• Backing a Legend…

    Brian C. Mendes is a professional drummer and the owner of Colossal Cable in Austin, TX. Brian has toured all over the U.S. and Europe backing top artists for years until starting his own business hand-making high-end instrument, speaker and power cables. 

    This story begins when I was hired to be in a backing band for 3 artists in September of 2013. We were hired to play drums for 2 shows, 1 in Dallas, Texas and the other at a blues festival in Las Vegas. One of the three artists is a legendary blues man who will remain anonymous. We had separate rehearsals for all three front men due to schedules, but I’m only going to talk about the “Blues Legend” because he’s the reason for this story. I was forewarned he would be “different” and a little difficult to deal with, but what unfolds, I never could’ve imagined and have never experienced in all my almost 20 professional years of playing.

    On the day of rehearsal, he shows up with a smile, greets and shakes all of our hands and begins to set up his amp. We ask him what tune he wants to start with (we were given 5 tunes he picked for us to learn) and he calls out the 1st tune, and the 1st tune I’m VERY familiar with since I’ve been listening to it since I was 13. I count it off and do the opening lick and we start playing. About a minute into it he stops us, looks at me and says “You’re playing it wrong.” I then say, “Oh, I’m sorry, let’s start it over.” I count it in again, repeat the same opening lick and we’re all in; he stops me again and says the same thing. Now I’m a little confused because I truly don’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve played this song a hundred times and have heard it a thousand times. He then looks at me and says “See, you’re playing it here…. it needs to be here…” He then starts saying “Do, do, bop, bop, zapidity bop, bop…” I look at everybody in the band at this point like “WTF?” I now say ok sir, I’ll try to play it right, even though I was playing it right. I then start the song over and he says into the mic “That was wrong but let’s move on.” So about half way through the 1st verse of the next song, he stops us, looks at me and says, “Your timing is all wrong and all over the place.” Now, I’m starting to get a little hot under the collar because there’s one thing I can definitely say without doubt, my timing is solid as a rock and he’s the only one saying opposite of what everyone else who I’ve ever worked with says. This happens another 2 times, at which point I have finally had enough. I put down my sticks, take a deep breath and say I have to use the bathroom.

    I walk out and go out into the lobby of the rehearsal studio and cool down. I took 30 minutes walking back ‘n forth, saying over ‘n over in my head “Fuck this old bastard! I don’t have to deal with this shit!” I come back and we decide to move on to another song – a song that wasn’t in the original 5 he picked, and when the MD mentions this to him, he blows up saying “ I ain’t gotta deal with this bullshit! I’m going home!” To which I respond “Good! Hey fellas, let’s go eat.” The MD patiently tries to calm him down and keep me from adding fuel to the fire because at this point I’ve called him “Old muthafucka” several times. After 45 minutes of talking to him and his manager things are smoothed out and we rehearse the 5 tunes without a problem.

    Now we’re at the show in Dallas, we all begin to set up our gear including the three front men we’re backing. The set is scheduled as artist 1 first, “Blues Legend” second, and artist 3 last. Since it’s a festival, time is short while we’re setting up and the soundmen are rushing us to start…. there’s only one problem, “Blues Legend” is sitting down on the stage and refuses to leave! The MD tells him “You’re not up yet sir, could you please leave the stage?” The “Legend” replies, “I ain’t going nowhere, I’m staying right here!” This goes on for another 3 minutes all while the soundmen and the promoter are yelling at us to start the show. The MD is now yelling at him and cussing him out but he still refuses to budge. The MD informs the soundman to turn the “Blues Legends” amp off in the front of the house mix so the crowd can’t hear the catastrophe that is about to happen. We start the show and, as expected, the “ Legend” doesn’t know any of the first artist’s tunes and just walks all over what we’re playing. He plays his set, but the third artist doesn’t get a chance to play because of the debacle that just ensued on stage taking what remaining time was left.

    After the show, the “Legend” immediately leaves and we’re all standing there speechless. Fast-forward to the next day where we fly to Vegas the night before the show and we’re informed sound check is at 3 and the “Blues Legend” wants to be the first to play. 3 o’clock comes and no “Blues Legend,” 3:15, 3:30, 4:00, 4:30 and still no “ Legend” and the next act, Tedeschi Trucks Band is up next, so no sound check for the “Legend.” We’re told our show starts at 8 sharp, at 7:55 the “Legend” is still a no show even though his manager has spoken to him on the phone several times. We decide we’ll start with artist 1 and 2 and when the “Legend” shows up, he’ll take the last slot.

    So, now we’re half way through the set and the “Legend” finally shows up and starts demanding to be on stage while the other artist is still playing. His manager sits him down and tells him to wait but apparently this wasn’t the right answer because then his manager comes up behind the drums while we’re still playing and asks me when he is going to be able to come up? I tell him we have 4 more songs and then he’s up. Seems easy enough to understand. He then has the manager come up and ask me the same question for the next 4 songs at which point the MD finally explodes and yells at the manager “Get the fuck away from my drummer, muthafucka, and get off the stage!” The manager then apologizes profusely and leaves. Finally, the “Legend” gets up on stage and we do the 5-song set with him and right after the last song, he starts another one. I immediately look at the MD who’s wrapping up his cables and packing his bass and he gives me the “keep packing” gesture. At this point, the bass player, the keyboardist and the drummer are packing what isn’t backlined and leaving the stage while the “Legend” continues to play alone. Then, over the monitors, you hear “Please stop and get off the stage.” He keeps playing. The request can be heard again but the “Legend” keeps on playing. They then tell him through the monitors “We are going to turn of the power now if you don’t get off the stage.” At this point, I’m crying laughing because I’ve never seen or experienced anything like this.

    The next morning we all meet in front of the hotel lobby for the shuttle bus and no one wants to speak to the “Legend” — especially me. The shuttle pulls up, everybody packs in, and then there’s only one seat left for me — and guess who it’s next to? I man up and tell myself “It’s a 15 minute ride. You can do this.” We start for the airport and the “Legend” starts talking to me, “Boy, we sure did a great job playing last night, you boys were terrific! I had a great time with you boys.” I immediately start thinking, “Is this old muthafucka high???” What in the hell would possess this man to say such a thing after all that? Now the running gag between those who played that show is, “I got you a gig with the “Legend.” Bus leaves tomorrow.”

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