Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getting into the business

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

On the bulletin board at Ash Alley I found a note about a classical guitar for sale.  (B & T played classical guitars, as opposed to the more popular steel string.) 
It was $35, which I had from my little yardwork business.

It was a La Valenciana guitar, which served me well until Rick Fritchie sat in it while we were horsing around in my room a couple of years later. A very kind gent who lived across the street, Clyde Wary, was a master cabinet maker.  He insisted on fixing it for me so earnestly I had to let him, though I suspected his skills were not really applicable.  He did a beautiful job.  It looked just like a guitar.

I had so much trouble making my hands contort into basic chord positions, I often had to use the fingers of my right hand to place the fingers of my left hand correctly.  Concerned, I finally consulted a classmate, Bob Johnson, who had a pretty decent rock band.  I wanted to know if I was going to be capable of this.  Bob showed me the two barre chord positions, and how quick a change had to be, and said, "Learn to do that and come back in two weeks."

Two painful weeks later, I was back, making the change from barre to double barre.  Bob said, "Go for it!"  I didn't have another guitar lesson until my last in 1970.

In my junior year of highschool, I met Ken Globus, a classmate in Drama, and when I turned him on to my addiction, he said, "We could do that!"  (You may only have thought of Ken as "The Bird Whisperer," a much later avocation that brought him considerable recognition.)

Before long, we were actually getting paid small stipends by civic groups (and others) to perform our little show of simple songs and gags!

After highschool, we both went for our six months of active duty training with the Marine Reserves.  We met up again at Camp Talega (area 64), in the northernmost tules of Camp Pendleton for combat engineers school.  A week away from concluding my active duty, I got a strep throat infection that ruined my voice.  It was 20 years before I learned what to do about it.

Ken's family had moved to L.A., so he went to Pasadena Playhouse, played music with a female partner for a while, and then moved to Israel where he wrote hit songs and a musical and ended up working, strangely enough, with Globus/Goram (no relation) films.

I became reacquainted with Ken a few years ago (at Judy's urging), and he was overcome by cancer very shortly after that.  Moral:  Don't wait 'til your wife has to tell you to look someone up.

So, with my pipes wrecked, I wasn't going to be a performer.  Fortunately, my highschool speech teacher, the wonderful and patient Don Milner, turned me on to my first radio gig in my junior year. Through that I met some of the better DJs in Tucson, mainly Tom Kyle and Rich Heatley, and began doing character voices for their drop-ins and learning audio production.

Stranded off a traveling sales crew in Denver in the summer of '65, I applied at an employment agency that just happened to do the hiring for the Intermountain Radio Network and found my first full-time radio gig at KBZZ in La Junta,CO.  There I was mentored by a genuine old pro and true mensch, Marv Conn, and thus began my other career (the subject of a book I've begun).

Then the fall of '66 found me back in Tucson, where, with the recommendations of Tom and Rich, I secured an airshift at KOLD (AM).

Travis was back in Tucson (the duo having broken up the year before) and Tom and another broadcaster, Nick Cutrules, had set him up as the emcee for the Miss Teenage Tucson Pageant.  Tom suggested me as a continuity writer and Travis said, "Yeah, I know him.  He is funny!"

The show was, indeed, hilarious.  "? and The Mysterians" (remember them?) never showed.  With that name, who could expect them to?  Tom and I also worked lights, sound, and supplemental audio (track cueing).

Travis was always good at setting himself up as House Troubador at a guest ranch or country club, enabling him to live like a prince and still take regular gigs.  One of his engagements was at a supper club called "The Bull & Bear."

Remember supper clubs?  Then you, like I, are a dinosaur.  They were nightclubs with shows and excellent food as well as drinks.  Beginners learned their chops there, becoming pros, and pros worked there in between the big gigs. I was there, as was Tom, every night Trav was.

Then the bomb threats started.

We later learned the whole thing was a set-up by an FBI subcontractor trying to convince his superiors he had found long-lusted-after mob activity.  A couple of charges were actually placed, one under the seat of Tom's car, which I spotted as I squatted by his open driver's door one evening, talking with him.

We both knew from combat training (Tom was also a  reservist) that if a charge didn't go off when depressed, it would surely go off when released; so Tom sweated there until the cops came.  Fortunately, this one was just a scare tactic, and had no detonator.

We spent the rest of that evening (from 2 am 'til 6 am or so) as we did many others--"unwinding" with Travis in his hometown of Nogales, 80 miles away, howling along with the mariachis in his favorite Mexican cantinas.

In those days, performers used writers, but seldom called attention to them.  And acts who aren't getting a lot of exposure don't burn through much material.  I continued to hone my lighting, sound, and general stagecraft skills.

Here's a little slice of recollection of those days:

Next week: a new town and a new act--Bob and Travis!


  1. WOW! What a history you have... Sounds like a "..long, strange trip..." indeed! And you tell the story well. And, if my guesstomater isn't too far off, we're still in the '70's somewhere. Yeah, I know -- Tucson. ;-b
    But seriously, I am really enjoying your story as well as your prose. Hate to admit it, but I'm getting the "waiting for Christmas" feeling. Already looking forward to next week's installment.

    1. Actually, this page started in '65 an has progressed to summer of '67, but, who's counting? And, we're about to leave the ol' stompin' ground for weirder pastures.
      Thanks for coming by and interacting!
      Stay tuned.

    2. Definitely! Also, nice ditty above, taking the high road down memory lane, so to speak... Eh?
      Wonder why no one else is posting, I can't be the only "fortunate one" to trip over this fine site.

    3. Numerically, we almost don't exist, Dave. We're trying to learn the basics of the ol' SEO game, but it's time consuming and, for a dinosaur, confusing.
      The main thing we're all up against here in cyberspace is a staggering plethora of choices. Folks barely want to take time to hit "like," much less type words. It's a medium designed for help-yourself service.
      All the more reason to appreciate someone who's actually following along...A fan! A journey of a thousand miles...
      Bless you, and hang in there with us!

  2. So, you experienced some pain learning the guitar? My first one was an old Harmony F-hole acoustic western-style steel string that left enough space between strings and neck that you could slide your entire finger in there! I developed a vise-like grip playing that monster that would later in life serve me well cutting copper electrical wire! Seriously, I played that thing until the grooves in my fingertips were so deep that my fingers simply slid into place over strings; I could play blindfolded, as long as I didn't venture any further than the third fret! (notice how I subtly mentioned "The Ventures"? Well, sort of..........). Anyway, as a fellow dinosaur, I, too, remember supper clubs, and took many a date to see a "floor show", along with dinner. Then, on New Year's Eve, you could get three or four shows, with bands, comedians, dancing girls, sometimes a magic act, all you could drink, and party hats and "favors" (I never really understood why they were called "favors"), and ring in the New Year amongst other like-minded, totally inebriated sots who also forked over a couple weeks' pay to party until the wee hours. Have I gotten off-track here? Yes, I remember "? & the Mysterians"; I even saw the group "perform" (I use the term very loosely) in some small, obscure club in Buffalo or one of the suburbs. It was quite a non-event! Probably the most boring "professional" show I ever attended. You were fortunate that they never showed! I also remember doing a gig with Danny Neavereth from WKBW radio, in some other small, obscure club in Western New York, where the "special guest" performer was Link Wray and the Wraymen. Link had brought his own guitar, but used our lead guitar player's Fender Super Reverb amp, and blew out the speakers, running it at full gain, full volume, full everything! He never even bothered to apologize; it's a good thing our lead guitar player had a day job, and was able to replace the speakers before our next gig! Keep the stories coming, I'm enjoying reminiscing (as all we old-timers do!). :)

    1. It sounds as though you have quite a series of stories of your own brushes with fame and backstage tales as well. Maybe you should be blogging, or recording your songs on your laptop using the built-in mic and uploading them to Reverbnation. Just a thought.
      Really appreciate the "? and the Mysterians" tidbit--small world!
      Thanks for sharing!

  3. I had no idea that Ken Globus was the same guy as The Bird Whisperer until I read this!

    Also, good grief was this entry exciting... fake bombs, FBI flushing operations! The drama! Was there ever actually Mob activity in Tucson?

    1. Yes, mostly drama, and little or no mob activity as such.
      Later, though, some of their kids in our age group tried their hand in "the life," but only with the little syndicates they could put together. The old guard never liked the drugs thing--no loyalty among addicts.

      And there were a couple of real bombs, but not where or when someone might get hurt--also an indicator they were just scare tactics.

  4. Tucson, hotbed for mob activity..or so he wished. Great book teaser! I can't wait to read more about any and all of these subjects. I guess footnotes related to references would be a little much on this media., in the book? That would also be great, if any made it into local papers or just ads or flyers. Ya never know...

    1. Didn't know there was gonna be a test--didn't study.
      I believe there was some coverage, but I was not a clipping keeper in those days. The FBI wanna-be was a guy named David Hale. I don't remember if he was ever even prosecuted.
      For a long time, in Tucson, something making the news didn't necessarily mean anything more would come of it.