Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What, and Get Out Of Show Business?

Bob and Randy
East High School
Dec. 1960


I had always heard that musicians do well in a Depression because everyone wants to be entertained, but I never imagined I'd be testing out the theory. I thought if bad came to worse, I could always ramble from campfire to campfire, like Tom Joad, and maybe get a skillet of stew if my song was spirited. It's not like I haven't done it before. So, a couple of weeks ago, I stepped away from whining and opining to emerge from semi-retirement and return to my real job as a singer. The semi-retirement wasn't really my idea. I'm just at that awkward age where I'm too old to be musically relevant but not old enough to be rediscovered as a curio by a younger generation. Fortunately, our audience for this gig was there to celebrate an old friend's sixtieth birthday, so we were practically on the cutting edge.

I performed with my old partners, Bob and Reni Simon, with John Grosse on bass. Since tinnitus prevents me from playing in an electric band, we did a seated acoustic show that travelled farther down memory lane than anyone cared to admit. It had been a year since we played together, so a couple of rehearsals were necessary to get our harmonies right and because we refuse to go anywhere and suck. But our main repertoire was at our host's request. We sang songs by Mary Wells, Ruby and the Romantics, the Impressions, and the Four Tops. We played some Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly and a short set of early Beatles, plus my favorite Ray Charles impressions and Bob's note-perfect Isley Brothers' version of "Shout," complete with the Little Richard "Whoos," that had some of the less inhibited souls doing the Bulldog on the living room floor. We even sang a couple by the Tymes and the Fleetwoods; and no, kids, I'm not talking about Fleetwood Mac. I had a great time and no one had to take me to the hospital or give me oxygen. Before the gig, however, I was a mess.

Musicians have a saying, "The music is free. You pay us to set up and tear down all that damned equipment." Although we were well compensated and I'd had two run-throughs, the day of the gig I developed a severe case of shpilkes, and by the time I loaded my own car, I was already exhausted. I refused Melody's offer to call an ambulance and boldly drove through the rain to my afternoon, early set-up rendezvous with my bandmates which, unfortunately, was my idea. I'm a little older than the birthday boy, so I required a nap immediately after all the stuff had been plugged up. I awoke to the intestinal spasms of which I have previously spoken, caused by the criminal Bush, and for a moment, I thought I would have to call in my apologies. But I've never missed a gig. Never. Besides, the host was giving away Radiants CDs as party favors and I already had a gig shirt picked out. Once we started playing, though, I was fine, and the crowd's good spirits lifted me.

The guests came with the intention of having a good time and a main topic of conversation was that there is no place in Memphis to hear this kind of acoustic music anymore. There are still good clubs that cater to younger crowds, but when I went to the Hi-Tone to hear the Iguanas, the opening band roared like a jet and sent me hurtling from the room wiping the blood from my ears. I can dish it out, but I can't take it anymore. My friend Jay Sheffield has generously offered a tour of area Huey's, but I just no longer have the desire to be background noise for family supper. Bless him and good old Thomas Boggs for providing the venues, though. The last time the Simon-Haspel Trio played Huey's midtown, Thomas sat at the end of the bar staring at us intently while the customers were noisy and indifferent. I was certain he was thinking that our act was too tired for the room. When we took a break, Thomas approached and said, "If you ever want a drummer to play that song list with you, I'm your man." I really miss Thomas. Especially when we were reminiscing at the birthday party about our club-going years at Overton Square, when Thomas was often my boss.

On some brisk, March, Saturday night in 1975, six great bands would be playing on Madison Ave. alone. Beginning near McLean St., you could hear Jimmy Buffett, Taj Mahal, or one of the funniest bands I've ever seen, Darryl Rhodes and the HaHaVishnu Orchestra at the Ritz, a club born to fail, but beautifully furnished, both aesthetically and acoustically. Across the street, new bands played in the underground Procope Gardens while upstairs, Fantasia was Memphis' only club featuring live classical music. Perhaps Rick Christian and the White Boys with the late Mark Sallings on sax, or Joyce Cobb and Hot Fun would be playing at Trader Dick's while headliners like Billy Joel, Kansas, or Minnie Ripperton held forth at the lost and lamented Lafayette's Music Room. Across the street at Bombay Bicycle Club, the acoustic group St. Andrew's Fairway was thrilling an audience with harmonies, while, if you were lucky, you might hear a late set of Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers at Godfather's. Walk the extra blocks down South Cooper to the High Cotton and maybe catch a night when Don Nix or John Mayall was hanging out. Those were wonderful times for live music, but I needed to remind my enthusiastic and nostalgic friends that our audiences from back then are usually in bed by 10:00 these days. And Tunica has laid such waste to the Memphis nightclub business, who would gamble on a music room in this economy?

Still, it would be great if Overton Square could recover like Beale Street, or maybe they don't want it to. Old folks still like music too, however, and most of them carry credit cards. Any potential investors for Randy's Acoustic Deli? Last week's gig was also a milestone of sorts, and I tell you because many of you have listened to us for a very long time and wouldn't otherwise know. Bob Simon and I started the Radiants in 1962 with Howard Calhoun and Mike Gardner, but it was already our third band. After the Silvertones and the Dynamics, with John McNulty on drums, we started the Casuals with David Friener and Gary Hofman in 1961. David Fleischman joined the band as a back-up singer, and became "Flash" when I was grounded for poor grades. But Bob and I started playing and singing together in 1959 and made our first appearance that same year at a summer camp. Now, I'm not fishing for attention or accolades, certainly not from any show-biz type organization, and wouldn't accept any if offered, but the first gig of this year marks fifty years that Bob Simon and I have been entertaining together, and without a single fistfight. Of course, it ain't over yet. I guess someone must have told us somewhere along the line to never give up. Questionable advice. It took me a week to recover. Next time, please let me know well in advance if you want to book us so I can start doing sit-ups.

36 comments:

jane said...

Randy, you'll never be too old to be "musically relevant"....wish I could have been there!! Brings back memories of our days in the Merit writers' house...you and Bob, and me and Jimmy and the rest of of us...not necessarily making much of a living, but making great music!!!! Trust me, we made a dent....and these juveniles (thanks Harlan Howard) here in Nashville today, are standing on our shoulders....? Randy, those who are lucky enough to get to hear you and Bob play together, understand first hand what "musically relevant" really is. :)

Anonymous said...

I didn't know you were in the Board of Directors.... of course I was probably entering 1st grade when you were grounded.
Your sketch of Madison Avenue is all too true. Government money behind "Beale St." assures that Memphis will never again have an entertainment district like Mad. Ave. once was.

-jake th rake

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you are playing some. My bass is at the ready if you need it.
Steve

Anonymous said...

The battle of the bands at T. Walker Lewis,
learning the hail mary so i could get into the CYO's without having to carry your guitar. THE X-CLUB !
Our dad's liquor cabinets were well stocked, no one had heard of marijuana, Vietnam, or spy satellites.
1984 and was quite a ways away, and Big Brother was something you got when you pledged a frat. how innocent we were, (well some of us) now those were the days.
MaGruter

LBC said...

One of my favorite memories of The Radiants is y'all playing at "The Attic" at Levy's downtown for the teenage girl set. We were all so young. You played for every dance we had at whatever school or church or synagogue was hosting. We never missed the Radiants (or for that matter Flash, the Blazers, or the Counts). Boy, am I old!

and the Gradiants said...

Touch my heart, old man. Due to a bad case of psychoneuroses at the time I was unable to participate for very long but, lawdy lawd, can't remember having so much fun. We did CYOs for a year of so, didn't we? And when that mob of girls chased us as we pulled out after the Dave Clark Five...I felt like I was a contenduh.
A kiss to your girl.

Anonymous said...

The Radiants at Miss Kitty's Patio were outstanding. I think. Now which decade was that?

Anonymous said...

The Overton Square years were Memphis' best. I grieve that that era is past. Now when you go to the Square you have to step over syringes, used condoms, and look over your shoulder for muggers. Actually, in Memphis you have to look out for muggers even in broad daylight at every stop light, in every mall, and in every neighborhood that lies east of Germantown Rd. For that matter, most large cities are that way these days. I think that this state of affairs could be called social regression produce largely by social progressives. Bush was a f-up, but I don't think that he was responsible for this malaise. By the way, how is he responsible for your intestinal condition? Perhaps you should meditate more. It is supposed to keep externals from disturbing your equanimity. To change the subject, have you considered playing at Young St. Deli. It has a great ambiance and I feel sure that the clientele there would be kindly disposed to your musical fare. On the serious side, I do hate to hear of your failing health. Can Dr. Gregg provide any help? Maybe some readers of this blog or even WEVl could arrange for some sort of musical benefit. You deserve that much for your contributions to Memphis music.

Brett said...

Randy,
Well written as usual. you mentioned Godfather's which I believe later became Solomon Alfred's. I recall many great nights of music there like hearing Paul Butterfield and Rick Danko together in the summer of 1980. Many wonderful memories were brought back by this blog. Thanks, Brett

Anonymous said...

Randy
I will never forget the time. I was in town with my first wife for yhe wedding of a family friend. I left the wedding in time for the Radiants last set at Huey's. I showed up with a sack of 'ludes so I quickly became the band's "best friend". The Radiants nailed soul R&b, and covers by The Crusaders. It was one of my favorite musical nights ever.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, great blog Rand, and I get to live it every day. I'm so lucky.Not only do I live it now but I was there back then too. Ain't life grand ? Muddy

geno722 said...

Well, Randy, you're making me feel my age, but it's a fun pile of memories. I distinctly remember the first time I ever met you - got a last minute call to play the patio at Ms. Kitty's one Sunday with ya, in fact... Yeah, unfortunately the truth of the matter is that the "powers that be" don't seem to want the Square to come back. You'd think - especially in this economy - that there would be sufficient support for small, quiet music venues all over the metro, even "outside the Parkways." That's because Memphibians do take for granted what a fertile musical community we've had through the years, and always found any excuse not to go out and support live music. And that was back when we had jobs!

Randy said...

Dear Mr. Anon. of 10:00,
Thank you so much and you are most generous. I often exaggerate my various medical grievances for the sake of humor, but aside from high cholesterol, my overall health is good. It's true I have no insurance, but I hope it will become available soon. Most of my gripes are the result of aging while sitting entirely too long at this keyboard, but I assure you that I am not in failing health. In fact, Melody has threatened me with all manner of harm if I do not start walking this week. But again, you are very kind, and Dr. Gregg is on call for me whenever I need him. Except, of course, for anything that might really make me feel good.
Randy

Anonymous said...

Memfricans aren't opposed to supporting live music. They are afraid to venture out at night. Can you blame them? Like the African savannah, the predators come out after the sun goes down. I have been scared shitless just about every time I have gone to Beale St. by being cornered by panhandlers and shakedown artists in the parking areas. You need an armed guard to go to and from your car. It seems that these problems didn't exist back in the Overton Square days. What has changed? And staying at home isn't a sure thing any more seeing as how home invasions are on the rise. It may be time to live in gated communities with armed guards, play cds at home for your musical entertainment, and reminisce about the good old days when the streets, malls, and schools were safe. Or, you can head for the hills.

Anonymous said...

Congradulations!!! The list of places you named brought back fond memories . Being your no1 sidekick for so long was and indeed still is a great part of my life. You and Bob helped me go places I would have never dreamed of and will never forget{all the ole'miss gigs,etc].You guys don't get older just better and the music lives thru you. Call me when you need a conga player!!!!! Skeetro

Alan said...

How about Edwin Hubbard at Friday's every Sunday night with Gary Johns on congas/percussion and the great Joe Dukes on drums. Yeah, Overton Square was the unique varied venue of Memphis, but for all of us musicians, The Overton Park Shell was the pinnacle for public performance. In my best memory, the 1971 O. P. Shell concert with Deep Purple/Cactus/Edgewood and the "Haspel Jug Band" as warm-up was a great tribute to the era. I was blessed to back you up on drums for some songs when you stood up and took the mike for some soul standards. What we played, I long ago have forgotten, but we have pictures. I think one is on your site. It's the one of you shirtless and me with a horizontal striped "Beach Boy" t-shirt. Cool times and I miss all the folks who have since left us. But again we have pictures... ...and memories.
Alan

Alan said...

Why did you leave out Dr. Gregg from the founding of the Board of Directors. I could swear that the first practice for the BOD was at Dr Greggs house. Why I was there I have no idea, but I was.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed that you can remember all of what went on or off back in the day. Health permitting, what's gonna be the name of the new band? Randy & The 714's or is it Randy & The 712's, I can't seem to recall the proper number. Just give me a "Kicker" and I'll be OK.

Steve said...

Randy, as one of the oldest bartenders still working boy does this bring back memories. NoRt many people remember the "Perception' before it was bought by Woodson and Saig and became TGI Fridays or the late Bill Shelby who ran 'The Looking Glass" before it became Bombay Bicycle where we first met. I had the pleasure of working all the great Mid Town bars while also teaching from High Cotton with Skip, Huey's, the short lived Eli's at Linden and Cooper, Mrs Kitty's, Trader Dicks,Pocape, G&G's and my craziest gig working with Issac at the original Hard Rock. As Gimmer Nicholson used to say I don't have war flash backs just bad bar night flash backs.It's great to hear your playing again You know you can always play Kudzus but no"CONGAS"

Steve

Sputnik57 said...

Of course it was the singing and founding Radiant, Dr. Gregg Grinspan, who went to White Station High and who introduced me to Howard Calhoun in the first place. So, Dr. Grinspan is the one who's really responsible for this whole mess. Hey Doc! Why'dja quit? And, love you Jane.
Randy

Anonymous said...

I remember the old Perception very well. Sid Selvedge played there all the time. And it was a great place to score acid

Anonymous said...

Radiants at Louie's on E. Poplar, Sun. nights was the best show in town with Duck Dunn.

Anonymous said...

Randy, I can't wait to tell Mark Sallings you said he was "late." I don't know if he's always on time, but he's still kicking with the 'Famous Unknowns."
Plunk

Anonymous said...

White House behind the scenes...
Obama: Those damned freedom-loving
people just refuse to go
along with our program.
Pelosi: Let's pass some more laws
and regulations to force
them to conform.
Obama: Well, it's that or bring out
the death squads. We can't
play our hand too soon,
though.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem that this country has is that there are now not many Americans living here. Americans have been supplanted by weak willed collectivists who go around whining because no one will pay their bills or take care of them. If you listen carefully, you can hear them crying, 'Obama, come wipe me!' If we get too many like this, there will not be enough non-takers to take care of them. What will they do then?

Sputnik57 said...

Mike,
I hate to be the bearer of sad tidings, especially in such a forum, but as of last weekend, Mark Sallings is no longer with us. The road has claimed another great bluesman. RIP.
Randy

Anonymous said...

Randy, I feel so bad. I saw Bob Horn about two weeks ago and Mark was fine. I hate it when our friends go.
Plunk

Anonymous said...

The government is devouring the private sector through ever increasing taxes. As taxes are raised employers have to lay off their workers which in turn means less tax revenue. Government tries to make this up by raising taxes still higher which means more lay offs, and so it spirals downward. Government is a mindless beast that is eating itself to extinction. This is natural selection at work. Apparently, the situation can't be helped because those who have the wherewithal to produce enter the private sector while those who don't have the wherewithal to produce enter government employment. The takers destroy the producers and the whole house of cards comes down. I hope you folks have a lot of emergency food stored away. It could get real ugly when the final implosion occurs. I wouldn't look for the Obama administration to save the day. Obama says that the profit to earnings ratio (he should have said price to earnings ratio) is beginning to be favorable, so it is a good time to invest in the stock market. Perhaps he would be interested in buying some land in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Everyone has heard of that bone-headed statement by now. In a recent poll, 83% of those polled have no confidence that Geithner can turn the economic situation around. These folks are completely incompetent when it comes to economics. And many people think that they and the rest of the Bolshevik Democrats will save the day. Good f-ing luck on that.

Randy said...

This is an obit for a great talent and pal, Mark Sallings.

Mark Sallings, R.I.P.
Posted Sunday, March 1, 2009, at 2:37 PM

"No Frail Jokes, No Regrets."
That blurb appeared in bold print on the back of The Famous Unknowns' 1993 debut CD, Upclose and Personal.

While it no doubt was stretched across the band of the smokin' blues band's initial compact disc to draw attention to the product inside, it very well could also have served as front man Mark Sallings' credo.

"No Frail Jokes, No Regrets."

Sallings died in an automobile accident Feb. 25 in Crawfordsville, on the road to Tunica to do what he did best - play the blues for another set of eager fans.

And though he has left this earth, Sallings surely left no regrets behind.

Throughout the history of the blues, travel-weary musicians have told countless tales of endless nights on the road, traveling from one low-paying gig to another - night, after night, after night.

They do this not for the adoration, or to get rich.

Heck, most of the time they're lucky if they even scrape together enough money after a gig to just cover gas expenses.

They do this because they truly love what they do. Playing the blues. That was most certainly the case for Mark Sallings.

That was why the Searcy-born Sallings, after over three decades of living life out of a suitcase, still took to the road countless nights throughout the year.

To help spread the gospel of the blues, whether in front of 100,000 fans at the King Biscuit Blues Festival, or in front of 10 or 15 people inside a cramped, weathered juke joint.

Wherever he went, Sallings carried with him the true spirit of the Delta blues.

Sallings and The Famous Unknowns were so well loved in Tunica, that a few years ago, they played 35 nights in a span of 42 days.

The 57-year-old Sallings' calling card was the ability to get a crowd up off its feet and get the dance floor movin' and groovin.' He switched between harp, sax, keyboards and flute, injecting the Unknowns' gritty blues with a blast of cool, Chicago-style swing.

His vocals were expressive and fluid, but it was for his harmonica work that Sallings was known up and down both coasts for.

Just take a quick listen to "Marks Harpo" off Upclose and Personal, or "Blues Acres" from Let it be Known for an introduction to the warm, rich sound of Sallings on harp.

Sallings, born on April 11, 1952, grew up in McCrory and was smitten at an early age with the music of blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins, artists who would all have a major impact on his choice of a career.

As a teenager, Sallings played the same hallowed ground that icons like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash had played - the famed Silver Moon Club in Newport.
Soon after graduating from high school, Sallings hit the road to Memphis and joined the Coon Elder Band.

Playing mostly an offshoot of country music with Coon Elder Band, Sallings changed gears in the early 1980s and played straight-ahead hard rock with Rick Christian and the WhiteBoys, a group that toured with Rush and The Police, among other heavyweights.

Then in 1988, The Famous Unknowns were born.

Touring the world as a member of country superstar David Lynn Jones' backing band, Sallings along with guitar player Gerry Moss and bass player Jerry Bone, started playing together as a group apart from Jones, on nights that Jones had no shows scheduled to perform.

It didn't take these talented musicians long at all to decide they had something special going and they embarked on their own path, playing blues, soul, funk and anything else that they took a mind to play.

And the reason for the name, The Famous Unknowns?

According to Sallings, it was partly "because of the time spent backing up legends or performing with them."

It didn't take the Unknowns very long to become legends in their own right.

Just three short years after forming, the Famous Unknowns became the first house band at B.B. King Blues Club in Memphis.

But like all bands eventually seem to do, the original lineup of The Famous Unknowns went their separate way after releasing Upclose and Personal.
Moss left to form Gerry Moss and the Drive. He was replaced on guitar by Tony Spinner.

Bone stayed on for awhile and with Sallings, Spinner, drummer Victor Lukenbaugh and Ray Reach on Hammond B-3, released Let it be Known on Vent records in 1995.

After that lineup split in various directions, Sallings embarked on a solo career.

But it wasn't long after that Sallings was traveling the road with another edition of Famous Unknowns, featuring Bob Horn on guitar, Don Garrett on bass and Craig Keys on drums.

Sallings was endorsed by Hohner Harmonicas and Peavey Electronics and played with some legendary names, including Albert King, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Steve Cropper, Rufus Thomas and a host of others.

Sallings leaves behind a wife and three children.

Sputnik57 said...

Mr. Anon. You're entitled to say what you wish, but this post was sorta' about music. We'll be back to breathing fire soon.
RJH

Anonymous said...

Well, actually I'm about ready to give up. Believe it or not I hate politics and politicians. I guess I am just ornery and sometimes I feel guilty for picking on ya'll. Actually, I believe in live and let live, and to each his own. But, I am a rebel and could never resist a good fight. Maybe we should all just take a toke for the good old days and get drunk (maybe stay drunk). By the way, I loved your music and have a great respect for musicians. I was at Lafayette's one night when you were playing. You encouraged everyone there to get drunk and crazy. I thought, 'There's a man after my own heart'. And another thing, I am very socially liberal, but economically conservative. I am the type who could never personally deny anyone in need. So, I live in perpetual conflict and cognitive dissonance. It bothers me that you are sick and are having trouble with getting treatment. That cause the liberal to rise up within me.

Father Farken said...

Congratulations are in order for Randy Haspel & Bob Simon in their 50 years of great authentic, solid, inspiring rock & roll! Elvis, Scotty & Billy didn't have 50 years! Lennon & McCartney didn't have 50 years! And G*D only knows how long The Los StraightJackets will last! Sputnik! Miss Kitty would be proud! All of the extended family of Mempho are proad! May the Rising come to Mid-Town! LONG LIVE THE RADIANTS! The Peace of the Lord! Fr. Farken PM:To Anon.03/6/09, 9:07PM Now you are showing some heart!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Father Farken, you warm the cockles of me heart.And you certainly recognize talent when you hear it. Good note.

kimk said...

Listening to the "Memphis Beat" CD one can't help but wonder What Might Have Been. Especially "Truth From My Eyes"--what a great, well crafted song, the writing, the vocalist, the background singers, what a great song.

At that time Lennon & McCartney were only a few years from warbling puerile "Love me do, You know I love, you, I'll always be true" and Jagger/Richards were still doing Chuck Berry covers. The Radiants were beyond Garage Band status, there was already a professional confidence that showed in the music.

(Of course there's the one caveat: it's difficult to imagine a bunch of white kids from East Memphis in Gant shirts and Weejuns being taken seriously when they do Bo Diddley, "I may look like I'm a farmer, But I'm a lover")

Still . . . something Joe Strummer of the Clash said, talking about a the collective magic a band can make, "Sometimes two and two don't make four, sometimes it makes fourteen."

Anonymous said...

The reason that we look back wistfully to the 'old' days is because we were young then. We look back to many memories, but the matrix in which everything transpired was youth. I think that it is youth that we miss most. When you have youth you have everything... health, vitality, hope, optimism, and no time horizon. You have all the time in the world and the vitality to do anything. Remember when every weekend was loaded with fun and looked forward to all week long? Old folks spend more time looking back, because there is nothing ahead but the rapidly approaching brick wall of their mortality.

Anonymous said...

It' time to start playing taps for America...she won't survive the next four years. I guess Comrade Obama will oversee the re-structuring of the coming totalitarian regime.