David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Work

Work

• Edwin McArthur served for many years as the accompanist to soprano Kirsten Flagstad. Both she and her husband, Henry Johansen, liked Mr. McArthur, and they decided to help get him started in a conducting career. Therefore, Mr. Johansen asked Mr. McArthur to type a letter of intent so that Ms. Flagstad and Mr. Johansen could sign it. Mr. McArthur protested, “But this is something I cannot do. Please get someone else.” But Mr. Johansen replied, “Edwin, you are not the conductor yet. For the moment you are my secretary. Now get out your typewriter and do as I say.”

• Musicians see a lot of ups and downs. Joe “Bean” Esposito was nominated for a Grammy with Brenda Russell for the song “Piano in the Dark” in the late 1980s. However, he was dropped from his label — Capitol Records — and needed money. A friend told him about a painting job that paid $17.50 an hour. Mr. Esposito took the job — it was at Capitol Records. Mr. Esposito remembers, “The day of the Grammys, I’m scraping the wallpaper off the wall and that night I go to the Grammys. Whatever doesn’t kill you, my friend, makes you stronger.”

• Early in their career, the Rolling Stones went to Chess Records to record at the legendary studio where so many of their music heroes had recorded — they were even able to meet Muddy Waters! But what shocked them was that their hero was working as a roadie because people weren’t buying his records at the time. Stones bassist Bill Wyman said, “As kids we would have given our right arm to say hello to [him], and there’s the great Muddy Waters helping carry my guitar into the studio …. It was unreal.”

• In 1943, composer Samuel Barber joined the United States Army, then transferred to the Army Air Forces, where he was given his duty. No, he was not ordered to fight in the war; instead, he was ordered to write a symphony that honored the military. According to his friend and fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti, “Barber was probably the only soldier in the United States who never learned to take a gun apart and put it together again.”

• Jack White of White Stripes fame keeps busy, and he always has. For example, when he and the others started the White Stripes, he was in three different bands. He is married to the model Karen Elson, and in 2009 his children, Scarlett and Henry, were three years old and one year old, respectively. How does Mr. White stay so busy and have children, too? He jokes, “I’ve been told I have children. I’d really love to meet them one day.”

• Benny Goodman was like Fred Astaire — both wanted to be great, not good, and both were willing to put in the necessary number of hours to avoid being merely good. (Being good enough is not good enough for truly gifted people.) Frank Sinatra — who also put in the necessary hours to be great — once asked Mr. Goodman why he was constantly playing the clarinet. Mr. Goodman replied, “Because if I’m not great, I’m good.”

• Being a celebrity photographer has its privileges. Richard Young was so good at his job of shooting stars that ex-Beatle George Harrison invited him to his home to take some photographs of him. Mr. Young drove up to Mr. Harrison’s gate and rang the bell. Seeing this, a couple of school kids said to him, “You’ll never get in there, mate.” With perfect timing, the gate opened and Mr. Young drove up the driveway.

• Some musicians can spend months recording an album, but back when folk singers Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston were in the Merchant Marines, they had two days off in New York City. They used the time well — they went to Moe Asch’s studio, where they recorded 135 songs!

• Ignace Paderewski practiced many hours each day for several years to develop into a world-class pianist. After Queen Victoria heard one of his concerts, she told him that he was a genius. “Perhaps,” Mr. Paderewski replied, “but before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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