On Stage Looking out - Stories, Adventures and Experiences on the road. The journey is it's own reward





“The Best Seat In The House” 
  
by 
  
Vin D’Onofrio 

 

Introduction
*****************

 

My adventures as a music lover and a musician started in the 1960’s. I’ve played guitar with many musicians and over 30 bands since then. Some are world famous or well known, some are original artists, entertainers or professional musicians, and others are striving to “grab the brass ring” of fame and fortune. 
  
Almost all are enjoying their experience “living the life.” 
  
When the music, band and audience are all in sync, I’ve often felt as if I’m in the eye of a hurricane or part of a timeless storytelling tradition where our modern electric gear has replaced the fire in an ancient cave. 
  
As I stand on stage and look out, I wonder if anyone in the audience is aware of how entertaining it is to watch all that’s going on from the musician’s point of view. 
  
For me, it’s the best seat in the house.  
  
These are a few of my stories, adventures and experiences.
 

3/2016
 

 
The Wheel Turns In Mysterious Ways
****************************************************
Jimi Hendrix, Humperdinck & The Same Stage
Take Your Time, Engelbert
 
Roy Radin’s Vaudville Review 1979
**************************************************
 On The Bus
 The First Day & Sherman Hemsley
 Opening Night & Tiny Tim
 Smokin’ Joe Frazier
 Barbra Mcnair
 Homer & Jethro and Chet Atkins
 Roy Radin & The Cotton Club Murders
 Go West Young Man
 
Los Angeles In The 1980’s
*************************************
 The Troubadour
 The Willys & Robbie Krieger of The Doors
 John Schneider
 Al Delory & Tommy Tedesco
 Kamp Squeebop & The Sunset Saloon
 Sergio Mendes, freelance gigs & Commuter
 
Travelling – The Sergio Mendes Gig
************************************************
 Around The World - A Part Time Tour 9/83 -12/94
 The Dominican Republic - Altos De Chavon
 Jordan - King Hussien’s Birthday Party
 France - Chateau Lynch-Bages
 Lost & Found On A Japanese Mountain
 An Anvil Case For Rice & Beans
 
Crossing Paths with Stars
************************************
 Michael Jackson
 Ringo Starr
 Liza Minelli, Richie Havens & Gene Simmons
 Frankie Valli
 David Copperfield, Ceasars Palace and the catwalk
 Robert Graham & Angelica Houston, Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall
 Charlie Watts
 Dustin Hoffman
 Milton Nascimento & Wayne Shorter & Joni Mitchell
 Joe Zawinul in Japan, Charlie Parker & My Birthday
 The Blue Note & Dizzy Gillespie
 Charles Mingus
 Pat Metheny
 
LA 1995 – 2010 Smooth Jazz, Originals, Standards
***********************************************************************
 Rick Braun, The WAVE 94.7, Will Downing, Pauline Wilson
 Johnny Rivers, Richard Perry, Rod Stewart & Clive Davis
 Carly Simon
 A First Class Farewell
 

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The Wheel Turns In Mysterious Ways
****************************************************


Jimi Hendrix, Humperdinck & The Same Stage 

   

Some of my gigs during the years 2006 - 2010 were playing guitar for the British singer Engelbert Humperdinck on three of his records and on world tours.

My first concert gig with him was at Araneta Stadium in The Philippines and I was amazed when nearly 10, 000 people came to the show and spontaneously started singing along with us. The sound of all those musical voices together was incredible.
  
Engelbert was full of surprises. About a week before that gig, when I was in Seattle visiting The Guitar Museum, I saw a poster from 1967 that billed Jimi Hendrix as the opening act for Humperdinck on Jimi's first tour in England!

So, when I was sitting next to Engelbert on a plane I asked him about Jimi, the 1967 tour, and the 60’s scene in London. 
  
Engelbert, who called himself Jerry back then, told me that he knew The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He laughed and said that when he lived next door to Lennon sometimes his dog would go through the hedge into Lennon’s yard to do it’s business, and John would yell, “Hey Jerry!! .... get your fucking dog out of my yard!!!” 
  
About Hendrix, Engelbert said, “Jimi was a beautiful guy. He gave me a coat, but somebody stole it... why did he give me a coat?”

Then Engelbert told me an unusual story about that 1967 tour in England. 
  
At the gig at De Montford Hall in Leicester Engelbert's guitar player didn’t show up and he was panicked, but Jimi volunteered to play guitar saying, “ Don’t worry man, I’ll play for you”. Because Jimi had already performed his own set that night, when he played with Engelbert he was hidden behind a curtain to avoid confusing the audience.
 
When we played that same stage in Leicester on our 2009 tour in England, I asked Engelbert to show me where Jimi was standing when he played with him in 67’.
 
Jimi Hendrix is one of my favorite guitar players. His recordings and artistic freedom have inspired and influenced me since the 1960’s. Though he was gone before I had a chance to see him play live, I felt a re-connection to him and my past, that night on stage.
 
It was a good feeling and I had to smile when I realized that I was having an unexpected and unique experience in common with Jimi Hendrix of playing guitar on the same songs, and the same stage, with the same singer.
 
For a few moments I felt like I could step through a time portal to the 60’s again. 
  
On that tour, when we played classic venues like The Palladium in London and The Hippodrome in Birmingham, I’d hang out in the empty theaters before the show, soak up the vibe, and imagine when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and other musicians played on those same stages. 
  
I’ve seen pictures from that 1967 tour of Jimi Hendrix, Engelbert Humperdinck and Cat Stevens all sitting together. 
  
Interesting trio!

Vin D'Onofrio, Englebert Humperdinck - 2008

Vin D'Onofrio, Englebert Humperdinck - 2008

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Take Your Time Engelbert

In Engelbert’s show, he and I performed a song that I began on solo acoustic guitar.

One night at The Orleans in Las Vegas in 2010 when Engelbert was introducing me before my guitar intro, he suddenly lost his voice mid-sentence, started choking and tried to clear his throat.
 
The show came to a halt.
 
So, I quickly moved next to Engelbert, patted him on the back, and said, “Take your time, take your time …...”
 
The microphone in Engelbert’s hand picked up what I said and the audience exploded in laughter! When Engelbert recovered his voice he started laughing, too.
 
Later, in the dressing room, he said, “You saved the show. I owe you one, mate.”
 
Eliot Wiseman, Englebert’s manager, and legendary manager of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli, shook my hand and gave me a big “ Thank You”, too.  
 
As Billy LoSapio, Eliot’s associate, often said, “Never forget Vin….. it’s SHOW business!”
                                                                                                                                                                      
Vin D'Onofrio, Engelbert Humperdinck - 2010

Vin D'Onofrio, Engelbert Humperdinck - 2010

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Roy Radin's Vaudville Review 1979
**************************************************



On The Bus


In mid June 1979, I boarded a rented Greyhound bus in Boston with eleven other musicians to play guitar for a month long variety show tour featuring Sherman Hemsley, Barbra McNair, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Tiny Tim, Dennis Day, Homer & Jethro and The Marvellettes.
 
We traveled to New York City and picked up Tiny Tim (the original) and The Marvellettes (not the originals) on the steps of the NYC Public Library.
 
Then we rode through the night to a Holiday Inn in Akron, Ohio.
 
We got there just before sunrise and rehearsals began that morning in a large function room. Our 12-piece band backed up all the acts except Homer & Jethro.
 
It was a wild ride with an unusual cast of characters.
 
We played 31gigs in 29 days.



 
***************


 
The First Day & Sherman Hemsley
 
 
At our first rehearsal I was warming up playing blues-rock licks when a big guy I'd never met before walked right up to me and pronounced, ”You’re good!”
 
I soon found out that he was Roy Radin, the boss.
 
Sherman Hemsley’s manager, Jan Mollenelli, overheard what Roy had said to me, so she asked if I could help Sherman with a musical problem he was having singing his opening number, “Moving On Up.”
 
Sherman was the star of the hit TV show “The Jefferson’s” and he was the MC on our tour but he had never sung “The Jefferson’s” theme song before that first rehearsal.
 
Later that afternoon I got together with Sherman and was able to figure out a way to solve the musical issues he was having with the song.
 
Jan was interesting to talk to and Sherman liked to have a good time. Sherman also had a large ball of Moroccan hookah smoke that he shared freely with any of the musicians who liked to ride on the Marrakesh Express.

I felt like I was having a good first day.
 
All aboard the train!

 

 
***************


 
Opening Night & Tiny Tim
 
 
It was a packed house on the opening night of the show and I was trying to concentrate on playing guitar for Tiny Tim's set but my eyes were on Roy Radin, who was standing out of sight of the audience, in the wings off stage.
 
Roy was wearing a bathrobe over his tuxedo, snorting something from a plastic vial, and shouting through megaphone-cupped hands at Tiny Tim,
 
“Freak!!!...  Tiny!!.... Freeeeak !!!!!! !! !!! !! ! ! ! ! ! !”  
 
Tiny was on stage, singing and playing a parody of his hit song,“ Tip Toe Through The Tulips “, rewritten as “Tip Toe To The Gas Pumps “ (inspired by the gasoline shortage and lines at filling stations throughout the US in 1970’s).
 
Roy wanted Tiny to do more than sing and play, so he kept shouting again and again until poor Tiny fell to the ground and started writhing and spinning in circles in front of the audience, crying out, “Oooooh, Ooooooh!”
 
Apparently, this was what Roy wanted, because he stopped shouting after that.
 
I was now convinced, that this tour was going to be an unusual experience.
 
Tiny Tim was a man who marched to a different drum. The only clothes I ever saw him wear, on stage or off, were two tuxedos; one was pink and black, and the other was lime green and covered with Batman comic book characters and words like, Bam! and Shazaam!
 
Tiny was polite and shy. He didn’t eat at the backstage meals with the band and crew and always took his food wrapped “to go.” He called me “Mr. Vin” and sometimes I’d sit next to him on the bus. Once, he offered me something he called his “medicine” that he sipped from a brown paper bag but I declined.
 
Tiny played his ukulele on the bus and seemed to have an encyclopedic repertoire of the instrument in his head. The Library of Congress should have recorded him for ukulele music posterity.

A the height of his fame, he married a woman called Miss Vicky, on TV’s “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”  At the time, the media perceived it as a publicity stunt, but Tiny still talked about her and seemed heartbroken that she had left him shortly after the marriage.
 
In 2005, I played guitar on records by Rod Stewart and Carly Simon for producer Richard Perry. During a casual conversation Richard mentioned that the first hit record he produced was, “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” by Tiny Tim.
 
Small world!


 
***************


 
Smokin' Joe Frazier
 
 
Joe Frazier, the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion who beat Muhammed Ali at Madison Square Garden, was performing as a singer and entertainer on the tour.
 
Smokin’ Joe drove a big red Cadillac convertible behind the bus, and usually some of his buddies would ride along with him, smoking cigars and laughing.
 
During his act in the show Joe would say, “Paul Anka is a very good friend of mind,” and then he’d proceed to sing “My Way” in a very strong but rough, passionate voice.
 
Whenever I saw him backstage, I always said, “Hey!” and Joe always smiled and replied, “What it look like!”
 
What it looked like to me was that Smokin’ Joe was having a good time.
 



 
***************



Barbra Mcnair
 
 
Barbra was the closing act of the show. She was a lady of classic beauty, and a very good singer. She was also an actor and had her own TV show. Playing guitar with her was my favorite musical part of the show.
 
Off stage, Barbra liked to have fun and shake things up, too.
 
One day she got a round of applause from everyone on our bus when she flashed her boobs at a truck driver passing us on the New Jersey Turnpike.
 
In Norfolk Virginia, after checking into a motel on a hot June night, we were heading to our rooms and I heard Barbra let out a big yell. I turned around and saw her join in with the other musicians who all jumped in the pool in their skivvies.
 
Towards the end of the tour, I was hanging out with her and the bass player Andy Mazzone in a bar, and she was having some fun teasing with me in a flirtatious way. I was a bit evasive and she misunderstood, and asked if I was a snob. I told her, truthfully, that I was getting over a mild case of STD I’d acquired from an admiring fan on the road, and I didn’t want to get too close. Barbra laughed and said, ”Thanks!” and we had a drink.

The next day, at a truck stop on the route, she bought a book about guitars, and gave it to me. I still have it.
 
Sweet!


 
***************



Homer & Jethro and Chet Atkins


Jethro Burns was the mandolin player of Homer & Jethro, a comedy duo that mixed banter and jokes with country music.
 
His partner, Homer, had passed away, so Jim Schwall, guitarist of the Siegal-Schwall blues band, was playing Homer’s part in the show.
 
Jethro played great and was a very friendly guy. He showed me his favorite jazz chord progressions and he told interesting personal stories about his time in the Pacific during World War II. I really liked him a lot.
 
He and Chet Atkins, the country music guitar legend, had married twin sisters. Jethro said that even when separated by hundreds of miles, the sisters often knew what each other were thinking.
 
Years later, I had an endorsement deal from Gibson for a Chet Atkins Model guitar which I played in Sergio Mendes’ show. One day I was at the Gibson repair shop in LA, trying to figure out a problem that I was having with the low “E” string on that guitar, and to my surprise the guitar tech called up Chet Atkins to ask for his input!

I spoke with Chet for a while, and he suggested a way to fix my guitar. I wish I’d thought to mention to him that I’d known Jethro!
 

                                                              
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Roy Radin & The Cotton Club Murders
 
 
Sometime after the 1979 tour ended, I read in a newspaper that a catatonic, teenage girl had been picked up by police on a Long Island train. She told wild tales about parties, sex and drugs at Roy Radin’s house in the Hamptons.
 
Roy’s final act came in Los Angeles, in an incident that became known as The Cotton Club Murders.
 
Reportedly, Roy wanted to break into the film industry and was involved in deals with Hollywood movie producer Robert Evans and others to make the movie, “The Cotton Club.”
 
A 1989 article in The LA Times described the scenario that Roy was in the middle of as, “international cocaine trafficking, high-life courtesans, low-life prostitutes, chauffeurs, limos, porno, mob muscle and money.”
 
Someone wanted Roy out of the deal permanently.
 
Thugs shot and killed him when he got into a limo for a business meeting on the night of Friday the 13th of May 1983.
 
Roy’s body was found a month later in a canyon in northwest Los Angeles County. Four people were convicted of his murder in 1991.
 
Ironically, when “The Cotton Club” movie was finally made and released in 1984, it bombed at the box office.
 
Roy Radin Vaudeville Review program - 1979

Roy Radin Vaudeville Review program - 1979

***************



Go West Young Man
 

Meeting Jan Molenelli on Roy Radin’s Vaudville Review 1979, led to my moving to Los Angeles.
 
JJan, Sherman Hemsley’s manager, often spoke glowingly about life in California. She said, “You’d do great in LA. Call me if you’re ever in LA,” and she gave me her phone number and address in Sherman Oaks.
 
When the tour ended in July, I went back to Boston and found out my landlord was selling the house I’d been renting with some other musicians, so I had to move.
 
I’d lived in Boston since I left my home in NY to attend Berklee College of Music in 1973. Berklee and club gigs were both part of my education in being a musician. Pat Metheny was my guitar teacher at Berklee and I played jazz fusion, funk and R&B in Back Bay clubs, Jack’s in Cambridge and all around New England with different bands. My experience in the African American community playing Roxbury clubs and touring with The Hitchhikers was particularly enlightening. I was a white boy in the ‘hood, having a great time playing and hanging out in a different culture.
 
After living in the dorm, apartments and houses in Back Bay, Dorchester, Cambridge and Allston, I was pondering where to move next when I got the idea that, as long as I was moving, I could move anywhere.
 
I remembered what Jan said to me about Los Angeles, and on an impulse, I decided it was time for a whole new adventure. I wanted to move to LA.
 
My girlfriend Leslie wanted to go too, so we packed up her big blue Ford LTD, put our cats George and Max in the back seat, and set out driving from Boston to Los Angeles playing 8 track tapes all the way.
 
We pulled a small U-haul trailer packed with a few guitars, amps, clothes, and pieces of furniture, and we took about a week to cross the country to California. I had a little over $1000 and two LA phone numbers, one of which was Jan’s.
 
When we got to LA, I pulled off the freeway in Sherman Oaks and called Jan from a pay phone. She couldn’t believe I actually showed up, but she invited us over and arranged for us to stay at an apartment in Mar Vista, which Sherman’s friend had recently vacated with two weeks rent still paid on it.
 
On that day, in September 1979, it was over 100 degrees with second stage smog alerts in Sherman Oaks. It was my first exposure to the LA smog and I was amazed that I could barely see the hills that were only a few blocks away. My eyes were watering and my throat was scratchy as Leslie and I left the San Fernando Valley and headed for Mar Vista.
 
As we drove over the Sepulveda Pass and came down the other side of the hill, I felt the temperature drop at least 20 degrees. I decided right then that I was going to try to live somewhere near the Pacific Ocean in LA.
 
As the days went by, we looked for an apartment and answered ads but kept striking out because we didn’t have California driving licenses or TRW credit reports. Many rentals wouldn’t even consider us because of our two cats.
 
On the day before we had to move out of the Mar Vista place, I called another ad from a phone booth at Venice and Lincoln Blvd, and found an apartment on Century Blvd that was under the LAX flight path and across the street from Hollywood Park Racetrack.
 
It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. A few months later a musician I met invited us to move into a vacant house in a compound of houses in Inglewood that was built in a bygone rural ranch era of the 1920’s.
 
Leslie and I stayed together for a few years and we had some fun and good times, but we began moving in different directions and eventually split up.
 
In June 1982, I was playing at The Sunset Saloon in Venice with my band Kamp Squeebop, and Sally walked in.
 
Sally and I were married in1988 and we bought a townhouse in Mar Vista in 1989. It’s just a few blocks from the apartment where I stayed that September with Leslie in 1979.
 
Hope you’re well, Leslie!  Thanks again, Jan!
***************



Los Angeles In The 1980's
**************************************



The Troubadour
 
 
My first gig in LA was at The Troubadour in 1979, with Chris Rhodes, a singer/songwriter that I knew from Boston. We played on two Monday’s at Hoot Night, a long running talent showcase.
 
Playing at The Troubadour and hanging out in the bar, where so much music history happened, (look it up!), was a great introduction to LA.
 
The Troubadour had a real lived-in, played-in, music club vibe back then. The stage, and the seats at long tables were in a large barn–like room. The band dressing room was like a closet with graffiti, holes in the walls, a ratty sofa, and a funky smell.
 
Rock & Roll!
 
Too bad someone re-modeled it years later.
 

 
***************



The Willy's & Robbie Krieger of The Doors
 
 
In 1980 I wanted to meet new musicians, so I put an ad in The Recycler and started auditioning with different groups around LA.
 
The most promising situation came when Kyle C Kyle, drummer in the band The Willys, called and said he liked my ad. I don’t remember what I wrote but I liked them and their music. The lead singer/guitar player Charles Duncan’s songs reminded me of Dire Straits.
 
After I joined the group, I was surprised when they told me that Robbie Krieger, the guitar player of The Doors, was backing The Willys.
 
Robbie was cool and he treated us well. He put the band on a small retainer and we rehearsed at a warehouse he had on Lankershim Blvd in the Valley. He also bought me a Yamaha SG1200 guitar.
 
Occasionally Robbie sat in and played guitar with us. It was a trip to hear the original Doors guitar sound coming from his amp next to me.
 
When I first began playing in the 1960’s, I liked and was influenced by many records, including The Doors first two albums. Hearing his sound took me back to my rock music roots and made me smile at the circuitous path that brought me to that moment.
 
The Willys gigged at some rock clubs and bars around LA, like Blackies on Main Street and The Club 88 on Pico in Santa Monica, and we recorded a demo at Mad Dog Studio in Venice.
 
Robbie set up a showcase for us with some record people but a deal didn’t happen. Like so many bands that weren’t able to move up to the next level, The Willys eventually broke up, and we all moved on.
 
Though we didn’t get a deal, it was a great experience playing around LA in the early 1980’s. There were nightclubs and showcase rooms everywhere in town, and a feeling was in the air that anything was possible.
 
People and places that had been part of Los Angeles earlier show biz eras were still to be found around town, too.
 
Robbie told us stories about playing with The Doors and showed us where Jim Morrison lived at Venice Beach.
 
The Doors music was having a revival in the early 80’s, and there were new books and movies in the works.
 
Robbie said he was making so much money from The Doors royalties,“ it’s embarrassing.”
 

 
***************



John Schneider
 

In 1981, Michael Thompson, a friend from Berklee who later became an LA studio guitar ace, left his gig with actor/singer John Schneider to join Cher’s band and he recommended me for the Schneider gig.
 
I auditioned for Al Delory, Schneider’s musical director and pianist, and a few days later I was on a plane to Kansas City for my first gig with John.
  
I didn’t know much about John Schneider other than he was an actor and had recorded a couple of songs that were playing on country music radio.  I’d never seen his TV show, “The Dukes Of Hazard” (I didn’t even own a TV), and I only vaguely remembered seeing his picture on a TV Guide cover and on teen magazines at the Seven Eleven.
 
When I arrived at the concert venue at Six Flags, I was amazed to find the seats filled with scores of screaming girls throwing teddy bears and other stuff onto the stage.  I wondered, “Who is this guy, Schneider?”
 
I thought I’d come to play a country/pop music gig but with all the excitement and swooning girls, it felt more like I was in the Beatles or something.
 
All that summer, we traveled around the USA, playing mostly at outdoor amusement parks like Disney World and Disneyland, and at State and County Fairs. At every gig, John’s adoring female fans were there and sometimes even the band got lucky, too.
 
John was a nice guy and generous. He paid us well, treated his fans great and gave away those teddy bears to hospitals. One day, we all went to a barbecue at country singer star Dottie West’s house near Nashville. She had a bowling alley in her basement!
 
After the first tour ended, John hired limos to take the band to LAX and fly to Atlanta, just to stay at his house and have a good time.
 
I played with John on his next summer tour in 1982, and some other gigs around the US, including Nashville TN, a benefit for miners families in Hazard KY, and at the legendary country music club, The Palomino, in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley.
 
John also took us to the Universal Studio lot to see a shoot for “The Dukes Of Hazzard” TV show and he introduced us to Catherine Bach, the lovely star and popular pinup girl who played Daisy Duke.
 
I haven’t spoken with John since I ran into him in a bar in the Valley years ago, but I see him acting in TV shows sometimes.
 
Thanks for the ride in your Lamborghini, John!
 
John Schneider Band - Disney World - 1981

John Schneider Band - Disney World - 1981

John Schneider Band - 1981

John Schneider Band - 1981