MEMORIES OF PRINCE

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

( Last April 26 was the 5th anniversary of his death. Had he lived he would be 62 today. Mind boggling! Here’s some bits and pieces from the 2 blog posts, Strangers on The Stage and Purple Pain, both in Stage Hand category, that I wrote about working Prince Roger Nelson, aka the Symbol, the Slave, Skippy, and other names this eccentric genius dubbed himself; but to his fans and admirers he was and is PRINCE.

What shock! I first worked him 45+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music.  Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends. (And made a lot of money for the stage hands in his area.)

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. And even today his genius is springing  out with ‘new’ works that was never made public before.

young prince

The first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

(I stand corrected. I worked him when he earlier when he was studying classic ballet, on a grant, with MN Dance and he was a one of a multitude of little dancers in Loyce Holton’s NUTCRACKER.)

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’, Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

(I was local head carpenter from the first; and because the tour carpenter was busy working out the logistics of the coming tour, I was the local head carp even when we went into the St. Paul jurisdiction. I, and several of my favorite hands, sons and nephews, put up the complicated set in every move and worked all the rehearsals also. By the time the 4 weeks were up we knew more than the road carpenter concerning the set.)

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was Sheila E, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. Sheila E was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross.

She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of Sheila E. I had ended up sitting in her lap. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got Sheila E to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

(Prince was also a very good athlete in high school. I know he loved to play basketball. The net and stand was one of the first things that we put up at his rehearsals, He was always the shortest in games with anyone who wanted to play, but he was the best dribbler and a good shot.)

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. He refused to hire as one of his many body guards, ex wrestler, a future governor of MN, Jesse The Body Ventura because Jesse was reported to have a drug background while wrestling.

(Ironic that Prince would die of an overdose of pain pills, considering his hatred for drugs; but I know he must have had great pain in his older years. He never spared his body, leaping around the stage and even off of it during his performances. And certainly the incident that happened one night at a Purple Rain rehearsal, the one that I tell about in the cartoon below contributed a great deal to his future pain.)

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. That character in the hat is me wearing my ‘trademark hat’. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

I was on my knees in a downstage wing paging a mic for Patti LaBelle. Her concerts were always very fine, except her set belonged in an arena, not a theater. Very crowded on stage. And since wireless mics were still unreliable, a stagehand was needed to page the cable to keep it from tangling in a set piece. You have to concentrate. For that reason I didn’t realize that there were people in the wing with me until they had me surrounded.

I saw a short pair of legs clad in tight purple pants. I didn’t have to even look up to know it was Prince.

The second pair of legs were much longer and much more interesting.. The right leg was clad in a conventional tight, but the left leg was naked up to the short shorts. I knew it was Sheila E. That quirky bit of wardrobe was designed especially by Prince for her.

The third pair were longer still. Both legs naked. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse so tight you could see, even in the darkness of the wing, there was no bra underneath. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might have been short in stature, but he more than make up for it in self-confidence. Not many men would dare attend a concert with both an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend and an about-to-be ex-girlfriend, maybe two current girlfriends.

But that was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. And for all I knew, Madonna, Carmen Electra, Vanity, etc., etc., etc., might all have been at Paisley Park waiting for the three of them to return so they could all ‘party like it it’s 1999‘.

A few of my memories of the little man, the giant musician.

His Purple Highness

  

               

DAY(S) THE MUSIC DIED

The Day the Music Died

This is a Blog Posting from 2014

Gee, it’s been 56 years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper finished a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Their next gig was in Moorhead, Minnesota. They never made it. Their plane crashed shortly after take-off. February 3, 1959 – ‘The day the music died’, as Don McLean proclaimed in his song/poem ‘AMERICAN PIE’.

Their deaths really didn’t affect me as much as it affected others my age. I was in the Army at the time. Although I kept up with popular music before I went into the Army, I pretty much lost track of the Top 40 hits during my Army stint.

At the time I was in Headquarters Company, 82 Airborne, Signal Battalion At Fort Bragg. Unlike the men in the two line companies, who lived in squad rooms, we in Headquarters Company had two-man rooms. My roommate, Patricio Menes, and I were into ‘cool’ jazz, Brubeck, Kenton, etc.. I had a small hi-fi phonograph and the two us had a number of LPs. Neither of us had a radio or a car with one . And I didn’t have one on my motorcycle. We heard some of the music of the day when we were shooting pool in the day room and American Bandstand was on TV. And we heard a lot of the music on juke boxes when we went to Fayetteville.

The first I heard of the plane crash was the next night when Patricio came in  the room and told me, ‘Richie was killed in a plane crash.’ I thought he was talking about some friend of his, but Pat put me straight. ‘Richie Valens! ‘ LA BAMBA!’

I knew the song because Pat played it often on juke boxes. Valens came from L.A. just like Patricio. Pat and the other Latinos from the L.A. barrio thought Valens was one of their own, and liked to sing the Mexican folk song, LA BAMBA, which Valens, not only made a hit out of it, but sang it in Spanish. I often wondered how Pat and his friends felt when they found out that Valens didn’t come from the barrio, but from a suburb of L.A., and his Spanish was limited to ordering from a menu and reading the lyrics of his hit from a cue card.

And it was several days after I heard Valens was killed in a crash that I learned Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were also killed in that crash.

Over the years I learned the back stories like Waylon Jennings, a member of The Crickets, gave up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper, who was sick, and went by bus with the other Crickets as well as Dion and the Belmonts. Waylon took off on his own shortly afterwards and went ‘outlaw’.

Then there the story of how the concert promoter in Moorhead filled out the bill as best he could and brought in a local boy, Bobby Vee, as one of the acts. Vee followed up that appearance with several hit singles, and when the time came for Vee to record his first album, he hired a young Bobby Dylan to play guitar on the album.

And over the years, I began to appreciate the talent  of Buddy Holly.

Since that crash took place before I became a stage hand, I never had the pleasure of working those three. I saw the movies based on the lives of Holly and Valens. And I worked BUDDY THE MUSICAL several times. But it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

As far as the others in the back story, I had the pleasure of working them all many times. The name of Bobby Vee may not be familiar to most people but he was very talented and fun to work, especially in the later years when he and his sons put on their shows. Sadly, I read the other day that Bobby Vee has Alzheimer’s.

A few years later, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a small plane crash. And the list of musicians killed in light plane crashes goes on and on. The two that hit me the hardest was Ricky Nelson and Jim Croce.

Although he is largely ignored today, Ricky Nelson was big, big, big in the early days of rock and roll. For several years, only Elvis outsold him. And then he let his addictions grand his career to a screaming halt.

I had just worked Nelson shortly before his death. He was so excited. His concerts were selling better than he had hoped; his all time hits album had just been remastered, and he felt maybe his career would take off again. He was also high. They figured out that fire from cocaine freebasing on the plane caused the ‘Travelin Man’ to have his ticket punched.

The two favorite front acts of Sue Wiel, promoter at the Guthrie, were James Taylor and later, Jim Croce. Taylor was so thankful for Sue’s faith in him when he was trying to bust the big time, that he promised to come back and play two shows at the G when he did make it. And what shows they were! He also brought along his wife at the time, Carly Simon, who sang some duets with James and a few solos. Two big acts for the price of one. At that time, he was so big he could have easily sold out an arena show, but he had made Sue a promise.

I got to know Jim Croce during his front act performances at the Guthrie. After he finished his act, he would come up to the lighting booth and sit next to me to watch the main act. He was interesting, a good story teller, and he made no bones about loving his wife and his newborn baby. A nice person and a great talent.

Like James Taylor before him, Jim also planned to do a couple thank you shows for Sue, when he made it big. And like James Taylor, he was good to his promise. He was booked to play the Guthrie, even though he was hot enough to play a much larger venue in the Twin Cities, on the tour that took his life. Killed in a small-plane crash. What a loss!

So many, many musicians had their careers cut short because of small-plane crashes. So many, many days that ‘music died’.

PURPLE PAIN

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

What shock! I first worked him 40+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music. Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends.

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. Here’s just a few of my memories of Prince that I first posted a couple years ago.

young princeThe first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’; Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was SheilaE, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. SheilaE was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross. She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of SheilaE. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got SheilaE to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

 

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. And this policy caused a future governor of Minnesota some pain.

What with his new found super star status, Prince needed super star protection on tour. He employed the foremost rock show security company at the time, owned and operated by Big Chick. Chick hired a security force, some of whom graduated from Chick’s school. Once requisite was the person hired had to be BIG. The second, the person had to be completely drug free with nothing to link him to past drug history use, either proven or rumored, except of course, for body-building steroid use.

This particular day the stage environs were dark except for the setting of  the show lights. I was out in hallway working on a special road box. Norton, a security guard already hired, was sitting at a desk a few feet away. Norton was one of many reigning Heavyweight Arm Wrestling Champion of the World. He was concentrating on sparring with imaginary foes. Some he took down quite rapidly, others forced his arm almost to the desk, and he would let out a loud grunt and slowly got his arm raised and slammed his opponent’s down for the win. When he beat one of the tough imaginary foes, he would let out a loud ‘YES’ and wipe the sweat off his brow. I tried not to laugh or even smile at Norton’s ‘training exercising’, so I kept my head down, just working hard on my project.

Jesse, ‘The Body, Ventura, a former big name pro wrestler, came down the hall and slammed himself in the chair next to Norton’s desk. He and Norton had been high school football teammates during the years when Ventura went by his given name, James Janos. ‘You were right,’ Jessie said, ‘Chick won’t hire me’, he said to Norton, who briefly looked at his old friend, and then continued with his sparring matches.

Said he heard I was a party man on the circuit. Told him I’ve been sober for a while. Got a family. The roids are causing blood clots. No more roids or any other kind of drugs for me. Need a job. Don’t think I can wrestle anymore. Need a job. Got a family. Said he wasn’t going to lose Prince’s contract by hiring someone linked to rumors about drugs. Don’t know what I’m going to do…..’

I didn’t want to hear this monologue anymore and I put my tools in the road box and rolled it down the hall. I don’t know if Norton felt the same way about Jesse’s tirade because he wasn’t saying anything, just continued with his arm wrestling training in silence.

Jesse gave up trying to be the next ‘Big Chick’. Went back to the wrestling world, a few bouts but mostly as a heel, the term for a  wrestling commentator who argued in defense of the ‘dirty’ rasslers. He perfected his outspoken style of commentary. Jesse, ‘The Body’ became Jesse, ‘The Mouth’.

He had a short, forgettable career as an actor. Went on sports radio where he concentrated more on politics and conspiracy theories than sports. Entered the race for the governorship of Minnesota. With the vote between the Democrat and Republican candidates split, Ventura, running as an Independent, nosed the other two out by a small margin. To Jesse, the small margin of victory was a mandate of the people, and was stepping stone to bigger things.

A one-termer, a couple of the highlights of his time in office was singing WEREWOLVES OF LONDON  with Warren Zevon at the inaugural party, and later in the term, was a referee in a national televised pro wrestling match. While most governors complain about not having enough time to carry out the duties of the office, Jesse even found time to finish ‘writing’ a political brag-book titled I AIN’T GOT TIME TO BLEED,’ as well as completing two other political books. He gave up running for office when Colin Powell didn’t go along with Jesse’s idea of a presidential ticket of Powell for president with Ventura as VP. He’s been keeping busy as a ‘celebrity’ spokesman on politics and other conspiracies; and of course, in threatening and in some cases actually filing law suits.

A jack of a lot of trades, master of none. But the one thing his bio does not have is security guard for Prince.

 

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

 

 

PURPLE RAIN was recorded 30 years ago. Prince just announced he was reissuing the CD with improved technology. SheilaE’s autobiography is due to come out soon. (Probably not with the story of me ending up on top of her.) And she is about to release her first CD in 13 years. And Jesse Ventura won a lawsuit – against a dead man, and he will collect  1.3 million dollars from the  widow and the  two small children .

 

For more of my posts with rock and roll cartoons by Joel Orf go to:

ELTON IN THE USA

A WREATH FOR THE POSSUM 

SCREAMED JAMES BROWN

And another post with Prince and SheilaE:

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

 

R.I.P. PRINCE NELSON. Thanks for the music and the memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

               

DAY(S) THE MUSIC DIED

The Day the Music Died

This is a Blog Posting from 2014

Gee, it’s been 56 years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper finished a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Their next gig was in Moorhead, Minnesota. They never made it. Their plane crashed shortly after take-off. February 3, 1959 – ‘The day the music died’, as Don McLean proclaimed in his song/poem ‘AMERICAN PIE’.

Their deaths really didn’t affect me as much as it affected others my age. I was in the Army at the time. Although I kept up with popular music before I went into the Army, I pretty much lost track of the Top 40 hits during my Army stint.

At the time I was in Headquarters Company, 82 Airborne, Signal Battalion At Fort Bragg. Unlike the men in the two line companies, who lived in squad rooms, we in Headquarters Company had two-man rooms. My roommate, Patricio Menes, and I were into ‘cool’ jazz, Brubeck, Kenton, etc.. I had a small hi-fi phonograph and the two us had a number of LPs. Neither of us had a radio or a car with one . And I didn’t have one on my motorcycle. We heard some of the music of the day when we were shooting pool in the day room and American Bandstand was on TV. And we heard a lot of the music on juke boxes when we went to Fayetteville.

The first I heard of the plane crash was the next night when Patricio came in  the room and told me, ‘Richie was killed in a plane crash.’ I thought he was talking about some friend of his, but Pat put me straight. ‘Richie Valens! ‘ LA BAMBA!’

I knew the song because Pat played it often on juke boxes. Valens came from L.A. just like Patricio. Pat and the other Latinos from the L.A. barrio thought Valens was one of their own, and liked to sing the Mexican folk song, LA BAMBA, which Valens, not only made a hit out of it, but sang it in Spanish. I often wondered how Pat and his friends felt when they found out that Valens didn’t come from the barrio, but from a suburb of L.A., and his Spanish was limited to ordering from a menu and reading the lyrics of his hit from a cue card.

And it was several days after I heard Valens was killed in a crash that I learned Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were also killed in that crash.

Over the years I learned the back stories like Waylon Jennings, a member of The Crickets, gave up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper, who was sick, and went by bus with the other Crickets as well as Dion and the Belmonts. Waylon took off on his own shortly afterwards and went ‘outlaw’.

Then there the story of how the concert promoter in Moorhead filled out the bill as best he could and brought in a local boy, Bobby Vee, as one of the acts. Vee followed up that appearance with several hit singles, and when the time came for Vee to record his first album, he hired a young Bobby Dylan to play guitar on the album.

And over the years, I began to appreciate the talent  of Buddy Holly.

Since that crash took place before I became a stage hand, I never had the pleasure of working those three. I saw the movies based on the lives of Holly and Valens. And I worked BUDDY THE MUSICAL several times. But it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

As far as the others in the back story, I had the pleasure of working them all many times. The name of Bobby Vee may not be familiar to most people but he was very talented and fun to work, especially in the later years when he and his sons put on their shows. Sadly, I read the other day that Bobby Vee has Alzheimer’s.

A few years later, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a small plane crash. And the list of musicians killed in light plane crashes goes on and on. The two that hit me the hardest was Ricky Nelson and Jim Croce.

Although he is largely ignored today, Ricky Nelson was big, big, big in the early days of rock and roll. For several years, only Elvis outsold him. And then he let his addictions grand his career to a screaming halt.

I had just worked Nelson shortly before his death. He was so excited. His concerts were selling better than he had hoped; his all time hits album had just been remastered, and he felt maybe his career would take off again. He was also high. They figured out that fire from cocaine freebasing on the plane caused the ‘Travelin Man’ to have his ticket punched.

The two favorite front acts of Sue Wiel, promoter at the Guthrie, were James Taylor and later, Jim Croce. Taylor was so thankful for Sue’s faith in him when he was trying to bust the big time, that he promised to come back and play two shows at the G when he did make it. And what shows they were! He also brought along his wife at the time, Carly Simon, who sang some duets with James and a few solos. Two big acts for the price of one. At that time, he was so big he could have easily sold out an arena show, but he had made Sue a promise.

I got to know Jim Croce during his front act performances at the Guthrie. After he finished his act, he would come up to the lighting booth and sit next to me to watch the main act. He was interesting, a good story teller, and he made no bones about loving his wife and his newborn baby. A nice person and a great talent.

Like James Taylor before him, Jim also planned to do a couple thank you shows for Sue, when he made it big. And like James Taylor, he was good to his promise. He was booked to play the Guthrie, even though he was hot enough to play a much larger venue in the Twin Cities, on the tour that took his life. Killed in a small-plane crash. What a loss!

So many, many musicians had their careers cut short because of small-plane crashes. So many, many days that ‘music died’.

PURPLE PAIN

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

What shock! I first worked him 40+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music. Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends.

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. Here’s just a few of my memories of Prince that I first posted a couple years ago.

young princeThe first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’; Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was SheilaE, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. SheilaE was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross. She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of SheilaE. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got SheilaE to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

 

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. And this policy caused a future governor of Minnesota some pain.

What with his new found super star status, Prince needed super star protection on tour. He employed the foremost rock show security company at the time, owned and operated by Big Chick. Chick hired a security force, some of whom graduated from Chick’s school. Once requisite was the person hired had to be BIG. The second, the person had to be completely drug free with nothing to link him to past drug history use, either proven or rumored, except of course, for body-building steroid use.

This particular day the stage environs were dark except for the setting of  the show lights. I was out in hallway working on a special road box. Norton, a security guard already hired, was sitting at a desk a few feet away. Norton was one of many reigning Heavyweight Arm Wrestling Champion of the World. He was concentrating on sparring with imaginary foes. Some he took down quite rapidly, others forced his arm almost to the desk, and he would let out a loud grunt and slowly got his arm raised and slammed his opponent’s down for the win. When he beat one of the tough imaginary foes, he would let out a loud ‘YES’ and wipe the sweat off his brow. I tried not to laugh or even smile at Norton’s ‘training exercising’, so I kept my head down, just working hard on my project.

Jesse, ‘The Body, Ventura, a former big name pro wrestler, came down the hall and slammed himself in the chair next to Norton’s desk. He and Norton had been high school football teammates during the years when Ventura went by his given name, James Janos. ‘You were right,’ Jessie said, ‘Chick won’t hire me’, he said to Norton, who briefly looked at his old friend, and then continued with his sparring matches.

Said he heard I was a party man on the circuit. Told him I’ve been sober for a while. Got a family. The roids are causing blood clots. No more roids or any other kind of drugs for me. Need a job. Don’t think I can wrestle anymore. Need a job. Got a family. Said he wasn’t going to lose Prince’s contract by hiring someone linked to rumors about drugs. Don’t know what I’m going to do…..’

I didn’t want to hear this monologue anymore and I put my tools in the road box and rolled it down the hall. I don’t know if Norton felt the same way about Jesse’s tirade because he wasn’t saying anything, just continued with his arm wrestling training in silence.

Jesse gave up trying to be the next ‘Big Chick’. Went back to the wrestling world, a few bouts but mostly as a heel, the term for a  wrestling commentator who argued in defense of the ‘dirty’ rasslers. He perfected his outspoken style of commentary. Jesse, ‘The Body’ became Jesse, ‘The Mouth’.

He had a short, forgettable career as an actor. Went on sports radio where he concentrated more on politics and conspiracy theories than sports. Entered the race for the governorship of Minnesota. With the vote between the Democrat and Republican candidates split, Ventura, running as an Independent, nosed the other two out by a small margin. To Jesse, the small margin of victory was a mandate of the people, and was stepping stone to bigger things.

A one-termer, a couple of the highlights of his time in office was singing WEREWOLVES OF LONDON  with Warren Zevon at the inaugural party, and later in the term, was a referee in a national televised pro wrestling match. While most governors complain about not having enough time to carry out the duties of the office, Jesse even found time to finish ‘writing’ a political brag-book titled I AIN’T GOT TIME TO BLEED,’ as well as completing two other political books. He gave up running for office when Colin Powell didn’t go along with Jesse’s idea of a presidential ticket of Powell for president with Ventura as VP. He’s been keeping busy as a ‘celebrity’ spokesman on politics and other conspiracies; and of course, in threatening and in some cases actually filing law suits.

A jack of a lot of trades, master of none. But the one thing his bio does not have is security guard for Prince.

 

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

 

 

PURPLE RAIN was recorded 30 years ago. Prince just announced he was reissuing the CD with improved technology. SheilaE’s autobiography is due to come out soon. (Probably not with the story of me ending up on top of her.) And she is about to release her first CD in 13 years. And Jesse Ventura won a lawsuit – against a dead man, and he will collect  1.3 million dollars from the  widow and the  two small children .

 

For more of my posts with rock and roll cartoons by Joel Orf go to:

ELTON IN THE USA

A WREATH FOR THE POSSUM 

SCREAMED JAMES BROWN

And another post with Prince and SheilaE:

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

 

R.I.P. PRINCE NELSON. Thanks for the music and the memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

               

FRANCIS, OZZIE, AND PETE

RS logo  Recent events, like the cover of ROLLING STONE, cold water, colder weather, doves flying, a Dove dying, brought back a lot of memories, some good, some bad, some funny, some sad.

 

Pope on Rolling Stone  PETER’S ROCK

Last December, the ex-nightclub bouncer from Argentina scored a knockout by being named TIME’s MAN OF THE YEAR. He followed up a month later with a cover on the ROLLING STONE proclaiming him a new rock star. And to think when the white smoke came out of the chimney, many people, like myself, thought, big deal, just another hard core, extreme right of Jesus, traditionalist. How wrong we were!

Sharon Osbourne made headlines about the same time. It seems like sweet Sharon, at a pre – Grammy dinner, decided she had enough listening to a would-be celeb loudmouth, and she threw a glass of water into his face.

osborne family on rolling stone  OZZIE’S ROCK

Now what, you might ask, does Pope Francis and Sharon Osbourne have in common? Pigeons! Or rather, white doves.

The same week, the Pope combined two of his favorite things peace and children in a symbolic act  After calling for peace in the Ukraine,  he had the children release two white doves, to the roar of the people standing below in the Vatican Square. The two symbols of peace were immediately attacked by a crow and a seagull. What a crow and a seagull symbolizes, I don’t know. Only that the thousands of pilgrims gasped at the sight of the attack. There is no record of the outcome, or a translation of what the Pope uttered.

I, did, however, witness the outcome of the doves released, as per the instructions of Sharon Osbourn, at one of her husband’s concert. I can only surmise what she uttered.

The only thing that I disliked more than listening to the music of the ‘godfather’ of Heavy Metal, Ozzie Osbourne, was working his shows, Black Sabbath or on his own. Big and heavy. Roadies were always tired, usually high, and hard to get along with. The music wasn’t just loud, it was instant-headache loud. The special effects were gross. A dummy pushed from a spotlight location, it’s fall snapped short by the rope and the noose around it’s neck. The midget throwing pig intestines into the audience. And the PYRO, the PYRO, the PYRO!!! My favorite part of the show was always when the doors on the last truck were closed and we saw the rear end of the truck heading to it’s next destination.

When Ozzie finally left, or was fired, from Black Sabbath, he signed with Don Arden. Arden commissioned his daughter, Sharon, to watch over Ozzie, in the hopes he would go back to Black Sabbath. Wrong move! It not only changed Ozzie, it put a wedge between father and daughter that exists to this day.

It turned out that Sharon was a management genius and even Ozzie recognized her ability. She further cemented her control over Ozzie by becoming his wife. She curbed his bad habits, which probably added many years to his life: made his solo career more important than his career with Black Sabbath: spurred it on by creating OZFEST, a gigantic money maker: and when his popularity waned, she brought him back to the public eye with the reality show, THE OSBOURNES. And through it all, became a household name in her own right. Like Pope Francis, Sharon Osbourne surprised a great many people and earned herself, albeit with Ozzie and the children, a cover on ROLLING STONE.

 

On January 20th, 1982, during his DAIRY OF A MADMAN tour, Ozzie bit the had off a bat. This incident occurred at the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. Even if it happened anyplace other than Iowa, it still would have made ‘entertainment’ headlines.

The next stop on the tour was the MetsSportsCenter in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Twenty some below zero) Ozzie was under a lot of pressure because of his actions. It came out that he had also bitten the head off a bat at a business meeting a few days prior to the concert in Iowa. There were threats of concert dates being cancelled, the recently formed PETA organized pickets, and threats of deportation were hanging over his head if he continued with his geek acts.

Even though it was still six months before their marriage, Sharon was beginning to exert a great influence over Ozzie, both artistically and personal. While Ozzie tried to laugh off the situation, Sharon knew something had to be done. She came up with an idea she hoped would defuse the situation.

During the concert at Met, shortly after the midget pelted the audience with pig guts, a cage was brought to the front of the stage. The cage door was opened and twenty white doves, birds of peace, were released. The audience roared. The birds soared. Trying to escape the lights and the screaming horde of people, they flew toward the darkness above. But in trying to reach the sanctuary of the ceiling catwalks, they had to pass in front of the gigantic speaker stacks. And, as the killing decibels of sound blasted the birds, one by one, they dropped – dead – into the audience, who thought it was all a part of the show, and screamed with glee and passed the bodies of the dead birds around like beach balls.

And as I stood off to the side of the stage and witnessed this disaster, I vowed I would never work an Ozzie Osbourne concert again.

Luckily for him, the death of the doves didn’t make the newspapers; probably because of the hard work of Sharon to kill the story.

seeger

AMERICA’S ROCK

And that brings me to the death of a Dove, Pete Seeger. Many people remember his anti-war activism during the Viet Nam conflict and older people remember his anti-fascism activism during the Spanish Civil War. But he was not a dove in all cases.

In his song, MR. PRESIDENT, written in the early days of WWII, he sang: ‘Now, Mr. President, / We haven’t always agreed in the past, I know, / But that ain’t at all important now. / What is important is what we got to do, / We got to lick Mr. Hitler, and until we do, / Other things can wait.’

The other things that would wait were his fights for Civil Rights, the environment, the rights of the working folk, and carrying on the work of his comrade-in-arms, Woody Guthrie.

And, although America, was familiar with so many of his songs, it took his death to really bring the works, the activism, and the life of Pete Seeger into the main stream.

But even his death couldn’t get him the cover of the ROLLING STONE. He got print; but the cover went to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, death by overdose.

But then, Pete was never one for flaunting himself. His music and crusades were what counted. In it’s piece on Pete’ death, ROLLING STONE referred to him as ‘America’s rebel’. In earlier articles it referred to him as a ‘guerrilla troubadour’ and  ‘America’s conscience’. He probably took greater pride in those descriptive titles than in having his picture on the cover.

He was a favorite of mine, both as a musician and as a person. Of all the times I was privileged to work one of his shows, I never saw him, on stage, or backstage, where he didn’t have the lilt of optimism in his voice and exuberance in his step. He was just a joy to be around.

Pete was a trickster. The concert audience bought tickets to be entertained; but some of their money went to benefit Pete’s crusade of the moment, whether they believe in his cause or not. I have seen many singers try to get the audience involved in one of their favorite songs, but nobody did it like Pete. ‘Come on now! Everybody!!!’ And the audience sang, and sometimes even a certain, usually stoic, stagehand  would get caught up in the exuberance.

It’s one thing to be entertained as he sang  ‘WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?’ But when you find yourself, at his instigation, singing the refrain, ‘When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?’, you changed from just being entertained to becoming an activist caught up in Pete’s zeal.

His death brought accolades from the many unions that he fought for over the years; but there is one union that often passes by unnoticed, one that Pete loved above all others. Namely, the union of marriage he entered into with Toshi-Aline Ota. That union lasted 71 years and was broken only by the death of Toshi, who died just six months before Pete. He believed in so many causes, and he believed in love and the vows of marriage.

Pete believed in America, [If you love your Uncle Sam, bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home.’ ] [‘We shall overcome.’] [‘I’d hammer out love between my brothers and sisters, all over this land.’]. And of course,  ‘This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York island’. Woody Guthrie’s  anthem was always included in Pete’s concerts. Pete believed in America’s promise and in the American people’s ability to fulfill the promise. Pete was a dove, but he never stopped fighting his fight.

As the BBC said in his obituary: Seeger never toppled a government with the weight of his banjo.But he was satisfied if his little songs inspired a different way of looking at bigger troubles.

 

SAY WHAT?

        

            In the early days of bumper sticker ‘humor’, one of the best sellers read: I’M NOT HARD OF HEARING. I’M JUST IGNORING YOU. If ever I was so inclined to have a bumper sticker, mine would read: I’M NOT IGNORING YOU. I AM HARD OF HEARING. I can see humor in the first reading; but to me, there’s nothing funny about the second reading.

            Most of the times, when a person wearing a hearing aid, asks the speaker to repeat what was said, it has nothing to do with volume. It is really a plea for slower and clearer speech. And the saddest is when you can’t understand what your little grandchildren are trying to tell you. And you ask them to repeat what they said. And you still don’t understand. So you either smile and not yes, or turn to your wife and see if she could tell you what they said.

            It is said some things are genetic. I guess I inherited my bad eyesight from my mother, bad hearing from my father.

            Dad was never much to listen to small talk. It took a lot of persuasion to finally convince him to get a hearing aid. He expected that if people had anything really important to tell him, they would holler. Other things  he needed to know could be found in the newspaper, and the only thing he really watched on TV was baseball, which he could follow without having to listen to the announcers. (On that point I totally agree with him. When I am watching sports on TV, I usually hit the mute. With the new hearing aids, the clarity is less of a problem than the inane statements of the announcers.) When Dad finally got a hearing aid, he didn’t like it. For one thing, the bad clarity made things more confusing than helping.

            Dad finally reached a point where he wore his hearing aid, but…. Mom would be talking to him. He’d nod and answer ‘yes’. She’d go on and on, and he would just nod and answer ‘yes’. And then she would say something where ‘yes’ was not the right thing to say.

hard of hearing ‘Dick’, she’d scream, ‘You got your damn hearing aid turned off again! Haven’t you?’ Like I said, he was never one for small talk.

The Old Hand :

It has been several years since my wife and I began to talk two, three times as much to each other as we had done in the past. It isn’t that we have that much more to say to each other; it’s that we have to keep repeating everything to be understood.

Now the concept of a hearing aid may sound good on paper; but in reality, it is often a pain in the ear. You can’t understand what the person talking to you is saying, but you sure as heck can hear the noise of a fan in the next room. And when a vacuum is turned on, you know why dogs hate them.

Now, one aid for the hard-of-hearing that I found that really helps is close- captioning on the TV. On taped shows, it affirms that what was said is as silly as what you thought you heard. And on live shows, the accuracy and spelling often suffers, but what comes across the screen is often more entertaining then what was actually said.

I remember when I first started using it, and two of the grandsons were over. Alex came running through the room, glanced at the TV, and stopped.

“Avery, Avery,” he shouted to his brother, “Come here and look. Grandpa’s TV is so smart, it can even spell.” I am glad he said it loud enough for me to enjoy it.

Published SPPP, 8/2, 2006

       And there are occupations that cause damage to your hearing. Stagehanding is one of the worst. You can’t wear earplugs and hear cues at the same time. If you are on headset chances the cue caller has his/hers mic open, which amplifies the noise. And rock and roll concerts!!! The PA fader is set at 11. (See SPINAL TAP)  

       Pyro explosions are becoming more plentiful as more spectacle is needed to cover up the lack of talent. And, of course, the audiences of today tend to confuse concert going with playing an interactive video game, they think they have to make more noise than the entertainers on the stage. 

The Old Hand :

For a great many years my brother Ray has had a lot of trouble hearing but never had much success with hearing aids. The problem with all the various hearing aids he had bought over the years was they all amplified the sounds, but  the heat and noise made them unpractical to wear at work, driving a blacktop dump truck, and the lack of clarity made them frustrating to wear anytime. Ray reached a point where if anybody wanted to say something to him, they better just talk loud because the hearing aids were in the dresser drawer.

Recently, having retired from his noisy job, he gave the hearing aid route another try and finally got one that worked for him. Not only did he wear it, he even kept it turned on.

The first time he wore it to the weekly card tournament, he announced to everything that they would no longer have to holler at him. He had a good hearing aid and he could hear them, and even understand what they are saying. He went on to tell them how it is different from the ones he had before, how much clearer it sounds, and how being able to hear makes a big change in a person’s life.

One of the card players, who had been considering getting a hearing aid himself, asked Ray, “What kind is it?”

Ray looked at his watch and said, “Ten to nine.”

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board 9/27/11

           

260px-Dave_Letterman    A month or so after this story was published, David Letterman used it in his monologue with two differences. He said it was his mother who got the new hearing aid, and it was his son who asked her what kind she bought.

            Come on, David! My story was true. Yours was probably bought from someone who sent your writers a copy of the published story. Okay! But do you really think anyone would believe that your son, age 8 at the time, would really care what brand of hearing aid his grandmother bought?

 

            We can officially add two more certainties to Ben Franklin’s death and taxes.

           First: With the depletion of the ozone layer, cataract surgery will be as common as tonsillectomies were in the 40’s and 50’s.

            Second: With the volume of things like IPods and rock concerts  cranked up to destruction levels, hearing aids will be as common as eye glasses were before contacts and lasik.

            So please, on behalf of all of us with bad hearing, speak slowly and don’t mumble. WHAT SAY?  

           

 

                         

WHERE’S ‘EDDY’?

            Stagehands come in all shapes and sizes. They come from vastly different backgrounds and educations. Some specialize in one aspect, such as sound, lighting, building sets etc.. Some take pride in being jack-of-all stagehand trades. Some are content to push boxes, pull cable, work in trucks, etc.. Some try to learn as much as possible about the show or project they are working on. Others are content to concentrate only on what concerns them at the time.

            The last group puzzles me and very often gives me great amusement.

 

Joey B and I were on spotlights for a rock concert. The cue caller told Joey to swing over and pick up the bass.

“What?”

“The bass player. Pick him up!”

“Look,” Joey, who was a second generation stagehand with over thirty years in the business, explained, “I know a piano and drums and a guitar. I don’t know nothing about basses.”

“Okay,” the called sighed, “Pick up the ‘black guitar’. Ah, forget it! His solo is over.”

From then on, he used me on the solos.

 

I was working a spotlight at Orchestra Hall for one of the Oldies group.(Four Lads, Four Freshman,?) Hollywood, another stagehand, was on the other spot. Dick N was backstage working the light board. Since the group didn’t bring a cue caller with them, they gave Dick a cue sheet and asked him to cue the spots. Instead of cueing them as they came, Dick just read all the cues to us before the show started.

For the most part, they were simply fade out at the end of the song. Count to three and come back up. They did have one special cue though. During a certain song, when the quartet hits the bridge, the spots were to switch the gels to red and then to switch back to white at the end of the bridge.

“Dick,” Hollywood asked, “Where’s the bridge?

“How do I know?” Dick answered. “You can see the stage. I can’t.”

“Well,” Hollywood said, “There’s  gap between the key’s platform and the drum platform. Do you think that’s what they call the bridge?”

“Sounds good enough for me,” Dick said.

I cracked up. Since my mic was off, neither Hollywood nor Dick could hear me laughing, but customers sitting in the seats in front of my lamp could. They turned around and glared at me. Luckily, I got control of myself before the show actually started. Between Hollywood and Dick, they had some sixty years in the business and had no idea a song had a bridge. Basically, it is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, – bridge – chorus again.

The song came. I counted the verse and chorus twice and went red. Hollywood looked over at me, gave me a dirty look, and stayed in white. Since the quartet never did go to the gap between the two platforms, he never did switch to the red gel.

 

The-Beach-Boys In fairness though, there are some cues given stagehands that make no sense. For instance, Jimmy R came in to run a spot for a show of the Beach Boys at the Guthrie. He wasn’t there for the In, or the sound check. It was that dormant period where the Beach Boys were no longer hit makers and had not yet been designated America‘s Band. Jimmy was too young to have been a fan.

Cue caller – ‘Spot 2, (Jimmy), stand by to pick up Carl.’

Jimmy – ‘Which one is Carl?’

Cue caller – ‘He’s the one that was wearing the cowboy hat at sound check.’

 

Of course, it’s not just some stagehands that have tunnel vision in doing their work, some actors operate in the same manner.

One of my favorite actors was Ollie C. He excelled in taking a small role in a play at the Guthrie, and getting all he could out of it. He never fluffed his lines; but he never bothered to read any of the play other than his own part. And I doubt if he ever read much of anything else, like books or newspapers.

For instance, he came bounding in to the rehearsal for BECKETT, in which he had a small part as usual. ‘Guess what!’ he said to the director, ‘Do you know Beckett was a real person?’ The director just smiled and thanked him for telling him that fact.

Ollie’s cameo in KING LEAR occurred in the early part of the play and then he left the theater, never bothering to stick around for the curtain calls. One matinee though, he came up in the lighting booth and sat in the chair next to my lighting board.

‘I never saw it through to the end,’ he explained. ‘You don’t mind if I watch it from here, do you?’

‘Of course not,’ I said. And then I wisecracked, ‘Spoiler alert! He dies.

At the end, Lear dies. Ollie jumps up and looks at me. ‘He does die!’ he shouts. For the life of me, I never thought that Ollie, with all his years in theater, had had no idea of what happens to Lear.

 

To get back to Dick N. Dick was a very funny person, only he didn’t know he was funny. He was such a nice guy that you didn’t want to laugh when he came out with some wild statement and hurt him.

For instance, Dick and I were sitting in the stagehands’ room and Terry, Orchestra Hall’s sound man, walked in. Dick asked where he had been for such a long time.

‘I was down in the smoking room,’ Terry said. ‘Had a cigarette and then played some Solitaire.’

‘Playing Solitaire – by yourself!’ Dick said.

Each summer, the Minnesota Orchestra holds a Sommerfest. This particular year the theme was Vienna’s music. An Austrian flag was hung on the stage right and left wall of the orchestra shell. In the second week of the festival a patron pointed out that the two Austrian flags were hanging wrong. The imperial eagle’s head was at the bottom of the body. Tim E. told Dick to rehang the flag the right way. He showed Dick a picture of how the flag should look, the same picture he showed Dick when he told him to hang the flags in the first place.

‘I don’t remember seeing any flags with eagles on them when we toured there last winter,’ Dick commented. The Orchestra had made a tour of Australia the previous January.

‘Dick,’ Tim explained. ‘We went to Australia. These are Austrian flags.’

‘I know,’ Dick snapped. ‘I still don’t remember any flags with eagles on them in Australia when we were there.’ Then he muttered, ‘Eagles! You think they’d have kangaroos on their flag. I seen plenty of them down there.’

 

         gorme_320x245The recent death of Eydie Gorme got me thinking about the stories in this post. I have always enjoyed her singing ever since I first saw her on The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen. 

        She came to Orchestra Hall for a benefit. Dick had gone down to the smoking room after we had the stage set up; and either he smoked a whole pack or he took an afternoon nap, because he was gone for quite a while. He looked out on stage, where Eydie was doing sound check, and then he marched into the stagehands’ room.

         “Where’s Eddy? What’s that woman doing out on the stage? Get her off! Tell Eddy to get out there and do his sound check! That goofing around and we’re going to miss our supper break.”

         Dick needed his supper break. When he was just an ordinary stagehand, his supper was always two or three whiskeys and waters. Since he got the steady job at the Hall, he got refinement. He switched to vodka martinis.

         “Dick! She is the main act.”

         “Where’s Eddy? He get sick?”

         “Her name is Edyie. She’s the main act. Look, Dick, go take your supper break. We’ll take care of things here. If she takes too long, we’ll send out for some food.”

         “Oh! Okay.” He changed his attitude and put on his jacket. “She doesn’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me. Probably short for Edna or something. I have a cousin we call Phil, short for Philomena.” He was almost out of the room when he stopped. “But my cousin looks like a Phil. That girl on the stage don’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me.”

         The show went well. The audience finally came in from drinking in the lobby and bidding on the silent auction. There was the usual speeches and awards that are always a part of a benefit. Finally, Edyie came on and sang like an angel. She was only on for about 45 minutes. The audience still had to go across to the Hilton and dine and dance.

         Edyie and Dick had spent a long time waiting for her to go on and sing. On the Out, Dick did nothing but talk about what a nice person ‘Eddy’ was. A real nice person!

         “We talked and she asked me what we did up here in the winter. So I told her how we go deer hunting and snowmobiling.”

         Dick was one of very few stagehands who ever went deer hunting. And his idea of snowmobiling was to transport his sled and ride on his favorite trail. It was his favorite trail because it was never more than a 15 minute ride to the next bar.

         Somehow I don’t think that Edyie was interested in either deer hunting or snowmobiling. And, if she sat there and listened to Dick going on and on about them, she must have been the ‘real nice person’ that Dick thought she was.

         “So, Dick,” I said, “Did you ask her if ‘Eddy’ was short for Edna?”

         He frowned at me. “Of course not,” he said belligerently. “You think I want to embarrass her?”      

          

SCREAMED JAMES BROWN

James Brown @ Orchestra Hall

There is no argument that James Brown was a musician and musical entertainer of the highest echelon. And there is no argument that James Brown, as a deep thinker, was…Well, as a musician and musical entertainer he was hard to beat.

          He was a friend of presidents and senators. President Johnson declared him a role model for the youth of the day. LBJ was as far off base on James as he was on Viet Nam. He based his observations of Brown on the fact that James went from abject poverty to the top of the music business. And James was also a crusader for education and civil rights, and against drugs, alcohol, violence, racism.  And yet, drugs, alcohol, guns, violence and even stretches in prison were as much a part of his life as his music.

          His contradictions is best exemplified in his adoration of the racist hypocrite, Senator Strom Thurmond. He said that Thurmond was ‘like a grandfather to me’.

 

In spite of all the cons against James, he was the Godfather of Soul, a pioneer in funk, even rap. His concerts were extravagant productions unlike anything ever presented before. And it was his voice that thundered out of our fighting men’s boom boxes throughout the jungles of Viet Nam, giving them an important link to home.

And in spite of the fact, his best days were far behind him, and his current tour was little more that an ‘oldie but goodie’ tour, when I got a chance to work him at Orchestra Hall, I jumped at the chance.

No trucks with equipment and a large set. Just a bus with a small band. Far cry from the 40 to 50 performers that he traveled with during his peak years. Local sound and lights, a minimum set up –  took a little over an hour to set up. The bus and band showed up, but James was flying in later. They worked a gig in Chicago the night before. Jimmy, another stagehand, and I went into the bus to get the band’s uniforms. The bus smelled worse than a locker room. The uniforms were piled on a seat and some spilled onto the floor. They were soaking wet from perspiration that probably included more gigs than just the one the previous night. We went back and got gloves and a rolling launder hamper.

Come sound check, James hadn’t arrived yet. No big deal, the road manager did a good imitation of James. Half hour came, and no James yet. No big deal, it was almost two hours until James had to be on. Show time, and still no James. It was becoming a big deal. The front act went on a comfortable ten minutes late. They played their set, and still no James. It was now officially a Big Deal. When the front act came off after two encores, Larry the promoter, told them to go back on. They said they really didn’t have any more songs to do. Larry told them the audience wouldn’t know the difference. Most of them were out in the lobby drinking while the front act was on. They were quickly  booed off stage and the intermission  started. No James.

Intermission can only last so long. For one thing, the bars were out of beer to sell. For another, most of the audience were back in their seats. No James. There was a rumble of noise coming from the audience. Some foot stomping. No James. The road manager suggesting that the band go on and start playing. Larry nixed that idea. Audiences can get mean. An audience busted up Orchestra Hall a few years before during a David Bromberg concert. And another audience broke up the Guthrie about the same time, when the drummer for Curtis Mayfield failed to show, causing a long delay.

Larry did the right thing. He went on stage. Told the audience the truth. Told them they would wait another fifteen minutes before pulling the plug. At which time, the box office would begin to refund the ticket money. And they would have a two week window to get their money back.

Time was up and we began to tear down lights and sound. First though, we told the band that if they wanted to get out quick, they should take care of their own instruments and uniforms, because it would be quite a while before we got around to it. They took the hint.

About a half hour later, we heard a scream as only James Brown could scream. He bolted down the steps to stage level. He demanded to know what was going on. Larry, the promoter, told him in no certain terms and also that James could expect a lawsuit for costs.

James screamed. ‘An act of god! And this man is a CookCounty sheriff,’ he pointed to the big man who had followed him down the steps. ‘He’ll tell you! An act of God. You can’t push me around. He’s a CookCounty sheriff.’

The big guy’s face turned red. Larry pointed out in a very loud voice that this was a long ways from CookCounty, and if they didn’t leave they would be escorted out by a HennepinCounty sheriff. ‘Look,’ the big guy explained, ‘I’m not a sheriff. I’m a Illinois highway patrolman and I picked up some extra bucks as a bodyguard for James last night. He asked if I wanted to come with to Minneapolis. He’d pay. I had a couple days off, so I came along.’

‘Don’t matter what kind of cop he is,’ James screamed. ‘He’ll tell you it was an act of God we didn’t get here on time.’

‘What kind of act of God,’ Larry asked?

‘Well,’ James explained, ‘They told me the flight from Chicago to Minneapolis was twenty minutes. They said it was a ten minute drive from the airport to here. That’s a half hour. I took the eight o’clock flight. That means I should have been here at 8:30. Plenty time for me to get on stage by 9.’

Larry just shook his head and suggested to the big guy to get James out of the theater.

‘It was an act of God,’ screamed James! ‘An act of God! The plane didn’t leave on time! My luggage didn’t come down the chute for a long time! Then we had to get a cab and the cab took forever just to get out of the airport! Wasn’t anything I could do. It was an act of God!’

‘Well, tell God he owes me money,’ Larry, said as he walked away.

James was still screaming as the big guy was pulling him up the stairs. I kept waiting for him to drop to his knees like he use to in his act. But he didn’t.

          So I never got to see James Brown perform. Although, I was part of a very small audience that heard James scream, ‘an act of God’, as only he could scream. And now I’ll never get to see him perform live. He died on Christmas 2008. An Act of God!

JamesBrownAnother great cartoon by the talented Joel Orff

http://jorff.com

http://jorff.com/rock/JamesBrown.html