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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Nightmare Gig!

1979-80. The band was a Las Vegas-y variety show. We had powder blue tuxes with frilly shirts. We had dark blue tuxes with red glittery vests. We changed clothes every break. We had comedy skits. We had a ceiling-to-floor tinsel curtain that hung behind the stage, hiding all the amps. We had a tour bus. There was $20,000.00 worth of lights, flash pots, fog machines etc. We carried lumber in the bus and built the stage everywhere we went. It took us 8 hours to set up. The whole thing was financed by the Kansas City Mob (ever see the movie, "Casino"?) but that's a dimension of the story that will not be told here. Suffice to say the only thing I had to buy was a pair of shoes.

All that, in and of itself, would constitute a nightmare but that's just a small part of the back-story.

The band was 7 pieces; all of the guys except me were multi-instrumentalists and everybody sang. In addition, there were two dancers that did an Adagio routine that was impressive.

Adagio: Dance:

  1. a sequence of well-controlled, graceful movements performed as a display of skill

  2. a duet by a man and a woman or mixed trio emphasizing difficult technical feats

  3. (especially in ballet) a love-duet sequence in a pas de deux.

The two dancers were also comedians and had a repertoire of skits and routines replete with costumes and characters. There was a tech who managed the lights, flash pots and smoke machines and doubled as the bus driver. Finally, there was a 100-pound doberman that stayed on the bus and guarded all our crap.

We played mostly theaters, supper clubs and large nightclubs. A typical gig consisted of two dance sets by the band, mostly the Pop music of the day, and then a roughly 2-hour show that had special performances featuring various band members (I did a classical piece with a flautist that devolved into a comedy skit with 3 blind mice), comedic pieces and climaxed with the Adagio routine to live music (the "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" to be specific). That is the only gig I can think of where my nominal classical guitar skills were regularly used outside of weddings and funerals.

The tour was like, "This is Spinal Tap" in that we were supposed to triumphantly wind up in Vegas but the gigs became progressively worse as we went along and we wound up in Bismarck, North Dakota for a 3-week-stand in February. At the end of that gig myself and 2 of the other band guys executed a carefully-laid plan; we managed to get paid (by using the very real threat of violence - we were not bluffing!) and got home with our money and gear intact.

Pre-cellphone I carried a camera everywhere. I shot 35mm color slides on Kodachrome 64 for those that care. Many times I shot from the stage when I wasn't playing. I shot with available light so that the flash wouldn't sabotage the show - that's why a lot of these pictures are fuzzy or out of focus:

Not exactly a top-of-the-line tour bus but hey, it's 1979 and when the Mob buys your tour bus you don't complain!

Trusty guard dog on the bus!

8-hour set up

It's 30 below at night in Bismarck, North Dakota in February. Too cold for the dog to stay on the bus. So we snuck him into the hotel.

At one point in this tour, we booked a week with an option on a second week into a large supper club (that shall remain nameless) in a large city (that shall remain nameless) in the eastern half of the US.

Turns out this supper club was so hard-core Country and Western they had a stained glass window of Dolly Parton!

We knew we were going to die. Every night. We played zero Country. It was worse than the Blues Brothers at Bob's Country Bunker; there was no chicken wire.

The instant we walked out onstage we were, according to the catcalls from the crowd, a bunch of faggots because of the way we were dressed. Almost every night, from somewhere out of the darkness, one of the hundreds of audience members would yell, "We didn't come here to hear this shit!" - and we hadn't played anything yet!

You can imagine what they thought of the dancers - ballet dancers.

We threw out all the choreography of the lights, fog and flash pots and just played our Pop dance music until the crowd was on the verge of getting really ugly. Then the stage manager would cue the tech and the fog, smoke, flash pots, explosions and lights would all go off at once in a concussive roar of noise, flashes of light, fire, smoke and fog.

The crowd would go crazy - they loved that shit! We would then take a break and reload the flash pots with powder and reset everything for another set.

That's how we got through the week - six nights in a row.

At the end of the week the club owner took us all out to dinner to inform us he wasn't going to pick us up on the second week option, for which we were very grateful.

"You guys got a great show" he said, "you're just not right for this room."

"Ya think?" I thought to myself.

The booking agent had told us it was a way to get us into town so he could bring other club owners to see us. But we had to throw out the show just to get through the week because it was such a horrible mis-booking. So nobody really saw what we could do. Ooops. Show-biz.

What did he care? He got his 15% commission and didn't have to die onstage every night.

The glamorous life of a touring musician; It ain't all it's cranked up to be.

During the course of the dinner conversation with the club owner we discovered the booking agent had told him that we had a Country-and-Western floor show and that we were all from Arkansas!



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