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May 1990 - Nightflying Column (Ampside Chat) - Weird Gigs
by Lee Tomboulian

Don't forget, folks, before we get carried away, that Goose Bumps is playing in early June at the Blue Mesa Grill. The quality of Tom Richeson's recent writing is extremely strong, and takes you a lot of exotic places. If you're into live performers interacting with sequencers, these guys show you how it's done, through musical intent. (Don't forget,too, Walter Henderson later on in the month, and my own "loopy" latin band, Circo Verde, the next week.)

Hey, now! Last month we talked about sitting in, with the ethical- political dilemmas that pertain. (For instance, if I write this stinging insult about trombonists, will I lose my Union card? The president is, in fact, a trombonist. Glad he has a sense of humor, that Dale.)

This month, in honor of National Psychotherapy Month, I want to talk about weird gigs, the ones that achieve mythic status in your mind, at least, until you have repressed them. For example, Gennifer Flowers and a pianist (not this writer) were playing light jazz at the now-defunct Alan's, when some guy brought in a stuffed monkey, activated by noise. "People started banging spoons on glasses and clapping their hands, in order to make the monkey bang his drum and dance around the table," Gennifer recalls, "while, three feet away, we're doing our most sensitive ballad. We took a break." I asked the pianist about this infamous gig, and he said he didn't recall.

These gigs are so prevalent, that the publisher of this newspaper and I are sponsoring a "Weirdest, yet Most Entertaining Road Story" contest. The description should be 500 words or less, or more. The winner will receive a dinner for two at a ritzy restaurant, drinks not included. The deadline is June 15th at midnight. Just do it!

One of my first weird ones has to be a split gig of the Springdale Rodeo Club. Well, I was in a lite-jazz band, alternating this song time with a top 40 band set up separately on stage left. When the rock band played, the old folks got driven out of the room, by the volume. When we played, the old timers sent up notes----- "Your (sic) too loud" and "Quit hummin and strummin and play!" One disgruntled older gentleman shuffled up and said "We wanna hear a waltz!" in an extremely confident, even abrasive tone. Joe, our bass player,who is a native of the area, suggested "Tennessee Waltz." So, a little later, we launched into a slow version, Boom-chick-chick as you might need, of the Tennessee Waltz. Half an hour later, the same gent marched up and yelled, "We said we wanna hear a waltz, so goddamn it, let's hear a waltz. You know, 1-2-3, 1-2-3." And Joe, without blinking an eye (he was tipsy by then) said "Mister, why don't you get the f--- outta my face." The gent stomped off.

I always tend to think the days of weird gigs are over, but they just keep happening. Why, just the other night, I played this trio gig for the Lions Club, backing up a Vegas-style singer. This guy's claim to fame was on so and so's Breakfast Club, singing between farm reports, some decades ago. We were talking through the tunes, a Sinatra medley, a Charlie Rich medley, and so on. No problem, babe, he intoned, flipping through the charts like a crooked card dealer.

Then, "Next, babe, I'm gonna bring up my wife and we're gonna re-enact our marriage vows, no accompaniment. You know 'Tea for Two?' " I wondered if I should say no.


"Great, I'm gonna bring my step-daughter up and she's gonna do a little tap dance to 'Tea for Two'. One thing, though--she's blind, so if she poops out"--here, he rolled his head to the side and stuck his tongue out--"just play a big chord, 'Ta-daaah!' OK?"

And thus, she was introduced. The details of the head-on accident she had been in were vividly described, and she (bravely smiling, obviously dying from embarrassment) clacked out "Tea for Two," now and then falling off the little 5'x5' stage and being pushed gently back on by her mother and the singer.

Of course, there was the "gig in Tahlequah" for the purest excitement. A little background data is in order. Lisa Perry is a fine singer/songwriter, now residing in Hope. She and I used to play under the name "Yellow Rose." Anyway, just before this gig, my Rhodes piano had been in the shop, but as "I just didn't have time to check it out before we left"(?!) I just threw it in the car, along with the accordion I normally used for two songs. Well, of course, the Rhodes was kaput, so I ended up using the accordion all night. To add spice, the bandstand at the club was also the corridor to the men's room, so I interrupted many a solo ride to flatten myself against a railing to let somebody go by. This was a "mixed" bar (i.e., WASPS and Native-Americans). When an Native-American was leaving the bathroom and a WASP was entering, a fight would occasionally break out.

After the gig, we went to Lisa's friend's house to crash. I wasn't counting on a biker party that night, bedded down in an easy chair, witnessing a snoring contest between two bikers, with Willie Nelson on the stereo on "10." The next morning, we got up groggily. A buffet table, with fried chicken, was set up and left all day, in the hot house, while volleyball nets were set up, too. The game was on for about a half-hour, when an angry old man stumbled out of the neighboring trailer, saying "I told ya'll to get the hell off my property," to which the witty reply came, "F--- you old man! You wanna make somethin' out of it?"

I went inside. There was a piano, so I thought I'd try to entertain myself and whomever else. I'd been eating and playing for about an hour when this white guy said "Hey you're pretty good." I said, "Thank you." He added, "But this guy we had last week was ten time better."

At least it was after we drove home to Fayetteville (three hours) that I contracted food poisoning.

Coming soon to a theory near you: the RETURN OF THE FEMALE VOCALISTS!

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