Bands – ya gotta love em. Some of them take themselves so seriously – it’s not entertainment, it’s art. Others are far more pragmatic, seeing a pub gig simply as a means to an end (and whose end, you may well ask?), a way to keep a room full of drunks happy for three hours. But they are a rarity.
So, it’s often the job of the crew to bring the band back to earth, for a reality check. And at the same time, a good old fashioned dose of what is technically known as taking the piss! Yes, I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!
It was yet another gig in Shepparton for Jim and I. Surprisingly the band and crew all had hotel rooms, this being one of the rare times we weren’t expected to drive back to Melbourne after the gig. So, after a nourishing meal of fish and chips, and an exciting game of avoid the locals, we were sitting in John, the lead guitarist’s room, nattering away while he tuned and strummed his guitar. Since we didn’t have to drive anywhere we had put away a few drinks with dinner and now we were quite relaxed and ready for some fun.
The guitarist wasn’t the most creative or inventive player I had ever heard, and playing in this particular band wasn’t really straining his creativity, so on most gigs he just cruised through on auto-pilot.
Jim had always fancied himself as a guitarist, and so in a lull in the conversation he turned to the guitarist.
“John,” he asked, “Do you think you could show me how to play The Solo?”
“Sure mate, no problems,” said John, who had not quite fully divined the grammatical exactness of Jim’s question. “Which solo? Which song?
“You know,” chortled Jim “THE solo…you know, the one you play in every song!”
John leapt to his feet, mightily offended.
“No, Jim, no, what are you talking about – they’re all different. How can you say that?” And he started to rant about how no-one understood him, he had the hardest job in the band, they didn’t appreciate him, all the work he did, how his girlfriend was cheating on him.
Then he calmed down, looking worried and said;
“Do you really think they sound all the same?”
Well, of course they did, but we grinned and said “Nah – just kidding”.
I mean, it’s good to have some fun at the band’s expense, but you have to know when to stop or you’ll do yourself out of a job! Jim managed to organise a mini-tour with a Blues Brothers Revival Band. First gig was to be in Mildura!
Mildura is a long way from Melbourne; a day’s driving – 500 odd k of not really very much until you get there. And then, of course, it’s the same distance back!
The last time I was there the whole system was setup waiting for the band to arrive when the pub manager wandered in.
“Is there a Duncan here? Phone call for you mate.”
The rasping tones of Johnny, lead singer for the Jerries, greeted me.
“Jeez Dunk, the car’s broken down in Woop Woop. We won’t be able to get there for another couple of hours. Can you let the pub manager know?”
“He won’t like it,” I said “There’s a big crowd here already and they’re getting nicely hosed. There’ll be trouble if something doesn’t happen soon.”
“Yeah, well, do the best you can mate” and with a click he was gone.
Do the best I can? What sort of an answer was that!
I went over to Wally, who was doing stage and lights, and filled him in on the situation.
“So what are we going to do for a couple of hours to keep this lot happy?” I asked. “There’s no support band, and they’ll be pretty sick of my ’20 Top Partystoppers’ tape by then.”
“I know what to do,” he exclaimed “…we’ll play as the support band. You can play guitar, I’ll play bass, and we’ll get some boxhead to play drums. What do you think? Great idea, eh?”
“Yeah but what songs will we play?” I worried. “The crowd’s not going to like it much if we stuff it right up.”
“What does that matter?” he argued. “Look, it’s Saturday night, we’re in the country, and the audience is getting nicely pissed. What can go wrong?” and with that he disappeared into the crowd to find some ‘boxhead’ to play drums.
I sincerely hoped he would be successful – a two man trio is a little bit too minimalist for me.
Luckily a couple of minutes later Wally emerged from the crowd with a soul mate he introduced as Phil, who seemed to be half in the bag but assured us he could play drums.
Ten minutes later we were on stage playing! Phil the drummer had a VB carton on his head with a couple of eyeholes punched out, and was introduced by Wally as “… and on drums, Mr Boxhead”.
We played an eclectic collection of songs, wisely sticking to the time honoured rules of nothing too complicated, nothing too new, and nothing with more than three chords!
This consisted of every Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones 12 bar that I could think of, plus Summertime Blues and others in a similar vein.
Wally was in his element, jumping and waving the bass around and occasionally even hitting the right notes, but after an hour Mr Boxhead was starting to audibly wilt and his timing, never good to start with, was becoming more erratic as we ground on.
As we neared the end of B-B-B-Bad To The Bone, I saw a couple of familiar faces in the crowd. The band had arrived!
I pointed them out to Wally.
“Thank you very much everybody,” he said, “We’re the Road Crew and we’ll see you again soon”. He gave Mr Boxhead a couple of precious tinnies from his Esky, slapped him on the back and pushed him back into the crowd.
After the night finished, Johnny came up to me.
“Hey, thanks for helping us out like that, Dunk.” he rasped.
He paused for a moment, and then continued.
“Do you reckon you could do it again tomorrow night?!”
So when Jim told me about the Mildura gig, I didn’t feel like doing all that driving, but I suggested to him – “Why don’t you and Chris (another of my trusty helpers) go and do the gig yourselves?”
Chris had a heavy vehicle driving licence, so off they went in my big old F series Toyota truck, and amazingly it got there without any trouble.
On their way back, though, the truck’s exhaust pipe fell off. Not just the muffler or the tail pipe, but the complete system.
Chris dashed back to pick it up, yelled, “Holy tish – it’s hot!” and promptly burnt the palms of his hands. Putting their gloves on, the two of them let it cool down a bit, stuck it in the back of the truck, and drove all the way back to Melbourne without any exhaust pipe or muffler. It must have been pretty noisy, with the exhaust blaring straight out of the cast iron headers on the engine, but the boys just put their headphones on and turned the stereo up loud!
Early next morning, while Chris was still asleep, Jim rang me to tell me about the exhaust, and said that they and the truck were at his place. He also said that the band had another gig that night in Cowes, on Phillip Island, so they would go straight there when they woke up. I told him to go back to sleep and I’d grab some tools and come over to fix it.
I had a spare set of keys to the truck, so the next day I drove over to Jim’s place and spent the whole morning fixing the exhaust, bolting it on properly with new clamps and supports, while Chris and Jim slept. When it was all done I took the truck around the block to check it out, parked it back outside Jim’s place and went home.
Midday they woke up, got dressed and headed off to the next gig. Chris got in the truck, turned the key, the engine wheezed into life and settled down to a steady rumble.
He turned to Jim -“Wow,” he said, “It’s come good by itself!