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Front Row Seats
Mix It Up
Strange Baskets
Elephant Joint
Tony BrownNavel
Burn The Palm
Audience Participation

Front Row Seats

While living at Pinewick Gardens Apts. in Bellaire, I was witness to a police helicopter chase of a rape suspect.
But what made it so special was the play by play account of it that came over the radio.
This particular radio was a new toy obtained by Bert Frilot to assist him in learning the jargon of airline pilots as they talked to the Hobby Airport Tower.
We were standing on the landing of my second floor apartment, so Bert could get better reception. He was scanning through the various frequencies demonstrating to me the radio's capabilities.
Then, by accident, he tuned to the police band used between prowl cars and air support. The first thing we heard was, "Rape suspect is running down Bissonnet St...... Now he's turning into the vacant lot behind the hardware store."
"Wow, Bert, that's right over there", I said, pointing down at the field behind the apartments.
Then we saw the spotlight from the chopper searching the lot and finally illuminating the fleeing rapist. The chopper-cop told the police-car to turn right, into the next driveway. We looked down the drive and in came the prowl car. Too cool!
The suspect realized he was trapped and held up his hands. The cops jumped out of the car and cuffed him as the helicopter hovered above keeping the light on the action.
We truly had front row seats to the whole scene.
After they had all departed, Bert said innocently, "Pretty good radio, huh!"

Mix It Up

My first dance band was called "The Downbeats".
We were all students at Redemptorist High and members of the High school Band. I was 16 years old.
We'd get together at one of the guys' house once a week and try to learn some songs. The mothers would fix snacks,and the neighbors (starved for entertainment), would gather on the banquet in front of the house to listen. Really, a good time was had by all.
The latest guy who joined the group had an older brother who was a musician and was able to get some "charts"(musical arrangements) for us to play. After several months of rehearsing, we figured we were finally ready for a real gig.
One of my priest friends(I was an altar boy), lined us up to play at "The Seamen's Bethel", which was a home for indigent seamen. In spite of the venue, we were all excited about our first public performance.
As it turned out, on our big night, the new guy(keeper of the musical charts)did not show up. We found out, the next day, that he had been arrested for shoplifting.
In the spirit of "the show must go on" we decided to play without him and his arrangements anyway.
But, all we could do was play the only songs we knew without music, over and over! They were: "Tin Roof Blues", "When The Saints Go Marching In", "Bourbon Street Parade", "My Little Margie" and "The Redemptorist High School Fight Song".
Oddly enough, it took over two hours for someone to complain about our limited repertoire.
A very drunk seaman wobbled up to the front of the stage and, while making a little stirring motion with his index finger, said, "You guys have a good little band, but can't you just 'mix it up' a little bit more!"

Strange Baskets

While shopping at a Schwegmann's store in New Orleans, I noticed that the man checking out in front of me had his shopping cart "filled" with half-gallon bottles of a cheap brand of gin.
And also, sitting on top of those fourteen odd bottles was one half-pint! I regret I never asked him why the half-pint, but, I guess I always thought it was for the drive home.
This next case of another very strange basket started out on my bed in Las Vegas, circa 1970.
I opened my eyes to see Gary Walker, a great singer and spiritual-minded guy standing silently next to the bedroom window gazing out at the desert. Odd? Not if you knew Gary.
He had his staff (a rough-cut tree branch) and a rolled up piece of paper in his hands. He explained that as he was walking over to my apartment, he saw the paper lying on the ground. Something told him to pick it up, and when he did, it rolled into a scroll, right in his hand! He was visibly shaken by this scrolling action and even more so by the message on the paper.
It had a drawing of an "Ankh" followed by an evocation to always pursue your dreams.
Gary took this as a sign to arouse me and bum a ride to Hollywood to see the "Hair" musical. We were not playing that night, so we grabbed a few provisions, boarded my ancient Nash Rambler(no A.C.) and headed west for some Californication.
As I kept my eyes on the road, Gary's were fixated on the passing panorama of the landscape, at which he unblinkingly and beatifically stared.
By the time we found "The Aquarius Theater" it was very close to show time. Then, we had to drive around for a long time looking for a place to park. We were worried that we'd miss the curtain's rise, when Gary spotted a car exiting a spot. After I got us in the tiny parking spot I heard Gary exclaim, "Oh! My God in heaven". I probably said something equally exclamatory. Cause, both our minds were thoroughly blown when we saw that the vanity license plate on the car in front of us said, "ANKH"! .......Oh Wow!
The show was great and afterwards we spent the night at the house of our friend, Wayne Shuler, who was then working at Capital Records.
We took off early the next morning, not looking forward to the hot, boring drive. We were hungry and thirsty by the time we reached Barstow, Ca. and decided to stop for refreshments.
I had heard that there was a huge "hippy" commune nearby and hoped to see some weirdness. I did.
As I was walking into a supermarket (Gary stayed outside to watch birds nesting under the roof), I eyed a extremely pretty, but incredibly dirty girl. She was barefoot, wearing frazzled jeans and a tie-dyed t-shirt(no bra). She had long, blond hair and a perfect body. A goddess masquerading as a chimney- sweep.
I was completely intrigued, and to get a better look, without being obvious, planned to check out just behind her. No doubt, she was a commune member and I wanted to talk to her about that kind of lifestyle.
But, what I witnessed at that counter left me completely speechless and once again amazed at what people will put in their shopping carts.
It was obvious that she planned on leaving the commune and cleaning up her act, cause these were the five items I watched her take from her cart.
1. A bar of soap.
2. A pair of scissors.
3. A hair brush.
4. A bottle of lice-killing shampoo. and finally......
5. A pair of earrings attached to a card bearing the slogan, "Bring out the Gypsy in You".
My mind was completely blown, and I quietly checked out, unable to think of anything to say to this enigmatic creature.
I won't tell you how many times I said, "Oh Wow" during the rest of the trip.

Elephant Joint

Don Champagne and I were sitting at a table in the Rubaiyat Club enjoying our break and sipping some "Break Fluid".
He was showing me how he amused his kids with an imitation of an elephant.
He held his shoulder close to his chin and waved his arm up and down like an elephant does with his trunk. He also blew through his tightly squeezed lips to simulate the trumpeting call. Very impressive.
Then some strange happened.
The girls sitting at the next table gave us a glaring look and left, obviously in a serious snit. I figured we were making too much noise for them.
But, too our surprise and amusement, the manager showed up a few minutes later to confront us with the fact that the girls had accused Don of "Inviting them to our table to SMOKE A Joint "!!!!

Tony BrownNavel

One day in 1969, while shopping at the Sage store in Bellaire, I noticed that a crowd had gathered in the record department.
I walked over to see what was going on and found it to be a celebrity autograph session, hosted by the famed drummer, Buddy Rich.
I thought my drummer, Tony Braunagle, would like an autograph, so I got in line. When my turn came up, I complimented the great Mr. Rich and asked if he would make the autograph out to "Tony BrownNavel", which was Tony's nickname.
Well! Mr. Rich got furious with me and not sparing any profanity, told me he didn't appreciate being "fucked with" like I was doing.
I tried my best to assure him the name in question was just a nickname, but he wouldn't hear any of it. To avoid any further embarrassment, I retreated.
I called Tony when I got home and told him about the encounter with Buddy Rich. He said we ought to go to his show that night and get an autograph then. Fine.
We arrived at the "Arena Circle Theater" early, to look for Buddy. We found him, standing alone in the back of the theatre, warming up by playing rudiments on the armrest of a seat. Tony and I watched him for quite a while before we made our approach.
"Hi Buddy", I said. "Remember me from this afternoon at the Sage store?" He looked at me for about 5 seconds and sneered. "See, I wasn't trying to jive you. Here he is. The guy we call Tony 'BrownNavel'." This time, it took him only one second to achieve a more vicious sneer.
"I'd really like to have your autograph", Tony meekly added.
Buddy, who continued to play his sticks on the seat during the conversation, stopped playing abruptly, and pointing the sticks at me said, "Get outta my face, before I call security!" He then walked off.
Both Tony and I were kind of hurt by our hero. But, by nights end, and fortified by several stiff drinks, I got pissed off and swore, to one day, get revenge.
My next meeting with Buddy Rich came in Las Vegas about one year later. I was then playing with "Mobius Loop" at the Flamingo. I heard he was playing at the Sands and decided to try and talk to him. Now, it was a game.
I saw him standing at the bar between shows and squeezed in beside him. "Hi Buddy, remember me?"
He looked me over but, said nothing. "I'm visiting from Houston and still would like your autograph for Tony 'BrownNavel'."
Now he recognized me, like he'd been hit with a bat. He called me quite a few bad names this time and left me at standing the bar.
About a year and a half after that I was playing the Montreau Jazz Festival and Buddy Rich was there as well. I didn't really search him out this time, but one day while alone in the elevator going to my room, guess who got in?
I thought by now, he'd consider past events on the humorous side. Wrong!
"Hi Buddy, remember me? I'm 'still trying' to get your autograph for my friend, Tony 'BrownNavel'."
He looked at me and his face contorted into a mask of terror.
"You're fuckin' crazy.....leave me alone," he was screaming now. Then he started pounding on the elevator door. "Get me outta here.....this the God-Damned door!" He was having a full-blown panic attack.
Luckily, the door opened at the next floor and he bolted out, never looking back.
He was pretty upset, but I'm sure he played great that night. He was a pro.
I heard stories after that about how weird he was, or what a pain he could be. But, I certainly got to see a very strange side of a great musician.
Man! Was he intense. No humor at all.
I never saw him again and I wonder if he ever told anybody about me and my quest for an autograph.
I'd like to hear his version of the story.

Burn The Palm

Every Palm Sunday, we'd buy a palm frond from vendors outside of St. Alphonsus Church.
We'd take it into the church where it would be blessed duting the service.
After Mass, it was taken home and put up on the wall behind our picture of the Sacred Heart. There it resided until it was taken down and a small portion was cut off for burning during an electrical storm.
The burning palm gave off the fragrant smell of incense and performing this ritual made us somehow feel secure.
To this day, whenever I see a flash of lightening or hear a thunderclap, I think of either my Mother or Auntie caroling in their wonderful Irish Channel accents, "Butch, you heah dat thunda? Boin da Paum honey, boin da Paum."

Audience Participation

Sometimes people in the audience say some memorable and entertaining things. Here are the top three so far.

One night at "The Dome Shadows Club" a cajun guy with the thickest, swampiest accent I ever heard approached the stage. He had made a few requests earlier and I was intrigued by his personality and, of course, his wonderful accent.
This time he asked, "Can you play "L'il Taint?". I asked him to repeat the request several times to make sure I was hearing it correctly. Finally, I told him we didn't know "L'il Taint".
He said, "Come on, man, you played it last night". I then asked him to sing a bit of the song.
What I heard was his version of the great Sam Cooke song, "Change Gonna Come".
"I was born by a river ... in a L'il Taint"!!

This next one happened in Las Vegas at the "Crown Room" of the International Hotel.
I noticed two huge identicle twins, dressed alike, and each weighing 500 pounds walking into the club.
They looked around a while and then, went on the dance floor and did some great dancing.
Then one of the guys came up to me and made a request of a then, very popular song.
He asked, "Do you know, 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother'?"
I should have seen it coming.
Turns out they were entertainers who were starting an engagement the next night in the lounge. I went to see their show and they were great.

Just last week while playing at "Caps Piano Bar" in Houston I was treated to this line.
You couldn't help but notice this wildly energetic chic and the sensuous dancing she was doing. She never stopped wiggling, even when the band was in between songs.
When she requested a song I didn't know too well, I yelled across the stage to ask Ronnie Fitz what the chords were on the bridge.
She then, said this great line, "Hey, y'all can talk about that in the GARAGE ....let's get the music GOIN'."

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This page and all it's contents are Copyright © 1996 by Leo O'Neil, Crosby, Texas -- U.S.A.