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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Jam! Chapter 1

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


The Beginning


It's not surprising that I'm the last original band member left on the gig. What's surprising is that I was even on the gig in the first place. The reason for both those things is the same; I was the youngest guy in the band - by at least 10 years.

 

The gig was put together by Jim LaForte and Rich VanSant. Rich called me out of the blue in August of 1984 and offered me the gig. It was going to be an open jam at Harling’s Upstairs, a midtown bar on Main Street in Kansas City, and the money situation was tenuous at best. The band would get 50% of the drink sales after the first $100 went into the register.


That's actually a really good deal because the club owner had to buy the liquor, pay the wait staff and keep the lights on with his half. I didn't fully appreciate all that in the beginning.


If I remember correctly, the first week we made $3.85 apiece. We built it up to the point where we were typically making between $200 and $300 a man - sometimes more, sometimes less - just for musically jacking around - uh jamming, that is - from 1:00 to 5:00 on Saturday afternoons (after a few months the hours changed to 2:00 to 6:00). Not bad money back then. Plus the hours meant we could still play gigs on Saturday nights, making most Saturdays a double-header. It was an ideal setup.

 

I was 28 years old and had been gigging regionally since the early '70's (I date the genesis of my professional life at 1969) but I really broke into the full-time club scene in Kansas City in 1978. In those days, it was possible to work 6 nights a week (or more) in clubs (in and out of town) on a very steady basis.


I met Jim LaForte in the late '70's. He had a band at that time called, "Chaos" ("chaos" is a word that is relevant to Jim LaForte as will become clear as this story progresses) whose keyboard player, Jack Mulligan, was a good friend of mine. I was introduced to Rich VanSant in October of '79 by Jack DeVault, who was the bandleader I was working for at the time. We were playing Harry Starker's on the Plaza and Rich came in with a couple of other guys. I had heard of him, of course; he was a B3 player who played bass with his left hand and I had been hearing from multiple sources about how good he was.

 

As far as I can remember, I had never played with either one of them before the phone call from Rich. I remember one rehearsal before the first gig. The band consisted of Rich on B3, Jim singing and fronting the band, Mike "Puck" Rammel on drums, Chico Battaglia on congas and percussion, and myself on guitar and vocals.

 

Working that gig with Jim and Rich, week after week, was a pressure cooker of a learning experience. Not only did backing Jim teach me a ton of tunes - we never rehearsed, we just flew by the seat of our pants - I realized real quick that "cool" didn't cut it, it had to be "hot". They consistently played with tons of feeling, that is, they emotionally committed themselves to the music on a very intense level. A level that I wasn't used to operating on at gig after gig after gig.


Watching Jim and Rich on that gig, week after week, was an education in performance and stagecraft. I was thrown into the deep end, so to speak. I consider Jim and also Rich - and playing that gig - to be formative influences on the way I play today.

The original band: Chico Battaglia, Jay EuDaly, Jim LaForte, Mike Rammel, Rich VanSant. — at Harling's Upstairs

We were all working musicians who played in different bands. Some of us were in and out of town and many times the various players had to sub out the gig because of being out on the road or scheduling conflicts with the other bands.

A day for subs: myself, Terry Hancock on drums, Chico Battaglia and Bill Maness on B3.
April of 1985
May 30, 1985

Jim was pretty consistent at being there to front the band - but that was a double-edged sword.

 

Jim LaForte had a voice, an authentic, powerful voice, that was unmistakable and no one could touch him when he sang in that classic R&B style. Listening to him sing would give you goosebumps. Check out this cheap ghetto-blaster tape from 1984:



And how about this track from the 10-Year Anniversary Jam in August of 1996.


Unfortunately, Jim was a horrible alcoholic. Drama and chaos were constant companions, most of which was his own doing. All of us who knew him could spend hours and hours telling stories that run the gamut from outrageously ridiculous to extremely ironic to the beautifully sublime:

  • A funny LaForte story: Jam Tales: The Incredible Flying Mic.

  • That time he stepped off the stage and was led away in handcuffs to do 9 months at the Leeds Work Farm because he didn't pay child support during the previous 9 months he spent in that same facility for drunk driving: Jam Tales: Karmic Buildup.

  • That time he jumped off the Broadway Bridge into the Missouri River at the end of a high-speed police chase - and lived: Jam Tales: Off Broadway.

He was a one-of-a-kind piece of work - whose story is all too familiar. Jim died in July of 2010. He was 62 and as far as I'm concerned, the fact that he made it to that age is proof that God exists. It's a freakin' miracle. I never heard an official cause of death, but I'm sure the bottom line is that Jim just drank himself to death.

The last picture I have of Jim: March 6, 2010.

I loved the guy. And because I loved the guy, I had to be careful and protect myself from him. There was a lot of collateral damage. And there was just no way any of us who loved him could change him. I never really tried to change him. Mama Ray tried (more on Mama Ray later). She got him into AA - more than once - but it never "took."


Jim was important in the story of my early years in the business; I got a lot of work and met a lot of musicians because of him. In spite of the out-of-control lifestyle, he managed to work steadily. He was always networking and hustling gigs. No one could fault his work ethic. The Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling's is a prime example.


In those early days of the Jam, Harling's had a kitchen. They had the biggest, greasiest cheeseburgers you can imagine! I would teach from 9AM to noon at my studio in Leon Brady's store in KC Kansas and then drive into midtown. I always looked forward to chowing down on that cheeseburger and fries cooked up on the grill at Harling's before playing the Jam. It's the simple things, you know?


Another memory is having to wrestle Rich's B3 into the elevator every week. We had to stand it on end to get it to fit. It was always questionable to me whether or not that rickety old elevator would get us upstairs. Later on, Harling's allowed us to store the B3 and Leslie in a back room so we wouldn't have to haul it in every time.


Space and time do not allow me to talk much about how that jam became THE happening place to be. It turned into a real scene, both for players and spectators.


People who wouldn't be caught dead in that part of town after dark showed up every week on Saturday afternoon to take in the funky atmosphere, the sunlight streaming in through the cigarette smoke from the west-facing windows and the drama of musicians who had never played together trying to make something happen.


Road bands playing gigs in town showed up to jam and promote their own gigs. And tons of local players showed up to sit in and play. As a working musician, that gig was networking gold. And on top of the playing, networking and relationships, I was getting paid! From the liner notes to Mama Ray's now out-of-print CD, 10 Year Anniversary Jam:

Be sure to follow all the links in these blogs for more stories. They'll include more details, pictures, music and videos.


I am not privy to the details, but in 1986 LaForte somehow managed to get crossways with the owner at Harling's. I was informed that the jam was to be moved to what was then Jimmy's Jigger at 39th & State Line (it's now a Jazz Louisiana Kitchen and I still play there occasionally).


What I was not informed of was that Rich was not going to be involved. As far as I knew, the gig at Harling's was over, the bridge was burned and we were all moving to Jimmy's Jigger.


The B3 organist at Jimmy's Jigger turned out to be Bill Maness, who was also a wonderful player. I continued working with Bill off and on for many years - decades - after that.


The gig at Jimmy's Jigger lasted for several months. During that time I heard that Rich had started the jam back up at Harling's with Mama Ray as the singer and Tom DeMasters on guitar.

“Funky Bill” Maness on the B3!

After the gig at Jimmy's Jigger went down the tubes (I don't know why, but hey, LaForte was in charge), I booked up my Saturdays with students; my teaching business was booming - I was teaching 90+ students a week and had 3 dozen on a waiting list - I was making way more money teaching on Saturdays than I would make playing a Saturday afternoon jam and I was still gigging with my own trio (The Regular Guys) 2 or 3 times a week. During that time I also played in a couple of Kevin Mahogany's bands.

 

So the years from 1986 through 1990 will have to be written by someone else. My version will resume when Rich called and asked me to return to the gig in 1991.

 

Mike "Puck" Rammel, the original drummer, played with us maybe a year and then I think he went on the road with the Homewreckers. He was the first of the original 5 to pass away. I can't remember exactly when that was. He was replaced by my drummer at the time, Terry Hancock.

 

In Chapter 2 I talk about my coming back onboard after a 5-year hiatus to join Mama Ray and the Rich VanSant Band on the Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling's. I focus on Rich VanSant.


There is a Blog Category dedicated to stories from the Jam called Jam Tales - check it out!

 

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