San Francisco, July 14, 1993: Today being ‘Bastille Day’, the French National Holiday, I was hired to play a gig at a French Restaurant on Polk Street. Wearing my tuxedo, with my tapping instrument and amplifier, I was wedged into a small niche near the door, and the wine was flowing freely as the evening progressed.
I’m playing my usual blend of Beatles, Bossa Nova, and Standards, when a fellow came up, introduced himself as Tom Bullock, and said he’d been a keyboard player. Over his wineglass, he started telling me about himself and his buddy Larry, a horn player.
The Gig from Hell
As a nominee for ‘The Gig from Hell,’ I think it merits attention. Here then is the sad, sad story of Larry’s last gig …
They were trying to get this regular gig at the Officer’s Club, and so they took this free gig at the Country Club, where the Colonel in charge of booking was supposed to come and hear them. They were to receive a free meal, and if they were a hit, they’d get the regular paid gig at the Officer’s Club.
Tom was playing keyboard and singing, and they also had another singer. This was a band that could go from 4 pieces up to a 50-piece orchestra. Played everything, even dixieland. When they played dixieland, it was called the “Larry Pinter Jazzbox”, and if it was 50 pieces, it was the “Larry Pinter Orchestra.”
Larry himself played both trumpet and trombone, and he and Tom worked every weekend composing music for the 50 piece orchestra. Back then there were no xerox machines, so they hand-copied all the parts for all the instruments.
Larry had a running battle with his landlady about some rent dispute, so it was a hassle working there because she’d barge in to interrupt and argue, but they did the work at Larry’s place because he had a big table and lots of different instruments. Over time they’d worked up hundreds of charts for all the different instruments.
On the night of the gig, Tom met Larry at his apartment and took some of Larry’s instruments in his car, but Larry was taking his motor bike because he was going see a girlfriend later.
The Band was in a Black Mood
On this job there were six musicians. They started out in a bad mood. Because it was a free gig, they were supposed to be able to bring girlfriends and everybody was to get a free meal, but the staff made the musicians and their girlfriends eat in the kitchen, which didn’t exactly impress the girls as the boys had planned.
They played the first set, and things were going OK until Larry came to his big trumpet solo. As he stepped up to the front and raised his trumpet, the second valve came loose and popped into the air. He didn’t pause, but grabbed his trombone and began to play. But he was rattled.
At the end of the song, Larry said “Let’s re-group at the bar.”
Tom stayed on the set, playing cocktail piano.
He still had his mike on so he could introduce the songs even though he wasn’t singing. However, a group of old folks at the bar began playing “Liar’s dice” and loudly slamming the cups on the bar, so he put on a phony French accent and began to sing “Sweet Lorraine”; this made all the old folks turn around and look, saying “well, listen to that.”
The Party of Losers in the Corner
In the meantime a woman wobbled over, rather looped, and sat down on the piano bench with Tom. When he finished the verse, she launched into a diatribe about the people in her party in the corner, going on and on about what a bunch of losers they all were.
What Tom didn’t realize was that my mike was still on, and what she was saying was going into the speakers right next to her party. By the time he noticed the evil looks coming from that direction, Ace the drummer had noticed, and he came over and was egging her on. It got worse.
Finally Larry and the band returned and bustled the woman off to her party — who were not actually all that happy to have her returned — and the band struck up a dance number. Dancers straggled out to the floor. The country club was remote and the night was hot, and so the big double doors were open to catch a faint breeze.
Suddenly all the people on the dance floor were dodging every which way. Chairs were knocked over. Tables were knocked over. Dishes flew everywhere.
A skunk was walking across the dance floor.
The band stopped. The place was a shambles. No sign of the Colonel. The room was empty.
“Looks like we didn’t get the gig,” Larry said. “Might as well pack up.”
After the Gig
The musicians packed up and drove away. Larry strapped his trumpet and trombone cases on the motor bike, and asked Tom to follow him down the road for the extra light from the headlamps, to help keep speeders from running him down on the winding road.
As Tom followed Larry around a corner, suddenly in the headlights, Tom saw Larry’s arms fly out and he seemed to be beating on his chest. The motor bike careened back and forth and back and forth, and then did a slow cartwheel into the ditch, trombone flying.
Tom stopped and got out. “Are you all right? What happened?”
Larry was all right, but the trombone wasn’t so great. What happened was that Larry had driven through a swarm of bees, and a hundred or so bees went inside his shirt.
The trouble wasn’t over. When they got to Larry’s house, they discovered that the landlady had burned everything in his room, including two year’s worth of manuscripts.
The next day Tom saw Larry driving out of town. Tom waved goodbye.
There was a sign on Larry’s motor bike. It said “Alaska”.