David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Practical Jokes, Prejudice

Practical Jokes

• Pianist J.W. “Blind” Boone owned a watch that cost $1,000, an enormous amount of money at the time. He used the watch to play a practical joke on children, whom he told that the watch could foretell the future. In 1888, he told one group of children that the watch had told him that Benjamin Harrison would defeat Grover Cleveland and become President of the United States. In fact, Harrison did defeat Cleveland, and so the children believed that Blind Boone’s watch could predict the future.

• Leo Slezak would sometimes play a joke on small-town German audiences. During a concert, he would sing a little-known piece by a giant of music such as Schubert or Schumann, then say that his pianist had written the music just recently. The small-town German audience would applaud as the pianist took his bows.

Prejudice

• In the early 1970s, all-girl bands were largely regarded as novelty acts, making it difficult for the real thing — all-woman rock band Fanny — to find acceptance. After considering a number of women’s names for the name of the band and deciding on “Fanny,” band members then discovered that their record company’s publicity department was coming up with slogans such as the double-meaning “Get behind Fanny.” Occasionally, people thought that Fanny was an all-female vocal group who sang topless while the real band, composed of men, played the musical instruments. While touring in Joliet, Illinois, band members discovered that the promoters were expecting a topless band. Some of the costumes the record company had the band wear were skimpy and risqué, getting them banned from London’s Palladium at one point. Bass guitarist Jean Millington remembers, “I wore a tank top made from coins. I had to wear pasties or the coins would pinch my nipples. June’s outfit was turquoise, Jean wore crystals, and Nickey’s shirt had sequins. It was all very Las Vegas showgirl.” Nickey Barclay played keyboards, June Millington (Jean’s older sister) played lead guitar, and Alice de Buhr played drums. When they recorded their first album — self-titled — few people took them seriously. Alice remembers, “We got asked all the time about the male studio musicians who must’ve played on the album. Those questions stopped after the third or fourth album.” Despite the BS, Fanny released six albums and had two top-40 hits:“Charity Ball” (1971, #40) and “Butter Boy” (1975, #29). In the liner notes to Fanny’s 2002 4-CD compilation First Time in a Long Time, Bonnie Raitt calls Fanny a “real rock band full of smart, tough, and talented women — who could really play.”

• African-American jazz musician Branford Marsalis has faced racism. As a student in Boston, he and two white friends went into an all-white and very tough neighborhood in South Boston. Some white teenagers with baseball bats saw Branford and didn’t like his color, so they attacked him and his friends. Branford got away and ran for help to a gas station. A really big white man with a chain came to the rescue. He told Branford, “They’re [messing] with you ’cause you’re black, aren’t they? I hate that.” Then the man and his son rescued Branford’s friends. Branford, noting the white man’s help, says, “I can’t really indict the whole neighborhood.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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