David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

Jason “Jay” Mizell, aka Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, was quite the dandy in high school. He wore Lee jeans, black-and-white shell-toed Adidas sneakers, a black velour hat complete with a feather—and he always made sure that the color of his shirt matched the color of his shoelaces. However, eventually he grew tired of changing the shoelaces in his sneakers each morning, so he started to wear sneakers without any shoelaces. After all, he reasoned, “It matches—no shoelaces matches with everything!” After he became famous, he remained very much the same, choosing to live in a modest home in his hometown of Hollis, Queens, and choosing to give back to the community. Frequently, he allowed local musicians to use his Merrick Avenue recording studio free of charge. On many Saturdays, if he was not touring, he could be found in a neighborhood park teaching kids how to play basketball or chess. Jay made his mother proud—although when he was a kid, she worried about him. One day, he met a friend by accident on Hollis Avenue. Unfortunately, the friend had just burgled a house. Also unfortunately, a police car arrived on the scene. The friend ran; Jay was arrested and spent a few days in a tough juvenile detention center. Not wanting his mother to worry about him, he told her that the stay in the detention center had been fun. Most unfortunately of all, this attempt to make his mother feel better failed horribly. Convinced that her son was becoming a hardened criminal, she cried.

Memphis garage-punk musician Jay Reatard, nee Jay Lindsey, once made a single with another musician in Austria. The agreement was that together they would issue the single for a European tour, and that later Mr. Lindsey would be able to use the single for another project. Without authorization, the guy in Austria made copies of the single. According to Mr. Lindsey, he “pressed it on a clear, six-inch square that plays from the inside out,” then sold the single on eBay for $280 per copy. He did send Mr. Lindsey a few copies of the specially pressed single. Of course, Mr. Lindsey wasn’t happy that an unauthorized use was being made of his work, so he told the guy in Austria, “Since you gave me nine copies, I’ll sell them on eBay and have enough money for a ticket to Austria to kick your *ss. He chilled out after that.” Actually, Mr. Lindsey kept one copy for himself, but unfortunately lost it when moving. He gave the other copies away to friends who he knew would keep and not sell them.

James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J, knew from an early age that he wanted a record deal. When James was 11 years old, he wanted a dirt bike; instead, his grandfather bought him a set of turntables, a microphone, two speakers, and a mixer—everything James needed to develop into LL Cool J. And when he started making homemade tapes and sending them to record companies, his mother bought him a drum machine so he could make better tapes. The gifts and James’ hard work paid off. Rick Rubin, co-creator of Def Jam Records, heard and liked the tape and met James, who told the white Jewish American, “Yo! I thought you were black!” Of course, James didn’t care whether James was black or white, Jewish or non-Jewish. He said, “I didn’t care if Rick Rubin was purple and worshipped penguins. He could have been Ronald McDonald, as long as I got a record deal.”

Rhett Miller, lead vocalist for the popular alterative country/rock band The Old 97’s, is a funny guy. Asked about his hidden talents, he says, “I can hang at least eight spoons from my face (including ears) at once. I do this to amuse small children and embarrass bigger children. I did it at my own wedding reception. I intend to do it at my funeral.” And when asked about what is “essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…,”
he says, “Jameson’s Irish Whisky. I used to think sleep, but now that I have kids I know that to be false. You can live without it, but man, you get cranky sometimes.”

Willie Nelson is a true original. For one thing, his legal real first name is Willie instead of William. For another, he has produced much, much original country music that has at times baffled record producers and companies. For example, in 1975, Mr. Nelson recorded the concept album Red Headed Stranger for Columbia Records, his first record for them. A producer was baffled: “Did he make this in his living room? It’s a piece of sh*t! It sounds like he did this for about two bucks. It’s not produced.” The album is now considered a classic.

Many of the early Ramones’ songs had “I Don’t Wanna” in the title: “I Don’t Wanna Go Down in the Basement,” “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Learned/I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed.” Dee Dee Ramone joked, “We didn’t write a positive song until “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

Yousuf Karsh had the honor of photographing many, many great men and women and talk to them. When he took Albert Einstein’s portrait, he asked the great scientist what the world would be like after another atomic bomb explosion. Mr. Einstein replied, “Alas, we will no longer be able to hear the music of Mozart.”

Not all elevator music is bad. Pianist Richard Goode was once in an elevator where the music was a Chopin nocturne. Even after arriving at his floor, Mr. Goode stayed in the elevator, listening to the nocturne until it was over.

Composers often write notes about how to play their music. The notes sound wonderful in Italian. For example, “allegro non troppo” means “quick/not too much.”

“Every song is a gospel song. All music is sacred. Every note of music in the world is spiritual and sacred … and that’s the gospel truth. Amen.” — Willie Nelson.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was once asked what a musician needed to know to play the cymbals. He replied, “Nothing — just when.”

While listening to piano music, George Sand preferred to sit directly underneath the piano.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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