Complete text -- "In Those Days"

26 June

In Those Days

Billy Bucher, Denton, TX, Weekends 1964,
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In those days, a good way for an aspiring jazzer to make a bit of extra cash was to play with a pickup band which was coming through the area.

Like "one hit wonders" of the last couple of decades in rock, usually the band leader would go around the country and have bands of college players met him or her in such exciting destinations as Amarillo, Texas, or Baton Rouge, Lousiana.

I remember playing with Johnny Long, whose hit "A Little Shanty in Old Shanty Town" was one which my father knew immediately and my mother-in-law can sing all the lyrics to this very day. This didn't always work out too well since the people who hired the band saw a person perhaps in Las Vegas where they had older player but we youngster needed to live as well!!! And get some sometimes hard earned experience.

Still some of these pickup bands could be downright scary.


There was one musician who hailed from Chicago and will remain anonymous but, to every jazzer who graced that halls of lower music floor of the old music building, he was known as a terror before a player ever got on stage with him.

What a charmer. At the end of a song he would swing his arm out to the audience as if to embrace them with his warmth.

"How about THAT!!!" he would yell.

Then he would turn to the band, a trembling look of hatred suddenly replacing the smile on his face.

Looking sternly at the band, he would explode, "You damn little creeps. I thought you were SUPPOSED to KNOW how to read!!! You're supposed to be in COLLEGE!!! That was the worst piece of crap I've ever heard."

Then he turn back to the audience and exclaim, "Ah, wasn't that wonderful."

I admit that I have severely tamed his remarks to the band. He was more in tune with modern rappers in the intensity and obscenity of his rebuffs.

And thus it went. Play a song, get lambasted. Play a song, get creamed. What fun. How much were we getting paid anyway? But, after all, jazz is a rough business and you have to pay your dues and this was doing it, for sure.

Towards the end of the night, though, things got more interesting when he would say, "Hey, it's time to play along with the band!!!" Then he would pull three or four couples from the audience and give them little, plastic saxophones and plastic trumpets to squawk along with the band. By that time the audience members turned sudden musicians seemed suddenly seemed more apprehensive as people were staring up at them.

And, unfortunately for them, now that they were on stage, they were suddenly members of the band. He began grabbing both the men and women by their arms and shoving them around the stage and towards different microphones, saying, "Dammit, get a move on, you're gonna spoil the best part of the show."

We did a song and, of course, couldn't hear them play, but our fearless leader did and by the end of the song he turned and looked at them.

"That was the worst improvisation that I've even heard. Get off the stage right now." (Of course, again, that is a mighty, mild rendition of his wording. Bewildered, their moment of fame now fading, they wandered back in with the common people rather like cows leaving a cattle car to join a huge herd at the stockyards. A sad sight, for sure.

I don't think I was ever so glad to get off of a stage.

Years later, when I was playing in Austin, a very well known picker came to town. He took up residence for a few nights at Castle Creek. On the fifth day, one of my drummer friends called to ask if I'd like to play with him.

The guy had a solid reputation for firing whatever drummer he had on stage halfway through the evening. It must have been something he did to pick up women, I don't know. But it was Friday afternoon and I knew that he had already fired four of the best drummers in Austin at the time.

Remembering my experience with the leader from Chicago, I looked at my friend and said, "No, somehow being chewed out and tossed off the stage doesn't really appeal to me."

"But it PAYS REALLY WELL!!!" my friend said.

"And when did he fire you?" I asked.

"Well, last night but I can say I played with him."

"But why on earth are you calling around for HIM, looking for another drummer."

"Well, he told me I was a really good drummer but the firing was just part of the act."

"Oh, wonderful," I sighed.

Hmm. I don't usually quote Bob Dylan but that time I did say, "I'm just gonna let it pass."

And I hung up the phone.

Posted by billybucher at 01:23:00 - Category: General
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