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|THE ASIAN APERTURE
Nothing on the Horizon by Jason Fetters
I'd Like To Thank The Academy .... Burn Baby Burn! .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith
I will probably never have an opportunity to travel the country with a musical group to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine but, for one brief moment, I did receive a pretty cool consolation prize. I was recently invited to join one of my favorite bands, The Royal Guardsmen, for a concert appearance in Las Vegas. Also on the bill for the End of Summer Bash were Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs, Eddie Holman, and The Vogues. I knew this would make an excellent article and, in the end, I learned a lot about music and the music business.
The Royal Guardsmen’s September performance at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas was booked just before my May visit to the city. As part of that trip, I made a reconnaissance stop by the casino to check out the hotel and the stage. I was immediately impressed by the Cannery’s décor of 1940’s pin up art and neon. The casino also uses a decorating scheme that incorporates Earth tones and 1950’s “fruit cake” style patterns that give it the homey feeling of a simpler time. I knew once I saw their stage area, called The Club, with its exterior that looked like a vintage theater, that this would be the perfect type of place for the Guardsmen to perform.
Once I had signed on as the personal assistant, roadie, inventory control manager, logistics coordinator, chief cook and bottle washer and just about any other duty the group could dream up for me, my real work started. I spent the next three months between June and August helping to plan the trip, coordinating with the casino, and generally doing anything I could to free up the band so that they could concentrate on their music. This performance would be the first time in several years that all five of the original members, lead guitarist Tom Richards passed away in 1979 and was replace by Pat Waddell, had played together. They were very excited about the opportunity but it would require coordination and practice to have everyone ready in time and being spread out over three states didn’t help.
Practicing at Chris Nunley's house in Ocala.
The week prior to the End of Summer Bash, The Royal Guardsmen all met in Ocala for some intense practice sessions. I joined them on Friday in the small studio room of lead singer Chris Nunley’s home to observe the sessions and figure out how I would do the cards. I had met all of the Guardsmen on previous occasions with the exception of drummer John Burdett who lives in Michigan. We had spoken on the phone over the years and exchanged numerous E-mails but this was our first face to face meeting. It turns out John, who did a lot of the behind the scenes work in finding and booking this engagement, and I share a very similar sense of humor, so we hit it off right away. I arrived just as they were reaching the Jolly Green Giant portion of the set so we practiced my part and then I watched the conclusion. Afterwards we caught up on business and the other tired band members went their separate ways while Chris and I, with respective spouses Karen and Cindy, went out for some overdue dinner.
Signing merchandise for the show.
The set list for the Las Vegas show was assembled by bassist Bill Balogh with input from the other members. Bill has a knack for choosing songs and the list he came up with had everything to please both the casual and more experienced fans. The opening number was a track from The Guardsmen’s second album, Return of the Red Baron, a cover of the Byrds hit (So You Want to be a) Rock and Roll Star. When the album was pressed back in the 60’s, the label somehow lost the vocal track between the time the group recorded the number and the studio mastered it. This was a rare opportunity for fans to hear the group do the complete song. Speaking of rare, yours truly just happened to locate an acetate pressing of the original version of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron that had been rescued decades ago from Charles Fuller Studios in Tampa. The first version of the song features a different mix and actually has the group singing “hang on Snoopy” in the middle to the chords of The McCoys famous hit. After I got copies of this track to the band, they were inspired to reinstate this refrain into the live version so the audience in Las Vegas was the first to hear this live.
The marquee outside the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas.
After a long busy day and a great lasagna dinner thanks to Karen’s sister Kim, Cindy and I had to head back to Jacksonville to prepare for the even busier week ahead. After making final preparations and mailing my cue cards to the casino, Cindy and I caught a flight out on Tuesday afternoon and were in Las Vegas before we knew what hit us! Since Cindy has been absent on my last few visits to Sin City and I already had a standing agenda of things to do there (which will be covered in detail next week), we arrived a few days early. The Taylors, Billy and Donna, and the Nunleys, Chris and Karen, joined us the following day and shared some of our adventures. The rest of the group – Bill, Pat, John, singer and guitarist Barry Winslow and his wife Teena, arrived on Friday afternoon. We were relaxed and settled by this point but the final contingency had to hit the ground running to get ready for the show the next day.
John Burdett tunes his drum kit during the sound check.
Guardsman Barry Winslow with The Vogues' Hugh Geyer at sound check.
Chris Nunley checking the sounds.
For the sound check, the group ran through several numbers to test for different vocals and harmonies. Since Bill, Billy, and John were using instruments provided by the venue, they had to make sure they were tuned and arranged to their preferences. Aside from a mix up involving the type of bass guitar Bill requested, a four string versus the five he was given, and some adjustments to speaker volumes, everything went fairly smoothly. The five string bass was out but it was all the sound department had available. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a four string version from Stan Lark of The Fireballs (thanks Stan!). They were on immediately prior to The Royal Guardsmen so all he had to do was leave it on stage. I couldn’t comment from the stage but standing in the audience area, the group sounded pretty darn good to me.
Bill Balogh live in Las Vegas!
Billy Taylor bashes the end of summer.
Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs were wrapping up their set when we entered the green room to wait our turn. We had been instructed that after they vacated the stage, the crew had to make some adjustments, and when they were finished we would have approximately ten minutes to set up before show time. I received a few last minute instructions on showmanship and prop placement while we were waiting for the signal. When the Guardsmen were given the green light to take the stage, they had to use the brief interval to connect their instruments and do last minute tuning. I rushed around and made sure that props for the show were in place and properly concealed and that everyone had what they needed. Stan had left his bass on stage as promised and I helped Bill adjust the strap for his height while he tried to tune it at the same time due to the rush. As the announcer was getting ready to introduce the band, I put my cue cards in position and ducked off the stage.
The Royal Guardsmen's front line - Chris, Barry, and Bill.
ED Tucker makes his Las Vegas debut with The Royal Guardsmen.
Before I knew it, the band was closing with their classic hit Snoopy vs. the Red Baron and the audience was letting their approval be known. This was my cue to make a quick trip back to the green room, retrieve the merchandise, run behind the stage, and set everything up in the front lobby – preferably before the song ended! I made it to the lobby just as Snoopy was putting an end to the German air ace and there were already people lined up for autographs and souvenirs. Fortunately, the group was detained by the entertainment director, who wanted them to sign a photo for the casino, so that bought me a couple of extra minutes to get everything laid out while also answering questions. By the time the band started to fill in behind me I had everything lined up and ready for them to sign.
An ED's eye view of the concert from back stage.
A Royal meet and greet - signing for fans after the concert.
We had an early flight out the next morning and the Las Vegas airport is not one you want to be late getting to under any circumstances. Billy and Donna were flying nonstop back to Jacksonville with Cindy and I while the rest of group went to Tampa but all of the flights left close together. Chris and Karen rode with us to return our rental car before we parted company at the airport for different airlines. I realized as we got on our plane that my experience as a roadie was coming to an end but it was one I would not soon forget. It was fun, educational, and a surprising amount of work. I would probably do it again if the opportunity presented itself and I know in the meantime that I can always get a job holding up signs for condos on the side of the road!
Ladies and gentlemen, The Royal Guardsmen have left the building! Left to right: Barry Winslow, John Burdett, Chris Nunley, Pat Waddell, Billy Taylor, Ed Tucker, & Bill Balogh.
Special thanks this week to my wife Cindy Tucker for taking many of the pictures featured in this article and to The Royal Guardsmen for letting this Fanboy hang on to their coat tails. For more on the Guardsmen's practice session in Ocala, check out Entertainment editor Dave Schlenker's article on the Ocala Star Banner's website. Ocala Star Banner Article
To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "Retrorama" is ©2010 by ED Tucker. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.