonely time for me.
the rehearsals drug on and on. we learned five hours of zappa material! the huge film lot was a strange place, there was no telling what might be happening there from day to day. one time I watched them filming in blue screen the Spiderman TV series. strange watching a guy crawling along on the floor and seeing him projected onto the side of a building in the playback screen. they were forever correcting his positions, "pull your left foot in a bit, you're supposed to be standing on a window ledge". another time I watched them film an Apple Jacks commercial. they had a huge 30-foot Apple Jack box and these jacks the size of lounge chairs.
at certain times I wasn't needed during rehearsals. I would walk down melrose avenue to a huge old building called Western Costume. there I could roam floor after floor of authentic costumes used by all the major film companies over the years. this was the place that outfitted the movies. for example, you might find yourself on a floor filled with civil war period clothing. surrounded by hundreds of uniforms of all types, as well as the accoutrement's: boots, prince nez glasses, hats. canteens. anything you've ever seen in a movie Western Costume had it. it was a fascinating way to kill an hour or two.
finally after three months you could tell it was time to go touring. extra people began to arrive at the film lot each day. more crew members. Big John Smothers arrived to the thrill of the other band members who had already toured with him. and a new tour manager introduced himself as Ron Nehoda. seemed like a nice person.
the tour started. my first professional show ever was in Tempe, Arizona September 8, 1977. then we flew to San Diego for a show on the ninth. the third show was in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Theatre. wow! Las Vegas. it was every bit as exciting as I expected. electricity in the air and big show lights everywhere.
the Aladdin was a sizable complex which included our hotel and of course a large gambling casino on the bottom floor. after the show most of us ended up checking out the casino, but I didn't stay long. not much of a gambler. the window in my room would not open. I found out why.
frank's tour had something no other tour I've been on since had: a bag boy. Pancho was a fresh 19-year old kid who was responsible to pick your bags up each morning outside your door to be delivered to the airport for the day's flight. he was a nice kid but like Ron, I barely knew him.
the morning after our show at the Aladdin Pancho came around 9 AM to pick up the bags. when he got to Ron's room there was no answer. eventually he had a security person open the door. Ron was sitting quietly in a bathtub full of water and blood. he had slit his wrists. evidently Ron had a serious gambling addiction as well as a taste for coke. he had gotten himself so coked up the night before he had gambled away frank's earnings from the concert (reportedly about $15,000.00) as they took him from the tub he was still alive. he said to poor Pancho. "I'll tell you about it later".
there was a serious shitmist inside the plane to Tucson, our next concert. I remember we checked in the hotel and frank asked us all to meet him in the empty lounge on the ground floor. there he reported calmly that Ron had in fact died and went on to say there was nothing more for us to do but play a show that night, that's what he wanted us to focus on. and he was right in saying that. the strange thing to me: I never saw anything in the press about Ron's death. I expected something in Rolling Stone's Random Notes or somewhere but...what happens in vegas.
and that began the fourth day of my professional touring life.