In the late 1980s, a friend and I started an original rock band and tried plying our trade in the Big Apple, our home town.
New York being a music industry town, competition among original bands was fierce and paying gigs were few.
Our group, The Pluto Gang (a Kurt Vonnegut reference), had managed to get into a particular seedy Brooklyn club a few times. It was well-known for having at least 5 original bands on stage every night. They were really about the only accessible place for original indie rock that we knew of at the time. The beer was cheap, but nobody ever got paid.
We talked our way into a few other places here and there, but we were watching local cover bands get all kinds of bookings right in our own neighborhood – for good money, too. But we didn’t want to do covers.
So, when we heard about a chance to play in a huge new club right near Times Square on a Saturday night, we had to look into it, right?
It turned out that this club was going to put 6 bands on stage for 40 minutes each, no sound check. And the compensation was explained like this: the band buys 25 tickets to the show for $5 each and sells them to their friends and fans for $8 each. Simple! We stood to make $75! Today, this is what’s known as “pay-to-play”, but it was new to us at the time.
Well, if memory serves we sold exactly zero tickets. We brought three or four people. Girlfriends, and such. Nobody we could actually charge for a ticket. But we were hoping to gain some new fans at this giant place. It was going to be a huge packed room full of rock fans, after all! Gotta love that, right? We had convinced ourselves it was worth the $125 investment.
I played bass in this band and the two guitarists and I shared songwriting and singing duties pretty equally. The lead guitarist was my long-time neighborhood partner in crime – I pretty much learned guitar from him and we had played what seemed like thousands of hours together in Brooklyn bars, parks, schoolyards, basements and studios. He paid his bills working for the US Postal Service.
Out rhythm player was definitely the best singer – and the songs he brought to the table were also the most commercially viable. He was either a pre-med student or some post-graduate species. His job was literally working in a lab that studied brains. Just brains…outside of heads.
We had a rotating cast of drummers. I forget which one we had at this Times Square gig, but it was probably one of two guys. The young drummer who was really shy and always played wearing giant headphones for ear protection, or the guy who’s dad was the lawyer who represented John Lennon in his U. S. deportation case.
The young guy wound up becoming a much-sought-after NYC jazz drummer and I think he did sessions for Joe Jackson at some point.
The other guy only knew just one drum roll, but he was cooler to hang out with. He had met Lennon, of course, because of his dad. So one day in the late 70s while he was in Central Park smoking weed with some similarly disaffected class-skipping high school chums, up walks John Lennon who says with a wink, “Eh, mate…does your dad know you’re smoking that stuff?”. This, of course, made our drummer an instant high-school celebrity.
Whichever drummer it was, we played pretty well at The Big Show on Time Square, despite there being no sound check. Our hopes of gaining new fans, however, were dashed by the band that played before us.
They emptied that formerly full room. Even our girlfriends were mad at us for having to be there during that torturous set. That was when we realized the promoters were discerning about only one thing: that the bands all paid the $125. I have to assume they never listened to any bands’ demo tapes (yes, this was back in the days of cassettes). There were thousands of aspiring NYC bands that would pass through that club at $125 each. At 6 bands a night, the promoters were guaranteed to make $750. The bar probably did OK too. This is pay-for-play.
Well that band broke up soon after that. The rhythm guitarist’s job and education were demanding more of his time, and I kept firing drummers. Finally I fired myself!
Speaking of drummers, our own The Merry Jaynz drummer Myron just became the proud pappy of a new-to-him vintage (like mid/late 60s) set of Rogers drums. He’s beside himself with drum set love!
These sparly blue vintage drums just had their maiden voyage with Myron on the throne…and at an outdoor show in one of our newest and most favorite places to play. We got a bunch of it on video, too and we posted one tune so far that’s available to all the public. We’ll probably post another one or two soon. Here’s the link:
It so happens that every new patron on Patreon inches us closer to our promised Filthy Pirate Song! Yes, if you hadn’t heard yet, I will learn and perform a live video broadcast of a Filthy Pirate Song when we reach 12 patrons or $50 in total monthly pledges. Check it out, become a patron!