What Makes a Great Gig? Part 3

1974: Dale Sopocy, the founder and trombonist of the Chiquita Brass convinced me to “resurrect the Chiquita Brass, a band with a peel” after we both graduated from Northwestern University. He and I were flush with cash, both slaving away in nice salary day-jobs while still living at home, so we invested in a Shure PA system, while I took out a loan and bought a Rhodes 88 Stage and two Yamaha Amps. We purchased some great charts for hit bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I wrote many others. With months of weeknight practices, we finally renamed our band Chameleon—THE Brass Show Band. How clever—each band member wore a different colored ruffled tux shirt beneath a seriously terminal polyester black and white paisley tux jacket with crushed velour label and matching tie.

Our first gig was at the Como Inn. It was a miserable cold-March rainy day. Dale had to borrow his dad’s from the family electronics distributor business, Miles Electric. We emptied the van of all the electronic parts, lights, cable etc, and then drove to my house to carry an incredible amount of “stuff” out the back cellar stairs to the van. Trumpeter Dave Anderson also built two black shipping cases out of ¾” thick particleboard to hold all the cords and microphones. These containers weighed more than the contents inside them. Talk about a workout!

We left in caravan fashion at 4:00PM to get to Chicago by 5:30PM. We had to roll and carry our equipment through the bowels of the Como Inn kitchens in Chicago to set-up in the third floor ballroom. Believe me it’s clear to me why the Como Inn closed its doors a few years later, given the slop on the kitchen floor. It would take us around two hours to unload, set-up, and change into our Chameleon tuxes.

The ballroom had wooden floors, red Italian drapes, and a Soprano’s kind of feel. We didn’t have monitors at the time, so we propped the PA speakers on top of our cases to elevate the sound. At 8:00PM we launched into a Chicago tune called “Questions 67 & 68.” The room had a wonderful acoustic echo, and what we heard was so cool, so professional, so us! The wedding party thought so as well, because they applauded after nearly every showy number. We got paid for one hour of overtime.

Come 11:30 p.m., and all we had to do was pack up our equipment, trudge it back through the kitchens and down to the van, drive home, load our “stuff” into my basement and reload the van with his Dad’s electronic parts and supplies. Then we drove to Denny’s after the gig. Finally, after a Denny’s Super Bird and a chocolate shake, I climbed in bed by 3:00 a.m. Twelve hours of work for $80 each. Factoring in gas money and splitting the tab at Denny’s, I believe I was earning around $5 per hour. And loving it!

Please feel free to sign up for my newsletter and let me know if you have any stories, comments or questions. I look forward to getting out my new book, “Gig,” hopefully destined to be one of the best novels on music you will read!

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