I was at my friend Bob Acquaviva's house yesterday, and ended up in his attic.
He converted it into a studio, and we were listening to some new projects he's producing, and looking at old Shuffling Hungarians video from a telethon shot way back when that a friend had recently mailed in.
Funny stuff. Bob and I were rolling on the floor as we tried to remember certain epic events that revolved around making those records.
Memory, and recalling memories, has been a rather strange experience for me. As I try to write these blogs, there are memories that are very clear, and some have been absolutely repressed for various reasons.
But like Proust munching on a cookie to trigger his mental time machine, I have been calling, connecting and visiting with old friends that were actually there with me. It primes the rusty synapses, and gets them to fire, hopefully with some kind of eventual accuracy.
So again, I'd like to remind myself that sometimes the gifts that are received by throwing creation into the Universe don't manifest in a form that you may expect.
Usually the "gift" revolves around new relationships formed, or in this case, Bob and I reminding each other of why we are as close as we are, and what transpired in the past to get us here, as friends, in the present.
My relationship with Bob started with recording music. He is one of the most talented producers and engineers that I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and absolutely was a critical friend and mentor to me, along with the being only person that gave me a swift kick in the ass when it was absolutely deserved and needed. He kept me focused, and on point at all times.
I met him at UCA in Utica NY, when THE WORKS were recording an EP ("Where Courage Grows")when he was an assitant to Bill Scranton and Bob Yauger. We worked together on THE BOGEYMEN recorded material (some released, and a whole other record that was mysteriously shelved upon completion), and he ended up stewarding THE SHUFFLING HUNGARIANS output as well, along with being responsible for having me play on a bunch of other releases he was producing as a session musician.
On Bob's desk, prominently and proudly displayed, are two SAMMY awards, one for best record of the year, and one shared by both of us as co-producers of "LIVE AT STYLEEN'S RHYTHM PALACE" (The SAMMYS are the Central New York version of The GRAMMY Awards, or more specifically, like the Bay Area Music Award, The BAMMY).
If you munched on one of those babies trying to gin up a Proustian remembrance of things past, you'd break your teeth. But seeing them, all clean and shiny, did bring some stories attached to the SAMMYS, and the award show, into a sharper focus.
Daily Dose installments #20 an #21, will concern those two stories.
THE LUCKY LEOPARD
The Shuffling Hungarians had been invited to perform at the second edition of the Syracuse Area Music Awards Show at the Landmark Theater, and I needed something to wear.
The SAMMY's were the brainchild of Frank Malfitano, the executive director of the theater and an impressario of note. He also was the father promoter of The Syracuse Jazz Fest. He was a mover and shaker in the CNY scene, and a the living embodiment of my own personal philosophy of "Go Big, or Go Home". He, along with Dave Rezak (who owned and operator DMR, the booking agency that was pretty much responible for buliding the vibrant music scene in Syracuse over the past 20 or so years), were the engine that drove The Awards show into a reality.
These things were turning into the black tie, red carpet, fashion show, peppered with celebrity ringers, televised social events of the year. From Frank's imagination to a reality, it was a pretty impressive feat.
Still fresh wounds prevented me from attending the first edition because I knew my future ex-wife was going to be there. Even though the Landmark was a pretty big room, it was still too small for me to willingly put myself in one where I knew the Agent of Satan was going to be in it. I heard that she got drunk and in a pique of uncontrolled rage buried her stiletto heel into the back of her then present but soon to be ex- boyfriend's head quite unexpectedly, so it was probably a good thing that I passed the debut edition of the SAMMY'S. We won a couple that year, but someone else accepted them on our behalf. Being a no-show was bad politics, but sometimes life trumps business.
I wrote a song about the shoe assault incident instead called "You Like It" ("I'm gonna sneak up behind you...and swat you with my shoe...."), one of many that I was in the middle of recording with the band for our first record, to be released in the fall.
So this year was different. I had some personal distance, the band had a buzz and was destined to win a few of the monolithic awards that year, and we had a record coming out.
I think that the reason the band got the invitation to appear on that stage was that Frank and Dave knew the only way to get me in the room was to appeal to my inner ham and throw me on the stage. Trodding the boards of the Gilt Palatial Landmark was not an opportunity that any local musician passed up lightly.
That strategy worked. I agreed to be in the same room with the X.
Things were not so financially flush for my girlfriend Eileen and I that year. We were running low on funds, and the Ni-Mo bill for heating our flat on Park Street (which doubled as The Hungarians rehearsal space) was due, along with the rent and every other bill. The vultures were circling overhead.
The Hungarians had been packing folks into the Dinosaur BBQ for over a year, but that was our only gig, and I never paid myself. Every available dime I could scrounge by giving lessons or picking up gigs with Jaime Notarthomas or The Neverly Brothers went straight into the band, along with any savings I had. I wasn't even close to pulling half my financial responsibilities at home, and had just gone into a huge hole by borrowing several thousand bucks from friends to pay for the production of the first Hungarians release.
Her car was buried in snow wouldn't start that day, so we had to take my car to Westcott Street. I drove a FORD LTD with the back seat ripped out to haul gear in. It had a wooden bumper. Y'all getting the picture here?
There wasn't a whole lot of discretionary income for funky stage apparel. But the SAMMY'S was special, so me and my style consultant (They didn't call her "STYLEEN" fer nothin, folks) hopped in the Ford to see my friend Lorraine: she owned a vintage clothing store on Westcott Street called Boom Babies, and if anybody could hook a brother on a budget up, it was Lorraine)
So before we went through the mudane exercise of trying to get her car started (It was buried by the freshly plowed street after a typical daily blizzard that winter), shopping on the cheap together was the first item to cross off the daily agenda.
I couldn't really find anything at Boom Babies that fit the bill for myself. But I looked down the aisle and caught Eileen trying on a vintage Eisenhower cut, leopard skin jacket, checking herself out in front of a full length mirror: She looked fabulous.
I walked up behind her, wrapped her in my arms and asked, "How Much?"
"$150....we can't afford it"
"We gotta get this for you... its perfect"
"George...we don'y have any money, and we came here to buy you a shirt for The SAMMY's Show. I don't need a jacket."
That was typical of Eileen. She never put herself above the needs of others, and this time, I could do something about that.
I walked up to Lorraine and showed her the balance of my checkbook, which was $65 dollars, evry penny I had. I told her I would give her every red cent, but I needed to get this jacket for Styleen. Lorraine, a friend to the end, gave me the nod. I wrote the check, and closed my account scoring the jacket for the woman who selflessly endured the thankless task of living with, and caring for, a certified lunatic.
As we walked out of Boom Babies, Eileen was none to pleased.
"I don't NEED a friggin' leopard skin jacket. We could have paid the phone bill with that money."
I explained my logic thusly:
"What's the difference between 65 bucks and zero? We're flat broke. Maybe we should just let go of trying to squeeze every nickel... it doesn't matter. Maybe the leopard jacket is the equivalent of Jack's magic beans, and the 65 bucks is the family cow. I'd rather spend the last dime I ever had on you, than on myself for some stupid awards show... because you have done the same for me."
She still wasn't buying it, and groused all the way home. By the time we got to Park Street, she wasn't speaking to me.
I grabbed the shovel to dig her car out, and reached for my wallet for my triple A card. Behind the card was a check for a session I had done at Bob's for $250 bucks, that I had totally spaced out on. I ran into the house to tell Eileen.
"See? Sometimes you just have to let go and give it up to God, or the Universe or whatever...we got the phone covered."
My mystic epiphany was greeted with skepticism.
But throughout the day, money flowed into our Park Street flat like wine. Money owed from gigs, deposits, session bookings...you name it. The mailman came with a certified letter from a probate lawyer representing the estate of a distant relative, enclosed within was a check for $7000. By the end of the day, I was up 10 grand. Enough to pay the bills and more importantly, pay back the loans I took out, and still have enough left over to finish the record.
All in the same day that I spent my last dime on earth on the woman I loved.
This, wasn't the Universe whispering in my ear. This was the Universe bashing me over the head with a sledge hammer.
The evidence was overwhelming, and Eileen finally caved in and admitted that I might be on to something. I dubbed the jacket "The Lucky Leopard".
And we both decided that it was probably best that I should wear it as I tripped the lights fantastic for the upcoming awards show.
The Hungarians unveiled the large scale version that would be the official circus at the SAMMY Award Show that year. Fourteen musicians representing Syracuse's finest, fighting, fucking, and shoving sore assed ducks in salt water, with the captain at the helm clad in a leopard skin body armor.
A shot across the bow was delivered through the first public performance of "Tear it Down", a song about self-invention, and self-ressurection.
All naysayers, detractors, and betrayers were gonna get a very real manifestation of my imagination like a knife right down the throat, and then we would graciously accept awards for having done so.
The Gods had spoken.
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"