Monday, February 4, 2013

Good Heroes, Bad Heroes

Most of my heroes have turned out to be really nice guys. Makes it easier to keep your gods on pedestals, I suppose. Every now and then, though, there's a really bad apple in there.

In 1967 I was playing in a band called Noah's Ark. We thought we were hotshots but here we were booked to play our first show in New York. I was reasonably sure that the hip Manhattan audience would immediately identify us as hicks with a phony cool act. We were in town to record at Decca's studios and our pal, Rodney Justo, put us on the bill with his band, the Candymen, at Steve Paul's Scene on West 46th Street in the village.

I've told you about meeting Tiny Tim there and what a wonderful, life changing event that was. Well, the Candymen were the absolute darlings at that time among these folks who were hip as a vocation. Also on the bill were Blood, Sweat and Tears. They were an instrumental combo then featuring Al Kooper's piano. Finally there was Van Morrison. I knew the name because Brown Eyed Girl was a current radio hit. I didn't recognize his name from Them, however. I was always a big fan of the Irish band.

It turns out that we had the same publicist, an older gentleman named Morty Wax. Somehow we got the word that Van was interested in hiring us to be his new band. He was unhappy with his current lineup. Well, to say that his band was magnificent is to understate the case. I only remember that Danny Armstrong was the bassist.

During his set Mr. Morrison scowled, complained, cussed and scowled some more. He kept turning his own mic off with the switch when he would try to play harmonica. That would lead to him kicking at the P.A. speakers and cussing some more. Rodney tells me now that the sound system was the Candymen's and that the other guys had to hold him back from removing Van from the stage. At one point he stopped in the middle of a song, looked around and pronounced, "It's hot in here. Where's the little shit that runs this joint?"

I immediately spotted Steve Paul, whose ego was his calling card, marching up the aisle to the stage. With his arm around Van's shoulder they moved off into the crowd. A crowd, I should add, that held Rick Zehringer and Jim Morrison among other notables.

I saw them sitting together with drinks at a little table in the front later and Rodney told me the next day that Van had been fired. I always wish that we would have ended up as his band. I know that it wouldn't have lasted long but I'm pretty sure that there would be good stories from the adventure.

I didn't cross paths with him again until 1970. Duckbutter was playing a small festival in Miami and Van was on the bill. We were there in the middle of the afternoon for a soundcheck. My friend, Harry, came out of the bathroom, grumbling, "There's some little red headed guy in the bathroom bragging about how long he's been in show business."

"That's Van Morrison," I explained.

"No, this guy's British."

"He's Irish. That's Van Morrison."

I've got a few others who have disappointed me and I'll get around to telling you about them. Not many, though. I'm still a very big Van Morrison fan.

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