Rhythm Alley Redux - 06 - November 1985
"Yeah, I don't know anything at all" - the dB's, "Black and White"
01 - Matt "Guitar" Murphy
02 - Norman and Nancy Blake
03 - Phil Woods Quintet
07 - Bangah
08 - The Phantoms
09 - Rebecca and the Hi-Tones
14 - Three Hits
15 - The Bad Checks
16 - The Pattersons
21 - Easy Club
22 - Glenn Phillips
23 - Rod Dash
30 - Moving Day
The first month might have been over but our week was far from done. And while it started out really well, it quickly degenerated into yuck.
The Matt “Guitar” Murphy show on Friday night was a good indication of how little I knew about what I was doing. Judy had booked this one and we had the contract and rider but not a lot else. I should have been on the phone to his manager about how they were publicizing his tour but I never got around to it. We weren’t sure whether to play up the “Blues Brothers” aspect or not (he’d certainly had a strong career outside of that) so we didn’t - big mistake. I seem to recall that his guarantee was $800 plus a percent of anything over that and we didn’t come close to that. We probably had a paid attendance of 80 people at what I’m guessing was an $8 ticket, so we had to make up the guarantee out of beer money. Not a total disaster but we couldn’t afford many of those. It was another night where I felt a little bad for the performers, they felt a little bad for me, but they put on a great show and the crowd, while a bit small, was quite enthusiastic.
Saturday was bad for all kinds of reasons. It had been raining for days with no let-up (other than Halloween night, I think) and we were having a rented piano delivered Saturday afternoon for the Sunday night Phil Woods show. So the poor guys from the music store had to drag a baby grand up the alley through a downpour, unfortunately leaving very little time for it to settle in before the piano tuner we’d hired was due. Norman and Nancy Blake were on the bill that night but before they took the stage, we got a phone call about a family tragedy (that’s Jeannette’s story to tell, not mine) so I was left flying (sort of) solo for the first time. I do remember the show - it was quite good (first time I’d seen them) and more than anything I remember how kind and sweet Nancy Blake was after hearing about Jeannette’s bad news. It was a good crowd despite the rain but it was a bad night. Then things got worse.
The Phil Woods Quintet show was another one that had us asking what the hell Judy was thinking when she booked it. When I finally had a chance to go over the contract and look at the numbers, they just didn’t come near to adding up. The guarantee was something like $4000 plus accommodations for 5 plus food - add to that the cost of piano rental, tuning etc and there was no way to make the math come out (even doing two shows). If we raised the ticket prices as high as we’d have needed to in order to cover, we’d have lost sales. I was on the phone with the booking agent in early October and laid it out for him - his contract was with Judy so we were not obligated to honor the date but given the buzz that the show had generated we were willing to do it but with different terms. I think we settled on something like $1800 and 1 (not five) rooms and we did two seated shows and we still lost money. Seated shows suck for beer sales - people will buy a beer on the way in and that’s pretty much it and only selling 1 beer per cover was a disaster for us. We also couldn’t (or wouldn’t) put nearly as many people into the Alley for a seated show. I’m guessing we might have barely made the guarantee and then ate all the ancillary costs - it was definitely a money-losing proposition. And it didn’t even get us good-will as we weren’t planning on doing a lot of jazz in the future (just not the right venue). I’m sure part of my disgust with that night also stems from the show itself. I love jazz but I love jazz that swings, that has some looseness to it - that wasn’t Phil Woods’ bag. It was much more precise, which just left me cold. On top of that, with the constant rain and the fact that the piano had only been in place for 24 hours, it was badly out of tune which pissed off the pianist and pretty much soured the attitude of everyone on stage. I’m not sure how much the crowd noticed but the band sure did and we heard all about it later. I may re-evaluate this statement by the time I get to the end of the story, but at this moment I’d rank that as the show that I remember least fondly.
At least after that weekend we could take a deep breath for a few weeks. We didn’t have any big guarantees on the calendar for the rest of the month and we could turn our attention to finding a place in Chapel Hill to live. We settled on an apartment at Laurel Ridge off the bypass south of town, not walking distance but not far from the club. We’d decided to stay closed Thanksgiving weekend and use that time to move ourselves over from Greensboro. But while we were packing we still had some shows to do.
I’ve got the Thursday night show on the calendar as Bangah but I’m certain that I ended up doing that as a double bill with Foreign Bodies, because I remember Sonar joking with Zingo about being afraid to light a cigarette in the dressing room for fear of it exploding from the excessive hairspray from the guys in Bangah. (Yes, this was the 80’s, kids.) Bangah was pretty much run-of-the-mill synth-pop as I recall, but Foreign Bodies was something else. There were (and are) some exceptional female vocalists around town but Sonar Strange (along with the aforementioned Wendy Taz Halloween Darling) continue to stand out. I still pull out the EP that Foreign Bodies put out around that time and it still sounds great.
Speaking of cigarettes, I sometimes forget now how much smoking was a part of the experience. Everybody smoked. Even if you didn’t smoke, you inhaled a lot of smoke, but it seemed like there were very few people that didn’t smoke. Before we bought the club I’d go through close to a pack a day, but on weekend nights when we were open, I’d smoke 2 packs and sometimes more. I guess it was a form of self-defense - I’d rather breathe my own smoke than someone else’s. But when I quit long after we’d sold the club, it was hard for me to go to clubs and in fact we didn’t go very often until clubs like the Cradle started sending smokers outside.
Friday’s show was a rockabilly band from Greenville, NC called The Phantoms. I liked ‘em and thought they put on a great show but they never really developed a big following around Chapel Hill.
Rebecca and the Hi-Tones played Saturday night in what I think was their only appearance for us. They’re another band with amazing longevity that’s still playing shows and festivals. Dave Menconi did a nice feature on Rebecca not long ago in the N&O.
The middle of the month started with a Thursday night show with Three Hits. I would describe them as very good power pop (I’ve still got their “Pressure Dome” single, produced by the omnipresent and possibly omnipotent Don Dixon) but more than anything, I remember Sheila and the guys as being some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. As I’ve been writing this stuff I’ve been poking around the Interwebs for additional information on bands and from other comments I found, I’m apparently not alone in that estimation. As a side note, Michael Kurtz went on to co-found Record Store Day.
Friday night was another favorite of mine - the Bad Checks. I’d been following them almost as long as I had the Pressure Boys (I was at the infamous Cat’s Cradle show where Hunter jumped onstage in his high school graduation gown) and I’d gotten Judy to book them the Friday night before our wedding as an impromptu bachelor party. They’d had a cut on the Dolphin Records’ “More Mondo” compilation and had just released their first album. By the way, I never got a copy of Graveyard Tramp, so if any of you kind souls out there has one you’d part with, let me know! I guess punkabilly comes as close as anything else to describing them in one word - all I know it they always drew a sweaty (drinking!) crowd and put on an incredibly high-energy show.
One of the first posters that I did, featuring the beautiful IBM 3705 communication controller and a decent pair of legs (no, they weren’t Jeannette’s - hers are better)
I should remember the Pattersons (Saturday night’s act) but I don’t. Actually the rest of November was something of a blur. We were totally burned out after that first weekend, we were trying to pack to move to Chapel Hill, we were trying to figure out how in the hell we were going to make this work and it was still fucking raining. It rained pretty much solid for the month of November. So apologies to the Pattersons, Easy Club, Glenn Phillips and Rod Dash but I’ve got nothing. However, somewhere in that period we were approached by Bland Simpson about a project that he, Don Dixon and Jim Wann were working on. More on that in a bit.
So at the end of November, we moved back to Chapel Hill. That, at least as far as I remember, was pretty uneventful.