AS A YOUNG child growing up in the '60s and watching my parents perform, create and appreciate music, it was easy to see a clear path to happiness. For I loved music and wanted to create and perform it myself someday. The adage goes "find your passion, work hard, stick with it and all of your dreams will come true." Ok, so I'll learn to sing, play all the instruments that I love to hear, practice, practice, practice, create a vehicle so I might bring the music to the masses, stick with it until Success!!
OK, this sounds like a great recipe, and yes, I know that at times as you go you must add salt and change the ingredients as tastes may change. We stock our arsenal with ingredients that you might very well need some day in the quest to cook for the varied masses. We make sure that there is something for everyone in the way of spice. In my life it was learning music composition, playing four instruments, learning not only classic rock and pop vocals but also opera, Broadway and classical voice. I began increasing the range from Lou Rawls to Patti LaBelle, learning comedy, impressions and studying legitimate theater and on-camera skills as an actor. With this type of spice rack one would believe that there can be nothing but success at any dish on the menu.
Sometimes we all know that oven temperatures may vary and cooking time might be longer than expected. We wait, watch the progress and never waver from the goal of a great dish. The promise is that at some point, if you keep it in long enough and all the ingredients are right, you will have it and it will be great.
Through various garage bands, small seedy clubs and an endless stream of songwriting partners, recording sessions, coffee houses and cafés, I was ready to bring myself to the New York record industry. Each week I'd pen a half dozen songs and record them onto the major medium of its time audio cassettes. On Friday I'd get dressed in my best 1979 pop/rocker ware and take meetings with the likes of CBS, Warner, Polygram and Atlantic records. The meetings always went the same, three songs and a great inspirational talk. "You have a great voice but those songs don't suit you," "you are a great writer but I'm not sure where you fit in," "great writing man, you sing your ass off, but none of the songs sound exactly like each other."
What to do with diversity? Curse or blessing?
I get a few records out eventually but fall into the cracks and go mostly unnoticed. What were once the flavors that David Bowie, Elton John, The Who, and Billy Joel possessed to make themselves musical Gods were now the flavors that tasted bitter to the record companies.
Upon the 5689th proclamation of "man you're talented, why aren't you a major recording artist?" I quit. My clear bright spirit felt deprived and hurt like a puppy that runs to an unfamiliar person ready to jump, bite and play, only to be pushed away or yelled at. That terrible expression on a puppy's face that breaks your heart when you know that its feelings are hurt and it won't try to have fun with that person again. It's disenchantment. I felt that way.
It had been 11 years and I was in no way able to look the look and hear the music. It's like painstakingly drawing a beautiful picture and handing it out to people only to have them hand it back to you unseen. Eventually if no one looks, there is no reason to draw anything, why bother, so stop. I stopped writing.
My beer soaked rock joints and New York City showcase houses like The Cat Club, China Club and CBGS's now gave way to a tuxedo and five weddings per weekend as the ultimate wedding singer which I had dabbled with on a part-time basis for years in anticipation of the recording career. Now brides and grooms would put down good money 15 months in advance to book the unlikely singer who could perform there favorite Journey, Foreigner and Brian Adams songs while rocking the overdressed and under-classed guests with Steppenwolf, Spencer Davis and Sly and the Family Stone. Very few wedding bands could do vocals from Englebert to Pointer sisters with one vocalist and we were a hit. A hit? In a wedding band?
What was once a vision of the stage at Madison Square Garden was now the bandstand in the garden room at the Watermill Inn on Long Island. How sad. Limousines, hotel suites and backstage parties gave way to polyester tuxedos and prime rib dinner during a 10-minute band break.
A long look in the mirror one day yielded a stop to this alternate universe and I handed all begging brides my 12-month retirement notice and upon that date burned my polyester tuxedo in the parking lot of the Miller Place Inn. With band members around me, a bottle of scotch in hand and not a clue as to where my career would go, I felt a bit like a watered down Hendrix watching the flames with band mates beside him well, he was at Woodstock burning his guitar and I was in Miller Place burning my tux, which had now become a black ball of hard plastic much like the records that were never created with my name on the label.
It seemed wrong to stop using the abilities I had honed as a young man to make a buck, I had to get back on the ride, somehow, but who would look at a 32-year-old pop/ rocker? This could only be seen as auditioning for the lead in a Broadway musical without the ability to sing, walk or even talk. Not gonna happen.
Spirit bruised and nowhere to turn I decided that I had always won over audiences with my impression of Elton John. Maybe this would be a great vehicle to get my name out there and eventually open the right door, throw off the glasses and say "hey, if you like the Elton bit, wait until you see this!!"
The Elton Tribute started as a free show for a local NYAIDS charity group. Within three weeks the club was closed off by the fire marshall because of overcapacity. We were a hit!
Now to get to that place and show them what I really can do!! The Elton tribute was discovered and began touring the USA at colleges, night clubs, rock joints and state fairs. A year later it went international and I performed in Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia.
Each place I went I offered the other sides of my talent but was told to "keep the Elton suit on and we just need the Elton impression at this point." This was not the plan. I was now being referred to as "hey Elton" and was asked to even arrive in a few countries dressed as Elton when I got off the plane. Dressed as myself and without large glasses on, I felt a lack of respect and a disappointment that I wasn't the real thing. Shame on you for not really being English, famous and our hero.
I liken it to a stripper showing up to work in a fat suite. As she walks past the patrons she hears the groans from the dreading audience but when she removes her coat along with the fat suite she is a knock-out!
No one cared who was within the Elton suit, no one cared what else he did. Put on the suit and be the personality that we know and respect and try not to be seen as yourself when coming into the building sad.
I thought to myself, "name one actor or actress who played Mickey Mouse or Goofy at Disney Land between the years 1955 to the present." It must have been thousands of actors who had worn those costumes over that amount of time. The answer is that I nor could you name even a single person in those costumes for the real reason was, who cares?
Spirit shaken and stirred.
[Read part two]