The Culmination

So, here it is, 1989, several months after I had returned to the East Side Pharaohs. And yet it was time once more to locate a new drummer. Sigh...I've been through that before. We pulled the old friend-of-a-friend routine and managed to hit upon a possible candidate. We all met at Flapper's farm for a quick run-through and quickly determined we had found our man. Little did we know just how auspicious this event would be.

As it turns out, it was the missing link in our equation: Hubert "The Tree" Sprinkler.

Riff, Studs, Hubert, Pinkie and Flapper
Hubert was a fine drummer, but just as important he had a spectacular stage personality, a truly wonderful "radio voice," and was hilarious on bits. Moreover, he was (and is) just a lot of fun to be around. What I always loved was setting him up, completely impromptu, with some outrageous bit just begging for a blue punchline, and how he would nail it every time. (My favorite was the one about two dogs copulating in the front yard and the benefits of a bucket of cold water in getting them to desist--all that from the song Memphis). And similarly, Hubert was always extremely generous in letting me arrive at the laugh-line for something he had arranged.

It didn't hurt that Hubert was powerfully built and willing to join in on a righteous cause. One night, while playing the Best Western, some jerk was flipping ice cubes at the band. Once or twice I could stand, but then a piece bounced up on stage, coming perilously close to slipping down the open grill of the Peavey CS-800 P.A. amplifier, instant electrocution imminent. Without considering the consequences, I set the guitar down, jumped off of stage and ran right up to the guy's table and read him the riot act. Then I noticed he was substantially better built than me, that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. My brother, a national champion powerlifter was in the crowd that night, further back, and started to rise for assistance as well. As it turns out, he wasn't needed. For that's when I noticed, Hubert had followed me down and was applying a rather mighty nerve-hold to the troublemaker's shoulder, explaining that ice-tossing would cease at once. It did.

From then on, Hubert and I would make constant jokes on stage about, "Are you going to back me up?"

Now remember, if it isn't obvious, my blog entries are heavily tainted for several reasons. First off, many of the things I've reported so far date back years, some as long ago as five decades or more, and so precise memory for details fades a bit from time to time. Then there's the fact that the East Side Pharaohs as a group lasted for thirty years, and hence many, many different musicians came and went. Obviously, I'm only writing of the performers I've known. So this blog should be considered anything but a comprehensive history. Finally, I'm patently going to be prejudiced in many regards, but that's the prerogative of writing memoirs. If you think I got it wrong, write your own!

With the disclaimer out of the way, then, let me state flat out:

The glory days of performing with friends
This grouping of five represented the culmination of my entire musical career, for many reasons. To begin, for the first time everyone was pulling in the same direction. Previous incarnations suffered from certain members griping about the material, wanting to be like other bands, not fully appreciating the entertainment side of things, and so forth. Typically this would be a drummer for whatever reason. Oh, there was a certain well-known keyboardist from town who briefly pondered joining, but queered the pitch when he said "But I'm not going to wear a goofy hat." Somewhere he got the weird idea that people care more about technical musical skills than being entertained. The Pharaohs never looked for performers who could type 100 wpm. Our audiences didn't pay to see technicians; they wanted to have fun.

Next, all five of us now were complete nuts on stage. No longer was it left to Riff and me to handle all of the talking. For the very first time, each and every member jumped in with hilarious bits: Hubert, Riff, Flapper, Pinkie and I. There was always nonstop chatter going on, very egalitarian. A number of audience members from those days have commented on what a five-ring circus it was on stage--they never knew where to look, nor what craziness would ensue. Bring up the stage lights and the personalities became bigger than life.

And there was a total commitment to costuming now. I've said it many times before: technically skilled musicians abound and are commonplace. But entertainers are a rarity. Hell, even Beethoven understood that. Audiences don't give a hoot about technique, hence the popularity of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and others. Spectators don't come to the ballroom to judge an international Tchaikovsky piano competition. But they do remember at the end of the night whether they've been entertained or not. Likewise for the tavern owners who foot the bill. Zany costumes are just one more cog which adds immeasurably to characterization on stage, showing a respect and dedication to the patrons: fun is just ahead. Even Porter Wagoner recognized that. With this new five-piece, we were finally all on the same page for the very first time. And none of us had a significant other who would cringe at an indecent comment over the microphone. Indeed, my significant other was standing right next to me on stage in a flouncy blue prom dress making the indecent comments!

Another hot night at the Best Western.
But what about the music? Oh, it probably could have been better in some ways. I know my guitar playing often got sloppy, but then again, so did Link Wray's and it didn't stop him!  And listening to old recordings, I'll hear a flubbed note from the others occasionally, almost never from Pinkie, though. Nonetheless, there were some songs we did that make me ever so proud of the melodic side of things: Georgy Girl, Silhouettes, I Wonder Why, It's My Party, Rama Lama Ding Dong, Little Darling, Kicks, and earlier on, Cara Mia. The important thing was, when it came to the music, we trusted each other and picked up on all the implicit cues. I can't speak for the others, but this was the first time I felt that way in a band.

Most important, though, was the fact that getting together with Hubert, Riff, Flapper and Pinkie each weekend to gig was like going to parties all year long. The five of us truly liked being with each other, enjoyed the laughter and humor, and felt a real sense of camaraderie. After a tough week of delivering lessons or grading exams, it was always a delight for me to hang around with this crew on a Friday and Saturday night. Pure and simple, we had fun together and enjoyed each other's company.

Let's see some of the craziness. I've got three short video clips for you, filmed at the 1989 People's Fair. The first one introduces the East Side Pharaohs:

In the next one, we get yet another instance of Pinkie's rapid-fire ad-lib abilities:

And in the last, you'll get just a taste for how well we all worked together:

In a nutshell, then, this incarnation of the East Side Pharaohs was the apogee of everything I had worked for or hoped for since high school days.

By 1992, I was back in academic harness, this time as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Gustavus Adolphus College. Now I had a whole new slew of courses to prepare, many of which I would be teaching for the first time. And so, once more, I dropped out, this time for good.

It was quite a journey from the humble start of that three-piece back in 1974. Looking back on life, one always wonders what makes a person turn out the way he or she does. Certainly, my Aquarian Friends are responsible for a huge part. And then, of course, there's the infamous palace of sin, 249 Norton Street. Mathematics also played a big role. But in the final analysis, I suppose it was the East Side Pharaohs more than anything which had the greatest influence.

I am honored to have been a part of it, and tender my most sincere thanks to Riff, Flapper, Hubert and the memory of Pinkie. You were one hell of a gang...

Next installment: Pure Poetry

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