For several years before settling in with the five-piece group, I played drums with a trio (guitar, bass, drums – three voices), and we managed to play fairly regularly. Back then, many corner saloons had live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and a trio didn’t take up much space and was not a budget buster for the owner.
Anyway, we had received a call from an agent to play a Saturday night at a pretty well known place at the Jersey Shore. It was bigger than most of joints we had been playing, and we thought it might provide us with additional exposure. As I recall, the summer season had ended, but there were still plenty of people in the area, as it was the time of year when the owners of the zillions of rental properties down the shore would come to their homes for vacation.
We took the job.
Shortly after we struck the first note, the sky opened and unleashed a thunderstorm with monsoon-like rains that lasted just about the entire night. As a result, at any given time, there wasn’t more than a handful of people in the place, and, at that, they appeared to be friends of the “Manager” rather than locals out for a Saturday night.
The “Manager” (We’ll call him Mario) was built like Tony Soprano and looked a lot like him too, except he had a full head of greasy hair. He was your typical Bent-Nosed Bomb-thrower type. He also wore the obligatory pinky ring. Anyway, he was not happy about having almost no customers, and, consequently, he spent a good deal of time giving us dirty looks, as if we had somehow caused the farookin’ monsoon.
We finished the night, even though we played to just about no one. We packed up, and it was time to get paid. We were hanging around waiting for Mario to show up with the money.
He finally showed up, only to tell us, “I’ll straighten out with your agent.”
Our guitar player took the lead and explained that it didn’t work that way. He told Mario that the deal was that we were promised X dollars for the night; we played the gig, and we expected to be paid.
Again, Mario said, “I told you; I’ll straighten out with your agent on Monday. You can get the money from him.”
Smelling a rat, we all suggested that if wanted to “hold back the agent’s end”, that would be fine with us, but we had a right to be paid. (Anyone who has ever worked in the music business would have smelled the same rat. The problem is that, with music, once you play it, it’s gone, and collecting money for music that is already “gone” is always dicey). This went on for a few minutes and Mario finally relented and said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back wit your fuckin’ money”.
We were feeling pretty righteous about having won the argument with this gorilla.
A few minutes later, Mario showed up and handed the guitar player a check for the entire amount (including the agent’s piece). The guitar player looked at the check and said, “Wait a minute. The deal was cash. We want to be paid in cash.” (We had taken the trip down the Rubber Check Road at least once before.)
Mario was beginning to become agitated, and he said, “I ain’t got the cash. Take the fuckin’ check.”
The guitar player stared at the check and then looked Mario in the eye and asked, “Mario, is this check any good?”
That did it. One look at Mario’s face made it plain to all three of us, having grown up around the Marios-of-the-World, that things were about to get sideways. He was silent for a moment or two, then he glared at us and said very matter-of-factly, “Take the check and get the fuck outta here before all tree a you guys wind up in fuckin’ Barnegat Bay.”
We headed immediately for the door and drove home in relative silence, each of us more than a little shaken up.
Of course, the check bounced.
When the agent heard that we (and therefore he) got stiffed, he sent a pinky ring guy who was bigger and meaner than Mario down the shore to pay Mario a visit. I never asked how the visit went, but I do know that everyone ended up getting paid.
That wasn’t the first time I bumped up against Bent-Nosed cruds in the music business and it wouldn’t be the last. And each time I did, I would take an extra long shower afterward to wash the extra layer of stink off myself.