Monday, June 28, 2010

Too Young To Get In (The Usual Way)

I’ve been reading “Moanin’ at Midnight,” the biography of Howlin’ Wolf, and I loved a part where the teenage Hubert Sumlin, Wolf’s future guitarist, climbs up to watch Wolf through a window and accidentally falls onto the stage.

“I went around to the back of the club, where they had all these Coca-Cola cases piled up. I climbed up to the top of that stack to where I could see everything that was going on, ‘cause there was a window, right behind the drums. Well, these Coke cases started to come unbalanced and I fell through the window into the club, in the middle of a song. Over on the old Wolf’s head I landed—right on the dude’s head. He said ‘Let him stay. Bring him a chair.’ The lady brought me a chair. I said between Willie Johnson, Pat Hare, and Junior Parker…”

Music fans know this story personally. When I was 17 the Great Bo Diddley showed up at a club near my college and I went optimistically to the door to get my $5 ticket. No way said that man with the Harley vest and scraggly beard. I must have looked crushed, because the Hell’s Angel became an angel of mercy. I still remember his eyes. “Just stay here,” he said. Then, once the show started, he put me directly in front of the open door, which stood about 20 feet to the left of Bo Diddley’s microphone. It didn’t cost me a thing, and I had one of the best spots in the house. (Didn’t fall onto the stage though, and Bo never called, but this scene from "Let The Goodtimes Roll" is right from the same time.)

My hero Chuck Berry did the same thing when he was a teenager visiting Chicago, and wrote about it in his Autobiography. “During a visit to Chicago at sixteen with my boyhood friend Ralph Burris, one of the nightclubs we were too young to be admitted to was on 55th and South Parkway under the name of ‘The Rum Boogie.’ This particular night, the great singer Joe Turner was featured and the place was packed. Ralkph and I went around to the side of the building and climbed up to a high venitilation window and peeked in. Molded in my memory is the sight of Big Joe Turner rared back singing the song that Bill Haley covered for the then so-called white market, ‘Rock around the Clock.’ If ever I was inspired as a teenager, I was then.”

In his own excellent autobiography, B.B. King wrote about peering through “cracks in the sidewall” at the Jones Night Spot in Indianola, Mississippi , where he paid at least as much attention to the women as the bands. “Too young to gain admittance, I’d press my head against the slats and peep inside. Women in tight dresses of red and yellow and baby blue dancing with men all decked out in big suits and ties and wide brimmed hats… Dancing close, dancing sexy, dancing an inch away from my eyeball, where I could see the curve of a hip or the point of a nipple, smell the perfume and the smoke circling the room over the bandstand where—and this was the best part—Count Basie played.”

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