Little Bill & the Bluenotes have been around for almost 50 years. Bill's sets, shows, and set lists have always been challenging to say the least. Always a band populated with the best musicians Bill can find, it's a badge of honor to have played with him.
As anyone playing with or leading a popular band can attest, no matter how good or tight the band is,.... no matter how complicated or intricate the arrangements......no matter how well you just played........somebody always wants to "sit in".
Now, that's not to say that there aren't terrifying-ly fabulous musicians out there who can cut the mustard with any band in the world. (Like the time Howard Robert's son, Jay, walked up to us, we were playing a summer campground gig...in the middle of freakin' nowhere....and sits in on the toughest tune in the book and proceeds to play his freakin face off...thank you very much!
But all too often, liquor,.... drugs,.... self confidence gone awry..... or just plain mental illness "gets all up into somebody" and the next thing you know they are standing in front of the bandstand, requesting to "sit in..."
99 times out of 100, Little Bill just says "NO." and that's that. But on rare occasion "featured guests" like singer/harp ace Paul Green or saxman John Goforth have sat in, and done a marvelous job, pros sitting in with pros......it's the amateurs yah gotta watch for.
Once, one guy in his 70's wanted to sit in with Bill & I doing a duo in a restaurant........a little odd....but Bill sez ok. He'd talked to Bill before, and apparently he'd been a "Whistler" (that's right, I said whistler) with big bands in the 30's & 40's. (I was unaware of the featured 'whistler' spot IN a Big Band, but hey who am I to judge?)
So the "whistler"....(who's had a snoot full of booze) adjusts the microphone (he whistles while standing, apparently)
......resplendent in immaculate summer weight tan suit...with his beaming (and bombed) wife of 50 years seated in front of him....kicks off an up-tempo version of "Bye Bye Blackbird".
I am anxiously waiting for the whistling to begin,.....really, I mean, heck how many times do ya back up a whistler for gosh sakes? Well this guy starts making noises like Daffy Duck with a beak full 'ah soda crackers. (ssppaaak...pptt....sppitt.....sppittt) I can't understand what's going on. I look up at him (we're seated) and he's spraying away, eyes closed in blissful rendition while his wife smiles up at him beautifiously.
I'm at a loss...really I am. I look over a Bill who's kinda chuckling but hey, the show goes on, Bill starts his vocal verse and our guest "lays out" 2 verses and a chorus....next? Solo time.....Does Bill cue me?.... the guitar player who knows the song..... nope, it's the whistler on the solo.
He starts spittin' away again, now bear in mind there are no NOTES of any kind ensuing from our guest, no melody, just wind flapping and whooshing though the loose dentures & lips or whatever has caused this lapse in whistling talent. The song mercifully ends, Bill graciously thanks the ever smiling duo, Mr. & Mr. Whistler and even coaxes a smatter of applause for them from the diners,....beautiful. BUT, when it comes to the BEST tale of sitter's in, let me just say, "top this one!"
We're playing as a trio 6/19/2005, Little Bill, bass & vocals, Tommy Morgan on drums and me, Billy Stapleton on guitar, in a little bar near Alkai in Seattle. "the Alkai Tavern" is an old funky bar, that sits in the middle of prime, heavily developed view property. It's frequented by locals, bikers, blues fans, joggers, boaters etc. I always had fun there, and we drew pretty good crowds.
It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we start at 5pm play til 9. Great view of the city....gig going well......and then Bill looses his mind. This incredibly tall (6'6" at least) 250 pound plus..... black gentleman, in his middle 50's, EXTREMELY well muscled (he seems to blot out the sun, to me) ....and I might add, pretty stinkin' DRUNK as well, approaches the band stand, on the break.
He claims he has his CORONET out in the car..... he hasn't played much since HIGH SCHOOL...and of course....he'd like to sit in. Now I've seen guys & gals plead to sit in with Bill, he's always got a million excuses....the answer's always...NO.
But....todaaaayyy...the light of mischief shines in Little's eyes.....he's a guy known for doing the unexpected...with absolutely NO regard for his fellow bandmates.....and with absolutely no thought given to (what would appear to a child of 5) the impending disaster......he sez, "SURE,....why not?"
I am flummoxed (paralyzed with surprise) I think, well, ....."he must know the guy or something",..... it's Bill's gig, not a democracy, what the hell. We take the band stand for the second set. It's common with a guest that the band plays a few tunes, and then you bring the guest up with a little introduction. We start playing the first song of the set, a 3 chord shuffle "Move up to the Country" and without being invited, up jumps the guy and his coronet (a battered, tarnished horn, that was rode hard and put away wet) and stands right next to me (thank you very much) and starts a' playin'.
Meen-kia tu' catz' (Sicilian swearing) He's honkin',.... he's blattin'....fleep...baaaq...quaap...haaaank...it was horrible! HORRIBLE! And he goes on..and on,,,and on. Oh, the humanity!
At the end of the tune, the guy starts bawlin' Bill out for playin' stuff that was too hard (3 chords)...or not his style (4/4 time)...or not "On Wisconsin" or something..... Bill, now realizing his mistake, gets a little terse and sez, "Ok pal that's it...get off the stage!"
Amazingly the big guy, walks off muttering to himself and telling other customers that we're "Assholes!"
I can't help but feel pretty uncomfortable, but here we are, we try and put it behind us, we keep playin', the crowd gets into it, we get some dancers...Little Bill's sister is even in the audience.
Let me just say here, that they don't call Little Bill, "Little Bill" because he's huge,.... he's 5'4" and plays from a wheelchair. Not exactly the "Rambo "type, if you've never visited his web site you should. Never the less, "fearless" would describe some of the things he's done in his life...."foolish" would describe others, but hey go to MY web page, ya wanna see foolish!
Meanwhile, back at the Alkai Tavern... things are getting interesting... we're playing away... Bill & the big guy have started this "staring match across the room... the big guy.....drinking more.....starts yelling at the band "You SUCK!".....telling anyone who'll listen, in a loud slurred voice, how we don't know what we're doing......then he starts dancing with a gal...still glaring menacingly while he's dragin' her around the floor,....and he takes every opportunity to get right in Bill's face and yell at him "YOU ain't SHIT!!"...dance away and then dance back with another insult......this goes on while we're playing Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So".
THEN..Bill stops the band...
"STOP the MUSIC!!! STOP THE MUSIC!!! ....Hey YOU...GET THE F#@K OUT OF HERE!!....I don't take CRAP from ASSHOLES LIKE YOU!!..Finish your Goddamn BEER...SHUT UP! and GET THE F#@K OUT OF HERE!!...RIGHT NOW!!"
I should mention that the Bluenotes have an excellent JBL PA system that Bill (who has an unbelievably loud voice to begin with) has been SCREAMING at this guy through!! Bill proceeds to read the Riot Act, chapter and verse while Tommy and I look at each other thinking "why exactly is he doing this? Isn't he mad enough already?"
I should also mention that this drunken giant is right IN FRONT of Bill...hunched over him...massive fists clenched at his side...glaring at him....while bill screams at him OVER THE PA SYSTEM...it waaas beautiful...it really was.
I figure that at the very least we'll all get beat half to death trying to pull this guy offa Little Bill, I've taken the Gibson Barney Kessell jazz guitar I was playing off, and picked up my Stratocaster (9 pounds of maple & ash)...my strategy (if this can be called strategy) was ...if all hell broke loose... to clobber him with the Strat......(the big guy, not Little Bill)...and since I was 3 feet from the front door......RUN LIKE HELL!! (brilliant).
Well, as drunk and as mad as this guy is, he is no match for Bill's legendary mouth AND the JBL'S.... Whenever he starts to tell Bill off,.... Bill yells at him to drink up and get out.....shut up....etc...(Bill's sister was very impressed) Of course all conversation, dancing, order taking has ceased...and all eyes & ears are on us. (Did any of the dozen pseudo bikers who have sworn their undying allegiance to 'Little' millions of times lift a finger....no).
BUT to the large, inebriated gentleman's credit.... he couldn't bring himself to beat up a guy in a wheelchair (thank God).....and amazingly enough...he finished his beer...and left.... I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.
Bill turned around to Tommy Morgan on drums, and said, "Where did that guy go?" Tommy replied, "I believe he's driven himself home.......to get his GUN!!"
Needless to say, it put quite a pall on the rest of the evening's music performance. Did we finish the gig? (looking over our shoulders) Absolutely! And , no the fella never returned.
When we told this story to our friend Richard Cantwell, he said,"You should'a announced over the PA "Anybody Else Wanna Sit In??" That would have been perfect."
Little Bill, Tommy Morgan and me
Sitting in with Little Bill
© 2007 Billy Stapleton. All rights reserved.
"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton