The Jerry Cole Tribute Show

The Jerry Cole Tribute Show and how I came to be there: I just posted the video of my performance at the Jerry Cole memorial show which was held at the LA Baked Potato a few months ago and it’s placed me in a reflective, stream- of-conscious state of tumbling memories. My stand-up and lyrical improvisation can be seen on the video and although technically the sound leaves more than a bit to be desired, if you listen close (ear phones help), you’ll get the idea and should enjoy the show. Performing is one thing…what got me to the point of being there is another. Being there to honor the memory of my friend was a long road and I’d like to share a few of the highlights of the trip. For me to do that…we have to step into a flash back mode… Once upon a time… Janet (my wife) and I were living in Las Vegas. One night in 1978 I was invited by my friend Cork Proctor, one of my comedic idols, to accompany him to the MGM Grand to catch a singer and comedian by the name of Donnie Brooks…Ah…excuse me… I must digress…I told you this was “stream of conscious”… I said Cork was one of my “comedic idols”. He still is. To see him on stage when he’s on a roll is a thing to behold…It’s not that he doesn’t have tons of set material…he does…but he rarely uses it. He doesn’t need to. Not when he can walk out on stage, have something catch his attention that sparks something within his vast store of eclectic knowledge and then… watch out! Instant killer routine. I was performing in downtown Las Vegas at the Four Queens one night and as usual was closing with my signature improvisation. I had already thanked the band and was about to wrap up my show when from out of the darkness a huge moth flew across the stage and my face. I reacted by plucking it out of the air in mid-flight. Trust me. No one was more astonished than was I. Hmm…OK…so there I was in front of all those people with a huge moth in my hand. What to do? Well…the band was still playing so I improvised a lyric something to the effect of, “Everyone and thing should be free.” I released the moth into the light… it took flight… and…when I tell you that the crowd erupted with a spontaneous burst of applause and a cheering standing ovation that still echoes and reverberates to this very day…cross my heart…and hope to…and as I made my way off stage and floated into the club… feeling oh, so smug and full of myself for having created this…this...incredibly magnificent and magical theatrical moment out of a chance encounter with a wayward moth…when… I was confronted by Cork…who put his hands on my shoulders…looked me dead in the eye… and said… ”I can’t stand a guy who uses fucking props!” Anyway, Cork told me he had heard a lot of good things about this guy Donnie Brooks and…wow…talk about living up to a rep! Donnie put on a dynamite show. Not only was he a great singer who did all his hits like “Mission Bell” and “Doll House”, but he was also funny as hell. He knew every classic joke that ever was and had a great sense of play and timing and without question he was one of the most confidant and out going performers I ever had the pleasure of knowing. We became immediate and fast friends. The stories I could tell you about Donnie could literally fill a book. (But since this is a “blog” and not a “book” I’ll try to marshal my thoughts.) He was one of those larger than life characters and just the act of writing this sentence unleashes a flood of recollection…we shared road trips, countless shows, nights of black jack, laughter and… a few fights (the most memorable in the main room at Bally’s with a few drunks after a Mac Davis show) and…hell…you get the idea…we were tight… It was through Donnie that I first met (among so many others) Jerry Cole and one other great talent…Al Wilson. Al was one of those performers who just never, ever missed. He was nothing if not a perfectionist and it showed in every aspect of his work. From the individualistic sound of his voice to his great choice of material to the way he dressed and carried himself. Al was text book showbiz and the kind of act that others in the business could look up to as an example of what to do right on stage. At one point in the late eighties or early nineties (It’s late and I’d have to look it up), Donnie hired me to write scripts for two shows. The first was at Bally’s and was called “The 30th Anniversary of Rock n’ Roll”. It was pretty much a straight ahead variety show with Donnie as the MC/host and a cast of r&r acts like Mitch Ryder & Leslie Gore & the Tokens & the Rivingtons & Bobby Day and of course...Al Wilson The second was at the Las Vegas Hilton and was called “The Super Hop.” This one was an entirely different matter. “Super Hop” was a full blown musical comedy with a terrific band and dancers and it had a ”Back to the Future” kind of feel. What a cast! Brandon Scott played the part of a guy who puts a coin in a slot machine, wins a T Bird only to discover that the “T” stands for Time machine” and is transported back to a malt shop in the Fifties where, with the help of the owner played by Al and a spinning magic juke box, he meets his all time favorite rock ‘n roll stars like Donnie Brooks, The Diamonds, The Chordettes, and Wolf Man Jack… When Al first saw the script he got real nervous and said he wasn’t sure if he could pull it off…I told him, “Get over it. You’re perfect. Just do it.”…man…the first day of rehearsal rolled around…Al walked in…not only did he know his own lines…he had memorized the ENTIRE script! Like I said…the guy was a perfectionist and the show was a hit. Jerry Cole was the musical conductor for both productions as well as the oh, so, many shows that he and Donnie and Al and me along with so many talented others played in almost every venue you can think of. From trade clubs to conventions and private dinners and parties and arenas and stadiums and theaters to Fairs and bars and clubs and main-rooms in Las Vegas and Reno…Jerry provided the musical glue that held it all together. He was a superb musician and guitarist who was proficient and comfortable playing in every style imaginable with credits for his recording dates reading like a Who’s Who in Showbiz…from Nancy Sinatra to the Beach Boys to Roger Miller to a ton of surf records as well as being the musical director for the TV show, “Hullabaloo” and…hell… do yourself a favor and “Google” this guy and see what you come up with…a lot! Matter of fact, while you’re at it…look up Donnie Brooks and Al Wilson, too…there are worse legacies to leave than music that makes you feel good! During the time I knew Jerry, I had a fair amount of work writing special material for corporate-world clients like Mobil Oil and Prudential Bache and Lipton and BMW, etc. and there were occasions, when budget would permit, I would hire him to help produce these various recording projects. The way it worked was… I would write the songs and then play them for Jerry. Now, I’ve been playing guitar since I was seven years old and…with all due modesty…I ain’t that bad…and Jerry would listen…take my guitar…immediately play it back with his vast improvements and technique…smile…and say…”Is that what you meant?” Yeah, Jerry…that’s what I meant. And I mean this too…guys like you and Donnie and Al were very special people. Thanks for the friendship. Thanks for the laughter. Thanks for the music. Ari Dane

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