Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Drummer Plays For Her...

Session guitarist Tommy Tedesco & Hal Blaine

Frequent visitors to this blog are most likely aware of my passion for vintage instrumentals, especially LAS VEGAS GRIND-style rock & roll instros…to my ears, a lot of these old tracks sound like sleazy strip club music!  In their respective biographies, drummers Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine both mention having worked the strip joints early in their careers.  Both musicians were actively recording in the early days of rock and roll, contributing significantly to the evolution of the beat-conscious, drum-heavy sound that would come to characterize the emerging musical style.  Palmer in particular helped define the genre, playing on early proto-rock hits by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, and more.  Much has been written on the rhythm & blues and country music influences that informed early rock and roll.  Personally, I can't help but wonder how accompanying the bumps, grinds, and gyrations of exotic dancers might have inspired Palmer, Blaine, and other early rock musicians.  Below is a terrific excerpt from Blaine's bio, HAL BLAINE & THE WRECKING CREW, describing his strip club days in some detail.  After military service in Korea, Blaine gigged around with small combos for a spell, then relocated to Chicago in 1949, where he began taking courses at the Roy C. Knapp School of Percussion:

     After about a year of attending the Knapp School I started to get calls from various leaders to do casuals [gigs].  Don Knapp, Roy's son, got to know me as a student and started sending me on some of his lesser jobs.  Then I started getting strip joint calls.  Ju-Ju's Glass Show Lounge on the west side and the 606 Club on South State, and some of the Rush Street joints like Minsky's Burlesque Theater.  I would sub for regular drummers and was getting some great sight-reading experience.
     That reading experience really paid off.  One night while sitting in my hotel room I got a call from a stripper who was a neighbor in the hotel.  She was calling from the Post Time Club, about ten blocks away on North State Street.  Their drummer had taken ill and could I come right over and get on the drums?  I sure could.
     Piano, trumpet and drums.  From 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. with no intermissions.  If you had to hit the toilet you switched instruments.  The shows consisted of a comic coming out and doing a few minutes, then a stripper would come out and do her three numbers - slow, medium and fast.  During the slow number I would get on the piano and the piano man could go to the toilet, and if I had to go to the toilet the trumpet player would get on the drums for the slow number.  Of course, the trumpet player could go anytime he needed.  That was the way it went all night.  Comic, dancer, comic, dancer.
     We had special red lights over the bandstand.  If they ever flashed on and off quickly for a few seconds, it was a signal from the doorman that we were to go immediately into a fast two-beat version of "Billboard."  This let the girls know that the vice squad was entering the joint and they would grab whatever clothing they had shed and run off the stage.  The comic would run on stage and start a gag in the middle and deliver a phony punchline.  The audience was always wise to what was going on.  The girls were stripping much too much clothing according to the law in those days, and they were never to be caught in an undressed mode.  Of course the doormen knew all of the vice cops who were on the take and we had plenty of forewarning.  But this was a new experience for me…
     …When I finished school the next day and got back to my hotel room there was a note from the club.  Come to work.  Again I worked the same routine and it was great.  There were about eight or nine girls in the show, all of them gorgeous strippers.  I would walk into the dressing room, which was the only way to the stage, and all of the girls would be sitting around nude or semi-nude.  Someone would yell, "Who the hell are you?"  And they'd all cover themselves.  I told them I was the drummer, and they'd all drop their clothing and go back to their makeup or whatever.  Boy, those were tough nights.
     At the close of that second night, the boss called me into his office…
     "Have you got a set of drums, kid?" he asked in his broken Italian accent.  "I sure do!" I replied.  He asked me if I smoked any of those crazy cigarettes or if I drank, and I told him I didn't.  He told me that he would start me at a hundred a week.  (Seven days a week.)  Tough hours, but boy, what money in those days.  I was thrilled.
     After about a week at the club, Tony [the boss] called me into his little office one night; I was afraid that I had done something wrong.  On the contrary, he told me that all of the girls loved the way I played for them, that I had a good feel for their music and that he also liked me and my sober ways.  He raised my salary to a hundred and a quarter and made me the bandleader.  I was honored…
     …These were happy times for me.  But there were also sad times.  I had gotten mixed up with some very tough people - leg breakers - that were part of the "outfit."  I was a member of local 10 at that time in Chicago, and some people were giving me a bad time.  [The boss] made one call and I never heard from these people again. 
     In 1951 I completed my Knapp training. Now I had to go out into the world and face the future.  I decided to head for L.A.  [Recording] Studios were calling to me, but I didn't know it yet…

Hal Blaine & the Young Cougars - GEAR STRIPPER (YouTube)

Hal Blaine & the Wrecking Crew (YouTube)

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