A Gig Nightmare
In over 30 years of gigging I can count on one hand the number of minor problems I’ve had dealing with subs. Most musicians in the New England area that do this kind of work are proud professionals that take their role seriously. There was one sax player who subbed on one gig. He had come highly recommended by a “friend.” His one-night association with our band became a Gig Nightmare of such proportion that whenever I see members who have left the band since then, one of the first things said is, “Hey, you ever run into that sax player guy who…..” One requirement for a horn player to sub in our band is that they have to be a decent reader.
It all started like this. I got in touch w/ Mr. Sax, gave him the details of the gig and after listening for what seemed like an eternity of him dropping the names of every major star in the business that he’s worked with and wrote charts for, he agreed to do it. I got his email address so I could put everything in writing for him. It’s always good to create a record.
He called me several times to ask me the same details that I’d emailed to him saying that he lost it or deleted it or this or that……. I emailed it to him again detailing the pay, that he would be paid by check and that the check would be mailed, start end time, directions, attire, accommodations, etc.
A red flag should have gone up when he continued to call me and ask me for the same details I had emailed him. The venue was almost 4 hours north of our homes in Boston. I’m very detail oriented and there’s always a little extra detail that goes into planning even a short road trip such as this one. The event was a very hip, high-end wedding under a tent at a huge private estate in coastal Maine on a clifftop overlooking the ocean.
It was a beautiful summer day. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, but I was sweating bullets. We were minutes away from our hit and still there was no sign of Mr. Sax. My anxiety by now was riding very high. Finally, one of my guys pokes me in the back and says, “Hey man, is that the sax player?” To my amazement and horror, I spied him way down in the parking area getting dressed into his tux (pants included) while around him guests were still arriving …..the band took the stage and began our first set without him.
Mr. Sax made his way up the walk accompanied by a large woman. He finally got to the stage and while we were playing began to set up his mic and music stand. Smiling, he turns and yells, “Hey where do I plug in?” I yelled that we’d hook him up after the first set. He began overplaying from the get-go. It was obvious that he was a terrible reader and he tried to overcompensate by blowing as many notes as possible in the least amount of space. The set went okay in spite of his rambunctious playing and we finally got a break.
I wanted to have a talk with Mr. Sax by now because I was still sick to my stomach that he was late and that he got dressed in the parking area in front of guests and that he brought an uninvited female friend. I was additionally horrified to learn that while we were working, members of the band observed Mr. Sax’s huge woman companion helping herself to the buffet before the poor guests even had a chance.
I was going nuts and thinking my reputation is going to be mud. I was very anxious to have a chat with Mr. Sax. I went outside the tent and saw a table. On the table were 1/2 empty liquor bottles that the caterer had used. At one end of the table was Mr. Sax. He was pouring himself a few beverages from the bottles. He was already trashed by the time I got to him. I had no idea how to handle it. I simply told him to get himself together and get through the gig…. oh, yeah, and I also told him that it wasn’t proper protocol to invite spouses and girlfriends to private affairs. I rarely lose my cool but when he began to protest, I screamed in his face, “Send her on her way!” He wouldn’t tell her so I had to. Then he developed an attitude toward me!
We’d only done one set by now and had another three hours to go. As the evening progressed I observed more shocking behavior. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my peers and I looked on helplessly as booze breath put his arms around the bride and was overheard saying, “Wow, you’re really beautiful, congratulations …blah, blah blah…” He then proceeded to try to kiss her as she tried to wriggle out of his smelly grasp. I was thinking to myself, “I am so screwed.” It was a miracle that she never said anything to anyone about the incident. She just let it go. Thankfully it was becoming quite a wild party and much of this horror show was beginning to pale compared to some of the guests behaviors…like the whole bridal party skinny dipping in the pool…but I digress.
The point is, much of his shenanigans was going right over their collective heads. Finally the gig ended and somehow we made it through, miraculously unscathed. After the gig, we rode back to our rooms together. Now, all night, in addition to his bad behavior, he was bragging to us and dropping the names of all these greats that he supposedly played with, telling us what a great reader he was, and how he wrote horn charts for this guy and that guy. As I said earlier, it was so obvious that he was not a good reader to put it mildly. He then made one fatal mistake. Mr. Sax complained to our bass player about our horn book, “Who wrote those charts?” “Those Mother f’ng charts suck. I couldn’t even read those charts….when I was working w/ Dr. John, we’d never have bad charts like those….” etc, etc.
The bass player, a very refined man, who was also an amazing cellist, had written the charts. The charts were impeccable. I had never seen him angry. Well, he exploded on the guy and because I’d like to keep this clean, I will refrain from writing the dialogue that took place but let’s just say, it was kind of like a Buddy Rich tirade. We headed now very quietly into the dark night toward our destination, the very quaint and beautiful seacoast town of Darmiscotta, Maine.
Now after telling the guy 20 times in emails (that he kept saying he didn’t get or lost even though he responded to some of them) that he would be mailed a check……he still had the nerve to send his very obnoxious girlfriend, (yes, the one that was pigging out at the buffet) to my door at the Darmiscotta Inn around 2 or 3 a.m. looking for cash. She’s banging on our door, “Mr. Sax is going crazy…he wants his bread.” We could hear him screaming from his room, “Tell those mother *&^%$ er’s I want my money.” I told her, go back and tell him if he doesn’t shut the (fill in the blank) up, I was going to come back there and have a little talk with him (only I wasn’t as polite as that).
This went on for awhile, back and forth she comes and goes, “He’s really angry, he’s going crazy in there….” I didn’t want to call the desk because he was staying under our name. He finally calmed down or passed out and things settled. We got up around and exhausted but happy to be free of him had a good story to laugh about over breakfast down the road. Mr. Sax called me a few days later to apologize and explain that he was off his meds or something…. I told him that every time someone calls me to recommend a sax player, I’m going to give them his name and say, “Don’t use this guy under any circumstances.”