In the music business, things happen that, well, you just couldn't make up in a million years. Well, here are a few from my own career....
Jimi Hendrix and Monterey Pop
When I was in the Paupers, the band was managed by Albert Grossman, who was also Bob Dylan's manager at the time. Since the moment we’d opened up for Jefferson Airplane at the Café a Go Go, the Paupers had quickly developed a reputation as one of Canada's hot, up-and-coming new bands. That, and Albert’s considerable clout, earned us a spot at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival, in June of 1967.
Monterey was the first real pop festival, the highlight of the Summer of Love, and in many ways, the zenith of the Sixties, musically, culturally and otherwise. Consequently, there was tremendous anticipation to hear the big stars who were going to be playing there. And none was more eagerly anticipated than Jimi Hendrix. His debut album, “Are You Experienced” had only been released the month before and already was storming to the top of the charts. It was a true masterpiece in an age that took masterpieces for granted and exuded all the power and command of the instrument that made him the legend he came to be.
I was as anxious as anyone to see him and on Sunday night, June 18, right before he went on to deliver the powerhouse performance that would go down in history, he approached me as I stood at the edge of the stage. To my surprise, I realized he was very nervous. He stopped right in front of me and asked me in a very quiet voice… “Do I look okay?”
He was wearing what the whole world now recognizes as that classic Hendrix outfit: the orange, ruffled shirt, the black and gold, braided vest, the red velvet pants. He was about to play music no one had ever heard before, light his guitar on fire, set a new standard in music performance and, forty five years later, his set that night would still be the stuff of legend .
I said, "Yeah, you look fine, Jimi". Then he went on and blew away the world.
Scaring the Prince of Darkness
One time, Mick Jagger rented the house next door to us at the beach. He was usually a very cool guy. You know, he always had the "Mick" thing going. The cool edge, totally unflappable. Iit was always there. Yeah. Except one time….
That night, Mick and Linda Ronstadt and I were watching SNL on one of the two little Sony portable TV's that Linda and I had. You know, the one’s with the little handles on top. One in the living room, the one we were watching. And the other upstairs in my bedroom.
We were eating popcorn and for some reason I started to feel a little queasy so I decided go upstairs and lie down. About twenty minutes later, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I open up and it's Mick.
Who says pleasantly....
"Hey Adam, the TV downstairs just broke. Could we use yours?"
Dead pan (and totally joking) and said, "Can't you see I'm sick?"
Omg! He looked totally shocked! Suddenly the "I'm so cool" whole Prince of Darkness thing was gone and there was just a perfectly ordinary, guy standing there, not quite sure what to do,
Now, I should add here that Mick already knew I was from Glasgow, Scotland, a city famous for its' violent inhabitants and their unpredictable behavior!
I burst out laughing …“ Mick! I'm joking!"
It took him a second or two to get it. Then I watched him put the whole Mick Jagger thing back on and voila, Mr. Sympathy for the Devil was his cool selfness again.
I liked him even more after that.
Eric Carr and the Big Hair
Eric Carr, the former drummer for Kiss, was one of the funniest guys I ever knew and, even in the era of “big hair” definitely had the biggest hair I’d personally ever seen. So big, in fact, that even Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley would try to get him to cut it back, at least a little.
Eric was a great observer of human nature and had a hilarious way of summing people up perfectly. One particularly sleazy guitar player we had worked with (and who shall go unnamed!) had a handshake like a dead fish. Eric perfectly described him as "a clam with lips".
Eric had gone from being a stove technician to being a member of one the most famous bands in the world, loved it and loved the attention that came with it.
One day, Eric and I were having lunch on the outdoor terrace of the Old World restaurant on Sunset Blvd. when suddenly two hot blonds, flying by in a Camaro, notice Eric, and pull a frightening U-turn in L.A traffic and screech to a halt right in front of us.
Eric puffs up, gives me that "Ain’t it great to be famous?" look.
The blond passenger leans out the window. "You, big hair! Is that real?"
She has zero idea who Eric is.
Her partner shouts "Who cares! Let's go!" And without waiting for an answer, they peel away.
So much for fame, eh?
I laughed and paid for lunch to make Eric feel better.
Real KISS fans always loved Eric and still do. He died of cancer in 1991, on my birthday, November 24. I think of him often.
Bowling with KISS
I get asked all the time what it was like to work with KISS. Well, it was fun, a lot of fun. And nothing turned out to be funnier than the times we went bowling.
Gene or Paul would rent a bowling alley in Studio City and invite lots of musicians and celebrities: Don Henley, Brian May of Queen, Brett Michaels of Poison, Robert Downey Jr., Director James Cameron and so on and there we’d be, all throwing heavy objects at wooden pins like mad. Plus, many beautiful women hanging out. I told you it was fun, right? Anyway, the downside was, at the actual bowling itself… well, we basically sucked.
A lot of people didn’t care but Paul and I really did and it seemed to us that the cause of our pathetic performances just had to be those crappy alley balls we were using from the public rack. I mean, they had chips the size of donuts, cracks the size of the Grand Canyon.
So, without telling anyone else, he and I decided to order our own “custom” balls. (Let’s hear it for idiots everywhere.) Yes, I’m talking custom balls that are fitted precisely to your hand, without chips or cracks to mar their beautiful surface and deflect them from their intended trajectory. No doubt, we were on our way to a perfect games. The fact that they were stupidly expensive added immeasurably to our confidence.
Finally, after several factory visits, much discussion and anticipation, the big night came. We un-bagged those beauties, each stepped to the line and let fly.
We still sucked.
Eric Carr in particular, found this hilarious. He never failed to bring it up, to anyone willing to listen, months later.
So, if one day you go to the Goodwill and find a grey Rhino bowling ball, in near perfect condition, well you’ll know where it came from.
Oh, and Paul and I are now convinced the problem was the shoes……
The Brother I Never Knew I Had
When my first wife and I got married, I had a few "honeymoon" days off before my next gig with The Paupers, the great Canadian band I was in at the time. It was February, and it was cold, eh? Birds dropping like popsicles.
After a week at Carolyn's grandmother’s little cottage on a northern lake, I got in the car and headed for the next gig. On the way, I saw this freezing teenager hitch-hiking on the side of the road, stopped and picked him up.
As we’re driving, on the radio comes one of Paupers' current hits. The kid turns to me and says...
"Hey, you know Adam Mitchell, eh?"
"I've heard of him."
"He's my brother."
I clear my throat.
"Wow, your brother?"
"Oh yeah, good guy."
I think about what to say next.
"What's he doing these days?"
"He's playing' over in Kingston this weekend."
As my friend Tommy Conners would, you really just can't make this shit up.
I did my best to look impressed and eventually dropped him off at some little town lost in an ocean of snow.
And that night, at the gig in Kingston, Ontario, I dedicated a song to the brother I never knew I had.
The Shoplifting Comedian
I used to hang out with a very famous comedian. Famous, as in he was on SNL and everybody in the country knew who he was. And no, I won't tell you his name for reasons that will shortly become apparent.
One weekend, he came out to the beach and we happened to go over to my local market, which was about two minutes away from my house and where I was well known to the employees.
I buy what I need and as we leave the market, Mr. Famous, Mr. Everybody in the Entire Country Knows Who He Is, tells me he’s just shoplifted a pack of cigarette papers!
I say "What were you thinking! This is my local market! Everybody knows me!" I also mention the Sherriff's station is only about a hundred yards away.
He just laughed and said, "When I was growing up, I knew was either going to steal laughs or steal jewelry."
He went on to make some great movies and, as far as I know, he's still not in jail.
The Big Intro
When I was in the Paupers, we had a roadie who called himself “DB.” His real name was actually Donald but he came up with “DB” because it kinda sounded like “decibel’ and he thought the girls would think that was cool. One of his girlfriends said it stood for “dead beat” and it was hard to argue her point.
As anyone who’s ever been in a band, or around a band, or even heard of a band, knows that roadies - all roadies – well, jeez, they’re just not like you or me. They seem to have thought processes that defy scientific understanding and are alien to anyone else on planet Earth. Except possibly other roadies and maybe the mothers who bore them. DB was Einstein in this regard. A lovely guy, always cheery, but an absolute encyclopedia of bad ideas. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply.
Like the time he double-parked our equipment truck outside the famous Chelsea Hotel on busy 23rd. street in New York, then went in and managed to drop the keys down the elevator shaft. I could tell you endless similar stories about DB but they'd all be taken for fiction, unless of course you'd actually been there to witness his mind presuming to work.
Here's one that was typical....
In the early days of the Paupers, we travelled in one small van: Me, Skip, Chuck, Denny, all the amps, guitars, drums and of course, DB, who insisted on driving because, he was always quick to remind us, he was a "professional". A professional what, we could never quite figure out.
One summer weekend, we had a gig at a beach pavilion in a little town called Port Elgin, several hours north of Toronto. Travelling to it, in the aforementioned van, all our clothes were hanging in the back and, for the first time, I noticed, a mystery purple corduroy suit and paisley shirt.
DB was being unusually quiet. There could only be two possible explanations: lockjaw or something was definitely up. After a few miles or so, he couldn't contain himself any longer.
"I been thinkin'. You guys need a professional to introduce you.”
I responded, "You mean like the DJ who’s already booked to do it at the show?"
DB waved that aside. "What does he know about the Paupers? I know the Paupers.”
This from the “professional” who lived on French fries and Wagon Wheels.
Denny spoke for all of us when he said, “Fuck off.”
DB persevered, "Come on, I've got a great intro all prepared! Besides, you guys owe me."
Last time I checked, DB owed us at least fifteen hundred bucks for blowing up a perfectly good PA system. But, hey, who doesn’t love a full-fledged disaster, so after much hectoring, we caved and took him up on his offer.
At the venue, we did the sound check got ready to go swimming and race some go-karts.
DB already had his suit on.
"You guys go ahead. I'm gonna stay here and polish my intro.”
“Are you nuts? The gig's four hours from now."
"I got a lot of material to go through, This intro's gonna kill."
Kill who, was the question.
Four hours later, we returned. DB's suit already had sweat rings the size of dinner plates.
‘DB, are you okay?”
“I'm fine, I'm fine. You wanna hear this?”
"Won't it kill the freshness?"
"Do you wanna hear it or not?"
"If we absolutely have to."
"Okay, good. I've got options. Check this one out... 'Ladies and gentlemen, Canada's greatest band, The Paupers!"
"This took you four hours?"
"Well, it's just an opener...you know, before I hit them with the details."
"Like what? My favorite color?"
"Maybe I'll open with 'Hey, hey, it’s Pauper time!!! Is that better?"
And who said roadies don't have good taste.
By twenty minutes before show time, DB had twenty versions of the "Paupers" this and the "Paupers" that and "look for the Paupers next record to be...blah, blah, blah".
We plug in, there's a big crowd. This is gonna be great.
DB stumbles on stage, grabs the mike, And goes......completely......BLANK.
He turned and looked at me. His eyes looked like a cat on acid.
He pulls himself together, takes a deep breath.....
"Okay, let's hear it for these guys!!!!"
Then flees from the stage.
WHAT????? Not even the name of the band???? Not even “Hey, hey, it’s Pauper time?”
First we laughed. Then we threatened to fire him. In the end, did make him pay for burgers on the way home and told him to burn his suit.
No explaining it. It’s just roadie thinking.
It's a Small World After All
I’m sure you all know Paul Shaffer, the funny and very talented bandleader on the Letterman show. Like everyone else, I'm a huge fan. I knew also that Paul , like me, was Canadian but to be honest, couldn't remember if I’d ever actually met him.
Then one day a couple of years ago, I got a surprising call.
"Is this Adam Mitchell?”
“I have Paul Shaffer on the line. Hold on, please"
Moments later, I hear this high-pitched, excited voice....
"Is this Adam?"
"Hey Adam, it’s Paul Shaffer. How are you, man?"
Baffled, that’s how I was. I just had to ask; “Excuse me, Paul, but have we actually, ever met?"
"Yeah! Yeah! In Toronto! I used to come and see you guys play all the time. Don't you remember?”
No, frankly, I didn't. And he continued…
“And then there was that time you were coming out of your house on Huron Street and I ran over to talk to you. Remember? You were on your way to meet your girlfriend, Carolyn, at the University of Toronto and you were eating a bran muffin!"
Now this was getting weird. I did used to eat bran muffins. But why would Paul Shaffer who now hangs out backstage with Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe and every A-lister even remember it, much less in such detail, while I remembered it barely at all.
Then it hit me. Before he was a celebrity, Paul, like the rest of us, was just a fan! Music and the people who played it had impacted his life in the same way it had impacted mine. And the enthusiasm he felt back then, still lived in him to this day.
Turns out he’d seen my name on a song I’d written, it triggered this memory and he just had to track me down. It was touching. How the passions of our youth live on.
Denny Gerrard was the phenomenally talented bass player in my band, the Paupers. Denny was so gifted, he won the prestigious Playboy jazz poll when he was only twenty, and remember, this was at a time when the worlds of rock and jazz were miles apart and, no exaggeration to say, almost hostile to each other. Denny was incredible and no one who saw him play ever forgot it. But with that kind of talent there's sometimes a downside and Denny's was that he became too fond of substances you couldn't buy at the supermarket. Unless you were in Afghanistan, maybe.
As a consequence, his behavior became more and more bizarre, and I could tell you many stories but in the interest of me not getting crazy all over again, here's just one….and at least it's funny.
We, the Paupers, were on a nine or ten major city tour of the U.S. and after the last show, in Philadelphia, Denny didn't show up for the plane. Troubling, but by this time, sadly, not unusual. Since it was the end of the tour, I let it go, sat back, the plane took off, we left Denny wherever he was, and departed the City of Brotherly Love.
About a week later, back in Toronto and having heard nothing in the meantime, I was starting to get a little concerned. We had more gigs coming up. Early one morning, my home phone rang and I picked it up.
"Adam, it's Denny."
"Denny! Thank God!"
"Man, where am I?"
"Where am I?"
"I give up. Where are you?"
“Well, I just woke up and, you know...I got no clue."
"And I'm supposed to?"
"Well, where was I the last time you saw me?"
...this coming from a guy who's a genius at something...
"Not where you were supposed to be, Are you indoors or outdoors?”
“Inside, yeah. Inside”
“That narrows it down. Can you see a window?”
“Cool. How did you know?”
“Okay here's what we're going to do. You go look out the window, find a car, see what the license plate says. I'll hang on till you come back and tell me."
I hear "CLICK."
Two hours later, he calls back.
"Adam, it's Denny! Where am I?"
I told him my psychic powers have located him in Philadelphia.
"How did I get to Philadelphia?"
Folks, I could do a whole book just on bass players. Any musician could.
Eventually, Denny made it home. How, I don't remember but I was probably hoping he wouldn't by that point.
When I saw him at the next rehearsal, I asked if he remembered anything at all about that missing week in Philadelphia.
He said, “Yeah, I saw Bob Hope in a restaurant. He looked just like him."
Encore? Forget it!
I was doing a Canadian tour, one winter, and one of the gigs was in Wabush, Labrador, a mining town so far north it’s on the same latitude as Hudson’s Bay. So remote, in fact, there weren't (and I don’t believe there still are) any roads in or out. Only way to get there was to fly in. And how cold was it, you ask? It was 61 degrees below zero, without the wind chill. And, turns out, the gig was in an ice rink.
Had to be, right? The audience was sitting on little school chairs on the ice, all wearing fur parkas like in "Fargo” and mittens the size of snow shovels. When they clapped it sounded like a gang of walruses attacking a pillow.
And then there's me, in a check shirt with the insulation value of an ice cube. Showbiz was beginning to lose its glamour. A normal set on this tour was fourteen or fifteen songs. That night, I struggled through five or six before another act came on and had to freeze their asses off. The audience didn’t seem to mind, though. There wasn’t much chance of Pink Floyd stopping by anyway so they seemed ecstatic with what they got.
And me, I made it back to civilization with only a mild case of frostbite and served six months in jail for shooting my agent.
Hope you've enjoyed
these. More to come!...