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Have band—won't travel

Nothin' but the blues
Have band—won't travel

A lot of people consider most musicians a "lettle tetched" because of their sometimes unusual humor.  However, in my years as a bandleader, I sometimes wonder if the non-musicians are not sometimes a bit right with the types of humor that I've had played on me. As an example of musicians humor I can think of one joke as a prime example.

The musician in question was a saxophone player who had spent many years studying.  After these many years of hard study he was finally called for a job on New Year's Eve.  He was to be leader of the band.  Well, he accepted the job and then commenced to hire musicians for the date.  After many phone calls and personal looking he finally ended up on the date on New Year's Eve with his band—himself on saxophone and the only other musician he could hire—a tuba player.

So they started the dance, sax and tuba.  After playing one set of dance tunes, the "saxophonist-leader" put up another set of songs to be played in the next dance, then turned to the tuba player and said "You take charge of the band this set, I'm going out front and see how it sounds."

This is an example of musicians' humor.  To some this may be funny, but to most musicians it is sidesplitting.  I've had many things happen to me that at the time were not funny, but since then have become very funny, but not funny enough for me to go through again.

Being a band leader of a traveling band, we've gone through much in our travels.  We sweated playing in the open sunlight at a temperature of about 150 at Palisades Park, New Jersey.  We can also remember another time that we played at Centennial Park in Sylvania Ohio, an open air park dance with the temperature about 36, the dance floor packed with people and we were playing 'in the round' as it were. It was so cold that we had the band bunched about a wheel barrow in which we had built a fire and wheeled it up on the bandstand.

I remember another time at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. This is one of the classiest hotels in the South. In the main lobby they have a fountain and pool in which ducks swim all day.  One of the boys in the band thought it was very funny to put a water softening type of detergent into the water.  Result—the ducks were walking on the bottom.  The water was so soft they sank.

Or the time that one of the boys stopped up my clarinet with a penny and when it came time to take my solo on the whole CBS radio network, the only sound that was heard was the sudden crack as I gave myself a hernia.

We also played at the Fox Theatre in Hutchinson, Kansas for a show.  We had a new sax man in the band and I warned him to watch a certain passage marked "tacet",  when it came time to get to the passage, he went off on a loud, raucous solo for about five minutes before he could be stopped.  When I asked him about it later, he said, " I thought it said take it".

Traveling was always a headache.  I can remember one time in Ohio that the snow storm was so bad that everyone was driving with lights on in the daytime.  I missed the road and wanted to know where I was.  I saw a sign, got out of the car, brushed the snow off and it read Lawnmowers sharpened.  Accidents, we had them too, however, as luck would have it, my band truck had to get involved with the one person no one wants to get involved with in an accident.  The Attorney General of The State of Iowa—anybody want to buy a long, thin Chevrolet truck?

Then the trouble with the boys, when you least expected it.  After all, they were traveling and playing each night and had to have some sort of an outlet for their talents.  One boy suddenly took a liking to a bow and arrows, due to a movie he had seen. He had a bow with about a 40 to 50 pound pull and was practicing in his hotel room.  He had the target set up on the back of the door.  Naturally, the arrows were going through the target, through the door and out into the hallway where it made it kind of tough on guests trying to get to the elevator.  However, one guest finally made it between a shower of arrows and reported the matter to the manager. The manager came up, took a look at the door and told our Twentieth Century Robin Hood that he owed him $40.00 for a door.  He calmly paid the bill and asked for a receipt, which was given him.  At the end of the week, we checked out of the hotel and there was my sax man with instruments, luggage, bow and arrows and dragging a hotel door with him. When the house detective wanted to know what he was doing with a hotel door, he merely took out the receipt to show that he had bought and paid for it. See the Terry Gibbs interview and the episode with Serge Chaloff and the hotel door—only Larry's boy did it first!

I always claimed that booking agents booked the band by the simple procedure of standing in front of a map of the United States blindfolded with a hand full of darts.  Whereever they would throw the darts, that is where they tried to book the band.  We might be in Walla Walla one night, Sqeedunk the next and then on to Oshkosh and maybe Deadwood.  They used to pull some dillies out of the hat for us.  After a night of driving, it was a pleasure to get to bed.  I remember one night that we got to the hotel about 7 am and although we had reservations there was nothing available until about 10 am when some of the guests would check out.  In the meantime, one of my little fiends was at work.  Being an artist as well as a musician, he went to work on drawing nudes on the inside of the parchment lamp shades in the lobby of the hotel.  When evening came and the lights were switched on, the lobby went into bedlam, such were the pictures that he drew, with the lights on it was like a French movie.

Sometime even the good guys got into trouble. I had a trombone player who was constantly thinking of his music and his horn.  He had been studying with a very talented teacher in New York who told him to always "buzz his chops" and practice even though he did not have his instrument with him.  This was accomplished by merely holding the lips in place, holding the head erect and blowing through the lips as though he were really playing his horn. Well, one afternoon, a Sunday afternoon, we had our weekly Treasury Serenade to broadcast over the ABC radio network from Cincinnati.  Broadcast time came and still no trombone man.  After the broadcast was over, in he walked.  He had spent the whole night in jail.  Seems that he was walking down the street "buzzing his chops" and walked into an open manhole.  The police got him out and put him in jail all night as a drunk.  Actually he was quite sober at the time.  The only thing that was wrong was that he was quite knocked out after falling to the bottom of the manhole.

Some musicians do drink.  I can think of another time with a musician and a radio broadcast.  We were working in Philadelphia at the time.  Before the broadcast we had an intermission to get ready for the broadcast, Well, my tuba man went out of the place at intermission and had quite a few boilermakers (whiskey followed by beer) then he returned for the broadcast.  At the middle point in the broadcast, I made the announcement and turned around to give the down beat. At that point I saw ay |tuba player slowing reeling.  Off the bandstand he went and fell between the bandstand and the wall.  In that position we left him until the broadcast was over.  He had knocked himself out and was so firmly jammed in between the bandstand and the wall that we had to saw the tuba in half to get him out.  Naturally, we had a new tuba man from then on.  Last I heard of that guy was that he had an awful case of claustrophobia.

Tubas have always been tied up in some sort of trouble with me. There was another time when we were playing the Arcadia Ballroom in Hew York. It was New Years Eve about 1.30 in the morning. My tuba player reached across the piano and said to me (without missing a beat) "There's a helluva fire going upstairs". I looked up the stairs and the place was a sheet of flames. All hell broke loose but we kept the band going in spite of the fact that most of our clothes were up there. Soon the fire engines came, the place was filled with smoke but most of the patrons could not see the flames. The flames were blistering the paint on the band stand as the fire was right over our heads. In the meantime, the girl singer got off the band stand without our knowing it, went up the back stairway and got all the musicians clothes. However, in came the firemen. Hoses were all over the floor and in the meantime, on the music played. In spite of the fire, the smoke, the hoses, the firemen, the people continued to dance and dance they did, until the fire was out. Altogether it was about a $20,000.00 fire. I always said that we had the type of music that made people want to dance and this proved it.

Another time, the same tuba player, Tom Adonis, brought about another type of news. We had just finished a broadcast on GBS emanating from WBBM in Chicago. This is on Michigan Boulevard right near the bridge over the Chicago River. Well, Tom was sitting in his car cleaning his tuba and decided to give it a long blow for a test or so. He did so. Immediately bells began to ring and lights began to flash. The gates came down and the drawbridge went up. The gate tender looked up the river for a boat. At this point in the river there is a bend in the river. The gate tender was evidently looking for the boat that would not come. After about ten or fifteen minutes of holding open the bridge (traffic was tied up for miles) I decided to get out of there as we might get arrested for disturbing something or other.

Always trouble, trouble and more trouble. It started from when I went into the business and stayed with me all through the years. However, it was always when we traveled. There was the time back in 1952 (this was long before we joined the Union) that a booking agent from Camden, New Jersey went to Atlantic City and sold my band to the Garden Pier there. To show the manager what a nice band I had, he showed the manager a picture of the then very popular Paul Tremaine orchestra (I never knew this till later) and as a result of this, we were booked in for a week. Our contract read that we were to get our rooms plus 50% of what money we took in at the door.

At the end of the first night we had taken in a total of $7.00. The manager being a good guy gave us the whole $7.00. Now this had to be divided between 10 men. So I called the boy a together and gave them 70 cents each. Just as I was leaving the ballroom, the booking agent who had booked us on the job, came up to me and asked for his 10%. I told him we got $7.00 and had divided the money between the boys and I gave him 7 cents (my 10%) and told him that he could chase the rest of the boys down the boardwalk and get 7 cents from each one of them. He looked at me sorrowfully and said "I can't do that, just give me 15 cents and I'll be happy". I did so and each night from then un­til the end of the engagement, he came around nightly for the 15 cents.

As most booking agents are wily persons, he was the greatest. At the end of the engagement he came around to me and thanked me for taking care of him so wonderfully. I wondered how he had lived, not that I cared too much for booking us on a lousy guarantee of nothing, but I asked how he had existed for a week. He told me that he had eaten wonderfully and this is how he did it. Each day he would go into the boardwalk five and dime store where they had a long lunch counter. He would go in, eat a large meal, pick up the check and then walk on down to the end of the counter, have his coffee and get an additional 6 cents check (remember, coffee was only 6 cents then) and on the way out he would pay the 6 cents check and throw the expensive check away. He did this three times a day for seven days.  Ah, these booking agents are wily ones but you sure have to give them credit.

These stories are all true and I've got a gray hair for each one to prove it.  However, I can look back on all of these experiences laughingly now.  And truthfully, if I had to do it all over again—I wouldn’t.  That’s why I now Have Band—Won’t Travel.

Larry Fotine

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