• Walter Damrosch pioneered the playing of classical music in American towns where classical music had never been played. In one town, he was conducting a Beethoven symphony when someone in the audience loudly requested that the orchestra play “The Arkansas Traveler.” Mr. Damrosch conducted his orchestra in “The Arkansas Traveler,” then resumed conducting the Beethoven symphony.
• Early in his career, Douglas Colvin was not musically sophisticated. At an audition to join the New York band the Neon Boys, he was asked to play a C. He knew how to play a few musical notes, so Douglas played a note, then looked at the Neon Boys. But he had played the wrong note, so they shook their heads. This went on for a few notes, and Douglas failed the audition. Later, Douglas, who was then well known as Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones, became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
• Tenor Richard Tucker scored a huge success at his 1944 audition for the New York Metropolitan Opera. After Mr. Tucker had sung, from the darkness of the theater came the voice of conductor Emil Cooper: “I will assume full responsibility for this man’s career.”
• John Lennon could behave erratically at times. He and fellow musician Harry Nilsson once spent a drunken evening together. After getting kicked out — with good reason — of a Smothers Brothers concert in Los Angeles, they went to the Lost on Larrabee restaurant. John disappeared into a bathroom, and then he reappeared with a feminine-hygiene product on his forehead. He asked the waitress, “Do you know who I am?” The waitress looked at him and said, “Yes, you’re some a**hole with a Kotex on his forehead.”
• Sarah Johns moved to Nashville, sang, and to support her singing, washed tour buses. A few years later, she had a contract with a music company, and she was touring in her own tour bus. Does that mean she doesn’t have to clean tour buses anymore? No. She has to clean her own tour bus. She says, “I clean the toilet every morning, because, you know, I’m on there with a bunch of guys, and they always miss.”
• Joe Williams became famous singing the blues, but for a long time he was paid more to sing popular songs such as ballads — which he and others called “pretty songs” and “pretty tunes.” In 1941, Mr. Williams was being paid $45 a week to sing the blues. In between the blues shows, he remembers, he would sing “all kinds of pretty tunes of the day.” Coleman Hawkins listened to the pretty tunes, liked what he heard, and told him, “I want you to come with me and travel as my vocalist. I don’t want you to sing the blues. I want you to sing the pretty songs, and I’m gonna give you $80 a week.” Mr. Williams jokes, “I lost my allegiance to the blues just like that!” The same thing kept happening. Andy Kirk wanted him to sing the pretty songs and let Beverly White sing the blues. And Lionel Hampton wanted him to sing the pretty songs and let Dinah Washington sing the blues. In 1954, Mr. Williams started singing with Count Basie’s band. He sang “Everyday I Have the Blues” and kept singing the blues after that.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Buy: