I never saw Bubbles again, but I did get to work her father years later. He brought his show to the Twin Cities out at the Met Sports Center. He had neglected the area since he had made it big; but it was very important to him in his early years. He had gone to music school in Minneapolis, led a house band for a local radio station, over the years played regular gigs at the Marigold Ballroom, which he considered Big Time compared to his roots in the rural dance halls of the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota.
The Met was a big arena, but every seat was filled in spite of the snow storm the night before. His old fans, who had loved his band in person, and his new fans, who discovered him from TV, came to enjoy the show, even if there wasn’t room to dance to his music.
The show was coming up from Des Moines and the snow had hit the south of us hard; so although us local hands were there on time, we weren’t surprised that none of the road crew was. We went up to the catering room, had some coffee and doughnuts and waited.
About a half hour later, the orchestra truck showed up. Dutch, the driver asked if Mac, the road manager, had showed up and was disappointed when we told him no. After Dutch had a couple cups of coffee, he decided to back the truck in and get it unloaded at least. Mac was the one who set up the orchestra. Dutch told us that Mac was the road stage manager, tour manager, trouble shooter, Welk’s right hand and whipping boy, and drummer. ‘Oh yeah,’ Dutch laughed, ‘He’s also the Old Man’s son-in-law.’
I thought about asking him if Mac’s wife went to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.
We off-loaded the truck in no time. Everything was marked. We sent the wardrobe to the dressing room hallway to wait for the road wardrobe mistress and the local wardrobe crew. Then we unlocked the boxes for the stage, and waited for Mac.
Dutch got nervous. He said he didn’t know how to set up the orchestra. Mac always did it. He said how the soundman and the lighting man needed it set up so they could do their thing. They were in a bobtail truck about an hour out. If they got backed up everything would get backed up, and the Old Man would take it out on Mac.
‘I’ve known Lawrence all my life,’ Dutch explained. ‘He and my dad grew up on neighboring homestead farms. Best friends. Both stubborn Germans. Lawrence is my godfather. The only employer I ever had. Keeps me busy all year long. As much as I respect him, I learned the best way to stay on his good side is to stay away from him. Mac is a good guy, but he takes a lot of guff from the Old Man. And no matter what excuse Mac might have for being late the Old Man will still jump all over him. I’d hate to have him for a father-in-law.’
I told Dutch if we had the orchestra plot and we’d set it up. I suggested looking in Mac’s road box. Sure enough, it was in a drawer. We set up the orchestra in no time and then took coffee while we waited for the lights and sound.
Mac finally showed up. He was about my age so I figured he probably married the younger of the two Welk daughters. He apologized for being late. The plane departure was delayed. Then when he got the Old Man to the hotel, there were a lot of messages that he had to answer. Some fires from upcoming gigs had to be put out. He was thrilled that the orchestra was set up. Dutch gave the credit to me and my crew. ‘Oh,’ Mac added, ‘I had to also call home. The wife said the car died and had to be towed to the garage. I told her we should just get a new one. I told her that a year ago. But no- go! She’s as tight with a buck as her father.’
I thought about asking Mac if his wife had gone to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.
‘You wear too many hats, Mac. Too many hats.’ Dutch waved his hand at Mac and went to get some sleep in his sleeper-cab.
The audience loved the show. Wonnerful! Wonnerful! You could tell that the show was exactly the same as it was when the tour started and would be the same at the end. The band would make the same movements, the performers the same presentations, Lawrence would say the same words, even the ‘ad libs’ would be the same. Tight show! I would bet each show timed about just minutes apart.
As soon as the audience left, Dutch backed the truck in while Mac supervised packing the cases. Then he left the loading of the truck to Dutch and he got Welk to come with him to the office and square away the money end.
They took a slight detour and came over to me. Mac introduced me to Lawrence as the steward responsible for getting the orchestra set up because he was late getting to the arena.
‘Tank you! Tank you!’ Lawrence said, and he shook my hand.
I thought about mentioning to Lawrence that I might have met his daughter way back when at Marquette. But I didn’t.
As the two disappeared down the hall, Dutch came over to me laughing. ‘Wow! He came to you! Two tank you’s and even a hand shake. You ought to feel honored. That’s the biggest tip I ever seen old Mr. Penny-Pincher give anyone. And you being a union stagehand on top of it. Never thought he would ever talk to a union stagehand again, let alone shake one’s hand.
‘Last year we were doing our usual gig at the Avalon Ballroom on Catalina Island and during the out, the Old Man decided to come on stage and order the hands around. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, the union steward asked him politely to get off the stage. He had narrowly missed getting hit by a road box already. If he got hurt, the insurance wouldn’t cover it.
‘So Lawrence puffs up and gets right in the steward’s face. “I’m Lawrence Welk! You can’t order off this stage.”
‘Wrong thing to say. No more Mr. Nice Guy Steward. “I don’t care if you’re Richard frigging Nixon,” says the steward, and he points his finger in Lawrence’s chest. “Now, I asked you nicely to get off the frigging stage, now I’m telling you, get your frigging ass off the ‘frigging stage, now!”
‘The old man took the hint and stormed off, muttering words in German that he would never say in English.
‘Ever since, he has gone out of his way to avoid any union stagehand. And he hasn’t come on a stage while the hands are working since, except for just now.It took a lot for him to shake your hand and give you two “Tank You’s”.’
Driving home that night I thought about how easy the day had been. Music, not exactly my style, but easier to listen to than usual heavy metal. A couple nice people to work with. Just one semi and one bobtail. In at 8 A.M. Out before 11 P.M. Sure beat the usual arena rocker with a dozen or more semis. In at 5 or 6 A.M. one day. Walk away at 3 or 4 P.M the next.
Granted I didn’t get the customary tee shirt, but I did get two Tank You’s and a handshake from a real icon of Americana.
Oh sure, he was known to be fiscally conservative. A true son of the Depression. And he had a stubborn streak and Old World values like religion, hard work, and family. A true son of an immigrant father.
His German parents immigrated from Odessa in the Ukraine. They settled on a homestead in North Dakota. First winter lived in an upturned sod-covered wagon. Raised 8 children, Lawrence was the 6th, on a hard-scramble farm. The kind of people that were the foundation of America.
Lawrence became a very rich man, not because somebody left him money, and not because he screwed over people; but because he got paid for his talent, his use of his Arts, music and dance, to entertain, to create memories, rays of sunshine on cloudy day.
And I would be willing to bet, that even if Lawrence never got paid to perform, he would have played his music for free.
Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun
Roll out the barrel, we’ll have the Blues on the run
AH TWO is a continuation of the previous post; AH ONE