Saturday, April 04, 2009

On The Road - My First Tour

People often ask me when I started playing on the road. The answer varies depending on how you interpret "on the road."

When I was 17 and 18 I spent a lot of time traveling around Minnesota playing grungy little bars. I don't consider that actual touring. The following story describes my first "real" touring gig... the one that started it all. The last time I lived at home.

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I was 19 years old and heading home from a short-lived stint with a band called The Playbakz. Four guys and a female lead. Think Blondie, The Motels and The Pretenders.

As I was passing through Minneapolis I decided to stop at a place called PMR, Professional Musician's Referral - a place where musicians can pay to leave their resumes and in exchange will receive a list of bands looking for musicians. A win-win for both sides.

The very next morning at 7 a.m. my mom knocked on my bedroom door and told me I had a phone call. I took a second to come to and picked up the receiver from the wall by my bed.

"Ya... h-lo," I grunted.

A gruffy voice that sounded like George Burns blurted out a phrase I'll never forget.

"Is this Jeff Lee? This is Gabe Garland. Is Pennsylvania too far?"

I had absolutely no frame of reference as to what he was talking about.

"Pennsylvania what? Who is this again?"

"Gabe. Gabe Garland. I own and manage several bands and was wondering if Hazleton Pennsylvania was too far for you to go to join a band. I got your name from PMR."

I was stunned. I had only left my name there a mere 12 hours earlier and already people were calling me from the great beyond.

Over the next hour or so I learned that Gabe was an old vaudevillian entertainer who had taken up the business of buying the names of once-famous musical acts, reforming them with new members and selling their shows on the road in the highly lucrative show band touring market. At this point he was in the process of assembling 3 historic bands, The Boxtops (The Letter), the Classics IV (Traces, Spooky, Stormy), and the group he wanted me to join... The Toys (A Lover's Concerto).

It didn't take much convincing on Gabe's part to get me to accept his offer. After all, we were talking about a band that had a gold record and had made it to #2 on the charts! I was going to be rich and famous...

...and I was going to leave in 3 days.

leaving for PA - October 1981, 6:00 a.m.
(all I needed was my donuts)

During this call I learned I would be meeting up with the band in Hazleton where we would practice for 2 weeks, at which time we would begin a fully-booked 6 month tour. Sweet! I was finally going to be a professional, and most importantly - highly paid musician.

But then came the tricky part. How was a 19 year old kid from Minnesota with no cross country driving experience supposed to get to Pennsylvania in a tiny Toyota Corona with 800 pounds of keyboard gear?

Easy, go to U-Haul and rent a trailer that's rated at least 2x more than your 4 cylinder Toyota can handle, strap on a temporary hitch and hit the highway! What could possibly go wrong?

Next Up: The Journey

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Become a member of the "I Played in a Gabe Garland Band" fan club on Facebook to share your experiences and pictures from those days.


LOBO said...

I would haul around two guitars, stacks, an assortment of effects pedals, wireless gear and maybe 100 of feet of cables -quietly cursing myself for not playing the harmonica instead the whole time.

Susan said...

I'm curious what your reaction would be now if your son at 19 did the same thing...

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

lobo - I feel your pain brother.

susan - Probably pretty ok with it. Anything to get him out of the house really is ok with me. ;-)

Babs (Beetle) said...

This sounds like something dreams are made of :)

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite movies is, "That thing you do". I hope Gabe was as nice as the Tom Hanks manager. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Mom Thumb said...

Having several traveling cross country stories between hubby and myself, I can't wait to hear what happened next!

Heather said...

Wow. You sure look like a rock star going off to tour./sarcasm

Ed said...

Ha! I can see this will be epic in proportions. I can't wait for the ensuing disaster coming. It'll be quite entertaining. Which your photo was..hahaha. Now, let's see, since we're only about a week apart in age, I had already been back from Alaska and Mexico and this was about the time I was living on my own in the Bay Area in California. So, I think I had a head start on you in terms of wild life experiences but I think your story will go along way to your catching up in that dept...

mom said...

Sniff-sniff---sure brings back memories!!!

annof thejunkdrawerblogfamily said...

Please hurry with the next installment. I want to hear all about the horror, heartbreak, and hysterics that this gig must have brought you.
More importantly, who will portray you in the movie version?

Michelle said...

This just doesn't sound like it's going to end well. You were a brave (naive?) kid!

United Studies said...

Somehow I don't think the tour went quite as planned. Am I right? Did he end up being a skeevy manager?

What did your parents think about you leaving? I didn't tell my mom I was moving to Denmark until about a month before I was leaving. I thought she would freak out, but she didn't. She just asked that I please come home for Christmas, and to not bring anything back that can't fit in a suitcase. I came home for Christmas, but Peter quite couldn't fit in my suitcase.

Maureen said...

Yikes... I can't wait to read what happens next.

To quote one of my more favorite movies:

"I have a bad feeling about this."

I hope the donuts were good anyway.

Sandy said...

I'm guessing a lot went wrong...cannot wait to hear part II.

Jon D (Graco) said...

Can't wait to hear how this tale ends Jeff....Funny, I'm from PA and one side of my family actually comes from Hazleton! My Grandfather moved from there to play in Jazz bands of the 20's & 30's - played with Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Dorsey Bros, etc.
And WOW Hazleton gave you your "big break" too! Looking forward to reading "The Journey."

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Hey everyone...

Sorry I'm not living up to my usual standard of replying to y'all here. As I've alluded to before, I'm extremely busy with things around here. Hopefully, I'll be back with part 2 (and 3?) of this story in a few days. In the meantime, please don't forget me!

Jen - Queen of Poo said...

Hmmm, what could possibly go wrong? Sounds ominous. I have no doubt that the high pay took care of everything. ;-)

cathouse teri said...

Can't wait to hear more! :)

Have you seen "The Rocker?"

JD at I Do Things said...

Cool! I can't wait for part 2. I can just hear this Gabe Garland. He must've had a cigar clamped firmly in his mouth while he spoke.


Carl Goodhines said...

Funny, the same happened to me... "The Galaxy of Stars show", another Gabe extraveganza! In 1 yr,. I was in 46 states and 10 Canadian provinces....I'd take up your entire site writing about the experiences,so,....I know/knew how it is/was!!!!!

Brian said...

I as well had some #*x#* great dealings with Gabe.
I was 18 years old coming out of Denver, Colorado cover bands in 1981 and thought this would be a great stepping stone working with " The Box Tops " ( no original members )
It was a total horror, a 18 year old with no road experience steping in with a bunch of 30 something year old road vets.
And to make things even better the bass player I was replacing didn't know he was going to be fired. I flew into the Duram airport and the bass player quit that day and I had to fill in that night at a Hilton gig without knowing any of their songs.............Jeeze I could go on and on
Brian in Denver again

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Carl and Brian... thank you SO much for your comments! I am very close to writing the next installment of my experiences with Gabe, his bands and his infamous "barn." I'd love for you (and anyone else who has shared this experience) to come back and share your stories as well. Maybe we can write collaborative posts or something along those lines. So please check back soon (or add me to your feed reader) and check it out.

CarlGoodhines said...

Jeff (or anyone), qhat ever became of the "barn"? I actually went to LOOK for it once, but drove around the countryside of Hometown, Pa, and Tuscarora State Park-I was CLOSE, but ended up wasting the whole day. I wanted a picture of it, since I never took one when I was there. Practicied 15 hours a day, but never got any pictures!
FYI: I was in Box Tops, too...there probably was 20 versions. Then, it was Galaxy of Stars. We went EVERYWHERE. One of my favorite stories was the time we left Bossier City Louisiana (near Shreveport), and were instructed by Gabe himself to "call every 2 hours-just keep heading North" (there were no cellphones back then)while he looked for our next job! Well, we got was in GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA! Imagine driving aimlessly for 1400 miles (est.), with the possibility your booking agent would call and say something like, "turn left 750 miles".
Another time, we literally went coast-to coast between jobs... Even though we were done on the West coast, and the next 3 1/2 months were on the East coast, There were no jobs between British Columbia and Bathurst, New Brunswick! Should've bought him a globe for his birthday.
I'll have more, I had the pleasure of working for Gabe for about 4 years.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

carl... send me your email. I do have a picture of the barn, but from the outside only. But you may still want it.

I'm going to write the continuation of this post very soon. Stay tuned!

Junk Drawer Kathy said...

Jeff, just had to come back here and see what the others who knew Gabe had to say. This is so neat reading about their experiences similar to yours. Loved "turn left 750 miles."

So how many years do you think you aged on your excursion?

This is fun!