Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Velvet Papers, Pt. 3

"Perhaps you can join us for some cocktails
and dee latin music, yes? You are such a pretty lady."
"Turn a seeming disadvantage to your advantage. 
The greater the seeming disadvantage, the greater the possible advantage."

To say, at this point in the Velvet game, that we took ourselves seriously would be erroneous. Far from it. We just lacked confidence in our music. We lacked confidence, period. What to do then? If there is the smallest of thread of hope, then there's something from which to move forward. That thread for us was "fun." Serious, kick-ass musicians we were not, but our enthusiasm helped us through.

C Minor Swing was one of the earliest original pieces that turned our disadvantage of piano-guitar instrumentation to an advantage. A relatively simple jazz attempt, it had one thing that kept it from being totally dismissible: it was fun to play. Plus, it had character. As a girlfriend once described it, who was normally very picky about her compliments, called it, "playful." That was good enough for me. It was the first instance where Craig wrote everything but the melody. That was left to me. Funny thing, I have never imagined myself as a terribly melodic player or writer, but this was to follow us.

There were some other originals, all with a latin beat, that varied from the merely trivial to the ridiculous: Bossa Nova Baby would top the latter of that list. One Night Flingo was a song I wrote one lonely summer to a rumba beat supplied by a drum machine. At some point, The Police's De Do Do Do was given a gentle bossa nova send-up by Craig. (I loved and still do our version and the very imperfect demo we recorded of that song.) The joke of lounge, laced with latin beats, hung over everything we did. (I do believe that, at a DNA level, if lounge gene markers could ever be detected, Craig would have the highest count of anyone I've known. He IS lounge. Well, I'd probably be a close second.)

A Velvet New Year's Anyone?

We came up with the idea that we should play New Year's Eve at the Cantina. We enlisted two of my college buddies, Robert on bass and Bob on auxiliary percussion, plus our friend, Robbie who had just purchased a new drum machine.

The long ago halcyon days when our schedules were so unfettered by adult responsibilities that we could rehearse for hours on end are like a dream to me now. But, back then, Robert would come up for a week and when we could corral the discursive Craig, we "worked" on some covers and originals. I don't ever remember the whole band being together except at the gig, but nevertheless the goal was the gig. When you have a gig, the scatter brain musicians will focus for one reason: no one likes to suck in public.

Craigo's Groove was an instance where CR wrote the chords and bass line and then I came up with the melody. Robert, despite the guitar being his first love, sounded like he was born to play the bass. The idea was coming together. I even borrowed a PA system for the gig. Hot damn.

Craig really wanted to cover Elton John's Saturday's Nights Alright (for Fighting). I kept having trouble with the guitar rhythm plus the song was clearly out of my vocal range. Instead of thinking to change the key, we kept plugging away at it. I remember the strain on my poor vocal cords and after one run-through, I asked Robert about how I was doing. He paused and stated, "More reverb." Then bowled over in laughter, unable to maintain his composure at his own statement. This did not bolster my confidence to say the least, but what the hell? The gig is the gig. Plus, we didn't do things like key changes back then. The tune was hard enough to learn, let alone change it all. Fuck no.

Robbie came over one night, brought his fancy drum machine and he took notes on the proposed set list. I remember during the "stolen tango" that Craig innocently told him to open the fireplace stove for one reason or another and to "grab that black thing there." Instantly, we heard a howl: "GODDAMMMM!!!"
"What happened?"
"I burned the shit out of my thumb, man."
Craig apologized profusely, but no one, not even me, went near that black bastard of a fire place again. Let Craig do it.

Craig gingerly asked Robbie, who had a mucho brief stint in a new wave band, if he thought that our music was appropriate for a New Year's evening? He gave a direct, but comedic answer:
"Happy ......New...(he then feigned someone falling asleep). Backing of fellow musicians? Check.

Play the Fucking Gig Already!

On the day of the gig, when we set up, I had another ridiculous idea. "Why don't we go on stage one by one?" You see, despite my perceived, real or imaginary, musical limitations, I loved all the theatricality of Peter Gabriel or David Bowie. The "one by one" idea fit perfectly with our whole ridiculous notion of the Velvet Brothers - a name which was no longer any question as to the who, what or why of it. It was a perfect band name.

Robbie came on stage first (stage in this case was a small ass platform that was used for who knows what during the Lazlo Steak House days) and began the swing beat. Robert, Bob, Craig and I followed last. Silliness and fun were the order of the evening, with many cocktails consumed by the band plus try to play the right damn notes.

Robert's friends and family showed up and took a huge table close to le stage. Their literal screams and cries of enthusiasm mostly trumped the redneck element who tried in vain to heckle us. If we were out in the boonies, say five minutes out of Charleston, he might have won the evening and might have had a good opportunity to pick a fight, but he was outnumbered. He requested something like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer or something inane and out of place like that. Craig, ever willing to please, exchanged friendly banter with him while I kept my mouth shut. I have little patience with those who want to heckle or disturb the band. Get your own goddam band and I'll come and yell stupid requests at you.

Greg or the Weg (an old pal of us both) was in a successful band called Brian Diller and the Ride. They were a serious and well rehearsed band with a good local following. Greg was their lead guitarist and he stopped by, in full 80's rock regalia complete with earring, to play a few tunes before his "real" gig started. He certainly had attained a professional edge to his playing and we appreciated him dropping in.

He was encouraging to the loser duo from the beginning. Our rehearsal with him of a few Beatles tunes and one or two of his originals was a blast. "You guys ought to play out." I was beaming inside. To have one of your peers give you the thumbs up means more than can be described.

The gig went well, much rum/gin/beer was consumed and afterwards, we had the run of the kitchen. Tony evidently had gone home with a lady friend and left us alone to lock up. We made the mammoth Cantina burgers and ate like pigs.

Still, we were not a band, but a ragged, loose conglomerate who were just having fun, never in a million years dreaming of what was to come.

Next: And Then There Were Three

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