When Steven Wright (www.stevenwright.com), went on the Tonight Show, his life changed. Suddenly he was a 2500 seat hall guy and no longer just a club guy anymore. When APA (www.apanewyork.com), put together his first national tour, it was a catch as catch can patchwork of dates. Bill Graham Presents did his shows in the bay area and Greg Perloff ( www. apeconcerts .com ), who was a friend of mine from UCLA, then worked for BGP. Bill Graham was an amazing promoter and I never did a show for him where he didn’t come back stage and talk to me. Very cool guy.
In any event, I can’t be certain, but I believe it was Bill (but it might have been Greg) who left a message on my machine that said, “I finally found someone who’s perfect for you to work with. Can you get to the Fox Warfield in San Francisco by 6pm on Tuesday night?
I had just flown back from Holland Thursday evening in time to do an east coast weekend gig.. I was in Holland because American Express had, for some reason, sent me a Gold American Express Card. If I may digress, due to a trampoline injury and a car accident, the discs in my back herniated and I couldn’t walk for about a year. During that time, I lived off my credit cards and publishing money.
Even though all while I was paying the absolute minimum to them each month, so that my credit remained good; I was so far into debt with credit card companies that I figured I would have to declare bankruptcy soon and start all over again.
That’s when the gold card came and I thought, “what the hell” and I went to Europe; figuring that bankruptcy could wait til after my continental holiday. I also sublet my apartment to one of Bob Dylan’s (www.bobdylan.com) back up singers for the month, so that my rent and utilities would be covered. I know that this seems all akimbo, but believe me it all comes together. So, now we’re back at the airport and it’s Thursday night.
I arrived back at Kennedy and picked up a car and drove directly to Peterborough, New Hampshire, where I played a weekend for the late and wonderful Widdy Hall at the Folkway. Didn’t have cel phone service there and didn’t get my messages til I got back to Logan Airport in Boston, so I didn’t know about the Bill Graham/Steven Wright date til then…at which point I freaked.
It was Monday around 5 pm. I called and confirmed the date and then got the next available flight to Los Angeles, where I needed to pick up my car and some music to sell. The only seat available was on a redeye. I hate redeye’s. I never take them if I can help it.
To do a good show, you need your rest, and I never sleep well on planes, so I took half a sleeping pill, after being assured by the agent that it was a non stop…surprise surprise… something happened and we were diverted to Houston, where we had to change planes. But the couldn’t really wake me up. And I couldn’t walk or talk, just drool and stumble. They thought that I was one of those “special needs” fellows. I finally stumbled and drooled my way off the plane and kept slapping myself to stay awake til the next flight could be boarded, whereupon I promptly fell asleep again.
Arriving in Los Angeles at 7 a.m. I got a cab to my apartment in Beachwood Canyon and picked up my car and a bunch of lps, and drove to San Francisco arriving at the Fox Warfield at 4:15 pm. I went to sleep for an hour and then got up and started warming up til the soundcheck. The show started at 8 pm and I was told to do thirty to forty minutes depending on the crowd reaction.
Did you ever have one of those evenings when no matter what you did, it came out right? I sang great, I played great and I was as funny as I could be. It was one of the more memorable concert memories of my life. When I walked offstage after my, ahem, encore, Steven Wright walked up to me and said, “you’re brilliant” and then introduced himself. I was in heaven.
Then the road manager and agent from APA, Lou Viola, offered me all five of the California dates that Steven had left. By coincidence, Lou and I had a little history as I had done a date with Mary Travers (of Peter Paul & Mary) and Lou was her road manager, I believe. Anyhow, we had met and connected like you do with some people. Perhaps because I knew him, I don't know, but here is where I was more bold and clever than I have ever been since. I told him that I could do numbers one, two, three, and five of the tour, but I couldn’t do the fourth date because I was booked.
I was lying. I had no work to go to and no place to sleep, until that woman’s sublet was up and she left my apartment, but I thought, “if I do another three dates with Steven Wright and they go like this, and then they must use someone else for the one date and then I come back for that last date, I might be able to parlay this into a national tour”
I swear to you I thought that and I did it and that’s what happened. The next three dates with Steven went off like gangbusters. Everything was perfect. Then I left the tour and they took off for the Phoenix date. …and I slept in my car.
The final west coast date that next evening was in Claremont and when I walked into the backstage area, Steven looked up and said, “you’re my guy” and Lou asked me if I could do the rest of the country with Steven. And that tour turned into three of the most rewarding and delightful touring years of my entire life. Three years! Amazing.
And one other thing, they kept raising my salary until it was fantastic. I later found out that Steven would call APA and tell them to give me more money. And the concerts were a package deal, so every time I got more money, Steven Wright got less.
I love that guy.