(or, The Music Business is Tough Enough When Amateurs Aren't Involved)
The star of the show was, and is, a somewhat annoying human
being. That being said, tolerance is learned in the music
business early. Placing people before personalities is key to being successful
in an industry populated with many eccentrics. About two months ago he proposed
that he "come out of retirement" to play a gig.
Normally, a demo disc is auditioned by one or more of us, and a decision
rendered. The decision in this case was a rare one; based upon the caliber of
the talent that this individual had hired to join him on the club
date. Often snap decisions with regard to booking talent have produced
remarkable results. It was valid enough to assume that the same would be true in
this case. (A soft heart, eager to give as many musicians as possible the
distinction of performing at our venue, also played a part in the decision.)
Despite his abrasive personality, this individual worked diligently on
publicity. He provided plenty of photographs so that it was easy to produce a
very professional, polished-looking poster and flyer announcing his performance.
He'd contacted the media on his own, therefore making the p/r
chores related to the show a breeze. It turned out, in fact, that the evening's
show at the restaurant was heavily publicized on radio and in the press.
The sound-check went very well. The seasoned professionals in the backup
combo were a delight to work with; on-time, set up early, and very, very nice
guys. Whilst engineering the blend of musicians, the keyboard player played a
riff from a tune that I like very, very much. When asked to play it through,
not only did he oblige; so did the rest of the combo. There are few things that
are as rewarding to a singer as working with players who seem, somehow, to read
the singer's mind. The key selected was perfect; we aced the tune. Only a few
knobs on the mixer were adjusted, and the microphones were in just the right
position. It seemed as if this evening was going to be the kind punctuated with
spine-shivers and goose-bumps; these fellows were that good.
The usual introduction was given to the players, and the leader came running
onstage right on cue. The beginning couldn't have been more professional and
It went downhill from there.
This vocalist (who also plays trombone) was off-key. Badly off-key.
Worse, he forgot the correct lyrics to songs that everyone in the audience
could've sang along to, the material was that popular. The icing on the cake was
that his command of melodies versus chords was so lacking. Imagine listening to
a CD on which the vocal track was intentionally laid down a bar (or two)
behind the chords played by the backup band.
Okay, we said amongst ourselves, the poor older fellow had indeed come out of
retirement to play the gig, and was understandably anxious. But the cacaphony
and sloppy lyrics persisted long after the allowable three songs to get his
Two by two, not unlike animals plodding up the gangplank of Noah's
water craft, the crowd began to leave. The servers desperately tried to get a
second drink order out of those who remained. This worked on about one in five
of those who remained.
The break found our leader chugging Scotch in the bar. This was not a good
sign. He also pouted when an error was made by a waitress with his
(complimentary) dinner order. Very unprofessional. Very, very unprofessional.
Frank Sinatra, after all, this guy was not.
As the evening neared its end, I took yet another sedative followed
with about four aspirin. Headaches are rare for me. This wasn't a headache; it
was more like being in a train wreck.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they sure did. Our
"songbird" obliged a request that I sing a couple of tunes with the band. This
obnoxious moron not only stayed on stage, but punctuated our efforts with what I
guess he thought were improvisational highlights. They were more
like sounds that brought to mind the random honkings of geese during
mating season. My own singing was poor; I was distracted and dropped a few
lyrics myself, but recovered alright. It was, nonetheless, downright
We seemed never to have been so eager to get out of that place as we
had tonight. Arriving home, Shirley Horn was promptly put on the stereo, and
we were therewith reassured that indeed, there were people in this world who
could sing well. If this writeup is still here in the morning, it will confirm
that the goings-on of the evening were indeed real, and not just a bad dream.