For a year and a half in the 70’s I was in a band that played the same club every weekend.
They’d had the gig for a long time before I joined — who knows how long? — and they were the worst, or maybe the second-worst band I’ve ever been in. I didn’t know them or anything about them, but somehow I’d gotten wind that they needed aÂ guitarÂ player, so I called the number andÂ offeredÂ to audition by sitting in with them on a Friday night. My friend drove me there in his VW bus, about a thousand miles up the 605Â FreewayÂ from Long Beach to the San Gabriel Valley, basically a foreign country to me. On the way there I had my first ever hits of cocaine, pharmaceutical grade stuff stolen by a nurse from a hospital and decanted into an innocuous looking sinus spray squeeze bottle. Say what you want about the evils of drugs. There was a loud happy party in my virgin brain by the time we arrived at the venue.
I blew them away, of course, partly because they were an awful band of not-quite musicians. But I surprised myself, too, with my playing, which I believe was better than ever on that occasion. I admit to this day that I am not a virtuoso player, but on that Friday night in that bar in Rosemead or wherever the hell I was, I was fast and tasteful with everything I tried. (The blow helped, I’m sure, although later I was to discover its true evils.) And when I jumped in uninvitedÂ on background vocals the deal was sealed, and I had one of the most lucrative and mind-numbingÂ gigs of my life.
We had the regular gig at the bar, but there were also weddings, bar mitzvahs, reunions, office parties,Â quinceaneras, corporate events — endless performances, some booked years in advance. The keyboard player was the leader. He had a cheesy portable organ, and he would call us back from our breaks with a little ta-dah fanfare.Â We played wrong chords, bad arrangements and lame songs, and the work just kept coming. It was weird.
I never fit in with them. Except for the lead singer, a black guy with an absolutely majestic voice, I didn’t even like them. They had picked up their instruments and learned them specifically to be in that band. It seemed to me they were operating in a sort of musical vacuum. They didn’t know music structure or theory. They played by rote, sometimes from sheet music they bought, or, worse, Â sometimes they tried to figure out the song by listening to it on the radio.
I couldn’t stay with them, despite the money. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t getting rich with them. It was enough money to live, that’s all. But for a freelance musician, that was a lot. Most of us have to have a day job. I moved on finally, another in a long string ofÂ questionableÂ decisions I’ve made in my life. They’re probably still playing out there in the valley.
Sometimes I can still hear that little organ fanfare, and I wonder if it’s time to come back from this break.