ANECDOTES

HOMEMUSICIANBIOPHOTO GALLERYVIDEO / AUDIO

    John Belushi on Bourbon Street

    Pete Townshend on Bourbon Street

    French Quarter Crime

    Street People of the French Quarter

    Smitty, the Singing Waiter of Bourbon Street

    Hanging Out With the Police

    Randy Travis at the Nashville Palace

    Audition for James Monroe

    "Double Dipping" at Opryland

    Bass Player in "Lone Star"

    Mutt Lang / Shania Twain

    Pennies from Heaven

    The Bobbitt Mandolin

    Swap Calton Cases, with Charlie Derrington

    John Belushi on Bourbon Street

I don't remember the exact time frame but one year John Belushi came into Judah Pe's on Bourbon Street while we were performing. He watched for a while and on our break he came back stage and made friends with the band. He was obviously wired on cocaine. It was the first year of Saturday Night Live and not a lot of people knew who he was. He asked if he could get up with us and sing a few tunes and we said "Sure." His performance was nothing less than wild. He did his "Joe Cocker" impersonation. He swung the mike around and around above his head by the cable. He was all over the stage, bumping into amplifiers. We thought he was going to tear up our equipment. At one point he sang while lying down on the stage floor and poured beer on his head. He was funny and nuts. The audience didn't know how to take him and they didn't really know who he was. In the course of a week John came back and performed with us 4 or 5 more times.

    Pete Townshend on Bourbon Street

Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who, stumbled into Chuck's one night, when we played there. He carried a half empty bottle of wine, or who knows what was in the bottle. The rule is that a club owner would never let anyone in with their own bottle because, of course, they want to sell drinks. But for Pete an exception was made and he was allowed in. Pete had a person with him who didn't look to be his friend, but an employee who job it was to keep Pete out of trouble and look after him. Anyway, after a while we convinced Pete to get up and play one with us. He was so "wasted" he could barely get through "Johnny B. Good".

    French Quarter Crime

My best friend in Salt Creek was, and still is, "Uncle" Sam Alfano. We lived close to each other and usually took turns driving to work on Bourbon Street. The crime in New Orleans has always been really bad, especially in the French Quarter. There is a big "project" next to the French Quarter and I know for a fact that there were people whose job was to go to the French Quarter each night and commit crimes and rob tourists. It was always late when we got off work and we walked to the lot where Sam's truck was parked. Sam had an old truck, so old that the hood did not lock from inside the cab of the truck. You could open the hood from outside. Sam's truck battery was getting old so he had purchased a new battery. We got in the truck, he turned the key and nothing happened. We got out, looked under the hood and sure enough, Sam's brand new battery had been stolen. So Sam put the old battery back in the truck and it seemed to work OK. A few days later went got off work, got in the truck, Sam turned the key and nothing. They had stolen his old battery. Now Sam was really pissed. He bought another new battery and got a chain and padlock, and locked the hood so no one could open it. A few days later we got off work, walked to the lot and discovered his truck was missing. This time they had stolen his whole truck! You just had to laugh but at the time Sam didn't think it was funny. The police found Sam's truck a few days later of the outskirts of town. It seems that when the thieves were driving the truck away, it sprang a radiator leak and overheated. It was left on the side of the road. Sam got his truck back. He used to dream and fantasize about wiring a booby trap so the next thief would get electrocuted and die.

    Street People of the French Quarter

On Bourdon Street there were a lot of creepy street people, some real characters and street performers. There was the New Orleans Kid. He was a street person who was a singer, songwriter and played guitar. He ended up waiting tables and being a bouncer at Judah Pe's where we played. There was Miss Ruthie, the Duck Lady. He was a little old lady, who was retarded and she would go from club to club at night, sit at the bar, drink wine for free and bum cigarettes. In the daytime she would walk around the French Quarter with eight or ten ducks following her around. She became an institution in the French Quarter and the press put out numerous articles about the Duck Lady of Bourbon Street. There was the Chicken Man. He was a street performer voodoo enthusiasist that got his name from biting the heads off of chickens to entertain the tourists. There was Pork Chop, a little old black man that dressed like a bum, who went around from club to club tap dance, then passed a tip jar. The tourist would think "Look at the poor old black man, let's give him some money." This was just a job for Pork Chop. Occasionally he would come into our club when he was off work with his wife. They were both decked out in fine clothes and diamond rings. Pork Chop had a brand new Cadillac.

    Smitty, the Singing Waiter of Bourbon Street

I met Smitty for the first time when we played at Judah Pe's.  He was a waiter, janitor and did just about anything and everything that the owner asked him to do. At some point he must have realized that he needed a gimmick, or a character, either to fit in or maybe make more tips. His costume evolved to the point where he wore cowboy boots, shorts, a blond wig, a cowboy hat and wore makeup. He was not gay, just mentally challenged. But the look on the tourist's face when they saw him was priceless, they thought he was gay or at least weird. During the course of our performance we would announce "And now ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat for you tonight. The Singing Waiter of Bourbon Street is going to get onstage and sing with us." We really built him up and he would walk on stage while we played "travelin" music. He would then sing a song like "Proud Mary" or "How Great Thou Art", with a real non-musical, mono-tone style. It was terrible singing, we kept a straight face and the tourists laughed their heads off. I guess it didn't bother Smitty, he did it just about every night and probably made more in tips because of it. Smitty followed us from club to club as a waiter as we changed jobs. I don't know what ever happened to Smitty.

    Hanging Out With the Police

The city of Gretna is across the river from New Orleans, on what's called the west bank. During the Urban Cowboy craze of the late 1990's there was a huge new club built there and we signed a contract to open the club and play five nights a week. The Urban Cowboy craze was a real boost for country music, the club was enormous, had mechanical bulls, provided dance lessons and was very successful. The club owners hired several Gretna police officers each night to provide security. We became friends with all the cops and eventually I got a special officer's commission. My ID made me look like a real cop. But anyway they teased us and we ragged on them, we had a lot of fun. One cop in particular became fond of picking on me and his name was Danny Herbert. One night I was in the rest room, about to go on stage for the next set. Danny and a couple cop buddies thought it would be funny to hand cuff me to the urinal. So he did it. They laughed and thought this was hilarious, I could head the band getting ready to start. I played it up and acted upset. While they were standing around laughing I managed to undo a plumbing pipe, flushed the urinal and got water all over Danny's police slacks. Ha! I guess I got the last laugh.

    Randy Travis at the Nashville Palace

The first steady job I had after moving to Nashville was with Kent Westberry. Kent was a song writer and club performer and we split our work between road gigs and being the house band at the Nashville Palace. Kent would cut-up with the audience, tell jokes and entertain the tourists. Lib Hatcher was the manager of the Nashville Palace. Randy Travis, whose real name was Randy Traywick and went by the stage name Randy Rae, worked there washing dishes and flipping hamburgers. From time to time Kent would get Randy up to sing a few tunes with us. When Randy sang I used to think to myself "Man, this guy just ain't got it!" He just stood there and sang, and not very well at that. Lib was Randy's manager and not long after that the next incarnation of the Nashville Palace house band became Randy's first band. Lib went on to guide Randy's career that included 22 number one hits, 6 number one albums, and 5 Grammy's.

    Audition for James Monroe

For a long time Bill and James Monroe had their office in a trailer on Dickerson Road. A guitar buddy of mine said "Hey come and play in James Monroe's band with me. He's gone country and it would be a great chance for you to play steel on the country tunes and mandolin and Dobro on the bluegrass." So I went to James' office for an audition. I used to tell this story to a lot of my picking friends: "It was so cool at my audition for James Monroe, Bill showed up, jammed with us and he played my mandolin." I told this story to a banjo buddy of mine, Richard Wise, one day. He just listened to my story and when I was done he said just as serious as he could be "Rob, don't EVER tell ANYONE that you had to audition for James Monroe." Ha! I didn't care, I thought this was funny. I guess Richard's line of thinking was that James Monroe had trouble finding decent pickers and to have to audition for the job was an embarrassment.

    "Double Dipping" at Opryland

There was a time when I was deeply involved with music notation using a computer. I became a software beta tester for Passport Designs that produced Master Tracks, Encore and other products. Passport got me hooked up with a company called Music Writer. They had a product called Note Station which was a dedicated computer that you would find in a music store. It had a CD-Rom containing thousands of pages of sheet music. This way the music store didn't have to stock lots of bulky traditional sheet music. A person would use a touch screen to choose a song, select a key, and print out sheet music. Music Writer would send me traditional printed sheet music, I would use these to create Encore scores on my computer, send them back a disk, and get a big fat paycheck.

Our bosses at Opryland were the entertainment staff. Most of them were on ego and power trips and liked to manipulate the musicians and performers. While I worked for Music Writer I used to take my work and notebook computer to Opryland, and work on scores during our break time. I was making 20 dollars an hour creating Encore scores on top of what Opryland was paying me. Double-dipping! My biggest satisfaction was when someone from the staff would walk in our dressing room and see what I was doing. There was nothing they could do about it, couldn't make me stop. So I guess I got the last laugh. Music Writer eventually went bankrupt when the internet became more mainstream, and I was lucky to collect my last few paychecks.

   Bass Player in "Lone Star"

In the years I played at Opryland some things stayed the same. On one side there was the cratchity old band members, the musicians of which I was the "spiritual leader". Then there was the cast. For the most part they were kids, 17 to 22 years old, very excited to have landed a performing gig in Nashville. To them the next step was to land a record deal. Some would spend hundreds of dollars to record a three song demo, pitch it around town, and then do it all over again. We used to tease them, "You expect to go from high school, to Opryland, to a major record label contract?". A few cast members that I worked with actually accomplished this including Chely Wright, Ken Mellons, John Rich, Dean Sams (Lone Star) and some others.

We had a young cast member by the name of Robbie Cheuvront, who when he joined our show, was very young and extremely immature. He wanted to be cool and insisted on hanging out with the band in our dressing room. So we took particular pleasure in teasing and harassing him, especially myself.

One day a cast member said "Hey Rob, we got the Friday and Saturday gig down at (don't remember the name of the club), come on and play steel with us." When I arrived at the gig I noticed Robbie was gonna be the bass player. I said "Why did you hire him to play bass?" The reply was "We couldn't find anyone else." So we started the set with Robbie playing bass.

It's only normal that everyone makes mistakes once in a while, a bass player might hit a bad note occasionally. But it was obvious that Robbie was not a bass player, he would get "off" and "stay off". It sounded terrible. So I devised this plan. I got a paper bag and cut out eye holes and a mouth hole. The next night at the gig, whenever Robbie messed up I put the bag on my head. It was like, I was so embarrassed that I didn't want anyone to recognize me playing with this bunch. It was hilarious, everyone laughed except Robbie. He was pissed. Anyway Robbie went on to travel the world as Lone Star's bass player. I guess he finally got it together.

    Mutt Lang / Shania Twain

In August 1993 while I was working at Opryland, a friend asked me to audition for Shania Twain. I had never heard of Shania and nobody in Nashville knew who Mutt Lang was as well. When I got to the audition Shania had her boyfriend there. He was a ordinary hippie looking guy, with scraggly long hair. I was the last of five that auditioned and when I was finished they all went upstairs to decide who to hire. So I was left packing up my gear, it was just me and Mutt. We were talking about my rig and I decided to be polite and said "So what do you do?" Mutt replied in his heavy British accent, actually he was from South Africa, "I'm a record producer." I thought to myself "(yawn) and I'll bet you're big time, too." Later the band guys said to me "No, that's Mutt Lang, the biggest producer in rock music. He produces Brian Adams, the Cars (etc.)..... He's worth hundreds of millions of dollars..." Pretty funny huh? Living in Nashville you get used to the "wanna-bees", so many people wanting to be this and that. During my time with Shania, she and Mutt were dating, he came along on many gigs and hung out with us. He was cool, I ended up telling him every musician joke I knew. He would always tell the guitar player what to play but never said anything like that to me. He probably didn't know anything about steel guitar at the time. A couple of guys in the band were big brown-nosers. "Ya know Mutt I do sessions, so next time you're in the studio give me a call." It turned out that none of this band stuck with Shania when she started to have real success.

    Pennies from Heaven

During the entire time I worked at Opryland our band leader was a piano player named Jerry Gowen. Jerry was a great player and fine leader, and he always tried to be a "company man". The CMUSA band was a tight group and there were three of us besides Jerry that were together the entire eight years that I was there. I used to tell people that we had our own CMUSA band mafia. As time went along Jerry lost more and more control over us. The last few years we had this drummer, I won't say his name, but his initials were Ray Von Rotz. Ray Von Drum, as I called him, and I would tease each other and carry on and we entertained the band and cast with our shenanigans.

I guess one day I got the best of teasing Ray. So during the show he started throwing little pieces of wood from his drum sticks and hitting my steel guitar and me on the back of my head. After the show I said "Jerry, make him stop!". Of course Jerry could not make Ray stop. Anyway I think Jerry enjoyed seeing Ray aggravate me. This kept going on day after day. So I devised this plan to get even. I brought a plastic bag full of pennies to work and during the show I waited until this slow song where there was a real pretty soft section. I took a hand full of pennies and threw them up over Ray and they came down on his drums and cymbals, ping, pang, donk, plunk! Von Drum couldn't catch them all. The band and cast looked at each other and laughed and then looked at Jerry. He was steamed. After the show he tried to chew me out. I said "I told you to make Ray stop throwing stuff at me. When he stops I will too." Of course Ray would not stop and Jerry couldn't control us. It was pretty funny to see. After a while when this stuff got old, I devised one more variation. I went to each guy in the band and said "Will you throw pennies at Ray for me?" What loyal friends. They all said "yes, Rob" except one. So then during the show at a pre-determined time they threw their pennies at Ray and I didn't. I must say their execution was not very good. But Jerry got on to me afterwards and I said "I didn't do it, I didn't throw one pennie." To this day I tease Ray and say "I'm coming to your gig tonight with a big bag of pennies." We had a lot of fun.

    The Bobbitt Mandolin, The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble

Butch Baldassari has a 1924 Gibson F-5 mandolin that is his main axe. It's really a beautiful mandolin and worth a lot of money. When Butch first acquired this instrument he had the fingerboard extension cut off. One day I said to him "Don't you think you've hurt the value of that mandolin by having the fingerboard extension cut off?" He replied "No, just the opposite. The fact that I have owned this mandolin has increased the value of it." I thought to myself "Wow, if he really believes that, he must have a heck of an ego."

There was a time when John Wayne Bobbitt had his story all over the press. His wife Lorena had cut off his "thing" and all that stuff. I started teasing Butch that he had cut the Bobbitt off of his mandolin. He didn't think that was too funny, as he was very proud of that mandolin. In 1995 we were in the studio recording our first album, Plectrasonics. The producer, Richard Bennett, said to Butch "On this next song, are you going to play that mandolin or the Bobbitt?" You could hear a pin drop. Butch didn't say a word or even look at me. He just slowly raised his arm with a clenched fist and middle finger extended. He had given me "the finger". It was all in good fun. We laughed about this incident for years.

    Swap Calton Cases, with Charlie Derrington

There are a lot of great Charlie Derrington stories, some day I need to make a page just for Charlie. In the meantime, there was a time in the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble where we all had "high end" mandolins/instruments, with Calton cases, small dog case covers, etc. You get the idea. Charlie had a real nice Gilchrist classical model mandolin and a Gilchrist mandola that matched. One day he said to me, "Let's swap cases, I want my cases to match, yours has the red interior I need to match my 'dola case." Charlie had put velcrow all over his case to keep the cover from sliding off, and besides I didn't want to swap anyway. I said "No, I don't want to swap." He kept bugging me and bugging me but I never gave in. About 6 months later he said "Come on, let's swap and I'll give you $25." Yeah right, like $25 was really gonna make me change my mind. I said "Give me a break, no way." Then one day I was in my studio/music room working and I heard "Psssssssss..........." My cat had pissed in my Calton case. Dang. The first thought that came into my mind was to call up Charlie: "Hey buddy, I'm ready to swap cases now." Of  course I never did that and didn't have the heart to actually do it, it just was a funny thought. I told Charlie the story and I used to tell it to a lot of people with Charlie standing right there. Everybody would laugh. But Charlie had plenty of stories on me.