(And Remo finishes the tale…)
The scorebook stood on the piano where I had left it. I gave Ray a beer and sat him in the foam chair. Martin had set up the mini-kit, just the snare and a high hat. I told him to play with brushes instead of sticks.
“Wouldn’t want to wake your neighbors…?” he joked. But I had other reasons for wanting the brushes.
I sat Daron on my right side on the piano bench with an acoustic guitar. I gave him my old steel-string folk to play because I didn’t think his fingers would bridge the classical’s neck yet.
“I’m going to write out the progression for you,” I told him.
“That’s OK, Remo.” He pointed to the notes I had scribbled down. “I can follow.”
“You’re sure?” He looked smaller behind the bulky guitar on his lap.
“Yeah.” He strummed a few chords, then sat back with a little half-smile on his face that told me he knew what he was doing.
“Great. Let me play though the first verse to give you the idea, though.” They both nodded, Ray sucked on his beer, and I started hitting the keys.
I actually played through that first verse twice. Their eyes said they were ready to come in, so I nodded at the chorus and we all went back to the beginning again. By now I was getting comfortable with the words. There were a few parts where I hadn’t written any yet–those went kind of rough as I ad libbed some “la la la” type stuff, but it wasn’t too bad for an acoustic version.
Ray ate it up. And I could hardly believe Daron. When we came around to the chorus the third time, he opened up and barred all the chords up high on the neck. Martin pushed the tempo just a little, and it rocked. Maybe the best jam of my life.
But maybe I have 20/20 hindsight.
I hadn’t written an ending, so we just held onto the chorus for a while and then I broke it off with a nod. Ray applauded. Daron smiled. Martin cracked his knuckles. I waited for somebody to say something.
Ray pointed to my stereo, the old Aiwa cassette recorder in particular. “Have you got a mic for this?”
“Yeah.” I got up. “Right here. But it has no stand. Someone has to hold it.”
Ray took it from me. “I’ll hold it. I want a tape to bring back with me.”
I looked back at the other two. They didn’t have the same suspicious look I did, so I decided I was being paranoid. “OK, fine.”
Ray got a tape out of his pocket. I noticed he was taping over something prerecorded. The Beatles, I think, but I’m not sure. I went back to the piano.
“Whenever you’re ready,” he said.
“Cue us when the tape’s rolling.”
I gave a short count-off and we took off. After the second verse I hit the piano a littler harder. “Go for it, Daron.” The kid laid out a brief but solid solo, and we all chorused together. “And we will be broken down by the thousand raindrops, falling down like bitter tears, turned to dust by the wind and weather, after a thousand years…” My voice was hoarse by that time.
We put two of our regular songs on that tape, too. And that was that.
We all shook hands with Ray before he left. I had no idea at the time if it was going to turn into anything, but I felt optimistic. Daron left with Martin. The last thing I remember doing before falling asleep was fishing an almost full pack of cigarettes from my shirt on the floor, crushing it in my left hand, and tossing it into the garbage.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking what a heart-warming story of how a band made it. Well, that’s the funny thing. Ray Blair didn’t pan out, Arista wasn’t interested, and he soon moved on. But he did give me one piece of advice. He said if I wanted Nomad to get discovered, I needed to stop playing second-floor bars in suburban towns and concentrate on gigs in the big city.
He was more or less right. We never quit playing Maddie’s, but we met Artie not long after that, and the rest is history.