My Gig from Hell

Eddie Arkin, Tom Scott and Mark Winkler

It was 1987. Reagan was president, I wore white unconstructed jackets with skinny purple ties and my album “Ebony Rain” was getting a lot of airplay in Los Angeles. For once my singing career seemed to be copasetic with a radio format—“The Quiet Storm” stations were all over me—now what was “Quiet Storm”? Think of any Quincy Jones slow jam or Norman Connors on his starship (whatever that was) – and that’s “Quiet Storm.”

I had gotten a call from this lovely club in Santa Monica, “At My Place” — sadly no longer there — to open for a really hot group on MCA, the Perri Sisters — who were wowing quiet storm stations everywhere with their vocal interpretations of Pat Metheny tunes and their familial harmonies. They were sensational — and I was excited to be part of it all.

Perri Sisters

Now I must admit that this performing live thing was still pretty new to me, and furthermore my previous gig (my first one promoting the new album) hadn’t gone too well. Although all the players on paper might have looked cool — in person it was a horror story — but that’s not this “gig from hell” — no it was just a warm up.

The day of the gig, we did the sound check at the club, and everybody was doing their thing. The drummer was playing incredibly loud, the saxophonist was heavily into his David Sanborn thing when he wasn’t playing with his pick up, which resulted in these really loud sound explosions from time to time — but the pianist was pretty cool (I had replaced my earlier one after I found out all his phone calls had been to his pusher), and for support more than anything else I had a dear friend and a wonderful singer, Beth Lawrence, doing a couple of duets with me and singing backgrounds.

Now my bass player had also been a holdover from my first gig—and while incredibly likeable and a great player — he had an eye for the ladies. Beth already was standing on the opposite side of the stage from him to avoid his endless pick-up lines, but I must admit that when he started “poppin’” he was great. Now “Poppin’” was a sure fire thing bass players did in the 80s (I think they got it from Earth Wind and Fire) to drive the audiences — and yes, the ladies wild — and this dude was the king!

Now as we were doing the sound check the waitresses were getting everything ready and the manager of the club, this bearded guy in flannel (remember it was the 80s) was pacing around. Matt Kramer was the manager, he was all business and kinda brusque, but I must say he seemed to know his stuff and I definitely wanted to be playing the club again — so I was super nice to him and tried to do the sound check in my allotted time.

Okay, now it’s about 20 minutes from showtime and the club is full, excitement is in the air — and to be honest — I’m a little nervous, because the whole audience is black. Now why I hadn’t thought this would occur is beyond me. “Quiet Storm” was a largely black format, the Perri Sisters were black and the song of mine they were playing on the radio was a duet with Dianne Reeves, but anyway — it hadn’t occurred to me…until then.

And by the way, it’s 5 minutes till show time and no bass player. It’s now 5 minutes past show time and no bass player—Matt Kramer in his no bullshit manner comes up to me and says “hey man, you’re on” — and I say “There’s no way I can be on — my bass player is missing and the only thing I can play now is a ballad — and I don’t think that is what the audience is looking for.”

Next thing I knew I was on stage with my band playing this lovely ballad from my album. But it’s Saturday night, the drinks have been imbibed and the ballad is “dying.” Right after I do the ballad in the still silence of a “Get off the stage” vibe — Matt comes up to the lip of the stage and hands me a cocktail napkin with this message written on it.

“Man, I’m sorry, I’ve been in a freeway accident. I’ll be there for the second set. Your Bass Player.”

Now there are the moments that define a performer’s life. This was one of them. I could have walked off the stage—cleared it for the act the audience was breathlessly waiting for. I could have done a whole set of ballads and been found murdered in the alley, but to be honest with you—I found the cocktail napkin message so outrageous I shared it with the audience—who guess what? — found it hilarious, and right after I got a big laugh, the fantastic bass player of the Perri Sisters, John Baker, screamed from the back of the house: “I’ll play bass for you!”—and from that minute on I was home free. Every number was a three-act play. John was presented with the chart. He would furrow his brow, and I would ask him: “Can you do it?” and after a dramatic pause he would shake his head “yes”man, and then after that, he knocked it out of the park. If he aced it they cheered, if he missed a part they gasped. To be honest, he’s a great bass player and my charts weren’t that hard — but to the audience every note executed was a marvel.

After the show, I got showered with praise, and the surly manager came up to me and wanted me back, and then this waitress motioned to talk to me — in private.

She looked exhausted—and pissed. As I said, it was a full house — but the reason she was so upset was that she had worked two jobs the first set—hers and the waitress my bass player had been poppin’ back at his apartment during the first set. She filled in all the details—and I still have the cocktail napkin.

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