Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"He Wasn't A Friend Of Mine" (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 12)

I don't like meeting famous musicians, especially those I've followed and adored. It's never how I want it to be, even if circumstances seem to be ideal, like the night Chris Isaak played the Beacon Theatre. A friend who had directed a few of Isaak's videos found out I was going and said he'd introduce me after the show. (One thing you should know about me---I don't like hanging out after the show. I don't want backstage pictures. I don't want my album signed. I just want a cab.)

I forced a "Sure, sounds great," trying my best to go against type.

I met my friend in the lobby of the theatre, and within minutes began schmoozing with Isaak's drummer and larger than life character Kenny Dale Johnson. This went on for an hour, during which time, the corner of my eye focused on the 63 vacant cabs whizzing north on Broadway without me. It started raining.

Finally, about 90 minutes after "Wicked Game" concluded, and Kenny Dale no longer needed to be polite, we were told to move to the side entrance, along with 20-30 other patient diehards. We did, and as we got there, the door opened, Chris Isaak came out, an assistant holding an umbrella over his head, and mechanically signed some autographs. My friend shouted, "Chris!" Isaak looked up and my friend said, "Great show. This is my friend Sal, with the great record store I told you about." Chris Isaak said, "Oh, hi," got in his limo and drove off.  I couldn't get a cab for 15 minutes. It was raining.

I don't blame him. I never do, not any of them. But this is why I just stay away.

I met Todd Rundgren twice. The first was at a Utopia in-store appearance at Tower Records in 1982 or 3.  The second was backstage at Pier 82 before a performance.  I would never have agreed to the backstage meeting, but again, circumstances.

My band was playing a club downtown called R.T. Firefly. We shared the bill with a band whose drummer was Alex Sulton, Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton's brother. We hit it off and somehow ended up on the same bill two more times at two more clubs. We met at the Pier 82 show before hand, and well...he insisted.

No musician really wants to yuk it up with some fans before a show, or at least that's what I've always heard and this meeting proved me right.  Kas was as friendly as ever. (Family, you know.) As for Todd, he just looked at Alex and said, "Little brother," and disappeared. So much for that.

Working in a record store, both on St. Mark's Place and in my own place, the meetings were a little easier. It was my turf. I felt more in control. The Ramones were regulars, and gave me the most pleasure. They were really pinheads in the most adorable ways. My three favorite Ramones moments:

1. Marky storms through the front door and screams, "I need to use yer batroom. I just had 4 expressos at Dojo's and dey go right troo me."

2. Johnny asks, "You have that Judy Collins song, 'I looked at things both ways now."

3. Marky tells me he will be leaving for Europe for a tour. I say, "Bring me back a British Ramones Tour T-shirt." He says, "Sure!" Two months later, Marky walks in and flings a shirt in my face. He laughs. I am very excited, except it's a Motorhead shirt. "Hey Mark, what's this?"  Marky, "Oh shit. So stupid."

Peter Buck, Ian McKellen, Vernon Reid, Rosanne Cash, Jules Shear, Marshall Crenshaw, the late Bruno Kirby who was a huge Nilsson fan, Marianne Faithful, and even Ray Davies...all wonderful people in my store. Would any of them have been as sweet and gracious and thankful on their turf? I guess it's possible, but so far, my experiences have said otherwise.

Al Kooper would come in, occasionally with Jimmy Vivino, take over the store and the stereo, tell amazing stories, insult me and then leave. Thankfully, Al is a friend. I wouldn't have taken that shit otherwise.

Mel Torme set a record for shortest stay in my store. He walked in, held his ears to prevent himself from hearing even a second of the "racket" that was coming out of the speakers, and asked, "No classical?" I said, "No, I'm sorry." And that was that.

The best night was when long time friend of the shop, Eddie G. gave me a call to find out how busy it was. He wanted to bring in someone special to shop, but was hoping it wasn't too crowded. About 30 minutes to closing time, Eddie walked in with a slight man in a trenchcoat, sunglasses at night and a hat. The store was empty. Eddie said, "Sal. This is my friend Billy. Take good care of him. Billy, Sal's a good guy. He'll help you."

Billy quietly replied, "Sorry. Give me a minute." He unbuttoned the first few buttons of his coat, and proceeded to pull out his long, red beard. Here was Billy Gibbons from Z.Z. Top, extending his hand, "Nice to meet you, Sal." He shopped, I helped, we chatted. One of the sweetest gentleman I have ever met. And he paid with an Elvis Presley credit card.

One last story. This was one of the worst encounters, so I will not mention those involved.

A Grammy winning singer-songwriter became not only a regular, but a friend. I'd go to his house and we'd hang, listen to CDs and talk about New Orleans. He even liked some of my mixes so much, he asked me to put one together so he could take it on the road and play it as his walk-on music before each show.

One afternoon he walks in with a friend. Of all the people I've mentioned, it was this person that really blew my mind. I don't really know why. There are so many factors. I was and still am a huge fan. He's legendary, for so many reasons. He's one of the great voices of all time. And it's a wonder he is still with us.

My friend introduced us, and this icon nodded and grunted a "How ya doin," turned and walked away. He picked up several different CDs and had nasty commentary for each.

"I should have been on this session."

"I never got paid for this."

"Why do people like this record?"

This went on for 30 minutes, and my mouth was agape the entire time. I couldn't accept that this person was in my store, right in front of me. It was surreal.

He finally came back to the counter to check out, and hit me with, "Why the hell don't you have my new CD in stock?"

What was I going to say? I couldn't stock everything, and in actuality, I think I did. It was in the 99 cent bin. (Even legends end up in the 99 cent once in a while.)

I cowered and simply said, "We DO stock it. I'm sure it sold out."

My big mistake was the following:

"It's such a pleasure to meet you. What do I charge such a legend?"

(How very namby-pamby of me...but, it was HIM!)

He slammed the CDs down hard on the counter and barked, "JUST CHARGE ME WHAT THEY COST SO I CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!"

I did just that as quickly as possible. My friend looked at me and mouthed, "I'm sorry," and they both left.

If I would have had immediate access to my record and CD collection, every note I owned by this legend would have been tossed into the first greasey dumpster I found. Thankfully, I cooled off.

I've always been satisfied with just listening, though if any one of the aforementioned artists wanted to take me to lunch, I would accept. But my friend's friend would have to apologize first.














jeff k said...

c'mon. he deserves it. who was it?

wool said...

That is some great stuff. I always wanted to go up to Lou Reed and just touch him. I didn't want to meet him or converse with him but just touch and run (of course he probably would have chased me down and beat me bloody) alas and alack...never got the chance.

Sal Nunziato said...

There is a hint.

wardo said...

Wow. I always figured Aaron Neville would have been a sweetheart.

Sal Nunziato said...

Haha. OK, not Aaron Neville..you know, in case he's reading.

Sal Nunziato said...

Haha. OK, not Aaron Neville..you know, in case he's reading.

jeff k said...

New Orleans. I was thinking Harry Connick, Jr.

Sal Nunziato said...

He is not from New Orleans.

Shriner said...

Love these stories.

I would have guessed Al Kooper (first "session musician" that jumped to mind), but you already name-checked him...

FD13NYC said...

Interesting and funny brush with greatness or great asshole celebrity stories in your stores and around. I have some stories myself while working at the House Of Oldies. Some good, some not so good.

A good one was, one rainy Monday, the owner was off and I was there with my 2 helpers, must have been later 90's. In walks Tom Petty with his pink/green haired daughter. The store was empty due to the weather. He was a real delight, nice as could be, imagine just him and I in the store for 3 hours, just hanging, talking and smoking cigarettes outside. His daughter ran off somewhere after 3 minutes.

We talked about his life in music, The Beatles, mainly George, his guitars, The Wilburys and the loss of Roy Orbison among other things.

Anyway, he wound up spending 2 or 3 grand on a variety of things. The owner was very happy about that the next day. But for me, I was still in awe from what happened, I'll never forget it.

Sal I'm curious as to who that mystery prick was at the and of the story. You could e-mail me and let me know. Ahhh, sweet memories of life.

FD13NYC said...

Hey wool, why would you want to touch Lou Reed? I would like to beat him bloody. I've come in contact with him a few times over the years, and let me tell you he's an unfriendly moody pompous bastard.

jeff k said...

in my work, I've had to deal with lots of celebrities. some are gracious, some not, but usually when they consent to do an interview, there's some attempt at civility, enough that you don't really get a sense of who they really are just who they want you to think they are. that's why I've generally tended to stay away from celebrities when I could. I don't like playing that game, don't have the interest in it.

still, especially in show business it seems to me that if they don't have the ego or the focus, they're not going to succeed. it's just too hard to make it, so it's no surprise to me when you come across someone as you often do who can't see past his or her upturned nose. a complete and utter jerk, though, in my experience, is relatively rare (although I've run into a few) if only that they're often so protective of their status they really work hard to make sure that the public doesn't see them for the assholes they truly are, so Sal, I think you hooked someone special there. you should be congratulated.

jeff k said...

my favorite musician encounter story: I have a cousin who is a London cabbie. He's also a great rock 'n' roll fan. If you name an early hit, he can not only tell you the label it was on, but who the sidemen were who played on the song. He calls me periodically when he has some rock star in his cab (Ringo, Robbie Robertson, McCartney). Anyway, his special hero was Carl Perkins, so much so that one year he came to America and then took a bus from New York to Jackson, Tennessee to go visit the Carl Perkins museum.

He gets there, and it's closed, not just closed for the day but shut down. Completely miserable, he goes next door to a bar. He tells the guy he just came all the way from England to see the museum and he's just crushed. The bartender is, of course, amazed, and very sympathetic. He says, "I own that museum. I closed it down to move it to a larger place. Everything is in storage. Otherwise, I'd open it up for you."

This makes David feel worse, so the guy says, "Look, Carl is out of town, but let me at least take you on a drive by his house so you can see where he lives."

David say, ok, but he's still really bummed. The guy disappears for a minute and comes back with his keys. They lock up the bar and get in the car. A few minutes later they drive by the house and pull over at the curb. David looks at it, but it's just a house. But then the door opens, and Carl Perkins walks out, strolls right up the car, reaches his hand in the window and says, "Hi David, welcome to America."

Of course, the bartender had secretly called him. They spent the next hour talking music and visiting. Carl is amazed about the breadth of David's knowledge. At one point, he invites him into the house and gives David a guitar pick that he says (who knows) he used to record Blue Suede Shoes. After a while, David leaves, and of course it's the trip of his dreams.

Anyway, a few months later, they're filming the Carl Perkins special in England with George, Ringo, Clapton and Dave Edmunds. David gets in. The stage is floor level. At the break, Perkins is standing with his back to David. David taps him on the shoulder, and Perkins turns around and looks at him wide-eyed, "It's the cab driver! You're following me everywhere," whereupon he introduces David to the rest of the band.

The two remained in contact after that. When Carl was in London, David would sometimes drive him around. David didn't like Pauly and he had a funny story about Charlie Watts being verbally abused by his wife. He saw plenty of Perkins though and always enjoyed his company and Carl apparently felt the same.

richeye said...

Sounds a bit like 'old rubber lips' to me, but then, I've never wondered why he's still around!

Chris Collins said...

Glad to know the Ramones are exactly who I want them to be.

I'm dying to know the last person. Just like everyone else.

Anything Should Happen said...

Great post Sal.

I think we've talked before about never meeting your heroes and it's true, most have been assess, but they'd have never lived up to what I wanted them to be.

I remember meeting Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson on Ronno's final UK Tour.

Both were lovely, but I was so tongue ties. All I could think of to say to Hunter was I Like Your Pants (Trousers that is US readers).

Most of the people I've met, have been rude or disinterested most of the time.

One exception was Roy Wood, an absolute gentleman and a Beach Boys authority.

DeepKarma said...

Another in a great series of posts. As with more than a few of your other commenters, my thoughts ran to my own run-ins with celebrities. Aside from buying Neil Young a Michelob Ultra on a rainy afternoon at Tootsie's in Nashville, my favorite also involved Billy Gibbons.

I spent my July 4th of 1990 trying to beat jet lag after arriving in London. My wife and I, looking like extras from the set of The Walking Dead, dragged ourselves to the closest pub to our hotel, named I Am The Only Running Footman.

As we sat sipping a couple of pints, my wife pointed towards the bar and said "doesn't that look like one of the guys from ZZ Top?". I can recall mumbling something like "kinda" as I headed for the men's room.

When I came back to our table, Billy Gibbons, his spouse/significant other and a road manager had joined us. We sat there talking for hours, not once mentioning the band or the music business in general.

The other customers in the pub, were very aware of who Billy was. I mean, the beard does have a tendency to stand out in a crowd. The jukebox actually had a healthy ZZ Top collection and the customers took turns playing and serenading our table. Lots of pints were sent our way as well, since everyone assumed that we were part of Billy's entourage.

At some point during the night, the customers dispensed with the jukebox and started singing random and rather obscene drinking songs until their voices gave out.

There we were, 10 hours into our stay in London (on a free trip I won at a work-related banquet, I might add) and we'd already had the highlight of our vacation. Everything from Westminster Abbey to the Crown Jewels kind paled in comparison.

soundsource said...

I have two good musician encounters one disappointing the other not that I'll try to add later but even better is my friend Mel's frequent brush with the world of the celebritaunt and how he relates. The best one is way to long to relate right now (and best told by Mel) but it involves a very famous actor/actress couple, a bump to first class, a long plane ride and the punchline "would you have been in anything I might have seen"
But two short ones. He goes up to david byrne in the local grocery store aisle and asks pointedly "ronzoni or butoni". The other is when he went up to Susan Anton, the sorta semi famous actress?/ model in a very fancy restaurant and said "I love your body of work"

soundsource said...

just to echo your billy gibbons comments, through a friend of mine who knows billy from the world of guitar collecting i had the pleasure of having lunch with him one afternoon. He was such a gracious guy and asked me lots of questions about what I did and questions he had about my job and seemed to take a real interest. It wasn't all about him being famous he was just a curious gracious guy.

Nice cause usually you really don't want to meet your heroes. It's not that they're always rude but I have found that they tend to be one dimensional and although they may excel at what we love about them musically they often don't have much to add to the conversation after that. So it can be disappointing. But I learned early on just too love them for their music. So I usually just cross the street or catch the cab.

Although I do regret not going up to Ahmet Ertegun and saying thank you.

Big Jim Slade said...

Hmm, I've never heard stories about him being rude, but he has a distinctive voice, was a session player, and it's a wonder he's still alive... how about Dr. John?

Mace2theO said...

FINALLY!!!! NYCD stories hit "Songs 'n' The Hoods"

More, more, more!

Sal Nunziato said...

Great stories from all of you. @soundsource, the Mel stories are hilarious.

@Jeff K. That Perkins story is priceless.

I met Ian Hunter. I believe FD13NYC was with me. Ian had an apartment in Greenwich Village, Sullivan Street I think. I don't know if we knew exactly where, but we thought it was a certain building with a red door. FD and I were walking home from record shopping, 1979, 1980, somewhere around there, and there was Ian right across the street. We shouted, "IAN!" He stopped and shouted back, "Hey Chaps!"

(OK., not really meeting him, but a thrill nonetheless.)

Sal Nunziato said...

And apparently, from Deep Karma's and Soundsource's reminiscences--say that 3 times fast, or just one time slow...Billy Gibbons is the real thing.

Robin said...

The hint you speak of could it lie in the title of the post? Just curious...

Anyway, "He Was a Friend of Mine" has now been in constant rotation in my head all afternoon.

Sal Nunziato said...



steves said...

Another great tale, Sal...but like everyone else, I'm trying to crack the ID of your last superstar visitor.

Let's see...an amazing vocalist who's still alive with some extremely nasty habits, some session work, and an album in the $.99 bin, eh? That leads me to either Crosby or Dion, and I know Dion is a nice guy.

Shriner said...

that make it a more obvious guess then:

Dylan, Crosby or McGuinn? ;-)

The one who almost cut his hair would be my guess...

Sal Nunziato said...

I'm turning all the cards over.
David Crosby.

kevin m said...

Some nice chuckles as the end of a hard day. Thanks for sharing Sal.

My own story.

I was working at Billboard magazine in '85 and was able to go to Live Aid with limited backstage access. One of the few people I was able to meet was Ozzy who was of course, completely out of his head. He was just about to go on with Sabbath but he told me with a straight face that he was doing this for the starving kids in Africa. To this day, I'm amazed he even knew....

buzzbabyjesus said...

Great post. I swear you told me who it was in the store, but I can't remember. I'm going to guess McGuinn, and the album in the $0.99 bin "Back From Rio".
I was a punk in LA from '79-'81 and I hung out in the scene. Nobody was a star, exactly, but they were mostly fun, and real people. One night I went to the Jefferson Bowl to see Michael DesBarre. He was terrible, but I had fun getting drunk with Nikki Sixx, and Screamin' Scott of Sha Na Na.
Nikki Sixx worked at the liquor store across the street from the Whiskey. I used to buy beer from him.

big bad wolf said...

david crosby, that's good. i don't have to feel disillusioned. sure, i shouldn't be illusioned at all, but i am. crosby has been a jerk for years, bile problems after the transplant perhaps. oh wait, he was a jerk before that too.

Leon said...


jeff k said...

I have a wonderful friend who is a musician -- Barry Melton, who was Country Joe's lead guitarist. Barry, who is a lawyer in California and who has handled numerous death penalty cases, would probably be the first one to say that he's a much nicer person today than he was when the band was at its peak. One way in which he bucked the rock stereotype though -- he has been married most happily to the same woman for over forty years. He's just a nice, smart man.

John Saeger said...

These stories have been a great read, but especially FD13NYC's. Petty has long been a hero of mine and am semi-jealous of that chance, but glad to know you had a good experience with him. My two encounters could not be more different: Noel Gallagher, is as advertised. Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes is one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Marsupial said...

I never wanted to meet any of my music "heroes" for the same reason -- that it would pop the bubble I had built around them. BUT, I did meed Mike Peters (formerly of The Alarm, now Big Country) at a baseball stadium near my home. Super-gracious, happy to talk, introduced his kids to my daughter, AND THEN came to our table during the show, met my wife and friend, took an obscure request from me AND PLAYED IT (what he could remember) while waving to me from the stage. Unreal. Immediate fan-for-life! (Like I wasn't already?) :-)

David Handelman said...

Sal, if you don't get this to a book agent I will never forgive you. I wrote a blogpost early on about my own autograph hounding, which I guess turned into my celebrity journalism, which occasionally involved huge letdowns or surprises. A lot of good analysis here, including among your commenters.

So I have googled the song title but had a hard time thinking it was Dave Van Ronk. I was gonna guess Willie Nelson or Dylan, but those didn't seem like people who'd be in the 99 cent bin (or who'd want to be on other people's albums).

Now I see from FB that I never would have guessed. But that's what makes it fun.

wool said...

Hey FD13NYC....Lou was my huge idol back in the day. Loved all his music but just wanted to touch him to confirm he was real...I guess. But yeah..I knew enough to realize he was a complete butt wad as a human being. I still listen to the old stuff...new stuff..no way in hell.

tinpot said...

@Wardo. I met Aaron Neville backstage after a N Brothers show, and he WAS a sweetheart. A little intimidating maybe(muscles, tattoos, etc) but he couldn't have been nicer to the stammering/tongue-tied nobody trying to pal-up with him.

steves said...

@jeff k...Terrific story about Carl P! He always struck me as a true mensch.

OldRockr1 said...

I worked a lot of years at Looney Tunes on Long Island and got to meet all kinds of "stars" some good and some not so good to actually interact with.

Tom Araya from Slayer wanted to shop. I said the metal was over here...he say's dude I listen to country music. Go figure.

Evan from Biohazard is a total gentleman and a Dead head. Another Go Figure on the Dead head part.

Ozzy did an instore and it was the one time I got a little star struck. In the end the whole event was just said. His body guard had to carry him out.

One band who had a huge hit played on the roof to thousands. After the singer said he needed a joint before meeting the "losers". Such an asshole.

Warren Haynes was a complete gentleman and it was blast to help him find things and talk about music.

Everclear played the night after Art's house flooded and he lost tons of equipment. They rocked like a mother. Class act.

Pete Steele and Type O are signing autographs and mom comes up with her very young daughter. Pete says cute kid...bring her back in a few years. His nose was bleeding from some suspected illicit substances. Very creepy.

I have to agree with you. I can live without meeting these guys. I'll play the records and be more than happy with what they give me. It's the most we can ask for and it's enough. Besides I'm almost 50 and feel like a loser asking for an autograph!

My worst fear...meeting Bruce Springsteen and finding out he's an asshole.

Richard Reina said...

I'm new to your site. Loving the music and the comments.
I know you're a drummer. I've played drums for over 40 years. Ringo and Bruford are my #1 and #2 drum heroes. Never met Mr. Starr, but have met Bill numerous times; always a proper English gentleman. In 1990, hung out with him at the bar in the Bottom Line before an Earthworks show. He learned my first name, and ended up dedicating 2 songs from the stage to me!! Nearly fell out of my chair.
I'm also friendly with Andy White, of "Love Me Do" fame, who now lives in NJ. He's as down to earth about his role in Beatle history as anyone.
Please keep up the great stories,
Richard Reina

Sal Nunziato said...

@Richard Reina

Thanks for sharing. Saw a few of those Earthworks Bottom Line shows. Still have the stub from '87 in my CD case. My friend worled for Ringo on two separate "All-Starr," tours amnd said, there was no one nicer.