The Andy Kaufman experience
This is another story involving the previously mentioned Bill Holland & Rent's Due, though a couple of years later with a slightly different line-up. We were invited to perform at York College in York, PA in a dual capacity, to open the show as us, then back the headliner, who was Andy Kaufman. For those who might not know the name, he was a brilliant, but very different stand-up. He also played Latka on Taxi. We would lip sync to mighty mouse, marry a random couple from the audience, wrestle a woman,(hint, he lost), do an Elvis medley, play congas, etc. We backed him on a variety of different things and it was quite an experience. He rarely broke character, which made it a little weird! To be fair to him, he was very businesslike and definitely not in character for the rehearsal, but that was it.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it takes a lot to intimidate me in terms of playing music. That being said, another Bill Holland and Rent's Due tale has us opening for Joan Armatrading at the Kennedy Center. On a side note, Ritchie Hayward of Little Feat was playing drums for Joan, so that was a bonus treat. The way shows like this work, you get to the venue hours before you play, watch the headliner soundcheck, and then it's our turn. As I was moving my drums to center stage for our check, I looked out and saw the chandeliers and balconies that I'd seen on TV so many times, and I have to say, that was a really powerful and kind of scary moment that I still remember vividly! The show was awesome, and I still remember that view!
How i learned to control my nerves
I think it's perfectly natural that all performers have some sort of nerves or pre-gig jitters, but it's really important that once you take that stage, nobody can ever tell. I've had a couple of gigs, one early in my career and the other a few years later, that has made me pretty fearless. Both of these stories involve Bill Holland & Rent's Due, a predominantly original band, and I'm going to talk about the first one today.
In '76 or'77 we played in Woodstock, NY at a club called the Joyous Lake for a weekend. The band had an apartment above the club, which was pretty cool! We were mainly an original band and the covers we did were stuff like Charlie Parker, Bobby Hutcherson, Ray Charles, Van Morrison and the like, so imagine our surprise/shock when we saw Charles Mingus sitting at a table. To say we were a bit intimidated would be an understatement, but we were pretty cocky for a bunch of guys in their mid 20's, and we understood what a great honor it was to play in front of him. He stayed all night, never said a word, but shook our hands at the end, which we were thrilled by! The biggest thing I took away from that other than, damn I just played in front of Mingus!, was that if I could play jazz in front of someone of his caliber, there will never be a musical situation that intimidates me, and through the years, that has remained true.
The early days
As I mentioned previously, my first band was a 6 night a week disco band, and while great for the discipline I learned and the stable money, I needed something that would challenge me on different levels. In '76, a guitarist friend of mine was in an amazing original band called Bill Holland and Rent's Due and they happened to need a drummer. He recommended me, and that changed the direction of my musical life! A fair number of fun memories from my times with the band will be shared in the coming posts. Today I want to talk about the Cellar Door, a 200 seat original music club in the Georgetown area of DC. Back in the 70's when I was fortunate to play there, it was one of the most happening clubs on the whole East Coast. Acts of every type imaginable played there and just a sampling of some of the people we opened for were: Steve Martin, Joan Armatrading, John Lee Hooker, Buffy St. Marie, Woody Shaw, John Hammond Jr. It was truly a magical time for original music and I wouldn't trade it for anything! Some of the shows I saw there were Return to Forever, The Meters, Mose Allison, Kenny Rankin, Lee Rittenour and more. The best part for me, getting to open for this wide array of musicians, was the opportunity to pick the brains of other drummers and just learn as much from those who are ahead of you as possible. I was very fortunate in that just about everyone I've ever opened for was friendly, approachable and happy to talk shop with a young up and comer. Now that I'm at the latter stages of my career, I've enjoyed paying it forward whenever possible, which is what I was able to do when I taught over 5 years at the local School of Rock. I feel music is in good hands with these new generations coming up..
Way back when....
I guess the best place for me to start is with my first band. I was 15 and living in Germany and my neighbor Andy Weyl, who crazily enough lives less than an hour from me in CO) along with Alexei, on guitar, and myself played a few gigs around Bonn doing Jimi, Doors, Santana and the like, which now is considered "classic rock", and that was how it started. I went to The Hague for my junior and senior years, where I also was in a band, then, after graduation, came back to the States and went to Berklee, where I was lucky enough to study with Alan Dawson, who was playing with Dave Brubeck at the time. After I left school and moved back to DC, the first gig I got was with a 6 night a week disco band. We would do 2 weeks in town then 2 weeks out of town on the Ramada Inn circuit. While it wasn't exactly the most creative band I've ever been in, it did teach me discipline I needed, which was more important than I realized at the time. After my disco days I was lucky enough to be in some really good bands at a young age doing originals and touring. Most of my stories will start there. Thanks for reading. I truly have no idea what I'm doing, but as in most things, I don't let that stop me!
I'm a 40+ years veteran of the music biz and these days I work exclusively as an online session drummer.