1. THE SHOW MUST GO ON
The first rule of showbiz is, quite simply, “The show must go on.” This is an ancient tradition that goes back to the earliest days of the performing arts. When an artist makes a commitment to appear, at a certain time and place, to conduct the business of his art, he is under a sacred obligation to do so. The promoter spends money to inform fans that the act will be there. The fans spend money to be present at the performance; and they look forward to the artist's appearance.
There is a legendary story of an artist who was touring America one winter long ago, when the bus broke down. The performer, obligated to his commitment, and in the tradition of the show must go on, packed his guitar on his back and trudged five miles in the snow to the venue.
He left his band and the crew to languish on the bus; and proceeded to put on the show for his audience—not the same show that he would have presented if it had been his regular band on stage—but he didn’t disappoint the crowd because he believed in this particular rule of showbiz.
Years later, I had a challenging experience with this law in my career as a personal manager.
The Fickle Finger Of Fate - America
I was travelling on the endless road of rock & roll in the summer of 1976. My client was the Grammy winning classic rock band America. We were in the middle of a world tour, and enjoying a day off in Miami Beach, before presenting a concert at a Mississippi college the next night. Our drummer, Willy Leacox was enjoying a few rounds of his customary Heineken when he fell victim to a tragic flaw in the construction of our hotel. Someone forgot to consider mother nature.
The engineers had failed to adequately research the environment and were unaware, that if the windows were left open in the room, a potentially dangerous situation arose. Under certain circumstances, the door was blasted shut by the off shore breeze with the ferocity of a cannon shot. So, enter Willy with a Dutch brew in hand and juggling his room key. As he reached to catch the closing door, the steel slammed on his finger leaving the tip dangling by a thread of skin.
As blood sprayed around the portal, Willy’s screams aroused band and crew alike as our party held down most of the rooms on the floor. The drum tech, Jim Hoskins, whisked Willy off to the hospital and sat with him all night, holding his finger up in the air. About 3 AM, Jim devised a pillow and sheet contraption that kept Willy's finger aloft while he slept. Jim was finally able to get some rest, in the adjoining hospital bed, while they waited for the damn doctor to arrive.
My partner, Harlan Goodman, was scheduled to arrive on the red eye from Los Angeles, and I had to catch an early flight to New York, in order to link up with another client Crosby, Stills & Nash. At 6 AM, as Harlan and I traded places in the doorway of an airport limousine , I shared the stunning news, “Willy cut off his finger, find another drummer and don’t blow tonight's show.”
As easy as that was to say, it presented a myriad of problems. But, this was not Harlan’s first day on the road, and if anyone believed in “The show must go on,” it was my very resourceful partner. Confident that he would handle the problem, I dashed for the early morning flight to JFK.
Harlan went into overdrive. A quick trip to the hospital revealed that Willy was ensconced in a private room, with his finger tip still dangling in Hoss's contraption. “Who the hell is going to sew this guy up?” Harlan bellowed at the night nurse. “There’s no one on duty qualified to do it,” she fearlessly replied. After a little research, and a lot of charm, Harlan had the number of a surgeon.
When it comes to doctors and lawyers, our policy is always to get the best. Within minutes Harlan had pried the top hand specialist from his sleep. ”This guy is a drummer and he has a show tonight. I need you down here immediately.” he begged. “I’ll be there at eight A.M.” the doctor promised. “He could bleed to death by then,“ was Harlan’s pleading retort. “Look I was up all night with a thumb replacement and unless you want this guy’s finger sewed to his ass, I’ll see you at eight! And sir, you better find a replacement, your man won‘t be drumming for months.”
A lurid shot of Willy sitting on one hand and drumming with the other flashed through Harlan’s mind and he closed the deal. The doctor, true to his word, had Willy in surgery by eight fifteen and the finger was restored to its former beauty, except for the stitches. With problem one handled Harlan turned to the big one. How was he going to put the band on stage that night?
He called an emergency meeting in the hospitality suite and turned toward the practical side of the issue. “Is anybody on the crew a drummer.” he inquired hopefully. No such luck, but Craig Hull, a guitar player serving as a tech roadie, knew a guy in Nashville who was a phenomenal drummer. Now Harlan had a target to shoot for and he sent Craig to track down Harry Stinson.
Harry was sitting in his mother's living room contemplating his future when the call came. Of course he knew America's world wide hit single, "A Horse With No Name," but was otherwise not too familiar with their repertoire. He dashed out to the local record store and picked up a couple of their albums for a quick listen. A couple hours later, a limousine dropped him at the airport where he picked picked up his first class ticket, and was on his way to the Mississippi gig.
Harlan met Harry at the gate and handed him a pair of headphones and a transistor cassette deck. “This is the live show, don’t take these off unless you’re in the shower.” he ordered. Harry ‘s head started bobbing to the beat and his sticks flashed on everything in his path for the next eight hours. By show time Harry was totally familiar with every song in the set and ready to play.
With Willy coaching from a beach chair next to the drum kit, Harry played his first date with America and never missed a beat. He finished the tour and languished in the undying gratitude of the band. We were all very impressed with his skill as a drummer and his trooper attitude. For his reward, we made him a partner in a band we were building for Clive Davis of Arista Records called Silver. They went on to have a top twenty hit on a song called “Wham, Bang Shanga Lang.”
The America show in Mississippi did go on and we launched Harry's professional career. He became a staple among the best west coast session players. Willy Leacox healed up fine and forty years later he still does over one hundred and fifty America concerts a year all around the globe. His contribution to the many hit singles and platinum albums that followed is incalculable. Artists and managers should remember this story when the going gets tough, because no matter what happens, the show must go on.