(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)
So, there I am in Atlanta, GA, of all places, finally getting an opportunity to work "full-time" in "the business" with established, seasoned performers, blissfully unaware it's already coming apart. (Hey, I was barely 20.)
Probably seeing the oft-ignored handwriting on the proverbial wall, Travis devoted a good deal of time and effort convincing Pat & Barbara I could help them with their show.
I began by just addressing the bits they were doing--tidying up setups, strengthening punch lines, smoothing continuity. They were young, bright, and humble enough to learn. They were also packing the little lounge every night (except the one night off) with their contagious, high-energy style. (I also reset the few baby spotlights the club had, so more of what was happening could actually be seen. A lot of their comedy relied on takes and reactions, so that helped.)
Meanwhile, Travis was just not rehearsing anymore, and Bob was shifting into a hip country thing with Bucky Wilkin and a bass player whose name I don't recall. There were lots of laughs offstage, due to Bob's personality and the word games he liked to play; but, they now needed a comedy writer not at all. Anyway, I didn't have any handle on humor for the genre they were focused on now.
I was quite taken with Bucky, and we had some great times together, even writing a song, "Atlanta Revelations," which P & B recorded as the "B" side of a single Travis had written called "Moonbabies and Starflowers." (Hey, it was the late 60s.) I got to be in on the studio session in Nashville, with Rick Powell producing!
So, I became a coach for Pat & Barbara, sitting in the back of the room during shows, furiously writing on a legal pad every point they needed to polish. Between shows, in the dressing rooms, I would go over the notes for the next show from the previous night, to remind them of things to focus on in that set. They were eager, quick, and improving steadily.
I had given them plenty to chew on, so when I returned to Tucson, it was with the understanding that I would continue to write for them. Back in the Old Pueblo, I returned to radio, my fall-back gig for decades.
Then, word came that P & B's backers were getting ready to build a showroom for them and they needed someone they could trust to design lights and sound. I met with a friend who had been a consultant with JBL for a few years, and, based on the rough blueprints I had been sent, we crafted a plan and an equipment list. Long story short, we ended up with a first class showroom with a combination proscenium/apron stage with theatrical lighting and pure, clean, stereo sound for a room seating 300. (Pat & Barbara filled that room six nights a week, too!)
I was working full-time as their producer, and getting paid to run lights and sound.
About this time I had my first experience with "backers," the entertainment hobbyists who had fallen in love with Pat & Barbara's ability to fill a bar with happy drinkers. In spite of the fact that the act was the focal point of the whole enterprise, and that presentation was an important factor in this highly competitive business, the money minders began trying to cheap out, and we had to fight to get my plans implemented. We prevailed, and, with the exception of a couple of glitches we worked out after a couple weeks, we launched a new level of entertainment experience for that city's live show fans.
I'm not exaggerating when I say we turned that 300-seat room over for two shows a night on weekdays, and three on weekends! The backers began to smell serious money and decided to hitch a restaurant to the rocket, forging a deal with Jimmy Orr (yes, the athlete) to "merge" with his not-so-thriving "End Zone."
Pat & Barbara, still rather unclear on what 25% of their club was worth, began getting the old run-around about the proposed deal, and trust began to deteriorate. I was, due to inexperience and immaturity, responsible for making everyone very upset with what I considered to be normal business questions. I had married Barbara, further complicating both our relationships with Pat, and felt I had to press on this sore spot until something happened. It did.
When Pat & Barbara broke up, we moved to Tucson and Pat realized a lifelong dream and became part of The New Kingston Trio, along with Bob and Jim Connor (who wrote "Grandma's Feather Bed"). There is history and even music, I think, on an excellent site where Allan Shaw has held forth for a long time as the expert on the whole era. http://www.folkera.com/ktrio/bio.html
How things went from there will have to be another installment. I've glossed over a lot already.