Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Velvet Papers, Pt. 7

El trío de Terciopelo. Where's CR?
You Guys Gonna Be Radio Stars?

The Velvet four got an opportunity to play a late, late night radio show hosted by madman Rudy Panucci. Rudy's Saturday night show began at 1AM (or was it later?) and was a combination of commercial CDs, live guests, and off-the-wall spontaneous skits. The musical guests may or not have been sober enough to perform, but that only added to the merry mayhem. Generous and open-minded, he was and continues to be a long-time supporter of local music.

The band was pretty tight I have to admit. Tapes of this show exist and the fullness of time has allowed me to hear the group as objective as possible. Horribly critical of myself, especially my singing, I find I can listen to this recording without cringing. Local music freak, Gopher George, said we were the most professional sounding band that Rudy had had on his show. Coming from him, that's sort of a keeper.

Our repertoire included the original, Bound to Fall, a song I wrote about a friend's girlfriend troubles. It also reflected my continuous bad relationship choices:

I never know what's good for me, you see,
Once I'm in I want it all.
When you start to accept only second best,
Once I'm in I'm bound to fall.

The second verse considered our bewilderingly violent world and the narcissism that results in senseless tragedy:

Going up with a rifle
on the highest rooftop in town.
I might take a few with me
before I go down.
Searchlights and newsmen,
demands and their pleas,
and the eyes of the world
are focused on me.

CR Smoothie: Lost in the smoothness.
On the lighter side, we did a lounge version of What I Like About You with Greg True singing it in a wonderful hammy lounge-o-rific style. One Night Flingo had become a standard. Tito led us with Cana Brava, a classic merengue. Another original, I'm Cold, written about a relationship that had ended (without any real words spoken by me) that contained perhaps the key to the soul of Johnny Velvets everywhere:

You know there's no regret when it's over and done.
You don't need to ask yourself why you didn't see it come.
You see a dark highway spin out in the night.
Leave behind no goodbyes, just a wink of the tail lights.
I'm cold.

Rudy had a ball trying to get the radio audience in on the lounge joke, but callers didn't seem to grasp it. This was no matter; we were there to play. Greg and I bantered about using the "Johnny" voice, but it was Craig, being his normal, sheepish self, who delivered the best lines by telling people we were on our tour "up the Kanawha River" and to "come see us at your local dive."

Your Local Dive

I remember the VBs as a quartet doing many gigs at Bentley's - a gig we got because the owner really liked us and of course, Greg had cache as a member of The Ride. Those hot and sweaty nights were my baptism by fire as the amps, PA, monitors and the endless wires were something quite alien to me. By alien, I mean shocking, often disorienting and I hated it.

Setting up to me was a nightmare and quite stressful. Greg and Craig "debated" the finer points of where the shit went and I always deferred to them. I didn't know what to do and quite honestly didn't want to know. This was always the most tense moment for me. At times, whether they were aware of it or not, people could get quite bossy. This does not work well for me. I had to silently bear what I perceived as being unnecessarily harsh.

"Can you move just a little bit?"

One thing that began to happen was, after fussing endlessly with my amp, effects, two guitars, somebody would ask me to move everything. This made me furious as it seemed to happen always after I finished. Arrrgh! (Years later, I got really pissed off because the same thing happened, and I had, shall we say, less than a cheerful attitude about moving stuff. I have always behaved professionally at gigs, but this time my scars were rubbed raw and instantly anger was triggered. TO this day, I wait until others have set up until I lift a finger.)

Rick Moranis as lounge god Tom Monroe.
In the beginning, we never embraced the idea of the killer opening number followed by three or four uptempo numbers to win over the crowd. That's what I loved about us. We followed the Velvet credo: always be smooth. It would be typical of us to opening with our bossa nova version of The Police's De Doo Doo Doo inspired by SCTV's Tom Monroe. To do otherwise would have been a disaster. People caught onto the idea. I remember one local musician who came to see us and he said, "You guys slow down and take it easy up there." He got the joke.

The Velvets would later launch into Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va with all the velvety fury we could muster, but set one was about warming up, getting the sound right and being casual. We had the gig, but fuck the hair band rock star posing. Ascots, smoking jackets and rum cocktails: these were the flags we flew. Plus, Craig bought a fake palm tree and that pretty much told everyone who walked into the door what we were all about.

The process was slow, but I remember that the night was no sooner over than the owner brought out a calendar and asked for future weekends. We became regulars at that bar. The experiment was working. We were out of the basement now for sure.

Huh? Wait a minute, now. You said you guys felt like losers. Yep. CR and I still did. Tito and Greg never expressed that. You have to have people in your band who support one another otherwise it's just mechanics- mercenary at its core. That's how I always felt anyway. We were friends who just happened to play music together. I'm not saying we tore the place up every night, but we entertained people in our own way.

Several beautiful things began to emerge. At this point, either Greg or I could have been considered the front guy. We traded that role. As much as I crave the limelight, I didn't want the role all the time. (Singing brings a catharsis like nothing else, but sometimes I like to concentrate only on the guitar.) Now, because we were both guitarists, there was going to be a little competition between us, but even that was musically symbiotic: Greg was (is) the master of burning blues-rock leads and myself more of a rhythm man. Tito was always supportive of the goofy or outrageous things which made their way into the lyrics and was never a greedy player. He preferred the groove over busy fills. Then there was CR- the guy who completely downplayed his playing. Never had an ego about music and he was my support system. No matter how far out I went, I knew that at the end of the night, he had my back. Sometimes, I'd look over and he'd be laughing, shaking his head. Unless there was a cocktail or a lady involved, then who could find him?

Call Him "Salsa"

No comments: