Another Dead Person, Another Story

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Actually, this is not completely about the person in particular. I just read that Tim Hauser, the founder of the Manhattan Transfer, died Thursday at the age of 72. OK, Name Drop away, but for a brief time in 1980, Rick & Ruby and the Transfer totally connected, and in various shifts, all four of them came to see us perform and we hung out in LA at different times.

What surprised me was that with Hauser being such an afficianado of 50’s doo-wopp music, and us with an act that was conceived out of an appreciation for that same music, we didn’t connect further. Among the four of them, our real friendship, however brief, was with group member Janis Siegel.

In 1980, we were doing a week at West Hollywood’s Studio One Backlot, and staying at the nearly legendary Tropicana Hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard. Next door was the greasy spoon diner known as Duke’s, where you could at almost any hour of the day, but particularly in early morning, see some Hollywood legend dining. Living at the Tropicana at the time was Tom Waits and his then-girlfriend Rickie Lee Jones, but enough name drops, at least until the next paragraph, let’s keep the story going!

So one late midweek morning, there we are having breakfast with our manager, who happened to be friends with the whole group, and on this particular outing, Ms. Siegel had joined us. As we’re finishing up our meal, an acquaintance wanders in. He was a comic that we’d done the HBO Young Comedians Special with, a really nice guy, but with a bit of a coke problem. He spotted us and sat down, ignoring that he wasn’t really invited. He was clearly wired, and started doing all the Hollywood “things are going great” shtick. As he started running down his laundry list of the upcoming series he was up for, what commercials he’d gotten a call back on, what big cheeses had been at his recent gigs, we listened and let him ramble.

Perhaps noticing that he was the only one talking, he paused briefly, then turned to Janis, and not recognizing her, asked “Are YOU in show biz?” She said yes. He then asked what she did. By now, the rest of us remained silent, in great anticipation of how deep a hole he was going to dig. Janis said she was a singer. He asked if she was with a group. And so on, until she finally said, “I’m with the Manhattan Transfer,” and he looked at us as if to say “You guys were messing with me,” and laughed about it, then turned to Janis, and did the maneuver of singing lines from some of his favorite Transfer songs. I’d have felt a bit more guilty if he hadn’t been setting himself up to be embarrassed. It just reminded me too much of people I’d often run into in LA, who when you’d ask, “Hey, how ya doing,” they’d start running through their entire list of who they had development deals with. I remember one guy doing that with me, and I stopped him midway through just to say, “Actually I was just wondering how YOU are doing.” He was taken aback by that, but my point was made.

Now while I’m in my semi-bitter mode of opportunities lost, I’ll mention that the Transfer wanted us to tour with them, which included dates at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, we hit them at that little patch between their initial success and their fey 1981 revival of “The Boy From New York City,” their biggest single hit. Things weren’t going well in the late 70’s for them, so advance tickets on their tour dates was disappointing, to be kind. They were forced to scale down the size of their concert venues, and couldn’t afford to have an opener who actually needed expenses paid. Another of my many “almosts!”

I would encounter Manhattan Transfer one more time, at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan in 1988, and this is a story I told a few weeks ago when I was talking about Bill Murray. Of the four of them, the only one that really talked to me that night was indeed Janis Siegel. But this whole blog was initially meant to be about Tim Hauser, so let’s bring it back to him, however briefly. My one full-on encounter with him in 1979 was really pleasant, and I only regret that I didn’t connect with him more on our mutual love for classic 50’s doo-wopp.

So I’m off until the next person I met 35-40 years ago calls it a day!

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