Going Down Hard/the Aging of the Boomers Part 6 – The Golden Years

Just what in the hell were our parents talking about when they referred to the ‘Golden years’?  Were they nuts or was it really the fact that people born around the turn of the twentieth century were just made of tougher stock.  I know for a fact that World War II was basically won by farm boys from the mid-west.  Tough as nails these kids who could lift up a cow. 

The Nation has become urbanized over the past several decades.  All we have now are soft bellied brats who never take earphones out of their ears.

Yep, that must be it.  Our parents were tougher by our standards today.  They knew that when they became senior citizens life would be relaxing, retired with a substantial pension surrounded by their children and grand children.  With these things in mind the term ‘Golden years’ makes plenty of sense.

But wait a minute.  Today, the term ‘Golden years’ can only refer to the health industry as we boomers gravitate towards cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and a thousand other de-habilitating diseases that attack one out of every four of us or twenty-five percent of the boomer seniors.  And, unlike our parents, the health system has broken down to the degree that if you contract one of the well-known maladies, the expense for gambling that you might live through it will put you in the poor house.

There you are.  On the street with cancer eating you alive, wondering how you’re going to eat today and where you’re going to sleep.   Jesus this is really depressing.  Why in the hell did I go to this place?   Okay, I’ll try to balance out this segment with a joke that Henny Youngman, the famous funny man of yesteryear told me, in person, in Toronto after I finished a show backing up Lena Horne.
     “A prostitute walked up to me on Hollywood blvd. and said, ‘I’ll do anything you like for fifty dollars’.   “I said great!  Paint my house.”

      Until next time.

                                            (Art Johnson / Monaco – copyright 2014)

Memoirs of a Sideman: Engelbert Humperdinck Tour of Tours –1982


Some stars seem to have a natural gift for trouble and conflict.  Known for his schmaltzy pop hits of the 60’s such as “After the Lovin’”, Engelbert resurfaced in the late 70’s as the heir apparent to Elvis Presley by acquiring his prestigious gig at the Hilton show room in Las Vegas. 

Let’s face it, at the time I was a hot-shot guitarist whose rock, country and pop skills were at the peak and perfectly suited to be the “Humper’s” gun-slinging desperado of guitar licks.

There was only one major problem.  The “Humper” had earned this nickname to the max by hustling every female with loose panties.  It didn’t matter if she were married or single, rich or poor as long as she was eager to get-it-on and please the maestro in his never-ending quest for sexual satisfaction, supplying the ever present “ego-pump”.  This seemingly normal male trait amongst rock and pop stars alike was only hindered by Mr. Humperdinck’s selection process which was not always subtle.  If you’re going to bed-down the wife of a Sultan or Italian family member, you might just be in for a bit of a backlash in the form of threatening bodily harm.  Of course, anyone associated with you at the time, like a band member or part of your enormous entourage, might also be privy to the consequences of your escapades. 

The following example will more than demonstrate in “real time” those effects which constitute potential danger for your crew.

To say that the powers that be had completely altered the “Humper’s” image to fit persuasively into the persona of the late Elvis Presley would be stating this transformation mildly.  Engelbert was dressed in the former style of costume that Elvis wore, the stage was set as Elvis had performed on it and even the opening of the show featured a large motion picture screen and a brief film of the “Humper” demonstrating his Karate expertise and flashing his big smile.  This representation was an exact duplicate of the same film that preceded each show when Elvis reigned on the throne.  Show business has always amazed me, but this “Xerox” copy of a dead pop star was even more than I could believe.  Basically, for the six months that I toured with “Enge,” we played to show rooms at Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, doing our “Elvis Lives” road show.  Now down to business.

One day mid-week during one of our stays in Vegas to perform at the Hilton show room, I needed to make an arrangement with one of the management team concerning a flight back to LA on our day off to do a recording session.  I called the hotel operator and asked for “so and so” and she immediately informed me that Mr. Humperdinck and his entire entourage of management had checked out that morning and were staying in another undisclosed hotel along the strip. I set down the receiver and thought, “...wow, this is really strange!

I wandered down to breakfast in the “all you can eat” for a buck and half coffee shop in the hotel and found our conductor Carl Hermanns reading a book and slowly enjoying his pancakes.  I slid into the booth next to him and said, “What in hell is going on, Carl?  I called to get a hold of someone with management and Christ, they’ve all checked out!”

Carl gently padded his mouth with his napkin to remove a trace of syrup and calmly replied,“Oh, there was a bomb threat against “Enge” so Harry thought it best to remove Engelbert to a safer hotel.” 

This explanation being delivered with the same emphasis as if they had just gone to get the car washed and would be returning any minute.

I wigged.

“Carl, are you shittin’ me?  There’s been a life threatening scenario towards our “boss” and he left the band here to deal with the consequences?”

Carl responded with the same calm demeanour,
Won a Grammy for "After The Lovin'"
“Oh Art, this happens all the time, we don’t pay any attention to it anymore.”

Returning to his orange juice and crisp bacon, I excused myself and decided to take a little walk along the strip
before breakfast to do some thinking. 

What the fuck was this all about?  These bodily threats occur often?  And no one does anything about it except to eat a leisurely breakfast and get ready for another show that night?  My internal computer was not accepting this information with any glee.  Was this guy that dangerous?  I had to assume, giving this current information, that I had better be watching my “back side” constantly.  That evening, just before a performance, would prove my reckoning to be valid.

I arrived at the stage of the Hilton showroom, early as I usually did, to set up my guitar and effects pedals.  While in the process of doing so, I observed several persons with black jackets embossed with the initials, “F.B.I.”.  This was truly not a good sign.  I said nothing to the stage crew and went about my business as usual.  I changed only one piece of my stage equipment.  I exchanged the normally high stool that I sat on for the shows, for a low normal height chair.  I had no real idea why I did this, just call it intuition.  I figured that the lower I was in reference to the audience, the better off my chances of living through the evening, if indeed there was an assassin in the room.  I still could not be sure what in the hell F.B.I. personnel were doing onsite, but I could and would always in this type of circumstance assume the worst. 

As it turned out, I was right.  We began the show as usual, with the back lit movie screen depicting “Enge” demonstrating his fako Karate kicks in a white Karate uniform, as I noticed two F.B.I. agents, one at either side of the stage, in the wings, with black, 45 caliber automatic hand guns drawn in the ready.  My heart started to pump big-time as the conductor, Carl, kicked off the tempo for the opening instrumental barrage.  What really blew my mind was that absolutely no one seemed to notice our new members on stage.  My adrenaline went into overdrive. 

The possible sequence of events presented themselves to my consciousness: Two F.B.I. agents are armed and ready at the wings of the stage and that can only mean one thing---death threat reality via a possible attempt by assassination by person or persons unknown. 

I virtually cowered in my chair, tucking myself down as low as possible and playing my guitar frantically counting the minutes until the show would conclude, hopefully with everyone intact, including yours truly.

After the show’s hour and twenty minute duration, the curtain closed and I jumped out of my chair and headed for Engelbert’s dressing room.  I entered without knocking and exploded on the “Humper” and his entourage.

“Excuse me, mother-fuckers; can someone enlighten me as to the reason why we had some of ‘America’s finest’ ready for an ambush mid-show?”

Engelbert was already shitfaced on brandy and sat with a towel wrapped around his waist laughing at me.  I suddenly realized that nobody gave a shit.  Let’s face it; it’s 1982, a long ways away from 9/11 and the need for security is almost non-existent.  In fact, as it was explained to me by Harry, Engelbert’s manager, there had indeed been a death threat that night from an Arabic Sultan who was a little bit more than peeved that “Enge” had molested a female member of said Sheik’s family.  Perhaps a wife, daughter, sister—it didn’t matter, the guy was pissed and someone had informed the powers that be, through an anonymous fax, that a gunman would settle things during this particular show. 

Great!  I thought to myself, I’m playing guitar for a roving sexual terrorist who strikes at will, anywhere in the world he happens to feel horny, which is of course, generally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I went back to my room at the Hilton that night to think things over.  My time alone was not long to be.  One of the other band members knocked on my door to inform me of an all night poker party being held in Carl’s room, complete with room service and a clean deck of cards.  I had been invited to “sit in” on several such after-hours poker gatherings in the past and had always declined, saying that I really didn’t know much about the game. 

Truth be told, I was and am a decent poker player and perhaps tonight, by participating, I could scope out how everyone else involved with the tour felt about tonight’s event, and at the same time, pick up lunch money for the next several weeks.

By the time we wrapped up our “friendly” poker match at 5:00 in the morning I had found out two things: one, these guys had that dangerous concept that nothing could harm them because they were musicians travelling with a big shot.  That somehow, they were protected with an “invisible” shield: a truly stupid concept for grown men.  Two, that indeed no one in the hotel room that night with cards in their hand could bluff me out of a thin dime!  I left the disgruntled band with $165.50 cash in my pocket and slept soundly in my room until around 2:00 the following afternoon.

Eng made friends with Elvis backstage at a concert. Elvis gave him a big hug, and then grew his sideburns after meeting him

I continued to take a chance and tour with the “Humper” for a few more months.  The gig paid well and I was stashing away the buckos big-time back in LA when we were off the road for a week or a few days.  But it was soon becoming apparent that his lifestyle had little or nothing to do with my way of thinking and that I would eventually have to make my move but not until a few more intriguing experiences. 

Engelbert has an incredible fan club.  Spread throughout the USA, Canada  and Europe, it must count into the thousands, consisting mostly of women varying in age groups from early twenties to late sixties and beyond.  Many of which could easily fall into the now popular variety of “desperate housewives” who eagerly follow the “Humper” from gig to gig.  It was not unusual to observe six to ten women in the front row of the Atlantic City casino and a few days later, find the same group “front row” in Vegas.

One drawback to this extremely organized fan club was the constant nagging that his backup band of “Sidemen” were expected to show up at the various social functions organized for the “Humper’s” benefit.  The reader by now should be quite accustomed to my disappearing act regarding such events.  I was once confronted by the actual “President” of said fan club in the lobby of the Marina Hotel in Berkley California.

“Young man”, I heard an insistent voice calling to me as I strode across the lobby one afternoon.

“Yes?” I responded with my best phoney-baloney countenance.

“I have a bone to pick with you!” continued Ms. Pickleface.

Again, returning with a style of charm reserved for those I couldn’t care less about. 

“And what might that be?”

“Young man”, obviously I hadn’t been assigned a name yet, “...we have left several invitations in your hotel mail box in many cities for you to attend some of our functions and we’ve never heard a word from you.”

I replied immediately, Hollywood smile plastered all over my face, 

“...Well there’s a good reason for that.”

She countered with the expected,

“…And what might that be?”

I, in my best show-business smart-ass response mode, offered my excuse,

“...Because, dear lady, I am a working musician paid to do a job with a very big star, but not paid to attend award shows, silly lunches, or boring teas in honor of this big star who pays me gobbles of money to be perfect on stage every night.  In short, my personal life is my own—period!”

For some strange reason she took offense at my conduct and hurried off muttering something unintelligible under her breath, which could probably be interpreted as derogatory axioms towards yours truly. 

Later that day I was politely dressed down on the telephone by Engelbert’s manager and encouraged to attend at least one of two functions in New York as we were headed there next to perform at Carnegie Hall.  Carnegie Hall, the “first temple” of classical music for the entire world was now to host an evening with the “Humper”.  What in the hell was the world coming to?

Actually, I couldn’t wait to get on that stage.  Needless to say the “vibes” were enormous, even from the wings.  The afternoon of the concert I was invited to attend two events in honor of the “Humper”.  One was a tea and awards show the following day hosted by the ever present fan club.  The other was a dinner at a famous night spot in the village with Engelbert present, leading the evening in a fabulous drinking contest. 

As I was required by management to attend at least one of these events, I opted for a night out on the town with “Enge”.

This would prove to be a most interesting evening indeed.  We finished our concert at Carnegie Hall and off we went after a brief respite into two limos with Engelbert, the touring band and a few of his manager/go-for pals.

When we arrived at the restaurant in the village, and entered by a long bar heading to a banquet room in the rear, I noticed along the wall of the bar, a myriad of photos featuring Frank Sinatra in various smiling poses with many individuals of the Italian persuasion.

Debuted in Vegas at the Riviera Hotel the marquee read "Dean Martin presents Engelbert Humperdinck"

This immediately peaked my curiosity.  The bartender, looking to be straight out of a Martin Scorsece film, followed all of us with his eyes, arms folded over a barrel chest as we single-filed to the back room.

My mother didn’t raise any slow kids.  I sized up the situation.  We were dining as guests of organized crime this evening. Offsetting my natural tendency to “expect the worst” of almost any situation was the comforting knowledge that my New York steak would be of the finest beef available.

The room in the back was mid-sized and had three long tables set up with none other than that to-be-expected look of authenticity.  You’ve got it!  Red and white checked table cloths, with a lavishly lit atmosphere provided by your standard empty Chianti bottles stuffed with candles and decorated with decades of candle wax. 

Perfect, I would be toasted tonight by one and all and then taken for a drive.  Well hell, I could have been at a tea the next day.  This was still better.

Even that dare-devil of all dare-devils Engelbert Humperdinck was seemingly a tad nervous, as men he had obviously never seen in his life, were shaking hands and hugging him like a long lost brother, while a co-hort snapped a photo with a Kodak instant camera; all participants waiting with anxious glee to view the results developing right before their very eyes.

I had the great fortune of sitting at a table with complete strangers.  I viewed each one slowly and came to a general conclusion at the end of my pondering.  I don’t think this is going to be a meeting of the “Dead Poets Society.”  For some reason the man on my immediate right was in a jovial mood and struck up a conversation with me.  He had been at the show and loved my guitar playing,

“You were really kickin’ some ass out there dude! You really reminded me of Clapton in the ‘Cream’ days”.

Somehow I was expecting a thick Hollywood-mafioso-type accent from this guy and I was dealing with your typical Hell’s Angel-looking rock music fan.  So be it.

“...Oh thanks man, glad you enjoyed it.  By the way my name’s Art.”

Our newest acquaintance on planet earth at the moment replied with a smile,

“Hey man, nice to meet ya’, my name’s Mario.”

Well, at least the name was working.

It turned out that Mario was a big fan of Harley Davidsons and just happened to have in his brief-case, an extensive portfolio of photographs of all of his personal Choppers. 

I thought---just great, as I nodded my head up and down in approval.

After several minutes of looking at choppers in different poses as if it was a porno mag, I was becoming curious.  These damn motorcycles are extremely pricey, what in the hell does this guy do for a living?  After two or three vodkas my curiosity was ravenous.  We had just finished gaping at a purple and wine colored tri-wheeler police Harley custom to the max when I popped the question.

"So tell me Mario, what do you do for a living?”

Mario, still possessing the proud smile of a father as he gazed at his “babies”, said casually out of the side of his mouth,  “Oh, I take care of people for the family.”

I immediately thought he might be a male nurse or something like that.

“So, Mario, you in health care”, I asked?

“Not exactly, I’m a contract killer.”

At this moment my computer was entering “abandon ship” mode and I froze.  Not a good idea to persue this subject any further and I must immediately find another topic to launch into.

“So,” I queried, his eyes directly into mine now, “what kinda gas mileage do you get on these guys, better than a Volkswagen or what?”

It was time for me to get real stupid and totally unobservant; just another one of the guys, out on the town, havin’ a beer with his pals.

I hit pay dirt and had no problem steering Mr. Murderer off into the land of gleaming, masculine machines.  We ate our steaks and chatted away the hour or so with me wondering if this guy was carrying a gun the whole time we were pouring ketchup on our fries.

I made an excuse to head for the toilet after devouring my “medium rare” and headed out the front door waving cordially to “Mr. Friendly” the bartender, henchman, whatever.

I grabbed a cab and kissed the door man as I entered the hotel: home, safe and sound with a good book, a joint and a comfortable bed.  Maybe I would even check out the tea tomorrow to offset this experience. 


Weeks passed as we toured throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Engelbert in Vegas
 At the time I was heavily into learning how to play the renaissance lute. The what? Yea, I said the lute.  It was the premier instrument of the 16th century and I fell in love with its sound.  While with Lena in Philadelphia, I had wandered into a classical guitar shop and there it sat:  a perfect copy of the “plucked keyboard” fashionable during the “Golden Age”.  I couldn’t resist playing it and the first time I played a chord on the instrument I was hooked.  While with “Enge”, I shipped it with the band luggage and carried the black anvil case with me from hotel to hotel.  I suspected that many in our crew thought that I was spawning a new career as a ventriloquist.  The anvil case would have been just the right size for a dummy. 

Also at that time, one of the reasons I was on the road was to add to my already growing collection of rare books on metaphysical subjects.  I always took a few rare editions with me to make any hotel room feel like home.  Oddly enough, in one of the Casino/hotels in Atlantic City where we performed, I discovered a rare book shop right next to the cafeteria.  I couldn’t believe it.  Along the corridor all lined up: women’s’ bathing suits and accessories—news- stand with tobacco and racing forms—rare books from the 18th century on! 

I spent every day of our two week run crawling around on my hands and knees virtually reorganizing the shop for the German Owner.  I bought around fifty books and loaded them into a new suitcase bought on the boardwalk.  The roadie was thrilled when we got to the airport and he had another fifty pounds of luggage to deal with.

My “Romantic” enthusiasm for everything mystical and antiquated soon brought me under the scrutiny of my fellow “Sidemen”.

One afternoon in Reno, Nevada at the Hilton, I knew we were going to have a long afternoon of rehearsing the orchestra, for it was our debut at this venue.  I decided to bring one of my books with me and left it in the dressing room on top of my guitar case while doing a sound check for my guitar in the show room.  When I returned the band was standing around the book in question with a page opened up to a picture of “Behomet” or the devil as commonly known.  Don’t panic, I was never around Charles Manson.  It was a book on the Tarot by Eliphas Levi, the grand occultist of France in the mid-nineteenth century.  I was studying the symbolism of the fifteenth card of the major tarot trumps.

We could sojourn here into an overview of the influence of the occult revival upon literature and the arts in general from the 1850’s –1950’s but that would be best documented in a future work.

Needless to say, the “boys in the band” were a bit agog at my reading preferences.  No one said anything but the atmosphere in the room grew dark as everyone wandered around with a sheepish look on their face.  I said nothing, closing the book and locking it in my guitar case. 

A few days later, Carl Hermanns and his brother Don who was the bassist in our touring group, invited me to dinner along the river bank running through Reno.  Drinks and hors d’oeuvre were ordered and we settled into our leather-tufted booths to talk.  Carl launched immediately into the incident with my book.

“....Art, I have a question for you that we’ve all been dying to ask.”

“Shoot!” I responded, calamari mid-bite.

“Are you some kind of black magician or something...you know, like a sorcerer?”

I had expected the subject to come up soon and had prepared myself for this moment.

“Well, Carl, if I was, I certainly wouldn’t be on the road with Mr. Penis, travelling around mopping up after his indiscretions.”

Nervous laughter from Carl and Don.

“Hey, Art, I certainly didn’t mean to offend you—“

I cut him off before he could finish his thought.

“Carl, it’s very simple.  I have always been fascinated with history.  The subject requires the scrutiny of both rational and so-called, irrational thought and behaviour throughout the centuries.  Right now I’m into “speculative philosophy” a non-material scientific area whose aspects are only recently coming to light in our age.”

Don broke in.

“Oh, you mean all that stuff people used to believe that isn’t relative anymore?”
 I replied snappily to close the subject, “Exactly!”

We finished off our evening with a delicious meal and talked about music before returning to the hotel.

The next morning I found Carl in the lobby waiting for me to come down for breakfast.  It struck me odd that he seemed to have a somewhat apprehensive look on his face as I approached him.  I greeted him with a big smile and he asked me if it was okay for him to join me for breakfast.

 Jimi Hendrix played for Humperdinck once on stage behind a curtain when Eng's guitar player didn't show up for a gig. They got along great

We settled in and ordered, starting with my favorite drug, caffeine.  Carl then told me that a strange occurrence had happened in his room the previous night.

I jokingly responded, “...Blonde, brunette, redhead?”

He waved me off and took on a grave composure.

“Look man, I got into bed last night to read and uhm....well, the lighting fixture on the ceiling started to weave back and forth very noticeably without any apparent reason.  At first I thought it might be an earthquake, but...uhhh, nothing else seemed to be moving and uhhh....”

“Carl”, I cut him off mid uhhhhh....

“Are you wondering if I caused the chandelier to move because you think I am some kind of a transcendental magician?--You’re kidding me!”

Carl began to hmm and ahh a bit more,

“Carl, look me in the eyes.  Last night your imagination carried you away.  You fixated on our dinner discussion and caused your own nightmare.  If I was indeed, someone vested with those powers, I’d “manifest” myself a blond and an Island in Tahiti..., in fact two blonds, an island paradise in Tahiti and you would never have even met me.”

Carl waved me off, excused himself and wandered out the lobby doors onto the street.  Jesus, this guy needs a girlfriend, desperately!

A few weeks later, for some unknown reason the organizers of the Christian Country Music Association decided to book the “Humper” and his band for their awards ceremony in Fort-Worth Texas. 

This type of booking would be comparable to having the “Hitler youth” orchestra play for Sol Blummberg’s, son’s bar-mitzvah.

This is our final example of Engelbert, “Mr. Danger is our business” Humperdinck’s propensity to wreak havoc on those around him.

A representative from the organizers of said awards show arrived in Reno to take a peek at the “Humper’s” stage presence.  After he ate the crouch of some young ladies panties thrown up on stage, said person ran out of the room and more than likely sent a panic fax to Fort-Worth.  Sorry guys and gals, no cell phones yet in 1982—unbelievable!

At any rate, a contract was sent the size of the National Budget report, with so many do’s and don’ts that I was amazed he took the gig.  The organizers of “sing a song for Jesus” insisted that the show be only thirty minutes in length.  That no vulgarity of any description be displayed.  That no sexual innuendos be exhibited under any circumstance and that Mr. H start on time and stop on the dot. 

No problem.  Well, maybe just one or two small problems. 

Oh, the “Humper” and his management team agreed to and signed said contract but when we arrived for our very, very important sound check, these pig-fuckin beer drinkers of the Lone Star state were nowhere ready for us.  The stage wasn’t set, amplifiers had not arrived, microphones were nonexistent and the sound system sported hundreds of loose wires going in thirty different directions.

The only option: hang out in the dressing rooms until our crew was ready for us.  Problem number two.  Engelbert began to drink heavily while waiting to do the sound check. 

Two and a half hours later, when said sound check got on its way, “Enge” couldn’t have spelled his own name with crayons on butcher paper.  He was gone, two-sheets to the wind, slurring his speech and drooling over every cowgirl within the arena. 
I smelled trouble a-brewin’, partner.  Yes sir, them folks down here in Texas just might not take too kindly to such goin’ on as was about to be a goin’ on.  I wasn’t wrong.  We did our show, that is the Las Vegas show of one hour and twenty minutes complete with the standard list of vulgarities and a few new ones he made up on the spot concerning how fond he was of down-home pussy!

Well, my goodness.  You never saw a more nervous band of Hollywood “Sidemen” pack up faster than at the conclusion of that-thar show.  While in the process of doing so, famed cowboy actor Ben Jonson got on stage, grabbed a microphone and began to berate Englebert, and of course the band was included. 

“May this man’s soul fry in Hell, along with those who support him!” Ben taunted.

I thought it was a bit critical, considering the official reviews wouldn’t be on the street until the following morning in the papers.

Ben went on and on with his “Hell’s-a-fire-revival” commentary until we noticed that people had moved away from the stage as if anticipating a lynching. 

I personally thought that we would be lucky to get out of town by sun up, let alone find a ride back to our hotel which was easily two miles from the concert venue.  Luck was on our side in the form of an African-American van driver who observed our peril and offered to give us a lift back to the hotel.

When we arrived, I noticed that a “Posse” had formed at the hotel entrance “just a wait’n to get these no-good varmints and run ‘em out of town on a rail!”

I informed my fellow “Sidemen” of what I believed to be a certain confrontation if we entered by the lobby entrance and casually suggested that we go around back and sneak into to the hotel.  These “city-slickers” just paid me no a’mind and headed straight into that-thar pack of vigilantes. 

I thought differently and kindly requested that our volunteer driver give me a ride ‘round back.  As I circled around to the left of the hotel in the van I noticed our “boys” being confronted by the “Towns-folk” gathered at the entrance and I prayed they would make it through the night.

They did.  The next day on a plane bound for LAX, I informed Carl that this was to be my last “round up.”   I gave my notice and disappeared off into the sunset in Santa Monica the next day, thanking my lucky stars that I made it out alive.

However, as it turned out, this was not to be my last “round up” with the “Humper.”  After arriving back from my moment of Nature and the sea, I found my answering machine lit and flashing heavily.  Somehow, I could feel this was trouble and it was.  I had five messages from Harry, Engelbert’s manager from his Beverly Hills office.  His voice was agitated and he demanded that I get right back to him—immediately!  I complied.  I reached him on one ring and he laid it on me.  Engelbert was due to play the Hilton in Vegas the following week and it would be impossible to replace me, so what would it take for me to do the two weeks before my final departure?

I thought about it calmly for a few seconds and said,

“Double my salary and fly me home on the off-day.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Done deal”, and hung up the phone abruptly.

The events that followed are a fine example of show-business tradition. In Harry’s mind I could not be replaced, that was why he was willing to pay heavily for my brief return.  As events developed we shall test this concept.

I arrived at Las Vegas International Airport as usual and was driven to the Hilton Hotel on the strip just in time for a sound check for that night’s show.  I had opted to arrive the day of the gig instead of traveling with the band the day before.  For me, the less time around this gig the better.

Honestly, I was a bit apprehensive about how “Enge” would feel towards me, since I was sure that he had been informed of my decision to leave the road tour.  I was amazed by his attitude towards me that afternoon.  He smiled at me and gave me a big hug before I set up my gear.  Maybe, I thought to myself, he had not been told by Harry that I quit.  This assumption on my part at the time was probably accurate.  That night was a totally different story.

All through the rehearsal that afternoon, all of the entourage connected with Engelbert was joking with the band and me as usual.  Keeping things light was always a necessity with big stars. No matter how famous a person is or how revered, the aspect of nerves and butterflies before a show is tantamount to the occupation.  Kidding around at sound checks and rehearsals always helps.

That evening when I arrived on stage for the first show, the atmosphere had changed drastically.  The members of his entourage who were responsible for pre-show checks of staging etc. were very cold to me.  I knew then and there, that Harry for one reason or another had to tell “Enge” and his crew that I was, by my own decision, soon to be history.

We started the show and I really let it rip!  Notes came flying off the guitar and my chorus, distorted and compressed guitar sound was enormous in the monitors.  Engelbert turned towards me with a huge smile and said loudly into the microphone,

“…Yea Art, go man go!”   I thought for a moment that I was an incarnation of Gene Krupa.

Then it happened.  It was written all over his face.  All of the sudden he realized he had just gone over the top with enthusiasm for someone who was leaving the organization.  His ego, quite naturally, had been deeply bruised.  I watched him carefully as he went from Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hyde.  A dark, ominous cloud was forming in his mind.  Everyone on stage from conductor Carl on down was aware.  Then it happened, the transformation was complete.  Engelbert began to run back and forth on stage, screaming out his lyrics.  Within two more songs his rage had peaked.  In the middle of a song he swung around facing his traveling “Sidemen” and yelled,

“You’re all fired!”

The first reaction on everyone’s part was to laugh.  Surely, he was kidding, but he wasn’t.  We continued to play the show out and the minute the curtain was drawn he ran off stage in a huff.

Carl quickly exited stage left and followed the “Humper” back to his dressing room.  I began to pack up slowly, knowing full well that this was the final hour.  I went to his dressing room to see if I could cool things out for the others, but no, he fired all of us because I had quit.  What in the hell was he thinking!  He was one night into a two week stint in Vegas and in the morning there would be no band. 

The next morning at 6:00 am, I rolled out of bed, had the desk call me a cab and I headed for the airport.  By 9:00 the same morning, I was sitting in my Silver Lake apartment reading a rare book knowing that I had two weeks double pay coming and no more dues to pay with “Enge”.

At 10:00 the phone rang.  It was Carl.

“Man, when you know it’s over you cut and run don’t you!”

I replied, “You bet!”  Carl then went on to tell me that he and the rest of the band were staying in Vegas.  Surely it would be impossible for them to assemble a new group ready to rock and roll by that evening…right?  Wrong.

In fine show business tradition, Harry called Los Angeles and by that afternoon a bevy of highly qualified studio musicians from Hollywood were on stage rehearsing the show as if they had been playing it all their lives.  As we have discussed throughout this book, “Sidemen” are what they are because they can come in cold to a new situation and nail it to the wall.  And of course, if you have seasoned studio players on hand, you really have nothing to worry about.  Undoubtedly the fees for this venture were enormous, but what the hell, in the entertainment industry, you live by the adage—the show must go on! 

Of course, I felt bad for everyone else who was innocent in this ordeal.  I ended up calling each musician involved to apologize, but they, with their own knowledge of this business knew that it was a simple case of guilt by association.  This type of scenario can happen in any business, and even more readily in show business—end of story.

Going down hard/the aging of the boomers: Part Five – The Valley is Wider Now

I stop at a gas station to fill up and ask the young pump jockey if he knows where the library is in Glendale.   “…The what?”  (Uh-oh, I smell trouble a brewin’ partner).  I smile that patient old geezer smile and asked again slowly.  He tops off my tank.  “You mean the place with books and things?”   I nodded continuing the smile.  He looked around as if it might magically appear in front of us.  After that failed to happen he came clean.  “Shit dude, I don’t know.  I’ve never been there.”  I pay and leave thinking that the young man is really missing out. 

Who could go through their life without the singular pleasure of walking into a public library and soaking in the atmosphere of thousands of different colors, shapes and sizes of books and that unmistakable aroma that accompanies the silence and serenity of the place? 

Then I wake up. What the fuck am I thinking?  Who in the hell under the age of forty would even bother to go to a library, or for that matter, even knows that they exist?   When you want some information it’s on the internet.  You don’t even have to go anywhere.  You can just sit in your apartment with the TV blaring away while you search the net for…for what?

The latest sports stats?  Another recipe for tomato sauce?   Maybe you need a great deal on a hotel room in Lapland? 

I don’t think that I could have gotten by in life without books around me.  Sure, your Kindle has the capacity to store hundreds of books but where are they?  They don’t line the walls of your home to offer your eyes the pleasure of gazing at their richness.  They don’t jump out at you as you walk by them, one screaming “…take me to your room and read me right now!” 

Nope, there is more separating the generations than age this time around.  The gap is much wider because we have moved so quickly away from time-honored traditions.   We stand on the cliff above the valley and yell across the canyon but we can’t be heard.  The valley is now too wide.

Oh well, I think I’ll trundle down to the neighborhood library and just hang out.  You know, the place where they have “…books and things.”

                                             (Art Johnson / Monaco - Copyright 2014)

The Lipinski Stradivarius

The Lipinski Stradivarius is an antique violin constructed in 1715 by the Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari of Cremona, during Stradivari's "golden period" between 1700 and 1720. There are fewer than 650 extant Stradivarius violins in the world today, and the Lipinski is considered to be a particularly fine example.

The earlier history of The Lipinski is unclear; Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini is the first reputed
Giuseppe Tartini.
owner. Tartini, who in 1713 experienced a dream in which he allowed the devil to play his violin, heard a beautiful sonata which he was unable to compare with anything he had ever heard. Tartini, two years later, tried to reproduce the sound in his Devil's Trill Sonata

Tartini presented the violin to his pupil, Signor Salvini. According to a reminiscence of a certain von Krockow, who met the Polish violinist Karol Lipiński in Dresden in 1849, the young Lipinski, provided with a letter of recommendation from Louis Spohr, met Salvini in Milan, probably at the end of his concert tour (1817-18). After Lipinski performed for Salvini, the teacher asked to see his violin, which he then smashed to pieces against the corner of a table. Salvini handed the shocked Lipinski the Stradivarius: "...as a gift from me, and, simultaneously, as a commemoration of Tartini."

In 1962, the Lipinski Stradivarius was sold to Rosalind Elsner Anschuetz of New York City, for US$19,000. Anschuetz gave the violin to her daughter-in-law, Estonian violinist Evi Liivak, and upon her death in 1996, Liivak's husband, Richard Anschuetz, took possession of the instrument. After Anschuetz moved to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, the violin was stored in a local bank vault. Upon Anschuetz' death in February 2008, Stefan Hersh a Chicago-based violin curator helped restore it to playing condition after it was removed from storage.

Karol Lipiński

Ownership of the violin passed to an anonymous family member, who loaned the Lipinski to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond.

On January 27, 2014, a Monday, at around 10:20 pm (22:20 CST), Almond was assaulted with a stun gun, and the violin, including two bows, was stolen during an armed robbery in a parking lot in the rear of Wisconsin Lutheran College on W. Wisconsin Ave. Almond had just performed at Wisconsin Lutheran as part of his "Frankly Music" series.

On 31 January 2014, a US$100,000 reward was announced for the return of the violin. Milwaukee police worked with international police organizations on recovery efforts. The original getaway vehicle and violin case were both found a short time after the original attack, which appeared to have been carefully planned in advance.

Three suspects were arrested by Milwaukee police on February 3, 2014. On February 6, 2014, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn announced that the violin had been recovered.

Going down hard/the aging of the Boomers: Part Four – that’s the trouble…

There is of course that first realization that age has crept up on you. The recognition varies from person to person.  Sometimes in subtle ways, as when you bend over to pick something up off the floor and it takes you longer to straighten up.  Or it might be that moment which occurs to all, the first time you gaze into the bathroom mirror and you look behind you to see who that old person is.  

But the real tell-tale sign is when you hear about the death of close friends or associates.  Not just once a year like when you were in your forties or fifties, but four of five times a year. 

I was privileged to know John Collins, the last guitar player with Nat King Cole.  We were friends.  John came out to hear me play quite often when I was living in LA and that was a big honor.  Before he retired I went to hear him as often as possible.  His playing was an enchantment.

One day we were hanging around and John had just gotten the word that his dear friend Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, the great trumpet player known for his work with Count Basie, had just died.   John was staring off as we drank a coffee at the Beverly Center. 

“You okay John?”  Collins looked at me with his mischievous smile and said, “Yeah, Artie, I’m okay.  It’s just the dues you pay for hanging around longer.” 

Now there’s some philosophical insight: the price paid for continuing your life while those around you that you care about check out.  John lived well into his eighties before he passed away.

That’s one of the problems with getting older.  Boomers are an emotional breed.  We were raised on hot rods, milk-shakes, true love at the Drive-in theater, innocent folk guitars, and basically an un-frenzied life that did not include computers, cell phones, virtual realities, internet mumbo-jumbo and the accompanying stress factors which plague our society today. 

When President Kennedy was assassinated we knew that the end was near: that the unhurried pace of life was soon to be exchanged for the hectic nothingness of competition and the accumulation of ‘stuff’ –the grand distraction from reality.

But that’s Okay, we rode it out for all it was worth.  Now, as we loom around our seventieth year on the face of this planet, we pine for the past, the way things were. 

That’s the problem of which there is no solution.  So when one of our comrades fades away, it affects us to the max.  There are too few left to reminisce about life in the slow lane.

                                          ( Art Johnson/ Monaco - copyright 2014)

Ezra Pound


by: Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

THE tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast--
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child -- so high -- you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

One of the 20th century's most influential voices in American and English literature, Ezra Pound was born in the small mining town of Hailey, Idaho

In 1907, after finishing college, Pound accepted a teaching job at Indiana's Wabash College. But the fit between the artistic, somewhat bohemian poet and the formal institution was less than perfect, and Pound soon left.

His next move proved to be more daring. In 1908, with just $80 in his pocket, he set sail for Europe, and landed in Venice brimming with confidence that he would soon make a name for himself in the world of poetry. With his own money, Pound paid for the publication of his first book of poems, "A Lume Spento."

Despite the fact that the work did not create the kind of fireworks he had hoped for, it did open some important doors for him. In late 1908, Pound traveled to London, where he befriended the influential writer and editor Ford Madox Ford, as well as William Butler Yeats. His friendship with Yeats in particular was a close one, and Pound eventually took a job as the writer's secretary, and later served as best man at his wedding.
Success Abroad

In 1909, Pound found the kind of success as a writer that he had wanted. Over the next year, he produced three books, "Personae," "Exultations" and "The Spirit of Romance," the last one based on the lectures he had given in London. All three books were warmly received. Wrote one reviewer: Pound "is that rare thing among modern poets, a scholar."

In 1912, Pound helped create a movement that he and others called "Imagism," which signaled a new literary direction for the poet. At the core of Imagism, was a push to set a more direct course with language, shedding the sentiment that had so wholly shaped Victorian and Romantic poetry.

Literature's Best Friend

Pound's influence extended in other directions. He had an incredible eye for talent and tirelessly promoted writers whose works he felt demanded attention. He introduced the world to up-and-coming poets like Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence, and was T.S. Eliot's editor. In fact, it was Pound who edited Eliot's "The Waste Land," which many consider to be one of the greatest poems produced during the modernist era.

Over the years, Pound and Eliot would become great friends. Early in his career, when Eliot abandoned his graduate studies in philosophy at Oxford, it was Pound who wrote the young poet's parents to break the news to them.

Pound's lineup of friends also included the Irish novelist James Joyce, whom he helped introduce to publishers and find landing spots in magazines for several of the stories in "The Dubliners" and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." During Joyce's leanest years, Pound helped him with money and even, it is said, helped secure for him an old pair of shoes to wear.

Outraged by the carnage of World War I, Pound lost faith in England and blamed the war on usury and international capitalism. He moved to Italy in 1924, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley. During World War II he was paid by the Italian government to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jews, as a result of which he was arrested by American forces in Italy in 1945 on charges of treason. He spent months in detention in a U.S. military camp in Pisa, including three weeks in a six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cage that he said triggered a mental breakdown, "when the raft broke and the waters went over me". Deemed unfit to stand trial, he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years.

Sheet of toilet paper showing start of Canto LXXXIV, c. May 1945
In 1958, Robert Frost spearheaded a successful campaign to free Pound from the comfortable confines of St. Elizabeths. Pound returned to Italy immediately, and in 1969, published "Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII."

 Later in his life, Pound analyzed what he judged to be his own failings as a writer attributable to his adherence to ideological fallacies. Allen Ginsberg states that, in a private conversation in 1967, Pound told the young poet, "my poems don't make sense." He went on to supposedly call himself a "moron", to characterize his writing as "stupid and ignorant", "a mess". Ginsberg reassured Pound that he "had shown us the way", but Pound refused to be mollified:

    'Any good I've done has been spoiled by bad intentions – the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things,' [he] replied. Then very slowly, with emphasis, surely conscious of Ginsberg's being Jewish: 'But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.'

Pound passed away in Venice in 1972 and was buried on the cemetery island Isole di San Michele. Over the course of his long, productive lifetime, Pound published 70 books of his own writing, had a hand in some 70 others, and authored more than 1,500 articles.

Icons and Iconic New York City Music Venues!


Max’s Kansas City
Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and Tim Buckley holding court at Max’s Kansas City  — a home for the art crowd — in 1968.
The Ramones played their earliest shows at CBGB. “They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song. And they started playing different songs, and it was just this wall of noise… They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new,” music journalist Legs McNeil said of the group’s first show there. In 1977, they returned to the stage (pictured) — as did a number of now famous punk bands who first got their start there.
Electric Circus
The experimental, psychedelic nightclub hosted bands (popularly, The Velvet Underground) between 1967 and 1971. “Like Woodstock, if you remembered much of what happened at the E.C. you weren’t really there.” The club was recently referenced on an episode of Mad Men.
Fillmore East
Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and John Lennon were just a few of the notable acts who shared the stage with Jim Morrison (pictured, in 1968) at the iconic rock music venue.
Coney Island High
It was short-lived, but Coney Island High became a 1990′s hotspot for punk bands. Sublime played their first New York City show there and as the club’s rep grew, larger acts like Iggy Pop and The Misfits graced the stage.
Photo credit: Josh Cheuse
Madonna’s career blossomed at Danceteria, also a hangout for New Order, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Run-DMC.
Mudd Club
Linda Stein, who helped launch The Ramones’ career, is pictured (top) at the Mudd Club with Joey Ramone, David Bowie, and Dee Dee Ramone after a Ramones show in 1979. Then up-and-coming artists like Lou Reed, Klaus Nomi, and Jean-Michel Basquiat became regulars at the no wave and new wave venue.
Photo credit: Peter Cunningham
Photo credit: Peter Cunningham
Photo credit: Peter Cunningham
Photo credit: Peter Cunningham
Bottom Line
Greenwich Village club the Bottom Line hosted an eclectic group of performers during the 1970s and ‘80s. “It’s been essentially my living room. I was very comfortable on that stage. I never really had to think before I walked out; it came naturally to me,” New York Dolls singer David Johansen said of the club when it closed in 2004.
Photo credit: Pennie Smith
Photo credit: Pennie Smith
The Palladium
The massive concert hall made music history on several occasions — like the time The Clash’s Paul Simonon smashed his guitar on stage in 1979 (below) and the photo became the band’s famous cover image for theirLondon Calling LP.
Photo credit: Tina Paul
Photo credit: Tina Paul
The Limelight
The Limelight was club kid central where the likes of Disco Bloodbathauthor James St. James, whose book was adapted for the film Party Monster, and designer Richie Rich loved to hang out (both pictured).
Studio 54
Everyone from Tennessee Williams and Betty Ford, to Dolly Parton and Grace Jones rubbed elbows at Studio 54. Diana Ross stormed the DJ booth while Bianca Jagger made a grand entrance on a white horse. Anything seemed possible, and you weren’t someone unless you were there.
Paradise Garage
Paradise Garage (1977-1988) was a Manhattan nightclub for Gay men and their allies. It is remembered as a mythic utopia for people whose spirituality is grounded in the performance of communal Gay male folk’s dance, an iconic space in the history of underground dance music, and the professional residency of the legendary DJ, Larry Levan.”
DJs like Sasha, Paul van Dyk, Danny Tenaglia, and John Digweed ruled Twilo, which helped popularize international house/trance in American clubs.
The “Rock Capitol of Brooklyn” was a mecca for hard rock/heavy metal acts during the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Faith No More, Murphy’s Law, Life of Agony (pictured), and other well-known bands played alongside underground groups from across the country.
Photo credit:  Catherine McGann
Photo credit: Catherine McGann
Tunnel was one of several venues shut down by mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign, but it was a favorite spot for club kids, celebrities, and DJs in the ‘90s. Tunnel even nabbed a spot in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho.
Via Flavorwire.com

Going down hard/the aging of the Boomers: Part Three – Dead Famous or, Strangers in the Night

Archive Kitchen in a cold-water flat on Perry Street, Greenwich Village (Gettyimages.com)

A winter evening in Montreal two years ago.  My wife and I are invited for dinner at the home of a friend and musician in the great Canadian north.  The other guests are musicians, writers and journalists, a good time being had by all. 

Half-way through the meal, a late guest.  Our host is overjoyed that she has arrived.  She is in her seventies, well kept but with that sense of ‘dues’ about her face; those lines of chiseled experience carved deeply in her cheeks. 

I was unaware of her identity. 

She was his partner for over twenty years:  he, the Dead Famous musician, Poet and composer who had recently past- away.  They gathered around her animated whisky-throated laugh.  She was full of nervous energy, someone who had lost someone and needed to be with others. 

I sat back like a good stranger and observed. 

She gulped down two shots of whiskey and the stories began.  The journalists had their memories tuned up.

There was an article here for the next edition of whatever they wrote for.  The questions came as if she were not at a party but at an interview.  She was becoming uncomfortable. 

Then I realized who she was, not from her time spent with Mr. Dead Famous, but from a picture of her I’d recently seen in a magazine article about a record sale for one of her paintings.

My wife was in the kitchen helping out with the mess.  I remained on the couch.  She looked over at me with a curious smile.  “I know you.” 

I responded.  “No you don’t.”

She walked over to the couch accompanied by her whisky-throated laugh.  “No, what I mean is I know who you are.”

I returned.  “Why?” 

“Because in 1974, I was at the Summer music festival in Central park.   You were the guitarist and violist with Tim Buckley.  I talked with you in the dressing room while you were warming up your bow arm.  I never forgot the fact that you played guitar and viola with Tim.  It was really beautiful.”

I was stunned.   I was having a vague recollection of that afternoon forty years ago.  (Did I just say FORTY years ago?)

She sat down with me and we began to recount the old days.  She and I were the ancient ones in attendance.  Two or three others gathered a chair and sat around to listen in.  We talked about the Village when it was affordable.  She mentioned that she had rented a coldwater flat when she first arrived in the late fifties for sixty-five dollars a month.  One of the listeners questioned.  “What the hell is a coldwater flat?”  She and I looked at each other and smiled.  You had to be a certain age to know that one. 

As the evening rolled by and it was time to retreat she offered to drive my wife and I back to our apartment in Vieux Montreal.  The road was icy from recent snows.  She navigated slowly saying very little on the road home.  She asked me if I were still playing music. I said yes but that I was writing and had just finished my first novel searching for a publisher. 

We arrived at our front door on St. Paul West and as we hugged and said goodnight she gave me a wry smile.  “After you get your first book published you may want to write one called Coldwater Flat”.  We both laughed and she drove off taking her uniqueness with her: a boomer with much history under her belt.

If you are still with us and perchance reading this blog; just to let you know—

I’m working on it.

                                (Copyright - Art Johnson, Monaco - 2014)