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Forgive Us Our Trusspasses…

Kathy had to sing at a wedding this past weekend.

At the rehearsal Friday, the bride-to-be informed her that the woman who was to sing The Lord’s Prayer ghosted her, and she — right then — begged Kathy to sing it.

Having grown up COGIC, she said that they never “sang” the song, that they only recited it in prose form (Amelodically, if you will). She came home and told me this, and my heart went out to her. I HATE doing weddings! I have played a bunch of them, and have seen my share of calamitous mishaps.

Like the time I did a wedding with my best friend, Kevin, who sings

The building had three walls of brick and a fourth one of glass. Thirty feet high and probably a hundred feet long. Of course the wedding party would make use of that wonderful view of nature as a backdrop. They were all set up in front of the window.

Everything went smoothly right up until the preacher began doing the vows.

There were, on this late spring day, trees right outside full of birds chirping and singing. Something must have startled them.

In one synchronous move — you know how birds do — they all took flight. It was at a very quiet and solemn point in the service (maybe somebody was praying…).

At the very moment when they would have slammed into the window, all the birds veered right.

All but one.

Now, Kevin and I should have been deep in prayer, I’m sure, but we weren’t.

One near-sighted bird missed his turn and hit that window like an open hand —SPLAPPA! — and, just like a cartoon, slid down about twenty feet to the ground. It was very quiet in there.

My boy and I were THROUGH! He sniggled and tried to catch it but didn’t. I think some snot came out a little bit. I held my breath and started praying myself like somebody had sprinkled some anthrax in the room. People started looking at us. Glaring at us. “Silly musicians.”

In order to play it off, at times like these I always start fiddling with my mouthpiece, or my reed, or something to distract me from all the laughter that is dammed up inside my mouth. It was cool in there, but I was sweating and thinking that if I closed my eyes no one could see me.

There was another time where this arrogant lady singer who thought she knew it all and didn’t bother to show up for the wedding rehearsal, and she waved off any pre-ceremony run-through with the piano player. As a matter of fact, she said haughtily that she would be doing the tune a capello. When it all got going, she got lost, and with her hand at her side, waved for the piano player to start playing. He flipped through the wedding program, and acted like he didn’t even see her!
When she got through dropping that stinkbomb, you could have heard folks thinking up in there it was so quiet!

So, back to Kathy…

I had a gig and couldn’t be there as intended, but I couldn’t stand the thought of my girl up there laying eggs and getting laughed at. So we spent hours trying to get that melody ingrained in her head. I found some clips of people on YouTube singing it. Some were good, some were… not. But we found two that were good enough to give her the gist.

She sang it, and sang it, and sang it. And Max started to pick it up, too. Kathy kept running through it after I left for my Friday night gig, but by the time I got home at about 2 AM, she groggily told me that the melody just didn’t sink in. I sang it with her, and she did fine, but when left on her own, she was sort of all over the place.

I was feeling bad, but I told her that since I had prayed for her, she would do fine. The Lord didn’t want her to be up there messing up the song He wrote!

I had an idea! I would write the words on paper, and put lines above each syllable to indicate whether to go up or down, or to stay on the same note as the one before. Like such:

We tried that for a while, but as she doesn’t read music, and the lines above the words didn’t tell her what notes to sing, it didn’t work. And she was now falling asleep.

I had one final epiphany: I went into the living room and got my old micro-cassette recorder (which I still use to write horn lines), re-wound the tape to the beginning, and sang the song in a key in which I thought she would be comfortable. I went and woke her up and gave her my plan knowing she wouldn’t go for it. It was too risky.

The wedding started. Kathy was in the back left side of the room by the DJ table. When her turn to sing came, she took her ipod earphones, stuck one in her left ear under her hair, away from the crowd (She could do this because their backs were turned until she got going.), she ran the cord down the side of her dress somehow, and plugged it into the mini recorder which she held behind her back, looking all formal and stuff! She pushed play.

“Baby! We sang that song!!” she told me on the phone afterward.

“We? Who else sang it wit you?”

“YOU!! I said ‘we’! I hit that button, and we rocked it! You got a little ahead o’ me at one part, but I just waited till you paused, and I caught up wit ya!”

She was so happy. And so was I. I couldn’t let my baby fall.

Yeah, she cheated. WE cheated, but I can’t help but think that the Lord was leaning on the windowsill chuckling at His kids.

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September 3, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Embarrassing Situations, God, Humor, Life, Marriage, Music, Singing, The Lord's Prayer, Wedding Songs, Weddings, YouTube | , , , , | 6 Comments

Heart of Stone

While I’m on the subject of music, I thought I’d fill you in on that story I said I’d tell you a while back.

It is a sordid tale of trust, loyalty, disloyalty, apathy and disillusionment.

Shortly after 9/11, when the nation was in turmoil, I got a house-gig working with what would become the best band I’ve ever played in. I got the job like this: My bandleader at the time went on an extended crack binge, and seeing the “smoke signals,” I hurriedly got some business cards and went downtown to make my availability known! A week or so later, the Lord blessed me with a job at BB Kings club downtown. We would be the backing band for the headliners, Larry Springfield (of “Star Search” fame), Ruby Wilson (OMG! Wait’ll I get the chitlins to tell you about HER!), and the late, great, Little Jimmy King (gone too soon at 33!).

While I looked at it as just another gig, it turns out that there were guys in this group who had world class abilities. We consisted of the standard rhythm section plus trumpet and me on tenor sax.

The guitar player, Steve, had played with Howard Hewitt, Glenn Jones, Jeffery Osborn, Jill Scott, and saxophonist, Mike Phillips. The bass player, Anthony, was about 19 and had the chops of a guitar player. The drummer, Marles, was a beast. With much drama in his life! The trumpet player we ended up gettng, Marc, is the best trumpet player I have worked with, by far. And the bandleader, Jonathan, was in demand as a producer and has a voice that channels Donny Hathaway!

It is Jonathan, and headliner, Larry, through whom most of our opportunities for real industry work came. The management group for singer, Brian McKnight, on the advice of Larry, came to check us out in ’02 to see if we would be the group to hire to back their client, model and singer (in that order), Cherokee. We got the job. I started to think that I was really on my way after that!

We did one gig, in D.C., before her deal fell through. She was one of pretty much a horde of cute little pop singers with average — at best — voices. It was a crap shoot with loaded dice.

Jonathan was in negotiations to do a production deal with a well-known singer whom I hesitate to name not out of fear, but because I don’t want to cause Jonathan any problems since he — amazingly — still works with her at times. Besides, Kathy thought it wise that I not, as badly as I want to do it. Trust me, though, she is someone you have heard if you listen to any r&b music nowadays. It is she about whom I write. I’ll call her Patty.

Jonathan ended up signing with her. Our deal with the club was that we could do outside work of any kind as long as we either told the club in advance, or hired a substitute to play our position. That turned out to be not so true. BB’s is in Memphis, and Memphis is in the South. This factored in to a lot of the problems we had there.

So, JoNa, as we called him, would sub out quite a lot because in addition to being Patty’s producing partner (she was working on her second record), he was also hired to head up her live band, which was peopled with young guys who JoNa said were unpolished and unhip. He had been trying to get Patty to hire the band he worked with in Memphis, and she was apparently, reluctantly, warming to the idea seeing how bad JoNa was.

In the summer of ’03, I got a call from Jonathan: ” You ready?” he asked.

“Ready for what?”

“Patty got booked to do this cruise, and she just fired her band! We in!”

My heart was beating like those cops on Rodney King! This was IT! “Yeah, I’m ready!” all teeth.

So we did the cruise with one rehearsal with Patty, (still another story) and did so well that Patty assured us (I got it on tape) that she would do right by us. Meaning that since we did the two shows for about $500 — a pittance on that level — she would do better in the future and that we would be her band. Here it was! I was in the industry! Just like I pictured it! Skyscrapers, everythang!* Now, I would get my chance to network with people who would hear me and hire me for bigger and better stuff. I would be able to make real money and not have to remain at the club where I had to argue just to get a bill** a night while they cleared 80 grand a week! Be aware that when you go to these tourist spots that the bands — which drive the industry — get chicken change. BB’s would be Apple-B’s without live entertainment. Someone needs to show that to management!

In July of ’03, we got word that we were going to Detroit to headline a show at Ford Field, where the Lions play. Big show! We started rehearsing in Memphis five or six days a week. It was grueling and none of us liked it. We were being pushed hard. On top of that, Marc and I had to create horn parts for all of Patty’s music, which had none. We did this before, too, and since she had just released a new album (you can still say “album.” That is the forum, like a photo album. The CD is just the format. I’ve wanted to say that for a long time!), so we had to do it again for a whole record. Patty reserved the right to cut whatever we did, and this was a source of stress for Marc and me for obvious reasons. She never showed up for any of the whole month of rehearsals!

JoNa informed management that we would be gone Thursday, the 28th, and Friday, the 29th, and that we would be back to play on Saturday. We were cleared. 

I need to say this right here… Before we got the BB’s gig, the band that had the job — along with their frontman, blues singer, Preston Shannon — left for a higher paying job at the now defunct, Isaac Hayes’ Club one street over. They were rivals. Another good story there. They had by now been let go and were sniffing around back at our club for their job back. We had established a rocky relationship because we basically would not go for the “okey-doke.” Jonathan, a militant with a gift (and a love) for arguing, would let nothing get by. They HATED him! But we were so good! 

We had been fired and re-hired by now, and the new management (hint, hint) had cooled to us significantly. We had been working Monday through Saturday, but Preston got them to give him Monday nights. We were not happy about it, but we were all good friends. We were upset at the bosses, not the labor. So now down to five nights a week, we were all wondering when the next shoe would fall. There were new rumors every hour. They still operate that way to this day!

So, “Yeah,” JB, the club G.M., said, “We’ll get Preston to sub for you guys. No problem.” I heard him myself. 

Here it is.

We depart for Detroit and this gig, which by the way, pays about four hundred dollars less than it should. Patty has not done one rehearsal with us.

When we did the cruise, she barely spoke to any of us, as charming and Southern as we all were. We thought presumptuously that we would have her eating out of our collective hand. NOT! It was on that cruise that we learned pretty much all we needed to know about Patty.

The morning after the show, at about 8 AM, I got a call from Patty’s manager saying that they were waiting on us down on the lower deck to sign autographs. We had been up all night celebrating a great show, and I was in no mood to be getting up after only three or four hours of sleep. I got up.

When we all got downstairs, Patty’s manager gathered us all together and said frantically, “Thank y’all for coming down! Patty is having respiratory problems and she asked me to have you all sign autographs for her. There is a room full of people waiting for y’all!”

Now, right here, something started ringing in the back of my head.

When the manager, “Pinky,” walked hurriedly into the room, we all hung back and I said, “Man, wassup it that? Don’t nobody want our autographs! They came to see Patty! We ain’t got no T-shirts wit our faces on ’em! They don’t know us from a can of paint!” I really didn’t want to go in that room and look like a fool.

“I do hope Patty is gonna be all right, though,” I naively said.

Her background singer, Stephanie, gave me the Sister Mouth and shot, “Boy!! Ain’t nothin’ wrong wit that heffa!She just mad at TMC!”

Oh.

“TMC” (not his real name) was her boyfriend at the time. He went everywhere she did, and lived his living by meeting certain of her needs. He was an ex-con who was a “rapper,” and they were supposed to be in lovvvve. Gonna get married. They fought like two cats though. A cougar and a tomcat. She has operated by the same formula for years. Still does.

So, they got into it about one trivial thing or another, and it meant that the band had to get up before the dolphins and endure the angrily muttered discontent of Patty’s fans.

This was a precursor. I hope you’re still with me. It gets better. Or worse, depending…

In Detroit, we went from the airport directly to the venue for a short sound check. Rather than just check everything out and go check in to the hotel, we launched into a full fledged rehearsal! No one was happy! What she should have done for a month in Memphis, which was her agreement, she tried to do for three hours in the stadium. The sound guys were livid. Curt and short. No one blamed them.

One thing: When Patty’s people bought the tickets for the band, they took it upon themselves — knowing full well that we had a regular gig to get back to — to book our return tickets for Sunday! Meaning that we could get fired from BB’s for not showing up for work Saturday night, on thin ice as we were. When JoNa found this out, he called Patty’s management, and through a lot of back-and-forth, it wound up that the only solution was that each returning band member would have to pay $100 of his own cash to have the tickets changed. Apparently the only returning flights for such short notice were a lot higher, and an hour NORTH of Detroit in Flint!

So, this big star with all this money and clout, who promised to “do right by us,” couldn’t foot the bill for a huge mistake made by her own people? She would pass it down to guys who had to scrap a living $100 at a time.

After our sound check/rehearsal, we checked in to the hotel (where all the people coming to the gig were staying. Remember that!), and went to dinner at a fancy restaurant where I met mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.

We needed a place to rehearse the next day, and they ended up finding a place way ‘cross town in the hood. We had to take about three cabs to get there. We spent our own money, which was to be reimbursed. “Was this how it was?” I asked myself. “On this level?” Shoot! I did a chitlin-circuit blues festival back in ’96 in Alaska with Little Jimmy King that paid twice as much ( I had to strong-arm him for my cash! He tried to pull a fast one on me. I got fired when I got back home…), and we were chauffeured everywhere! We didn’t have to hail no doggone cabs!

Patty wasn’t with us, though. She took her three background singers shopping with her while the band kicked off the rehearsal! We couldn’t believe it! The singerswere the ones who needed the dadgum practice! Besides, Marc and I needed to know what she thought of the lines we had written, and we needed the time to make the changes and commit them to memory. But she was busy shopping!

They rolled up, with TMC, about four hours later — now, this is the day of the gig — falling out of the car with bags of clothes crackling like Christmas morning.

The backing singers line up on the stage with their music stands to hold the lyrics (!) and we get going. Patty is looking mean and surly sitting up against a wall in the front of the room. She proceeds to change everything — the horn lines (she cut most of them), the vocal arrangements, the feel — everything.

The tension was thick like rush hour in Beijing. Everyone was on edge and snapping at each other. This was definitely not the way I envisioned the “Music Business.” No fun anywhere to be found.

After a couple of hours, we took a break. Marc, formerly of Preston’s band, either called or got a call from Tom, Preston’s sax player. They were engaged in casual conversation until it turned to the subject of BB’s.

It went something like this: “So, how’s it going at the club?” Marc asked.

“It’s cool, you know. Same ol’ stuff. You know how they are. I’m getting ready to head down there now. After tonight, one more night of it, then you guys can have it back!” Tom complained.

“Wait! Whaddaya mean, ‘one more night’?” Marc asked.

“Yeah. You know… Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

“Naaaw. You guys aren’t doin’ tomorrow! WE are!” Marc exclaimed.

“All I’m sayin’ is what JB told us. You guys are out the rest of the week.” Calm as a fish pond.

“I’ll call ya back!” Marc hung up.

When he told us what had just happened, a sense of dread came over all the guys in the band.

Jonathan got on the phone immediately with JB. All of us were there, Patty too, sitting over there in the corner looking totally disinterested.

“JB! I specifically told you we would be out Thursday, and Friday, and that we would be BACK to play SATURDAY!!!”  “What?!?” ” No, I specifically TOLD YOU SATURDAY!” “WHAT?!?” “NAW! I don’t care!”  “WELL YOU GOT TA TELL PRESTON HIS BAND AIN’T WORKIN’!”  “WHAT KINDA BIZNESS Y’ALL RUNNIN’ DOWN THERE? IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING! WE WORK EXTRA, AND THE MONEY AIN’T ON THE CHECKS, WE COME DOWN THERE, AND Y’ALL TELL US WE OFF… Y’ALL TREAT US LIKE SOME SLAVES!!”  “WE CHANGED OUR FLIGHT PLANS SPECIFICALLY SO WE COULD GET BACK TO PLAY SATURDAY!”  “WHAT?!?”  “I DON’T CARE!” “YOU DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO, AND I’LL DO WHAT I GOTTA DO” ” WHAT?”  “I’LL CALL TOMMY (the club owner)  MY SELF!”

By now, I got heart meat all in the back of my mouth hearing this…

“Hello? Tommy? This is Jonathan.  I just got off the phone with JB. Yeah. He double-booked the club Saturday.”  “Well, yeah, we’re in Detroit now, but I specifically told him we would be there tomorrow! He fired us.”

(WHAT?!?!?!)

“Okay. If that’s the way you want it. We’ll never work there again!”

(WHAT?!? “WE?!?”)

He hung up. The room was like a wake. All we needed was the body.

“JB fired us. (US?!?) Tommy said JB was in charge. It was his call.” Jonathan revealed.

There it was. With Patty and everybody listening, this gig had gotten us fired. The club had us (or Jonathan, so they thought) where they wanted us. We wondered what role the other band had had in all of this. Jonathan — who was going to sub out at BB’s Saturday, by the way — had gone to bat for us in a big way, and we all were canned.

Immediately I went into rationalization mode: We were in the industry now. Who needs BB’s? Pee on ’em. (I was mad, forgive me.) We were the famous Miss Patty’s band now! BB’s was peanuts! They’d be watching us on tee vee!

With great effort, we resumed rehearsal under this pall. We returned to the hotel with only a couple of hours till showtime.

While we were getting dressed, my roommate, Steve (Nope. She wouldn’t even spring for individual rooms! I bet David Sanborn never had to share a room with Steve Gadd!) got a call. After he hung up the phone…

“We ain’t playin’, mane.” He said with a chuckle and a tone of “I told you.”

“What!”

“The gig is off, dude. We ain’t playin.” He was laughing now. First fired, now this. “Patty called the show off. We done.”

Okay, give me a little leeway here. One of the three background singers, Michelle, is amply endowed in the posterior region. She is huge in the backside. She is enormous in the trunkular area. Biggest tailfeather I’ve ever seen shake! And the funny thing is, it is exactly properly proportioned! I mean, if you boiled her down evenly, by the time she got down to a size two or four, she would be Halle Berry, or some perfectly-shaped starlet. But there would be a LOT of grease on the floor!

But she is about a 70” in the hips. No lie. The thing is… a lot of Brothers like that kind of thing. You would be surprised. Most Black guys are “butt men.” But Michelle got stuck in the Butt Line in front of Angelina Jolie and Miss Jane Hathaway and the last fifty years of Miss Americas.

Here’s what happened: In what appears to have been an attempt to start some trouble, one of the other singers told Patty, “TMC shole is lookin’ at Michelle booty!” You couldn’t NOT see it! You could see it from the front if you were facing the other way with your eyes closed!

(Don’t worry. Kathy knows all of this, and is not upset.)

That was all that was needed.

An argument apparently ensued between Patty and TMC (he was innocent it turns out.), and Patty’s famous “respiratory problems” showed up.

“Naw,” I told myself. “This woman ain’t gonna cancel a show ’cause she got into it with her boyfriend! She ain’t gonna just sit in her room while all these thousands of people who came from all over the country on planes and buses go to the stadium and wait on her to show up! She ain’t that selfish.”

So we got dressed and went down to the lobby to wait to be driven to the venue. As we were waiting with our instruments, people began streaming out of the hotel on their way to the place. “I know y’all gonna kill it!” they all said as they passed and saw our faces. And recognized us for later.

And we sat. And sat. And Patty never showed.

About thirty minutes after we were supposed to be playing, and earning the money for our month of hard work, and justifying getting fired, Pinky came down, looking all troubled, “Patty is having trouble breathing. She won’t be able to perform.” Just like that.

We ambled back to our rooms and pondered our fates. I had just gotten married, and now I was out of one job, and unsure about another. And how were we going to make it out of this hotel with everyone seeing our faces and knowing we stood them up?!? I could only pray that God would sustain me like He had done for the fifteen years before I had even met “Patty”.

Guess what? About an hour later, some of us were at the front desk in our civvies trying to decide where to eat when Pinky popped up, “Good! Here you are! Go get dressed! They want you to perform anyway! Hurry up! Stephanie is gonna do Patty’s set!”

So, with much fear and reluctance, we went to the stadium without Patty, who sulked in her room and let us take this beating for her, and proceeded to lay he biggest, stinkinest egg ever laid in the history of Show Bidness.

Those people, out of at least HUNDREDS, if not thousands of dollars, formally dressed, saw us up there sans Patty and hit the exits like it was the second quarter at a Lions’ game! Within twenty minutes we were playing for the wait staff as they cleared the tables of dishes that had not been used! If they had dropped US on Hiroshima, we probably would have blown up all of Asia!

The next day, on the way back home to nothing, Patty, with the Stones of a safe cracker, peeked onto the bus and said, “Sorry. These things happen.” And left.

“These things happen?” I said. “Yeah. They happen when you MAKE ’em happen!”

Patty sat there and watched us lose our jobs at home, and AFTER that, cancelled a show she could have done, and let us take the heat for it. Because she was mad at her boyfriend.You can understand why I want to say her name. I have seen her make a spectacle of herself on tee vee and recognized her abhorrent behavior.

That was the Injury. The Insult is that we didn’t get paid!!! Some guys eventually got half. Jonathan wound up — I know — giving me mine out of his pocket.

That was the last time Marc and I “played” with Patty.

That is another story.

 

 

 

 

 

* “Living for the City” Stevie Wonder

** $100

August 24, 2008 Posted by | Celebrities, Divas, Embarrassing Situations, Entertainment, Humor, Music, Music Business, Show Business, Singers, Stories, Work | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments