It was great being in a band in Jersey in the ‘70’s. Virtually every saloon in the area, large or small, had live music on the weekends. Bands built up followings, which saloon owners were more than eager to attract. Our band was no exception. Back then, we were playing as a trio, with guitar, bass and drums (all three of us sang), and we had managed to build up a following of our own, so we were perfect for many of these places.
We played quite regularly at a place called “The 288 East,” which was a cozy place in North Arlington, New Jersey. It had a medium-sized bar, maybe twenty stools, and about 6-10 tables. The only way that the little place could accommodate a band was to renovate a large closet in order to create a “stage” that was about six inches higher than the postage stamped-sized “dance floor,” which was directly in front of the so-called “stage.”
In truth, the “stage” probably would have worked for a solo act, or even maybe two people, but in our case, once we set up the amps and I set up the drums, there was no room for anything else. In fact, in order to get behind the drums, I would have to move the hi-hat cymbals (the ones you play with your left foot) and the snare drum out of the way. I’d climb behind the set and move everything back in place once I was seated. The bass and guitar players stood directly (and I mean directly) in front of the “stage” on the teeny dance floor. In short, we were “up close and personal” with the crowd.
One Saturday night, we were into our fourth and final set. It was pretty crowded in the place. During the break, we had been sitting with a couple people who had taken to following us wherever we played. Part of the group was a young woman who had brought her mother with her as well as her new boyfriend, a guy who apparently just got a job as a cop and who seemed exceedingly happy to tell everyone that he was carrying his “off duty piece.”
“Very big deal,” we thought. But, a following is, after all, a following.
About one third of the way into the final set, a group of guys, already well oiled, showed up. By their swagger and general demeanor, it was quite plain that these guys were potential trouble. Nevertheless, I didn’t pay all that much attention to them, thinking that as long as they don’t give us any trouble, who cares?
Somewhere in the middle of “Color my World” I saw the unmistakable minuet of an impending brawl. Within what seemed to be mere seconds, the teeny dance floor turned into a moving mass of angry people, with the newbie cop in the middle of it all. We continued to play, because that is what you did when these things happen. You played until either the owner tells you to stop, or until the cops arrive.
Then I heard someone shout the word “GUN”!!!
Sure enough, from the center of this moving amoeboid mass of people popped up a hand in which was a chrome, snub-nosed revolver (surely the “off-duty piece”). A dozen or so hands were grabbing at the gun, which at that moment happened to be turned directly in my direction. So much for “Color my World.”
The bass and guitar players unplugged and ran for the door, still wearing their guitars. Watching the hands struggling to gain control of the six-shooter, I didn’t bother to move the hi-hats and snare drum, but rather I somehow leaped over the damned snare drum and knocked the hi-hats out of the way, just to get the hell off the stage and out of the bulls eye. By this time the bass player and guitar player were already out on the sidewalk.
I ran for the door, which was, at that moment, blocked by a hysterical woman. She was standing directly in the doorway screaming her ass off. Not moving – just screaming her ass off. No time for introductions: I just picked her screaming ass up and dragged her outside with me while the combat inside continued.
In a few minutes, it was over without any gunshots having been heard.
When we re-entered the place, a big guy (I believe a friend of the owner) had managed to break up the melee and “convince” the wise guys to leave, presumably by reminding them that they had been messing with a cop and that more cops were just a phone call away. Naturally, they didn’t leave quietly, as they dropped the F-bomb on the owner, his place, his friends, and quite possibly even his dog, but leave they did.
Apparently, it all had started when one of the wise guys made a nasty remark to the mother of the newbie cop’s girlfriend, and it went downhill from there.
We still had about fifteen minutes left to play, and the owner wanted us back on stage to get things back to normal. Besides, he still had fifteen minutes to sell drinks to a bunch of real nervous folks, all badly in need of a libation.
The guitar players plugged back in, and I climbed behind the drums and repositioned the snare drum and hi-hats. We were ready to go back to work.
The guitar player turned to me and said, “OK. Color my World.” I suggested that we play something else, thank you, which is what we did, as this hadn’t been the first time that the shit hit the fan while we were playing “Color my World” But that is a story for another day.
I got a million of ‘em.
P.S. Oh, as for the title of this post, in the grand tradition of the Bowery Boys, the term “Routine 288” would forever become the words we would use when it was time to evacuate the stage immediately.