The Can Can Room – 1965 St. Louis, Missouri

REFLECTIONS: Larry, Dave, Les, & Mac

[This is from a collection of scenes, stories and little chapters that were left on the cutting floor now that Things We Lost In The Night is complete.]

In early 1965, before the guys in my vocal group, the Reflections, left for California in April, we’d tried to develop a little floor show to play in clubs around Indianapolis to make some extra money. I had serious reservations about that, we’d rarely performed publicly, we didn’t play instruments, and my wife, Pat wasn’t thrilled about the idea. While Dave and I had been singing together since high school, Mac had joined us a few months earlier, and Les, who was supposed to accompany us as our guitar player was drafted into the group as our new bass singer a couple of weeks before we were due to try out our new act in Birmingham, Alabama at some place called the Boom Boom Room. Since Les was going to sing with us and not play guitar, we had to find musicians to back us up. Les found a little trio called the Zeb Miley Trio playing in an Indianapolis downtown bar called Susie’s Twist Club. They agreed to go out on the road with us for a few weeks to tighten up our show in hopes we could find some places to play around town. We named the combined band and singers, the Checkmates, and ill-fated choice as it turned out.

Now Mac had been in the Casinos, a show band from Cincinnati, when we met him. They later had a hit with the ballad “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” so he knew how dance around the stage and to construct these little shows, though the rest of us shared one single left foot, and a clumsy one at that. At some point I’ll post something about our adventures at the Boom Boom Room right in the middle of the civil rights marches going on at the time but I thought I’d like to post this little bit from the Can Can Room, the next club we played in St. Louis, Missouri, first.

The Checkmates – Monday, March 1, 1965, St. Louis, MO.

We walked out into the cold Missouri night to find Zeb Miley and Johnnie Lamb in a heated discussion with a portly older man in a navy blue suit with an open collared white dress shirt. The heavyset man was poking Zeb in the chest while Johnnie was walking around in little circles looking at the ground. When I walked up the man was saying in a cloud of frosty breath, “. . . what were you thinking, that you could walk into this club on Union paper with non-union musicians in your band? What kind of idiot are you?”

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“Musician’s Union bullshit,” Zeb said. “The usual union crap. As usual, they do more to stop you and then help you get work.”

“You know,” the man said to Zeb, “you should be thanking me. I could yank all of you off the stand right now. Yes I could. Club operator would never have another union band in this joint if they didn’t comply.

“Half your band,” he went on, waving his hand around, “is behind in their dues and the other half,” waving his other hand, “don’t have any union cards at all.”

Zeb turned to me, frowning and said, “He’s the local union rep and he’s saying you guys ain’t union so you can’t go back on stage.”

“You,” the man said, turning to make me his center of attention. “Whatinhell do you think you are doing up there without a union card?” While belligerent, certainly, he also seemed a little perplexed.

“Why would I need a union card,” I said, even more perplexed. “Why would singers need to belong to a musician’s union? We don’t play instruments.” I looked at Zeb trying to comprehend what was going on.

“If you sonsabitches are on that stage, you gotta have a card, period.” Mr. blue suit insisted.

“We just played in Birmingham, Alabama last week, before we came here. No one said anything about union cards to us.”

“Do you know where you are, sonny? Do you now?”

“Yes sir. This is St. Louis, Missouri. And it’s a beautiful city,” I added.

“And, does that mean anything to you, music-wise? Ring any bells?” he continued smugly.

I looked around for a lifeline but no one else seemed to have a clue, either. “Nosir I don’t.

“Well, you ignorant SOB, this is Local #2 of the Musician’s Union of America. Now I suppose you’ll have to tell me that you don’t know what that signifies, won’t you?”

I shook my head negatively. I had failed so many classes in school and now here I was failing Musician’s Union 101, dammit.

“No?” he said, continuing to rub it in. “No, you still don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you. We were the second local union formed, right after New York City. This is probably the strongest local in the United States. You do not fuck with St. Louis Union Local #2. Is that clear?”

“Yes, but I don’t see …”

“No pissant city like Birmy-fucking-ham, Aly-fucking-bama decides whether you need a union card in St.-fucking-Louis. Is that clear?”

“Okay. Okay,” Mac said, “We understand.” By this time, Dave had joined us on the street. Drivers and passengers in the cars passing us by were looking at us. It was freezing out here. “But,” Mac continued, “We don’t play instruments. I don’t get how we have to belong to a union?”

“So you don’t play an instrument, you say, even though I say, if you step on the goddamn stage in there you got to be union. Well, let me ask you something sonny boy. What was that funny metal thing you was tootling around on while ago marching around that club like a loon? What was that anyway? Looked suspiciously like a saxophone, of course I could be mistaken. Maybe you was playing the radio,” the Union rep grinned.

“Aw that was  nothin’. I don’t really play sax. I just tote that thing around when we’re doing this dancin’ thing. Can’t play but two notes. You can’t count that,” Mac said.

“And where’s that tall boy,” the rep continued. “Oh, here he is right here. I don’t suppose you play that trombone though you was pushing that slide back and forth like you knew what you was doing. You just another mummer, too?”

“Hell, I just go here,” Dave said, “I got no clue what’s going on. I play a little trombone. I’ll tell you how much though, damn little.”

“Damn little is plenty enough,” said the man as he turned to me. “And then there is you. Yes, you were banging two pieces of wood together so I expect you’re going to tell me you weren’t playing an instrument either. That so?”

“Yeah, I mean no, I don’t think so …” I said, wondering a bit.

“Claves,” he said. “those pieces of wood are called claves, they’re south American musical instruments my fine young friend so you and all the other guys without union cards, including the last guy who had a guitar strap on last time I saw him are not in compliance with union rules and regs. I can fine your asses up to $500 apiece.”

I went white. “Why that would end it for us. We’re just trying to get started. This is only are second job. That’s not fair. That can’t be what the union is for,”

“Fair, did you say. Well fair is as fair does and Zeb Miley here, well he’s the leader of the group. He knows the rules and he’s the one that broke ‘em. I’ll likely be pulling his card tonight and he’ll have to attend a hearing in a couple of weeks to find out how much it will cost to get it back. If he can get it back,” the rep said with finality.

We were all well and truly cowed and intimidated. “Is there some way we can make this right?” I asked. Zeb through his hands down in disgust and turned away. “We weren’t trying to avoid anything. Really, we just didn’t know.”

“I dunno,” he said, looking around at us. “Some of you don’t seem so willing to see the error of your ways.”

“C’mon guys,” I said to everyone on the street. Scott and Les were still inside somewhere. “Please, Mr ….” I started. I didn’t even know his name.

“I am Jonas Lawndale,” he said, “and here is my card. ‘Bout time somebody asked if I was legit.”

“Mr. Lawndale, we are a young band, just trying to get a foothold. If you could see your way to give us some leniency and help us find a way through the mess we’ve made here, we’d really appreciate it.” I said.

“Well sir, Mr. Miley,” Mr. Lawndale gestured in Zeb’s direction. “Does this fellow here have the right of it or do you continue to take exception to my pointing out your failings here? You are the rightful leader, signed onto this contract, and it is in your hands.” He stuck his chin out toward Zeb.

Our looks at Zeb must have conveyed enough fervor for him to get the message.

“Yeah, yeah, I know we’re in the wrong,” said Zeb with difficulty. He thought about it a bit and then said, “I didn’t rightly think these singer guys would have to be in the union especially as they don’t sing but 10 songs a night. But it’s so that a couple of us are late on our dues, so yeah, we need your help if you’d be offering.”

“Hmmm,” hummed Mr. Lawndale, seeming to figure what he would say to us. “First off those ‘singer guys’ as you call them, they ain’t going back on that stage tonight and not again ‘til they got union cards.

We didn’t say anything. Thank God, we’d finished our second show. There was one more set to go but we didn’t go on stage for that.

“Now I’m willing to forget about the fines for ya’ll since you’ve explained so nicely about where your confusions was, and I’ll forget about them late fees as well, but all you union guys got to have your cards up to date starting tomorrow night. And I am firm about that.

“By the way, it does seem that one Mr. Lamb does seem to be up to date so he can play it seems.”

“Mr. Lawndale,” I asked as gently as possible, “What does it cost to join Local #2 of the Musician’s Union of America?”

“Well son, I believe we can make you a member for $150 tomorrow down at the union house.” Jonas Lawndale beamed.

“Wow!” I said, stunned. “Wow!” I repeated since I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“We belong to a different Local, Mr. Rep,” Zeb said, a bit sourly, so do we have to pay our fees on  Local #2’s schedule?” I do believe he had already forgotten the fellow’s name.

“Well, Mr. Zeb Miley, we at Local #2 have a great fondness for our brothers across this great land and so, in token of that respect, we honor paying fees that we forward to those locals. So, in short, you must pay, down at the union house, the fees appropriate to your schedule at your home local.” Mr Lawndale added, “If you decided that you wanted to change your affiliation to the best and strongest union in this United States, while I’m sure we could get you a significant discount, however.”

“Well, then, Mr. Rep, we will get us into compliance first thing tomorrow. But I also reckon we better get ourselves into that club and finish our last set or we won’t have no job to save.” Seeing Mr. Lawndale’s look he added, “And that means without them singers. I know.”

“You will be seeing me tomorrow night, Mr. Miley. I give you fair warning, though, should you fail in any respect to meet the stipulations I have given you, I will not be so easily swayed as I have been tonight.” Mr. Lawndale turned without another word and walked into the night.

“Damn, where are we going to get $150 each I said to Dave and Mac?” I said despondently.

Before Zeb headed into the door, he said, “That’s not the hard part. You guys can run back to Indy and get union cards for $35. The big problem is your guitar player. Boy is underage and I don’t know if he can figure a way to get hisself a union card. You better check with him about that.”

Death of an Aristocat

Chuck, Dave, Pat, & Larry - The Reflections 1964

Chuck, Dave, Pat, & Larry – The Reflections 1964

The doorbell on the side of our house next to the driveway rang. This doorbell, with its own higher pitched ring than the front doorbell, rang in the my bedroom in the basement, commonly referred to among my friends as the dungeon due to my insistence that it be painted battleship gray and because to get to it, you had to traverse the furnace room with it’s spooky tentacled maze of vents rising up from of the furnace’s heart to snake across overhead. In my teen years it had served as the bridge of a starship, the conning tower of a submarine, and clubhouse before becoming our rehearsal room. I went up the basement stairs and ushered in Hasty Smith and another guy who seemed to tumble down the open steps all elbows and knees. Chuck Tunnah, Hasty said, introducing him to Pat Baldwin and me, was an inch or two over six feet and kind of gawky like he hadn’t quite grown into his skeleton. He had dark hair combed back from a widow’s peak that made him look fiendish.
“Now listen you guys. Don’t start that “Charlie the Tuna” crap with me,” he said with a big grin, like the Joker’s in Batman, in reference to the Starkist Tuna cartoon spokesfish, “because I do taste great and unlike that cartoon Tuna, I have great taste. Just want to get that clear”

That was how I met Chuck Tunnah, the fourth singer of my original vocal group as we formed the Aristocats, in the Fall of 1957. On July 5, 2016, Chuck, Charles E. Tunnah, died peacefully at 75 years of age in an easy chair with the Indianapolis Star in his hands. As with so many of my friends and associates passing into their later years are beginning to disappear I fear my blog will become an obit page, so I will resist that except in special circumstances. Though Chuck and I had not been in touch for many, many years, this loss struck very close to home to me. Hasting Smith, Jr., mentioned above, and Chuck sang in our high school choir and the exclusive Madrigal singers, and both patiently taught Pat Baldwin and me, both complete neophytes, how to learn and sing the popular music we liked. Hasty soon left us to go to Purdue, and eventually to become a nuclear rock scientist in Los Alamitos, New Mexico, where he passed away prematurely and suddenly as he warmed up to begin an early morning run.

Chuck, Pat, and I found Dave Dunn and went on to become the Reflections, and to record and release our first two records in Indianapolis in 1964. One of them, In The Still of the Night, became a regional hit on Chicago’s WLS, outcharting the Beatles for a couple of weeks. Chuck is the bass singer who first started the bass line that brought that version of a classic to prominence for us.

In Night People though, Chuck is introduced and disappears in the same paragraph; he never made the trip to California and on to the adventure that turned us into Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. Though he could be generous and kind, he could also be loud and obstreperous and because of that, he ended up relegated to staying in Indiana. He, and Hasty, have now passed beyond the curtain of life. When Hasty died, I felt the harsh breezes of change whispering through the hole in my history he left behind. The wind has picked up.

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Keith Richards: Beatles’ Sgt Pepper was rubbish

Here in the United States in the middle sixties, there was always a friendly competition between East Coast and West Coast bands, personified by the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. And though there became a creative competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the long and winding visceral rivalry for the Beatles has always been the Rolling Stones. Especially as they put their own opposing brands onto rock and roll stardom as they entered the Seventies. You always had to choose if you were a Beatles fan or a Stones fan. Though I didn’t care for the Beatles originally, as I mentioned in Night People, I did come to appreciate them, and to be astonished, let alone highly influenced, by “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” as you’ll read about it in Enchanted, should you chose to read it.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/08/06/keith-richards-the-beatles-sergeant-pepper-rubbish-album_n_7946520.html  - Rolling Stones' Keith Richards Slams The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper Album - 'A Mishmash Of Rubbish'

Beatles Cosplay for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, genius album

I didn’t care much for the Stones when I first heard them either, and even now I only grudgingly appreciate some of their classic songs like “Symphony for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter.” Especially since I had to sing several Stones songs, all of them non-melodic, like “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Satisfaction.” However Keith Richards has now officially hit my idiot list with his criticism of the Sergeant Pepper album. In a recent interview for Esquire Magazine, without provocation Keith volunteered:

Keith Richards from Esquire Magazine article: http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/interviews/a36899/keith-richards-interview-0915/

Keith Richards, open mouth, insert guitar – Esquire Magazine 6/30

“The Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles. But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties—”Oh, if you can make a load of shit, so can we.”

What? Are you kidding me? Read more about weird Keith in this Huntington Post UK article.

YouTube Videos of Stark Naked and the Car Thieves’ songs

(Update from post in March 2011 – larryjdunlap.com/ljd-blog) An amazing thing has happened on YouTube. One of the things we all mourn is the loss of one the first music videos ever, which we did in Hawaii for “Look Back in Love” in 1968, the song was supposed to become our first big, national hit. Not only did it feature the band, but also the Hawaiian girl I met there and later married, (Things We Lost in the Night, A Memoir of Love and Music in the 60s, Book 2: Enchanted). I finally located the cinematographer who shot it but he told me it was lost in a fire.  It appears that there are many modern admirers of the band who have taken our music to YouTube. While noodling around on the web I somehow got to a wikipedia page that mentioned Jan Hutchins and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, and then a link to a YouTube video (below) that was weird. But first things first. Here is the first video to kick this montage off …

Look Back in Love

CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO SEE ALL THE YOUTUBE VIDEOS

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