They Raided the Joint

page four

Four sets later, the crowd gone, the noise and smoke cleared, I basked in the glow of our little milestone and allowed myself an unimaginably naive pretention. I actually hoped that due to the evening's success, the club might pay us more than the agreed-upon $100.

The bartender did everything but laugh out loud. As he flipped me the crisp $100 bill, he made the outcome of my sheepishly posed suggestion—it wasn't even a negotiation—clear as a bell: "You had a deal with the boss" he half-smiled, half-sneered. It was a scene befitting a grade B movie—wet-behind-the-ears kid shuffles up to gristle-nosed bartender, and like a latter day Oliver Twist, scrapes for gruel—"Can we have some more, Sir?" Ha! More indeed.

Well, no matter, the evening was a success. Buoyed by this, I immediately set about getting a return 'Henry's' gig, and began looking for "the second one"—another club where we could work our newfound magic.

I heard through the grapevine that one of Washington's most notorious Hard Rock tourist trap nightclubs—Georgetown's Crazy Horse—had opened up a little club in their downstairs space, and were trying to do Swing, Jazz and Blues. Called Beneath it All (O, how prescient) this was a completely separate venue from the legendary meat market upstairs. To make the point they'd gone to the lengths of paying one of DC's greatest living legend musicians, the great "Redneck Jazz" guitarist Danny Gatton (who I would later meet and tour with) to allow them to use his name, officially promoting it as Danny Gatton's Beneath it All.

I asked around and got the name of the fellow (conicidentally, it was also Mike) who was booking the place, and began the inevitable, interminable chore of getting in touch. This Mike had a hipper, more accomodating veneer than the indifferent surliness which characterized the Mr. Henry's version, but it was essentially the same drill: call a million times and wind up with a no-risk Tuesday. Fair enough; first-night success aside, we were still de facto unknowns in DC.

I booked the gig, unable to secure even the paltry $100 "guarantee"— we were working squarely for the door, at $2/head. We tried our best to call out the troops, but we had used up all our friends-and-family chits that first night at Mr. Henry's. And though Henry's was a dump, it still had been open for years and had a certain walk-in cachet. Beneath it All however, was unknown and grossly overshadowed by the infamous Top Forty Glam Rock dive upstairs. Nobody was just walking in to that place.

We knew we were in trouble. The dank club had no warmth whatsoever; I simply couldn't imagine it full of smiling, drinking, swinging patrons. An appropriately slimy prophesy of the evening, I lost a contact lense down the filthy men's room sink. Lucky for me, intrepid bassist Pete Spaar was nice (and brave) enough to dismantle the drain and retrieve it. I should have treated him to a shot—a tetanus shot that is.

We were set up; it was time to start. Unfortunately, we were the only ones there. There was NO ONE in the room save ourselves, the manager and the bartender. In this situation (which sadly, all nightclub musicians experience at one time or another) you can sit around with your thumb up your (Oh, wait—that's another story) or you can play to the bartender and the empty seats, hoping the noise might bring an actual paying customer into the room.

So, we sighed and cranked it up.

Next: You could hear the thundering roar of the upstairs band at all times...