Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Old School

In the previous post, I jokingly commented about never wearing a tux and that the previously posted tuxedo picture was the genesis of my DJ career. My sister Cindy said I should do a comparison shot- then and now. This is the earliest pic I could find as a DJ. I think this was from about 1983, I was 17. I was already 3 years into my career, but I still didn't know it at the time. When I started in 1979, music was just a way to get girls and make some chump change in high school. When I went to Southern California in 1983, I realized that a person could make a living at it. I don't think that I became a true professional DJ until Susan Marshall's wedding in 1987 in Riverside CA. She was a girl that I had become friends with in college and she asked me to DJ her wedding. That was the first big budget event I ever did and I was just really on my game that night. All of the things I had learned as a keyboard player and as a band leader- things about showmanship and stage presence along with some technical prowess as a DJ really came together and I realized what effect an entertainer could have on a social occasion. I took that event from a lovely wedding to the social event of the year. That golf club became a very loyal customer for many years, I booked about 10 other jobs from people in attendance.

While looking for that last picture, I also found a pic of my high school rock band in 1981. There was a time when "Fugitive" ran the show in Northern Arizona. Those two furious summers filled with church and school dances, skating rinks and grand openings were lots and lots of fun. That's Gregg Ahmann on the left on the classic 1968 Rickenbacker bass guitar. Everett Livingston on lead guitar. He had the perfect rock and roll hair and he played pretty good too. My cousin Tommy Whipple buried behind the drums back there. That's me stepping away from the mic after singing duties. Jason Atkinson, in white, on guitar looking towards me. Over by my keyboards is Leslie- I have forgotten her last name but I think it started with an A. She had a great rock voice and sang like Pat Benatar. Good times!

Here is a current pic of me. I already posted this one a couple of months ago but I love this photo because it says everything I would want to say about a DJ/entertainer but it isn't the gratuitous microphone shot or the headphone shot or the "standing next to my mixing board wearing my goofy tuxedo" shot. Kym Ventola took that shot last winter out at the Wig Wam Resort in the west Valley. The more I see her around the industry, the more I am impressed with her work and her abilities.

I have this weekend off from DJ work but it is the last one off for the next 15 weeks!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grey Poupon? But, of course!

I have often wondered where it says in the DJ rulebook that the official uniform of a DJ is a tuxedo. Actually, I'm not aware that there even IS a rulebook for such matters. I'm of the school of thought that since they are not hiring a business manager, an attorney, a matre'd or a waiter, that I shouldn't dress like one of those. They are hiring an entertainer. While one should not be disrespectful to the overall decorum, a DJ should look the part for which he or she is hired.

I once played at a class reunion and wore an expensive and wonderful dinner jacket and was asked by the class committee to put an old football jersey over it as the wait staff and bartenders were doing. Ummmmm... NO. I don't want to be mistaken for the water boy as I pass by a table. I didn't wear this fabulous jacket to cover it up with a 20 year old, sweaty, musty football jersey.

Most DJs look fairly foolish in their outdated tuxedos and ill fitting cummerbunds and a fancy pin for the top button instead of a tie. Worse still are the guys who still wear just the vest- not that they removed the jacket as they began working the room- they didn't wear a jacket in the first place!

Most of the world has gone very casual and only the most formal, high-society events require them. I haven't seen a wedding in my 30 years as a DJ where anybody but the wedding party wore tuxedos- well maybe an occasional grandfather, but that's it. Jeans and a nice tailored shirt and jacket or business suits or khakis and a polo shirt are most common for wedding guests.

When asked to explain to a potential customer what it is that makes me different than all of the other DJs and why they should pay my higher price, I explain that I am the anti-DJ and that all of the cheesy things that other DJs do will not be done by me, including the wearing of a bad tux or the playing of the Hokey Pokey or the airing of stupid announcements like "Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for..." Is there nothing that might elevate our industry beyond that? Why can't those guys think of something else to say?

On that note, here is a pic of me wearing a tux a few years ago, well, actually, a few decades ago at my Uncle Conrads wedding. I gotta admit, I do look pretty good in a tux. Maybe I'll have to rethink my anti-DJ strategy... ummm... probably not today though... I wasn't the DJ that day, but it may have been the genesis of my career in the Wedding and Event business. Maybe I could use this photo as part of my ad campaign?

Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be DJs

This is a picture of my mother taken in 1953 here in Phoenix. There is not enough of the mountain background to know for sure, but I heard someone explain once, when they saw this, that it was probably taken south of Phoenix with South Mountain at her back and the sun rising in the East at her right. Apparently there used to be lots of flower fields out there. If anybody is reading this and knows more, share it with me. She died in almost 40 years ago in 1969 when I was very small.

The city has grown southward from Downtown Phoenix right up to the edge of that mountain in the background.

The event that I played at last Saturday night may well have been right on this spot! It is a place called "The Secret Garden" on Baseline and 24th Street. I may send a copy of this photo to the owner of the venue and the event coordinator as part of saying thanks for having me on that event- in hopes of getting more work there.

The Devil went down to Santa Monica

I should preface by saying that it's good to be making money in my chosen profession, but please indulge me just a little bit of a rant...

I was in Santa Monica, California on Friday night and spilling into the weeeee hours of Saturday morning- It was a great event and I felt like I was really on my game. After packing up the equipment and grabbing a burger, it was 2:30AM when I hit the road for home in Arizona. I should have been sleeping, but I had to meet a customer at my home office at 10AM Saturday morning and there was a 6 1/2 hour drive in there somewhere. I slept out in the desert for about 2 hours and got home at 9:40! I had a lovely consultation with an engaged couple and I did book their wedding for March of 2010. As if that wasn't enough, I got myself showered and shaved and I headed out the door for a wedding at a great venue here in Phoenix called "The Secret Garden"-- That one went until about 10:30PM. I packed up the lighting rig and the rest of the equipment and was out the door at about 11:15 and home just before midnight.

It was a lucrative weekend, I had a most excellent visit with my son, Javin, in Riverside CA before the Santa Monica event, but the whole thing was a race against the devil to get it all done. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When I'm 64

When I'm 64, I want a cake like this... No really... It IS a birthday cake! ...Really!

I was invited out to a birthday dinner Sunday night in Old Town Scottsdale for the editor of the magazine that I write for and a few industry friends and family. This had to be the most amazing birthday cake I have ever seen and I have seen several hundred wedding cakes and birthday cakes in 30 years of DJ work. It was a shame to cut this one up and eat it. Each of the keys were on toothpicks and they were all in order just like they would be on an old-school typewriter. The paper was made of sugar and draped over the back of the cake. You can see some wadded up sugar paper there around the base of the cake. The photo is a bit blurry because it was really bright out in the courtyard as the sun was setting and it was hard to see the screen on the camera phone that was being used, but if you can focus on the paper, the typewriter is typing "Happy Birthday, Judy!" About half of the restaurant had to get out of their chairs and come and inspect and ooh and ahh and then give their anonymous good wishes.

I think Judy probably has everything you could ever want in life. I knew that I couldn't impress her with even the most rare trinket of wonder and since she lives dually in both Arizona and Kentucky, I was sure she didn't need to travel with another gift, but I knew that she wouldn't have a guy with a guitar serenading her so I took a couple of hours and learned the Beatles "When I'm 64" because she had spilled the beans on that particular secret but you'd never know looking at her...

Between the appetizer and the main course, there was a slow spot and I decided that this time was as good as any other so I whipped out the guitar and started singing... "When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now. Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine?" It goes on- "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I'm sixty four?" There's a spot in the song about holding grandchildren on your knee and I plugged in some of her grandkids names. Anyways- lots of laughter and singing along at the table. The whole restaurant erupted in to cheers after that.

I got several pats on the shoulder and compliments on the performance from fellow diners and staff alike. It was such a pleasant evening with great food and electric conversation and good friends. There was clearly a level of wonder at how much fun we were having at our table and everyone else would have rather been sitting with us at the happening table. It created a certain unspoken jealousy that we were the coolest ones in town- and it is really difficult to be the coolest anything in Scottsdale!

Happy Birthday Judy!