Last Friday night Georgia and I were onstage, singing at the famous Bluebird Café. The audience was quiet and attentive.
Both of them.
This was the Bluebird’s first virtual show…a test run, as it were. Georgia and I have been doing virtual shows on a platform called Stageit every Wednesday night ever since the quarantine hit. We know how it works and we shared our knowledge with the Bluebird to try to help them get up and running.
It was strange to be there playing to an empty house but it was empowering too. It felt like we were reclaiming a bit of our industry, fifty minutes at a time.
That night also made us both think about our history at the club and remember how much it means to us. I have some amazing memories from my years of playing there. Allow me to share a few:
The Bluebird is where I was performing a showcase and my background singer Faith got a record deal instead of me. That’s okay. She was prettier.
I played in the round with amazing artists like Michael McDonald, Carole King, Kenny Loggins, John Sabastian, Richard Marx, Olivia Newton John…the list goes on and on.
We played birthday pajama parties there. We had a band that included hit songwriters Vince Melamed, Jim Photoglo and Bob DiPiero and we were called Mel DiBurpho and every spring we would celebrate our collective birthdays by having a pajama party at the Bluebird. The audience wore pajamas too and it was a blast.
We would do crazy things. We’d set an alarm and when it went off we would take our break…even if it were in the middle of a song.
We would order pizzas for the whole club and auction off autographed slices (the crust).
One year I bought two huge teddy bears and sliced open their stomachs so I could slip my feet into them and wear them all night as slippers.
Most of my friends are Bluebird friends. I met them there or played with them there or saw them there and went up after the show and introduced myself and begged them to be my friend.
Friday night we felt like we were helping to nurse the club back to health, in a small way. We were very careful and health conscious. I hope they do more of these shows. Just seeing the neon bluebird lit up behind the stage made me feel a little better about the world.
We didn’t order pizza but if we had… we could have gotten away with a small.
In 1974 Pure Prairie League was playing Wesleyan College, right up the street. I had recently returned from Santa Cruz and was working at an auto parts store. I took the job in a desperate effort to resist the gravitational pull of Dad’s business. Let me type that again: an AUTO Parts store.
I had no idea what tie rods were, but for several months I pretended I did and handed them over to people who seemed to really need them and trust me. With luck they nodded and handed me $37.50. Sometimes they asked me questions like “Do I need to replace the floivan if the retro gaskets are spoogled?” That’s when I became the Bill Murray character in the Greek Diner sketch. Frantically nodding my head and hoping one of the grizzled veterans would step up and answer.
This job did not pay well enough to allow me concert tickets. I drove up to the campus in the late afternoon and looked for the auditorium, hoping I could hear a little bit of their sound check.
I found the venue, parked the car and set my ear against a large metal door. I could hear them running through “Country Song”…the very song that made me fall in love with this band! It was so cool to hear them working it out…starting and stopping…..great harmonies. The song finished and I thought that was about as much excitement as I was going to get when suddenly the door opened and out came their bass player, Mike Reilly. He was incredibly warm and nice to me (didn’t offer me tickets even though I very plainly told him I was too broke to come to the show) and chatted with me for a nice while.
Pure Prairie League went through some strange transitions in the next bunch of years. They got Vince Gill in the band and went pop with saxophones and stuff and put out their big pop hit “Let Me Love You Tonight” . They appeared on Midnight Special. This was not my favorite time for them. I sort of lost interest in this new version but treasured the old records and the memory of that afternoon at their sound check.
One day in 1980, Harold, my producer in NYC, called and said he had an interesting proposition for me. He was also my publisher and had been sending out my tapes a hundred at a time all over the country to try and get my songwriting career going. One of the people he had been sending regular tapes to was a producer who was in talks to do an album with Pure Prairie League. The band had a slight dilemma. They had just fired Vince Gill. (Their side of the story. Fired? Quit? Vince will have to tell you his own damn version over breakfast at Noshville) They hired a new guy and just had to fire him because on the first gig he had sex with the housekeeper at the hotel and the hotel management frowned on that.
The producer knew my voice and thought I would be a good fit. Would I be interested in flying to Cincinnati and auditioning for the slot?
I hopped on a plane (on their dime…holy cow this is real show business) and I went out where I discovered that, rather than being a voice the producer insisted would be the missing piece….I was one of many singers they were auditioning that week. One of the hopefuls had just won Star Search. If it came down to him and me, my only hope would be that they would quiz us on car parts and I could tell them how much a tie rod costs.
The good news? They chose me. I was now the lead singer of one of my favorite bands. The bad news? They had a saxophone. No steel guitar. A saxophone. They were a much more rock and pop sounding band than I remember. It was still an amazing lineup. Al Garth on sax and Merle Bregante on drums, from the Loggins and Messina band (foreshadowing?) Tim Goshorn, a great lead guitarist who’s brother used to be in the band and wrote several of their hits during the “Two Lane Highway” era. Mike Reilly still on bass. He did not remember our conversation all those years ago. (Do I not make the impression I think I do? He was probably on drugs.)
The downiest down side was that my idol, Craig Fuller, was no longer with them. He started the band and wrote all those great early songs like “Amie” and “Early Morning Riser.” That meant I was singing Amie. I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and thanked me for writing that song and telling me how great it was. In the beginning I tried to give credit where it was due and tell them Craig wrote it. After a few months I just started saying “thank you” and signing their breasts. I signed very illegibly so they would see what they want to see.
After about a year I got the great news that Craig Fuller was rejoining the band. I would still have plenty of songs to sing but he would take over the ones he wrote. Craig is a brilliantly cynical bastard. At one outdoor concert we got to the last chorus of Amie, where we stop singing and let the audience carry the song. We had about 10,000 people singing at the top of their lungs. That would make me pretty damn emotional if it was a song I had written. Craig sidled up next to me, leaned his head close to mine, smirked and said “Touching, isn’t it?”
I stayed with PPL for about six years and had some wonderful experiences. Vince and I were both inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame on the same year so we laughed about our connection. Their great steel player John David Call is back with the band these days. Reilly is still on bass and looks more and more like “Old Luke”, the guy on their album covers.. Their wonderful piano player Michael Connor passed away as did Tim Goshorn….yikes, we’re losing people.
One of the great seminal country rock bands. And “Amie” is one of the best songs ever written about an underage French Canadian prostitute.
I am getting on a plane today to fly to New Hampshire to do a show at the Tupelo Music Hall with my CSN Tribute Band, Laurel Canyon.
I thought a blog about my flying experience during the pandemic might be interesting.
I’m afraid that this weekend I will be busy with the show and everything so I decided to write the blog ahead of time. Here goes:
I decided to wear a full hazmat coverall on the plane. Unfortunately the only ones I could find on Amazon were “smalls” so they weren’t totally confortable. I can’t stand exactly “upright” in it and there is no room for any clothing underneath. I should not have worn my necklace when I went through security. The alarm went off. I didn’t have to totally disrobe but I did have to pull the zipper down far enough for what TSA calls a “Security Peek” that pretty much went down “the whole way”.
I got to the airport with plenty of time but I was too afraid to sit anywhere so I went to the men’s room and got about forty paper towels to spread out on a chair. To be absolutely safe I then perched up ON the chair like some sort of Puffin or an Egret. That seemed hygenic. I had long ago decided that, upon landing, I would throw my shoes away and buy new ones in New Hampshire. Clogs maybe.
I thought the plane would be half full but it was empty!!!! It was a little embarrassing when the gate lady came on to tell me I had taken the wrong gate ramp and was sitting in a plane that was going in for servicing. Oh well. Better safe than sorry.
I found the right plane and it was indeed only a third full. Maybe forty people in total. Everyone wore a mask. I wore a complete face shield with a mask underneath. I thought it would be a fun touch to paint the shield red white and blue and tell everyone I was Captain America but that plan backfired. It actually made the plane ride very uncomfortable and boring because I could not read through the paint so I had to sit still and “listen” to a movie. “Ghostbusters”, I think. Maybe “A Few Good Men”. My ears were clogged up.
I accepted no food or beverages on the plane. I had packed a bit of last night’s dinner in my knapsack and discretely slipped bites up under my mask during the flight to Cleveland. The bad choice was actually made the night before when Georgia and I opted for a full rack of Martin’s ribs. When we landed in Cleveland I kind of looked like Dexter, (season five).
I was worried that New England would turn me away since I was coming from one of the states still racking up bad numbers but apparently, because I was born in Connecticut, I was allowed in under a Grandfather Clause that not only allowed me to stay in hotels but to French kiss the woman behind the Best Western counter.
The flight back was much, much easier. I made so much money playing the show that I took a private plane back to Nashville.
Had lobster salad sandwiches.
This was written Friday at noon…three hours before I left to go to the airport. It is all imaginary. I’ve never had a lobster salad sandwich.
Well, I did it.
I booked the session for this week. This Thursday we go in and start the record. MY record.
I went with a very stripped down band. I am not even sure what songs I am going to record. I have been writing like a fiend these days. I’m trying to stick to songs that I wrote by myself or wrote with Georgia. We have plenty of those. I have a couple of contenders that I have written with other people. One of them might slip in.
I figure I’ll do about seven songs with full band and then two or three more just acoustic, recorded here at the house.
I usually wait until the record is done before I decide on a name. I wrote a song about my Dad’s business that might make the record. My Dad had his own electrical contracting business the whole time I was growing up. I even worked at the family business for a few years. I was suppose to take the business over at some point but music got in the way. My Dad fought off the unions his whole career. He had a non-union shop but paid his guys really well and was beloved by them all. When his heart started to go bad he sold the business to his foreman. Within a year the union came in. Within another year Burr Electric was out of business.
I was thinking I might call this record Burr Electric.
That would work, right?
The record is a lot of songs played electrically with a band…so…”Burr Electric!”
I’m a clever little willy, aren’t I?
By the way…I really enjoy writing these blogs. I am not sure what I expected them to be…or DO for me…but I am finding it very cathartic to share my thoughts like this. Even when those thoughts are dim and inconsequential.
My Master Songwriting Class is coming out soon. I will be sending out all kinds of emails about that. I like to think that the class is totally separate from my Monday Musings. The musings were not setting you up to be pummeled by requests to buy my class. If any of you want to learn how to be songwriters…you’re going to be given that opportunity soon enough.
If you think to yourself…”Hey! He’s only been sending me these blogs so he can sell me something!!”
I beg to differ.
Picture it like a bodega with a gambling parlor in the back. You can browse around the bodega. Buy some baklava. Buy some gum. Who doesn’t like gum?
While you are shopping I might, in passing, mention that there is a card game in the backroom if you are interested.
That doesn’t make my gum any less delicious. Or my baklava any less flavorful and dripping with honey.
My Musings are my bodega.
My Songwriting class is the poker game in the back.
I hope that clears it all up for you.
I will let you know how the session goes in my next musing.
The day after the session I head to Chicago to play with Laurel Canyon, my CS&N Tribute band with Mark Hudson and Mark Mirando.
Somewhere in the middle of all that my class comes out.