PRE-SCRIPT: This story is dedicated to Andy and Renee. The very first musician I saw perform when I moved to LA was Andy and luckily it was after the only time he ever had to do an Open Mic night at Hennessey’s. They hired him on the spot. No surprise there. Fast forward a few years and I met Renee and the rest of the Management, Adam and Chipster and Kris and Robert. Through Andy and Renee I , as many of you, were fortunate enough over the past almost 30 years to be exposed to some of the greatest local musicians the South Bay and LA had to offer. This is largely I think because although they would never say it out loud or even think it, Andy and Renee simply don’t play with anyone who sucks . So I‘ve never been to an Open Mic night to support a musician friend. Never had to. Not when you got to see on a regular basis through A& R, folks like Wade Preston, Bobby Malone, George and Tony, Dave T, Russell, Dry September and Pillows folks, Marty Rifkin, Karen, Patti O, all of the Management and Hard Rain band members over the years (Kirk, Jimmy Sax, Dave B, John H, Edo, Kevin H etc.), Debbie and Silvia, Julie Long, Christopher and Kelly, Dylan Boy Jamie Daniels, Paul Z and now Al Diesan and Chase-the next generation- and so many more throughout the years I can’t even remember them all. A musical debt of gratitude is surely owed to the best singer/songwriter I know and his songbird partner for keeping us out of OPEN MIC nights forever.
THE STORY: It all started innocently enough as most madness does. I was at the Dylan rehearsal party at Andy’s on Saturday and after about an hour I notice this guy sitting there the whole time to the side of the band, quiet, never said a word, just watching. For some reason, I thought it was George of George and Tony fame of years ago. One of the Hard Rain drummers was walking by and not Edo, the cute young Italian one either. I asked him who that guy was. He says he’s a friend of Edo’s who came all the way from Italy for Dylanfest. He doesn’t speak much English. That explains why he is sitting there so quietly listening to the band play, quite an aberration in my chatter soaked world. Of course I had to immediately go over and talk Italian to him, see if he needs anything. It’s what we Italians do. We have no problem becoming instant friends with perfect Italian strangers and by the end of our conversation I was picking him up that night to take him along with my friend Patty to see Dave Crossland perform on Sunset Blvd. I am the West Coast stop for every friend of a cousin of an aunt who married the brother of sister who met an uncle for five minutes one time in a bar in Italy and is now visiting LA. I asked him what he was doing the rest of the week and he said he was planning on going to as many Open Mic nights as he could just so he could play while here.
The next day I got to Dylanfest just as Italian Dylan guy was beginning his set. A great performance he gave. As it was ending, Jack, that now famous actor and former roommate of mine (yes I’ve lived with Jack McGee and his then wife Eileen, Andy, Lisa and Dave Tokaji at some point or other in my life- it explains a lot) came over to say hi and bye as he was leaving. We are talking immediately about Al’s performance and somehow got on the Open Mic topic. Jack says take him to Kulak’s Woodshed Monday night. Gives me details, some of which were not entirely correct and off he went with a kiss and a promise to come down and see him if we made it there the next evening. And so in keeping with my “let’s make sure every Italian is well taken care of if they are within my site policy”, I tell Al about the gig assuming he has a car. Of course not he says. Of course I’ll take you to the Valley in the midst of rush hour traffic on Monday night after not being home for like a week I say.
Here’s the best part of getting old folks; unfortunately you acquire way more energy. I ask two of my 40 something friends if they want to go with me. O no, too tired, are you kidding? Stay up past 9 o’clock on a Monday night? I ask two of my 60 something friends, both working, and it’s like O hell yes, it’s going to be an adventure!! I swear 40 somethings can sometimes be the crabbiest, most tired people ever. I was too at that age.
Robin can’t go as she has a previous engagement. Patty says no problem I’ll just sit in your backseat and read the paper and she does. I stop and think I better check it out with Edo, the Italian drummer and best friend of Al’s according to John, not the Baptist, Hoke’s observation of a 5 minute conversation in Italian between them at Dylanfest rehearsal on Saturday. I find Edo and you can imagine my shock and disbelief as he asks me what Italian friend. Apparently Edo has never met the guy before yesterday at rehearsal. I said Come on are you sure? Positive he says, Andy knows him and picked him up from the airport. Edo, I say, I took him to Hollywood last night cause you were off on a gig. I now am taking him to Open Mic night cause he’s a friend of yours from Italy and speaks not much English and I’m the only other damn Italian besides you in LA and NOW you tell me that you don’t even know him?? Edo by now is laughing so hard he can’t speak in any language. I stomp off to find John, not the Baptist, Hoke and proceed to ask him what exactly inspired him to spin the tale of Edo and his best friend from Italy coming all the way to Dylanfest. Well he said I saw them both talking Italian to each other before Edo left for his gig. Of course, EVERY two people who speak the same language to each other must be connected is some deep way. Isn’t that always the case? I hate John Hoke, I just want that on record.
It’s 5:30pm Monday night, we pick up Uncle Al and make our way to Laurel Canyon Blvd in Studio City. We get there by 7 and figure we’ll park Al inside, go get gas and be back in plenty of time for the supposed 8pm start per Mr. McGee and the Kulak website actually. Al and I go inside this tiny place the size of my living room with all sorts of really crazy stuff everywhere including a full size bed you can lie down on and watch the show. We sign him up. The deal is for $20 bucks they record your performance and email it to you. As we are talking to the Open Mic curator, a man in beige shorts, a flowered Hawaiian shirt and white socks comes running over with a $20 bill saying “I saw you at Dylanfest yesterday. You were great “ to Uncle Al and pays his entry fee. Just like that. Apparently has been a fan of Andy and Renee for years and been going to the fests. He then looks at me, shoves a green plastic see through business card at me and says “Bring this guy back from Italy this summer, I’ll get a bus, you get him some gigs, we’ll go all over California and Arizona with him, he’s great”. Sure, no problem, I’ll drop everything and start my very own Rolling Blunder Revue. Ok I’ll admit I almost said yes. He goes back to his chair.
Meanwhile at the podium we find out that Jack and their own website may have misinterpreted the times a bit. Turns out you pick a number and the Open Mic doesn’t start till 9pm not 8pm and it’s now 7pm. We can do this. Where’s the bar I ask? The maître don’t laughs and says there is no bar or food or anything else for that matter but lots of cool stuff hanging on the walls. The Bruce original poster from the 85 European tour was very good. I digress. The claustrophobia induced by small spaces without beer sets in on me and there is no way I can sit here even remotely quietly for two hours. I leave Al and go back to the car and Patty in the back seat still reading the paper and the only thing I see on the horizon is a Shakey’s Pizza which after 12 years of youth football team parties I will NOT go into ever again without a court order. I send my video guy a text as he lives around here asking where’s a good bar nearby. All I get back is a reply that says-You don’t need alcohol. No raise in his future I can tell you that. I remember a place he told me about once called the Robin Hood British Pub where he and his friends spend English New Year’s Eve. Weird they can’t wait for the current time zone like the rest of us but I digress-again. By now you have figured out if you read any previous blogs that I do this a lot.
We find it and find we can hang for a few hours here. I order the French Dip and the waitress says the dipping sauce is really salty tonight so you have to taste it first. Ok I guess and I get up thinking I’ll have to go into the kitchen and check the pot. Instead she brings out this tiny little bowl with no spoon, no bread and all I got is a fork nearby. Now what? She’s waiting for me to do something so I dip a finger in the dip taste it and tell her its fine.
I order a beer. Patty has put the paper down long enough to order a wine and we look around. This place has a dartboard in an interesting location- right between two tables of diners. There is literally someone’s head on either side of the board. This is in a bar with potential drunk people throwing darts. Enough said. We eat , we laugh. The waitress tells us we are fun and off we go back to Kulak’s at about 8:45 or so.
We go in and there’s Uncle Al sitting and waiting his turn. What number did you get I ask? 25 he says. I visibly slump. There are two very nice chairs, comfortable, against the wall being occupied by a nice young black rapper and his friend. Call him up first please, I silently pray. Bingo! I love it when God’s not too busy selecting presidential candidates to answer my prayers. Good luck to you we say. We’ll take those chairs now and clap really hard for you too. So Patty and I sit. She is still reading that damn paper going on four hours now. Evelyn Wood she is not. There is so much stuff hanging on the wall in this place and the ceiling too as I notice when I look up and see these two full sized kitchen chairs hanging from the ceiling right above us. I try not to focus on what they used to hang them with and whether they will hold up for this show.
I survey the potential talent and I use the term loosely here. There is one lady, unbelievable huge sitting there in a mu mu with the tiniest of instruments. I am praying, praying that her number is higher than Uncle Al’s. I so want to give her my weight loss seminar business card. Yes folks she was huge. Using the word fat is not going to kill you but being fat will. There’s a shameless plug for my other business. And I’m thinking, why the hell would you pick this tiny mandolin looking thing to play. Why not a damn tuba or something like the accordion that can hide some of you? I lucked out apparently as her performance was while I was on the bathroom side of the house and you can’t come back through or move while someone is on. This we found out when at one point the nice MC lady was pushed out of the way by this guy so thin he looked like he was standing sideways with this huge mustache that started yelling YOU WILL NOT WALK DURING A PERFORMANCE. DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU WILL NOT WALK EVER!! I look at Patty and we pretty much lose it again especially after nice MC lady tells us we now got “Daddy” mad. First cause we saw NO ONE walking and second because walking- especially out- could only improve some of these performances.
Next up the stuck needle piano lady. This was an amazing feat actually. Remember when the needle used to get stuck on a record hence repeating the exact phrase over and over exactly the same way. I cannot believe that you could actually duplicate this in real life but this lady last night on piano did just that- over and over and over. MOVE THE FLIPPING NEEDLE I whisper to Patty and we are gone again in fits of laughter. I know so childish but so necessary.
To me Open Mic night, although I have never been to one thank God, because I never had to since all my musical outings stemmed from Andy and then Andy and Renee and sundry manifestations of their bands, should be for young musicians and singers just starting out. They should not be for social security toting 70 year olds with nothing better to do. Mick and Keith and Bob and Paul are on their way to the END of their musical careers and so it’s fine for them to be in their 70s for God’s sakes but trust me if you were that good someone would have found you long before you turned 75. Every damn bucket lister will now be showing up to Open Mic nights.
Baby boomers, we don’t need to suck the life out of everything for the youngsters. Leave Open Mic nights to the kids starting out please. Thank God for that great young lady who sang just beautifully. At a minimum we should have segregated Open Mic nights for young people and really old, untalented ones. Let’s get some of that on the ballot instead of annoying the transgender folks. Now back to the show.
We are sitting there in the Valley as far from Torrance as Oz is to Kansas waiting for Uncle Al’s number to be up and all of sudden there’s a guy standing next to us and he hears Patty say Dylanfest as we must have been talking about it like every other person on the planet incessantly for the past three days and he says I used to play at one years ago. I say in Torrance by any chance? Yeah he says, at a guy named Andy’s house. Whoa, that was my house too, crazy, blah blah blah. He shows me a picture of his Soy monster or something costume from 1998 and turns out its Bill ‘like the strawberry” Berry. Small world or the Twilight Zone- you be the judge.
We are still slogging through one performer after another waiting for Uncle Al’s turn. The guy with the Eddie Murphy pompadour wig from what movie I can’t remember pretty much just puts us away for good. Now I have to literally put my denim jacket over my head and hope no one notices because I am laughing so hard and the more he sings the more I can’t stop. I know I know, I am a horrible person.
Finally it’s Al’s turn and as to be expected he just blows the place away with Mr. Tambourine Man, which on the way up in the car was Blind Willie McTell. I hope it wasn’t my less that warm reception to that choice when I asked him what he was going to play that changed his mind. The place went nuts and rightly so. Uncle Al looks like he’s about to sit down and enjoy the rest of the show. O hell no!! I give him the let’s go sign and he packed that guitar up as fast as he could. Jack? He never showed. Fell asleep or so he said. Seven hours later from start to finish I was snuggled up in bed asleep. Another fine day in paradise comes to a close or the 10th Ring of Dante’s Inferno as Open Mic nights will forever be known to me.