The Hitman Blues Band

 

 

A bit of history continued

 

Welcome back!

This is a look behind the scenes of what we've done, how we got there, and various issues we faced. It's not about what we've had for breakfast, or ramblings. If you have an interest in the REAL story of a struggling band, trying to break through, then read on.

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We left off with the disasterous European tour of 2008. So why was it a disaster?

It started with the backup band - all excellent musicians, originally from South America (except the drummer, who was Austrian), and re-settled in Amersterdam. Great players, but not really blues guys. They COULD play it, of course, but the feel was wrong.

Our European agent, Richard, put us up in a mini-apartment in the house his wife owned. Our "real" agent, Cat (see the first blog) had gotten together with Richard to book this tour. Cat was getting sicker, and (in retrospect) I can see how hard it must have been for him to get this all done. At any rate, Richard insisted on playing guitar with us. As we were only a quartet - no horns at that point - I said it was fine. Hey, another guitarist taking the rhythm parts would only make it easier, right?

Wrong.

But the real problem was they were all coke heads and heavy drinkers. I didn't realize HOW bad they were until later.

We had a quick rehearsal at the Last Water Hole, which is a cool venue in Amersterdam. Then the quartet (no keys) played at Malo Mello, a real iconic club. Everything is great. Another gig in Appledorn, and aside from blowing up the amp right away, still good. No signs of insanity from the other guys. Now we head to the Blues Express festival in Luxembourg, put on by our (now) good friend Dragan.

So it's about 45 degrees (Farenheit), and we're sweating on stage. The band screws up a bunch of tunes, but the audience doesn't seem to care. Big crowd, yay! Get off stage, there's cases of beer waiting (double yay!) Wake up the next morning, we're all sick. Including me. And I have to sing a bunch of gigs.

And, it's Sunday. Rich announces we're almost out of gas. He didn't realize everything (including gas stations) is closed in Luxembourgh on Sundays. Long story short, we get back to Amersterdam by sheer luck, and my voice is pretty much gone.

So it's Monday, I can barely talk, and I have to guest host a jam at the Last Water Hole that night. I bully my voice through the first three songs, and that's all she wrote. A band got up to sit in and stayed up for half an hour, then a female vocalist, and then the cavalry came. The wonderful musician and totally off the wall character Terry Mann (https://www.facebook.com/terrymanband), who I had met a couple of years before, stopped by and saw I was in trouble. He got on stage and handled the MC duties in his own unique way, and the night was saved!

Now the real trouble starts. I hire a truck from Rich's friend's company, and we all squeeze in (including Damon, the sound man we hired) and drive 12 hours to Austria. We do a gig, moved to indoors because of the weather, and the audience is great. The owner gives us a huge bottle of Jack Daniels. After the gig, I go to have a shot. Hey - where is it?

Gone. The band is in the truck, snorting coke and had guzzled the whole damn bottle.

Uh oh.

Another gig, and Cat has joined us, coming all the way from Morecambe, UK. More squeezing. Another gig. More drinking from the band, and drugging, and now some of the drunken nonsense is coming out.

Another gig, things are going ok but "road crazy" is starting to appear. That's fine for younger bands, but these are supposed to be seasoned pros.

We're on the way to play a "biker bar" (it was actually a sort of "fake" biker bar, a venue ABOUT motorcycles) and Rich is driving. He's pointing out some scenery, not looking at the road, when the drummer screams "LOOK OUT!"

Things happened very fast after that.  A car was blocking the road, making a left hand turn - but not turning, even though he had a clear path.  Rich immediately realized that if we hit him, he'd be dead.  Our big truck would crush him in an instant.  He pumped the brakes, and managed to avoid a collision somehow, and steered into a ditch along the side of the road.  There were two bikers behind us, and the first managed to avoid us, the stopped car, and make it through.  The second didn't quite do it, and ended up laying his bike down.  He didn't hit anything, but seemed to have skidded out while maneuvering.  He only snapped off his side mirror, though, and wasn't hurt.  He was furious at the stopped car, as were we.  It turned out the car was full of ceramic roofing tiles, and the driver didn't want to dislodge anything by turning "too quickly".  Instead, he almost caused an accident that would have surely killed him, as well the the bikers behind us.  Only the drummer's warning and Rich's quick reaction prevented a tragedy, although if he had been paying attention in the first place, it wouldn't have been an issue. 

We eventually got out of the ditch, with help from a local farmer and his tractor. The side of the truck was dented up, but it drove fine. We made it to the gig just in time.

The gig went well, but now the erratic behavior that accompanies alcoholic and drug abuse came out. The guys are hitting on local girls (big mistake), getting aggressive (not with me), and generally acting like teenagers.

Now we head to the last gig, an outdoor festival, which ended up being cancelled due to foul weather. Joanne and I stayed in one hotel, the rest of the band in another. Financially, this has not gone well. The truck was expensive, paying the band was expensive, paying the agent was expensive, and merch sales were all that were keeping us afloat.

I go to the band hotel the next morning to find Cat sitting in the lobby. The drummer had harrassed repeatedly him during the night. As Cat was still not right from his stroke (and, as we later found, he had a terminal brain tumor which was making itself known), he couldn't take the stress.

The drummer also decided it would be fun to throw a tv out the window. Hey, Keith Moon did it, right? Except I'm not in a position to pay for that. Apparently, a couple of the guys also got into a fight with some locals because they made unwanted advances on local girls. They had all been up drinking and drugging most of the night, and got worse as it went on. The hotel owner was furious. The town mayor wasn't happy. Our reputation went into the toilet.

So I grab the keys and banged on the door, saying "get your asses in gear. The truck leaves in ten minutes. If you're not on it, walk back to Amsterdam". Now they get up in a crowd and it's getting ugly. I've had it. I'm ready to throw down. Cat suddenly changes sides and says I'm out of line (?!) Damon, the sound guy, has had it also. He says "look, let's just get the hell out of here. Let them have the truck. We'll take the high speed train, be back in Amersterdam in a couple of hours."

So, that's what we did. Rich informed me that we could pick up our stuff from the apartment, we were no longer welcome there. At this point, you may be saying "oh, well Hitman's only telling one side of the story. I'm sure the other guys had their own point of view." But as Dragnet used to say, these are just the facts. Come to your own conclusion.

Damon put us up for the rest of our stay, which was just a few days. When I got back home, there were tons of charges on my credit card - including a HUGE fee for the truck, which had been damaged during the almost-accident.

Combined with some unexpected circumstance back home, I was forced to declare bankrupty the following year. There were other reasons, but the cost of the tour really pushed it over the edge.

Cat informed me that our association was at an end. Thankfully, that didn't last and we stayed friends until his passing.

I didn't tour overseas for almost four years, losing all the gains we had made.

To be continued.

– Hitman

 

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The Hitman Blues Band

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