On the road again

Keith-&-LesliEverybody went straight to the stage — the diner contingent and whoever was in the dressing room — at the stroke of nine pm. Quality control, Helen and Keith agreed, meant you don’t keep the crowd waiting.

Lola counted off, they hit it, and the lights came on. Keith would later look at this on the video playback and not have a problem at all understanding how entertainment was about to get rocked to the walls.

They’d started with Helen, of course, taking lead on the first few tunes. Then Sam weighed in. Between fans of both, the throng was wrapped around their finger.

Then Keith stepped to the mike. And could see confusion on some of the faces. Somebody actually said, “Who’s he?”

Keith grinned at her. “Nobody. Nobody at all.” Then led the band out, doing, “Her Town Too.” Choosing this tune had proved a stroke of genius. It featured Helen and Sam. They finished the song and the place exploded in applause.

Keith checked his tuning. It wouldn’t be all that long before he found himself more in front. He was learning to live with it. Checked his tuning again and stepped back, upstage, between Sherry killing bass and Lola killing drums, Luis at his left killing congas. Truth told, he’d always dug being in the rhythm section. Like his dad.

He jammed all night. Wondered, the whole time, what to think about his woman. Was she his woman? Still? Anymore? They had to talk.

Meanwhile, it was about getting to work. Which, frankly, she was starting to interfere with. A couple times in the middle of solos he’d lost track thinking about her. Nobody but Luis noticed the lapse.

They wrapped the gig and he was glad to get out of there. He knew he’d eventually get over Lesli, but in the meanwhile he could afford one of those lapses lapsing him into making a mistake on-stage. In short order they were back on the bus and rolling.

He hated messing up in the studio, but that could be fixed with a second take. You mess up on-stage and you can’t redo it. You mess up on-stage with Helen St. James and you might as well start looking around for a new gig. He was going to have to do something about that.

They were pulling in for gas, headed for he forgot where. Time to stretch the legs. They were in the middle of some mega-mall at what might’ve been noon, the sun sky-high. The drivers tanked the buses up. The roadies refueled the rigs.  Everybody in general took this as the chance to get fresh air.

Soon as Helen and Sam saw light, they were set on by well-wishers wielding autograph books. Helen signed a few, went back inside. Sam had a ball, basking in fame, signing ‘til her wrist got sore. Then, signed a few more. Helen had to holler out the window, “We’re fueled. You coming or catching a train?”

Sam ran to her bus. Keith and Luis, looking out a window, laughed good long and hard. Life on the road. They sat back down and poured themselves some more. “That wasn’t a half-bad set,” said Keith.

“Nope. Not half-bad.”

The driver, Hank, said, “You guys might want to hear this.”  Piped up the radio. A reviewer was on Internet radio raving about the show. If Alena was on her toes, Keith concluded, there’d be something in the local print press.

He searched online. Alena had planted a nice piece. It wasn’t a review of the show, but it was sweet exposure, quotes from Helen and Sam in an article with a sharp photograph of the band.

Luis talked to Keith about what Luis had in mind for a solo project. Since Luis couldn’t carry a tune in a paper bag, there’d had to be at least a guest vocalist or two. Helen and Sam could be counted on.

Luis was, like, “Not you, too?”

“We’ll see. Keep on track. You want this to work?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Call in a producer.”

“A producer?”

“Yeah, you got so much goin’ on in all kind of directions. You trying to do Latin-rock, Latin-jazz, Latin-blues. Aimin’ at the whole trains. You need a producer.”

Luis sneered, “You, I suppose.”

Keith grinned, waxed melodramatic. “You wound me.” Luis looked at him. It took a moment before they were on the same page. Luis heard Keith thinking and yelled, “Lola!” Keith smacked him five and was done with how dense his buddy could be.

Frankly, if Luis ever did his own solo thing, he couldn’t think of a better producer than industry legend Lola Rodriguez, who he was privileged to call friend. And who dug Luis like he was a little brother.

Luis simply nodded. Knowing he was in good hands.

They kept going to the next stop. New Haven.


Next week: Luis brings trouble on the bus.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.