I remember when I first starting performing live, so many moons ago that I’ve lost count. It was fun and exciting. My mother impressed upon me the words of comedian Jerry Lewis, “Always dress a step above the audience.”
At first it was dresses and heels for the lounge circuit, up and down the east coast I traveled in my van, 4 weeks here, 8 weeks there, around and around I went. It was a time when lounges had live entertainment; mostly a pianist singing popular songs, only 3 female guitarists were on the lounge circuit at the time, including me. The days were long as I waited to perform at night, I’d practice, ride my bike, wander around the foreign cities, filling time, filling time.
The lounges were part of Restaurants, so a free room always went with the gig, if I was lucky there was a pool, especially lucky, an indoor pool and gym. It was a time before the Internet, cellphones and free long distance; I spent a lot of time alone.
To be honest, I don’t mind solitude; it’s my time to climb the mountains and valleys of my mind. My alone time is my creative time, silence is sacred.
I was playing a gig in Cleveland Ohio, when my agent told me that I needed to start using a drum machine. I had been fighting this concept, avoiding adding a “canned” sound to my music, but now he was insisting. He also told me that the manager of the lounge wasn’t thrilled that I was spending my breaks with customers. I didn’t understand this, as I was “working the crowd”, keeping them in their seats and increasing revenue. He then explained that “working girls” had an arrangement with the bar, where their drinks were mainly water, but the customer was paying full price. Oh, I thought, well that’s a horse of a different color.
I stopped talking to the customers, refused to use a drum machine and found myself someplace in West Virginia. I knew I was being punished about not using the drum machine when I walked into the “Polynesian Lounge.” It was dark, dingy and musty. My room had a door that wouldn’t lock and faced the woods, I requested another room, got one, but slept in my sleeping bag on the bed. My first night on the plywood stage, in the dark, there were a couple guys at the bar. One yelled out, “Play Country Roads!!” so I did. I finished, started another song, when he yelled out, “Play Country Roads!!!” I said, that I just did, he demanded, “Play it again!!” This went on for the next 4 hours, I’m sure that John Denver was shaking his head in heaven.
I spent what seemed like an eternity in that place, it was actually only a month, but I knew I was done. It was the end of a 6 year attempt at “making it”. I had hoped that some traveling talent agent would hear me one night and swoop me off, but alas the closest I came were truckers who promised me stardom in the back of their cab.
I’ll always be grateful for my lounge years; it made me a good rhythm guitarist, gave me confidence and taught me how to be flexible. But let me tell you, it was a hard way to live, never a familiar face, place or friend. Even now, I dislike staying in a hotel/motel because it reminds me of that time, 6 years of the same paintings, bedspreads and smells.
If you see me play today, you’ll notice that dresses and heels have been replaced with jeans, tennis shoes and mismatched socks.
Thought of the day: There’s no place like home