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.