Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why I Don't Want to be Called Catalina...













"I don't need cocaine to make life go by any faster"...at least that's what I thought walking back to my car from the gig that night.


It's no secret...you hang around the music "scene" long enough and you're gonna run into situations where the "hard stuff" is present (Forgive the excessive use of quotation marks). They don't tell you about that in college. At least that's been my experience. If you've gone through a career in music and never had to deal with it, kudos. I've been playing clubs since i was 16...and it seems to be a recurring theme.


I'll try to keep this from sounding like a PSA announcement...


I'm sure you've heard me say...I moved down to NOLA about as green as a person can be. Bourbon Street was a rough place. I guess it's fun...if you come in for a weekend trip, party hard, throw some beads and go home.


It's a completely different animal when you work in it. You're the life of the party...you're the energy. If the clubs not full, managers are lookin' at the band. If the people aren't dancin' and partyin', managements lookin at you...etc. Even if you don't party hard every night, the energy and appearance of a good time should still be portrayed. Easy trap to fall into...drink a few too many every night...smoke a lil too much...just try it one time...need the energy...


...and before you know it, you're a fifty-five year old, cross dressing, cracked out keyboard player. You laugh...I knew one......


Anyways, back to that night I was talking about. I was in between house gigs and was doing a good bit of pickup work. I had picked up a night shift with a band at the Krazy Korner. A finer lineup of personel could be found nowhere...I had pet names for them all (none of which i called to their faces...)


Crackhead Chris: Guitars...he wasn't all there. That's what crack does to you.

Cocaine Hank: Fearless Bass player...had this nasty habit of hanging over my hi-hat and staring at me intently. Serious encroachement of the personal space...Really unnerving...Suffered from frequent nosebleeds...


Crosseyed Willy: I didn't make that one up...he was really crosseyed and that's what some folks called him. I'm not pokin fun, just stating the facts. He was a short, perverted black guy with horribly crossed eyes. To cue me he would look at the side bar (I was behind him)...It took me weeks to figure out he was trying to get my attention...




and me on drums...




Anyways, we were on the second break. I had wandered to the stock room where the band hung out to get away from the crowds. I was sippin' on some of my tonic of choice (Diet Coke at the time) when I noticed Crackhead Chris and Cocaine Hank huddled in the corner. I figured they were busy rolling a joint...they had that look about them. For some reason I hollered over at Cocaine Hank to get his attention about some inconsequential thing...


He looked up at me...he had some white stuff smeared below his nose...


"Hey Hank, you've got somethin' on your face man," I said... Wait. So that's what that looks like.


"You want some of this? It'll keep ya up during the next set."


It was my first encounter with it. I'd been around weed, X, alcohol...granted I never took part...For some reason I was always a little scared to touch any of it. I think I knew deep down I might actually like it, like the feeling it gave me...best to just steer clear.


"Nah, I think I'm good. Maybe I'll just chug a Red Bull"


I wandered off to the bar to refill my Diet Coke.


The next set was fast...really fast. Every song was about twice the album tempo. What would you expect? I had a rhythm section that had just snorted a bunch of cocaine...life was flyin by for them. All I can remember is being in the middle of "Sweet Home Alabama" with Cocaine Hank hangin over my hihat screaming "It's too slow...we've gotta pick it up!" It wasn't too slow...that's the fastest i've ever played that song...but then again, I've never played that song on cocaine.


I left Hank in an empty bar that night. They had closed down and the barbacks were cleaning up from the festivities. He was pacing back and forth the length of the bar, playing store licks at lightning speed through the PA, completely coked out of his mind, talking ninety miles a minute...


The next gig I played with him he was wiping a nosebleed the whole night.


I moved back home to finish college and came back one weekend to visit. Stopped into the Famous Door to see who was on the afternoon shift...it was Hank and his band. He looked awful. He must have dropped 20-30 pounds since I'd seen him last...sunken eyes, dazed look...


All of the cliche D.A.R.E. sayings were coming to mind..."Crack is wack"...etc.


I wish I could say he was the only friend I had that was messed up in some stuff. Wish I could say that. I'm trying to think back to how many there were...I don't remember...


...we'd have to go get them out of their apartments from a weekend binge just so they'd make the gig...go look for them and find them in a parking lot somewhere, wife and kids worried and waiting at home...they'd come in with their face all busted up from a run in with one of their "buddies"...Asking bandmembers follow them home to make sure they wouldn't stop at their favorite corners...


You get the picture. It's why I left NOLA. I didn't want to wind up age 55 with a crack habit, sporting an orange dress in my free time, with a nickname like Catalina (I really wish I was makin this stuff up...)


And that's what I've always thought, the same thought I had that night walking to my car...life goes by quick enough. I don't need anything to speed it up. I already feel like I'm missing some of it, why would I want to blank out and miss some of the best experiences?


If that's what it takes to be creative, I'm out. But it's not necessary...you know that, I know that, the people that are involved in it know that...they're just caught up in a vicious cycle.


Do yourself a favor...steer clear of it...








10 comments:

Kyle Cullen said...

It's a sad part of a musicians life. Or maybe just life I guess. Just this weekend my band needed a dep bassist. We were going through all the people local who were suitable. The running theme was they are great when there sober but who can guarantee that? Thankfully we do know some people who can play sober and had a great gig. Some of the people who cropped up but were dismissed as being to unreliable were at the gig. I guess word has got around about them so they weren't out gigging with anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article, at my Uni one of our lecturers actually did talk to us about drugs in the music industry!

Peter Vredenburgh said...

Hi Steven, and thanks for sending the lessons. I have not worked on any of them yet, I told you, I am not much on "practice". But this really got my attention. I'm 59, and feel lucky that I'm not a total wash-out like so many in the music machine.

Keep reminding young guys to stay away from drugs, it's not easy, most will get involved, I did, with weed, early on, just as my parents, who grew up with Gene Krupa, said would happen. It's not a good thing, even as harmless as weed may be. It can make you lazy over time...hence my "less-is-more" practice approach. Best to stay away from that seedy side of life.

Living life and playing drums straight is by far the best way. Keep telling your students about this...don't let up, ever.

A Etue said...

Thanks for the story. A good reminder to all us crazy drummers that life is about choices. And the power to make the right ones is with in us. Appreciate all you do!

Anonymous said...

Great lesson to teach and thanks for sharing your experience. I admire you teaching it and setting a good example.

Derek Moo said...

Fair warning here but I don't think it was necessary to tie in the cross-dressing to the drugs. It's much more likely that the drugs were not just for partying, but also a way to escape the negativity and stigma that goes along with being a cross-dresser or trans* person.

Kelly Stambaugh said...

I too experienced the dark side of the music scene from a drummers perspective with loaded, high, kiting, cranked, drunk, stoned band mates. The band I'm with now are all straight and our music shows it. No artificial "aids" to cause an imbalance between members. Nothing gets in the way of practice and execution of our craft. We all have great fun straight and playing our hearts out together. We have just as much fun as the crowd does, but we have more money in our pockets and can speak coherently the next morning, requiring only coffee to get back under sail again. Sober and straight just works better. It's more fun to play better all the time. Thanks Stephen, good job as per usual.

Tom Stark said...

Growing old is a privilege denied to many. Doing something to reduce your odds of growing old, not so smart!

Tommy Seesselberg said...

I'm 60 ,been a pro drummer for 44yrs..I never did any other type of work...I could tell you stories that would make your hair stand up!! But Why ???? We've all seen it...My question is,,,,,Has anyone ever heard of it doing any thing GOOD for anybody in the end ????? We know how it ends.....No one has ever benefited from it as far as I know......Great story Steven

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is look at the album covers for Cream from the first in '66 and goodbye Cream '68 to realize going fast did nothing good for Ginger Baker. He is 20 years older looking in less than three years.

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