Sunday, May 3, 2015

He Was A Nice Guy

You're tired of me telling you that I wanted to be a rock'n'roll star by now. Well, that's alright. I'm a little tired of telling you. Oh, I always zigged when I was supposed to zag. I played psychedelic music before there was any such thing and I put out hillbilly records when Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience came along. Still, I always knew what I was. I was a rock'n'roll musician.

There was a time that I moonlighted as a promoter. Now, that's something that I never wanted to do.Worst job in the whole world and that's from someone who has scooped mud from the hulls of barges.

My record producer, Phil Gernhard, had hired me to find talent and produce big hits from the local pool of artists. That seemed, at first, to be a dream job. The Tampa Bay area has always had wonderful music. By the time that I began to realize that Phil's ego wasn't going to allow any of my artists to even record, we were both frustrated. He was paying me a hundred bucks a week and neither of us was getting anything out of it.

Back in his days in South Carolina around the time that he produced "Stay" for Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, he had dabbled in booking and promotion. When he moved to St. Petersburg in the mid-sixties he slipped into some booking and promotion just as he began to produce records again. I think that it was probably the thrill  of doing a Ray Charles concert that fired him back up.

Well, to earn my keep around the office, Phil began to have me promote concerts for Gernhard Enterprises. I was, in fact, the promoter. Phil signed most of the contracts and handled the bank account. He bought some of the radio time. Everything else, for the most part, was left to me.

I have nothing much to say in any positive way about this experience. Well, I did get to see some really good shows. Really good shows from really good seats. I met some really nice people, too.

When I start these stories the jerks always seem to come to mind first. By the time that I finish ranting about John Fogarty I'm out of steam.

Almost every musician that I promoted shows for, including a series that I did after my Gernhard days, brought me into contact with unbelievably nice folks. I still run across some people from those days and it's always a thrill. John Mayall, the Byrds, Donovan, Elton John, Commander Cody, Dion, the Allman Brothers, Cat Mother and the Allnight Newsboys, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Terry Reid, the Kinks, the Outlaws, Derek and the Dominoes. Lots of 'em.

In November of 1969 we were bringing Janis Joplin to Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa. She had just released her first album after leaving Big Brother, "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!"and was poised, after Woodstock, to be a super star. Of course that would come a few months later with that big career move, death.

We were using the Outlaws to open because that was one of the bands that I had brought Phil in my real job. I decided that we should get B.B. King for support. "The Thrill Is Gone" had come out in June and was getting pop radio spins. ABC Bluesway had begun a push to make B.B. a star beyond his natural blues market. I had seen him in Tampa many times but it was always at a predominately black show at the armory. The hippies were just beginning to figure out where Eric and Duane and Peter and Jimi had been getting this stuff.

Well, Janis, being Janis, got arrested as she tried to leave the stage and that particular nightmare has always been the star of this memory.

Looking back now, the time that I got to spend with B.B. King was a true highlight of my life. He was such a gentleman with a kindness and shyness that glowed. He spent time talking to us about music. Our music. When we asked him about providing some liner notes for the album that we were working on, he stammered, "Duckbutter!?"

I asked if he knew what duckbutter was and he laughed and replied, "I was a boy once, myself, you know."

He had a pocket full of picks that he proudly handed out branded, "B.B. King." Of course that's common today but I had never seen anything like it at that time. We sat around and shared a drink with him after his set and he insisted that we come to his hotel room the next morning to visit before he left. We did and he talked about regrets. Failed marriages and life on the road.

Now, with news that the Blues Boy is with home hospice care it all seems like yesterday. He was a young man then. I was a kid. Great guitar players? Dime a dozen. Oh, not like B.B. King but great, nonetheless. I have no idea what they will put on his gravestone.

I'll never be a great guitar player. I hope they'll put something about being a nice guy on mine some day.

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