They Raided the Joint

page two

Before sending umpteen unopened promo packages to be followed with umpteen-times-ten futile phone calls, it made sense to talk to some DC-based working musicians.

I might gain a little insight, or better, a friendly break like an opening gig or last minute replacement call. Most of these bands played Charlottesville so it was easy enough to pester them out of their phone numbers, with which to pester them some more.

I could practically hear him thinking: Let's see, what place is crummy enough to take these guys... I plied this strategy to the best of my inchoate abilities and struck pay dirt with the gregarious Bill Holland. A talented musician-writer, Bill was long on experience, his band employing some of DC's best musicians. These included John Jennings, session ace guitarist-producer who would later garner success in the Big Leagues by producing Mary Chapin Carpenter's Grammy-winning records, and bass player Wade Matthews, who would later take me under his wing and become my rhythm section partner and roommate for four years in The Assassins, the best band of which I was ever a full member. Today, Wade shares the stage with veteran guitar hero Nils Lofgren.

On the phone, Bill was gracious, explaining in animated detail what club owners would expect from a brand new band and how to leverage that first no-paying off-night gig into a second no-paying off-night gig at a different place:

"It's easy—after the first one, you call the second one and tell them you played the first one and it was boffo and you keep bugging them and sooner or later you're in the second one. Just don't expect a lot of money until you can fill the place."

I pressed Bill as to what might be a good candidate for "the first one." I could practically hear him thinking: "Let's see, what place is crummy enough to take these guys, not too crummy as to place them in any real peril, and not too important so if they bomb it won't besmirch my good name... Hmm, let's see..."

He paused and recommended a club called Mr. Henry's Tenley Circle.

Once a DC restaurant institution, Henry's Tenley Circle closed long ago. In 1980 however, it perfectly fit the mold that cast a million others I would eventually work: black walls and ceiling, black and white checkered linoleum floor, tightly-packed tables with red and white plastic checkered tableclothes, tiny, dirty bathrooms, a smoke-filled bar in the next room, and waitresses who wore expressions that indicated they would prefer to be doing just about anything on this earth rather than taking your drink order.

Bill's choice was, in a word, perfect.

Next: Armed with Bill Holland's good name and secondhand recommendation...