Rockin’ for Jesus

Another aspect of the sideman is the need for change and the quality or curiousness that causes this change. Pat Boone was an established pop star dating back to his hits in the 1950’s such as “Love Letters in the Sand.” In the early 70’s he was crossing over into country and western pop/rock with a Christian. Was his music my cup of tea?  Not really, but in his back up band was my favorite drummer and good friend, mentioned earlier in this work, Bob Morin. Also, the conductor was one of the nation’s most highly regarded jazz pianists, Paul Smith.  Paul Smith was a musician’s musician.  He had incredible knowledge and a sumptuous technique in multiple styles as a perfect player.  He was also a good friend of my Mentor, Barney Kessel, how bad could it be?  And besides, it was 1971 and I felt like going on the road in style.

Pat was at the forefront of the new wave of Christian music stars and he was also a gentleman who had much respect for his sidemen.  Actually, I don’t think that Pat and the family had experienced someone as sedately outrageous as I was at the time.  Even in those days I was, and still am regarded as a quiet and reserved person.  I knew at the time that Pat was also caught up in the new-wave of new-born Christians and that his fan base was derived mostly from this sector of American society, particularly in the Mid-West, known to one and all as the “Bible belt”.   

By this time, after hanging around the spiritual-alchemist-jazzbo’ Lynn Blessing, I had begun to collect a library on similar subjects.  The field of “speculative philosophy” or more commonly called, the “Occult” had drawn my interest because it was historically documented as a portion of the sum total that shaped ancient and modern civilizations for centuries.  While touring, I often carried several rare volumes with me on the road. 

Pat and the family, including the musicians, often traveled by tour bus after arriving at a major airport of destination.  During these excursions I constantly felt a silent curiosity about my literary preferences.  In those days I wore a long English Bobbies’ cape in black and would quietly read Eliphas Levi’s books as we were cruising through Iowa.  Always a classy guy, Pat never once confronted me about my philosophical/religious persuasion.  Pat was also extremely tolerant concerning the off-hours habits of his musicians.

I didn’t often drink but one night in New Orleans while we were performing at the Fairmont Hotel, I arrived very late in the morning after making the rounds of several clubs in the French Quarter, sitting in with local players and hoisting a few toddies.  I was so shitfaced when I arrived back at the Fairmont, that I pushed the wrong button on the elevator, exited on the wrong floor and passed out.  As it so happens, Pat and the family returned late themselves from a long dinner engagement just outside New Orleans and when they got out of the elevator yours truly greeted them passed out cold, face down on the luxurious carpet.  Somehow, someone gathered me up and got me to my room.  Pat never said a word—real class again!    

The gig also gave me the chance to play some fiddle and mandolin which normally I didn’t perform live, just on recording sessions.  One afternoon at rehearsal, Pat heard me fooling around with the mandolin playing some real fast bluegrass style piece and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing that number in the middle of his show for a few minutes.  I complied but asked him why?  He replied, “…well, it will wake up my audience!”  Pat always knew who he was.

The fact is that Paul Horn and Pat Boone had the same problem. Both stars suffered on the road for their beliefs: Paul for his dedication to Transcendental Meditation, and Pat for his Christian enthusiasm.  When you are the center of attention, it is very difficult to not succumb to the idea of gathering your flock around you and passing on the word.  Often, during shows with both artists, they would preach to the audience and try to convert them to their thinking.

I believe to this day that both individuals were trying to do “good”, but when you combine show business and philosophical/religious sermonizing it can work against you. 

In Pat’s case I remember one night after a show in the Mid-West that he was greeted by an entourage of wheel chair victims backstage, all of whom were seeking his “healing” powers.  Pat was freaked out by this event and escaped rapidly to his dressing room, slamming the door. 

Paul Horn had a similar occurrence when he stopped in the middle of a concert at Queen Victoria hall in Vancouver Canada and began to tell people how TM had changed his life.  The audience was patient for about two minutes and then someone yelled out

     “...Ya, ya, how about some music, that’s what we’ve paid for!”

The rest of the audience applauded loudly to this comment. 

This demonstrates another advantage to being a “Sideman”. You get to experience the thrill of performance and the applause that goes with it, but when the show is over, generally, no one backstage wants to see you or even knows who the hell you are: the bliss of anonymity.

I toured for six months or so with Pat Boone and the family.  His wife Shirley, daughter of Grand Ole Opry star and song writer, Red Foley, along with their three daughters, shared the spotlight and their vocal talents each show along with Pat. 

As I write these concluding remarks to this chapter, I’m starting to chuckle. My vow at the beginning of this book was to “play down” the obvious encounters with sex and drugs for any touring or recording musician.  This promise, is somewhat inhibiting the flow of the text at this moment.

If the truth be told, and I made that promise also, then it is necessary to disclose to the reader the fact that my time on the road with one of the most “squeaky clean” Christian country stars, was for me, one of the most, if not the most outrageous experiences of my musical career. 

The rhythm section at one time included, on my recommendation, Marc McClure and Bill Plummer, fellow members of the band, “Gas Food and Lodging.” With Bobby Morin on drums we offered Pat Boone and company a pumpin’ and bumpin’ dyed-in-the-wool country band, and Pat was always appreciative of our nightly efforts on his behalf. I think to this day, that Pat was aware of our outrageous collective life-styles, both before and after concerts but he never reprimanded, or for that matter, even indicated any knowledge of our depraved activities.

It would have been impossible for him to be unaware of our shenanigans. As previously mentioned, there was the time he nearly tripped over my passed out body, as he exited the elevator of the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans with the family. Then there was the concert in Florida for over two thousand senior citizens. For some unknown reason, I felt compelled to ingest a small portion of “Sunshine” acid (LSD) before the performance. I am sure that Pat must have suspected something was amiss when my three minute, extremely fast Blue-Grass mandolin solo feature in the middle of the show, lasted nearly twenty minutes, with me laughing hysterically the entire time.

Other events could be mentioned, but for the sake of the children in the audience, as well as my initial insistence to keep the content of this book flowing in a certain direction, I feel that it is fitting to close this chapter with these final words.

Appearances can truly be deceiving, and beneath the most innocent of exteriors one may encounter a fertile seed-ground of mischief.  What may be interpreted as disgusting for some is just plain fun for others. Have a nice day and God bless! 

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