August 21st, 2020

Just things, Music, Uncategorized

My first taste of Scotch was in the early 1980s when I was a stagehand at the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City.

The Uptown was (and still is as far as I know) a beautiful old theatre. It was built in the 1920s and opened in 1928. It is adorned with balconies, columns, and a black ceiling with “stars” (lights) to emulate an outdoor nighttime setting. It was a movie house in the grand tradition and had a proscenium stage with big maroon velvet curtains. It was like many other theaters back then; some, like the many Fox Theatre venues still left in the country, were owned by the studios. It is a special place and holds a spot in my heart.

Back in those days the Uptown was a very busy place and was staging several shows a week. I had started there without any experience after losing my job in 1980 (given a job out of compassion by a big burly guy named Jimbo). I had earned my place as a regular on the crew through hard work and perseverance and worked many shows through both of my stints there (second run was in the late 80s in charge of the lighting rig and as house electrician).

The shows ran the spectrum – Toots and the Maytals, Johnny Rivers, Men at Work, A Flock of Seagulls, Nick Lowe, Steppenwolf, Jean Luc Ponty…and so many, many more. It was also the place I met and hung out briefly with Robin Williams. It was a great, intimate venue for a show.

One show in particular in the early 80s I got to have a conversation with a guy in one of the bands that came through. He was one of the nicest people I ever met when I was doing stage work. Between the years that have passed and, well, it WAS the 80s, I cannot remember the date or the two or maybe three acts that night; I narrowed it down to these bands: it could have been Dokken, Streets (Steve Walsh’s band after he left the band Kansas), or Strange Daze (a great Doors tribute band who I was asked to tour with in Europe but the tour unfortunately fell through), but I am thinking that it was Dio on his first solo tour after leaving Black Sabbath. Thinking back a little more in depth I think the other bands I mentioned were all together on another show there.

At sound check, the drummer for the opening act came up to me as I was standing off stage left near the monitor console and we started talking. Not like rock star talking, but as two guys just talking about topics now long forgotten (again, the 80s). I know from being around this type of work for several years and being on the road it’s nice to just have a conversation without the star struck condescension, and that’s what this was. Human interaction.

As a stagehand you pretty much know to be a wallflower. It’s unprofessional to be star struck; your job is to make the show happen and stay in the shadows. You would get a “how’s it going?” or an unsaid “thanks” sometimes via a nod or smile, but you don’t approach people. To have someone come up to you and strike up a conversation was very out of the norm. If you think about it they are surrounded by fame, drugs and people kissing their asses constantly – all leeches and posers. I would think just having a normal conversation with someone was not very common and something longed for those in the entertainment lifestyle.

He went onstage to do his sound check and came back by. We chatted a bit more and he asked me if I liked Chivas Regal. I said I don’t even know what that is. He said to me “It’s Scotch and when I come back for the show I’ll bring a bottle and we’ll have a toast!”. I said “Okay”, thinking it was “rock star talk”.

The doors open for the show and we are all putting on the final touches dressing the stage. I get back in position by the monitor console again, ready to run onstage during the concert to fix something if need be (as I had to do about 90 minutes later in the middle of the Dio show and during other shows).

The guy I was talking with earlier walks up to me, and sure as hell he had an unopened bottle of Chivas in hand. He cracks the seal and hands it to me. I give him a toast and a nod and take a big hit off of it. I hand it back to him. He gives me a toast and a nod and takes a big hit off of it, we smile and shake hands and he hits the stage with that bottle. They were on fire that night and had the crowd in their palms. They left and we passed each other, nodded and smiled and I told him “Great show!”. Since I was getting the stage ready for Dio I did not have time to talk.

The band was Quiet Riot. The guy’s name was Frankie Banali.

I write this story because Frankie lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. I had read articles lately about him being sick and it made me think about that special moment all those years ago.

I have read many tributes to him and everyone says he was such a nice guy. He really was a nice guy that night to some lowly stagehand.

Rest peacefully, Frankie, and thanks for the Chivas and the memory.

August 11, 2014

Just things

Back in the 80s, when I was doing concert lighting at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, I was involved in a lot of shows and had some interesting things happen…my first time on a stage to fix something during a concert ( it was either Johnny Rivers or a metal show of some kind), the potential of going to Europe on tour with a band, drinking Scotch with the drummer of Quiet Riot in their heyday… And many other things.

One of the coolest things, however, was pretty amazing and unbelievable then and now. We had just gotten done tearing down the stage and got the truck loaded after a show that I believe was Karla Bonoff. Jean Luc Ponty was there the night before as I remember (it has, after all, been 30+ years). We went inside, and there was a member of one of the two bands on the piano, and the other was playing another instrument – perhaps a guitar.

Milling around on the stage was someone who caught us all by surprise…someone who was an enormous celebrity at the time. It was Robin Williams.

He was riding around K.C. in a limo, stopping at comedy clubs unannounced and taking the stage and doing improv as only he could. He stopped by the Uptown and hung out with us, partying and having a good time. You could see he was always thinking of things to say, looking around and cracking jokes about things like the clothes one of the bar guys had on (a fishnet shirt – worthy of ridicule).

He was the top guy in entertainment at the time and was tomgetbeven bigger as we all found out. He also seemed to be a reluctant celebrity but absolutely a genuinely nice, likable guy and very humble. He was the only celebrity that several of us asked for an autograph from during my time at the Uptown.

I have that autograph still to this day in my scrapbook.

Today is a sad day in that we lost one of the absolute great talents in our lifetime – a guy whose timing, quick wit, and intensity will never be seen again. My hope is that this tragic loss will perhaps make it feel a little closer to home and these issues will be taken seriously and watched out for and help is gotten by and for those who need it.

I have seen this happen before on a more personal level, and dammit… Get the help if you need it.

It is hard for us to imagine what it is like to be trapped in that gilded cage of fame. You think of the parties, the debauchery, the massive amounts of money and the trappings that come with it. People try to achieve it and then try to avoid it when they do find it. Those of us who have worked behind the scenes of concerts and such got to see some of it firsthand, but didn’t live it day in and day out nor to the extent of those in the limelight. I cannot imagine the feeling of being “trapped” like that.

R.I.P, Mr. Williams. Thanks for the fond memories of a late night all those years ago. Thank you also for some great movies and for the laughs. Your “Live at the Met” concert was one of the funniest things ever put on video.

I hope you found peace…