“Happens all the time,” said Sam with a shrug.
“Huh.” Helen looked back out in the hall, shrugged her shoulders and stepped into the room, shaking her head. Looked around. Said to the only person she didn’t recognize, “Hi. You must be Faith.”
Faith was a deer caught in the headlights. Managed to say, “Yes, Ms. St. James.”
“Well, glad to meet you. And it’s Helen.” She glanced at the rest of them. “No matter what they call me behind my back.” Faith smiled. “Anything around here to drink?”
By now they’d run out. There was one little lonely beer left. Keith handed it to Helen. Sam went to the phone and placed an order at a liquor store. Helen took a good pull at the beer and passed it to Keith. She had on a work shirt, leotard top, and Keith couldn’t help admiring what that woman does for some spandex. “Okay,” she said. “So, what’re we doing?”
“That James Taylor song I just picked up.”
Her eyes glistened as she smiled. “Let’s warm up.”
Keith led it in. “One, two.” He’d come up with, if he had to say so himself, a dynamite arrangement. Long acoustic solo, leaving space for Christensen on electric. For Sam to shine on piano.
Luis snapped off a roll and Keith hit the verse. He, Helen and Sam traded off on the lead, shimmering harmonies on the chorus. When Helen hit that bridge transition, the whole thing took on amazing dimension.
It wasn’t quite tight because they were still hammering the parts out. It did, however, sound good. Afterward, they talked shop, exchanging notes on how to make it better yet.
The booze showed up. Sam paid and Keith took care of the tip. Helen gratefully went straight for the Chianti. Luis helped himself to Puerto Rican rum. Sam had Southern Comfort. Keith and Faith poured Jack Daniel’s.
Once everyone was comfortable, shooting the breeze over a nice taste, they were feeling good enough to try that second take. Helen called Keith aside: “Come here. Wanna talk to you.” Lord, he thought. She got somethin’ on her mind.
Which she did.
Much as he might be musical director, the band was still hers. Her name, after all, made it marketable. Her name sold tickets and would sell units. So, something was on her mind, and on everyone else’s as well.
Helen decided, what with hers and Sam’s schedules being so demanding, instead of spending a lot of time in the studio, the Uncle Thom’s Cabyn album would mostly be live. They had “Midnight Train” in the can and, soon, “Her Town Too” — a long and a shorter version.
When she broached the notion of touring longer than six weeks at a stretch — any way it went, they’d be traveling off and on for a year easy — he didn’t object. For once, he actually wanted to be away from New York.
Those little rascals Butch and Sundance could pack their bags and come along too, he figured, laughing at himself. Let’s live a little, but only a year or so. No more than that. Or you might actually get yourself a life.
Content that Keith wasn’t balking at all that traveling, Helen kissed his cheek and they were ready to get back to jamming. Faith, quite understandably, was knocked out at being privy to these goings on. She kept staring at Helen.
Keith didn’t blame her. If she wasn’t famous, Helen would be someone to stare at. Her earthen, innate authority was not to be denied. Self-possessed didn’t begin to describe the woman.
They ran through “Her Town Too” one more time. Then, for a change of pace, did “Let’s Fall in Love Tonight.” For about a half-hour. The musicians let it air out between Helen singing the verses. When they got done, she said, “Okay. This is the way to make music.”
They’d discussed most of the album tracks being on this order, and the more they played these days the more they were convinced it was the way to go. Long jams. Except, of course, for the singles.
The phone rang. Faith, suddenly looking grim, said, “I know who that is. Let me get it, Sammie.” She picked up the receiver and went into the kitchenette. The conversation didn’t go well on Faith’s end, at least not judging from the expressions on her face.
It was short and she rang off with a curt, “Fine.” She wiped an eye, turning her back for a moment. Then squared her shoulders and came back in.
Next week: Faith comes on board.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.