Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume C, No. 7/8July, 2000

Bill Crow

Like everyone else who was drafted into the into the service during World War II, hornist Fred Klein received the well-known selective service notice signed by President Roosevelt that began with the salutation, “Greetings.” After his induction he was assigned to the band at Stewart Field, N.Y. One day they were sent across the Hudson to the presidential home at Hyde Park, to play during a visit by Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. After a short rehearsal Eleanor Roosevelt came by and asked if the band members would like to shake hands with FDR. Thrilled, they all lined up and filed by the armchair where President Roosevelt was sitting, obviously in good spirits.

Overwhelmed with the significance of the moment, Fred felt he should say something special. As he shook the presidential hand, inspiration struck. He said, “Mr. President, a few weeks ago you sent me greetings, and I am happy to return them to you in person!” Roosevelt laughed heartily. Fred had the feeling that the president would have liked to continue the conversation, but the Secret Service men hustled him quickly away.

In a letter from Florida, Mike Shain remembers a call he once got from Radio Registry for a jingle date at a Manhattan recording studio. When he arrived he noticed that all the musicians were chatting together except for one guy, a tuba player, who didn’t seem to know anyone. On the first take everyone realized that the tuba player wasn’t making it. The producer interrupted several times from the booth, “No, that wasn’t right . . . let’s try it again.” After general admonitions for the band to be more relaxed, the producer’s final suggestion was, “Just imagine that you’re at a party having a good time, okay?” On the take that followed the tuba player got more raucous, gurgling and splatting notes all over the place. The producer quickly interrupted: “Not that kind of party!” After the band stopped laughing they got a usable take by surreptitiously cutting off the tuba microphone, allowing room for a different tuba player to overdub the part later.

Bill Kent of Local 283 wrote to tell me about the time his grandson visited him a few years ago. The four-year-old found a pair of drumsticks in the magazine rack next to Bill’s chair and wanted to use them, so Bill set up a practice pad for him. He took another pair of sticks and, as the boy hit the pad, matched whatever he played. In an effort to encourage him, Bill gradually increased the tempo. The boy suddenly stopped, handed Bill his drumsticks, and asked for the pair Bill was using, because they played faster.

Last year Ronnie Whyte was playing a show every Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. One night he didn’t have time to check the piano before the show. He was introduced, sat down at the piano, and began to play – but soon realized that something was terribly wrong. He stopped and apologized to the audience, mentioning that no matter what keys he played, all the neighboring keys seemed to be going down along with them. On hearing this, the room manager rushed up and began removing invisible scotch tape from the front of the keys. Someone at an earlier party had taped balloons to the keyboard and the tape was still there, holding clusters of keys together. Once the tape was removed the piano worked normally, and Ronnie went on with his act.

There was a legendary bandleader in the Dallas area, Durwood “Gotch” Kline, whose malapropisms are still circulated among musicians in the Southwest. Don Mopsick and David Clements provided me with a few:

“Stand back . . . give half a man a chance!”

“Watch me like I was a hawk!”

“Give a man enough rope and he’ll pour it all over you.”

“Was it you or your brother who was killed in the war?”

“I’ve got all I can do to keep my hands full right now.”

“She’s a good singer, but she’s no fried chicken.”

“It’s getting hard to book five-piece trios these days.”

“Is this the road we’re on?”

Gim Burton told me about a big band drummer who was having time problems. He kept pulling the tempo down, playing slower and slower, drawing complaints from the rest of the band. The leader finally had to speak to the drummer, who had been with him for years. The drummer made frantic efforts to keep the tempos up where they belonged, but he couldn’t seem to stop dragging: even his fills and accents were late. When the whole band threatened to quit, the leader reluctantly fired the guy – who became so despondent that he went down to the railroad tracks and threw himself behind a train.