Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is a picture of the Spa Motel lounge sign, sadly demolished about eight years ago in order to build a new police station.

The dB's stayed at the Spa whenever we'd come to Chicago to play. It was not what you'd call a luxurious place; in fact, it struck me at the time as being somewhat iffy in its clienetele (many paying hourly rates). But the nice folks there, Boris and his mom, always had room for us, and that's where we parked and slept and partied when we were in town.

The lounge was always pleased to see us. We were comparative regulars among the touring bands who came through the Spa. We closed the lounge down nightly, as befitted young rock gods like ourselves. The cover band from the bar across the street would come in and give us a hard time, which we always looked forward to. Some of the stuff they'd say ended up as lyrics to "Huey, Dewey and 'Louie, Louie'" from Paris Avenue.

One time through, the band we were opening for (The Bureau), who had been on tour with the Pretenders, were unable to get their gear off the trucks that carried the headliner's equipment. We, ever helpful, offered them our gear so they could do the show with us. Never heard back from them, so we did the whole gig ourselves, had a right good time doing it and retired to the Spa Lounge for aftershow festivities.

The members of the Bureau were scattered around the bar. I went up to one of them and tried to initiate a conversation about how sorry we were they couldn't do the gig. His head rose slightly, and I heard him slur "Fuck off, mate" as he turned back around to his drink. I went back to my table and decided that my attempt at civility was useless.

About half an hour later, our manager gave me a nudge. "I think your friend from the other band has just thrown up on himself." Sure enough, Bureau Boy was still propped against the bar, with a gigantic splash of vomit all over his shirt. Hope the rest of his tour went alright, and that he had a change of clothes with him.

Once, I got given one of the hourly rooms, I'm sure, because it had mirrored ceilings, nasty velour bedspreads (ala what Knights Inn used to have) and there was some sort of solarized-looking porn on the tv. Although I can't remember completely, I'm sure that the decor added to whatever intimacy was achieved.

The Spa is long gone, but I bet any band who ever stayed there has a good story to tell.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tractor Pull, Waukesha, WI

I like how the crowd is enveloped in the cloud of black smoke after the tractor is shut off. Nobody seems to mind.

Rained Out

Last night, about five songs into our set at the end of a ribfest in Des Moines, the deluge began, and we had to cut the show short.

It was the kind of storm that kept our tour manager watching for tornado warnings. He knew we probably couldn't do the full 90 minutes, and we were begged to heed his request to stop, "only if I really have to do it." The tour manager actually tried to stop us before the fifth song, but he couldn't get the band's attention.

By the time the song was about halfway finished, tarps were coming out over amps, guitars were being dried and stowed, puddles were forming under the Leslie speaker cabinet. I spent the last minute and a half of the song with an opaque tarp over me and the B-3 and piano. Another tarp fell between the Leslie and the microphones, so the song was finished on piano only.

I made a mad dash to the bus where I stayed and watched marble-sized hailstones pound the rear view mirrors for a couple hours. I sat in my wet clothes in the cryogenically cold front bus lounge. The rest of the band milled around, drying off and awaiting word on the rest of the show.

We were cut off mid-rock-show, and sometimes you just don't know what to do with yourself and your hands and your energy when that happens. Couldn't go outside the bus, didn't want to jump into my bunk and sleep, no desire to eat or drink the rest of the old coffee over ice.

The promoter decided, at ten o'clock, that the show was cancelled. The rain relented somewhat, and I came back to the stage to see how the gear fared. Everything got water on it. Our crew members were methodically going through all their stations, drying surfaces and trying to determine how much rain everything took on. It was going to be a long wet night for them all.

My guitar tech said that the Vox AC30 got very wet, but I turned most of my attention to the keyboards. Even the towels I used weren't very dry. Our stage manager and our percussionist peeled back the tarp, carefully trying to guide the pools of rainwater to the side of the stage. I did my best to get every key on both instruments, even as the stagehands announced that they "were ready to pack (the piano) up, when I was good and satisfied." I thanked them as I dried. "Good luck turning it on tomorrow!" one of them added brightly. I thanked him again and glumly finished up.

By the end of the evening, the rain had ended, leaving drenched gear wiped down clean and packed away, in anticipation of today's revelations. The equipment is getting a good airing out on the stage in Waukesha before anything gets plugged in or turned on. Hopefully, all will be well when that happens.

Friday, July 18, 2008

R.I.P. Jo Stafford

Wednesday evening, Jo Stafford died.

She was one of the first people signed to Capitol Records after singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra for years. Jo was a member of the Pied Pipers, a vocal ensemble that backed up Dorsey and Frank Sinatra. Her beautiful, pure voice and her innate connection with the lyrics she sang made Jo Stafford one of the finest singers of her time.

Jo Stafford's other career was as part of a duet, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. "Jonathan" was Paul Weston, Jo's second husband and a noted pianist and arranger. Jonathan and Darlene were created as casual entertainment for cocktail parties. Jonathan played piano with great gusto and lots of flubbed notes and timekeeping while Darlene sang off-pitch, usually within a quarter-tone sharp or flat of the written melody. They tackled (literally) so many standards on their albums that it's hard for me to hear "Dizzy Fingers" or "I Love Paris" without cringing in anticipation. They won a comedy Grammy award in 1960, sadly the only Grammy that Jo Stafford was ever awarded.

Years later, Paul and Jo revived Jonathan and Darlene, and we have wonderful versions of "I Am Woman" and "Stayin' Alive" to immerse ourselves in.

Here's a link to their myspace tribute page where you can sample some of this stuff. Words cannot do it justice.

I'm not sure that something as subtle and annoying would go over very well in 2008, but luckily Paul and Jo left us an incredible wealth of nearly unlistenable joy. Godspeed, Jo.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Hampton Beach, NH.

The school bus is there to collect supplies donated by fans for Hootie's foundation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Today is a day off from the tour. We are in a hotel outside the New York City area that ordinarily caters to the touring trade, which means they have parking for multiple buses and semis around the place. Manhattan is not really conducive to large Prevost beasts trying to negotiate tight streets and aggressive cabs. So we park outside of town, close enough by train if you want to get into 'town'.

If I was going to Manhattan, I'd need to not buy anything. Trying to keep a tight purse this summer and save as much of my per diem money as I can. A trip to NYC without a bagful of cd's on the way home to look at is not as much fun for me, so I'm staying put in New Jersey.

It also gives me the opportunity to spend money here at the hotel, as they have a coin laundromat somewhere in the vast building. I've been out long enough to need to wash clothes, as I have not brought out a steamer trunk full of costume changes. It's not dire yet, but never pass up a hotel laundromat if you're even close.

Laundry is a good time for me to read and think. (I'm reading a great book, Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwiz. Perfect summer bus reading. It's a funny and disturbing look at how so many Southerners keep the flames of the Civil War burning in the present day.) I don't really love leaving my clothes in a washer in a busy soap room, so I usually stick close by and get them into a dryer pronto.

I remember the first Continental Drifters' tour of Europe in 1994. We packed a lot of gigs into a short amount of time, and our one day off was in Amsterdam. Perfect, except for the problem that everyone needed to wash their clothes. Fortunately, the laundry was right across the street from a hash bar, there were a lot of washers, the clothes got washed. And we got to poke around a little bit anyway, enjoying falafel from a stand and discovering disposable black and white cameras while dodging streetcars and bicyclists.

And I have much to think about. I worked on my Times blog today (still editing), and I wanted to get this one done, too. Watching the clothes go 'round, just like the Pretenders say, a little like an aquatic tv with the sound turned off!

I like the enforced slowdown of my day when doing laundry. Not like I'm going full speed everyday anyway, but it's nice to end up with clean folded duds, a few chapters read and maybe a couple lyrics written. Who knows when next I'll see a coin laundry, except from a bus window?

Postscript (15 minutes later):
Forget all that. The hotel washer had about four inches of standing water, and everyone in the crew sent their stuff out for fluff-and-fold, including me.