They Raided the Joint

part three

Armed with Bill Holland's good name and secondhand recommendation that I myself would deliver ("Really? I can just tell him you're recommending us?") I made the many requisite phone calls trying to track down Mike, Mr. Henry's manager du jour.

For the club owner or manager, booking bands is a basic supply and demand issue: a plethora of bands beating on your door while you're grappling with a plethora of glamorous show business -related duties, such as (take your pick) broken air conditioners/ice machines/refrigerators/steam tables/toilets/taps/soda guns , cranky/quitting/drunk/fighting employees, health inspectors, neighborhood drunks, drunk tourists, underage wannabe drunks... the club owner's problem list goes on and on.

As a result, these guys, with their surplus of dependable, regular bands in tow, have no time or incentive to 1) look at promo packages, 2) listen to tapes 3) return phone calls 4) care about rookie bands from Charlottesville.

So it's hopeless, right? Of course not. It just means one has to have the persistence of a door-to-door Bible salesman, which is more or less what you are. Get religion and keep pounding. one has to have the persistence
of a door-to-door Bible salesman, which is more or less what
you are. Sooner or later there's a cancellation, or an off night (probably one that's so 'off' he's in no real danger of losing more than he already would have) and the club owner, in a jam, gets religion.

And that is what, after calling Mike at Mr. Henry's between noon and seven PM, from March to May, we were finally offered: a Tuesday night. Tuesday June 3rd, 1980, to be precise—right after the local college population had cleared out of town. Guaranteed one of the deadest of all Tuesdays, which is the deadest night of the week under any circumstances.

So naturally, I promised to pack the joint.

Never mind that we had no fans in Washington, we'd call out the troops, the family, friends, musicians, anyone, everyone.

Everyone showed up; the joint was indeed packed. Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends... Even Melissa, the nutty, beloved woman who cleaned for my Mom. What was expected to be a desolate, lonely Tuesday was a blazing triumph. Happy, relieved, and performing in front of a completely biased crowd, we could do no wrong. At least we thought so, strutting and carrying on both on and off the stage, holding court. Welcome to Washington DC—move over Duke Ellington! Of course, I've since heard those tapes, and in the cold light of a new decade our early attempts at swinging were pretty homely. But if we put on a musical face only a Mother could love, well, Mom was, after all, in the House that night.

It was a raucous, chaotic evening. Melissa of all people provided the highlight that would endure for years. Given the rarest of opportunites—drinking on my Dad's tab—she made the most of it, putting on her own show in her loud, over-the-top, loving way. It was a performance my Dad would never let her forget.

Next: Four sets later, the crowd gone... I allowed myself an unimaginably naive pretention....