David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

• Soul singer James Brown got his big break after he and his band, the Flames, took the stage without authorization during an intermission in a Little Richard concert in Macon, Georgia, in 1955. They wowed the crowd, and they wowed Little Richard’s road manager, who gave them the telephone number of the man who managed most Mason-based R&B acts: Clint Brantley. Sure enough, they showed up to audition for Mr. Brantley that Saturday. Unfortunately, Mr. Brantley was hung over and at first requested that they leave, but he relented enough to let them sing one song. They sang “Looking for My Mother,” and Mr. Brantley recalled, “Goddamn, man, them sons-of-bitches, they looked for her, too. All under the tables, all under the damned seats. Everywhere. When they got through, I said, ‘Boys, y’all can sing!’” And, of course, he signed the group.

• Early in their career, the Ramones played in London on July 4, 1976. Some cool kids who called themselves The Clash hung around during a sound check before the concert and talked to the members of the band, mentioning that they played music too but weren’t good enough to play in public. Johnny Ramone told them, “Are you kidding? I hope you’re coming tonight. We’re lousy. We can’t play. If you wait until you can play, you’ll be too old to get up there. We stink, really. But it’s great.” (Of course, this is a great example of punk rock’s DYI—Do It Yourself—attitude.) The concert made headlines. A tabloid used the headline “Glue Sniff Shocker” because one Ramones’ song was titled “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” This amused bass player Dee Dee Ramone, who said, “I hope they really don’t think we sniff glue. I quit when I was eight.”

• Many people don’t realize this, but the moves of Mick Jaggar on stage at concerts are to an extent choreographed. No, no one tells Mr. Jaggar exactly what to do each moment on stage, but people such as choreographer Toni Basil help him be on stage for two hours without repeating the same moves over and over—and without looking choreographed. Ms. Basil does give him ideas to use, such as “For this song, be a pimp like the Harvey Keitel character in the film Taxi Driver.” Or she can give him ideas about to where to sing a song: “On this song, go out on the ramp and stay there and sing beyond the step.” And yes, she does create some steps so that Mr. Jaggar looks good while performing.

• Sometimes, young people don’t appreciate when they are surrounded by genius—although they do appreciate it later. Felia Doubrovska danced in Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company, where she worked with and was surrounded by people such as Bronislavka Nijinsky, George Balanchine, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Georges Auric, and Sergei Prokofiev. At a party thrown by Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky was playing the piano, and Mr. Diaghilev told Ms. Doubrovska, “Eat later. Now listen and try to learn something.” Mr. Stravinsky was playing Les Noces—in the ballet of which Ms. Doubrovska later danced the role of the Bride.

• When the teenaged Lou Reed started riding a motorcycle with a guitar on his back and a sneer on his face, his parents forced him to undergo a series of shock treatments before he started his senior year in high school. The shock treatments erased many memories and strengthened his desire to shock his parents. He once brought home a nice Jewish girl whom his parents loved. A year later, the nice Jewish girl was still his girlfriend, but her new name was “Miss Trash,” and she dressed like her name. Mr. Reed, of course, was a founding member of the Velvet Underground and he recorded the music he wanted to record, not the music that he thought would be popular.

• Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson once combed the backwaters of New Orleans looking for musical talent. They even walked to places where white taxi drivers feared to take them. Eventually, they found Professor Longhair playing in a shack and singing old-time blues. They listened for a while, and then Mr. Ertegun told Mr. Abramson, “My God, we’ve discovered a primitive genius.” They then approached Professor Longhair, and Mr. Ertegun introduced himself and said, “You won’t believe this, but I want to record you.” Professor Longhair replied, “You won’t believe this, but I just signed with Mercury.”

• Edward Villella once was rehearsing the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deuxon a very small stage for a performance with the New York Philharmonic. He was comfortable dancing on the very small stage, but every time he came close to the very front of the stage, closest to the orchestra pit, a cellist there was terrified that he would fall off stage and onto him and his instrument. During a break in rehearsal, the cellist showed Mr. Villella his cello and pleaded, “Could you please not come so close to me when you dance? Please! I beg you! This is priceless! It’s a Stradivarius!”

• Bill Wyman, bass player for the Rolling Stones, grew up poor. His family owned only one toothbrush, which they shared, and food was often lacking. Later, when the Rolling Stones were just getting started, he was able to join the band despite a lack of enthusiasm from the other members because he enjoyed a little material prosperity. He explains, “They didn’t like me, but I had a good amplifier, and they were badly in need of amplifiers at that time. So they kept me on.”

• Before becoming a science fiction writer, Anne McCaffrey worked as an advertising copy layout artist for Liberty Music Shops. While in an elevator, she heard a salesperson tell actress Tallulah Bankhead that a new record player could play up to four hours and a half of music. Ms. Bankhead often played romantic music on her record player, so she turned to her boyfriend and asked mischievously, “Dahling, do you think that will be long enough?”

• One of rocker Rod Stewart’s major influences was gospel and pop singer Sam Cooke. In fact, Mr. Stewart once spent two years listening to Mr. Cooke and only Mr. Cooke.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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