T – 18 days.
Through the years there have been some great gigs and some terrible gigs. Some of the notable ones were documented about three months ago here. I’ve decided to write about a few of ones that have made the Keitho hall of fame and hall of shame.
I’ll being with a Hall of Fame entry.
In my early years in New York I used to work often with a drummer named Fred Lite. Fred was one of a kind — he was Danny Devito meets Elvin Jones. He was opinionated, prone to exaggeration, had a self-depreciating sense of humor, and was whip-smart. In fact he was a kind of renaissance man. He tuned and rebuilt pianos. He was a great card player — he used to go to Atlantic City regularly to play blackjack. He even wrote a book on card counting. He was also a first-rate drummer. Sure, he didn’t have the cleanest chops in the world, but he had an incredible feeling and it was very easy for me to connect with him. I’ve played with drummers who have had much more technique, but there were few that I enjoyed more than Fred.
Fred’s band consisted of Ralph Lalama on tenor sax, John Ray, on bass, and Jerry Sokolov on trumpet. We used to play every Thursday night at a dive bar in Chelsea called Pats. The place smelled like a toilet and it housed a neon blue Young Chang upright piano which is, to this day, one of the worst pianos I have ever played. They used to set the P.A. speaker on top of the piano next to my left ear. I am sure that I have lost a portion of my hearing thanks to that gig.
Wait a minute…this gig may belong in the hall of shame!
For some reason (could it have been the copious amounts of cocaine available at this establishment?) Pats became an in spot on Thursday nights. Many great musicians came by and sat in. Joe Lovano would sometimes come by and play, sometimes even sitting in on drums! I remember the pianist Renee Rosnes sitting in many times. A lot of guys from the [then]Mel Lewis band would stop by, as well as our peers — guys like Pat O’Leary, Larry Ham, Pete Malinverni, and Rudy Petschauer — all great musicians who went on to become mainstays on the New York scene.
Everyone was so wired in this band that it was hard to get through any given gig without at least two of the members screaming at each other. Even I was somewhat of a live wire. I was prone to borderline psychotic outbursts and was given the nickname F.C., short for Firecracker.
Fred was, and is, the greatest Mets fan I have ever known. Bar none. He lived and died with them. During the offseason he would call me up every day and the first thing out of his mouth would be, “Did they make any trades yet?” If you told him about a trade he would forever credit you with the Mets acquiring that payer. It was as if Fred made you a defacto GM. In this way I got him Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson.
Back in the fall of 1988, when the Mets were playing the Dodgers in the National League playoffs, we were finishing up a tour in the midwest. I had brought along my portable 4″ screen battery operated TV in case we had any gigs that coincided with game time. At a concert in Youngstown, Ohio Ralph would go backstage during the piano and bass solos to watch the game and signal Fred with his fingers what the score was. To this day I do not fully trust a bandleader who doesn’t like sports.
The band made many tours. We often would leave after our Thursday gig, all drunk and disheveled, and drive from 23rd st and 6th avenue in Manhattan, to Toledo Ohio, arriving the following day in the middle of the afternoon. Once Fred missed the Toledo exit and we had to drive another 20 miles to the next exit to turn around.
As it happened Fred eventually became disenchanted with the music scene. The band never got the break it deserved and it had become a money pit for Fred. He didn’t have the temperament to go on playing joints and he had financial pressure, having to support a wife and two young children. It goes without saying that music is a tough business to be in. Especially when you have to be a leader, which in our case means booking agent, manager, as well as performer.
Sometime around 1991 Fred quit the drums and went back to school. After receiving his undergrad degree he was accepted into Hofstra law school. He completed his classes and passed the bar on his first attempt. It’s remarkable to say the least. Not only was Fred a great drummer, but he was able to change careers in midstream, practically without missing a beat. Today Fred is a succesful civil rights lawyer. If you open up the NY Daily News you are likely to read about a case that Fred is involved in. I can’t think of two more demanding careers. Fred, that sick bastard, could do both.