They Raided the Joint

page one

They raided the joint—took everybody down but me...
                     —Dan Burley

It's all about timing. In the wake of the curious, yet gratifying Swing music revival of the late 1990's, I joked about my first band's well-intentioned, but ill-timed foray into presenting that very music to unsuspecting 1980 audiences: We—Sitting Ducks—were selling Swing to the masses simultaneously 20 years too early and 40 years too late.

We weren't completely alone, of course. The nation was dotted withIt's damned difficult for a new band to break into a
competitive urban market. bands playing Swing or 1940's Rhythm and Blues. Some, like Austin, Texas -based Asleep at the Wheel and Providence, Rhode Island's Roomful of Blues still survive. But back then, we were mavericks fighting the good fight without the benefits of GAP commercials and corporate-driven radio airplay, and as the name Sitting Ducks suggests, we were fighting an uphill battle. Breaking into venues outside our more than averagely sophisticated hometown of Charlottesville Virginia was, well, a slow process.

The Big Kahuna of course was the D.C. market, home to a thousand clubs (some of which, like Jack Boyle's Cellar Door or Gary Oelze's Birchmere had become famous), a million bands, and located a mere two hours north. But even in boom times such as they were—the early 1970's to mid 1980's were a veritable golden age for live nightclub music in the northeastern U.S.—it's damned difficult for a new band to break into a competitive urban market. Every club's calendar is full of known quantities, that is, bands known to bring in guaranteed quantities of dollars.

But we had been together about a year, were working regularly, and felt we were ready to try.

Next: It made sense to talk to some DC-based working musicians....