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

Work

• Ludo works hard to build an audience. Phil Kosch, a member of Chicago’s Treaty of Paris, learned how driven the band was when he invited them to play a free show in Naperville, Illinois. He says, “We kind of neglected to tell them it was under a canopy, next to a river with this really bad sound system.” This kind of free show with bad venue and bad sound equipment was not a problem for Ludo; instead, it was an opportunity to further build their audience. Members of Ludo work hard to reach the audience, for Ludo has worn out two vans in four years. They definitely make sure to spend time with the audience. On the Warped Tour, members of Ludo were shocked that members of other bands did not spend time shaking hands with members of the audience. And audience members do appreciate that kind of contact. In 2006, the band played their “Cinco de Mustache” show in St. Louis. Present was an Island Records vice president, who was impressed by seeing “1,200 kids singing along to all the songs,” says Dan Friedman, a lawyer who handles Ludo’s record contracts. In fact, the vice president was so impressed that he offered Ludo a record deal, saying, “You’ll have paper within a week.”

• The Ramones worked hard at their concerts, touring constantly and playing even when they were ill. In their early days, bass player Dee Dee Ramone was making $125 a week but had a $100-a-day drug habit. Still, he showed up on time for concerts — for one thing, Johnny Ramone fined band members $25 for showing up late. One concert, because of the drugs, Dee Dee was ill, so he made his way to the side of the stage and vomited — but he kept on playing! Also early in their career, Johnny Ramone was playing guitar so fast and furiously — creating a wall of sound with his downstrokes — that he cut his fingers. He kept playing although so much blood ended up on his T-shirt that the audience thought he had smuggled in blood capsules to use in the act. Later, as a result of the relentless touring, Johnny developed such thick calluses on his fingers that it was impossible to cut them.

• The Bangles had several hits in the 1980s, and like other bands, occasionally a member left the band and was replaced. For example, in 2005 bassist Michael Steele left the band. Why? Reality got in the way. Most of the Bangles have children, and they put family first, fitting in Bangles time whenever they can. Ms. Steele was the only member of the band without children, and Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs says, “Fair enough: she doesn’t have kids, so she has more time to really devote to music, and it was probably extremely annoying to her when Back to School Night or something might bring down an entire tour, y’know? But that’s just how it is for us. But I really wish her well.”

• At age 16, White Rabbits bass player Adam Russell dropped out of high school because he was annoyed that his teachers insisted that he listen to them instead of reading books such as philosophy texts by Nietzsche, Moby Dick, and physics textbooks during class. Later, he moved to New York where he played music and got a job in the Strand bookstore, for which he had to take a test before being gainfully employed. The test included such questions as “Who wrote The Age of Innocence?” and “Who wrote Catcher in the Rye?” Not surprisingly, he had no trouble passing the test.

***

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

Television

• Johnny Ramone, lead guitarist for the Ramones, was a baseball fanatic. According to Howie Pyro, musician for D Generation, sometimes at a concert Johnny would be watching a baseball game on a TV set that was off to the side of the stage, not even looking at his guitar, but “just playing like a machine.” (In his juvenile delinquent phase just after graduating from high school, Johnny always enjoyed finding a TV set that someone had thrown in the garbage. He would lug it up to a rooftop, watch for pedestrians to come along, and then drop the TV set in front of them.)

• In 2008, Ringo Starr released a new album titled Liverpool 8. Mr. Starr feels strongly about his music, and he was supposed to play the title song on the TV show Live With Regis and Kelly. However, when the producers wanted to reduce the performance time of the title song to 2 minutes and 30 seconds down from 4 minutes and 15 seconds, Mr. Starr said, “God bless and goodbye,” and then walked away.

Titles

• Stephin Merritt, frontman for The Magnetic Fields, tends to think up titles to 26 songs at one time because he finds that it helps his creativity to think up a song title for each of the letters of the alphabet. He says, “This helps me come up with songs like ‘Xavier Says’ and ‘Zombie Boy’ that I otherwise might not think of.” Some people who listen to his lyrics may consider him a pessimist, but Mr. Merritt points out, “A pessimist is always right in the long term. If you read anybody’s biography, you know the ending.”

• Many of the early Ramones’ songs had “I Don’t Wanna” in the title: “I Don’t Wanna Go Down in the Basement,” “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Learned / I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed.” Dee Dee Ramone joked, “We didn’t write a positive song until “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

War

• While Lily Pons and André Kostelanetz were entertaining the troops during World War II, they heard of a general who had been asked for the password while out walking. The general didn’t know the password, so the sentries asked him, “Who is Frank Sinatra?” The general replied, “A d*mn poor singer!” Apparently, this answer was correct, as the sentries allowed the general to pass.

• During World War I, tenor Henry Wendon was with a fellow British soldier in Palestine when his companion suddenly fell to the ground during one of their walks. He thought something was wrong, but his friend had seen some black tulips growing in the wild, and he asked Mr. Wendon to help him dig some bulbs for his garden back home in England.

• Music can exert a powerful effect on human beings. In December 1937, during the Spanish civil war, African-American actor/singer Paul Robeson went to Spain. While there, he sang — soldiers on both sides of the conflict called a truce for an hour just so they could hear his concert.

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 3 — Rehearsals, Revenge, Success

Rehearsals

• Violinist Bronislav Huberman would not rehearse with conductor Pierre Monteux. Just before a rehearsal, he would send Mr. Monteux a telegram saying, “You know it, I know it, the orchestra knows it; will see you at the concert!” Actually, Mr. Huberman was correct. He, Mr. Monteux, and the orchestra had worked together so much that they knew the music they would perform together, and so the concerts always went well.

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini was passionate about music and wanted all of his musicians to put their blood into their work the way he did. At a rehearsal, he told his orchestra, “Put your blood! I put my blood!” (By the way, Arturo Toscanini enjoyed listening to music on records — while listening, he had a habit of holding his baton and conducting.)

Revenge

• Jazz musician Louis Armstrong ran into prejudice while performing in the Jim Crow South. On one concert tour, the white wife of his manager did the managing and traveled with Mr. Armstrong and his band. She arranged for the buses they traveled in, and she always ordered a bus with a soft back seat for Mr. Armstrong. Once, a bus she had ordered in Memphis arrived, but it did not have the soft seat she had ordered, so she began to argue. Somehow, the police showed up. They saw a white woman and a lot of black men, so they arrested the black men. The Memphis police chief said that one way to get out of the difficulty was for Mr. Armstrong and his band to perform on Memphis radio, and the black musicians had to agree although they had done nothing wrong. Mr. Armstrong got a measure of revenge, however, by dedicating a song to the Memphis police chief: “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal, You.”

• These anecdotes fall into the category of dirty tricks rather than harmless pranks. Alfred Hertz was forced to use a cane when walking very far. As conductor of Wagnerian operas at the Metropolitan Opera from 1902 to 1915, he used to leave his cane at the side of the orchestra pit, then walk to the podium. Musicians who disliked him would get his cane, then grease it. And in 1968-1969, youths threw eggs at several opera-goers at Milan. Why? The opera-goers were very well dressed, and the youths wanted opera to be democratized.

Success

• Hillary Scott is one of the vocalists of Lady Antebellum (the other members are Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood), and she and the band are making a success — and she is grateful for it. On April 15, 2008, the band’s self-titled debut album came out. At 3 a.m., Ms. Scott was in a Wal-Mart in Nashville, watching as the band’s album was stocked in the new-releases section, in between James Otto and Mariah Carey. She even started to cry. Ms. Scott says, “I was so overcome with emotion. Not only because I had worked my whole life for this, but because of how much we’d worked since we got together. These songs were our babies. I can’t tell you how overwhelming this was. I just lost it.”

• Eminem got his big break because Interscope Records executive Jimmy Iovine left Eminem’s EP titled The Slim Shady EP on his garage floor. Rapper and music executive Dr. Dre visited Mr. Iovine and saw the EP. He liked the cover, insisted on hearing the EP, and was impressed by what he heard. Dr. Dre says, “In my entire career in the music industry, I have never found anything from a demo tape or a CD. But when Jimmy played me this tape, I said, ‘Find him. Now.’” Of course, Eminem has had enormous success as a rapper, but he says that he is prepared if he ever stops being successful in music because he can go back to his first job: washing dishes.

***

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

Recordings

• When the Swedish punk/new wave group the Hives recorded “Try It Again,” they felt that the chorus of the song was like a cheer. They had seen a football game played by Ole Miss, were impressed by the cheerleaders, and arranged for five or six Ole Miss cheerleaders to sing the chorus. Hives bass player Dr. Matt Destruction was very happy that the cheerleaders came to the studio to record the song. They wore their cheerleading outfits and were enthusiastic and happy, and best of all, they smelled good. Dr. Matt Destruction remembers, “The studio was smelling like beer and farts […] and then they came in and it smelled like strawberries and flowers for an entire day. It was really, really fun. They’re cheerleaders, so we were happy, everybody, the whole day.”

• Enrico Caruso was not satisfied with the quality of many of his recordings because he felt that they did not offer a faithful reproduction of his singing. One day, he offered to play his newest recordings for a group of friends. After listening to the recordings he played, all of his friends assured him that the recordings were excellent and in fact were the best recordings he had ever made. However, Mr. Caruso then said, “No more — please! It makes me too sad. These are not my records at all. They were made by an unknown tenor who is not even included in the catalogue of the better artists!”

• Willie Nelson is a true original. For one thing, his legal real first name is Willie instead of William. For another, he has produced much, much original country music that has at times baffled record producers and companies. For example, in 1975, Mr. Nelson recorded the concept album Red Headed Stranger for Columbia Records, his first record for them. A producer was baffled: “Did he make this in his living room? It’s a piece of sh*t! It sounds like he did this for about two bucks. It’s not produced.” The album is now considered a classic.

• How many recordings a duo has sometimes depends on how they count. In the summer of 2008, Jennifer Daniels and her husband, Jeff Neal, headed to the studio to make their fourth recording. Or it’s their sixth, Jennifer says, if you count their Christmas EP and the “one that we’re embarrassed to sell.”

Rehearsals

• Jacques Thibaud was both a violinist and a golfer, and he made lots of money at each occupation. One year, he was booked to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, but it quickly became apparent at a rehearsal that he was making many, many more mistakes than he should be making. Conductor Pierre Monteux asked him what was wrong, and Mr. Thibaud replied, “I haven’t had time to work this summer — there are so many golf tournaments.” Mr. Monteux said, “You’d better watch out. Your golf will ruin your violin technique.” To Mr. Monteux’s surprise, Mr. Thibaud told him, “I’m only afraid the violin will ruin my golf.”

• Sergei Rachmaninoff — a very punctual man — was supposed to rehearse with Leopold Stokowski, but the conductor was busy rehearsing a Tchaikovsky symphony. Mr. Rachmaninoff waited a few minutes, then strode to the piano and hit a loud chord. Of course, everything got very quiet very quickly. Mr. Rachmaninoff said, “The piano is here; I am here; it is 11 o’clock. Let us rehearse.” Mr. Stokowski then began to rehearse Mr. Rachmaninoff and let the Tchaikovsky symphony wait.

***

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

Problem-Solving

• During his American tour of 1883-1884, Colonel James H. Mapleson took his opera company out West where in Sacramento, California, a San Francisco reporter wished to interview prima donna Adelina Patti. Colonel Mapleson tried to put off the reporter, but the reporter insisted on an interview, threatening, “I have come hundreds of miles to interview Patti, and see her I must. Refuse me, and I shall simply telegraph two lines to San Francisco that Patti has caught a severe cold in the mountains, and that [rival prima donna Etelka] Gerster’s old throat complaint is coming on again. Do you understand me?” Understanding the damage to his profits that would occur if the San Francisco newspapers were to report that his leading prima donnas were not able to sing, Colonel Mapleson allowed the reporter to interview Ms. Patti.

• Tour manager Bob Whittaker says, “There are 50 ways to get one thing done on tour.” Of course, you have to be quick-witted to figure out the best way to get something done. Once, he and the band were running very late and it looked like they would miss an important flight. Fortunately, Mr. Whittaker saw a man wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket. Although the man had absolutely nothing to do with check-in, Mr. Whittaker gave him $100 and told him to walk to a certain place. Mr. Whittinger and the band followed the official-looking man, and Mr. Whittinger says, “Just by doing that, we cut quite a few lines and made the flight.”

• Jews and blacks have both endured prejudice — a very good reason to make music together. During the Jim Crow era, Robert “Red Rodney” Roland Chudnick, who was both redheaded and Jewish, played trumpet with jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker as the only white member of Bird’s quintet. When the quintet played in the South, they ran into a problem with laws making it illegal for white and black people to share a stage together. Bird solved the problem by claiming that Red Rodney was a light-skinned black person, and he called him “Albino Red” on stage. (To help with the deception, Red Rodney also sang a blues song.)

• During a duet at the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Franco Corelli ran out of breath while soprano Birgit Nilsson kept singing a high note. (Met general manager Rudolf Bing blamed this on the conductor, Leopold Stokowski, who had neglected to let the singers know how long the note had to be held.) This made Mr. Corelli angry, and he threatened to not finish the opera. Mr. Bing was able to calm him down by telling him to bite Ms. Nilsson’s ear during their love scene in the next act. This made Mr. Corelli happy, but fortunately he only told Ms. Nilsson that he was going to bite her ear — he did not actually bite her.

• In September of 1969, tenor John Brecknock was given the role of Paris in Jacques Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène at the London Coliseum. This was an important role for him at the time, and it was in an important venue. Of course, he got stage fright, and just before he was supposed to go on stage, he turned to baritone Derek Hammond-Stroud and said, “I can’t go on. I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” The next moment he was flying onto the stage — Mr. Hammond-Stroud had given him a mighty shove. Of course, once he was on stage, Mr. Brecknock was forced to sing.

***

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

From Bruce Anecdotes

Prejudice

• African-American blues musician Buddy Guy played with a white boy when he was a child, but eventually adults told the boys that they couldn’t play together because of their racial differences. This puzzled the boys because at night they could shine a flashlight through their hands and their hands looked the same. Mr. Guy says, “We didn’t have no lights or streetlights, so after it got dark, you could take a flashlight and shine it up to your hand and see red blood. Whether you were black or white, you could see that there. Me and him saw that, and I said, ‘Somebody’s lying.’ Underneath, we’re all the same.”

• While in New Brunswick, conductor Pierre Monteux stopped at a group of cabins where he wanted to stay the night. However, a woman in the office told him, “Sorry, I have nothing!” Just then, a young girl went to the woman and whispered to her, telling her who Mr. Monteux was. The woman then said, “Excuse me, sir, I did not know that you were Someone. I think that I can accommodate you.” Mr. Monteux bowed to the woman and said, “Madame, everyone is Someone. Au revoir.”

Problem-Solving

• Veteran singer-songwriter Jill Sobule keeps writing and singing, but record companies keep dying. What to do if you want to record a new album? She set up a Web site called <jillsnextrecord.com> and solicited donations from her fans so she could make her next album. She needed $75,000, and in less than two months, happily, she got $75,000. Of course, she worried that she would get much less: “It’s one of those things I was never quite sure if it was ever going to work, and so far it has. The initial fear is that it would just be my mother and some cousins donating, and it could’ve been humiliating.” To get the money, of course, she offered incentives. In the words of music writer Greg Kot: “$10 bought a free digital download of the album, $200 earned free admission to any Sobule show this year [2009], $500 ensured that the donor would be mentioned in a song at the end of the album, and $5,000 booked a Sobule concert in the donor’s living room.” Her idea worked, but it has a cost. The social networking she does takes time, and in a six-week period she wrote no songs. Still, she got her album recorded; it is titled California Years.

• Early in his career, tenor John L. Brecknock was determined to get himself out of his own jams — not always with good results. While singing a love duet on stage with Catherine Wilson, he had a mental blackout and could not remember the words. Ms. Wilson whispered the correct words to him, but he was so concentrating on getting himself out of the jam that he did not listen to her. She repeated the words, and this time he whispered back, “I know what I’m doing.” After a few more seconds, he remembered the words and recovered. In his autobiography, Scaling the High Cs, Mr. Brecknock writes, “… if I had allowed myself to be guided by someone who knew better, the situation could have been resolved within a couple of bars of music, rather than a couple of pages — and without making the conductor pull his hair out in the pit.”

***

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

Politics

• Back in 1956, when Yugoslavia was under the control of the dictator Josef Broz Tito, a Yugoslav consul-general confessed to theatrical guru Danny Newman that he never missed a performance at the Chicago Civic Opera by the baritone Tito Gobbi. Mr. Newman said that he understood that because Mr. Gobbi was a truly great baritone, but the consul-general replied, “Yes, but that’s not the real reason I love him so much. You see, Mr. Newman, Yugoslavia is a communist country and not very popular here. So your Civic Opera House is the only place in this country where I can publicly yell my head off with “BRAVO, Tito! BRAVO, Tito!”

• Tom Morello, the Harvard-educated (in political science) musician in Rage Against the Machine, once worked a day job as the late California Democratic Senator Alan Cranston’s scheduling secretary, a position in which he worked mostly at raising money. One day, a crying woman called the Senator’s office to complain about Mexicans moving into her neighborhood. He called the woman a racist, and he told her to go to h*ll, remarks for which he got into trouble. Mr. Morello says, “That’s when I realized, if in my job I can’t tell a racist to go to h*ll, I’m not in the right job.”

Practical Jokes

• In 2008, a practical joke called “rickrolling” arrived on the Internet. In rickrolling, Internet users are promised one thing, but given something else. For example, someone might search for “Keira Knightley upskirt photo” — I am not making this up — and when they click on the link hoping to see a Keira Knightley panty shot, they are instead linked to a videoclip of Rick Astley singing the song “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a song the writer of this book likes a lot. Of course, people may wonder, Why Rick Astley? Aren’t there worse singers and worse songs from the 1980s? Writer Alexis Petridis wonders why “Let’s All Chant,” by a couple of British radio personalities named Pat and Mick isn’t used in this kind of practical joke. The song was so bad that the names “Pat and Mick” were used in cockney rhyming slang in which a word or phrase that rhymes is used instead of the regular word. Instead of saying, “That lager made me sick,” slangsters said, “That lager made me Pat and Mick.”

• Steve Pollak, an elementary schoolteacher, member of the Phish, and songwriter of “Suzy Greenberg,” has perhaps the best-ever rock-and-roll nickname. In 1982, he was attending a boarding school, Taft, which inhabited a 220-acre tract in Watertown, Connecticut. One wild night, he donned orange goggles and a tapestry and started spouting the wisdom of the ages — or what a sophomore considered to be the wisdom of the ages — to a group of stoned friends, who promptly dubbed him the “Dude of Life,” a nickname that stuck. The Dude was known for his antics on stage; for example, he threw rubber chickens from the stage to the fans. The rubber chickens bore handwritten messages from members of the band. One rubber chicken bore the message, “One day I’ll have such an orgasm that my…(To be continued on next bird).”

• Jazz violinist Joe Venuti used to go out with his bassist, Irving Edelman, and eat Italian food with him after they had finished performing. He also played a practical joke on Mr. Edelman by putting a little bag of sand in his bass after each performance, so that the bass got heavier and heavier. Mr. Venuti didn’t explain the joke until Mr. Edelman came to him and said that he was going to quit because all the Italian food he had been eating had caught up to him and it was getting too difficult for him to carry his bass.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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