Polo Hofer & Hanery Ammon
I was playing acoustic piano in Bern in the center of the main square Bärenplatz, with Big Junk singing, his famous "one-man-band" drum on his back and thumping out rhythm on acoustic guitar, with Jerrykin's trick lick electric licktrickstick on the side.
Ah, the sun came out. God's own spotlight.We were tearing it up, the crowd was big and moving and grooving. After a few numbers, a certain Mr Eddy Kino, who owns a couple of cinemas, comes along and really digs the music and most of all he digs Junk's rig, with the pedals and gizmos and all.
He says that in a couple of weeks he was having a big party and he wanted us and ESPECIALLY Big Junk to play at this major "to-do" at his movie theater there in the middle of town. He offered to pay us real money too.
We said "OK" and it was on. But then two days before the gig, Big Junk gets busted and thrown in jail for dealing smack.
We only got the gig in the first place because the guy wanted Junk's "one-man-band" drum to be at this shindig. But we were far from stumped because we had Mirko-the-bug-eyed-maniac to put the drumkit on his back with the harnesses and everything.
When we had toured the streets of Germany the summer before as The Bootleg Band, we trained Mirko to be the drummer with Junk's bass drum and hi-hat on his back, so Junk could concentrate on his singing unfettered by all the extras. Mirko also had a pair of timbles that he played in front of him with the sticks. He was great!!
Whenever he'd get a solo, he would do this dance around his timbales - first to one side and then to the other. All the time keeping the beat with his right foot working the kick drum and his left foot pulling the hi-hat on the off-beats. Magic!
The next day I went to the facility to see Big Junk. I wanted to ask him if he cared if we did the gig without him. But the cops wouldn't let me see him. He was jonesing it anyway, having to go cold turkey in a cold cell. Nasty shit.
So, we showed up at the cinema on the appointed night. Three guys - Well, that's just like it said in the contract, isn't it? Mr Eddy Kino man was kind of disappointed that Big Junk didn't show, but he was too preoccupied with everything else to care much. I was afraid for a minute that we would lose the gig, but before we knew it we found ourselves at the dinner table.
We were treated like kino kings. We had an amazing meal with a million courses. What an amazing selection! Wined and dined. And then the spectacle began.
We did some latin numbers so that Mirko could show off his gizmo. That was the theme of the whole night "GIZMO". With the inventors of the most fantastic Gizmo winning two weeks all expenses paid in London. (We were exempt from this contest because WE were paid entertainment. Oh, and while we're on the subject of contests, I'll let you know that I've never won a contest of any kind in my life. For the simple fact that I've never entered one. I would hate to put the others to shame, you see...)
So we played a bit, Jerry sang a song or two, and we took a break after an exceptional 10 minute dancing drum solo by Mirko the Magnificent Magician. Then people started bringing up the wierdest inventions you've ever seen! It was like a circus!
Juggling unicycles, a guy with a remote control vacuum cleaner, and one thing that really impressed me was this Father-Daughter act. They could both whistle and hum at the same time. And they did these four-part harmony Classical pieces. It's amazing enough that ONE person can whistle and hum at the same time and do full harmonies. But when TWO people are doing FOUR different parts perfectly, AND BEAUTIFULLY, at the same time absolutely boggles the mind. I was blown away.
I've tried lots of times to duplicate that whistle/hum trick but it just plum evades me. WOW!
The eventual winners were two guys who had an act which is really difficult to describe. They had a board on the floor with those tit-like things that you stomp on to blow up life-rafts. Connected to the output of these air-pumps were tubes of different lengths. Each tube gave out a different bass note in the scale.
Then, they had taken watering cans and drilled holes at precisely the right finger places so they could be played like a penny whistle or recorder. And at other times they would play flute-like instruments made of simple bored plastic tubes with a bell made from a toilet plunger! Wild!
On their backs they had drums. The big guy had a little drum and the littler guy had a BIG drum. But unlike Junk's simple kick-drum/hi-hat set up, these guys had buzzers and bells and whistles and things that went "BOING" at just the right time during the songs.
They played the bass line with their feet stomping back and forth on the various pumps placed on their board and sang and played eveything all together at the same time. What dexterity! And the songs were really funny.
They HAD to dance around just to get all the notes right. Imagine: the tubes sounding like an Oompah Calliope (one step forwards / two backward sidesteps, etc...). The drums are beating back and forth between them, their crazy instruments made of kitchen utensils and other barnyard odds and ends. WHAT A SHOW!!
And everybody was busting a gut laughing at the words to their crazy folk-like songs, too. We just watched and thought how lucky we were to be getting paid so well and not having to do anything but sit around watching other people getting all the applause.
In any case, those guys weren't street musicians, so at least they weren't going to be a financial threat on the dog-eat-dog street pitches around Europe.
HAD they been buskers, they would've made a fortune!
Who knows what they did in real life, but they sure put an incredible amount of ingenuity and practice into the little act they'd developed. I was amazed. Certainly worth two weeks in London!
While we were watching all this come down, this crazy looking guy with a bad complexion comes over and starts talking to us. Jerry and Mirko recognize him right away and start kow-towing. I spend my time looking distant and hoping this misfit would fade away. After all, I'm a big star in my own right, doesn't that give somebody a license to be snobby?
Well, maybe not. Anyway once the guy goes back over to schmooze with Eddy K., Jerry pulls me over and says "Hey, man. Don't you know who that is?" Naturally, I'd never seen him before in my life. Then Jer breaks the news: "That was Polo Hofer, man!" I say "Oh, is he a friend of yours?" Jerry says "Polo Hofer, man. Don't you know who he is?" I had to admit that I didn't.
Now, maybe you know more than I do. But just in case you don't, I'll let you know that Jerrykins informed me that we had just been in the divine presence of the number one singer/songwriter in the whole of Switzerland (with all of its six million inhabitants)!?!
Having been a youth in Los Angeles, I was inured to "stars". You see them in supermarkets and in restaurants. I always knew that these were people just like me and you who were in show business for a living and never gave them a second thought. But here I'd been living in Switzerland for years and had never even heard the great Mr Polo Hofer's music much less seen his face. I was branded a cultural idiot on the spot.
Jerry was beside himself in rapture. "Wow, the biggest star in this whole country just rapping to ME! And he said he dug us!!! And you know what he said about Mirko? You know what he said??!!"
"He said he was dancing like the 'Michael Jackson of Drums'!!! Can you believe it?" Since Mirko didn't speak English, and Jerry couldn't speak French, I was kindly requested to relay that message. Mirko was so wiped-out that I'm not even sure if he heard me. Mirko was one flippy dude, he just lived for music and the beat. He never cared what anyone thought of him, like he was always so far out in the clouds that you could never tell what he was thinking or even if he WAS actually thinking. He would just go maniac on those percussion instruments, inside his own little world. And the rest of the time talking nonsense.
Well, Jerry saw this as our big break. Or HIS at any case. He runs over, buttonholes Polo and puts a walkman on Polo's head and says "Hey Polo, man. Check out this tape we recorded!!" Then he forced Polo to listen to the "Best Of" the "VIBRATIONS" tape. Jerry's pointing at me saying "Yeah, yeah, Jeff wrote that song. Whaddaya think of the guitar solo?"
Polo was the first person I had ever met in my life that could talk in a normal volume voice while listening to heavy duty strength Rock'n'Roll on the walkman's headphones. That's a trick I sure took to heart and you should too.
Our man Polo finally extracted himself from Jerrykin's grip and went over to shake hands with some other unknown celebrities that Eddy had also hired to make an appearance.
Shortly thereafter, our Mr Kino announced that the film was about to begin.
It was some kind of movie in black and white out of the forties. The name was "Gizmo", and it was all about the craziest and least successful inventions ever recorded on celluloid. Things like rotating spaghetti forks and guys trying to fly in wild get-ups with wings, etc. There are also a couple of scenes where airplanes get about three feet off the ground and crumble. Wierd bicycles and stuff like that. You've probably seen it, you know the genre.
After the movie, we went to Eddy's office to get our dough. He was jet lagging bad having just come straight over from California and not having got any sleep. Thanks for the money Eddy, that was one of the easiest gigs of my life.
I introduce my wife to him, and she turns bright red. You never know what a young girl will do when she meets the pop-idol of her life.
So we go down, find a table and sit down. After about fifteen minutes, Polo comes over and sits down with us. I go over to the bar and get about 10 beers and when I come back Polo is still sitting there.
He casually sips one (or maybe two) of the beers, and then splits saying that he'll be back in five minutes. Yeah, sure. I know how it is with these big "stars" and so I tell everybody with a smirk that I reckon that's the last we'll see of him.
But Polo comes back with about twenty beers and lays them on the table as my jaw drops.
And Polo sits with us all through the concert (which was fantastic, by the way. B.B.King is the consummate showman!) And we had some wild conversations at break. Polo starts talking about Mirko and imitating him during intermission. But just one quick beer later B.B.King is back!
What a concert. Oh, Ma-an! BB tears it up! The full brass chorus, the complete rhythm section, the WORKS. And those guys are all like the very cream of the crop with some really red hot arrngements. Now that's some music!
Those two Italians were some of the hottest guys I ever played with. Mario had fantastic ideas for arrangements, and Marcello's beat made everyone excel to their fullest. Marcello was the hardest driving drummer I'd ever had the pleasure to work with. And Mario's solos were always simmering to boil. As he'd reach the end of his closing riff he'd break into frenzied ecstasy.
Mario had this scratchy voice like one of those Italian mobsters you see on those old black and white detective films. But Marcello couldn't speak English, so we just exchanged insults and offensive hand signals. It was all in good fun. "Skifozo", "Va fanculo", "Tutti fan cosi", "Spaghetti Carabinieri". I was also in the process of teaching Marcello the dirtiest expressions that exist in any kind of English. We were laughing like crazy.
Marcello once explained to me in Italian (I can get along just fine in Italian if I have to), that guys with big dicks never really "stand up" when they get a hard-on, but a guy with a little cock salutes the clouds! Then he makes his fist and arm in the air like an erection at what he supposed to be his ideal penile angle of trajectory. All I can tell you is that mine's gotten me into a pre-DICK-ament or two, a couple of tight squeezes, as some might say. My momma always told me that it was a cold hard world out there, but believe me I done been a few warm, soft places too.
There was this American guy hanging around the "Anchor" who everybody called "Clark Kent" and that's what he answered to himself. We're back in the room smoking joints and drinking beer and generally having the customary "musicians partying after a great gig" scene. At a sufficiently late hour, Marcello announces that he's blown out and toddles off to his hotel room.
As soon as Marcello leaves, this "Clark Kent" guy pipes up and says to me in his heaviest "warning" voice. You know like very deep-throated and very authoratative "Hey, man.I (pointing impressively at his solar plexus, and emphasizing the word "I" by subtle yet agressive hand motions) speak Italian!!!"
Like he's the only on in the world or something. Ahem... Mr SuperKent continues in his most dramatic tone (somewhat akin to a territorial ape, growling to show that he's the biggest fuck in the forest) "You better watch what you say to Marcello or he might just ram his fist down your throat!!"
Here's this macho American Rambo wannabe trying to heavy me out. I was sitting between Big John (who was a head above Mr Clarkman and plenty pounds muscle heavier) and Mario (who looks like the archtype mafia hitman). Right next to us is their bass player (this slick Italian guy - the silent but deadly type). I look Rambo SuperKent straight in the eye and say "Well, Fu-uck You!"
He almost moved. But then took a look at who was on my side, and backed right off. I called his bluff. What a jerk! Who invited this asshole to our party anyway?
Then Big Junk says "Hey, man. Chill out. Jeff and Marcello are great friends. That's just how they kid around!"
Then Mario said in his gravelly final authority "godfather" voice to Clarko Kento "Only joking, man. Just kidding, understand?" That got the good times back on the track. And me? I just played it cool like always.