Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Starting slow and then fizzling out

So, Barbara and I worked on an act for a year, helped by a joint where Barbara had been a hit a few years before, The Jockey Club in Lexington, KY, who were so glad to see her again they didn't mind I was along.  After a few gigs I was catching on to the extent we decided we could pick where we wanted to headquarter, and we chose Tucson, because we loved it.

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

There we were given an opportunity by Travis to do a middle set in his evening of shows at a very nice supper club, Don Quixote's. 
This would allow us to invite bookers to see us work with a live audience (who had just been "warmed up" by one of the world's best).
It was both generous and crafty on Trav's part, and resulted, I'd say from the packed houses and the response, in a great evening for everyone involved.

It just didn't work the way we had hoped, largely due to our being (in 1972) in the "middle class" of an industry in flux.  Enter the Food and Beverage man.

"There was a time," as the songs say, when people who presented live entertainment had an interest and some understanding in it.  No, really!  They could watch a performance and evaluate it in light of their own critical facilities and a familiarity with certain standards of excellence and professionalism.  I promise you, I am not making this up.

Were it not for such actual people, many music clubs would have closed long before becoming the legendary landmarks and career starting points they are known as today.  And many an artist would have starved out of a career before anyone heard them.

On a recommendation, usually, one of these guys would come catch your act, preferably unknown to you, and give you a shot.  If you could hold and build an audience, they wanted to latch onto you and help you succeed, keep you happy.  Doesn't sound so crazy, does it?

Travis would find an upscale resort or supper club, depending on his needs at the time, and get lodging, meals, and a percentage of the bar receipts (cash) in exchange for his services as house entertainer. 
I vividly recall a lovely evening in the living-room-styled lounge at the Tubac Country Club when Trav held the room spellbound sitting on the corner of a sofa in front of the fireplace, playing Schubert on the guitar--no PA, no lights, just talent.

It was a win-win wherever he set up, but someone in a position to make the deal had to have the brains to know how it would pay off.  Someone in charge had to know talent when they saw it, and, if they were smart enough to latch onto and help develop new talent, ka-ching!

In other words, you could actually get "discovered" at that level, and no one cared if you could move 400,000 retail units in a year.  There was no internet, so not everyone thought they were an artist.  There were not 150 amateurs in every town declaring, "I just love to play!  I'd play for free!"  (And worth every penny.)

Then came the investors and their bean counters to the business (which became the industry) and artists, performers, entertainers, and musicians became "vendors."  Hotel chains wanted your social security number for their payroll records, when most of them could have paid the rates they were paying out of petty cash.

Twice, during our little run with Travis at Don Quixote's, "Food and Beverage Managers" actually showed up to see us.  Each was "really impressed" and each booked us into their places--one a hotel, one a supper club--and we set a start date and time.

The first time, we actually showed up to set up, only to learn that "He's no longer with us."  Guess he died.  Hope so.  Anyway, the second time I waited until the day and called ahead to confirm.  They claimed to have never heard of our impresario.  We joked that the Bull & Bear bomber was dogging us, but it was we who were bombing.  Very shortly after that our lives changed in ways that took us far from any of this.

Meanwhile, here's a taste of what Pat Horine was doing--no video, but he's on this recording of The New Kingston Trio (Pat's on your far left in the photo):

Next week, we'll fast forward to 1983, when I decided to give performing another try...

1 comment:

  1. It's super frustrating for people in all sorts of creative arts that this shift occurred. So many collectives are trying so hard to reverse it, but culture seems to like it this way. I would love it if more people who are retired performers or music lovers would own establishments and take that kind of active interest in the cultivation of what is seen and heard there... not even clubs that exclusively thrive on musical acts seem to care.