Here’s a beautiful message, reprinted with permission, I received this morning from Parker MacDonell.
A weekend recording artist and entertainer, weeknight music publisher, and the official banker for Our Town, Parker is a member of the Old Bohemians, the presenting sponsor of this evening’s opening night performance of Our Town.
Parker is a role model for both business and artistic sides of life. Read his words, please, because they apply to you, too, if you are exploring the outer reaches of your ability:
Artie – tomorrow is your debut (at least in this century) as Stage Manager in Our Town. Tonight you are going to have dress rehearsal, then you will go home and practice your lines one more time with Alisa. Then you will try to go to sleep, and my wish for you is that sleep comes easily so that you are as alive and aware as possible tomorrow. We are very much looking forward to being there with you tomorrow night.
"Stay loose and play tight" is now my standard exhortation to myself and those with whom I am about to go on stage. I heard it for the first time in 1978. I was playing in a band called Sonora (that name alone should help you get to sleep tonight) in Los Angeles. One of the guys in the band, Dave Sheils, had an older brother who was an agent with the William Morris Agency. Big stuff, that agency. So Dave was always bugging his brother Peter to help our band.
One day Peter calls me — I was the business manager of said band as well as the bass player — and said, "I got you guys a gig. Any time that Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley play in California, you guys will be on stage as their back up band." Wow! All we had to do was join the union. No problem.
But get to rehearse with these 50’s rock stairs before the show? We did not. Instead, we were told to learn every song from Chuck Berry’s "Golden Hits" album, which we dutifully did, and be prepared to think quickly on stage.
Our first gig with Sir Chuck was at Knott’s Berry Farm, a poor man’s Disney Land in Orange County, CA. The show was scheduled for 8 p.m., so we were there and set up far in advance. Maybe we thought we’d get a little rehearsal at the sound check. No such luck. Instead, as the crowd was starting to chant "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck" at 7:55 with the curtain still down, we looked around and said, "Where is he?" At exactly 7:58, the back door to the stage opened, and there he was, guitar in hand, all alone.
He walked over to his amp, plugged in his guitar, turned all the knobs up to 10 — I swear this was before Spinal Tap — and played an out-of-tune E chord. The crowd stirred, sensing that the Great One was in the building. He walked up to the mic, turned it 180 degrees so that he was facing us with his back to the stage curtain, and said, "Have I ever played with you guys before?"
"No sir, Mr. Berry, sir, we have never played with you."
"Okay, I want you to watch my right foot. When I put that foot down, you start to play. When I lift it up, you stop playing. Down is start, up is stop. You got that? Okay, I want you guys to stay loose and play tight."
With that he launched into "Johnny B. Goode" as the curtain went up and the crowd went crazy. There was only one problem. On his record, he played the song in B flat. (One of the little secrets to his unusual sound was that he played in the flat keys instead of the usual guitar keys of E, A, G and D.) But because he was at least 50 years old at the time of this story, he had decided to play this song in a lower key to make it easier to sing. So while he was playing in A flat, we were in B flat or some other key unrelated to A flat. It sounded a little like that piece that Charles Ives composed for two marching bands who were to march past each other playing the same tune in two keys that were as far apart as two keys could be (a flatted fifth from each other). What worked as 20th century atonal music for Charles Ives did not work so well for the song that NASA chose to put on the Voyager spacecraft as a representation of earthly rock ‘n roll for any extraterrestrials who might find the Voyager.
Finally, our piano player Jim King yelled out the correct key and we got into the groove with Chuck. He played this song and two others with his back to the audience to tumultuous applause. Then he turned his mic stand around and said to the audience, "Thank you. With your permission, we will now begin our performance."
You will be great. You, unlike my friends in Sonora and Chuck Berry have rehearsed your work with each other. So, my friend, my wish for you tomorrow and the rest of this week is that you stay loose and play tight.
Thank you, Parker, my friend.
Let’s dance our way into dress rehearsal. Here’s Sir Chuck and some crazy kids with all the latest moves…