Chapter 4 – Stars Among Us

Posted on: June 7th, 2018 by wrayadmin No Comments

First Brush With "Celebrity" - Kapuskasing 1980

We thought we were going to be stars. It gave us that kind of determined optimism that offered physical and emotional durability. We put up with the low pay, long road trips, terrible living conditions and the feeling of isolation because we knew we were destined for bigger things. Much bigger things. And we were always looking for that big break. We thought we'd found it on our return to Kapuskasing.

We were now playing Kap regularly, but exclusively at the Commercial Hotel. We always liked to check out the other acts in town and it was especially easy here as the main competition, the Radio Hotel, was right across the street. Often we'd see players we could learn from, or musicians we knew. It made our time on the road much more enjoyable.

We were building up a following so whenever we rolled into town, we usually had pretty good crowds. The boys would come in from the bush and we would serenade their evening of beers and brawls.

This one particular night, a guy came in who just didn't belong. He was too different to be a local. He had Gino Vannelli hair and chest with a fancy two-toned leather jacket draped over his shoulders. (40 below outside, but this guy`s dressed for spring.) He sauntered over to a table in the corner and started watching us. I`m afraid we weren`t delivering much of a show. The PA was howling. The tempos were all over the place. Didn`t seem to matter to this guy though. He became more and more enthusiastic the worse we played. We cut the set short when Mickey broke a string and got a standing ovation...from one guy.

I took off my bass and as I leaned over to turn on the juke box, our fan came over to us and RAVED. You guys are fantastic!...What are you doing in THIS hick town?... You should be in L.A... We laughed him off, but he was serious. He introduced himself as: Michael-Just-Michael. (I wasn't sure if he had one name or three.) He said he was a piano player originally from Toronto but relocated to Hartford, Connecticut to get away from L.A. music scene. And he just happened to let slip that he was Neil Young's keyboard player. We glanced at each other in shock. Apparently he didn't spot our collective thought bubble yelling Neil Young?! Michael-Just-Michael explained that he got stranded here by a snowstorm and it was so nice, he just decided to stay put until Neil's next tour. After hearing us play, he said we had to get one of our tapes to his friends in L.A. Better yet, he decided, I'll take you to L.A. myself and we'll do the recording there. I have a suite at the Charlotte Hotel on Sunset...

This was all we needed to hear. As we got up to do the next set, Laurie nodded to the bartender that Michael-Just Michael was drinking on Rainbow Wind's tab tonight. If he wanted to eat, get him whatever he wants. When we hit the first note, it was like a bomb went off. Any band gripes, girlfriend issues, miles and bad food - it all slipped away...and we rocked. We played better than we'd ever played. Whatever was going on, it was magical. Michael-Just-Michael got the place rockin' with him. It was an amazing night. After the show, we sat up in the band room until dawn drinking, smoking and listening to his tales of partying at the Playboy Mansion with Heff and how he once turned down a gig with Steely Dan. As we parted ways in the morning, Michael-Just-Michael gave us each a pair of tickets to his solo show in Toronto. (Turns out it's just the one name.)

The next day, we were torn. Half of us thought we'd found our meal ticket. The other half pointed out that he never pulled out his wallet all night. I decided to solve the question once and for all: I went to the mall. Before the internet, whenever you wanted to know who played on an album you didn't own, you had to go to a record store. I went to Sam The Record Man in the Kap Mall. I looked for his name on Neil Young's current release, "Rust Never Sleeps". Not there. In fact, Neil wasn't even using keyboards on that album. I checked Neil's other albums. No one-name-only-Michael. Then, I remembered his concert tickets. I slipped into Coles Book Store and checked their calendar section. When I worked out the date of the concert, it didn't add up. The concert was either past, several years in the future or it's simply a made up date - and a made-up ticket. I headed back to the hotel and passed on my findings to the guys...who were crestfallen. Our big break turned out to be a nickle and dime con-man schmoozing for free drinks. We decided that if Michael came in again, we'd give him the cold shoulder. Laurie told the bartender there's no more free ride for Michael.

Sure enough, half-way through the first set, in came Michael, coat over his shoulders, and slipped into a booth. After each song, he applauded. He whistled. We ignored him and carried on with the next song. No back and forth - which must have been strange for the guy who the night before was our newest best friend. He eventually left.

Later, in between sets, we went across the street to catch a few tunes by the country band at the Radio Hotel. Poking our heads into the smokey beer hall, the crowd was sparse. A four-piece country band was performing "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" and we knew we didn't have much to worry about. The song ended to polite applause - except for one guy whistling and yelling GREAT JOB! and Fantastic! Sitting at the front table was our boy Michael saying things like: You guys need to come to my ranch in Nashville! On Michael's table were several rounds of drinks. (No sign of a wallet.)

As we turned to leave, the band leader hushed the crowd so he could introduce Neil Young's keyboard player and thank him for the concert tickets...

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