David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Problem-Solving, Recordings

Problem-Solving

• Early in his career, Broadway musical star Ben Vereen went on the road, so he sublet his apartment to a friend who neglected to pay the rent. The landlord changed the locks to Mr. Vereen’s apartment, making him officially homeless. For a while, Mr. Vereen climbed the fire escape, entered the window, and slept in his own bed at night, leaving by the window during the day so he wouldn’t run into his landlord.

• While Lillian Nordica was singing in Wagner’s Rienzi, several women members of the chorus walked on stage carrying alcohol torches. One woman accidentally tipped her torch, and some alcohol fell to the floor and started burning. Still singing, Ms. Nordica walked over to the flame, stepped on it, and put it out — without missing a note.

• Jazz pianist Erroll Garner used to carry a Manhattan telephone directory with him on tour. The standard piano bench wasn’t high enough for Mr. Garner, but when he placed the Manhattan telephone directory on top of the piano bench, the height was just right.

• During World War II, soprano Kirsten Flagstad was in Norway so she could be with her husband. A friend asked her what she would do if the Nazis asked her to sing. She replied, “I am not going to sing for them. You know a singer can always be ill.”

• Bluesman Robert Johnson was very successful with women. He simply asked them for he wanted: “Can I go home with you? Can I be with you?” Many of them said yes.

Recordings

• James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J, knew from an early age that he wanted a record deal. When James was 11 years old, 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 Rick 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.”

• Cleveland-based production team the Kickdrums is made up of two people: Matt Penttila and Alex Fitts. They have worked hard, and such luminaries as 50 Cent have used their beats. At times, they have gone to New York with lots of self-produced CDs, and they have stood outside record companies handing out CDs to anyone who passed by, hoping to get one of their CDs into the hands of someone in A&R (Artists and Repertoire). Of course, many people who get a CD are not in A&R. Mr. Penttila says, “If they give you a weird look, then you know it’s a janitor.” Still, says Mr. Fitts, “You start with the guys you can get to. It benefits both sides, because then the low-level A&Rs take it to their boss, and it’s like, ‘I discovered this new talent.’ Eventually, you get a call from a big-time A&R about the CD you gave somebody else.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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