204. DGC Extra: Flashback: Here Comes Your Man

(And back to Remo again…)

So I was sitting there at the piano, banging away on the song. Eventually I got too hungry to write anymore, and I realized what time it was.

Time to find out I didn’t have anything decent in the fridge and didn’t have time to go out and get something before going down to The Top to load in. We headlined every third Tuesday, there, which meant we didn’t go on until eleven o’clock or so, but there was sound check and set up to worry about. I wasn’t as picky then about it as I am now, but it was still important. Alex had most of my gear in his van, and he was honking in the driveway about the time I was scarfing down a package of Stella D’Oro cookies.

When I got there, the Jedi Masters were doing their checks. Cheryl’s got a beautiful voice. Her songs are a little on the folk-side for me, but I could listen to her voice forever. She took over the band after her husband left it and her. A change for the better if you ask me. I was glad to sit and listen to them.

So I was sitting there, waiting around for the other guys to show, and listening to Cheryl and her bunch rehearse, when this guy walked up to me. I figured–journalist. He looked the part–jeans, suede jacket, and a notepad. And he started up a conversation with me, asking me questions about the Masters and such. Asking all kinds of questions. I told him what I knew about them. I had no idea if he knew who I was or not or if he thought I was just an afternoon drinker.

Then Martin showed up, with Daron in tow, and the guy with the notepad just went off on his own while we set up. Daron helped Martin get his kit together. I might have been wrong, but I think there were a few extra pieces in it that night. They made an interesting pair, Daron and Martin, with ten years and probably ten inches between them. Daron did all the crawling around, setting the basses and pedals. Martin did all the higher altitude work. Martin was six feet if he was an inch. His arms, when combined with drumsticks, could reach the outside of the cymbals, or anywhere on his ever-expanding kit.

I figured he would stop collecting drums when he ran out of reach.

It wasn’t a great set, that night. Alex broke a string during his bass solo in our first number, and that pissed him off for the whole night. My voice wasn’t sounding terrific, either, time to go to low tar cigarettes. (Or quit. Which I eventually did.) But the people had a good time dancing and drinking. I saw a lot of our regulars there, singing along. The worst moment was when Alex turned around a little too quickly, catching the neck of his bass on one of Martin’s high hat stands. As a result we had an unexpected cymbal crash. He must have bumped one of his tuning pegs, as well, because then the bass was out of tune, too. I just kept singing, with a big smile on my face, thinking about changing our name from NOMAD to KEYSTONE KOPS. You just have to take these things lightly. Still, there were other places on Earth I would have rather been at the time.

It wasn’t as bad as I’m making it sound, but it surprised me when the guy I had met earlier came up to the stage and complimented us while we were breaking down.

“Thanks.” I handed my guitar to Daron, who held the case open. “We could have done without the improvisational percussion parts.” I glanced to see if Alex was listening. He wasn’t. “But I think everyone had a good time.”

“I know I did.” He reached into his back pocket. “My name’s Ray Blair. I’m from Runaway Records.” He handed me a business card. An A&R man. Not a journalist after all. “Do you guys have a manager?”

Martin spoke up, pointing at me with a taped finger. “Remo’s it,” he said.

“Yeah, I’m the manager, too.”

“Well, Remo, you and I have to talk.”

I nodded and he told me about his company and how they were under Arista Distribution. Arista was hot in those days. And he told me about some projects they were putting together, and he talked about money, and I tell you, I didn’t get most of it the first time around. But I knew a chance when I smelled one, so I asked him if he wanted to go back to my place for a beer and talk about it some more. Then he said he wanted to know if I had any new material. I blanked out for a second. All the stuff we played at The Top was the standard stuff, songs we had been doing for a year or more already. All I had was that piece I had started that day.

But, I told him that yeah, I had plenty.

That was when he took me up on my offer to go hear it. “I’m leaving town tomorrow.” He shrugged. “How about it?”

“Great, sure, let me scare up the guys and we can put a little something together…”

He went back to the bar. Alex had left already. I had been hoping he would play guitar for me so I could do the piano. “Martin,” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I think we have something here.”

“Like what?”

“Look, I told him we’d play him a song. I just wrote it today.”

“What? Are you nuts?” Martin blinked. “Are you kidding me?”

“No. Look, all you have to do is play bongos or something. And give us a ride back to my place. Can you handle that?”

“Yeah.” He thought a second. “Don’t you have a tom and a snare there, though? You do, that little ‘Stray Cats’ kit in the corner.”

It didn’t surprise me he knew what drums I had lying around my house better than I did. I knew Martin wouldn’t let me down. “Where’s Daron?”

“In the back, playing with your Fender.”

“Perfect. Digger won’t mind if we keep him a little longer.”

So the four of us, Martin, Daron, Ray and me, all went back to my place in Martin’s second-hand station wagon. It put me at ease that Ray didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable, even with his knees up to his chin in a car that smelled like last year’s beer.


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