Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIV, No. 12December, 2009

Bill Crow

Years ago, Josh Siegel was playing English horn with the American Symphony Orchestra on a tour backing a rock show by Rick Wakeman and his crew. Josh says the orchestra’s function was to sit there in their tuxes and provide an uptight foil for Wakeman and Company’s “coolth” in their flowing white robes.

Whoever had orchestrated the music for the combined groups was evidently not familiar with symphonic usage. Josh noticed at the first reading that he was always playing with the French horns and trombones instead of with the woodwinds.

When he finally came to a solo, a typical horn fanfare figure, he realized that the orchestrator thought that an English horn was a brass instrument. Josh turned to his friend Jack Knitzer in the bassoon section and remarked, “This guy doesn’t know his brass from his oboe!” Josh has been pleased for 35 years to have gotten off such a good one.

When Charles Pillow was in college in New Orleans in the late 1970’s, he worked with Bobby Oehler’s wedding band. Oehler’s cocky and self-assured trombonist, J. R. Miller, always showed up on jobs just a couple of minutes before playing time.

After putting up with this for a couple of years, Oehler decided to start early one night. When J. R. walked in to the sound of the band playing, he walked right up to Oehler and said, “Bobby, you’re two minutes early, and you’re sharp!”

Bob Kaye was playing a pre-heat at the Yale Club some time ago. A little blue-haired lady came over to him and said, with a big smile, “Oh, that music is so lovely! If I go to one more affair and hear that “Leroy Jones” one more time…!”

When Lloyd Wells was first in New York City, badly in need of work, a guitarist friend who was playing a Broadway show gave him a chance to do a sub for him. Lloyd sat in the pit one night and watched the book, and the next night went in to play the show. His chair was right in front of percussionist Johnny Perilli. When the show was over, Perilli smacked Lloyd with his open hand right between the shoulder blades.

Shocked, Lloyd went into the exit music, and while playing got madder and madder. When the orchestra finished playing, he turned to Perilli, then a stranger to him, and shouted, “What the hell did you do that for?” John grinned and said, “Because you sight-read the damn thing better than the guy who’s been playing it!” That was the start of a life-long friendship.

Herb Gardner sent me an ad that he found in a New Hampshire newspaper. It was from a music store called Fiddler’s Choice, in Dublin, New Hampshire. Surrounded by pictures of three guitars, a banjo, a mandolin and a violin were the words “Best Selection in the Area” and, in bold caps, the headline:


Herb’s comment: “Would you buy an instrument from these people? Or maybe an orange?”

John Whimple was playing guitar in the early 1970’s backing up Vito and the Salutations. They played many venues including the Clay Cole oldie shows and the New Jersey Fox Theatre. When they played the New Jersey State Fair at a stage by the race track, the performers were assigned to R.V.’s that were parked inside the race track oval, where they could relax until it was time to perform. Vito and the Salutations were given one R.V., and the backup band was given another.

When the band entered their R.V., they found a man with his shoes off sleeping on one of the pull-out bench seats. The band began to make themselves comfortable, and when the man woke up, they asked him if he was the driver. He laughed, and put on his large square-rimmed glasses, and then John recognized him as Bo Diddley.

They had the wrong R.V., but Bo insisted that they stay. John showed him his old Gibson, and Bo let him try his unique square-body Gretch guitar. They spent some time telling stories and laughing, and when the band departed for their performance, they again apologized for the mistake. Bo thanked them for the great laugh they had given him. He said he had been mistaken for many things, but never an R.V. driver.

Dan Patiris passed along a story from the Woody Herman band. When Cy Touff was on the band, there was one chart on which he always played the same solo, note for note. To tease him a little, one of the guys wrote out the solo and harmonized it for the sax section, and they surprised Cy by playing it along with him one night. Dan says Cy wasn’t especially pleased with their effort.