David Farrell hipped me to ‘The Worst Gig’, a site where folks can share stories about their worst gig experience. From this seat, there are too many, yet when it comes to ‘the most hilarious’, this baby is hard to beat!
In 1976, I found myself in the basement of Marvin Gaye’s sister’s home in South Central, auditioning for a gig amongst a hundred other players for a soul concert at the Wilshire Abel Theater in downtown Los Angeles – the headliner Frankie Gaye. You can’t invent this stuff!
A neighbour of ours in Hollywood begged me to come along and do the audition. Rick [Clarke] played the drums.
We arrive amongst chaos and big broad hilarity. The shit is as loud as ten transport trucks stalled in a cavernous airport hangar. The basement is over-stocked with would-be players, hangers-on, dudes from the neighbourhood and complete strangers. Rick and I sat through an hour of potential D-grade prospects; none of whom could string two bars of note-sense into an entire song. Then we’re called on.
The band leader calls a Smokey Robinson tune which we play with few train wrecks. Phew! First time today. A second song is called. Big success. Suddenly, a guy wearing what looks like a dishcloth tied around his head points to the back door and kicks most onlookers and pretend players out – then down to serious business.
A band spokesman comes over and starts giving showtime directions. “When I give you the cue, the ‘Splash’ will exit the laundry room and pick up that microphone. Currently, they’re putting on show costumes and you guys be ready to hit it when I give the word.” I’m hearing this and am about to bust a rib.
Confusion continues until one guy I’m assuming is the tech dude comes over and grabs a microphone plugged into a Fender Twin Reverb. Suddenly the sound of crackle, glitch, snatch sprays the room; the sound of a frayed microphone chord fizzes, snaps then belches a deafening squeal. Rick and I look at each other when suddenly ‘basement emcee’ bursts forth near a clothes dryer and yells, “Are you Ready?”
We hit the intro, then, somewhere beyond basement wash basins and towel rack I hear - “I never met a girl who makes me feel the way that you do (you're alright). Whenever I'm asked who makes my dreams real - I say that you do (you're outta sight) So fee-fie-fo-fum, look out baby, cause here I come,”
‘Ladies and gentlemen – the number one soul brothers of L.A. – the mothership has landed, and you are about to be transported by – The Cosmic Splash!” Wearing full Buck Rogers sci-fi regalia - sort of cheap ‘Commodores drag’ before the first paycheck, ‘the Splash’ smooth dance their way out of the laundry closet to the main stage in this recreation room.
Oh man, as I said, you can’t make this shit up.
One space creature reaches down, picks up the microphone and it stings back – fire-crackling one long painful buzz. Then the four try to hand-hold and sing harmony bits and dance as the mic gets seriously pissed and calls it quits. Cosmic Splash look beat and demoralised like they’d returned from the Watts riots after confronting the LAPD. The whole scene played out like a Saturday morning cartoon episode. Anyway, we were assigned second spot on the bill before Frankie Gaye.
That afternoon, Frankie arrives late in a custom-cut Rolls Royce and role-plays brother Marvin. He glides on stage looking as dashing as his famous brother, then he opens his mouth, and nothing comes out but the hollow echo of a false note. He then proceeds to mime Marvin’s hits absent a voice, but with all the memorised mannerisms. The crowd gets pissed. Many had waited an hour or two for this and demand a refund.
In between rehearsal and concert, I severely sprained my ankle playing hoops. I’m in deep pain, ankle wrapped and on crutches and just hoping for a quick exit stage-right.
Each band performance implodes, and all I see are angry faces and lots of sweaty bodies. Folks came dressed to the nines and ready for the big “Motown thing”. The crowd at this point has grown larger at the refund window than is seated in the auditorium. Halfway through Gaye’s set, the room begins to look like a vacant lot.
After, we hang around backstage waiting to get paid – the promised $80.
An hour passes when word arrives; the promoter fled with the cashbox and house receipts. The action moves to the parking lot. It’s Mexicans and black musicians with posses on alert. Two white guys hang back with a hostile wife, let’s call her, ‘summer-blond’, debating who fucked over who? Then guns enter the discussion. “I’ll shoot the motherfucker”, a voice blasts angrily. It’s the most repeated phrase across the parking lot. At that moment my wife Kristine looks at me and says, "Eighty dollars isn’t worth dying for.” She is on the mark (as she often is).
I’m a crazy fucker when it comes to getting paid. I’m Man tracker! I telephone-chase the promoter for four months; even drop by his pad and play Sherlock Homes on his ass and then pay a surprise visit. The dude flings open the screen door, and I catch him somewhere between gratification and “who the fuck is this?” Buried in the thick sheets, a comely vixen. I announce who I am and refuse to leave until paid in full. He reaches for his wallet on the nightstand and empties the contents - $40, and tells me he could kill or hurt me bad, L.A. style.
Truthfully, I didn’t give a fuck – partial justice was served.
– Editor's note: It was through Richard Flohil that I became aware of Jon Niccum's The Worst Gig website and there is now a softback book that collects some of the best stories. It's hilarious and recommended.