Workers’ Memorial Day

The Beat on the Street

Volume CVII, No. 4April, 2007

Workers’ Memorial Day is April 28. This day was founded by the AFL-CIO to remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job. Do you have any stories about you or your friends being hurt while playing music?

About 15 years ago, I was playing a concert with Blood Sweat & Tears at the opening festivities of the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.

Before the show, I was straightening out the drums on a riser that was about three feet high. Someone told me to hurry it up.

I looked behind the riser to jump. It was very dark back there. I jumped anyway.

My left foot hit a microphone junction box. I heard “pop pop pop” and I fell to the ground and passed out from pain.

I woke up to see a Garden security guard directly above me calling on his walkie-talkie: “We got a drummer! He’s down!” I kid you not!

The band gathered ‘round. They took off my shoe. My foot expanded like in an old animated cartoon.

I asked for a Coke, downed it, then had two guys lift me up and place me behind the drums. I said “Let’s do it, now!”

The curtain opened and we played the show. My hi-hat technique was not so good that night.

David Clayton Thomas announced to the audience that I had injured myself before the show and I got a hand for it. I was in therapy for three months.

A stage can be a very dangerous place!

Neil Capolongo

Back in 1985 I was with Venezuelan salsa star Oscar DeLeon’s New York band. We were performing in Montreal in a huge arena which had essentially become a sweat box due to the lack of air conditioning.

Heavy traveling and a lingering cold had already rendered me tired and dehydrated, and I was with two of the loudest trumpeters in the Latin field at that time, Roy Roman and Tony Cofresi.

I was proudly playing my newly acquired gold-plated Mt. Vernon Bach Stradivarius trumpet when I passed out during the final chord of one of the tunes.

The trumpet parts must have been ridiculously high since my note was a high Eb and I was playing third trumpet!

My last memory was of us holding the note for several seconds while waiting for Oscar to give the cut off, and then I was on my back having some kind of seizure and not knowing if I was O.K.

I couldn’t get out of the seizure until someone finally touched me. It was the pianist Oscar Hernandez who helped me up. He said that the band was still sustaining that final chord when he noticed me on the floor (no one else had noticed!).

Well, it turns out I fell directly on my back while still in the playing position after hyperventilating, and had hit my head on the edge of a synthesizer case.

I was bleeding and I required three stitches, but amazingly my new shiny gold-plated Mt. Vernon Bach was still in my hands and unscathed!

To add insult to injury, later on I was with the late Hilton Ruiz for a week-long engagement at the Blue Note. I had my gold-plated Mt. Vernon Bach converted to a reverse-leadpipe configuration in a lame attempt to get more “zip” out of the horn! This effectively destroyed it!

Well, you can probably guess the rest of the story: I sold the horn for a few bucks and soon thereafter Mt. Vernon Bach trumpets went up in value by about $1,000!

Chris Rogers

I worked for a maniacal club date leader who didn’t like my volume level and shoved me so hard, I fell over my keyboard onto the floor. Fortunately, I was only bruised.

Art Weiss

I now have the permanent condition of tinnitus caused by conducting orchestras with overly aggressive drummers and lead guitarists.

Gordon Harrell

During the run of the Radio City Christmas show, the musicians were on the “band car” — the moving platform that musicians play on — warming up and waiting for the show to begin.

The band car was well below the audience at this point, about three stories below.

Suddenly, there was a huge explosion right in front of me and my stand partner.

We realized a 20-ounce bottle of Sprite had fallen from the audience level — a significant drop — and the impact smashed the bottle and splashed on our instruments and also on others nearby.

It was extremely frightening, because the force of the impact was so severe.

What was most troubling, however, was the thought that the bottle could have hit an instrument or a person, potentially destroying the instrument or inflicting major injury.

Robin Zeh

I’ve never been badly injured but have suffered what can only be described as a chronic on-the-job hazard: tinnitus, or ears ringing constantly.

I play trombone and sit in front of the trumpets and to the left of the drums. I have hearing loss in a defined frequency spectrum which is total, so I am deaf to sounds in these frequencies.

I have tried ear plugs, but when I wear them, my intonation suffers, which is dangerous to my occupation, so I generally go without.

I am 51 years old. I would recommend to younger players to avoid all loud environments to the extent possible.

Rick Walsh

I had a regular steady gig with a large New Jersey club date office working nine dates per week for months straight without a day off. The bass player tended to play “loud” — really loud — with wrong notes that were out of time and abrasive. I must say the gig was difficult, having no meter and no dynamics except “loud” and “bad.” It had a horrible effect on my ears in general and I began to develop early stage tinnitus.

The job paid full payroll benefits and so I was able to get a worker’s comp injury claim that paid me for time off, earplugs (before Local 802’s health plan offered them for free), audiograms and medical evaluation.

I advise all players to protect their hearing. Take advantage of the services offered by Local 802 for ear-filter plugs. They are really good and don’t make you feel your ears are plugged.

If it hurts and seems too loud, you should try — as much as possible — not to be directly in front of any speakers or amps. If that doesn’t help, then revert to the ear plugs.

Most guitar amps have a “breaking point” at about six feet. The guitar player may not really be loud, but it will seem loud to you if you are in direct line of fire of the amp.

Jerry Bria

A few years ago I was lugging a heavy Fender Rhodes to a gig and it was a cold and icy day. I was wearing patent leather shoes I had just purchased two or three days before the gig. The shoes looked great, however, the smooth shiny leather soles and the fact that they do not go above the ankle (like boots do) made my injury worse. I suffered a sprained ankle when I slipped and fell due to an icy sidewalk. I suffered a badly sprained ankle, and it took about two months until it healed. I now always wear military combat boots which give much better ankle protection and have gripping soles so I don’t slip easily. I change into my patent leather or dress shoes just before the gig, leaving boots in car along with any rain clothes, etc. I also try to work in places where they have a regular piano and limit lugging heavy equipment. I am not looking for a hernia, which most employers will not pay for if it happens on the job! Basic rule: limit heavy equipment, and remember you are a pianist, not a furniture mover! Let others move your equipment!

Stuart Tresser

I was playing violin in the “Singing in the Rain” orchestra, and one of the ladies on stage tossed her folding fan a bit too far to the right and it came flying into the pit at quite a speed. I was half watching the stage at the time and tried to duck to get out of the way, so the fan struck only my strings and bounced away. I was so shocked that I missed the next few notes. At intermission I was severely reprimanded by the conductor for not continuing to play as though nothing had happened. At that point I was so relieved that neither I nor my instrument’s body had been hit that I was numb to the admonishment. The angels were keeping the show running even though it was in the red, so I could understand that safety didn’t come number one in that production.

Katherine Cash


If your point of view wasn’t represented in this feature, write a letter to the editor! Letters must be 300 words or less and e-mailed to Allegro editor Mikael Elsila at