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Life (and Near Death) on the Road

October 24, 2006

There are many things that give us a common thread here at FA and help make us the "community" that we are.

Without a doubt, right after the music itself, are the "Road Stories" that everyone can relate to (and hopefully laugh at). It was this idea that prompted me to email Ann and Linda to see if they would be interested in starting a blog of them. I said that the only possible drawback would be the quite REAL potential of being the longest (and possibly the funniest) blog in FA's history!

In my years as a working musician, I was actually only On-The-Road for only one short year. Actually I should say one LONG year as I hated every minute of it. There are some people who love it and some who don't. Traveling wipes me out, and I was VERY happy to settle down and to do film scores and studio engineering (and sleep in the same bed every night). Even with my short stint, I managed to have a few stories, but there is one that always makes me laugh out loud to this day. So here goes..

My friend John and I were a short-lived folk duo, with me playing the guitar and he singing. We were booked along with four other acts at a large auditorium in the middle of New York State just over the Massachusetts border. We both lived in Cambridge, MA (Boston) so it was going to be a somewhat long drive.

It was November, and we had heard of the possibility of snow, but in the Northeast US, it was basically a daily possibility. So, we did not bring any real 'winter' coats, etc. with us as we figured it would just be a quick run from the can into the auditorium.

Well, it turned into a major blizzard WHILE we were on the road. We still weren't really nervous about anything with the weather, but the fact that we were FIRST up to play that night made us drive a little faster than we should have, given the conditions.

We were about a mile away from the place with now JUST enough time to get there, run up on stage and begin playing, when we slid off the road. We both tried to push/pull the car free, but could not, and the fact that we had not seen another car for at least five miles told us we had better walk it.

So, dressed in only our sport coats, with no boots or gloves, we started the mile long walk in almost white-out conditions. I had the guitar case handle tightly gripped with my right hand and was trying to hold the top of my sport coat together at the top with the other, as the wind was constantly whipping us as we tried to walk. I wasn't worrying about myself so much, but John had just gotten over the WORST, and LONGEST case of laryngitis I had ever witnessed, and this frigid air was not doing him ANY good at all!

Anyway, we get there just in time to be LAST up instead of first. The MC is furious with us and yells that we have less than 60 seconds to get up on stage!!!

Well, I put the guitar case down and I then realize that my hand has literally frozen itself around the handle and I am not able to move or straighten out ANY of my fingers to let it go. I 'peel' each finger loose, get the guitar out, hope that is still more or less in tune (and has not broken a string), and run up to meet John on stage.

The MC (still very outwardly upset) doesn't even introduce us - he just points his finger at where we should be, and we begin our first song - a Spanish song that required me to do a continuous flamenco roil while John sang a melody line over it.

I sit down to play. Since my hand is still a frozen 'claw', I immediately get two frozen fingers deeply imbedded under the third and fifth strings and cannot get them out because I still can't straighten my fingers out yet. So, in one HARD spastic/jerking motion, I pull my ENTIRE arm straight out away from my body so my hand is now as now level with my face. Of course, the non-musical noise that emanates from the guitar is almost as scary as my body language!

It is then that I look up at John. He is standing there, his mouth IS moving, but there are NO words coming out of it!

The MC quickly ran up on stage, and with a really angry delivery, said..
"And finally, I like to thank our last act of the night.... "POLIO and MUTE"!!!

TOOOOOO FUNNY!!! (Of course, it wasn't then).

Anyway, I can't WAIT to hear some of yours.

Paul Marks

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at October 24, 2006 2:26 PM


Played a Ceilidh in a potato barn near Cambridge (UK) many years ago. The stage was a flatbed in front of the potato grader. Workers would stand on this thing and shovel spuds down a chute during the harvest, different sizes would come out the other end in bags or sacks or whatever.
During the gig the rhythm section (me and the guitarist) had to keep downing tools and nipping to the back of the stage to haul the drummer out of the chute as he bounced backwards off the trailer into the machine, still on his stool.
The effect out front was of considerable variation in sound level, and in a later group we would stop and start the back end of the band at prearranged points, partly to make the sound more interesting, and partly to upset the caller (always a good idea! He used to spin around and curse us out, usually leaving his mic on and scaring the public).
I still remember that drummer's cuban heels and the chrome legs of the stool pointing skywards as he jammed his elbows in the chute so we didn't lose him altogether, sticks in one hand, little rollup still in his mouth and wearing an expression of total, sublime indifference - he used to drink a crate of Guinness every gig (12 pints) - he honestly didn't care one way or the other. We used to put him in the back of the van with the gear at the end of the gig, asleep.
We lost him when he ran out of drums. He turned up to audition with a huge, Cosy Powell style stadium kit. Whenever he ran short of cash he'd sell a couple of drums. His last gig with us was on a bass, high-hat and snare, he put a tambourine on either the drum or the high-hat for effects. Brilliant drummer, probably dead by now...

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 25, 2006 8:36 AM

I have never been on the road so I can't relate anything unless I make it up.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at October 25, 2006 3:21 PM

I swear that's true Richard. I confess, the UK being the size it is, whenever I've been lucky enough to travel to gigs, I've generally made it home by 4AM. Otherwise it's terribly civilized B&Bs.
I love to travel - waking up in the same bed every night is not what I was born to do - my ideal holiday involves a 2000 mile drive in a rented car after flying a couple of thousand to get there - this can be stressful for the rest of my family, who like to stay put and pee on demand, but there you go.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 25, 2006 8:48 PM

I believe you, Huw. Could there ever be any doubt? Not a pint.

Posted by: Richard Schletty at October 26, 2006 5:07 AM

Not exactly 'living on the road', but living in West Texas you have to travel a couple hundred of miles to play almost any gig. We played for a motorcycle rally in Central Texas, with about 600 bikers and 12 bands over a very long hot weekend. Towards midnight on Saturday pm, after a long hot day and many kegs of beer being consumed, one of the bikers decided to join us on the stage.... on his roaring Harley! We lost a mic stand and speaker, but not our lead singer, thank God. We did not construe his action as a criticism of our playing ability, but rather a poorly chosen compliment. We have played other rallys since, but we leave a 'buffer zone' between our stage and the bikes now.

Posted by: Karen O'Briant at October 26, 2006 11:50 AM

New Baden (Texas) Jamborree - 1970 or so... We hadn't even bothered to name our band, or at least I don't recall it if we did have one!
We didn't do too badly with "Johnny B. Good" and "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog" and some other period pieces, but it occured to me that my unscored keyboard/piano skills were lacking and more like some sort of funky rhythm instrument on their old, out of tune rinky-tink piano. Our lead (he's-now-a-preacher-finally-found-his-audience) singer from Barber's Hill got all excited when someone mentioned the possibility of a "talent agent" in the audience, which was silliness, but fun none the less, just to see him sweat! We were a big hit with the younger crowd though, since we were the only rock 'n' roll set, and local Bryan/College Station radio only had one hour of contemporary rock (non Country Western) on per week Sunday nights, late - so that audience was hungry for anything with a beat and electric guitar distortion.

My Dad couldn't figure out any pattern to the whys and wherefors of the audience applause, which seemed to be quite random and without real merrit, so he set about to test this by periodically clapping and everyone would just join in. Son of a gun - he was right!

After all these years, knowing that Ruthie Foster was growing up in nearby Gause, Texas...just up the road a bit, there HAS been some awsome talent discovered from that area, but WE were not it! It was our one and only public appearance. Had loads of fun though, and after our set went outside and got real dizzy on the steel merry-go-round until it was time to go back to the ranch, where one of the boys stayed up all night howling with the coyotes and pestering my parents!

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at October 26, 2006 1:32 PM

Richard, I think perhaps a few back yard stories might qualify... The distance geting there is only HALF the battle, and sometimes is the easier part!

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at October 26, 2006 1:36 PM

I saw a very minor one-song-wonder group get back together after twenty five years at some "Remember When" type of night. While it was obvious what they were going to sing, they got the crowd moving with how they announced it.....

"Thank you very much. And now, we would like to a medley of our HIT".

It took a second for everyone to make sure they heard it right and then to "process it", but the audience actually laughed most of the way through the song and then gave them a standing ovation!

While it is not MY story, or even a real "road story" it is pretty funny - and my mind was wandering!

Posted by: Paul Marks at October 26, 2006 2:08 PM

Girl to the Aberaeron stage band:
"Can you do All of Me?"
Barry Phillis (Trombone)
"What... All of us?"

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 26, 2006 2:38 PM

Hmm, great syntax irony. Just today I saw the headline "Elmo Used To Smuggle Meth."

Is Elmo known in UK, Huw? Maybe by Customs at least. If you tickle him he might tell some hair-raising road stories.

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at October 26, 2006 3:19 PM

Meth! I just thought he was like that because he had someone's hand...

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 26, 2006 7:36 PM

Can we bring in not "road" gig disaster stories here?
The day the lead singer was poked in the eye by a 5-year-old with a lit incense stick, shortly before we were about to go on stage at a lovely, gentle hippy event? The day the PA collapsed and would only make tractor noises, AS we walked onto the stage, so we got off stage and sat among the audience for an accoustic set? The day we outnumbered the audience ... as a 5-piece! The day we played like gods, but the transport system failed so we played possibly our best set to the promoter, the engineer and the bar-staff? The day the publicity failed and we played our set in a 1,500-seat venue with 3 bars, to 24 personal frineds and roadies and the support band were so young there were not allowed in until the one remaining bar was closed? Drum-kit collapse stories? The Brighton riot where the other band's fans literally took the venue appart as we were arriving? There are soooo many of those. Are they allowed?

Posted by: Johnny Mindlin at October 27, 2006 4:56 AM


Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at October 27, 2006 10:47 AM

The more I think about it, ANY GIG is a "road story".
I mean, unless the audience all arrived at your HOME for the concert, you had to be "on the road" at some point just to get there!
Willie Nelson is definitely on-the-road, but not any MORE than Billy and Sharon who drove three towns over to play at another college.

Posted by: Paul Marks at October 27, 2006 1:01 PM

Never - EVER - play south of the Thames!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 27, 2006 6:19 PM

Huw - aren't you planning to move down there one of these days?

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at October 28, 2006 1:46 AM

'Home' to Wales, but that's west of the Thames.
South of the Thames is Kingston (eye poking), Elephant and Castle (PA collapse), Brighton (riot, assault, near-death experience, horrible murder on the motorway the following day so we spent most of the day travelling the 60 miles home while they drew a clak line around the body). Then there's that pub in East Sussex where we were just painfully, offensively rubbish!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at October 28, 2006 7:00 PM

Actually, Johnny - that acoustic set sounds pretty intriguing! Did you actually perform the acoustic set, or were you relegated at that point to mere spectators..?

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at October 28, 2006 8:34 PM

Children's music cruise for the Schools Music Association on the SS Uganda 1976.
We visited Madeira, Gibraltar and Lisbon. Madeira is a sumptuous sub tropical island in the Atlantic and we (500 teenage children) were booked to perform in the Cathedral in the capital Funchal.
We caught open boats across the harbour from the ship and marched in a formal crocodile up the cobbled streets of the old city to a fabulous, stuccoed cathedral. There were several acts; a big choir, a full orchestra a wind orchestra, brass band etc. The concert was sold out.
What no one had told the organisers was that the other main party staying in Funchal that year was one of the three armies then at war in Angola, on R&R as it were. This particular faction was made up mainly of Cuban 'military advisors'. It was they who'd bought all the tickets.
Those of us playing instruments were seated on the stage, the choir were seated in the main seats in the middle of the cathedral, and the audience were in the outer seats. As the music began, the mercenaries started to molest the girls in the choir seats. Proceedings were halted and teachers bravely reorganised the seating so the boys were outermost, acting as a barrier to the girls. The music began again and a new lot of mercenaries arrived to molest the boys. There was sporadic fighting.
Before the end of the first half of the programme the local police marched in and lined up either side of the choir, machine pistols at the ready, to fend off the audience. It was the most enthusiastic reception we had on the whole tour!
After the show, we were formed up into our crocodile and marched back to the docks to catch our launches back to the ship.
On the quay the ship's crew fought a pitched battle with the Angolan army while we climbed down ladders into the launches. A tender 12 years of age, I remember climbing into the boat, to be joined by a large Cuban gentleman in khaki, who was promply whacked on the head by the small asian manning the tiller, who then threw the semi concsious man over the side. There weren't enough boats to move all 500 kids at once, so the fighting raged on for some time. I remember leaning over the railing to watch and lighting a cigarette. What a gig!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at November 9, 2006 4:08 PM

Huw! Smoking at TWELVE years of age??
Well, after that experience, I wouldn't blame you for
lighting a fag (as you blokes say over there)!
Performing at armed guard..I'm impressed!

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at November 10, 2006 1:48 AM

Makes Jim's story about the ship's men in that pub (tie dyed tee-shirt story) look like a cake walk.

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at November 10, 2006 1:50 AM

If I didn't actually have the collective family memory of the whole thing (my parents were on the staff - my Mum without here glasses was sent to "clear those boys away from there please". Those boys were between 15 and 40 and my Mum at 36 was fair game! Only her Welsh schoolmarm demeanour saved her from being the entertainment for the troops that evening. Everybody smoked back then. I was undercover, and only felt safe because my parents were over the water battling the Cubans.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at November 10, 2006 8:14 AM

Sorry. If it wasn't a collective tale, I'd think it was recovered memory syndrome. Though we kids weren't actually all that scared - we were a long way from home, we were British, this was the sort of thing we expected from a foreign port. Gibraltar was a disappointment after that (except for the porn - we were at that age I suppose).

Posted by: Huw Pryce at November 10, 2006 8:37 AM

Smoking at 12? My brother John started smoking at the age of four with Fuzzy Nixon (also four). They would steal cigarettes from Fuzzy's older brother and sisters or gather up butts from the street and hide in a bush across the street from my grandparents' apartment and light up.

I have an interesting story about a road trip that goes back to high school when I played in the stage and concert bands and orchestra. We went on a tour of a few places around Oregon performing concerts with the concert band, then followed up by the stage band. The tour was uneventful until our last stop of the tour where we were to do a concert for the Tongue Point Job Corp facility in Astoria, Oregon. The facility was something akin to a job training/reformatory school for delinquent girls. Most of them were probably 13 to 18 years of age.

The concert was held in a large auditorium/gymnasium and there were easily several hundred girls in attendance. We began our concert with whatever concert music we were performing at the time and the girls were clearly bored. They got more and more impatient and when the concert band finished performing the applause was less than inspiring.

Then, the stage band came out and began playing some tunes that had some swing and a beat that was more familiar to the girls. They really loved the music and were standing up on their chairs and dancing and getting wild. On the last tune, one of our excellent drummers named Mark Wisegram was playing the trap set and he had eight bars to solo where he tore it up which drove the girls into a frenzy. They suddenly, en masse, rushed the stage sending music stands and music flying, scattering musicians who took off running and in particular they were after Mark who literally ran for his life around the building taking a circuitous route back to the bus where he hid until we left. The girls had grabbed at his sweater and ripped it to shreads to keep momentoes of the show. The were asking us to autograph their arms and backs and anything else they could get their hands on. It terrified Mark, but I loved it. I just stood my ground and the girls were so anxious for personal attention that it was great fun. When I got back to the bus I could not believe how shook up Mark was. He thought he was going to die at the hands of those girls!

Posted by: Jack Swain at November 10, 2006 12:27 PM

Jack Swain, you old Roue! You are a bold soul.
Poor Mark - I'd be terrified too! All those fingernails flailing about, tearing at this clothing and what not.

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at November 11, 2006 10:27 PM

Between Richard, my and Jack's feral audience, i think I know where Id've chosen to be as a teenage boy. Tongue Point job training and reformatory school for teenage girls!!! Dip me in honey...

Posted by: Huw Pryce at November 13, 2006 8:37 AM

Yeah Huy, you would have fitted in well! I could see you standing your ground with arms open wide.

Posted by: Jack Swain at November 13, 2006 9:42 AM

Well as the good book says - It's better to give than to receive!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at November 13, 2006 11:32 AM

Of course last week's Fagin lookalike (complete with top hat and opera jacket, covered in dust), who cursed us out for not having a suitable kit for his band (of unreconstructed, neanderthal acid casualties) to borrow, so they had to go home for theirs, is positively mundane in retrospect.
He did however stand in the audience throughout our set shouting "motheroffending Wives and gynaecological Servants" (or words to that effect). Fortunately this added somewhat to the ambiance, so I wish him no further ill than that already done him by his parents and whatever recreational pharmaceticals he's been experimenting with. The terminal sphincter!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at December 4, 2006 9:02 AM

Odd, I somehow missed that on the DVD!
(Huw - your polite expletives amaze and delight me!)

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at December 10, 2006 11:31 PM

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