I decided to compile this a few days after my mid September blog entry to give a little perspective on my music backstory and also for typing practice with some classic pics. The title of this blog item is also the title of the book I’m about three chapters away from finishing. And yes it’s a take off on a Grateful Dead song.
As I am heading for the Big 70–which I never envisioned I’d live long enough to kick that mileage over the odometer–I’ve been rooting around old pic files as I reboot the book I’ve been working on. Some interesting things have turned up from the visual vaults. Like this:
This was taken when I was 29 at my last NOLA JazzFest as the main stage manager of the big stage at the end of the racetrack. What was surprising was that I still had hair and was at the top of my music touring game a mere six months before I took the cruise ship to emigrate to Australia for the next 40 years. I’d been working Jazzfest for the previous nine years, it being at the beginning of my touring season each April-October and I always had the best and most demanding acts at my stage with a few fellow stagehands I’d import from home city Atlanta. Like these guys…
Roosevelt was a boogie woogie and stride pianist of the highest order, always immaculately dressed, shaded by an elegant hat and chomping a perpetual cigar. He was the master of the musical double entendre and ferocious at the keyboards. He was one of the reigning piano professors of New Orleans along with Fess, Tuts Washington, Fats, James Booker and the younger Allen Toussaint along with Dr John who all played my militarily run main stage at the stables end of the racetrack. One of my fave memories was being invited to his house by his wife for fried chicken and other soul food delights the Sunday one of our days were cut by floods.
Fess, short for Professor Longhair, had fingers like spider hands and played with a backbeat Caribbean rhumba/mambo/calypso syncopation, a wailing choked voice and unmistakable whistle. He was saved from self-induced obscurity by Alison Miner and Quint Davis who rediscovered him sweeping floors in a mid-town record store in 1970. Not a druggie or a drinker and putting family first, he had grown tired of ‘the biz’ in the early 60s having been self taught, reconstructing pianos from those frames tossed out on the streets. He put funk into New Orleans music more than any other musician. It was once said that when a famous jazz piano maestro tried to replicate Fess’ gumbo playing, he bloodied his hands in the attempt and gave up.
Though my first real music business job was stapling posters on phone poles in Atlanta for promoter Alex Cooley, I was soon snatched by Woodstock audio domo Bill Hanley to work on his Southern sound truck based there and went from being sound roadie one day (skills learned loading pot bales quickly into a truck) to mixing audio for some of the greatest bands in a huge variety of venues up and down the Eastern side of the US. My first mixing gig was with Tony Orlando and Dawn at Six Flags over Georgia when the sound engineer passed out just before showtime. I was scared but had paid attention scrupulously over the previous smaller shows and after all, it was just a big stereo system with a lot more buttons and dials, right?
Next day after a 16 hour drive, we set up in far Kentucky for a college show with Rod Argent which I mixed again barely able to keep my eyes open during the ballads. A night of sleep in the truck and a 12 hour drive back to Atlanta where I was scheduled for the next week at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival running the Gospel Tent at the Racetrack over two weekends. The highlights were a 50 piece church choir followed by a group named the Gospel Soul Prisoners of 18 convicts tethered in chain gang links marching up the ten steps to the stage, complete with shotgun toting sheriffs. Now that was a religious experience! Jazzfest was where I met Muddy Waters and worked with him over the years. The Meters, Neville Brothers, Fats Domino, Dr John and so many more Nawlins legends graced my stage over that decade. With Muddy’s Italian New Jersey based guitarist and tour manager at the time, Brian Bisesi,
I formed a near 50 year bond with him that took us to many of the fests below and continues to this day. Matter of fact, we used to meet up in New Orleans most years and caught up with each other two years ago in Saratoga New York, scene of our last show together close to 40 years earlier. Now we tend to bond over fine dining and pinot noir as opposed to the Creole and Vietnamese dives we hung at with a bottle of cognac at my house ending many nights.
Because Jazzfest was promoted by George Wein who also did Newport Jazz Festival, Grand Parade de Jazz in Nice France and Kool Festivals around the US, I lucked out doing stage management and production management at a variety of indoor and outdoor venues under the tutelage of him, Quint Davis and Bob Jones. Though we had a lot of contemporary R&B stars on the bills, my favourites were jazz masters and mistresses like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Count Basie Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner and so many more legends. The high point was probably mixing multi hard bop instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk in my home town Braves Stadium. The blind player, extravagantly dressed replete with bent top hat, played three instruments at once–clarinet, tenor sax and flute–by circular breathing through his mouth and nostrils. Helluva job mixing that since the mikes were at the bells of the instruments.
Every once in a while I would get a frantic call from Festival Productions Inc HQ in New York or Quint in New Orleans, the best of which commanded me to take the first thing smoking that afternoon from Atlanta to Honolulu via a red eye from Seattle midway. The Kool Pacific Music Fair was having problems with the union crew at the Waikiki Shell who were working on ‘Island-time’ and not keeping to schedule. George figured since I was was an IATSE (Stagehands union) member, I could probably sort it on the ground. So with only four days before the four day, four stage outdoor fest kicked off, I was able to cajole, bribe, plead and feed the unruly mob of local mokes into making up lost time and having the fest start dead on time, run smoothly and finish just 30 seconds overtime. It led to me heading up production for a subsequent fest and learning the isles’ culture.
It was also my introduction to Hawaiian music and South Seas players which stretched out over my life to working with the Aloha Music industry in later years. And of course, the islands became my mistress through three marriages as well as a key part of my music directory and SXSW/MIDEM/New Music Seminar days. In all, I’ve been there close to 70 times over the years,
Just a few weeks prior to that Hawaiian jaunt, I was summoned to Memphis for a free two day street fair which hooked me up with Al Green in his home town who I’d toured with throughout the South through black promoter Taurus Productions. I’ve returned quite a few times and attended church at the Reverend Al’s house of worship and still go to the same rib shacks he introduced me to. Also on the bill was the Muddy Waters Band who introduced me to a bunch of local blues and R&B players and shouters. And on the bill, the oddly contrasting mighty-white honkers The Flying Burrito Brothers, long past Gram Parsons days.
Al Green was scheduled into my last Nawlins show at The Superdome along with The Spinners (I’ll Be Around, Could it be I’m Falling In Love) who I’d shared road time with through my years at Taurus. Mixing audio in this barn of a structure was a challenge but handling Aretha’s sound was an honour. She was in her element with The Mighty Clouds of Joy gospel stars and it was my last professional gig in ‘The City That Care Forgot’ though I’ve been back about 50 times for ‘Social Aid and Pleasure’.
But my very last gig in America before taking the boat to Oz was another Newport Jazz Fest in New York with events held both in the city and a few hours up North at Saratoga Springs spa at the Performing Arts Centre. Radio City Music Hall was the venue for a tribute to Muddy Waters, with James Cotton Blues Band, B.B, King Blues Band, Muddy Waters Blues Band and Johnny Winter who came riding out on stage on a horse with his guitar strapped to him. Once again, being an IATSE stagehand union member helped me negotiate the three unions involved in this stunt to make it happen and the result was spectacular. The show started at midnight and ended at a bluesy and boozy 4am before the 10am drive to SPAC.
It was a semi enclosed amphitheatre open to a long grassy hillside, acoustically near perfect for an indoor outdoor show on what were perfect days. Saratoga was a rich town with myriad spas and gorgeous architecture but this gig took all my attention. Probably the oddest assignment was having to carry Ella Fitzgerald over the muddy backstage area which was no easy task but well worth the kiss on the cheek she gave me.
It was only five years later that I completely turned my life around through journalism and PR and was entering a new world of digital rather than analog pursuits, abandoning my stage and tour manager life on the road in America to becoming a trade journalist for Billboard, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, MIX, Music Week (UK) and Music & Media (Europe). As well, I pioneered writing about electronic mail and the new art form of music video, even copping a legal threat from the Email company who made whitegoods saying I could not use that word editorially except referring to their trademarked appliances.
Another little item from the crypt was an article I did for the Sydney Morning Herald about 1983 (and iterations of the same topic for a few dozen other papers and magazines) about how a few hundred in Australia and a few thousand around the world used baby laptops and acoustic coupler cups (pre-modem) to communicate globally in the rock world. I contracted to Jands who ran this technology and I got the job to train rock stars on these little Tandys how to do email and use a computer bulletin board, the precursor to the internet.
My favourite pupil? Definitely Chrissie Amphlett of Divinyls training her and manager Vince Lovegrove at my house on Rose Street and then a week later at her house in Hollywood. A sharp, lovely, funny woman who loved computer class. A digital dux!
But that was ‘the good ol’ days’, almost 40 years in Australia which is not a part of the book being writ. The arc of the story spans two murdersin the 70s–a murder I had to commit and ten years later, one I didn’t do but was framed for. Therein lies the tale I’m scrupulously writing, editing and finalising with a couple of chapters or excerpts already buried in this blog below this piece at http://www.philtripp.com/blog
The House On The Hill where the plot thickens.