My Audition for the Turk Murphy Jazz Band
In 1979 I was playing at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival in St. Louis, MO with the Riverboat Ramblers Jazz Band (a group that was founded in Ft. Lewis, Washington during the Berlin Crisis in 1961). Turk's band, along with the Salty Dogs, the Happy Jazz Band (now known as Jim Cullum Jazz Band), The St. Louis Ragtimers, Ernie Carson's Castle Jazz Band as well as a few others, were regular performers for this week long Mississippi River jazz festival in June, on the Goldenrod Showboat. I have to say, this was one of the best festivals ever. I know we have great ones now, but imagine being on a Showboat, docked on the Mississippi River & playing Jazz........ Wow! Anyway, I digress! The festival would begin on Monday and run through Sunday... Late afternoons and evenings only, since St. Louis in June is pretty hot and humid during the day.
The Goldenrod Showboat at this particular time had 4 main venues (5, if you counted the one just outside the theater by the bar)... there was the River Barge, the Levee Barge, the Front Deck and the Theater. Later they had a separate venue on the Huck Finn Showboat, located just below the Goldenrod.
At this particular time Turk was on his third cornet/trumpet player since December. Long time cornetist Leon Oakley had left in January, Chris Tyle was next, followed by Spike Jones' trumpet man, George Rock.
George Rock was a great horn man, but just didn't fit Turk's style and it wasn't working out at that time, so Turk was still looking. John Gill, Turk's banjo man, had suggested that Turk check out this young (41 yr old) horn man from Wisconsin to see what he thought.
Now I've laid the ground work for the main part of the story... As I mentioned earlier, Ernie Carson was on board with his jazz group, The Castle Jazz Band. His clarinet man, Herman Foretich, had a few too many cocktails, and was released from duty by the main festival man, William G. Oakley, Esquire, very early in the week. Well, that left a hole that needed to be filled, and Kim Cusack (Salty Dogs) would place a paper bag over his head and sit in with Ernie when ever he could, and was introduced as the unknown clarinetist. Of course, everyone knew who he was, but it was pretty funny.
On the very day that John Gill had suggested Turk come and check me out, Ernie had convinced me (after a gin & tonic or two), to join him and sit in with the Satly Dogs on the River Barge. We both placed paper bags on our heads and played a tune or two with the Dogs. I really don't know where Turk's vantage point was during all of this, but apparently he thought it was worth the gamble to give me a try, and I'm certainly glad he did! A week later he wrote me a letter, offering me the job at Earthquake McGoons in San Francisco.
I was just recently divorced and was still a music teacher in Wisconsin, so I asked for a leave of absence, but was turned down. Actually that made the decision much easier. I gave up my teaching position and moved to California. There were drawbacks however. I had to leave my three children, my mother, as well as dozens of friends and students. It definitely made me dig in and start my career all over again. I have to thank John Gill once again for recommending me. It certainly changed my life.... And for the better:-)
And now you know "the rest of the story".