The summer before my first year of college would be spent, partially, at the college in question. WPI. Even the letters make it sound like some sort of 50’s era work program. They offered a three-week summer program to make sure that incoming students like me would be up to snuff on the courses I would be expected to fail at in the fall.
I would be diving into an empty swimming pool. I knew next to nothing about calculus or chemistry or physics. I don’t remember taking any sort of test to give them a heads up that Knucklehead Smith was on his way, but they knew. Oh, they knew.

 

The day before my father was bringing me up for the program, my best friend Billy got in trouble. He got into another fight with his parents and had taken off and no one knew where he was. So, naturally, I could not go to Worchester. I had to save my friend. Billy had it tough. His angry relationship with his parents always made me appreciate how good I had it at home. Maybe I felt a little guilty that my folks and I got along so well. All that temporarily changed when I announced I could not, under any circumstances, leave town without finding Billy.

 

I quickly found out there were, indeed, circumstances that would allow me to leave town with Billy still unaccounted for. Those circumstances were my father offering to kill me if I didn’t get in the car. Let’s hit the road!!
I still have the picture my proud Mom took of the two of us that fine summer day. There is a small suitcase at my feet between us. We are both glaring at the camera after what I am sure was a prolonged shouting match. The look on his face would not kill…but it would definitely maim and make you spit up blood.

 

Worchester was about two hours up the road, past Hartford, on up Rte 84 into Massachusetts. A pretty little town with the big boy college up on the hill and the small Girl’s Junior college nestled at the bottom. Dad walked me through the enrollment process and got me safely into my dorm room. I’m sure we calmed down on the ride up. He was not a big conflict guy. He laughed easy and often and didn’t see the point in a lot of drama. By the time we hit the Massachusetts border I’m sure we were telling bad jokes and shooting at overhead birds with our fingers. The fact that Billy was found, later that day, dead in a crack house really never….I’m kidding. He was fine. He showed up at home later that afternoon and took his punishment like a good boy.

 

My memories of that summer session are great in some areas…sketchy in others. Too much new all at once. My roommate was a nonentity. No recollection of him at all except that he thought I was the straightest guy he had ever met. (Not totally erroneous.) He once put a plastic bag of oregano in my sock drawer to scare me. He thought I would find it, think it was marijuana and freak out. I never let on that I found it. I was too busy smoking pot with my new friend, Jim, one floor above us, to freak out over an Italian seasoning.

 

One day in the hall of the dorm I ran into a tall, good looking New jersey boy named Jim Matthews. We became inseparable.  Besides having weed, running a thriving mescaline business from under his waterbed and having the best record collection I had ever seen….he was a great guy who, for some reason, decided to work on making me cool and helping to give me a career by encouraging me to play and sing in public.

 

Our third leg of the stool was Dave. Dave was truly embracing the hippy lifestyle. He introduced me to his amazing record collection. Neil Young, Dave Mason…all the cool singer/songwriters of the day. He introduced us to pot and hashish. We laughed a lot for three weeks.

 

WPI was all male until that year. Now there were about six girls in the student body. That ratio made them seem like Yetis to us boys. Rare sightings and you certainly never struck up a conversation with them.

 

The classes were daunting. I was daunted for the entire three weeks. They prepared me for an entire fucking year of daunt. I knew I was in over my head. School was always hard for me but I was up against something crazy hard now and I was already starting to plot exit strategies.

 

I promptly hung up a hammock in my room to sleep in. At 18 years of age you can sleep anywhere, in any position. Later that became a waterbed. (I later took the waterbed home to Meriden and set it up in my upstairs bedroom where it immediately made a giant crack in my parents living room ceiling. Waterbeds weigh a million pounds.)

 

I hung my Black light posters on the walls and set up a black light to enjoy them. Without the light…they’re just…posters.  My stereo sat on the window sill, new Neil Young records at the ready. Oregano in the drawer. Check.

 

At the end of the orientation session we all went home for what was left of the summer. Jim headed back to New Jersey, I went home to Connecticut and Dave, being the cool one of the three, went off to a Rock Festival in Toronto called Strawberry Fields.

 

September came and Jim and I found ourselves back on campus for real this time. After a few days with no Dave sightings, we made some inquiries.  We learned that, while he was at the festival in Toronto, he was walking on the sidewalk when a car jumped the curb and killed him. This wasn’t my first experience with losing a friend. In Meriden we had a couple of classmates go camping and they stayed in a small cabin with a faulty heater. Carbon dioxide killed one of them.

 

Our new third wheel on our hormone tricycle was another Gary. He was quite the hound. He immediately started dating five out of the six girls on campus. What I learned from Jim about mescaline and Dave about music…I learned from Gary about how to make hormones work for you. They worked for him. They never lifted a finger for me.

 

I struggled with the workload. I tried going to classes. That didn’t work. I tried Jim’s method. Don’t go to class…study your ass off the night before the test and pass with a D. That didn’t work for me either. At the end of the first term I had my exit strategy. I dropped all my tech classes and took every English class they offered. Creative writing. Shakespeare. Punctuation. If it was in the manual…I signed up.

 

It didn’t help that I was driving home every weekend to rehearse and play clubs with my band. One of the points of going to college is the social bonding that comes with being off on your own with kids your own age. If I was hitting the road every Friday night….then all college was for me was the work.
I coasted my way to the end of the school year and slipped off into the world of community college and manual labor.

In one twenty four hour period I performed “I Feel The Earth Move” with Carole King in New York City in the morning and performed “A Little Help From My Friends” with Ringo Starr in Los Angeles in the evening. If that isn’t a Rock and Roll day I don’t know what is.

 

Carole’s people called and asked me to play with her on the early morning CBS show in NYC. I mean early. This is a 4 AM call with a rehearsal for cameras and make up at 6 AM to play at 7. These are not good hours for musicians. I flew to NYC from Nashville the night before and was sitting in a make up chair wondering why I ever stopped being an electrician. Electricians get to sleep until 7:30.

 

By the time we played, there was a great crowd all around us out in the street and it was really wonderful. I think we were probably done by 9:30 or 10 AM and I was out of there, headed to the airport.

 

If I recall properly, I landed in LA around 3 in the afternoon. I remember there was a car waiting for me. Those were the days. I would like a car waiting for me every once in a while. If you get the chance to have a car wait for you, I highly recommend it.

 

I found myself rocketing through LA, towards Fairfax and the CBS studios. (All of this is coming back from the tiny parts of my brain so I may be remembering wrong but bear with me.)

 

All of my equipment was already there and set up. I just had to get there, pick up my guitar and play.

 

They were expecting me, so various people hustled me down various hallways until I burst through the lobby doors into the studio. Ringo and the band were already on stage sound-checking his new single from the album we had just finished. The single was “Never Without You”…a beautiful song about George co-written with Gary Nicholson.

 

Ringo and the boys had obviously planned to humiliate me because as I was walking towards the stage, instead of singing “Never Without You”…Ringo was singing “It’s Better Without You…”

 

It was the Craig Ferguson Show. We played “Little Help” and “Never Without You.” We started taping around 5:30 and we were all back in the cars (they were waiting) by 6:30. The actual shows were the briefest parts of the day.

 

Later that night, back in my hotel room, I had a moment to reflect on my whirlwind day. Then I realized the mini bar was prepaid for so I stopped reflecting, ate a Toblerone and went to bed.

When you’re on stage performing, sometimes perfection is your enemy. You’re goal is to sing the song. You want to get the idea across so you go for it and you don’t care if you miss a note or hit the wrong fret. You’re selling the sizzle…not the steak. But sometimes perfection is an admirable goal. Sometimes you want sizzle and steak.
Georgia and I played our Wednesday night Stageit show last night and this morning we were talking about how we each thought the show went. We started comparing notes on how each of us strives or doesn’t strive for perfection. It’s not as if you’re singing the second verse and you’re thinking about what you want for lunch the next day. But we often watch the show, after it’s over, and say “Yikes. That was rough. I thought I played that song better than that.”

 

That made me think of a little game my friend Rudy Guess and I used to play on stage when we played with Carole King on her Living Room Tour.

 

We tried to see if we could be “perfect.”

 

There were songs in the set list that were the ones where “anything goes.” Songs like “Locomotion” and “Smackwater Jack” were written to be played with wild abandon. The three of us would roam the stage, inciting the crowd, setting fire to our guitars.

 

However, there were songs in the set that demanded that Rudy and I attempt to be perfect. When you are playing “Up On The Roof” or “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”….and you are playing the song with Carole King herself….the song deserves to be played perfectly.

 

That is much, much harder than it sounds.

 

Rudy and I would try to achieve it every night. On the classic songs we would each try to play the song perfectly. Not a sharp or flat harmony. Every guitar part nailed. If one of us succeeded in that goal, we would let the other know by whispering one word as we went back to our stools to switch instruments or to sit down… “Perfect” one of us would whisper.

 

Do you know how often that happened? We toured Japan. The US. Australia. New Zealand. Everywhere.

 

We heard  “Perfect” maybe five times. Five times out of a thousand performances.

 

When you’re trying to do justice to a classic song, you are very hard on your self. “Perfect” had to be unquestionable. Undeniable. The fact that neither Rudy nor I said it for the first hundred shows or so tells you how hard it was to achieve.

 

Rudy passed away a while ago. As a guitar player and friend, he was pretty perfect. I cherish the game we played. He made me a better performer by challenging me that way. If there are any Youtube videos up on the Intraweb of us, with Carole in the Living Room Tour…check them out. Maybe you’ll catch one of the “perfect” songs.

We had a band but nowhere to play. If we were going to unveil our new group we would have to take it into our own hands and create a place to play.

One of my high school classmates was hurt in an accident and Dean suggested we put on a benefit concert for him. And we would be the headlining act!!

So the first time I ever play out in public was gong to be in my High School auditorium in front of 500 people. I did not have a great history in this auditorium. I had tried out for every play and talent show my high school ever put on and never got selected for ANY of them. The only time I had been on the auditorium stage was a concert we put on for our parents where I played “God Bless America” on a baritone horn.

Now I was backstage peeking thru the curtains to see if anybody actually came. I knew my Mom and Dad were out there. I knew my brother Randy and his wife Pat was out there. I told myself it didn’t matter if we had a crowd or not. But I couldn’t resist. I peeked out and saw the auditorium was full. I pooped my pants. Just a little. In show business it’s considered good luck. Some say “Break a leg!” Some say “Stain the Trou!”

Dean was in charge so he herded everyone out to their positions.

I went out, put my guitar over my shoulder and stood nervously behind the curtain. We were starting with “Mare Take Me Home”, a Wildweeds song written and sung by Connecticut legend Al Anderson.

The curtain rose, Dean counted off…and I started my music career. I thought we sounded great. I have a cassette of the show…whoever recorded it missed the opening numbers. It only captured a sampling of the middle of the concert…but the vocals sound great. The only instrument you hear is my cheap acoustic guitar with the pickup in the hole. This is what the show was:

“Kind Woman”…a Poco song that I sang. Funny how it’s a song that is very much dominated by steel guitar but Eddy wasn’t playing steel yet. In a year he would switch.

“Down By The River” by Neil Young. This began my lifelong obsession with imitating Neil.

Rocky Racoon (Beatles) sung by our bass player Dennis O’Neal

The JONI MITCHELL version of Woodstock!!! How cool were WE?

Then we brought out Paul Kroll and he sang with us…this was considered quite a coup. It validated us to have the BIG folk singer in town deign to perform with us.

With Paul we did:

“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

It took a while for this song to get going because you can hear Eddy replacing a string that broke during Woodstock. Between songs was always dead silence only slightly interrupted by us tuning…always tuning. My Dad drove me back up to WPI the next weekend and his only criticism of the show was “Don’t tune so much. It makes you sound amerish.” To this day I use that phrase and it makes me smile. “Let’s not play that…it makes us sound amerish.”

“Bluebird” by Buffalo Springfield…a train wreck. A very ambitious train wreck…but a train wreck. The end of this record has a banjo in it. John, our sound guy, made me a little stomp pedal to make my acoustic guitar sound like a banjo. I stepped on it and the guitar just sounded like….the same guitar… only cheaper and thinner.

“Handsome Johnny”….this was a song Richie Havens sang at Woodstock…I knew this one…I heard it at Woodstock and so did Paul. I can slightly hear the band playing behind him but it’s mostly just Paul.

“Coming Into Los Angeles”…Arlo Guthrie. I fell in love with it at Woodstock so I made sure our band learned it. Paul knew it so we let HIM sing it here. I was generous in the years before I became bitter.

The last song on the tape is “Helpless” by CSN&Y. Not a bad version. Once again it’s me doing Neil.

That’s all that’s on the tape. I kind of remember that we took a little break and came back with Paul and me singing Mr. Bojangles.

I’m not sure if we sang anything else together. We ended the show with “I’m a Man” by Chicago and had everybody that wanted to jump up on stage with us. Dean’s girlfriend Cindy grabbed him around the neck as he played and screamed about how great the show was. Our friend Chris Lippit grabbed percussion and played along.

The audience went crazy and the curtain came down. I excused myself and went and changed my pants.

“He’s no fun…he fell right over.”

 

“Stop SLAPPING me!”

 

“Porgie Tirebiter…he’s a spy and a girl delighter…”
When I was really young my parents had the Bob Newhart comedy album. I didn’t really understand much of it but between his album and Shelly Berman’s, I grew up believing that all phone calls are hysterical!

 

When I got a little older my brothers introduced me to the Smothers Brothers. Music AND laughs. My destiny awaited. I remember the routine about their mother buying Dickie a dog and Tommy got a chicken. I’m sure there was subtext.

 

My pal across the street, Pete, would put his parents Bill Cosby record on the living room stereo and we would sit on the back porch and listen with riotous effect. What ten year olds got out of Cosby I’m not sure. Maybe we just liked the funny voices he used.

 

Maybe it was the glimpse into African American culture that his socio-economic themed passages afforded us.

 

Nah. It was the funny voices.

 

Then I hit junior high and high school. I was all in on Firesign Theater. That’s where the above quotes came from. Me and my friend Bob would sit in his basement, with the album on a reel to reel machine and listen to “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once (When You’re Not Anywhere At All)” over and over, trying to catch all the background jokes and effects. It was drug culture humor being enjoyed by two kids hopped up on Flintstone vitamins. To this day Nick Danger and Rocky Rococo mean more to me than Jerry and George.

 

When I made my brief drive thru of college, it was Cheech and Chong 24/7 but I didn’t enjoy them. I get it. They were stoned. One of them was INSIDE the door…one of them was OUTSIDE the door. I needed more, I guess.

 

Carlin was a genius and I loved his stuff mostly because he was the first voice coming out of my stereo that cursed, unless you counted MC5.

 

These days I drive around in a car that has a radio that can get ten thousand stations. I have about six of them set to comedy stations. Sometimes they play Carlin…Newhart…..they never play Firesign Theater. Never Cosby. I have to look into that one. Must be a reason.

 

The toughest part about listening to so much comedy is that, when I perform, a perfect situation will present itself to hit the audience with something I heard Gilbert Godfrey say earlier that day. Then I have to stop the show, give attribution, feel the rage of the audience when they realize they were cheering and laughing for ME, only to learn that the cathartic experience we had all shared was due to someone ELSE’S genius, not mine.

 

Shame on me. Shame on me.

 

I would recommend you all go out and get the rereleases of the Firesign Theater albums but I am pretty sure, even if I listened to them now for the first time, I would find them too much work. We have gotten used to our humor in short staccato blasts. We like them coming at us like the hot kiss of a wet fist. (Another Firesign reference.) Maybe they were just what I needed to hear in that time period between my parents telling me “no” and the girls in school telling me ….”no.”

 

Do you find the following funny?

 

A UFO lands in a small town and a local is interviewed……
“The alien had skin smooth like baby’s feet. We took him to the church picnic…where he choked to death on a piece of cheese.”
Still kills me.

When we heard that their Australian fans were waking up at 5 a.m. to catch our Middleman Burr U.S. online show…we thought “Can we at least do one show JUST FOR THEM at a decent hour?” So that’s why this show is happening! 8:00 p.m. CT Friday night, May 22nd. It says 6:00 p.m. on the link but that’s Pacific time in the U.S. and in Australia, depending on which city you live in, this show will actually be on May 23rd around 11:00 p.m.. 😉 People in U.S. are also invited to come watch!

For tickets, please click HERE

To view the show, you must set up an account with Stageit.com in advance. You can do that HERE

For time zone converter, click HERE

 

Please join Gary and Georgia this coming Sunday, Oct. 4th at 2:00 p.m. CT as they share stories and songs on their Middleman Burr Facebook Page HERE. They will be playing songs requested by you during the week…to make a request, please email us at: middlemanburr@gmail.com

Admission is FREE but if you feel inclined to tip:

Paypal: http://www.paypal.me/middlemanburr and Venmo: @Middlemanburr

See you there!

 

 

Do you have a favorite song that you’ve heard Gary or Georgia play at one of their shows? Would you like to own a handwritten copy of those lyrics and hang them on your wall? Georgia or Gary (depending on who wrote it) would be happy to write it out for you; sign it and send it your way. For price and payment information, please send them an email at middlemanburr@gmail.com

Music has a magical way of taking us back to a time or moment that was life-changing in our world. When you hear a certain song, you can remember where you were when you first heard it…whom you were with at the time…whom you lost…what you were doing…what you were feeling. It’s a shortcut to a memory that few other mechanisms can bring back to life so quickly.

Have you ever thought of having a one-of-a-kind touchstone for a very special event in your life? A song written specifically for a wedding… birthday… graduation… funeral… celebration?

Maybe you have a company that is looking to put its mission statement to words and music…your own company song that can be played at annual events to really zero in on your message and what your business stands for?

If a custom song sounds like something you might want, this is your chance to have two award-winning songwriters create that song and deliver it to you with a professional recording sung by either Gary or Georgia.

For more information, please email us at: middlemanburr@gmail.com to schedule your FREE CONSULTATION.