Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brushes - Part 9

This is another installment from the musical memoir I wrote in 1998 (and have been tweaking ever since), called “Brushes with the Great and Near Great,” chronicling some of the famous folk I got to meet during my 13-year career in music retail.  Today’s story covers meeting some more amazing musicians.

The ongoing experience with Norman Nardini proved to be good conditioning for the Ex.  People she met with me backstage no longer cowed her.

When Dan Baird, formerly the singer and guitarist for the Georgia Satellites played Saratoga Winners, I made quite sure I was going to be able to get to meet him.  I’d been a Satellites fan since their first album came out in 1986 and was really high on Dan’s solo album.  Saratoga Winners was an open barroom kind of place, like Peabody’s was in Cleveland.  We got a spot right up at the front of the stage.
Dan Baird, front and center.

True to his word, my mentor (and veteran music biz insider) Vinnie had backstage passes waiting for us, so we met with Dan right after the show.  Dan had that country vibe going for him and was a true southern gentleman. 

What killed me was how the Ex took to him.  One minute she’s all quiet and shy, then he mentions how he has to take it easy now that he’s 40, and she was all over it.

Oh, I just turned 40 too, so I know what you’re talking about,” and away she they went, gabbing like old friends about the trials and tribulations of getting old. 

So we all talked for a while, (when I could get a word in edgewise) about some of his songs, and stuff like that.  He mentioned that he was embarrassed when a girl in the crowd took off her top after he dared her.   

I felt bad for her, he said, “I didn’t think she’d do it.”

We talked some more and then he actually asked if we wanted to sit down for a while.  We said no.  He’d been more than generous with his time and he looked pretty tired.  We definitely left happy.  I left with the first Satellites album and a couple of CDs autographed, (by Dan and Mauro Magellan, who was the Satellites drummer) and a couple of pictures of us all.  The Ex left having just had her rock star ‘coming out’ party.
I've loved the Satellites since the first time I put the needle down on track one, "Keep Your Hands to Yourself."

As a wedding gift, we were given two tickets to see Meat Loaf in Boston, in a warm-up show at the Orpheum Theatre, prior to his three-year world tour for Bat Out of Hell II.  As this gift was from my friends from work and the label salesmen, backstage passes were included.  I was thrilled.  I was gonna get to meet The Loaf

Deciding to make an event out of it, we got a hotel room there and had a ball hanging out in Boston.  The hotel was within walking distance of the Orpheum.

The theatre was a grand old place, with the high ornately carved ceilings and big plush curtains in front of the stage.  As we took our seats, there was a string quartet playing on stage.  I thought that it was kind of out of place until I realized that they were actually playing Meat Loaf songs.  Then, as the quartet continued to play, the house lights dimmed and a voice came over the loudspeakers that said, “The Neverland Express is about to embark.  Captain Loaf has turned off the seatbelt signs, and you are free to get up and dance.”  Just then the guitarist came out from around the curtain and started blasting power chords into the faces of the startled string players, chasing them offstage amid their flying sheet music.  This turned into the opening of “I’d Do Anything For Love.” 

The show was terrific, nothing but hits, running about three hours.  We waited in a crowd of record people out front for The Loaf to come out.  I had so much that I wanted to tell him, like about how Bat Out Of Hell was my bad weather driving good luck charm, and how I had all his albums, even the ones between the Bats, and how I talked to Dale Krantz-Rossington about their duet.  But the crowd of people was considerable and he had a lot of them to meet, so I kept it to compliments and pleasantries and settled for a nice picture with and a couple of autographed albums.  But he seemed genuinely glad to meet every single person.  You never got a sense that he was thinking, “I can’t believe I have to do this.”  He was a complete professional and a consummate showman.
I'm not sure that sweater is the way to go for a fellow with Meat's, um, stature.

The band I was most let down by was ZZ Top.  This was a surprise.  I thought for sure that these guys would be a blast.

They were touring on “Antenna”, their first album for RCA Records.  They probably weren’t even doing backstage events with Warner Bros., but they needed a kick-start with their new label, and I’m sure RCA wanted to milk them for all they were worth.

The show went fine, with all the requisite pyrotechnics and killer hooks.  As we waited backstage, their people gave us the ground rules. 

You may not take any pictures.”  If anyone snaps a picture, the band will leave.” 

I put my camera back in my pocket. 

Do not ask them for autographs.  Maybe if there is time at the end, they might be talked into signing a thing or two.” 

I put away my Eliminator picture disk and my three-foot ZZ logo that I was going to have signed for my dad. 

Do not take up their time with a lot of questions, as they have a lot of people to see.” 

I said, “Gee, should I avert my eyes, or may I actually look at them directly?”

OK, I didn’t say that out loud, but I should have.  I at least got to shake Billy Gibbon’s hand.  I think I missed Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard never showed up.  At the end, we all took a group picture with the band, but who knows who was that for?  The only copy is probably sitting in some label flunky’s desk drawer. 

When they made their way out, I tried to maneuver in to Billy’s way to get him to sign some of my stuff, but they made tracks pretty hastily.  All in all, it put a bad taste in my mouth, for what was one of my favorite bands.
 How cool would this have looked, autographed?

After I got out of the business, I managed to get in one last schmooze, when fiddler Mark O’Connor did a workshop at the local Barnes and Noble.  He gave a little story, demonstrated various fiddling techniques and held some Q & A.  When it was over, I brought up one of his albums to sign and told him, “whenever I hear your version of “Orange Blossom Special” I have a religious experience.  I always end up going ‘Jesus Christ!’”  

He laughed and told me how he set out to make the wildest, most over-the-top version ever recorded.  He told me about how his drummer had to practice for weeks, just to keep up the incredible tempo and then increase it further as the song came to a climax.  He told me the exact amount of beats per minute, but I’ve since forgotten.  I left there feeling like I’d just been let in on some kind of family secret.
I hope he didn't mind that I had him sign a "promo".  Note the gold stamp on the bottom right.  That basically says, "I was too cheap to buy this album."

Next post: The story of a boy and his Queen.

7 comments:

  1. Reading you is such a blast! You met Meat Loaf! I always loved "Paradise By The Dashboard" best. Honestly bluz, you could write a book.

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  2. Oh my gosh! It's crazy, the number of people you've met!

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  3. Cher:
    If write a book, you’ve been reading the first draft.

    Unfortunately if I ever made this all into a book, I don’t know who would ever read it. Who goes to Amazon and searches under, “book by some regular no-name schmo who writes about his life”?

    That said; meeting The Loaf is one of my life highlights. The “Bat out of Hell” album is my “Deserted Island” CD… my all time favorite. In my humble opinion, Meat Loaf is one of the all time great rock singers. He has such range and power. And live, he just commands the stage as well as the audience.

    He did this one segment where he directed different parts of the audience to do a “call and response” bit, most effectively I might add, all without saying a word. It’s no wonder the guy kills, all over the world.

    I really wish I could have told him about how Bat Out of Hell is responsible for keeping me alive, while driving through snow and ice storms. Just seemed to be the wrong place to monopolize his time with one of my weirdo stories.

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  4. Katie:
    I have been a very lucky guy. When I look back on it all, like I’ve been doing these past weeks, it seems like it all happened to someone else.

    Good thing for the pictures…

    But believe me, if it wasn’t for these kinds of perks, I’d have quit that racket almost immediately. The demands my company made on its managers (and all employees, I should add) were tremendous. If it were any other industry, I’d have been out in 6 months.

    But all in all, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

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  5. "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish". Lovely Stuff, dear Bluz.

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  6. A-Ha! So this is how you became aware of the New Nashville Cats! From the man himself. The Orange Blossom Special on that album is at a frenetic tempo by the end and includes the themes from Bonanza and The Flintstones in the middle.

    I am looking for that Mark O'Connor 'On The Mark' album in digital format. And another one called 'On The Rampage' which I have only on vinyl.

    He's great. He's played on so many albums cut in Nashville (both credited and uncredited)it's astonishing.

    I became aware of O'Connor while living out on a farm and next door to a girl who brought home a promo copy of one of his albums from the country radio station she worked at as a DJ. She used to call it "Wall to Wall Country Sunshine." WWCS, maybe? I guess the program manager decided he wasn't going to put any of it on the air so she took it home.

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  7. I found Mark O'Connor just through in-store play records. The first couple I heard were kind of New-Agey... decent enough background music. Then when Nashville Cats came out, well, that one just tore up the turn table and by the time Orange Blossom Special was done, the thing was in ashes, along with my brain. I just loved how he weaved those other tunes through it.

    He's got another one that's called "Heros", which is a series of fiddle "duets". The most noteworthy is a "sequel" to Devil Went Down to Georgia, featuring Johnny Cash (Narrator) Marty Stuart (Johnny), Travis Tritt (the Devil) and Charlie Daniels.

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