First Gig In Vegas (No Name Dropping)

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Earlier this week in Las Vegas, I saw on the local TV news the destruction of The Blue Angel Motel on Fremont St., a cheap lodging facility near downtown which had been around since the 1950’s, and was to be demolished to make room for a new shopping mall. The motel featured a sculptured cartoon-ish blue angel in its parking lot, and despite the rest of the motel coming down, that sculpture was going to remain as part of the intended shopping mall. Where this minor story hit home with me was, nearly 40 years ago, me and my partner, along with three other musicians, stayed at The Blue Angel during our 5-day gig, the first for Rick & Ruby in Las Vegas.

Actually, the gig wasn’t in Vegas proper, it was at Nellis Air Force Base, so whatever potential glamour or romanticism is pretty much gone in one fell swoop. But at least we were in Vegas during the day, which I think we mostly slept through. Not that it was a total hell gig, but it might have been had it not been for the three musicians traveling with us. Joe Crane and Glenn Walters were both veterans of the road, Glenn growing up in show biz playing drums behind his parents, who had a touring lounge act. Joe, from Conroe, Texas, was a master musician and songwriter, able to write songs while having a conversation with you. We only needed these two working behind us, for Joe would have an electric piano on which he’d play chords with his right hand, while he had an electric bass strapped on where he’d thump notes with his left hand, and sang back-up as well. Talk about multi-tasking! To alleviate some of Joe’s burden, we also had lead guitarist Bob Flurie, who probably could have taught Eddie Van Halen a thing or two, and who enhanced our sound even more.

Joe & Glenn also led a San Francisco band called The Hoodoo Rhythm Devils who performed and recorded (five albums total, one on which I got credit for backing vocals) whenever their manager decided it was time, otherwise they were left to their own devices, and that sometimes meant backing Rick & Ruby. Bob was a member of the band at the time. When their Rock & Roll dreams were being put on hold, they actually welcomed the chance to do something different, or as Joe put it in his Texas drawl, “We jes’ lahk ta pick!” Since we had to do three one-hour sets a night, the guys were more than happy to fill time by doing a couple of songs by themselves each set before bringing me and Ruby out.

Odd that I remember almost nothing about the gigs, but I so remember that funky motel, and the late nights we’d have before crashing out there. I remember the first night we were in town, and none of us had much in the way of cash. Well, Joe had ten dollars, but without knowing what was up, he made two quick $5 bets at a crap table before anyone could say “Joe, that’s all the money we have!” This was 1975, several years before automated cash machines would be invented, and it was doubtful that casino cashiers were going to cash out-of-state checks from musicians. No, we’d have to wait until the next day when we could find an open bank, when that was your only way of getting cash. For that evening, we just walked around casinos, and I think we were able to scrape enough coin together to buy two cans of beer to split amongst the five of us. I’m pretty sure we had some pot somewhere as well. Priorities!

The next day would be the start of the gig, and after getting some cash and breakfast, we met at the office of the agent who booked us. He was a lounge entertainer himself, based in Las Vegas, though we’d met him in Lake Tahoe. He had signed me & Ruby to a two-year management contract. Thankfully, this contract was easily breakable, because everything about him said sleaze. When he initially contacted me about the gig, he said, “Would you do it for $1350 for the week?” That sounded OK to us, for after motel and food, which might have amounted to about $300 back then, everyone would at least clear a couple hundred. But the agent clarified that his 10% cut came out of that $1350, so now we were dealing with just over $1200, and the sneaking suspicion that all wasn’t right.

We had dealt with sleazebags of his ilk before, who treated the musicians like cattle, and felt that since pocketing extra cash wherever they can is such a common practice, it was therefore acceptable. This guy proved no exception, showing up to the gig only on the final night to pay us. We accepted the money, but next day before leaving town, we called the manager of the venue. A nice Southern boy he was, and I merely asked him, “Did you have a contract for this gig?” He said, “Yes, Ah’m lookin’ at it.” “And what is the amount you’ve contracted us for” was my next question. He hesitated, then said “Ah don’t know if Ah should say.” I said, “Well I think you’ve already said plenty, so you might as well tell me so we can decide whether we want to work with this guy ever again.” He said “Two thousand,” I said “Thank you” and that was that.

I do hope Lou (his first name), if he’s still around, has been dealt some sort of comeuppance. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he crossed up the wrong people, and perhaps his body would be found amongst the rubble that was once The Blue Angel Motel. Surely we never did any further gigs and only had minimal contact with him. His contract with us expired at exactly the time when Rick & Ruby was starting to get some notoriety in San Francisco. Had he known, I wouldn’t have put it past him to try and make some kind of claim on us, even though he was over 500 miles away.

As for our musicians, they went back to being Hoodoo Rhythm Devils until about 1978, when Joe was diagnosed with Leukemia. He died in March of 1980, just after his 34th birthday. It’s such a shame that a brilliant guy like Joe was taken away before his genius was fully recognized, but he did at least get one of his songs recorded by Patti LaBelle. Glenn has continued to sing with other Bay Area bands and in commercial jingles, while Bob did studio and technical work with various factions. And from time to time I may have mentioned what happened with me and Ruby.

Tonight’s my final night in this Vegas run, and look forward to the next.



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