Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Weird Gig No. 3 - The Aryan Nation & Monkopotomus

By Polly O'Keary

These Weird Gig tales were written by NW bassist/singer/songwriter Polly O'Keary (left). She fronts the band Polly O'Keary & the Rhythm Method, appearing soon at a nightclub near you.

Wanna Play a Party?

I started out in Eastern Washington when I was 17, and that region at that time was not noted for its hip embrace of diversity. I had a black drummer back then, a great guy named Dave Bell. We were doing an outdoor festival in a park in Omak and after our set a biker with a long black braid came up and said, "You guys are great!" It’s those pats on the back that keep me going, so I decided I liked him. I soon changed my mind.

"Hey, you guys want to play a party? I can you get you $500!" Great! But I'll never know what the guy was thinking as he went on: "It’s an Aryan Nations get together, you guys will have a great time, there’s a barbeque, all you can eat, and a keg, free beer…" I just stood there, unable to find words.

The Short Career of "Monkopotomus"

The mother of all weird gigs was a pickup gig I played when I was still working with Colonel up north in a band called Colonel and Doubleshot. I was gigging my way through college and I was always broke, so I’d do pick-up work with just about anybody, so long as they played blues.

I got a call one Wednesday from a friend that worked at Manna Music in Bellingham, saying that some drummer had been in that day looking for pick-up musicians to fill in at a gig in Blaine. I thought that was weird, a drummer with no other players whatsoever, but whatever. I called the guy. He said he was traveling through from LA, where he’d played with just about everybody including David Bowie.

He needed a guitar player and a bass player to do a gig at a club that was just getting started with music. He promised $100 a player. I was broke, so I called Colonel and we agreed to meet the guy at his hotel the following night to talk about the gig. When we got there the room smelled absolutely horrid. Between the guy’s feet and the god-awful malodorous hound he had, the air was barely breathable. We stayed just long enough to pencil out a set list on the back of an envelope, mostly Stevie Ray Vaughn stuff and standards. We figured we had enough material to do the gig and agreed to meet the following night at the club.

Right before the gig the next night, the guy called to ask if I’d pick up his rented drum set at Manna Music. Now irritated, I swung by to load the stuff, only to find it hadn’t been paid for yet. I told them I’d bring the guy’s money the next day and headed north. I got there and loaded in at seven for a nine o’clock gig. The drummer was there and extremely tense. "This band’s name is Monkopotomus," he said. "It's a cross between a monkey and a hippopotomus. Cool, huh? Now, what’s your band’s name?" "Colonel and Doubleshot," I replied, non-plussed. "Not tonight, it isn’t" he said. "Its Monkopotomus. Now what's your band's name?" I could see I wasn't going to get out of it."Monkopotomus, whatever, Jesus," I said.

Colonel was going to be there soon, and he is well known for his temper. I started to have a bad feeling. Colonel showed up a few minutes later. Once we’d set up, the drummer announced to us that we were going to play a song every fifteen minutes until the start time, an hour and a half away. I said I didn’t think that was a good idea, given that we barely had enough material to get through the night as it was, and went to the bar for a much-needed brew. The man then got on the microphone and started doing what he thought was stand-up comedy. He tried to get everybody to chant "Monkopotomus" to no avail, then started razzing the local high school basketball team.

About then, the clubowner drew Colonel into his office. A moment later, Colonel came out and pulled me aside. "The club owner said we’re not getting paid," he said. "She said this guy came in a week ago, asked if he could do a gig here, said he’d promote it, and said we’d take a dollar a head for everyone who shows up." I looked around. There was no way this club could hold 300 people even if this guy was a promoter like Bill Graham. But we decided to see the gig through, mostly because neither of us had ever walked out on a gig in our lives, which was a point of pride. Also, someone was going to have to pay for the drum rental.

At that point the guy came over and demanded again that we play a song to "warm up the crowd," which at that point was four old guys in ball caps, drinking Miller Lite at the bar and pointedly ignoring us. We grimly said we could use a sound check and struggled through an old Bonnie Raitt tune while the guy’s tempo wandered all over the map. We still got a nice round of applause. In light of the horror of what the audience had just heard, I wondered if any applause I’d ever gotten in my life had meant anything.

I went and hid in the women’s bathroom, where I thought I’d be safe. The drummer barged in after me, begging that we play every fifteen minutes. I snapped. "Man, I don’t know where you came from, but I suggest you let us do this the way we do it, God damn it. Now get out of the bathroom." He relented, went back to the mike and started in on the stand-up attempt again while I sat down by Colonel and desperately chugged a second beer."Shut up!" someone yelled. He gave up, plopped down at my table, put his hand on my leg and asked me to give him a ride to his hotel room to "get something." "Listen, fucker, get your hand off her leg," Colonel said. "Sorry, dude," the drummer said, holding up his hands.

I figured the only way to defuse the situation was to start playing so no one could talk. It was only eight, but no way was this gig going to last till midnight anyway. We walked up to the stage. "Hey, can we not play any fast shuffles?" said the drummer. Well, that was half the set list gone. "And I promised somebody we’d start out with ZZ Top," the guy continued. "I only know one ZZ Top tune and it’s a fast shuffle," I replied. "Take your pick, ZZ Top or no fast shuffles." "No fast shuffles," the drummer decided. This was the guy who the day before said he could play any tune Stevie Ray Vaughn had ever recorded.

We got ready to play "Sweet Home Alabama." Just as Colonel counted it, the guy shouted "ZZ Top," and started flailing away at his cymbals. Colonel put down his guitar and leaned over the drums. The whites of his eyes were visible all the way around. "Don’t ever do that again," he said. "If you do, I’m going to walk right out of here, right now." The guy put his sticks down and nearly broke down and sobbed. "Alright, okay," he said. "There’s 300 people coming. I’ll do whatever you say. Please don’t go." "I’m not kidding, I’ll split, and you can tell everybody what a dick you are," Colonel continued, gathering steam. I nervously eyed the gear, half of which I owned.

"You sit there and shut up," I said to the drummer. "And you, Colonel, don’t say a word to him. Nobody talk to nobody. Let’s just play a god damn tune. You want ZZ Top, it’s a fast shuffle. You want ZZ Top? Just nod your head." He nodded. I called "Tush" and counted it in. He came in too fast, immediately slowed down, and started hitting his cymbals so hard the air off the ride moved all the hair on my arms three feet away, then crashed to a halt. Colonel put his guitar down again and spun around. "Look, you fuck…" "I’m sorry!" he wailed. "I told you I can’t play fast shuffles! Let’s play something else! There’s 300 people coming! I paid a hundred dollars for the posters!" I set my bass down and shut off the PA in the nick of time before the obscenities Colonel began to utter got picked up on the mikes.

It was clear Monkopotomus had played its last note. "I’ll sue you!" the drummer said. "I’ll sue you, motherfuckers! For breach of contract!" "I’ll kick your ass," said Colonel. "I’ll do it right now." The guy, who had a good six inches on Colonel, fled for the door. "I’m calling the cops!" he bellowed and vanished. Meanwhile, word of our plight, including the cost of the drum rental, had circulated among the 10 or so people there. They formed a line and started pressing money into our hands. "You guys were good," they said. "Sorry it didn’t work out." We gratefully accepted the donations and split. I brought the drums back to Manna Music the next day and told the story to the horrified delight of the staff. They didn’t charge us for the rental. We counted the donations. $300. We made more than we would have had the gig gone well.


Mike Lynch said...

Thanks, Polly! Yeah, you've got to be careful of broke/homeless drummers that have "...played with just about everybody, including David Bowie." It's like some of the veterans you meet that are always former Navy Seals - sounds better than being a mechanic, I guess.

Blues Boss said...

It was nice to catch Ms. O'Keary doin' a little singin' with the Henry Cooper Band last nigth @ Salmon Bay Eagles...

Mike Lynch said...

Yeah, I hear that Polly was tearin' it up that night, sorry I missed her. Paul Green sure sounded great with the band a little later that night also.