Playing at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago around 1966, with a trio that backed some of the acts that appeared there, bassist Joe Levinson inadvertently became part of the act. Kaye Ballard swept onstage on opening night wearing a fancy gown and a ten-foot-long purple feather boa. She struck poses with the boa and then asked the crowd, “Like it? S&H Green Stamps!” As the trio played the introduction to her first number, she unwrapped the boa and threw it behind her with more force than she had intended. It wrapped itself around the neck of Joe’s bass. Unable to play a note, Joe frantically tried to unwrap it. The pianist and drummer were so convulsed with laughter that they could hardly play. When the audience began laughing, Ballard realized that something was wrong. When she saw what she had done she broke up, stopped the music, and retrieved the boa as Joe unwound it. “This stays in the act,” she told the audience. But on succeeding shows, whenever she tried to hit the neck of the bass with the boa, it went somewhere else – into the piano, onto the cymbals and even into the audience. Backstage, she told Joe, “I’m really trying!” But for the rest of the engagement, she was never able to repeat the marvelous accident.
On a gig, Mike Manishor asked Lew Gluckin if he knew “A Time for Love.” Lew said he didn’t remember it well enough to play it. “Never mind,” Mike said, and went on to play something else. Later, during a break, he asked Lew, “Do you remember Joe Besser?” “Sure, I remember Joe,” said Lew. Mike nodded and said, “Joe Besser you remember, but not ‘A Time for Love!’ ”
Wyn Walshe gave me a tape of an old Arthur Godfrey radio show. The regular trumpet player on that show was Harold Lieberman – but he was out with a cut lip on the day this tape was made so another CBS staff trumpeter, Bernie Privin, was subbing for him. After the band played several numbers on which Privin shone, Godfrey called a tune he liked to sing, “He’s Always Hittin’ Clams.” The lyric told of a trumpet player whose love of music was defeated by his lack of skill and, on the trumpet chorus, Privin was required to take a clam-filled chorus. He managed to warp his normally gorgeous playing enough to get the intended laughs. At the end of the number the announcer said, “Harold J. Lieberman just called in and asked us to announce that Bernie Privin was on trumpet.”
Via e-mail from Franck Amsallem: On learning that saxophonist Tim Ries was going on tour with him with the Rolling Stones, Rick Margitza commented, “That gig shouldn’t be wasted on a married man!”
Eve Zanni told me this one: A recording executive was visited by a friend who introduced him to a pianist that he had brought with him. “You gotta hear this guy,” he said. “He’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.” The executive led the pianist to his private Steinway and sat down to listen. He was immediately transported by the beautiful music that poured forth…original, emotional, sensitive, stirring. But he couldn’t believe the guy’s behavior as he played: his face was contorted as if with extreme pain, and his body shuddered and writhed. The executive couldn’t bear to watch him – but when he closed his eyes, the music swept him away completely. He said to his friend, “He’s fantastic! I’ll sign him and give him carte-blanche for promotion and career development. But tell me, why does he writhe and grimace so terribly while he plays?” His friend said, “Oh, that’s because he hates music.”
Ken Rizzo was called to sub for Ben Brown as the bassist on a Sesame Street recording session. Ben told him, “By the way, Bob Cranshaw is going to stop in at the session. I told him about you and he wants to hear you play.” Cranshaw was the original Sesame Street bassist. When Ken got to the date he saw that the bass part was fairly challenging, and would give Bob a good idea of his abilities. They played for two hours but Cranshaw didn’t show up. They broke for lunch, then returned to finish up. The only thing left to record was a simple “ta-dah” fanfare. As they played it, in walked Bob. “Thank you very much, everyone,” said the engineer. Cranshaw came over to meet Ken and said, “You sounded great.” “But you only heard me play one note!” Ken protested. “That’s okay,” Bob said. “Ben tells me you play all the notes.”
John O’Connor of Local 1000 said he was chatting with Cranshaw, who was interested to discover that John was a folk musician. “I used to play with the Clancy Brothers,” Bob told him. “Made some records with them. When I was with them, they called them The Clancy Brothers and The Brother.”
During an interview on NPR to plug his new book, Studs Terkel mused about the power of music. A friend of his had married a much younger woman. Studs ran into him a year or so after the wedding and discovered that it was all over. “It didn’t work out,” said his friend. “She didn’t know the songs.”