THE OPENING ACT PART III
Last time around I started a list of folks who I’ve opened for during my music “career.” This time I finish it out…
David Grisman, mandolin player and much much more: Played at a festival in Napa with his band, it was so unseasonably cold I can’t recall any of the performance beyond near frostbite. Oh, and that the promoter put the headliners up in a much nicer motel that we low billed hillbillies.
John Hammond, blues guitar legend: Opened for John three times in the same mid-sized club. He gives every show 110%, and some nights you can cajole him to reminisce about the old days. Gracious and a true gentleman, able to re-string his guitar on stage after one breaks while he tells a story.
Doug Kershaw, the Ragin’ Cajun, fiddle and vocals: Outdoor folk festival in Prescott, AZ, he stayed in his RV except during performances. His band would do 20 minutes of current country covers, then Doug would come out and go nuts on the fiddle, then leave and let the band close out the set. It rained very hard the last day of the festival, big thunder and lighting. He did not want to leave his RV, so the band I was in was promoted to headliner. Played for about 100 nut cases who wallowed in the mud after the sane audience members left. The guitar player kept yelling “Don’t take the brown acid!”
Hal Ketchum, country music singer songwriter: I was playing bass in a country band. I found his performance a little slick, was expecting something a bit more edgy. Some darnn nice songs, though, and he indulged our band leader with some photos.
B.B. King, blues legend: Opened twice at festivals. He is the King. Back stage is cleared completely as he arrives. We didn’t say much, as Little Richard and Bo Diddley were evicted from their dressing rooms, too.
Rose Maddox, country pioneer woman legend superstar: Opened three times, all at festivals in California or Oregon, at different times in Rose’s career. The last time she was a very frail little old lady… until she hit the stage. What a powerhouse, and somewhat nasty, entertainer. She suffered from inept backup bands but didn’t let it bother her. Someone who loved what they did.
Katy Moffatt, singer songwriter: Opened twice at the same community folk program, what a writer. Very captivating performer.
John Mayall, blues legend: Bad night for John and me. I was carrying about a 103 temperature on the down side of a nasty flu, but played by virtue of death threats from other band members. John’s band sound checked without him, and once he hit the stage, his keyboards would not work correctly. Took a long time to rectify, and he seemed in a bad mood due to that. His guitarist at the time, Buddy Whittington, remains one of the best players I’ve seen. He held his own with Eric Clapton at the Mayall tribute/birthday bash a few years back. Humble, and made it a point to head to our dressing room and tell us how much he enjoyed our show.
The Nashville Bluegrass Band, enough said: Opened a college concert, great performers. Completely confused their lead singer Alan O'Bryant by handing him a cassette and pitching him some songs after the show. He said that had never happened before. I attended a concert at the same venue two weeks later, and the sound man mistook me for someone in Tim O’Brien’s band. They were all very handsome gentlemen.
David Nelson, rocking country guitarist, one of founders of the New Riders: I can’t recall much of the show, other than Nelson is a hot Telecaster picker, and was very complimentary of my brother’s guitar picking after our set.
Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, blues band extraordinaire: Rod plays harmonica like a man obsessed, his wife, Honey, pounds the keys and an every evolving group of hot players support them. Rod usually closes the show walking around the club, climbing on tables while still blowing a blistering harp solo. Rather intimidating for our band’s harmonica player.
Little Richard, rock and roll legend and overall scary dude: One of my top oddball festival experiences. Richard’s “people” (who looked like Secret Service agents) asked the whole band to dance on stage when Richard did Old Time Rock and Roll. There is photographic evidence to prove this, I promise. And what an odd band he had: two bass players, two groups of male and female backup vocalists. And Richard got up on the piano just fine during Old Time, but he did need help getting down. Our harmonica player did a Chuck Berry duck walk across the stage and in front of Richard’s piano. If looks could kill…
Roy Rogers, blues guitarist, slide expert, vocalist and great producer: Another festival event. After his set, another band member and I over-enthused on poor Roy and scared him away. Note to fans: profuse admiration can be embarrassing or scary to the artist, especially if you are much larger physically and/or easily identified as inebriated.
Peter Rowan, bluegrass legend, larger than life: Can’t recall any interaction, he fronted a bluegrass super band, but it was too cold to play or listen comfortably at the Napa festival.
John Sebastian and Jimmy Vivino, Lovin’ Spoonful/Woodstock/Welcome Back guy with Conan O’Brien’s musical director: Great show, great stories, had no idea Jimmy Vivino could sing so well. Vivino’s staff member very complimentary, interested in having the band do more openers on the East Coast. Took weeks for my head to un-swell. Sebastian sure seems like the world’s nicest guy, even though he did not play my pre-sound check request.
Kim Simmonds, founder, blues-rock guitarist with Savoy Brown: Kim was doing a solo acoustic tour. I am a fan, and was aware of several acoustic blue fingerstyle CDs he’d done. There were two opening acts. The first either hadn’t got the memo or didn’t care it was an acoustic show and player super loud but adept bar band blues. We played our acoustic set. Kim did hits, mostly, and none of his fingerstyle blues. I asked him why and he said his audiences didn’t want to hear it. I disagreed strongly, and was very pleased to see a review of his work a few weeks later that mentioned he’d done a mid-set mini-set of fingerstyle blues guitar, and it had been well received. Told you.
The subdudes, bluesy/New Orleansy band with very cool minimal percussion: I booked this one because our drummer was the world’s biggest fan. He said he was probably too shy to even approach them, but when I arrived for our sound check, our drummer had his arm around the suddudes’ percussionist and they looked like old buddies. Lively show.
Mick Taylor, blues rock guitarist, former Rolling Stone: Rather disappointing show. Sound checks at small clubs are sometimes better than the “real” show. Taylor’s band checked without him except one song. His band rocked and the bass player sang for the mike checks, had a great voice. But not a note sang during the “real show.” Taylor sang, but unfortunately Taylor can’t sing. Sure can pick, though.
The Texas Tornadoes, a country superstar group: The version we opened for had already lost the late and greats Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm, but still rocked the house with one of the best shows I’ve seen. There is only one Flaco Jimenez. He seemed somewhat subdued, but when they returned to the stage for a few encore numbers, he was absolutely on fire. Kudos to Shawn Sahm for putting that tour together.
Ian Tyson, famous folk singer and songwriter, cowboy: Mr. Tyson is an acquired taste. He did trade us our smaller dressing room for his larger, since ours had a couch.
Joe Louis Walker, blues guitarist and singer, and showman: Surprised this guy isn’t far more famous. Wore a silver lame coat, and did one of those fiery, exhausting shows that has a little of his gospel background with a whole lot of blues.
Jessie Colin Young, folk rock singer songwriter. Just recording Get Together with the Youngbloods was enough, but Young has gone on to a great solo career and coffee sales. We opened for him one night at the Tucson Folk Festival. Earlier that day, I’d been giving a bass guitar seminar (a lot of festivals get as much as they can for their money, and have you provide seminars or training sessions) to a small crowd that kept growing during the hour, and noted that Young was among the audience. Since he began his time with the Youngbloods as a bass player, I was a little intimated. And the reason the attendance was swelling was because Young was doing a songwriting seminar at the same venue right after me. That night during Young’s headline set, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It began to rain, then hail. I was watching from backstage, and the tarp serving as the roof of the stage started to fill with hail. Young was unperturbed and continued to play. In fact, festival staff had to convince him to cut his set short. Young still hits the high notes, what a great singing voice. As one of those personal asides you can talk about at cocktail parties, he drank more water than anyone I’ve ever seen.
So go see some live music. Be careful when parking, applaud the opening act and maybe buy the band a beer. See you next time.
Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.