Live performances with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. A couple of regrets.
Not long after the Soul of the Bible recording sessions, Cannonball Adderley invited me to sing with him and his band at a couple of well-known clubs in the Los Angeles area. One of the clubs was called the Lighthouse, in Hermosa Beach right above the ocean. For one reason or another I have no recollection of that gig whatsoever.
On the other hand I’ll never forget the other gig. It was at the Troubadour, in West Hollywood. The Troubadour was the premier gig for singer-songwriters like James Taylor, and Jackson Browne. It was the same for country-rock groups like the Eagles and Byrd’s, and also for every other genre of music too.
Their Hoot nights were legend; you never knew who would get up on stage and knock out some tunes. All the upcoming and famous acts appeared there. The bar alone was worth the price of admission for the characters and conversations were always choice, rife with innuendo and fire.
It was now 1972 and I hadn’t played the Troubadour since my ill-fated gig with Lynn Kellogg in ‘69. It was like visiting a building inhabited by ghosts, my own ghosts.
When I came to the Troubadour this night I had some reservations and mixed emotions about revisiting the scene of a pretty devastating moment in my life only three years earlier. After all, in how many music venues can you say you almost got your throat slit? But hanging with Cannonball and the band made it easy let go of the past and be in the now. Backstage was a non-stop party.
Added to the original Denver ensemble was Brazilian master percussionist Airto Moreira. What can you say about him, he is simply incomparable? Airto had an entire table of percussion instruments set up on the stage, from which he could choose, one minute to the next depending on the dynamic of the tune.
Still in the band was George Duke on keyboards, Roy McCurdy playing drums, Walter Booker on Bass, and Nat Adderley blowing cornet.
George was the youngster in the band then, and was the butt of endless jokes and ribbing. But he always took it well, often shaking his head and shrugging it off. He was an especially sweet cat and treated me kindly and with respect. In later years he would have a successful career as a solo artist, arranger, songwriter, and producer.
Cannon said he would call me on stage at some point in the middle of their set. He asked me to improvise vocals to a groove they would create, as we had done in the recording session. He told me, “ Just go ahead and sing what you feel, sing about that spirit world”. With this he joined the band onstage and started the set with the Nat Adderley composition ‘Work Song’.
The band was ripping as usual, providing a musical carpet ride for everyone fortunate enough to be there. Every number sounded like it was the first time they had ever played it, both for them and for the audience. The whole effect was earthy, organic, a soulful excursion to the heart.
After they finished playing a few tunes, Julian went into a long praiseworthy introduction about a young man who was a gifted singer and musician, and then he said my name. Shit, it was time to go out on a limb once again, but this time in front of a packed house at the Troubador.
The same kind of magic that transpired in the recording studio was prevailing now; only it was a completely different groove. When Cannon queued me I just opened my mouth and started singing, making it up as I went.
I’ve forgotten the words now, for I was lost in that timeless moment where lyrics are born, and all else forgotten. But it must have been okay, as when the song finished everybody was applauding, and the band was smiling. A friend taped the set for me on my cassette recorder, so for years after I was able to relive that moment. I only wish that tape had survived the vicissitudes of my travels.
My association with Cannonball had a few more episodes. He gave a clinic in Beverly Hills, where he talked to a group of people about music. Having a gift with words, he could explain the most difficult concept about music eloquently. Cannon invited me to join him and we played my new song ‘Darleen’, which he loved the chord changes to. What a treat, a duo, just Cannonball Adderley on soprano sax and I.
On another occasion Julian and the band were doing a live recording session in the big room at Capital Records recording studio, and he invited me to open their show. He and the band were making a Brazilian jazz record this time, and had Airto’s wife Flora Purim singing vocals with them. Studio ace David T Walker, played guitar to round out the rhythm section.
There were at least a hundred guests at the session turned party. Fried chicken, collard greens, and grits were set out to get that down home feeling going. They had an open bar too.
I performed a fifteen-minute set of original music with some Brazilian grooves of my own, to be in synch with the evening’s concept. The audience responded to my music enthusiastically, and I felt elated.
After my set I sat down with Cindy in the front row, and got totally lost in Cannonball show.
Their syncopated rhythmic forays coupled with rich melodies in various Brazilian grooves got all of us caught up in the ride. It was feeling like Carnival right there in the studio, with everyone clapping and yelling and partying to the joyous music.
A few months down the line Cannonball’s manager, the highly respected and longtime artist manager John Levy, offered me a management contract. The deal was for John to manage me, and Cannonball and Nat would produce and record me. John Levy was an older, well dressed, and sophisticated black gentleman who at one time had managed Billie Holiday, and besides Cannonball, was now managing Nancy Wilson and Joe Williams, a couple of very successful jazz vocalists. This was a major opportunity for me, a young white boy amongst all these heavy African American musical heavies.
John and Cannonball offered Sire records $10,000 to buy out my contract. And Sire agreed. All that was needed was for me to go ahead and sign the contract.
I have few regrets in life, but my response to their generous offer is surely one of them. I hedged on signing the contract for nine months or so, saying I wanted to wait for my guru’s approval! How lame it now seems. But that’s what happened. You talk about wasted opportunities
As fate would have it, I never did hear from the liaison for my guru, and Cannon and John lost interest. No use crying over it now, but sometimes I do wonder what would have happened had I signed with them?
The other crushing regret in my career was turning down Sire Records offer to record a second album with them. After the release of my first album ‘A Picture’, Seymour Stein, the president of Sire, and my producer Richard Gotteherer, wanted me to record another record. But I had been convinced by my good friend and fellow songwriter Buzzy Linhart to ask Sire for a $5,000 advance before I would do the album. This was really bad advice, as I would later learn.
Just because Buzzy had gotten a $5,000 advance from his record label, he was convinced that Sire should give me one. And I naively went along with him.
As an advance on my first album, Sire Records had arranged for me to buy a custom acoustic guitar from downtown luthier Michael Gurian, ($500) this and a Sony cassette recorder was my advance. I was very happy with that arrangement. Of all the struggling songwriters in the West Village that were trying to get a record deal I had gotten one, and I should have been satisfied with that alone. But I wasn’t.
Sire Records thought I was crazy for asking for that much money, and I was. Blinded by poor judgment I walked away from Sire’s contract, never to be offered another recording deal again, by anybody, except Cannonball, and that deal I had fucked up too!!!
You’ve heard about people being their own worst enemy, and not even knowing it.
It would be eighteen years before I would record another album, and that would be on my own label. Eighteen years of writing songs and not being able to release them. Fucking dumb, and I couldn’t blame anyone but me.
In 1975 Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley passed away from heart failure. He was only 47 years old, but in a jazzman’s life it was a long time. He had played hard, and partied hard; he drank, smoked and did his share of powders too. In the life of a jazz musician these things come with the territory. But it caught up with him in the end. Our loss.
I was one lucky young musician; to have met, played and recorded music with him while he was still around. He had faith in me, to do things I didn’t even know I could do.
He gave me that opportunity out of the goodness of his kind heart. His generosity touched me. The great man’s spirit lives on in his vast catalog of recorded music, and when I want to remember him, I have only to listen up.