when disco music exploded in the seventies, it wiped out most live venues. club owners realized they could simply play anything which had "ump pa ump pa ump pa ump pa" as its loudest part and dispense with human beings altogether. this greatly affected my livelihood which was based on playing in those venues for a pittance. I was starving in fact.
one afternoon I happened to walk into a lounge where an acoustic guitar duo was rehearsing. Barry Howell and Dave Rumpke played the Holiday Inn circuit. barry was the singer/frontman while dave added a second guitar. they were looking to expand so they could move into larger lounges. barry didn't know I played guitar but remembered me as the drummer for the denims. he offered me a job playing drums with them. the pay was a remarkable $350 a week!
trouble was I had no drum kit. so I sold my first guitar, a Gibson Firebird, to Dave Martin who was a local guitar collector*. the price was $300, just enough to buy a small used Ludwig drum kit, which I did. for the next two and a half years I avoided the "disco drought" by playing 5 sets a night in Holiday Inn lounges.
one of the first orders of business was to go downtown to the biggest Cincinnati Holiday Inn to meet with the all powerful booking agent. I'll call him Don Sheik. his office sat on the top floor with a nice view of the Ohio River. don was indeed powerful and in control of Holiday Inn lounges across the country. he decided who worked and who didn't.
in a suit and cigar with a broken looking nose, he looked like a pudgy boxer who had fought one too many rounds. he talked coarsely about "broads".
don read us the law (shoes must be shined, etc.) and presented us with a list of names to choose from. the name selected was the sound assembly, an ironic choice for a trio with no bass. as his first blessing don assured us a two-month stay at one of his best rooms, the Crow's Nest in Corpus Christi, Texas. located on the gulf coast and only a half-hour drive from the beautiful white-sanded Padre Islands, it was a sought after gig.
don was famous for showing up unannounced at the finer Inns around the country to check on his bands. he would yell at band members whose shoes weren't shined enough, give his pronouncements on what songs you should "drop", fluff up his feathers and leave.
the sound assembly settled into to the Crow's Nest lounge and life got better. in the lounge circuit you got your own room free. you played from 7:00 to 1 a.m. every night, but you had all day to yourself. those two months in corpus christi I spent nearly every day alone on the beautiful white beaches.
eventually barry came to appreciate my guitar playing. I would help him work out new songs. barry figured I should stop drumming long enough to come out front to play one song on dave's guitar. it was a new ballad from Kenny Loggins . I used a volume pedal to swell notes, nothing special really but it was a nice change of pace.
one of the very first times we included this bit I looked out at the scant audience and there he was: Don Sheik! what a surprise. he looked like he had just swallowed his cigar. what a scowl he had on his mug. after our set we dutifully went over to don's table. he was not pleased. he wasted no time in telling barry a plethora of things he disapproved of.
don ended with, "and don't ever let that guy play guitar again. never!"
my favorite Don Sheik story:
one of the large Holiday Inn bands (the kind with horns and girl singers) had just moved to a different Holiday Inn, which was customary after a month or so. on their first night the Inn manager frantically called don to complain.
"the drummer is too loud," the manager said.
"have you got his drums miked up?" asked don.
"well, mic them up and turn him down!".
*incredibly Dave still has my first guitar. I'm afraid to ask what he would sell it for.