David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

Two abilities led to Corey Glover becoming the singer of funk-metal band Living Colour: the ability to sing “Happy Birthday” and the ability to show up for a gig. Mr. Glover attended a friend’s birthday party, which Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid also attended. Requested to sing “Happy Birthday,” Mr. Glover obliged, and Mr. Reid told him, “We [Mr. Reid and his sister] like the way you sing.” A couple of months later, he called Mr. Glover and said, “I’m looking for a singer for my band.” One other singer was also in the running, but a few more months after Mr. Glover’s audition, he got another call from Mr. Reid, who told him, “Our singer can’t make the gig. Can you come down and do it?” Mr. Glover responded, “Sure. No problem. Whatever. Do I get paid for the gig? I do? All right, cool. I’ll go.” That’s the way Mr. Glover became the band’s singer and started performing in interesting places and winning Grammy Awards for songs such as “Cult of Personality” and “Glamour Boys.” He says about his first gig with Living Colour, “So it was actually my first time performing at CBGB’s, which was a big enough deal for me anyway. It looks like a hole in the wall, it smells like a hole in the wall, it is a hole in the wall, but it’s amazing. Well, it’s not there anymore, but it was amazing. So that was my first gig, and I’ve been in the band ever since. The guy never came back.”

In 2009, jazz pianist Michel Camilo became the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s jazz creative director, largely due to his friendship with DSO music director Leonard Slatkin — and his talent. Mr. Slatkin commissioned Mr. Camilo to write his First Piano Concerto. In addition, in 1998 Mr. Slatkin conducted its premiere with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. On the recommendation of classical pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque, Mr. Slatkin had heard Mr. Camilo perform at the Blue Note in New York. After the concert, Mr. Slatkin came backstage and asked, “What can we do together?” Mr. Camilo replied, “We could do Bartok, Ravel, Gershwin — I’m classically trained.” “No, something of yours,” Mr. Slatkin insisted. “Well, it doesn’t exist, but I can write it,” Mr. Camillo said. “OK, you’re on!” Mr. Slatkin said. Mr. Camilo says, “I just think music and write what comes out. But I wanted to write a piano concerto, not a jazz concerto. I didn’t want it to be just a springboard for jazz improvisation. I wanted to develop the motifs with a classical point of view. So it’s all intertwined.”

Punk rockers and their predecessors have done many strange things. Iggy and the Stooges once put water in a blender, turned it on, put a microphone over it, and broadcast the sound for 15 minutes before beginning their normal set. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols looked the part of a punk rocker and had the image, but he could not play his bass guitar well — not even well enough to play punk music, which was famously amateurish. Steve Jones usually played the bass parts that appeared on recordings. During live shows, the Sex Pistols sometimes did not even turn on the amp for Mr. Vicious’ bass. In 1979, Jello Biafa of the Dead Kennedys ran for mayor of San Francisco. He promised that if he were elected, he would force business people to work while wearing clown suits.

Musicians can be fired for odd reasons. Nicky Byrne of the boyband Westlife, which was started in 1998 by Louis Walsh, who had put Boyzone together, remembers that Mr. Walsh wanted the musicians who worked for him to be professional: “Louis always said he wanted hard workers rather than heart-throbs (or even talented singers).” Mr. Walsh twice fired all the members of Westlife. Mr. Byrne explains why: “He even sacked us twice for messing around; once, very early on, for throwing bread rolls at each other, while strolling in late for meetings. I remember him losing it, shouting: ‘You’ve let it all go to your heads. I don’t work with people like that.’ Thankfully, he listened when we begged him to take us back.”

One of Nancy Sinatra’s biggest hits was “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” which has an incredibly effective and memorable bass line. Singer Jessica Simpson asked her for permission to cover the song, but Nancy would give Jessica permission only if she contacted and paid royalties to the original bass player, Chuck Berghofer. Nancy says, “Lee [Hazelwood] dictated the bass line to Chuck, but the way Chuck played it was psychotic!” Jessica promised, and later Nancy called Chuck. Nancy says, “Jessica was honorable and kept her word. He got paid.” By the way, Nancy, who is the daughter of Frank, also says, “When I die, I already know what my obituary will be, ‘Frank’s daughter died with her boots on!’ Ha.”

Kristin Hersh started writing songs at age nine, but when someone asks if she was a music prodigy, she says, No. Why? She explains, “They were terrible, terrible songs.” When she and a couple of female friends formed the band Muses in 1982 (it was later renamed Throwing Muses), at first they did not want to have any male members of the band. But they quickly decided otherwise because they knew only one drummer, and he was male. By the way, she grew up with a bunch of hippies, one of whom wanted to paint the phrase “Be together” on the roof of the commune’s barn. However, he wrote “Be a tog eater” instead. Kristin’s father signs his letters to her, “Be a tog eater. Love, Dad.”

Red West is an actor who was a member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia” and served as Mr. Presley’s driver and bodyguard. Someone was bringing drugs to Mr. Presley and Mr. West didn’t like it, so he broke the man’s foot and said, “I’ll work my way from your foot up to your face.”

Famed violinist Jascha Heifetz once tried to play Charlie Chaplin’s violin, but it made a horrible noise. Mr. Chaplin then played it with his left hand doing the bowing, and it sounded beautiful. He had put all of the strings on backward.

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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