Friday, December 28, 2012

Dire Limbo


I've died so many times, but I've always escaped.  I always found my way back. 
Mason got frustrated with me, He knew he would get me, he just didn't think it would be so hard or take so long.  He cursed every opportunity for my baring fruit in a life long struggle and I would not give up.  How can someone, not ever in their lifetime, come on top or ahead of anything? Anything. 
I'd only fall and standup to fall again and again and again.

I've been relentless. In my defiance, I'd better myself, improve my skills and assets, in vain.  A curse? Indeed. 
The curse extended to my personal life as well as my professional. I was not able to feel wholly, love wholly.  The good things I did have, I was unable to thrive in it's joy. 
Now, when I think of it, it makes so much sense.  Benevolent Torture.  Mason was toying around with me.

He made things tangible to touch, then it would disappear. He did that a lot.  He laughed at my efforts in thinking I was a good person.  My willingness to help and give to others would only weaken me instead of lifting me.  I was tricked.   I was never a good person. I thought I was, it was a just deception.

I never had a heart. I never had a soul or should I say,  it was his soul all long. The heart was mine, that was the aid for treachery. I had to believe what I thought I was. 

I was stuborn and defiant, I thought I could beat him, ignore him.  He wore me down.  Of course he would win.  HE? Who the Devil?  I don't know for sure.  A bored angel perhaps? I call him Mason. I don't know why.   All I know is, something has to make sense of my life. Nothing else does.


Mason got tired of playing me. It was time to put me in my place. It was time to let me know what "I" was messing with.  Unfortunately in my being humbled, Mason would not only take me, he would hurt everything and everyone close to me. Simply because, why would he care?  I'm in fatal limbo.  

So to make things really fun, what's life without a little sordid drama?  Enter Mason and his chick with serpent eyes, to finished the job. Believe me, there is nothing more humiliating than watching these two look and laugh at you. 

I have to admit, Mason is to marvel at. He designed the perfect torture, almost pretty to look at.  Your reservation drops. Your mind goes, so does you reasoning.   There's no point in trying not to make a fool of yourself. You're helpless.  You're tired and no one can help you.   All you can do is pity yourself and watch them laugh.  

The least I can say for me,  I didn't make it easy.  


The big question is, why am I writing this?  If I didn't know any better, I'd blame Mason for giving lonely, sick people a cheap thrill into thinking that a life in the narrative means anything more than the 3mins someone 'might' give it.  It's all part of the curse. All part of making me a bigger fool.   Obviously I've conceded.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Hair Cut





I've always been a little uncomfortable in barbershops. Probably because as a kid, it was the first place where my shyness was publicly displayed.   For some reason, every Saturday my mom would give me a quarter and send me to "Nate's Barbershop" to get a haircut.  That's right.  Every Saturday.  What the heck can you grow in a week? 
Nate's Barbershop was on the corner of 42nd and Mantua Avenue, facing the "Mantua Bar" directly across from the shop.   Now that I think of it, this explains why Nate was always drunk.   The weekly routine was to give Nate a quarter and ask for the "hustler" (the hair style of the day).   

The barbershop was an interesting place for a kid to be hanging around in.  Listening in on adult conversation, I'd wonder what some of the laughter was about.  I recall hearing them talk about "Maggie red drawers".  It could have been a military term, something or someone else.  Whatever the case, I laughed along with them because the name was funny.   
It was very frustrating to me that in the Barbershop there didn't seem to be a system.  If there were three people in the room, after the second person got his haircut, I would clearly be the next in line, but someone would walk through the door and jump in the chair.  Now there's seven people in the room and everybody's getting their haircut but me.  It was every man for himself.  I'd be in the barbershop for several hours before Nate would say, "Let the boy get in the chair.  Get up here Mickey."  

That was indeed frustrating.  On a positive note, I loved listening to the music Nate had playing on the radio.  Jazz.  Adult music.  I'd get lost in the sounds while staring at the comb sterilizer with the blue water.  When I finally got to sit in the chair, Nate was pretty drunk. He'd carve my head and send me home.  When I got home, my mom would start shouting at me because Nate had messed up my 'head'. 
"You go back to Nate and give him this note."  "He ain't have
ing my boy walking around looking like a pumpkin. Look at you!"  I would have rather been a pumpkin…

After waiting another 2 hours or so , Nate would acknowledge me.  He took a look at the note and calmly threw it in the trash.  He then gave me a quarter and a hat and shooed me back home.     To this day barbershops unnerve me. 


The song "The Hair Cut" was a piece I wrote, reminding me of the sounds I'd hear in Nate's Barbershop.  
Listen to : The Hair Cut



www.michefambro.com

Friday, October 12, 2012

Virtual Shows?


I'm looking forward to the idea of doing virtual concerts and shows.  I like the notion that if no one shows up, at least you're right in your home.  My last few shows have been well attended, but generally there's a major decline in live show attendance.    I also like the idea that I can connect with people all around the globe.  Most of my proactive fans live outside of my home area in Upstate NY.  True, there is a time zone issue but no problems with parking. :)   A 7 PM EST show is at 1AM in London.  Two London-ers have already purchased tickets so apparently they're night owls.   When I was doing my variety show (which I thoroughly enjoyed) renting a venue and paying a band made the venture too expensive for me to continue.   A virtual show may be a great alternative.   I have no idea how I'm going to format the show. I just need to jump in and get a feel for it.  
 I'll kick off the idea this Wednesday Oct 17. 7:00PM.  It will be a House Concert and the first half hour will be viewable online.   My guests will be two fabulous musicians from Argentina (currently living in NYC).  Andres Rotmistrovsky (Bass) and Marcelo Woloski (Percussion).   I played with Andres when I spent a summer working in Rockaway Beach (near NYC).   I'm hoping to do a virtual show every two weeks, perhaps at different locations.  I'm sure it's going to take a few shows to get a flow, but I'm excited to give it a try.
I hope can join me live or virtually.  :)



If you live in or near Rochester NY you'll find info on FACEBOOK:
https://www.facebook.com/events/481365378551543/
(or contact me)

If you're out of state or the US
you can see the show on STAGEIT: 

http://www.stageit.com/miche_fambro_with_andres_rotmistrovsky_and_marcelo_woloski/the_miche_fambro_show/14757



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Serendipitous Jerk




When I lived in Maryland, I played an open mic near the U of M, about 40 minutes from my home (not counting the traffic).   Aside from watching people stare at their computers or listening to their ipods with ear buds while people were playing, I managed to check out a few impressive performers before I went on.  After I played I was anxious to get out of there.  The whole vibe of the place was confusing to me.  And there's the trip home. DC traffic is always a pain, even in the evening. 



Weeks later I ended up in a songwriters competition.  Why? I don't know, just to get out and play I guess.  In the lobby I ran into one of the performers I saw perform at that open-mic. I'll call him Willie.  Willie took the time to tell me that I was full of myself, and a jerk for leaving the open mic and not listening to the artists after me.   I was so ticked at his audacity and arrogance, that I couldn't stop all the crap the came out of my mouth.  
Earlier that evening,  a nice woman shared a few kind words to me and approached us as I was chewing this creep out. It was his mother.   Of all the luck. I tried apologizing to his mother for my being forward.   This was awkward to say the least.   Then to make matters grand, Willie turned out to be one of the judges in the event.   Of course I didn't win, but apparently I was a jerk.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jazz Guitar



As a vocalist, jazz came very easily to me. I was very comfortable with singing melodies and scatting.   It was never something I had to work at.  I do recall in the 80's I was criticized for having lousy diction.  I realized that to fix the problem, I simply had to learn to 'speak' more clearly.  When I moved to Maryland I found myself being asked to do jazz gigs as a vocalist. I was learning a lot of material and how different the jazz world was compared to the pop/folk world I was used to. 

As a guitarist, I dreaded the subject of jazz, I never felt I could do it.  I knew enough to sound jazzy but not enough to want to accompany myself or anyone else for that matter.  Besides, I always preferred singing with pianists. I love the harmonic colors jazz pianists tend to have, compared to most of the guitarists I was familiar with.  

After being consistently frustrated with finding piano accompanists who were usually too busy or too expensive, I decided it was time to take on the challenge of trying to play jazz guitar.  At first I wanted to take some lessons, but then things just started to come to me and I started to understand things that had never connected before.   Being self-taught has created certain habits for me. For example, I respond more to concepts rather than somebody saying "put your hand here".  And of course did I  mention that I was left-handed?    Recently I  spent some time with a friend who had some rare workshop videos of a legendary guitarist. He would zip past the dialogue to a song saying, "listen to this." I was more interested in hearing what the legend had to say.  I want to know how a genius thinks. 

I've spent many years practicing and practicing , but I was never organized or structured in any way.  Now I'm pretty thought out with what I'm trying to do before I start my routine. I even keep a practicing diary, it helps me to stay focused. I still need a lot of work, but I'm having a lot of fun.  That's what it's all about, right? :)

Here's a piece I'm working on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Historic Colored Musicians Club




A couple of nights ago after singing a few songs at the "Historic Colored Musicians Club",  I was approached by a tall distinguished older gentleman wearing a cream colored suit and a sharp hat.  He took the time to share some kind words. He spoke rather close to me, which surprised me a little. What surprised me even more was how fresh his breath was.  He thought these were tough times for a black male crooner, he being a vocalist himself.  "The Europeans care about this music, but here in the states…" 

He mentioned that he couldn't find much work in Buffalo. "How are you doing in Rochester?"  Somehow I managed not to answer the question. Though I don't sing in Rochester much, that's why I took a trip to Buffalo.

It was an interesting conversation. It was a little hard to hear every word he was saying because of the music and the bar ambience. When he took to the stage, every song he sang was new to me. Not the usual selection you hear most vocalist sing these days.  He was very smooth, reminiscent of Johnny Hartman.  
The band was hot btw.  I knew immediately that I wanted to get to know and play with some of these guys.

I'm hoping to get back there to interview some of these remarkable musicians that hang out at the "Historic Colored Musicians Club".  So many fascinating people with fascinating stories.  I can't wait to return.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rochester and Me Part 1


I've always had a special feeling for Rochester.  Sort of like the experience of that first kiss.  It holds a place, not necessarily a good place, but something that makes a mark in your life.  I came to Upstate NY in 1979 to the little college town of Geneseo, NY.  In the beautiful month of May, most quaint little towns in Upstate are irresistible, as compared to the month of November where a Philadelphia boy freezes to death and wonders why he never wore long underwear before.  When I first came to town, I had no desire to play music.  After two years on the road with a hotel band, I had had enough.  I saved up enough money to rent a place for several months and I was promised a job as a waiter.  I was all set.  Then came the first let-down, the waiter job fell through.   "...but you can wash the dishes."   I was too pissed to take that job.

After a while my savings were drying up.  I was getting desperate.  I should have taken the job washing dishes.  Looks like I'll have to play music again.  Through an ad in the paper I got to audition for a band.  I didn't have a car so I hitchhiked.  I had never hitchhiked before, and apparently it was obvious.  "You got to put your hand out there like you mean it, boy."  The old black dude reminded me of my grand-pop. He took me and my guitar to Rochester.

My audition went well.  Greg wanted me in his band. I was embarrassed to have to tell him that I was broke and didn't have bus fare to get home, let alone return to Rochester for rehearsals and gigs.  Greg was generous and kind.  He gave me enough money for two bus trips - one to get home and one to come back for the next practice.

I was dropped off at the bus station late in the evening.  There wasn't a bus back to Geneseo until 6 am.   I decided I'd stroll around downtown to pass some time.  I found myself in the "Pussycat Lounge" (I think that's what it was called.).  One of my last gigs before coming to Geneseo had been at a hotel in Quincy, Illinois, where I met a guy who wanted to pimp me.  I have no Idea how this discussion came about, but initially I had envisioned the glamour side of the issue - lionesses, tigresses and cougars!  Oh my!  Fortunately, I left town before I could see what I would really be getting into.  

Now here I was in the "Pussycat Lounge"  in a stank bathroom being stared down by an old crusty "Bobcat," and trying to guess what I would charge.  I was clueless and because I had money in my pocket, wasn't as desperate as I might have been. Exit.   

To add to my lack of luck I had spent the remainder of my bus fair on food, so no returning to Rochester for a while.  I couldn't bring myself to give Greg another sob story, so I said nothing.  Basically, it appeared that I had ripped off Greg.    

I ended up finding a job - actually I ended up finding a friend who set me up with a job working at the migrant camps in the area as a tutor.  There was not much to do in Geneseo.  Everyday I'd take a walk and stop in at the local music store, "Buzzo's."   When my job ended at the migrant camps, Buzzo took pity on me and hired me to work for him.  That was the beginning.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Troubadour Flies Again





In regards to my previous blog, when I'm practicing and focusing on music, my room is a sanctuary.   Since my trip to Holland, I've begun writing a lot.  I've also been more interested in simple chords and forms.  I've observed  that the more basic the song the more you can do with it.  Also, I've been experimenting with singing songs with voice impersonations. For example,  I try singing a song with a country drawl and let the voice dictate the outcome.   Once the song emerges, then I sing it in my own voice, tweaking things as needed. 

I've been thinking a lot about troubadours these days. I just started grabbing things flying in and around my head. 
I came up with "The Troubadour Flies Again". 
You can listen to it here:  > The Troubadour Flies Again

I wrote this particular song imagining Bob Dylan singing it, so I'd sing it in his voice. (Hey, everybody does a Dylan impersonation) 
 The original solo acoustic version had a busy ho-down bluegrass feel.  Once I started to record it in my own voice, it morphed into a RnB thing.  Funny how that happens.   :)      I'll try to sing like Willie Nelson  next...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Room


When I look over my life, there's one thing that has become clear to me.  I've never had one.  Being drawn to music gave me something to focus on, something to do in a room by myself. A means to avoid living and adjusting to most things normal. Outside of that room were bullies in school, girls I didn't know how to communicate with, a lack of academic knowledge that would allow me never to be more than a burger flipper and a vulnerability to people who found me interesting. Oh, and of course a lack of will to do anything about it.

It was fortunate that I ended up on the road playing music. This suited me. I got to play music and when the music was done, I got to go back in a room.   It was always the room.  Even after 30 years, a wife, two daughters, it's still the room.  

Things began to change for me when I realized that I was losing interest in music. That is to say, not interested enough to continue a life of relentless disappointments, mixed messages, and the realization that this will never pay off.  Which of course left me with an emptiness I can't explain.

So what do I do now?  Do I feel sorry for myself? No, I feel nothing. 

 "Miche" has learned to cope, he's good at it. He's self create and strong. He has an intellectual understanding of life. But things do change. "Miche" is ready to move on, which of course leaves "Mick". 
  
"Mick" is an apparition.  That he's been for a long time.
"Mick" doesn't know how to cope.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My "America's Got Talent" Audition


Now that it's past and the only thing I won was the opportunity to give it a try, I can talk about auditioning for "America's Got
Talent."

It was such an overwhelming experience that I'm not sure what happened. It was surreal to say the least. Here's what I think happened...

I arrived in NYC on Saturday night before the Sunday audition. Wendy and I drove down right after a show I did in Albany, NY. My friend Lee who lived in the city, offered to let us stay at his house and he would take us to the location, so we wouldn't have to worry about it. "Great!"

On Sunday, we found our way to a huge convention center and we were two and a half hours early. Outside of the place, there was hardly a person, no matter their appearance, who wasn't there to audition.  We walked past a woman in an electric wheel chair who was waiting at a bus stop. She said, "Are you here to audition?"  "Yes I am."   "I auditioned earlier…"   
A guitarist competing against a singer in a wheel chair?  I was ready to turn back right there.

Once we walked into the place, we entered another world.
Tons of people, colors and costumes everywhere.  It had a circus feel to it. People singing out loudly in the halls as if to increase their chances of being discovered by someone dressed in a power suit.

Dancers, people sword fighting and animals. An Elephant?
Lee was loving every moment of this.  Since there was a little time to kill, we decided to split up and look around.  I've known Lee for years, never short for ideas - when he saw the elephant, he thought I should make an entrance riding into my scheduled slot sitting on it.  He went to offer some money to the owner for the deed. No such luck.

I came upon a guy juggling three miniature poodles. One of the poodles "Amber," bee-lined toward  me and started chomping at my leg. Those sharp little teeth hurt. I should point out that I'm a big fan of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, but the owner was too busy trying to charm a bikini-wearing unicyclist, so I was left to be eaten. Contrary to Cesar's advice, I tried to kick the crap out of the dog.
Amber ran off. Suddenly we heard a scream. People all darted around the corner…

Apparently the little poodle had startled the elephant.  The elephant took a back step and stomped on poor Amber.  It was a sad sight, but let's be honest, that little beast deserved it.

In another sector, I was being harassed by a ventriloquist and his dummy who, because I was dressed in a suit and tie, insisted that I was politically conservative.   "[in a dummy voice] You don't look like a rockstar to me. I bet you're a conservative zealot."    "I suppose you're a democrat?"  "[in a dummy voice] Well, I am a dummy."

The time was getting close.  I was called into the greenroom, along with several other acts, including the dummy.   There was a guy on keys and a young lady playing a song.  Since I had my guitar out, I started lightly playing along with them.  They never looked at me or acknowledged me in anyway.  This annoyed Lee more than it bothered me.

The thing that struck me were the dancers.  A gang of body beautiful ladies,  they just stormed in the room and start taking their clothes off.  There you are trying to be a gentleman and a lady walks near you and throws her leg straight up past her head.  Lee and I didn't know what to do. Were we to be gentleman and try to look elsewhere?  We tried, but hell, you don't see this everyday.  We stared.

Finally I was called into the audition room. There were no judges, just a young lady with a little digital camera. She seemed totally unresponsive and bored.  "Stand on that blue line. You got ninety seconds. Let me know when you're ready."  It was over.  Next was the dummy.

I think this is what happened...?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Capitol


I talk a lot about my family living with my great grandmother. We eventually moved out and into our own place.  Seems like we were moving around a lot, but always within walking distance from our previous dwelling.  My mom eventually reconnected with the love of her life, Mr. Frank, whom we met once or twice.   I guess Greg, Pat and I had never met anyone named Frank before, so we would call him Frankenstein.  He didn't seem to mind.

Mom had some great news for us. "We're moving."  "Again?"  This time we were moving far away.  It really wasn't that far away, but it was a long walk from our old house. 

This neighborhood was nice. It had trees. Some houses had little bushes and gardens in the front.   It really looked like paradise.   The best thing about this neighborhood was that "The Capitol Movie Theater" was around the corner.  Greg and I were beside ourselves.   We heard about the theater and couldn't wait to see it.

There were several movie theaters in the surrounding neighborhoods.   It was always fun to walk by the theaters to look at the posters and hope to see a monster or a gladiator. 

In our old neighborhood I remember someone taking me to see "13 Ghosts".  It was scary, but not as scary and bothersome as seeing "Night of the Living Dead".   

There were a few things that made this film "bothersome" for me.  
For one, they played "Time of the Season" by the Zombies before the movie.   Hearing that song in a beat-up old theater before this particular film was almost too much for me. 
The other thing that got to me was,  this was the first movie I had ever seen that had a black guy in it who was the hero. WOW!  Unbelievable.  And guess what happened to him at the end? I was stunned. I couldn't believe it.  I couldn't sleep for days. 


To heck with that raggedy old theater, we can now walk to "The Capitol", the best of all the local movie theaters.  Our mom agreed to let Greg and I walk around and explore. We went looking for "The Capitol".   This place was suppose to be around the corner.  We didn't see anything. We were walking all over the place, and practically ended up in our old neighborhood. We gave up and walked backed home.  Turns out the theater was exactly around the corner. However Greg and I were looking for something that resembled the White House.  A big white building with pillars. 
We were pretty disappointed to see a not so raggedy movie theater with a huge sign "The Capitol" right in front. 

But we got used to it.  Every weekend we'd walk there to see the new posters.

Click here for the audio:

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Little World


Over the years, there's one thing I've observed about race issues, if you're looking for problems you'll always find them.  

At first, while traveling from state to state  I was highly aware that I was a BLACK man.  Everywhere I went people would look at the BLACK man walking up the street, The BLACK man shopping at Piggly Wiggly's, The BLACK man putting a coin in the parking meter.  And who's looking at the BLACK man? The WHITE man.  My little world was black and white.

If I were to go out to dinner with folks not of my persuasion and they excused themselves for the restroom, I was convinced that they were sitting on the toilet plotting against my people.  Somehow I figured that white people were spending all their waking and sleeping hours thinking up dastardly deeds.  This wouldn't give them much time for anything else, would it?   I guess it could explain why racists are so stupid.


After meeting so many people and making so many friends, a funny thing started to happen,  people were becoming just people and I was becoming just a person. 
There would be an occasion such as in Jasper, Indiana, when you're walking across the street and someone in a pickup truck passes you and shouts "Get out of the street nigger."    You're shocked. And you realize… "Oh right. I'm black. I almost forgot. Thanks. What did you say your name was?"  

Black awareness was at it's peak whenever I was back home in Philly.  There would be these wholesome moments  when the family would all sit together at the dinner table and we'd talk about the Phillies,  the WHITE man, the BLACK man, the RED man and the YELLOW man, but mainly the WHITE man. "Hey ma, there's a spaceship landing in the backyard!",  then we'd talk about the GREEN man.   

Then there's my step-dad standing at the head of the table, personifying Samuel L. Jackson. "Boy, don't you come to this table dressed like that, looking like the WHITE man. Where the F*** is your Dashiki??!! "    "Sorry dad, I'll go get it. Right on."

One thing for sure, people are fascinating. My little world was expanding.


If you prefer to listen to audio click below

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Birds and The B String


I don't ever recall having the "talk".   It seemed my step-dad had given me a choice. Girls or guitars.  Seeing that I had made a choice, my step-dad saved his breath. 

He figured any young man who would spend hours with an overly developed young lady wearing a cheer leaders version of a sailor suit, just listening to Chicago records (and one Phoebe Snow LP), would never need to have the talk. 

I feel like I want to say that I was a late bloomer, but a late bloomer for what? Am I required to consort at a certain age? 

When I was in six grade I met a girl I liked.  She was the cutest girl in school as far as I was concerned.  I couldn't wait to take her home to meet my folks.  After they met her,  my step-dad later said to me, "Your friend looks like Tiny Tim".   
I wasn't mature enough to ignore it. I was shattered. Not that there's anything wrong with looking like "Tiny Tim", but now whenever I looked at her, she was replaced with the ukulele troubadour .   I held that against my step-dad for a while and I hated Tiny Tim after that as well.

I became more consumed with music after that.  When you spend most of your time in your room practicing and becoming a dedicated neighborhood band leader,  I suppose it could effect ones social development.    I wasn't too bad, but when it came to the opposite sex, I was too shy, too naive, I just couldn't read the signals.  And whenever I thought I could read them,  the signal always said "Get out of my face".   So I never had a girl friend or I wasn't aware that I had.  I certainly never asked anyone, I would have been too shy for that.   

When I was in high school I met a young lady,  she was as sweet as she was cute.  And she didn't look like Tiny Tim.   We spent a lot of time together. We went bike riding once, I lead us on a route where we ended up pedaling toward traffic on the expressway.  We survived.   
I couldn't imagine flattering myself into thinking that she would officially go out with me.   So I never asked.   That's how it's done, right?   "Will you go out with me?"

I ran into her 30 years later, she hadn't changed at all.   I wasn't sure how to comfortably catalogue our friendship and memories.  So I asked,   "Um… Err… Did we actually go out?"   "Were we uhhhh… boyfriend and girlfriend?"  She was so PISSED.   I didn't know she was my girlfriend. "Really?"  "We hooked up?"  You can do that without asking?   
Apparently I hadn't changed much either.

I had my first official girlfriend in Geneseo.  She came to my apartment one day and never left. I guess we're going out.  






Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Lock The Door


I traveled on the road for two years with a hotel band.  I learned more in those two years than any time in my life.  For starters, I was required to be an extrovert. It was part of the job. This was not going to be easy for an introvert.  The band had to socialize during the breaks. Talking to people would keep them at their tables and when people are chatting with you they are likely to buy more drinks.   A failure to do this, would be reported back to your agent and could cost you a return gig.

I had a good teacher, Jerome.  Jerome had years of road experience. My two years on the road was less about music than it was about learning about life outside of my room in Philadelphia.   As I started to get comfortable with being a professional extrovert, I hit a few embarrassing moments.  Like the gig we had in the midwest somewhere. We arrived early to set up.   There were a couple of girls dancing together [Must socialize. Must socialize] , so I walked over and started dancing with them. A bouncer approached me, barked something at me, then proceeded to throw me out of the place.  Somebody in the band shouted "He's with the band!" The bouncer walked away muttering nasties. When I turned around those two girls were now dancing without a stitch on, or maybe a stitch.  They were naked.   I didn't know we were in a strip joint.   Embarrassing.     And to think, I couldn't blame alcohol.    

Jerome also taught me to hang on to hotel keys.  We'd save our room keys for every hotel we played in. If we were in a town and needed a place to stay, we'd check our keys  and call the appropriate hotel. 
"Hello, room 108 for Mr. Washington." 
"There's no one in the room by that name." 
"I'm sorry, I may have the wrong name. Someone ordered a pizza…"  
"There's no one staying in that room tonight."
"Sorry."

Once we got the green light, we'd enter the room and make ourselves at home. We only had to remember two things.

1. Make sure we leave before the maids came to clean the room.
2. Make sure to never lock the door.
If you oversleep and your door is locked, the maids will figure out something is wrong.  

This routine worked often, except for once in Williamsport, PA.

The bands hometown was Williamsport.  Since we often played in hotels in the area, hotel staff knew us well.

My brother Greg came to visit one weekend.  The band was playing at the Lycoming Hotel.   I really wasn't up for sharing a room, so I had a plan.

I gave Greg a hotel key (I had a few), and some instructions  "Get up and meet me in my room at 8am." "Don't locked the door."

Greg must have partied real hard that night because he came back to his room, locked the door and was out cold.

I got a call at 8:30am. I thought it was Greg. Nope. It's hotel security.  "We have a black man in custody. We think you might know him."

Greg was trying his best to not get Jerome or me involved, but his excuses were getting worse and worse.   "Where did you get that key?"  "From a friend." "Who?"  "I don't know."  "You got it from a friend you don't know?"  

Poor Greg, he was sticking to his story.    Stories like that were known to get a black man beat by the authorities in Philly.   
Fortunately he was in Williamsport. Fortunately because he was my brother, they let him off the hook.   We had to return every Lycoming Hotel key we had.  

Jerome was a better teacher than I.


Meet the teacher:
Jerome and I in Seaside, NJ





Monday, April 9, 2012

Mario


A latin flavor has been a part of me and my music for a long time. Where did it come from?  It all started with Mario.  My first band was called "Super Natural".   It was a big band, as most bands were in the 70's.  Drums, bass, two guitars, percussion and a horn section.  
We were all neighborhood friends.  We played covers of "Mandrill", "Kool and The Gang", "The Ohio Players", to name a few. I was a huge "Chicago" fan, so we did a lot of their tunes.  
Believe it or not, we didn't play any "James Brown" tunes, we thought it was too hokey, and we didn't play any Motown  because that music was about the singers, not the band. We didn't like the idea of being in the background.    Bands were bold during that time.   Interestingly, the bands who were backing up singing groups were the ones making all the money.  

Joey had been our percussionist for a few years, when he left. Mario joined the band.  Mario play the bongos.  Most of the percussionist we knew play congas.  Bongos seemed strange in a big band, but we loved his passion.  One jam with us and he was in.   The other great thing about having Mario was the girls loved him. This helped the bands popularity.

Being black, it was always easy to see the prejudice and ignorance in others. I learned through Mario that yes, black people could be as ignorant as anybody else.  For example, when Mario came to my house for dinner, we had beans and rice that night.  How many times have I guffed at people having fried chicken when I was invited to their house.  Of course, I'd eat up all the chicken.  Humans, you gotta love us.

Mario lived in a hispanic neighborhood in north philly.  Every weekend his church would have a dance.  One Friday our band played a set before the dance.   When the dance got underway,  I experienced something that would change me forever.  I had never heard Salsa music before.  Energetic, fast, syncopated. Then when everybody started dancing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  The footwork, the spinning, the gyrations,  it was so exciting.  

Mario later took me to a "Willie Colon" concert. I'll never forget it.  It had a profound effect on me.   
Mario also taught me a salsa groove on the bass.  Look out.

Since then, the latin influence has only grown and still continues to grow.  

Bless you Mario













Sunday, April 8, 2012

Food Fights


My wedding day was March 1st, 1986.   Not only will my mom be returning to Geneseo to attend the wedding, she's going to bring the whole family with her.  And she practically did.   They all traveled in a crowed van from Philly along with my cousin David who was driving a Pontiac Fiero, a sporty two seater. My brother was his passenger.  Like his father, David was a very good looking man, "light skinned" and wavy hair.

When my family was living with my great grandmother (I'll call her grandma),  we kids would constantly ask adults for some change. If my grandma were to give us anything at all, it would be a penny.  When David would visit, he would always get a nickel or a dime, or something silver.  We were jealous. We thought she was treating him better because he was lighter than the rest of us. No one considered that since we were living with my grandma, if she gave us silver coins everyday, she'd be bankrupted.  

David and my brother Greg were about the same age.  Sometimes something would set them off and they'd be ready to brawl and it always involved food. 
David doesn't eat pork.  One morning David was at the house for breakfast. Eggs, grits, bacon, toast and scrapple.   Nothing like the smell of bacon in the morning.  This particular morning, even David couldn't resist the smell.  There were only two pieces left. David gave in, he snatched them before Greg could get them. 
David was very happy. Greg was furious. "Man, you don't eat pork!!"  "I'm gonna kick your motha f_____ a**!" 
Taste buds can have an amazing effect on ones language.

They were at it. Have you ever seen someone get smacked with a piece of scrapple?

The day after the wedding was snowy and cold.  The family was traveling home on the Jersey Turnpike. They pulled into a truck-stop to have lunch. My mother had made everyone sandwiches.  Greg and David were the last in line. There were only two sandwiches left, a turkey ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich. Greg wasn't thrilled about a cheese sandwich and David insisted that he wanted some meat.  Greg was holding the turkey ham sandwich while they were arguing.  David snatched the turkey ham sandwich out of Greg's hands and started chowing down. 
David was very happy. Greg was furious.

This was a great day for the amish people at the truck-stop watching black people fight in a snowstorm.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Urban Mom In Upstate NY


Though my mother tried, I don't think she ever really liked upstate NY. She appreciated it's beauty, but that's what photos and a "View Master" is for. 
Being a city girl,  she was used to the urban ambience: falling asleep to sirens, passing busses and trollies, neighbors talking and people getting robbed. 

She first  came to visit me when I lived in Geneseo.  I was living on main street.  On school breaks when the college students weren't around, main street could be as quiet as the outside rural areas.    I was working at "Buzzo's" (a local music store). A few doors away from Buzzo's was a tanning salon.   It was raining that day.  My mom arrived on a GreyHound bus. The bus stops at a little shop which doubles as a bus station. She arrived early.  While my mother was waiting for me, she decided to walk into the walkway of the tanning salon to get out of the rain.    A friend of mine, one of the funniest guys I know, walks into Buzzo's. As we're talking, I tell him that my mother is coming to town. "She should be here any moment."
He mentions that there's a woman, a black woman standing in the walkway of the tanning salon.  I guess he figured she wasn't there waiting for a tan.    Then he retells the story as though my mother was a  customer who got way more than she bargained for.   "OMG! Look at my hair! Look at my lips! And will you look at my ass!!??  OMG!"  He kept on…   I almost died from laughter that day.
This took place in the winter, and my mom could not believe how cold it was.  One thing for sure, she wouldn't be returning anytime soon. 

We moved to Enfield, NY, just a mile or two from downtown Ithaca. 
We decided one summer that I would do a music tour of the US, and take along the whole family.  Great! This is going to be some adventure. 

We had two dogs and a cat, so we would need a house sitter for a few months.   I asked my mother if she would house sit for a month. She was happy to do it.  

Before setting out on our trip, we made sure that my mom felt comfortable and at ease with the animals.
She assured us that everything was fine.

After two days she was starting to get creeped out.  
At bed time when she turned off all the lights and could hear nothing but nothing and occasionally an unfamiliar animal, she was totally unnerved.  "This place is even more quiet than Geneseo."

Any neighbor was a good walk away.  One day she decided she would take a walk to meet one of the neighbors. When she opened the door, the cat had left a squirrels head at the foot of the door.   A cat sees this as a gift, my mother saw it as a sacrifice. 
After that, she wouldn't open the door.    In a week she was back in Philadelphia.