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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Drummer Remembers, or I Think the Ballroom Owner Knew Something the Band Didn’t

My father was a drummer.

This was, of course, on top of the many other things he did to earn a buck or two. Like my mother, the man was full of ideas on how to amass personal wealth.

In northern Minnesota, these ideas included crop dusting, becoming a flight instructor, creating and selling pine cone wreaths, and drumming.

There were other ventures in there as well, but you get the picture.

“I ever tell you kids the time I was the drummer in an all-lesbian band?”

Yes. Yes, he did. Several times.

Mine was the ear that most often took in my father’s stories. Kevin and Karen were known, individually and separately, for their ability to disappear shortly before a tale was to unfold; and so it was I, by way of slower legs and a trusting and simple nature found myself sitting at the kitchen table while Dad smoked a cigarette and waxed nostalgic.

“I ever tell you about the Withrow Ballroom?”

The Withrow Ballroom – a ballroom I myself would play at as a teenager – was set far outside a small town on the Wisconsin border. Down a gravel road lined with Jack pines and surrounded by a large dirt parking lot, there it sat, awaiting the cars of the young adults that would descend upon it. Saw dust would be sprinkled on the immense dance floor, flasks would appear from inside jacket pockets, and skirts would fly up for my father’s three-piece band.

It was the only game in town.

“We could play any song you wanted,” chuckles my father, ashing his cigarette, “as long as we knew it. “

Dad rises to get himself a beer.

“So one night, we’re playing the Withrow, right? Mid-January, colder than hell, if you’ll pardon the expression” and here he raises his beer can “and it’s snowing. Snowing! I know, I know, I can see you forming the question on your lips: Isn’t it always snowing in January in Minnesota? That’s a good question, and the answer is No. No it is not always snowing, especially when it’s that dang cold. But it was. It was cold and it was snowing to beat the band.”

Dad grinds out his cigarette into an ashtray shaped like a donkey’s rear end, lights another one.

“So we get there, me, Burton, and David, and we’re setting up, right? And what a crappy looking night this is turning out to be. There’s nobody in the joint, there’s a blizzard going on, and we’ll be lucky to get our cars out of the lot and on to a main road at the end of it all.”

Dad blows a hit toward the ceiling and pauses.

“So we play. First set, 20-some songs. Not a soul in the place. We’re playin’ to ourselves.”

I can see it, the boys up on stage in their black pants and white shirts, the enormous – and empty – dance floor.

“We take our break. Twenty minutes of sitting at the bar, drinking 7-Up, when the ballroom owner, guy by the name of Ken, I believe it was, comes around, says, hey, you boys want to make a deal?”

He pauses, takes another hit.

“Then what happened?”

He smiles. “The guy says, look, the place is empty, right? It’s 10:00 and there’s no one here. How ‘bout I let you go at midnight, pay you $40 for the whole night? Either that, or you play the whole night and I give you a cut of the door. Heck, he says, I’ll give you 20% of the door if you want to play until 2:00.”

He pauses, takes a drink of his beer.

“So what’d you do?”

“Well what’s 20% of nothing? We walk off to the side and talk it over, decide we’ll cut our losses, take the $40, and be out of there by midnight.”

Dad takes a deep drag off his cigarette, smiles ruefully.

“You know what happened, don’t you?

I shake my head, and Dad shakes his head in return. “Ten twenty or so the double doors open – and 300 people come in. Three hundred! No lie!”

He grinds his cigarette out. “Three hundred people,” he marvels. “Where did they come from? There were eight, nine school buses in the parking lot when I looked out the doors at the end of the second set.”

He stands up, heads across the kitchen, still shaking his head. “I don’t remember if we ever found out where they came from,” he say from the interior of the fridge. He stands up, pops the bottle top on the edge of the counter with the heel of his hand. “You’d think I’d remember that, wouldn’t you?”

I tap the side of my nose with my index finger, as I’ve seen him do so many times before. He bursts out laughing. “The place was packed and it was one of the best gigs we ever played!”

He takes a long pull from his beer.

“Forty bucks,” he muses, shaking his head.

I shake my head in commiseration and he smiles.

“Don’t that beat all, Pearl? Don’t that beat all?”


Hilary said...

Darned bar owner.. he had to know they were coming. Fine story-telling. On your father's part and yours.

Jeannie said...

Love the stories! Thanks so much for coming by.

Douglas said...

You are one lucky lady. My dad was a grumpy old man when he was 30 and I was 6. I think he was born that way. He never played in a band, smoked, or had adventures. He was quiet, moody, and always (it seemed) serious. On the other hand, he'd have suspected something when the ballroom owner offered that deal.

bruce said...

what a great read...as a musician myself and a smoker, and a beer drinker, i could feel and taste the story as if i were the one regaling you!

bruce johnson jadip
stupid stuff i see and hear
Bruce’s guy book
the guy book
Dreamodel Guy

Hutch said...

This made me miss my mom and dad. Someday I will share the "who flung that 'mater' story.

Oilfield Trash said...

I love the stories you tell of your dad.

Evolution of Relationships said...

That just brightened my day, your dad sounds like a legend! I think your siblings truly missed out.

Pearl said...

He certainly does have a way with words. :-)

Louisiana Belle said...

I love your dad stories. What a character. The bar owner had to know those buses were coming.

savannah said...

great story, sugar! xoxoxo

becca said...

you tell the best stories

Symdaddy said...

I reckon you didn't mind your siblings being faster and I'll wager you could listen to your Pop's tales all day.

Leenie said...

A handsome dude and a smooth story-teller. Is that a '57 Chevy wagon he's polishing?

It sounds like you learned a lot at that kitchen table...story telling for sure. And what did YOU play at the Withrow Ballroom?

Kittie Howard said...

Yep, that do beat all!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Yeah, I thought there was always snow in Minnesota in January. At least it always seems to in Thunder Bay. Enjoyed that nostalgic story, Pearl.

Sweet Cheeks said...

Of course your dad is fantastic...look at how wonderful his Pearl turned out!

Eva Gallant said...

Great story. You brother and sister missed out on the fun.

Roses said...

Awesome story.

powdergirl said...

Hah, I think I have a crush on your Dad.....

mrwriteon said...

Your dad is worthy of an entire book devoted just to him. Or even better, a TV series. I miss the days when such people could hold court. You were very fortunate, my friend. My dad was just a controlling prick. Highly responsible but not much fun.

Pearl said...

Dad's still around, still telling stories and the oldest and corniest jokes around. :-)

Many years after this particular story, I played at the Withrow with an Old Tyme band, as they were called. Al Derke and the Melody Artists. :-) Yes, indeedy. Clarinet and sax. To this day I have the Clarinet Polka memorized...

Steve Gravano said...

Awesome story, he knew, of course he knew, those club owners always know how to cheat the band.

The Lissst! said...

Soes, I'm at the library k.
And I read the line about your dad in the all lesbian band.
I laugh out loud k.
I laugh out load and this kid sitting next to me gives me a shut the fuck up look. I look at him and say
"Sorry, I just read something about an all lesbian band."
He tells me that sounds cool.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

You certainly take after your dad. Storytelling and band playing.

Camille said...

You're the best Pearl. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Your Dad, what a guy. Makes me want to go find a cold one and fire up a Lucky Strike

Gigi said...

What a sly s.o.b. that bar owner was.....

What a great picture of your dad!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I suspect your dad influenced your story-telling talents from the beginning. What a gift!

Ajax said...

My Dad was a guitarist in a country band...sure wish he would tell me some stories....

You're a great writer!

Tracy said...

You have such a flair for story-telling...love it!
Th photo is wonderful!

Vic said...

Great story - and the picture's even better.

I used to play the clarinet, but we weren't allowed to polka. It's a west coast thing, I think. :)

Belle said...

I would like to give you the Stylish Blogger Award. You can get it by going to my blog, right-click on the award and put it on your computer and then on your blog.
I admire your writing and think you have a stylish blog.

Bouncin' Barb said...

Hi. Belle has given us both a Stylish Blogger Award so I thought I'd stop in to say congrats myself. I read this one post and am hooked. Love your story telling. I do something similar. My memoirs mixed in with some day to day stuff. Nice to meet you.


Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Your dad was and is quite the charmer.

Cloudia said...

Ah, you are from a line of spellbinders

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral



Lazarus said...

This is what blogs are for. Bravo!

Argent said...

D'ya think your Dad would adopt me? Mine was never as interesting as that!

the walking man said...

I'm going to have to have a talk with one of my sons he used to do drummer gigs in a bar bands

Pat Tillett said...

One of the best stories I've heard in a while (and I've heard a lot of them). You and your dad both are amazing story tellers!

Jhon Baker said...

What a great story, as per usual.