Friday, July 13, 2007

Europe 1989: Coming Home

One of Martin Scorsese's earlier films, 'After Hours,' depicts the adventures of a character played by Griffin Dunne as he tries to connect with a girl one night in NYC. He suffers a series of dreadful events, each becoming more and more preposterous, with his character ultimately ending up back at his starting point. Our '89 tour was like that movie in many respects, with our trip home being the crowning series of frustrations.

The image shown above is a reminder of this, one of the most difficult and frustrating episodes in my time with CbJE. It also will show that we could be airheads of the first order. I think I've mentioned in earlier postings how the second tour in 1989 left the band deep in debt, in spite of our playing frenetically with practically no time off for eight weeks. We finished up in December, just a few days before Christmas. After a difficult meeting with our management, record company and booking agency, we found ourselves deep in debt and learning what should be the first lesson for any musician: at the end of the day, the artist is the one who is financially responsible. After the meeting we headed out into the streets of London with this burden.

We were also very hungry, and at that point we had practically no money. Near our hotel was an "all-you-can-eat" pasta joint, and this seemed to be the best bet for our dinner. The waiter was astonished and annoyed that we ALL ordered water. ("What, d'you mean just water from the tap??" We did.) He was also a bit cheesed by how hungry we were. Seven large Americans can eat A LOT of pasta, and I think he saw the day's profits ebbing away with every additional plate we ordered. At least that's what I interpreted from his dirty looks.

The next day we headed to Heathrow. It was here that we realized that over half the band had lost their air tickets. Actually, we had thrown them away at the beginning of the tour, not realizing what they were. This was in the days before electronic ticketing. So, the image above is a receipt for the repurchased tickets. We were eventually reimbursed by the airline, but it took months for that to happen. The flight across the Atlantic was fine, except that there was another band on the plane who'd had a fantastic European tour and exulted in all the wonderful things that they'd experienced, including playing in Berlin on the night that the Wall came down. We were supposed to have done the same thing, but our gig was cancelled. If that weren't enough misery, Phil and Chuck also had to endure the indignity of watching a film starring Dudley Moore.

Also, our flight had been delayed for around four or five hours. An annoyance, but not a big deal, or so we thought at the time. Except that it meant that by the time we got to NYC, we had missed our connecting flight to Rochester. So we had to spend the night in a hotel. The next day we took a shuttle to the airport and boarded our plane. And waited. And waited some more. After a while, someone came on to the plane and announced that there was a problem and we had to change to a different plane. I remember Phil muttering "Oh for God's sake, we're never going to get home." Eventually though, we did.

New York City: The Big Kahuna

It was in June or July of 1988 that we got our first gig in New York City. It was at a club called The Big Kahuna, which boasted an aggressive surfer decor, to the point of having a VW van in the bar done up in psychedelic style, surfboards protruding everywhere. I don't remember much about the show, except that we were interviewed by Ian Cranna for Sounds magazine, we played "Viola Lee Blues" somewhere in the set, and finding parking was a nightmare. Ian spoke with Chuck after the show in a cramped basement dressing room. It was incredibly hot, so I headed out to the alley behind the club to get some relatively cool air.

I was sitting on the back step of the club when I was approached by a young black fellow who wanted to know if I had any spare change. He had a very eloquent speaking style and a heartrending tale of woe, some of which may have even been true. When we left Rochester, I'd brought along all of my spare change to help pay for tolls, and this lump of coins was still in my pocket. I said, "Yeah, I can help you. I hope things get better for you soon." and gave him all of that change, probably in the neighborhood of eight or ten dollars. His eyes widened in astonishment and the ensuing response was worth every penny. "Now, I'm not gay or nothin', but I gotta say, I LOVE white men! I mean, I just LOVE white men!" All of which was shouted repeatedly while jumping up and down. Around this time, other band members came out to witness the spectacle and added to the donation. Chuck said, "I had to give him something, he was such a fine orator."

I searched for an image of this club, which is apparently no longer there, but didn't find one. I'm also having trouble remembering if this was our first gig in NYC, or the one we did at the Rodeo Bar. Phil? Ken?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Episode Four

is now up and running.
Get it here:

This one's a bit bigger than the others. Apologies for the file size, but I think it'll be worth it. Here's the song list:

Ride Board
Strange Sounds From the Basement
Considering a Move to Memphis (live 1990)
Romeo Witherspoon (live radio, WITR 1989)
Hi-Fi Alphabet
I Am Joe Montana (live radio, WITR 1989)
Strange Case (live radio, WITR 1991)

A few notes on the program:

A "ride board" is a bulletin board at a college or meeting place for young people where one can post signs of "ride needed to 'X.'" If you happened to be driving that way, here was a person able to share expenses. I didn't have a car for much of my early college years, and the ride board was an important resource for me. Nowadays, everyone's got a car and you don't see them much anymore. The cafe referred to in the song was the Lowlife Cafe of Oswego NY. It was gone by the time I joined the band, but Chuck spoke of it often. I think both Phil and Ken probably remember it from their Oswego days as well. The names and cities in the song are significant.

"Strange Sounds From the Basement" demonstrates one our most impressive (and least appreciated) skills—the ability to play in very slow tempos. And marvel at the timing of Chuck's delivery of the words—Jack Benny coudn't have done it better.

This is a pretty good version of "Memphis," and gives the general ambience at one of our live shows. This is from a gig at the Country Warehouse, which was a pretty big Rochester venue. I saw The Band there once. They had absolutely no interest in booking us until after we'd played in Europe. And apologies to podcast listeners and my former band mates for my floundering solo here. Took me years to solo on this song properly. I'm not sure why.

"Romeo Witherspoon" and "I Am Joe Montana" were taken from a live WITR broadcast in 1989, when we did an acoustic show there as "CbJ annd the Death Valley Boys." We were working on our acoustic album at the time. Chuck was a big fan of the San Francisco 49ers, and admired Montana greatly. There were a few fans who really loved that song and we often got requests for it.

I've always loved "Hi-Fi Alphabet." Other than its skewering of artistic pretension ("bohemian die-hard twerp"), I have no idea what it's about. In the instrumental section leading to the end, you can hear a number of guest artists join in, including members of The Wilderness Family and Personal Effects, two great Rochester bands.

"Strange Case" was one of my favorite songs, but we didn't play it out much, if at all. When we started to learn it, we had a huge disagreement about how to count off the song. It got to the point where we just set it aside and worked on other things. Just before the broadcast in December of '91, we revisited the song and solved the problem by emphasizing the song's rhythmic ambiguity, rather than clarifying it. That worked. My solo on this is probably my favorite of any that I did with the band.

Next episode: Girls! Girls! Girls!