We waited around a bit more, but Ziggy didn’t reappear at the hotel.
Bart wrote a note and left it on the bed with the name and address of the club just in case, and we took a cab up there. Tipitina’s was like an oversized honky tonk, rustic wood, minimally fancy lights; you could picture women in hoop skirts and men in string ties stomping their feet in there. But up in the second floor balcony there were photographs of people on the stage, a staggering array of Stevie Ray Vaughn, REM, Coco Taylor, Talking Heads. My estimation of the place went up. The backstage area was roomy, like an efficiency apartment attached to the club with separate rooms and a little kitchen.
The parade of old couches continued.
In New Orleans, as I was learning, everything was done to excess. Every shot was a double, every meal was enough for a family of four, and we had two opening bands instead of one. There was a healthy crew running sound, four or five guys, with one board to the side of the stage for monitors and one out in the club for PA. Like the bellhops, the crew were all super friendly. Unlike the bellhops, these guys were all white, the fact of which made me wonder what percentage of roadies and techies everywhere in the country were white. It was an uncomfortable thought.
Everyone was more or less waiting for us when we got there and after dumping our stuff in the living room-like area of backstage Bart and I got right up on the stage and plugged in.
I was standing there with the Ovation on when the head sound guy lifted himself onto the stage from the floor, his back to me so he sat there for a moment swinging his legs before he stood all the way up. Kevin came from behind me and said, “This is Kevin.”
“No relation,” the sound guy said, shaking my hand. He had some gray in his beard but otherwise looked like late-20s, T-shirt, jeans, keys on his belt loop. He wore combat boots with the laces tied loose. “Pleased to meet you.” He pointed out other staff members where they were in the club, Nick behind the monitor board, Jimmy on the floor, and “Carleton Edward Hill the Third, but we just call him Ray” up on the balcony aiming some lights. Ray waved.
Kevin, our Kevin, twitched his face at me (what’s up?) and said “Ziggy didn’t come with you?”
“Nope.” I gave a shrug. “You want to wait for him?”
Shrugs all around. “It’s up to you,” The other Kevin said. “The other bands’ll wait.”
“I hate making ’em wait. I always hated waiting around when I was an opener. Let’s do what we can and if you really think you need him later, once he gets here we can do a quickie.”
“Suits me,” he said, and walked away, boots solid on the wooden stage.
Chris got on his stool and I found out they’d already done all the drum setting already, which was nice since that’s the most boring part of a sound check, and we got down to me and Bart. We played Kevin–their Kevin–various sections, loud ones, soft ones. To my ears the hall sounded mellow, which would change when there were people in it, but for now, mellow.
“Why doesn’t one of you get up there and fake some vocals,” their Kevin suggested.
“Don’t look at me,” Bart said when I looked at him.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, stepping up to the center mic. “Okay, fine, let’s see, let’s do ‘Walking.’ What you’re about to hear is my imitation of our absent vocalist, to try for maximum simulation effect.”
“Check,” said Kevin.
Right. “Walking In Time” was one of the easiest songs to sing I’d ever written probably. It was a blues tune, basically, with predictable, gut-satisfying chord changes and an easy chorus. I remembered Carynne singing it backstage at the Orpheum in her Janis Joplin voice. We didn’t do the song very often anymore–it didn’t fit in the set the way it used to. When Ziggy sang it, he sang it with venom, laying full blame on each character in the song. I riffed through the opening and sang:
People, keep walking in time
Walking in line
Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, right into my life…
Whenever I try to imitate Ziggy’s singing voice I think I end up sounding like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I’ve heard myself on tape and although Bart denies it, that’s what my voice sounds like to me. With the down & dirty blues guitar I laid onto this song, even more so. All three of us liked this bluesy stuff because there was so much room to put in our own little fills, pass stuff around. There was a lot of breathing space between the lyrics, between very short verses that were barely more than one line each:
don’t you lie to me
cause I can see
gotta move (move, move, move…) on your own two feet
I could see Ray’s head nodding from his perch in the balcony, the orange dot of a cigarette in his hand. My tongue felt big and loose in my mouth while I formed the words, singing them louder… back into the chorus,
keep walking in time
walking in line
walking right out of my life.
My voice matched the little riff my fingers had just invented and I stuck with that: out of my life, out of my life… trying the notes on the words different ways, up the scale, down the scale, putting the emPHAsis on a different sylLABle. And then I felt Bart nudging at me with notes and I let him take the solo, and I turned to face Chris and we finished off in our typical ham-it-up windmill-the-arms arena-rock type rolling-cymbal ending, which wasn’t at all apropos for a bluesy tune like that, but see, that was the joke.
The echoes disappeared into the room and all three of us laughed. Colin laughed too from the behind the side board and we left the stage to the other bands and crew.