Thanks to my Editors - Gandalf4217 & Fuzzywuzzy
It was nearly 3 a.m. in the morning, and from the sound of the fighting going on next door, I realized that I wouldn't be getting any sleep soon. I gave up and got out of bed, got dressed and went back downstairs to the piano in the small bar area. If the past was any experience, I'd find out what was going on quite soon enough. Sure enough ten minutes later, she came downstairs into the semi-darkened empty bar where I was softly playing the piano, pulled up a bar stool next to me and laid her forehead right against the top.
"Déjà vu, all over again ... isn't it". She sadly said with her eyes full of tears. I laughed weakly and gave her a vaguely cheerful smile and gently touched her arm.
"Well, I guess it's good that if you have to tell your troubles to the piano player, there's an advantage to at least having a piano player already available that knows your name and most of your problems. A real time saver, it is that way!" I stopped my playing, I was just running random chords trying to pick out a new melody anyway, and added softly, "It's all over now for good this time, isn't it Elizabeth?"
She kept her head down on the piano and didn't look up, but managed a "Yes, I really think it is this time".
We said nothing more to each other for a good long while, and I softly played for her a few old show tunes that she had once requested from me another early morning a long time ago. Well it seemed like a long time anyway ... nearly forever, but actually it was only last month on that cruise from Athens, but let me try and explain the story from its very beginning.
My name is Saul, but most of my music friends call me Smiley. I'd been in the music business for nearly twenty-five years since I had made my first recording on an already obsolete shellac 78-rpm record in 1961 at the age of 17. I've mostly played piano or keyboards, and got my big career start as a studio or session musician for other artists just as the rock and roll explosion of the 1960's took off. I had developed a good reputation of being able to learn a song in just one take and play exactly what the record's producer was looking for (usually while the drug addled band member I had replacing looked on). My name became well known in west coast session circles and I was soon in constant demand in the recording studio and even occasionally as a temporary replacement band member or an additional backup musician for large touring bands and I worked steadily into the late 1970's. I never got rich this way, but I stayed busy and earned far more than I could easily spend.
As the stadium rock era grew, the demand for computer electronics and synthesizers grew, and there became less work for old piano dogs like me. I managed enough odd day jobs doing over-dubs for second rate and worse bands that didn't rate the normal full production package to keep the food on my table and keep up the payments on the seaside house I'd bought in Marin County when times had been good. I also played with several Bay Area retro 'Dinosaur' bands full of "B-Team" guys just like me enough to keep the fun alive and get an occasional decent paycheck. Unfortunately as the 1980's began I found myself working a little bit less each year and sometimes had to teach music part-time to keep all my financial wheels steady on the road. The taxes on that beachfront house were starting to kill me!
That was my biggest blessing - that I had been relatively smart with my money and had put away nearly half of what I had ever earned when times were good and the paychecks nice and fat. The problem was my investments weren't paying off particularly well yet. For 20 years, I had been buying up the music rights for long forgotten bands, one-hit wonders, and other relics of vintage music history that no one seemed to care about. Certainly the major record companies didn't seem to care, and rarely ever raised a feeler about repurchased lapsed rights to antique and very obsolete talent they considered had little if any modern reissue value.
In those days I was a mad prophet still howling in the wilderness. I had seen the future, CD's, and thought that someday, if they became cheap enough to produce, vintage recording fanatics would want a modern "newly remastered" CD reissue rather than rely on an increasing rare slab of worn vinyl from a 1950's reissue or the insanely fragile and scratchy original shellac from the 1920's or 30's. Maybe someday, but the demand was not there quite yet. For now I could still afford to wait for my ship to someday sail in.
It sailed in sooner than I expected! Well, not that ship, but another one nearly as good.
In the middle of the night one early summer's day in 1982, I got an overseas call from an old friend Randy in the UK music business (naturally he'd forgotten all about the ten hour time difference from Greece to California). He had been mostly working as an agent these days, and he had been landed a plum job opportunity that required at least "B+" grade talent, but was in a jam. One of the major Aegean cruise lines had contracted for piano player to handle a main lounge show every night. He had contracted for an artist to handle the gig with 3 Gold records to his credit from the early 1970's, but was definitely on a steep track downwards nowadays. The guy had disappeared with the travel money advance and hooked up again with his old heroin fixer, and was now very much out of commission.
Randy needed someone on a flight to Athens "yesterday" and if I would just say "Yes" my plane ticket would be waiting for me at the airport, and I would get the star treatment for a few months.
Sounded like fun to me, there was just one catch. I couldn't sing, nearly not a lick. Sort of like Grace Slick, I only have a musical range of about three notes, but instead of being able to shatter glass, my voice was like the rumble of granite rubbing together. I could manage a bass backup for a vocalist without embarrassing myself, but I was no singer. That was why I had never released a record with my name on it since that one side on 78-rpm shellac in 1961.
Randy thought fast and said he knew of a girl that was probably available to accompany me. "Edna would be perfect! She's kind of a 'throwback', like you - she's got a fetish for "Hot Dance" blues and jazz music from the 1920's and 1930's." Wow, that did sound like my kind of singer!
I agreed to the more than fair compensation deal and we reviewed the travel arrangements. I turned off the gas and electricity at home, wrote a check to my mortgage banker that nearly emptied my account, but this would keep my bills paid while I was gone. Then I made a few calls to friends to let everyone know I was out-of-town, and then started to pack.
I needed one bag of "performance" clothes, including formal dress for dinner, and some odd casual pieces and I stuffed my largest suitcase with vinyl. Old, rare nearly one of a kind stuff that I knew, loved and could play by ear or by heart and that Edna just might have the inclination to sing. Every one, reissues of old Depression era 78's when Jazz, Blues and Country sounds intermixed into the hottest music of the pre-Big Band era. Naturally, the original 78's were too fragile for this sort of travel, but most of what I wanted had been reissued on vinyl during the 1950's.
Loaded for bear (and Edna) I caught my flights and sixteen hours later was sitting in the cruise line main office in Athens, waiting for Edna so we could officially sign in as part of the 'talent staff' for the cruise. With a name like Edna, I was fully expecting a mature woman twenty years my senior. Not a problem for me as long as she had the pipes for the job, but I was surprised to discover that "Edna the Throwback" was a young tasty morsel not yet out of her twenties (28, I later found out - almost 10 years younger than me!).
We exchanged greetings, signed our paperwork and got escorted to the ship's Talent Coordinator, our boss for the gig, who gave us our work schedule (2 shows daily), and then showed us around a bit and got us placed into our staterooms.
Jet lagged or not, we got to work nearly right away, I grabbed Edna from her stateroom (next to mine) and we went straight to the lounge to see what kind of act we could scrape together at nearly the very last minute. We had less than 24 hours until our first show and we had no idea what we were going to do. Since Edna was going to be our voice and main attraction, I started by seeing what was in her repertoire. What wasn't! She knew all of the standards and show tunes, and could do any Cole Porter or Gershwin number in her sleep. We decided to keep our first lunchtime show light and airy and do that sort of Broadway and musical show tune stuff then.
We scribbled out a decent set list of 20 songs we knew we could both do 'cold' tomorrow and made out a secondary list of another 30 odd songs that we could definitely also do, but a practice or two beforehand would be advisable. We then settled down to the main problem, the big evening show. Fortunately, we were not the headlining "Main" evening show; there was a Parisian/Vegas style variety act with a cast of dozens that operated in the main showcase theater next door. Our lounge might seat maybe two hundred or so, if folks were feeling friendly.
.... There is more of this story ...