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Foosball and Broken Promises

by Peter Lampson

A recent live radio appearance at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, reminded me of the circumstances surrounding the last time I did that gig.
It was back when polyester was king. I was the singer-guitarist and writer in a trio whose other members were a percussionist and a woodwinds player - both Berklee-trained jazz musicians. Please note the lack of a bass player.
We were called OESTROPHONE [pronounced ES tro fone] "The Sound of Cellular Heat", as we said in our promo kit, and we were indescribable, genre-wise. We went from brilliant to mediocre, sometimes in the same set. We were semi-legendary in Newburyport, MA.
Like any other musicians without day gigs or reputations, we were always looking for work, and we couldn't be too fussy about it. The sax player and the drummer had both done Top 40 gigs in New Jersey and had no qualms about working with agents named Vito and saying, "Oh, yeah, we can do that - no problem!" when asked if we played Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, or Kirby Stone Four charts; so we got to fake our way through a few weird gigs.
The gig which sticks out the most is one a Top 40 agent - who is still working and shall remain nameless - procured for us. It was at a "nice little club" in a ski resort town in New Hampshire - a 3 1/2-hour drive, if we floored it all the way. It was for a Friday and Saturday night in June (not when the skiers are in town). Problem was we had a radio show to do in Cambridge (4 1/2 hours, if we floored it all the way) on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
We needed the money, _and_ we needed the publicity. No brainer - do both!
As anyone who has played a gig away from home can attest, misleading publicity can make things harder; so when we pulled into town early Friday evening and saw crudely hand-lettered signs saying "Osterpane - Hard Rock and Top 40", we knew it might be slightly awkward till we won the crowd over.
When we arrived at the club and set up our gear, it seemed unnaturally quiet. The bartender eyed us suspiciously, and said Ahab (or whatever the owner's name was) would be back shortly. When he did come back, we were doing a sound check and he came up to us, said hello, stuck out a hairy paw and said, "Where's the #*@%+&! bass player?" We gently reminded him that he'd hired a trio and reassured him that, with my bass and rhythm guitar style, fat tone, and the guitar-kick drum combinations we used, no one would notice. He rolled his eyes and said, "Oh #*@%", and walked back into the kitchen. We decided to interact with this guy as little as possible.
It was an 8-12 gig, so when the clock struck 8, we started off in a mellow groove, seeing as there was only the bartender and an old high buddy (21? I'm not so sure ... ) in the place. After the second song, the owner burst out of the back and growled, "Faster! Louder! Harder!", so we did, for another 35 minutes.
When we took our break, he approached us and said, "Hey, we gotta talk! Don't you guys play rock 'n' roll??!" We said, "Sure! That was rock 'n' roll!", to which he said, "No, that was some weak shit I never heard before! Look, I want you to play some shit I know, got me?!?" We said, "Sure, man, no problem," and then hastily wrote up a set list of Stones, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, and any other rock songs whose lyrics I could recall.
While we were frantically searching our playlist, Ahab was starting on the Long Island Tea. After we started our rockin' second set in the still empty bar, there was a huge ruckus, the TV was turned up and the Foosball table which had been on the vacant dance floor was noisily overturned by Guess Who, who broke a few glasses for extra effect. To our credit, we kept playing in spite of his one-man commotion. We played a long, loud set and walked to the bar to face the other music.
By this time, the guy was mellowed and more reasonable ... hell, he was blotto. He said, "Hey, guys, nobody's coming - why don't you call it a night and I'll give you $50" (less than half of what we were supposed to make), to which we responded, "No way! We didn't drive all this way for 50 bucks." Ahab says, "Hahaha, I was kidding! Look, I don't have the cash right now, so why don't you call it a night and call me back tomorrow about tomorrow night? You'll get paid for tonight either way. I'll try to get another band, but if I can't, a bad band is better than no band at all, right?!" We nodded, uneasily.
Experience has taught me that everything else in this story makes perfect sense except the part where we agreed to leave without so much as a check in our hands.
We left and did a great performance on the live radio spot on Saturday, felt great about ourselves, and were relieved to find that our services wouldn't be needed at Ahab's place on Saturday night.
Days passed. No check. We called the bar. We called the agent. Weeks passed. No check. After a month, we drove three hours and won a judgment in Small Claims Court, only to eventually find that the sheriff couldn't collect because everything was in Ahab's girlfriend's name. The sheriff knew, because we were on a long list of people with beefs and judgments against the guy.
After a few months, we heard the guy was in the slammer after someone had tipped the police off to a huge chunk of hasish in Ahab's possession. Payback? We certainly thought so.
As I write, I'm waiting for a check from a big FM station for a solo set I played at one of their promotions. Deja vu? Probably not - but ask me in two weeks.

Copyright 1996 by Peter E. Lamson All Rights Reserved