Answering “Musicians Wanted” Ads in the Village Voice

The Village Voice calls themselves

“…the nation’s first alternative newsweekly…”

But it was around starting in 1955. I started looking into New York City’s only Musicians Wanted listings in exactly 1984. Prior to that I was joining neighborhood bands in Brooklyn or impromptu, short-lived bands in the Air Force.

I answered a lot of those ads between 1984 and 1991 when I finally left New York – and I got the gig about half the time, usually as a bass player. But there were 3 gigs that stand out.

The very first time I answered an ad for a bass player in the Village Voice, I was to show up at a house on Staten Island. This was either the night of Thanksgiving or the night after in 1984.

The act was a husband and wife duo who played folk. They had an established act and got a decent number of gigs. They were also the high priest and priestess of a wiccan coven. I was still getting over having been raised a Catholic, but as open-minded as I was, I still worried at first about “spells” and so forth.

There was an abundance of musical talent afoot. The leader of that group is still the best fiddler I ever played with, but I was more awestruck at my first real exposure to alternative lifestyles. For instance, their household’s primary means of financial support was the wife’s career as a phone sex lady. If the phone rang in the middle of practice we all had to stop on a dime and remain utterly silent while she wrote down the phone and credit card numbers and then called the guy and got him off over the phone.Almost all of these calls were dominatrix stuff, and so she’d often order the guy to call back and exactly when to call back – and they did!

Besides all that, I learned a lot of folk music I never would have even heard otherwise, Celtic, Gypsy, Yiddish songs, the British folk of the 60s, but I also learned a lot about paganism and wicca. I never was initiated, but I attended lots of rituals and larger pagan gatherings. There was ALWAYS nudity going on and I was down with that! This band caused or was indirectly the cause of no less than two major altercations among audience members which outnumbers those in my rock band experience two to one.

The first was at a YMHA which is like a YMCA but Hebrew instead of Christian. It was way uptown and a YMHA of great repute and renown. Half the audience were rabbis and we had a sizable set of Yiddish and Hebrew-language songs thanks to our leading lady. One song was about a rabbi whose sermons were so boring that people went to sleep in the temple. Well, a rabbi in the audience started yelling at us for the disrespect we were showing, then another rabbi started yelling at him because of the disrespect he was showing. Next thing you know, a half-dozen rabbis were on their feet yelling and things were getting tense. There were no fisticuffs.

The second was at a big pagan festival in upstate New York (or maybe Western Massachusetts…hmmmm….). There was another coven in Staten Island we were friendly with. In Wicca, at the time at least, the theory was that a full coven ought to have an equal balance of male and female energies if possible. Well, this other coven was comprised of thirteen gay men. Wicca was fraught with lots of opposing viewpoints about the traditions involved and what was legit and who was who, but this festival was run by people who could not possibly be more freaked out by a coven of gay men – so our friends were “dis-invited” – told not to show up. Long story short, festival tickets were purloined and passed along to the verboten gay coven and they showed up. While we were on stage (again), a full-blown bench-clearing brawl broke out – true fisticuffs and worse.

Some other highlights from my tenure with this band were a 3-week California tour that seemed to have been planned to maximize the driving we had to do. San Diego one day, San Fran the next, followed by Los Angeles, followed by Sacramento…that kind of driving. We drove around with four band members, about a thousand pounds of vinyl LPs for sale, a 4-year-old and 6-month-old. This trip saw us all get caught skinny dipping in the pool of a fan’s step-father. This was at a multi-million-dollar Hollywood Hills mansion. We were assured it was totally cool, but suddenly there he was. It was obviously not cool at all with him and we beat a hasty retreat.

I was fired from that band just before their gig on the nudist whale watch ship….too bad.

The next episode of note that arose from answering a Village Voice ad was a guy who had written all these great tunes and was looking to put a band together starting with a guitar player. I got the gig and started learning all these really great songs he had written, went to some practices and so on. One day at a practice he gave me a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it or heard about it, but you learn a LOT more about the person giving you that book than you do about much else. I decided to just ignore it and carry on. After another practice or two I had apparently gained his confidence somehow, so he revealed to me his big secret: He was The Messiah….that was about the end of that gig.

The last ad-answering adventure I want to mention was with a Mr. Mike Quashie, formerly of Trinidad and Tobago. This man skyrocketed to international fame in 1959 by introducing the limbo dance to the world, and by the early sixties he was performing for Presidents and royalty – only to get bumped off the pop charts by Chubby Checker.

By the time I met him he had been in the same Greenwich Village apartment since 1966 which was in actual fact Jimi Hendrix’s apartment before that. He had trunk after trunk of 60s era costume stuff filling his apartment, claimed close relationships to Jimi’s former wife and Steve Stevens (who played for Billy Idol), had toured with Led Zeppelin and appeared in the Song Remains the Same film, and was now working in the Brooklyn Borough President’s office.

New York Times – “Limbo King of 60’s Says He’ll Sell Mementos to Pay Rent”

Well, Mike was intent upon making a comeback, and he had an act all planned out and some really good songs. The rest of the band he put together were really good players and it was starting to come together. Then it was time for costumes and photos. I was supposed to get a haircut (!!!!), put on green tights, silver spray-painted combat boots a fringe suede vest and a furry armband and go have my picture taken. I protested, but he was calling in all kinds of favors with hair people and photographers so it wouldn’t cost the band members anything. Eventually I went along with it. Even the photographer lady seemed sympathetic about the Jackson 5-era get up. She was kind enough to get me plastered enough to go through with it. I left the band shortly after that…..

I also answered similar ads in Los Angeles in 2004, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

In other news, there is the last and final song for the next CD release! It is written and the recording will begin soon.

I am considering doing a pre-sales thing with this next CD rather than a crowd-funding campaign – maybe even breaking the tunes up into two or three groups that align well genre-wise and doing EPs instead

We would love to know what all you guys think about that. It would help us a lot to know how you like to buy your music and how you feel about pre-sales and crowd funding too.

So, drop us a line and let us know!

Thanks ’till next time,

-Tom