The Soundman’s Curse
I knew the fate of my musical future was sealed, the moment he spoke those words
I recently published a Facebook post where I asked fellow musicians to share stories about their favorite times being an opening act. As part of the post, I shared a few of my own favorite opening act memories, including:
- Opening for Eagle-Eye Cherry at The Olympia in Paris.
- Opening for Shane MacGowan at the Forum in London
- Opening for Gatemouth Brown at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco
- Opening for Los Lobos at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz
As all the delightful reminisces came rolling in from my friends, peers, colleagues, and fellow musicianers, I found myself starting to recall other memorable instances when I’d gotten to open up for somebody really special.
I remembered getting to open for Honeyboy Edwards, and Link Wray, and Chris Isaak, and Buckwheat Zydeco, and Homesick James, and Cracker, and Yank Rachell, and Junior Brown, and Chuck E. Weiss, and Big Head Todd and the Monster, and Sonny Landreth, and Charlie Musselwhite, and so, so, so many more …
And then I remembered the G. Love story.
The show was at Slim’s in San Francisco. It was the very early 90’s. I didn’t know G. Love from Adam Ant at that point. I think either his first album hadn’t quite come out yet, or maybe it just had. Either way, I knew nothing about him. But Dawn Holliday, who was booking Slim’s, told me it’d be an outstanding bill, so I agreed to do the show.
We were a pretty ragtag troupe at that point. Our stage was generally just littered with a combination of picks and slides, and washboards, and bottles, and whatever weird instruments Ralph Carney happened to have in his bag at any given time. In pictures that I see today, we look younger than I remember us being, but at the same time, we were sort of impressively grimy all the same. I had a firm belief that the best outfit was the one you could sleep in and attend a wedding in without changing, and that’s pretty much how I looked both on stage and off. Ralph was ever the eccentric professor, and depending on who else had rotated into the lineup that night, you might have seen bespectacled academics, long-haired hippies, or some washboard playin’ cat with a fez. The one consistent was a lot of good hats and impeccably styling footwear.
Our set would have probably been a mix of some offbeat originals and some funkily reimagined old delta blues gems. In those days, there weren’t too many folks around spinnin’ up new takes on tunes by Son House, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, or Robert Pete Williams, but that was definitely our sonic and soul territory at the time. Our originals were kind of a mix of one-chord tribal slide guitar workouts, swingin’ minor chord meditations, and train wreckin’ ragtime sprawl-outs. In short, we were kind of a semi-delightful mess.
Slim’s was a kind of hallowed and holy ground, and there is no Preacher Boy origin story that doesn’t include that incredible venue. So many amazing artists played that stage, and I have so many treasured memories of shows there. There were quite a few surprises:
- Two of the nicest rock stars in the world? Bob Geldof and Peter Wolf. Total gentlemen, and treated us with humbling degrees of respect.
- Crankiest and most demanding headliner? Diamanda Galas. Locked us out of our own backstage so she could do her “vocal exercises.”
- Coolest backstage celebrity moment? Meeting Goose Gossage at a Texas Tornadoes show.
- Personal biggest foot-in-mouth moment? Me, trying to tell Jimmy Vaughan how much I missed his brother.
- Most unexpectedly excellent gig that resulted from having played at Slim’s? Getting to play a Boz Scaggs family wedding!
I don’t actually remember much about the G. Love show, except for one particular incident.
After all had been said and done, when the crowd was long gone and the last bits of equipment were going out the door and into the vehicles, the soundman that night stopped me and told me we were way better than G. Love.
And I knew, in that instant, that G. Love was going to be way more famous than I would ever be.