TUT WASN'T JUST A BOY PHARAHO
Playing music and performing have always been a passion. I was never that good at either. But when I picked up a $10 ukulele, at an A1 liquor store on Maui a few years ago, the hook was set.
I formed a duo with an old friend Al Bernes and while we were searching for a name Dick Daunt, a uke-banjo player, joined us. We called ourselves TUT. The two-ukulele trio. We thought it was pretty clever. No one in our audience ever got it.
Since no bar, night club, day club, brunch club, concert hall or theater wanted TUT to headline in their particular venue we decided to play retirement homes, hospitals and children’s wards.
We rehearsed like fiends and actually got a pretty good sound going. Our ukes gave off complimentary tones and we worked hard on three-part harmony. When we reached 1 and 7/8 part harmony, I booked our debut performance.
TUTS FIRST GIG DID NOT GO WELL.
We were welcomed by a robust woman with a southern Swiss accent. I lived in Switzerland for a while and was familiar with the accent.
Question. Why doesn’t anyone on the planet hate the Swiss? The French hate the Germans, the Protestants hate the Catholics, the Sunni hate the Shiites. Everyone seems to hate Americans, but no one hates the Swiss. Maybe it’s best that we don’t. After all, they control most of the world’s funds. Licit and elicit. For more alpine tales see siebesiech in “WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM.” … Ah, but I digress.
The immense Southern Swiss woman continued with our introduction. “Ladies and gentlemen and ‘MY’ staff,” (OUCH, working for her did not sound like fun) “back by popular demand, I would like to reintroduce you all to ATUTELING.” Our first introduction and we were already suffering from identity crisis. Atuteling sounded like a brand of cottage cheese. So much for name recognition… Hell, if our first show bombed maybe only ATUTELING would be remembered.
It was nice to be back for a repeat performance, though we’d never played there before. We’d never played anywhere before. We did like the ‘back by popular demand bit.’ It’s nice being popular and in demand.
I passed out sing-along song books. All the tunes were familiar and in BIG, BOLD PRINT. I offered Mariachis, clickers and clackers, kazoos, to anyone who would take one. There was only one taker. He took a kazoo and proceeded to blow on the wrong end. I snatched it back. I should have quit there. In the back rows several people started to leaf through their song books. I asked them to wait until we started our show.
To involve our audience further I’d purchased some plastic fruit and vegetables filled with BB’S, which, if shook, correctly would add a neat Brazilian flavor. I’d rehearsed a spiel to use as I singled out various members of our audience to become the rhythm section for the TUT trio.
A man with a nicotine-stained handle-bar moustache took the Top Banana. I handed the Red-Hot Chili Pepper to a man in a beret and the Apple of my eye to a woman who put down here knitting needles and gave me a blank stare. I award The Cool as Cucumber to a woman in the front row who asked me later if she could keep it.
We hadn’t sung a song. Our debut performance was a learning experience. I learned to NEVER hand out fruit or vegetables that make neat Brazilian rhythms to young children or elderly folks in rest-homes. And NEVER pass out song books until our group was moments away from playing our opening number.
We were tuning our instruments when a woman shouted “Do you know Jambalaya? Play Jambalaya.” She was a cheater. Fingering through her song book ahead of schedule. I assured her we’d play Jambalaya. “When you gonna play it?” The cheater demanded. Since she ignored the rules, I ignored her. She leaned next to the woman with the blank stare and knitting needles. “I don’t think they know how to play Jambalaya.”
We opened with “When you’re smiling,” a great tune by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin a pretty good trio in their own right. Almost everyone over fifty knows the song. Upbeat tempo and good lyrics, ‘When You’re Smiling was our “Ice Breaker.” But there was a quick change in the climate.
We’d just begun the song when the door at the back of the recreation room opened. A diminutive woman in a green snuggly entered being pushed in her wheelchair by an equally diminutive nurse. Only the white cap of the nurse peeked above the hair bun of the patient she was pushing. Hair-bun took one look at trio TUT and screamed at an incredible volume, “NOISE. THIS IS GOING TO BE NOISE. I HATE NOISE!”
We were off to a bad start. We’d barely started. Twelve bars tops. Twelve bars and already one member of our audience was heading for the exit. I tried to remember where I’d heard a scream at that decibel and recalled a family member trying to pull a half chewed, red, Gumby Bear from the curls of my one-year-old niece and it all came back to me.
“Do Jambalaya,” shouted the woman wheeling her wheelchair from the middle of the audience to the front row.
“We’re almost there.” I assured her.
Halfway through our set we’d won-over most of the crowd. Almost everyone was harmonizing into the last verse of ‘You are My Sunshine,’ when a loud, eerie sound joined the harmony. I thought maybe I was out of tune. I wasn’t. Neither were Dick or Al. The sound grew.
We increased the volume.
You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
The audience sang louder… the noise grew louder.
You make me happy,
when skies are grey
The sound increased. Trio TUT exchanged, ‘what the hell is that?’ glances. The sound crescendoed. Our audience stirred. The staff began to laugh. We turned.
Our hostess from Southern Switzerland was sound asleep, basked in a ray of sunshine. She emitted a series of snorts followed by the sound of a head on collision between two trains.
“Play Jambalaya,” the women shouted over the snorts. And we did. No one asked for an encore. So we didn’t.