About 20 years ago, I was the drummer in a blues band that played out at local bars, colleges and festivals. The band was mediocre, even though we had moments when we were very good; on average, we were just okay. As a drummer, I was just okay too. I had some good moments when I practiced the openings and endings of songs but generally, I just winged it and it showed.
The band’s unofficial leader was the rhythm guitar player; Ed. Ed was a police officer during the day but his true passion seemed to be music. The lead guitar player, John was a master degreed councilor who was close to getting his doctorate degree. John had women issues during that time and Ed, counseled the counselor on a regular basis. Joe was the bass player. He was an accomplished musician who had received a full scholarship to a prestigious local college for his musical ability. He was close to graduating, had a great get-along personality and was a solid part of the band. The standout in the band was Warren. He played the harp which in blues terms means the harmonica. And boy could he play! He’d have the audience mesmerized. He was also our lead singer. He shined and could have made it big—actually, he did pretty well after our band closed up shop.
One night we played a club where other musicians could show up and play with the featured band. We were the featured band and we had a horn section come on stage and play with us. We all loved it and decided to hire either a trumpet or a saxophone player.
After doing some auditions, we hired Gene, a sax player. He was a great player and had a good personality. He picked up our songs easily and in no time, we were playing out as a group. Audiences loved him as he did some great solos. I liked having him in the band because as a drummer, I was farther away from the rest of the band than the others until Gene came on board. He’d walk the stage and kind of hang out near where I was banging away on the skins. He talked a lot about his love for women and I started calling him Mean Gene, the Sax Machine. I got the play on words from a then popular TV show called “The Gong Show” which had a regular bit player called Mean Gene. The name stuck and many of us called him by his new name.
Gene was working out fantastic but a pattern was appearing. Gene liked to drink and as the night went on, his usual fantastic sax playing started to get worse. Towards the end, he was really getting bad. We talked to him and he’d straighten out for a while . . . until one night at Rick’s Café.
Rick’s was a well-established, popular restaurant and bar in a ritzy neighborhood that had the world’s smallest stage. I mean it. It was miniscule. The five of us barely fit on the stage. Nevertheless, I loved it. It was cozy, the place was packed, and it was one of the elite places to play.
Gene arrived to the gig with a woman on his arm that looked like a former working girl and by working; I don’t mean working as a waitress. She was dressed to kill and she had a way about her that said she’d seen a bunch of hard living. She also looked as if she could kick your butt if you stepped out of line. We all did a double take when we were introduced to her but we didn’t think twice about her. We were excited about playing and making sure all the sound checks were just right. We started playing and we were having a great time. Gene was playing fantastic. He and I were bunched close together on the tiny stage having a blast laughing and doing our music. However, trouble was brewing.
During every break, Gene pounded down some serious booze but there was even more trouble brewing in paradise. He was hanging out with his date but he was also hanging out with another woman; a patron. I had no clue about what was going on other than I noticed Gene’s sax playing was starting to be off a bit. During one break, Ed ran up to me and said Gene’s date had threatened to kick the living crap out of the patron hanging out with Mean Gene. She also apparently threatened to cut and slice her like a filet of fish. The real bad news was that Mean Gene’s date was drunk and it was hard to reason with her. Finally, we got her out of the club, I think by having some relative pick her up and quickly whisking her away.
Whew! We all figured we lucked out and made it through a real bad situation. We went back to enjoying playing out at the great venue and watching the audience really getting into the music. However, a new problem was showing its ugly head. Gene was hitting the sauce hard now and he was really getting bad on stage. He was so off that when we’d all end a song he kept blowing away, sometimes for two or three seconds after we had all stopped playing! With every song he got worse. Luckily, the night was just about over and we survived with our reputation, small as it was, intact. We fired Mean Gene the Sax Machine, the next day.
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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