Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVI, No. 9September, 2006

Bill Crow

Max Schweiger had a gig at Foxwoods recently. Afterwards, he and the guitar player went looking for a place to hang out and hear some music. They discovered to their dismay that none of the rooms there had a live band. Before leaving, they stopped by the men’s room, where they heard beautiful singing in a strange mode, and in a language they didn’t know. They followed the sound, and discovered an Asian man singing while cleaning the mirrors. They tried to find out what country he was from, but he spoke no English and only responded to their pantomimed inquiries with nods and smiles. Max was amused to realize that the only live music at Foxwoods was in the men’s room.

Charlie Berg, a member of Local 9-535 in Boston, loves to travel by train. He was returning from a meeting in Detroit on a sleeper, and went to the diner early for breakfast. The steward asked if he would mind company for breakfast, since the train was crowded. Charlie didn’t mind at all, and soon a gentleman sat down opposite him. As they ate, they made conversation. The talk turned to music, and the man asked what kind Charlie liked. He said he liked jazz. “Oh,” said the man, “Who do you listen to… Chuck Mangione or Kenny G?” Charlie took up the gauntlet. “No, actually I like music a little more… avant garde. In fact, I saw a piano player last week named McCoy Tyner. Have you ever seen or heard him?” He felt he had the upper hand until his tablemate said, with a big smile, “Wow, I haven’t seen McCoy since I last played with him, about ten years ago!” Charlie told me, “Score: me 0, Junie Booth: 1.”

The late Larry Orenstein told John Altman this story. He had been working under the name of Larry Neill, and had left the Paul Whiteman band to play trumpet with Shep Fields. He also sang, and when Fields decided to re-form his band with ten saxophones and no brass, he kept Larry on as his vocalist. He wanted him to emerge from the sax section to sing, so he gave him a sax with no reed that he could pretend to play. A few weeks of this bored Larry, so he got some reeds, began practicing the sax, and started playing along with the band, adding harmonies here and there. One night Fields edged over to Larry and whispered, “Larry, what the hell are you doing? Are you PLAYING? I’ve been trying to figure out for the last three weeks why the arrangements sound so lousy, and I just worked out, it’s you!” From then on, Larry sat adjacent to the sax section, minus the sax.

Bobby Knight passed along a story about some West Coast studio musicians: George Roberts bought a small Japanese car when they first became available in this country, and boasted ad nauseam to his colleagues about the great gas mileage he was getting. Lloyd Ulyate and Joe Howard devised a put-on. They carried cans of gas in their cars, and at every opportunity refilled George’s tank without his knowledge. He began reporting that he was getting sixty miles to the gallon! Lloyd and Joe waited until George took his car in for its first dealer service, and then they began secretly siphoning gas out of his car. When George complained about the big turnaround in his gas mileage, the pranksters suggested that the dealer might have mistakenly given him a car with a special engine in it, which had been removed when he took it in for servicing. They finally admitted their subterfuge when they saw that George was about to flip out at the dealer.

Ronny White toured with “Our Sinatra” as singer, pianist and conductor of a big band. At one theatre, as they loaded in, Ronny passed through the stage door where a theatre employee was directing the stars and the band members to their dressing rooms. He asked Ronny, “Star or musician?” Ronny answered, “Hopefully, both.”

Somewhere in South Carolina, Ronny went into a Stuckey’s Restaurant for some catfish. The waitress, a charming girl with a Southern accent, brought Ronny his check and asked, “Are you by any chance a singer?” Ronny looked around to see if there was someone from the tour who was setting him up, but he saw no one. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I am.” She nodded. “On Mondays we have a singer’s discount. You get a dollar off your check.” Ronny asked, “Do I have to sing something?” She said, “No, just tell the cashier that you’re a singer.” Still baffled, Ronny gave her a big tip and headed for the cashier’s desk. He handed her his check and said, “I was told there is a singer’s discount.” The cashier gave him an odd look and said (her accent being clearer), “That’s a senior’s discount.” Ronny told me, “It keeps you humble.”

Don Butterfield has been “Mr. Tuba” in the New York music world for many years. His wife Alice called me recently with the sad news that Don had suffered a stroke, and was left with some paralysis. She knew that many of his friends read this column, and asked that they send him cards and good wishes. His Clifton, New Jersey address is in the Local 802 directory.