Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Life Before Animation

Like I said about the blog, this isn't all about my life in animation. It's about other things as well. Take for instance this photo, This is me back in '78, I was 23 and practicing guitar in my parent's basement in a suburb of Chicago. That's my trusty Takamine 12 string I'm playing and my 1963 Fender Stratocaster in the background.

This was well before animation even entered my brain as a way to make a living. I was a semi- struggling musician and living at home. Well, not really struggling, as my parents were very very understanding. Hell, I slept until noon, taught guitar at the local music shop during afternoons and evenings, and stayed up late at night. In essence, I was a typical 23 year old musician. I played in a short lived (on my part at least) southern rock band on weekends or at night. We did covers by The Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels, Poco, Marshall Tucker Band, Heartsfield, Les Dudek, and Pure Prairie League. The band was really quite good, but I had my own disagreements with the drumming. So I quit. Not that we were on our way up to greatness, but one never knows. Well anyway, on most other weekends I played in a 'wedding band'. Ah yes, a 'wedding band'. The Bob Basso Revue to be exact. Heck, I even owned my own tuxedo. I was not however, a 'wedding singer.'

It was your typical Chicago wedding band of the late 70's. Bad hair and bad suits, but that didn't seem to stop us from getting hired. Maybe there was a shortage of badly hair styled wedding bands back then, I don't know. This particular wedding band was headed by this old band leader and sax player named Bob Basso, hence the name. I had replaced a good friend of mine, Harry Hmura, on guitar who went on the road with famous Chicago blues harmonica player James Cotton and later Sugar Blue and others. So at the time, I thought it was a good gig. This might lead to something. And I got paid to play! What more could you ask for? Free food and drinks too! Strangely enough, my friend Harry went on to play with many people in jazz and blues, and I ended up designing and doing the art for his first two albums.

But back to the weddings. . .I'd have to say, we probably weren't the worst wedding band in history, but the fact was, we rarely, if ever rehearsed. Well, okay, once, at the beginning of the season. That was it! Literally, that was it! We ran through the list of songs in the trusty fake book, and some of the popular upcoming tunes of that time, like Celebration, (this was the 70's and the disco era after all! ) and others. Otherwise we read everything else off charts on the spot. That was the one requirement of joining this band, you had to be able to read music charts and of course play your instrument. If a wedding party goer wanted to hear a song, and we all knew it - hell, no problem. But if we didn't know it by heart and it was in our charts and we had never really played it . . . well, I used to pity the party that heard it first. It was like a rehearsal at their expense. Thankfully, they were usually so drunk by that time, that it really didn't matter what we sounded like as long as the song was recognizable. Most seem to enjoy the music and on more than one occasion we were even applauded with vigor on our performance. If you've ever gone to many wedding receptions, you eventually see a lot of drunk people, most of whom can't remember a thing they heard or said that night. So I took their compliments with somewhat of a grain of salt, especially if it was by the groom's drunken brother who was already hitting on the bride and he also loved our performance of Takin' Care of Business, yet another staple of weddings everywhere.

Sometimes young kids would come up and request heavier rock tunes like Zeppelin or Deep Purple or Black Sabbath. Come to think of it, Dazed and Confused is probably pretty appropriate for a wedding. These heavy rock tunes were usually kind of tricky for us as our earlier incarnation of the band had one of the oldest drummers on the wedding band circuit. Poor Al, he was probably in his sixties at least. He was the type of guy who used the same beat for every rock tune we did, no matter if it was a Beatles or Creedence or Stones tune. He was from another era. The 1940's I believe. We sometimes would just answer if hit with a request like Black Sabbath, that we don't know it, rather than cause Al, a heart attack. Al was a really nice guy but usually by near the end of the night he'd had a few too many drinks in him and he'd be slowing the beats down and you'd have to force the rhythm just to get him to keep up! He eventually retired and was replaced by our former guitar player's brother. This was great, as we now had 3 younger musicians in the band. We still had Bob as leader and lead singer, and this older than us bass player who was kind of stodgy. But at least Danny the new drummer, could play rock, jazz as well as lame wedding songs all equally well. Danny was also the drum teacher at the store I taught at too.

The songs which I dreaded most were the standard wedding songs you had to play at every wedding back then. Proud Mary (not the Creedence one either) , Celebration, The Hokey Pokey, The Wedding Song, The Anniversary Song. I'm surprised there wasn't a Divorce Song.
I enjoyed the jazz standards because you could stretch out a little as Bob would take a sax solo and the other guitar player Frank or I would take guitar solos and you could use cool jazz chords instead of standard rock chords. Stuff like Watch What Happens, Stardust and George Benson's Breezin' were always nice to play.

I think I made around $65 to $75 for the 3 hour gigs. It kept me in new strings, different guitars, and Chicago pizza. Sometimes I'd make more if it was a bigger event and the band charged more or for special events, like New Year's parties or something. I think I ended up playing in every hall on the south side, all with names like Chateau De Beer or Condesa Del Sausage. All dressed up in a nifty tux with stripes on the pants, ruffly shirt and shiny black shoes. It was quite an experience and I'd have to say it really helped with the guitar chops to read charts every weekend. Looking back, we had a lot of fun. Heck, I was 23 and living at home, and just playing guitar. That didn't seem so bad. Didn't hit the big time but what the heck. I guess the animated movies I've worked on more than make up for that.

The one thing I wish I still had from all this is that DAMN guitar in the background of the photo. That was an original 1963 Strat! I've had many guitars since then, and still have a Gibson 335 I've had for over 25 years, but I only paid $450 for that Strat! I eventually sold it to a member of Tammy Wynette's band for $1200. So I did profit some $750! BUT those guitars are worth like ten grand in today's market. Oh well, can't live in the past as my wife says to me.
Where's my TIME MACHINE!! I wanna go back and get it!


At 12/30/2006 12:36 AM, Anonymous bronnie said...

I was in at least three weddings in back the 70's--and in all three I got to wear dresses that looked like something out of a douche commercial.YUG.Oh and they came with those big floppy fake straw hats with the huge bow in back and long ribbons that matched everything else.. The worst one was in '76-- everyone but the bride was in yellow-- including the poor groom.
But back to the music--glad you mentioned PROUD MARY.. OMG---when I was reading your post I KNEW that one would come up--It was wedding dance song of the decade coast to coast, evidently, no one could escape it..I'm sure your band did a great job nonetheless. Any young band who has/had the guts (paid or not) to get up and play the Hokey Pokey deserves a frickin' medal for bravery.
Two songs I remember vividly actually enjoying at one wedding I was at but not in, were Always and Forever(Heatwave)and Shining Star(EWF)
Thanks for the trip down memory lane--
time for my Geritol.

At 12/30/2006 7:34 AM, Blogger kevin said...

Yeah, some of the weddings were scary to say the least. At least nine out of ten grooms had the requisite Mike Ditka moustache. This was Chicago mind you. I don't think you are even allowed inside the Chicago city limits without one. And the brides were sometimes just as bad. Weren't the 70's great!! We did our fair share of disco-ish tunes. Proud Mary, the Tina Turner version. Hell, I wouldn't have minded the Fogerty version! Since we didn't have a female vocalist, any tunes that featured one were done as instrumentals.
And who can forget 'Colour My World'

One of my most memorable dates was actually when the guitarist I took over for played with us, and subbed on bass for our boring regular bassist. It was a fun night at a really big hall, like 400 people.

Thanks for stopping by Bronnie! Save some of that geritol for me.

At 1/30/2007 10:43 PM, Blogger Julia Lundman Midlock (Julie) said...

cool pic kev. :)

At 1/30/2007 11:05 PM, Blogger kevin said...

Thanks Julie. Good to hear from you.

At 1/01/2009 1:02 PM, Anonymous Duane O'Donnell said...

Hey Kevin,

This is Duane, a fellow graduate of the Bob Basso Revue. I played the Rhodes (or Pianet) with the group off and on till about 1978. I remember Harry leaving for the blues thing, and probably played some gigs with you. I was about 30 then, and learned a lot from the old sax guru. I've got my own book(s) that get us and any additional musicians through the gig. Rehearsal time is a luxury, especially if you're working a full time day gig. Bob always liked having a young guitarist, who could pick up on the current rhythms. And for sure, Al only had one beat, with two speeds, slow and too fast! My friend Mike Stiglitz also played bass with Bob.

Even though I'm pushing 60, I'm still gigging. My wife and I work a duo and perform in California as the Just Us Band. We mostly gig in the Sacramento area, and recently did a convention in Anaheim, across from Disneyland.

Bob was really dedicated to performing. He would go to music stores, give the owner $50 and a stack of business cards, and tell him that he would get another $50 for any gigs booked. Once we played a huge show at McCormick Place, thousands of people. I asked Bob how he got the gig, and he said that he had bought $1,000 in stock of the insurance company that was sponsoring the event, to get them to hire the Revue. I also asked him how he could talk all of that crap between songs, and he told me, "Duane, the people want schlock, and you have to give it to them"!

I hope you're still performing, cause as you know, if it's in you, you gotta do it.

At 1/01/2009 1:16 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Hey Duane - Your name sounds familiar too. Yeah, I remember those days. I got into his band as Harry left, although Harry played a gig or too with us usually on bass. Never played a huge show like McCormick Place, only the biggest was probably the big room at Condesa Del Mar with all the rooms open and we actually used the main stage. I was in it with Frank Gatto and then Harry's brother Danny took over from Al on drums. I did that probably for at least a couple of years or more until I went back to art school in '83. I live out in LA and I haven't 'performed' on stage in quite some time, but play and practice a lot. There's lots of musicians in animation and I want to get another band together I hope this year. I still talk to Harry quite a bit, and just saw Frank Gatto over the summer. I did the art and design for Harry's first two albums, and will his third one this year as well probably. Tom Davare the owner of The Music Shop down in Tinley Park where we all taught, died earlier this year too, so the shop was sold and Frank parted with it to work and teach elsewhere.

Thanks for checking in the blog.


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