How Things Have Changed Over The Years in the Music Business

Friday, February 5, 2016 9:00 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I ran across a quote by Hunter S. Thompson that made me think about some of the things that Doc, Marilyn, and their friends have said about the music business and how ruthless it can be. Here it is:
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."  -  Hunter S. Thompson

I read this to Doc, Marilyn and Big Dave when I was visiting the other night, and got their responses. Marilyn, of course had the most to say about it, even though she is the youngest, and has only been playing and singing publicly, for well less than 20 years. Doc put her to work playing and singing in the streets and passing the hat when she was 10 or 12 years old. Nevertheless, the quotation sparked a fire in her.

Marilyn: Tondy, I don't know who that Mr. Thompson, but he is RIGHT. We know that, and we are just nobodies! But we have experienced a lot of that. People promise you all kinds of things, especially when you don't have a job and are hungry. Things like good connections, good money, and other things, and then you find out that they don't even have anything themselves, and are hoping to just use you to get things for themselves! Like, they act rich and like they are looking out for you, but they are not. A lot of them are broke and owe money to everybody, and are hoping to use you to make some money for them! Like, they line up a gig, and tell us how wonderful it's going to be, and how many hundreds or thousands of people are going to be there, how much money "we'll" all make, meaning how much money HE will make, and then when you get there, it's just something we could have got on our own! Then they introduce us to MORE people who want a piece of the action, and talking about how well connected they are, and how they will open major doors for us...

Big Dave: She's right, Tondy. I've been doing this all my life, and it's always like the next big gig is around the corner. If we play at this crummy little dive, it will open the door to the really BIG crummy dive. After a while, you just stop believing in any of them. They are all a bunch of no talents who want to be big shots, and want to pimp whoever they can...

Doc: I decided a long time ago that ain't nobody gonna pimp me but me. I've had times when it was just me living in my panel truck. Well, me, a couple guitars, an amp and a dog, and when you're broke, everybody wants to take a vantage of you. and you have to smile, you have to pretend you're happy, you have to put on a show like everything is all fine and dandy, even when you're dying inside. That is the show part of show business. You got to "show" that you're happy and that everything is good even when that ain't your reality. 

Big Dave: But this ain't nothing new Tondy. It's always been like that, as far back as you go. If someone's got talent, there are always a dozen people who want to pimp them and make as much money off them as possible, and then when they have worn that person down to nothing, they are through with them and move on to the next one.

Like, one thing that happens is this. I was in a band with a so called agent once. He said he'd take care of all the bookings, travel, food, hotels, everything. He wanted a ten percent commission. So we went for it. He had us playing a lot of good gigs, colleges, resorts, festivals and all that. So at the end of the Summer, he's explaining why there's no money left for us!

Here's why: He CHARGED us for like every phone call he made! He got the cheapest prices he could get for airplane travel, but charged us full price for all of it! He got discounts on the hotels, but charged us full price, marking it all up as much as he could. He'd tell us to go ahead and get room service. Why? Because he'd mark it up so he made a profit on everything! Then he'd take it out of our money, PLUS the ten percent commission on every one of our bookings! Everything he touched had a giant sized mark up on it, and it all came out of our pockets!

Doc: I ain't never had an agent. I had an Asian once, though... that's a joke, Tondy! Anyway, for me, it's better to just do our own bookings, do our own music, work with the close circle of friends that we have, and let whatever happen happens. heck, I ain't never had no money anyway, and I still need to lose 20 pounds. What do I want to be rich for? I ain't never wanted to be rich - never wished for that, and my wish came true!

I have been totally down and out as far as society is concerned, but I have always been able to find food to put in my belly, some clothes to put on my back and a shelter to sleep under. Kings can't do any better than that. Plus I have always had friends. A lot of kings don't even know if the people around them are really friends, so I'm better off... in my book.

Tondeleo: So you've always played music, always gotten to eat, sleep and had friends. 

Big Dave: Right, That's true for me.

Marilyn: It's been true as far as I can remember. Even when mama ran off with that piece of trash from the carnival, Uncle Doc took me in, and made sure I had clothes, food and a bed. I can only wear so many clothes, and only eat so much food and can only sleep  in one bed at a time. Why would I want more than that?

Doc: Yeah, and we're still the same as always. We ain't never been famous or well known. But I'm still high energy. Marilyn's high energy. Our band is a very high energy band - more energy going on than a lot of teenaged bands… 

But I CAN say that when we were young, we'd play and there'd be girls throwing their panties up on the stage… and that still happens sometimes. But, they're a lot bigger now… and sometimes it's boxers what's bein' thrown up on the stage. It IS a little different, in that respect... But that's the music business!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn: Hawaii - Last Thoughts and Impressions

Saturday, January 16, 2016 2:12 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: Doc and Marilyn at last opened up to me a bit about their trip to Hawaii courtesy of their friend, Billy. It isn't that they weren't grateful, it's just that they know they went there, they liked it, and had a wonderful time playing music and meeting people, but they don't know much about Hawaii, even where it is.

But now we know a bit more about their holiday, not much, but at least a little.  And a lot of what they said was so confusing that I couldn't even make blog posts out of it. Sorry!

Tondeleo: Any last thoughts, Doc? Marilyn?

Marilyn: Well, some people that we met were like people here at home. Some tried to sell us weed at special prices, if we'd go home with them - well, not Doc, he wasn't invited, but it happened to me a few times... I don't smoke weed so I didn't take them up on it. They were really friendly, though.

Doc: And there was guys up on the North Shore what had some things to sell at pretty good prices, but they wanted to know my social security number and my mom's last name to make sure I was really who I said I was - and I told them who else could I be? They said it would prove I wasn't a cop. And they wanted that social security number and my mom's name from before she got married. I mean, THEY didn't know her back then! How's that gonna prove anything? But they wanted it before showing me any of the cool things they had for sale at cheap prices.

He said he had guitars, amps, phones, mp3 players, weed, knives, anything I wanted... and he'd take me to see it all if I would give him $20 for a finders fee, and the info he needed so he could check me out. He said it was because I was a immigrant.

I'm no dummy, Tondy. I asked him where he got his stuff and he said mostly it was things people left in their cars. That made sense.  I'd seen signs up there where the cops warned people not to leave things in their cars. So I knew he wasn't lying.

Then I asked him why he was selling his stuff so cheap and he said it was so he could buy ice! I told him you could buy a whole bag of ice for $2 back in Maryland. He just stared at me, Tondy! He couldn't believe it!

Tondeleo: Ummm... Doc, ice is a name for crystal meth, which is pretty popular... So did you do business with him, Doc?

Doc: Well, no. No, I didn't. Ever since I was young I had this special ability, some people even say it's a supernatural gift. I can listen to people and somehow know pretty soon if what they are saying is me or not.

In this case, I felt the incoming vibes and about that time I noticed some other guys behind the bushes with walkie-talkies. I thought, "And here he is trying to make ME prove I'm not a cop!" The dude what was trying to sell me stuff was telling me I had to go down this path with him. Then it was revealed to me that it was something to avoid and not get involved with. Just like that!

I wasn't tryin' to hurt his feelings or nothing but I had to back out. He got kind of mad, but he got over it when he realized I couldn't remember my social security number and I wasn't sure which mama whose name he wanted anyway. My birth mama, the mama what raised me, or the one what paid my bills... He called me a dumb Howie, which is not my name anyway and told me to get out of there.

I told him my motel was where I was heading to and I wouldn't stay even if he wanted me to, so we parted ways right then and there.

Tondeleo: Were you scared, Doc? 

Doc: Scared that I couldn't remember my social security number? No. I knew I had it wrote down back home. Scared that I wasn't sure which mama he meant? No, he coulda explained himself better if he hadn't been so pushy.

But I didn't like hurting his feelings, or of the other fellas that was hanging around in the bushes. I just walked back to the paved road and hitched a ride back with some other local guys what wanted to know if I wanted to party, which at that time I didn't. They wanted me to pay for their party which I did, because I didn't have anything to buy now that I couldn't remember my social security number... They was real nice and they laughed a lot and dropped me off about only a mile from me an' Marilyn's motel. They was really nice, them Hawaiians.

Marilyn: They truly WERE nice, Tondy! You should go there!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Hawaii Memories Part 3 - Itty Bitty Guitars

Saturday, January 9, 2016 10:39 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that impressed Doc particularly was the "itty bitty guitars" for sale in Hawaii. When they went to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, he and Marilyn were amazed at the various vendors selling these itty bitty guitars with only four strings. Here are some excerpts from our conversations about them:

Doc: So Tondy, me an' Marilyn was walkin' around the swap meet there in Hawaii and ran across this guy what had dozens of itty bitty guitars for sale. He had them hanging all around his booth and on shelves and tables - I never seen that many regular guitars in one place before let alone those little bitty ones! I'm thinkin' they're for little kids. But mostly it was Chinese grown ups playing them and buyin' them up. Some of them was buyin' two or three of 'em!

Marilyn:  Actually it was Japanese tourists, but Doc thinks they're all Chinese, of course. But he's right, they we're buying up all the little guitars. 

Doc: They was all little nylon string guitars. Some was cheap, like $10 and people was definitely buyin' 'em for their kids. But SOME of those little guitars, which they had a Hawaiian word for, and I forget right now, but the guy sellin' 'em said it meant "flea" and I would never try to sell somethin' called a flea, but he did and was sellin' them like half price tickets to  a NASCAR race -  Some of them was like $250, $300 even $400! For a tiny little guitar with only four strings! Over here, in regular America you can get a six string full size guitar for that!

The guy what was selling them saw me eyeing his merchandise and told me to go ahead and pick one up. He asked if I played them, the word he used what I can't remember and I told him "no." But it wasn't that hard. It was tuned like for blues, in open C I think.

Marilyn:  So of COURSE Doc starts playing Dust My Broom - that old Elmore James song... and he can't help but singing! And of course not under his breath because he doesn't know how. He had a deep half inch socket in his pocket that he had found on the ground behind a dumpster, and he used it for a slide! 

Doc was SO happy that he could play it! The guy that ran the booth got very round eyed when he heard the sounds Doc was getting out of it! So did the Japanese people. Some of them started videoing him on their phones, others were taking pictures and asking for more! Then they started buying those little guitars! And that kept Doc there singing one blues song after another, and the tour group bought I think 4 or 5 of those little guitars thanks to Doc's playing blues on them!

Doc: Well, the guy what was selling 'em was just strumming some sort of shuffle rhythm like all the other people who was selling them at their booths, and it really wasn't much to get excited about. Like if you remember Tiny Tim from when your mama was a little girl. But once you pick one up and start messing with it, you can bend the strings pretty good on those little suckers, Tondy, and they can put out some good blues!They do slide pretty well, too. And I only sang maybe three or four songs more maybe five.

I asked the guy what was selling them why such a bitty little guitar cost so much and he told me that it's really expensive to live in Hawaii - food, gas, rent and all that - so when he sits down and spends several days making one of them little guitars, he has to charge more for it than you would think. The ones he made started at about $275, which is more than I have ever paid for a full size guitar in my whole life!

Marilyn: He had cheaper ones, and so did the other people who sold them, but they weren't made in Hawaii by hand. They were made in China and or maybe Texas. That's the same way it is with buying regular guitars here at home. Cheap ones are made in China and better ones are made in USA and they cost more. Hand made ones are for rich people.

Tondeleo: Unless of course you're talking about one of Doc's hand made box guitars or tackle box guitars. They're not for rich people but they sound good and are impressive for as cheap as they look.

Doc: The only time I've played a four string guitar was a bass or a regular guitar where I'd broke a couple of strings. But it wasn't a 4 string on purpose. But I admit, I liked those teeny little guitars! But I couldn't afford one! So I stuck with my $20 guitar what I brought over with me! It's been with me a long time and is my old friend!

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Favorite Hawaii Memories Part 2

Friday, January 8, 2016 12:28 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: For some reason Doc and Marilyn are really opening up about their Hawaii trip. I think the fact that I don't make fun of them is helping them to talk more freely. I love hearing their stories, and especially their stories about Hawaii, one of the many places where I have never been, but would love to go! 

Marilyn, how as the shopping in Hawaii? I know you two didn't have much money, but I'm sure you were able to do enough busking to buy a few things...

Marilyn: Other than the thrift shops, the only other place we went shopping was the swap meet...

Doc: Swap Meet!!! I brung some stuff to trade out  - I had my whole guitar case full - and they ain't about swappin' out there, Tondy! They're about swapping their stuff for MY money!

Marilyn: That part's true. They really aren't there to swap anything. But it is really nice! And huge! It's every Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday at the Aloha Stadium. You pay a dollar to get in and then there's hundreds of little stands and booths set up with everything you could want...

Doc: I wanted some things they didn't have...

Marilyn: Well, everything that a normal person would want...

Doc: But I got special needs...

Tondy: YES, we all KNOW that, Doc!

Marilyn: And the prices are really good! Like t shirts were 7 for $20. That's cheaper than a thrift shop! And they were brand new!  Might not be the best quality but you can ask for lower prices, it doesn't hurt and usually works!

Doc: We got to drink outta coconuts. That was pretty cool. Not cheap but it is a good memory.  They had about any kind of food you want. Plus some dried bugs and little dried up peppered crabs at some of the Chinese booths. I didn't get 'em. I got a big hot dog.

  Marilyn: OK, here's something that I didn't plan to eat, Tondy... Marinated squid! A little Korean lady named Ms. Patti  (Doc asked her if she was Hawaiian or Chinese, and she said she was Korean, which he had never heard of and told her he thought she was Chinese) with a red hat on was selling it. People were in line to buy it. The Korean lady lets people sample all the different kinds that she's selling Of Course Doc wouldn't eat it because he said it was fish bait and he is a man, not a fish. When Ms.Patti found out I'd never had it before, she rolled me a little a sample with rice, seaweed, kimchi and her marinated cuttlefish. I actually LIKED it, Tondy!

Doc: And I actually did not even want to try it! I ain't eatin' no dried up squids or fish or seaweed. Man was made to eat hot dogs and normal food what is found in nature.  But I did buy a bottle of Broke  Da Face hot sauce. I liked that. I wish I'd bought more.

Marilyn: We should have gotten an umbrella at the salvation Army before coming. It was hot as Anacostia [in Washington, DC] in July! We should have brought some bottles of water, too. But we had a really good time!

Doc: They had all kinds of stuff... shirts, stickers, magnets, food, them itty bitty guitars, stuff what they carved outta wood. And one thing that was the same as here, Tondy, is that most of it come all the way from China! That's why it was so cheap.   

Them itty bitty guitars was NOT cheap! They mighta come from China or maybe was made local, but they was not cheap, not unless you bought the toy ones... and I thought ALL of 'em was toys at first, but they wasn't.

Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Favorite Hawaii Memories Part 1

Thursday, January 7, 2016 9:48 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: I've been real fortunate getting Doc and Marilyn to agree to talk about their Hawaii trip that their friend Billy footed the bill for. They were embarrassed about going to Hawaii because neither of them knew where it was before going, while they were there or indeed to this day. They might mention that they "went down to Hawaii," but they don't talk about it. 

They loved it, and Marilyn is certain that Hawaii is "like Heaven only shorter." Their friends who do know about Hawaii don't believe Doc and Marilyn really went there. The others of their friends, which is most of them, may have heard of Hawaii but don't believe that Doc and Marilyn could have possibly been there.  And, if they DID, how did they get back?

 Doc: One thing we liked about Hawaii was the people. Not the tourists but the locals. You can spot the tourists - their clothes and cameras around their necks and they're spending money everywhere. Loaded down with shopping bags.

Not just American tourists, Tondy, but they had tourists of every color and country under the sun! I didn't know there was that many kinds of people anywhere exceptin' Washington, DC.

Marilyn: Yeah, it was all kinds of tourists. We didn't have any cameras or any money! Billy paid for our tickets and motel but we had to come up with all our own money for food and stuff. We had to sing and pass the hat and eat the cheapest food we could find - people didn't think we were tourists. I think they thought we were just homeless. Like tourists that got there and ran out of money.  But not drug addicts. We're not skinny enough for people to think that. There's a lot of homeless people in Hawaii.

Doc: I was glad I brought my acoustic guitar. The locals was real nice to us and helped us out with whatever we needed. They didn't care that we were Gringos. Sometimes they would come and sing with us or play their itty bitty guitars. They would tell us places that was best for singing and passing the hat. They was real good to us like that. Plus, they was a lot of fun.

Their dogs was real nice, too, Tondy. But dogs are pretty much the same everywhere. It made us miss our dog, Dale Junior what we had to put down last Summer cause he got blind and deaf and couldn't walk anymore. He was 16. That's pretty old for a American Bulldog.

Marilyn: This one gal, Louisa, she took us under her wing and invited us to her family reunion party and helped us out almost every day. Their party was like three days, Tondy!

Doc: And boy could she sing! She had a set of lungs on her, I tell you! And she was real good to Marilyn. Helped Marilyn meet people and chased away the boys what was comin' on to her. 

Marilyn: We sang and we laughed and sang and ate and sang and laughed some more! Then we ate some more and sang some more and laughed some more... then we ate some more, and everybody fell asleep and the next day we did the same thing! Ate and sang and laughed and ate and sang and laughed... we had FUN!

Doc: A lot of singin' laughin' and eatin' went on, all right!