Fred Waring Tour-1969-1970

Fred Waring And The Pennsylvanians Tour-1969-1970

To become self-actualized

one must:
  • Be Called to the Journey
  • Fight the Challenge
  • Go into the Abyss
  • Emerge Transformed
  • Return Evolved.

In 1968, I was called to join the musical organization of Fred Waring in the middle of their touring season after one of the three trumpet players left rather abruptly. I had heard stories about Mr. Waring and the tirades that he was known to direct towards his musicians. My own father was a substitute trumpeter on one of the CBS broadcasts when during a rehearsal; Fred went down the line reproaching each and every one of his musicians for one transgression or another. When he came to my dad he said, “Chris…I guess I’m not talking to you. My dad answered, “that’s all right…I’m not listening,” which fortunately seemed to bring some levity to the scoldings.

Well, fresh out of a three year hitch with the US Military, I figured I was pretty good at keeping my mouth shut (Not!) and so I appeared for rehearsal at Carroll Studios in NYC. Being “the new guy” I assumed the only vacant chair and proceeded to assemble the tools of my trade. I was duly impressed to find myself sitting next to one of my childhood idols, John Rhea who had played on several trumpet duet recordings with Roger Voisin, who was the solo trumpet player with the Boston Symphony. I looked around and was amazed at the sheer numbers of people in the room…twenty singers and nearly the same number of musicians…all contributing to the cacophony of a large ensemble preparing for a rehearsal. Suddenly, the room grew silent, and like an apparition, there he was…the man about whom I had heard so much. Fred’s smile lit up the room as he approached the podium and bid greetings and salutations. So far so good, although I noted that he wasn’t as tall as I had imagined. All formalities dispensed with, he raised his arms in a pose resembling that of a Toreador preparing for the final plunge and gave a stern look as he glanced at each musician assessing their preparedness to do battle. I raised my horn to enjoin the challenge. Trumpet perched firmly upon my face, I watched intently for the down beat. I figured that I would recognize the difference between a down beat and an up beat and that it wouldn’t be very different from all of the other down beats (and dead beats) that I had seen in my early musical career…with the exception of Ray Bloch, the musical conductor for the CBS Broadcasting Network. I spent much of my youth standing behind the brass section at “recording sessions,” or the Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan television shows, I learned that his elbows were his downbeat and therefore his hands were his upbeat. Waiting for Fred’s downbeat, the intensity of his stare was unnerving. Suddenly, his eyes came to rest upon…me! Uh-oh! He dropped his arms and a collective sigh was released . The maestro was motioning for me to stand up. Of all of the things that I had done so far, I wondered which one he didn’t like the most. Feeling somewhat naked, I felt a sudden compulsion to check the status of my fly. Slowly his scowl evaporated. He began by introducing me and welcoming me to the group. I was surprised to say the least at how much he actually knew about my pedigree, telling one and all how my dad had been one of the three great trumpet players in the Benny Goodman Band and had been the lead trumpet player on the Jackie Gleason Show where he was known for the high, trumpet obbligato on the opening theme. I was pleased to note that he didn’t hold a grudge for my dad’s previously mentioned quip.

The music was challenging and much of my classical training came into play. Some of the double and triple tonguing techniques were equally as complex as many of the concertos I had made a part of my repertoire. Other than high school musicals like Oklahoma, this was my first time working with a large ensemble that included singers. The combined sound on Roy Ringwald’s arrangement, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was just that sound for which I had been searching. From that day until my final performance with the Waring Organization, I never failed to be moved by Roy Ringwald’s wonderful orchestrations.

Rehearsals lasted two days and then we hit the road. From January until June, we crisscrossed the North American continent with all of its magnificence unfolding before us. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate than Clyde Sechler who had also performed with a vocal group on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was known amongst those who had previously roomed with him as Nanook of the North. He insisted that the windows be thrown wide open which wasn’t too bad in the lower forty-eight. However, when we reached Saskatoon in Alberta, Canada…forty degrees below zero became a challenge in balancing his lust for cold air against my lust for life. After the show and back at the hotel with a nice crackling fire in a warm, comfortable lounge, Clyde and I opened a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, which I had never before tasted. It was surely nectar sent from the Gods. It was like mother’s milk to me…the very taste that I had been chasing and after which I was prepared to crawl back into the womb…but, I settled for my room. I excused myself and my departure was reminiscent of my Navy days on the turbulent northern oceans. This way, oops, no, that way…Eventually arriving at our room and after several attempts at inserting the key into the door, I managed to find my bed and fall into it with a deep and contented sigh. I was awakened later as Clyde pulled some blankets up over me before throwing the windows wide open. He got no argument from me that night. Harvey’s Bristol Cream has never since tasted quite as good to me as it did that night.

There were three featured soloists performing with The Pennsylvanians that season. Frank Davis; performed God’s Trombones: Another of Roy Ringwald’s moving orchestrations and Frank’s narration of “The Creation” was totally captivating. Joanne Wheatly had been a member of the vocal group on previous tours and she returned with her husband, Hal Kanter to perform a few medleys from their night club act. (Years later, I would again meet up with Joanne and Hal in the Catskill Mountains of New York where they regularly performed. Lette Reynolds; Was a singer and dramatic actress who performed a soliloquy and an aria: Un Bel Di. She touched so very many people and was loved by everybody who ever knew her. She was without question the most talented person that I was ever privileged to know! From the classics to Broadway to jazz, she had so many vocal styles at her command. She played piano brilliantly…Rachmaninoff #2, Debussy, Jazz. She even accompanied me on some very challenging trumpet concertos. Acting…she studied at the actor’s studio and could bring tears to your eyes with her dramatic delivery. Laugh?!! She had a laugh that was infectious.

We spent two weeks performing at The Fremont Hotel in Las Vegas. Although our show was late in the evenings, we were still left with plenty of spare time to pursue all that sin city had to offer. We had our own efficiency apartments so that we could prepare our own meals and thus save money for the finer things in life. I rented a motor bike and spent the days patrolling the surrounding desert and Hoover Dam. Not being a gambler myself, I would watch some of the other patrons as they placed large sums of currency on the tables and in the machines. I recall observing one couple as they arrived at the hotel. From all outward appearances, they didn’t have two nickles to rub together. but their eyes were all aglow with great expectations. A few hours later, I observed from a distance as they departed with a posture and a demeanor that said it all…they had just lost everything.

One night, after our show, Juliet Prowse, a wonderful dancer whom I had seen many times on the Ed Sullivan show, was breaking in a new act and she had invited all of the performers in Vegas to a special performance…starting at two in the morning. The theater was packed, even at that ungodly hour, with celebrities from up and down the strip and she put on a great show that brought the harshest critics to their feet. Another after hours show was a young, Frank Sinatra Jr. who was playing in the lounge at The Frontier Hotel. The backing musicians were all Woody Herman Alumni and the music was just great. One of my fellow trumpet players from the Navy was playing lead trumpet, Tommy Nygaard and during the intermission we managed to share some memories. Tommy had been with the Naval Academy Band while I had been with the Admiral’s Second Fleet Band. We were brought together for a graduation at the Academy playing opposing sets. Our paths had also crossed on the Ed Sullivan show when The Woody Herman Band was guesting and I was playing with Ray Bloch’s CBS staff orchestra.

Towards the end of our stay in Vegas, I threw caution to the wind and against my better judgment, I dropped a coin into a one-armed bandit fully expecting to never see it or any of its friends again. The wheels spun, my eyes spun, lights blinked and bells clanged and lo and behold, I hit a jackpot. I looked around, expecting a rush of waiters with champagne and clowns, with balloons, and lots of celebratory back-slapping. Not even a heads-up from the other intensive players around me. Rationalizing that this was found money, I took it over to the blackjack table where I sat for several hours. Finally, I walked away from the table having won the price of a new trumpet, which I purchased that summer. I have not gambled again since, so I figure that I am one of an elite who have walked away from Vegas winning.

The tour ended in June and we all returned to our homes that were spread out over the country. I spent the summer months playing in the show band at Brown’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

During the summer break, I received a call from Fred’s secretary, Ruth Sibley, asking if I would like to join Mr. Waring for lunch at his resort hotel, Shawnee On The Delaware and to discuss the upcoming tour. Clyde Sechler joined us and discussions centered around whether I would like to return as the lead trumpet player, musical contractor and musical arranger. I recommended several musicians with whom I had worked in the Navy and I was eager to try my hand at arranging for a choral group so my response was a definite yes. Then, Mr. Waring told me that he had just returned from a recuperation in London and had signed a young lady whom he had seen on Thames television. Then he stated those prophetic words, “she’s just perfect for you!” Fred was not aware that I was already romantically involved with one of his Pennsylvanians, so I simply smiled and made some kind of sound that was barely audible and hardly human.

When I returned home, the phone rang and it was Don Menza, a tenor saxophone player whom I had so admired from his days in the Stan Kenton band. He was calling to ask if I would be interested in joining the Buddy Rich Band on lead trumpet. Well now! Here I had an opportunity to join one of the greatest big bands around…a band that any trumpet player worth his salt would jump at…and yet I heard myself saying, “I’m sorry Don, I’ve already obligated myself to Fred Waring.” Wondering whether I would live to regret my decision, Don wished me good luck and our conversation was ended. Standing nearby, my dad asked, “did you just turn down Buddy Rich’s band?” When I answered in the affirmative, he responded, “Good decision! I know Buddy…and I know you…it wouldn’t have ended well for either of you.” Buddy was known to be confrontational but I didn’t realize that my own reputation for not suffering fools was preceding me. Especially from my own father.

Del Water Gap Inn

The Castle Inn-Delaware Water Gap, PA

The final week of September 1969 found a gathering of vocalists, musicians, arrangers, producers, choreographers and support staff, all taking up residence at The Castle Inn at the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania which was another hotel owned by Fred Waring. We were each assigned to a room and advised that we would be spending the next week rehearsing for a national tour. During the first couple of days, the musicians rehearsed separately from the choral group. Leading us through the music was an amazing arranger named Hawley Aides. We were advised that the music for this year was to be “different” from preceding years in that much of the music would be right out of the current pop charts. Hawley lead us through whatever music had already been prepared including a great band feature arrangement of “Old Black Magic,” but he warned us that there would be plenty more music to come. He approached me about writing an arrangement on Aquarius and Let The Sun Shine. Rehearsals lasted most of the day, and during the evenings I would find a nice quiet place in the lounge to do my composing. The rest of the group made their way across the road to The Deerhead Inn, which was a fine restaurant, bar and jazz club. And here I was missing out on all of the early developing camaraderie. Lured out of my self-imposed isolation, I packed up early and decided to wander across the road. As I was walking out, there sat Clyde Sechler…rocking away in an Adirondack chair with a loaded shotgun across his lap. He pointed across the road where a large gathering of motorcyclists had arrived, stating, “we’ve got a bunch of very pretty girls here with us and I’m just making certain that nothing untoward befalls any of them.” I pulled up a chair and sat with Clyde for a while. I admired his determination but felt obligated to point out that most of “our girls” were already over there enjoying the wine and music…and the companionship. Clyde had known for a while that I was “involved” with a young lady who was one of the soloists from previous tours and who was currently performing in a Broadway show. Therefore, I was perfectly content to sit with him and await the safe return of “our” brood.

A few days later, Fred arrived on the scene with a stunningly gorgeous blond on his arm. He introduced her to the group as Irene Stephens from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire England and announced that she was  a soprano who would be joining the tour. She seemed visibly shaken as she had recently arrived in the USA from the United Kingdom and she had endured a stunt fly-by right through the Delaware Water Gap in a piper Cherokee. The pilot had been encouraged by young Malcolm Waring to do so. This was my first introduction to the woman who would become my bride and whose intoxicating Nordic allure would carry me across the same ocean that I had previously patrolled with the US Navy while shadowing the Soviet Fleet.

Irene was shy and completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the group and the professionalism as she had noted upon her approach to the building with Mr. Waring. Many, including me mistook her demure aura for stand offishness. She had an amazing soprano voice with a coloratura range and technique that couldn’t and wouldn’t be denied. Few would have believed that she was a completely self-made product with virtually no training. Although she couldn’t read music, she was very quick to pick up on each and every nuance. Hey, Buddy Rich, probably the greatest big band drummer ever couldn’t read a note of music.

Touring on the Grey Goose (our nickname for the bus) was a wide-ranging test of stamina and common courtesy. The journeys were long and there was no bathroom and yet I can’t ever recall even a hint of an errant fart on that bus. A strict policy of no smoking, eating, or audible music was enforced. Also, it was required that we always wear our Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians blue blazer whenever and wherever we traveled. Seating was initially assigned but we each arrived where we wanted to be by whatever means necessary. Mine was not very subtle. I was seated with Bob Levine, a good friend, but not the one I wanted to spend the next thirty thousand miles seated next to. On the other hand, my good friend and Navy veteran buddy, Bill Bradley was paired next to the person with whom I was determined to spend the rest of my life. He looked way too comfortable and I was pondering the fact that I had got him this job. This just wouldn’t sit. I just wouldn’t sit. I simply grabbed the pillow upon which he had propped his most unworthy head with such aplomb and contentment, and I tossed it toward the rear of the bus. Barking obscenities at me, he got up to fetch it and I moved in and never moved out. Not having any experience with the American male psyche, Irene accepted this immature act of staking out one’s territory in such a manner as a cultural enigma and surrendered herself to this Neanderthal from one of the Queen’s former colonies. Bill eventually found alternative seating next to the one who would also become his lifelong partner and the mother of his children, Mary Ann Stoner from Shiremanstown, PA. We have all remained the closest of friends ever since. And God made me do it.

I spent most of my time on the bus writing and Fred Waring Tour 1969-1970listening to music while Irene sat next to me, intent upon a sweater that she was knitting…for me! Wow! Life was good! My trademark condition was with my muleskinner’s hat that I had picked up in Mexico and a set of earphones, all comfortably perched upon my head. No mp3 players back then…I held an enormous cassette player on my lap and boxes of cassette tapes stowed away. It took eight D cell batteries to fire up this baby.

In 1969, the musical group, Chicago was climbing up the charts and Mike Stephens (one of the vocalists) and I would eagerly listen to their most recent offerings. They were unique in that they had a great horn section and that they were breaking most of the theoretical rules of music. They used chord progressions that had been considered taboo and somehow, they made it work. Brazil 67 was another group that was breaking the same rules. Few of us were Elvis or Beatles fans, although they were monopolizing the broadcast media. Suddenly, the future held a lot of promise for the direction in which music was heading. We looked into the newspapers of whatever town we were playing, in hopes that we might cross paths with Chicago. Sure enough, when we arrived in Portland, Oregon we found that they were playing in a local barn and we just happened to have the night off. A group of us got together and found our way there. The external appearance of the barn gave little indication that a group, in which we held such great esteem, would be performing within it’s less that elegant exterior. However, upon gaining entrance we were met with a sound that was now becoming familiar to us and which slowly moved us in the direction of the improvised stage. Most of the occupants were seated on the floor and we noted that strategically placed around the facility were state troopers with helmets and night sticks. Ominous! However, a certain vaguely familiar aroma began to penetrate my being and the light of recognition went off when I noticed the telltale billows of smoke emanating from those people who were seated on the floor. I looked around at the state troopers and noticed that they also seemed pretty mellow. They were gratefully accepting peace offerings being extended by those on the floor. Oh well, after the recent riots at the democratic convention in Chicago, I was comforted by the example being demonstrated; that the best crowd control is a stoned crowd…and stoned law enforcement. Maybe that’s why it has been illegal for so long…how are you gonna get guys to go off and fight for someone else’s cause when they’re stoned and their entire being is focused upon procuring a Snickers bar…in slow motion. Maybe instead of confiscating and obliterating the poppy fields in Afghanistan, we should be encouraging them to light up and loosen up. They’re just wired too tight.

Although I had never seen pictures of the band, Chicago, I had thoroughly analyzed their music and knew the instrumentation to be, Rhythm section of Keyboards, guitars, bass guitar, drums and percussion, horn section of three trumpets; three saxophones doubling on flutes, and trombones. Well, from the distance I couldn’t quite make it out, but there just didn’t seem to be enough people on the stage and yet the sound that I was hearing had all of the nuances and timbre that I recognized from their recordings. How could this be? I moved toward the sound source to have a better look. I realized that there was just one trumpet player, one reed player and one trombone player. It had to be done with smoke and mirrors and maybe the smoke was altering my senses. I wanted to have a look behind the curtain. As I approached, one of the stage crew came up to me and said, “you’re a big guy…would you watch the equipment for me while I go take a leak?” Well, this couldn’t have been more opportune. I assumed an authoritative attitude and glanced behind the curtain. There it was! The smoke and mirrors; a complete multi track recording setup and I noted that the drummer had been wearing headphones. This had never been done before and somehow I felt cheated. It used to bother me immensely when dancers would pretend to be singing on the Ed Sullivan or Jackie Gleason Shows, but I knew that the vocal group was actually just out of the camera shot and that the dancers were only pretending to sing. If you can’t actually do it, then why pretend? Now it is such common practice and become so acceptable that few people perform with any live musicians at all. The music literally comes out of the ether just as we predicted that one day it would. Who needs musicians anyway…all they do is drink whiskey, smoke the lawn and ruin our daughters.

The Pennsylvanians would enjoy unwinding after a show by meeting in the lounge of whichever hotel the tour director had placed us; usually, Sheratons or Hiltons. Wine and cheese seemed to soothe our post performance hypertensive state and the lounges were generally comfortable and accommodating. Sitting around a large table, we would converse and critique, mock and ridicule anyone who demonstrated the slightest hint of vulnerability. Like chicks in a nest, egos were in abundance and always competing for attention. Some could be ignored while others would go to extreme lengths and commit acts of outrageous depravity before a soothing morsel would eventually encourage them back into the nest.

On one particular evening, each of us believed that the stranger sitting in our midst was known by one or another of us. As it turned out, he was quite an enigma and under the circumstances a foolishly brave or terminally stupid soul. Unsolicited, he placed a set of headphones upon Irene’s head and sat back patiently awaiting a response. We all anxiously observed her expression of puzzlement. Relinquishing the headphones with a shrug, Don, one of our stage crew grabbed them and placed them upon his own head. Once again we all watched Don’s face for clarity. His face began to contort and grew crimson with rage. Suddenly, he threw the offending headphones back at this stranger who immediately took umbrage that Don should so abuse his headphones and audio, which as it turned out contained sexually explicit offerings of an unwelcome kind. With a demonstration of what we could only conclude was Oregonian insanity, he challenged Don to accompany him outside. Don eagerly shed his blue Fred Waring blazer and proceeded toward the door. In rapid fire, one by one, each male Pennsylvanian stood, divested and departed for the door. A pile of Waring blazers stood in stark display of their missing owners. Fueled by our as yet unmitigated PPSD (Post Performance Stress Disorder) and seeing our posse as it flooded out of the revolving door, the stranger made a hasty departure, which in hindsight was probably the best of all possible solutions; especially considering our recent observation of Oregon’s finest state troopers in full riot gear on the previous evening. We lacked the obligatory bales of weed with which to soothe the savage beasts had they been summoned.

SF Union SquareAnd then we arrived in San Francisco where we checked into the historic Saint Francis Hotel in Union Square. The hotel had quite an impressive history and music played a major role in its popularity during the early nineteen hundreds. Famed bandleader, Paul Whiteman started out as a sideman in the house band while Ferde Grofe was inspired to compose his Grand Canyon Suite shortly after departing the hotel. Enrico Caruso enjoyed a breakfast there after the earthquake of 1915 had rendered the restaurant in his own hotel unsuitable for the gargantuan meals that he required in order to maintain his amazing tenor voice.

Once settled into our rooms, I couldn’t be contained and felt the need to do some early reconnoitering. It was the day before payday so I didn’t get very far. Patrolling the lobby I noticed a “Gentlemen’s Lounge” (nobody raised a fuss about that in the sixties) and so I decided to assume the role of gentleman. Upon entry I noted a subdued atmosphere and plumes of pipe smoke emanating from various stations of the room. Well heeled gentlemen were sitting quietly in plush Chesterfield arm chairs with snifters of Cognac adorning Queen Anne end tables while reading their J.B. Priestly, or Leonid Tolstoy’s “War & Peace” or “Justine” by Marquis de Sade. I couldn’t help but glance down at my scuffed boots, and my chronically creased traveling attire…no such thing as wrinkle free in the sixties either. Pulling myself together, (I am lead trumpeter, I play loud and high) and with waning trepidation, I made my way to the bar where the cocktail technician was meticulously polishing an assortment of snifters and goblets. I cautiously assumed a recluse position where I could observe San Francisco’s upper crust at rest. Considering what I should order to drink…I mentally queried the nuances of something that would indicate that I belonged in this establishment and should be considered for membership in this elite fraternity. My eyes came to rest upon what appeared to be a glass trumpet, flared at one end but obscenely bulbous at the other end where the mouthpiece belonged. (That’s just from a trumpet player’s perspective of the world.) In my most eloquent and succinct of Long Island dialects, I pointed to the object and inquired “what’s that for?” In his own San Franciscan dialect, he informed me that it would go well with a recently imported Watney’s Ale from the British Isles. (Not a word about my scuffed boots! So far, so good!) At the mere mention of British, I immediately thought of my beautiful seat mate who was still up in her room awaiting my report from the outposts. My next thought was, would they make an exception to the “gentlemen only” rule? I felt certain that should they endeavor to know the fairer sex as I had come to know them, they would see the folly of their rules and throw the doors wide open. When I finally summoned the courage and asked, the barman simply smiled and burst forth with a bellowing, “hey! Any of youse guys mind if this here young feller brings his lady friend in for a drink?” A hushed murmur and then…unanimous consent. Flashing my award-winning smile, I immediately departed and returned with Irene dressed in one of her fashionable British micro skirts. Now that’s what I’m tawkin’ about. Together we assumed my previously held station and I pointed directly to the glass trumpet and suggested that we each get one and fill them with Watney’s Ale. Irene knew better and pointed to what appeared to be a piccolo version of the other, stating that it would be more in keeping with our surroundings and with my own acknowledged limitations when it came to the consumption of ale. While he prepared to deliver an amount of liquid that was twice as much as would today be banned in New York City, the bartender seemed to be somewhat amused at my partner’s expertly delivered instructions about negotiating “the bubble.” If only I wasn’t such a macho man as to simply ignore all previous warnings. I attacked with gusto this strange menace of an ale delivery system. I chugged and gulped, chugged some more and gulped some more and belched and drank….all the time looking for “the bubble.” Finally, I conceded defeat and found that I had barely made it past the flare. Irene smiled condescendingly as she prepared to address the menace before her. There was a hushed silence around the room…not that there hadn’t already been a hushed silence prior to us arriving on the scene…and Irene proceeded to effortlessly consume all the way past “the bubble.” She punctuated her accomplishment with a resounding belch and the entire room erupted in a standing ovation. So much for the propriety of “The Gentleman’s Lounge.”

cable-cars-san-francico1969 Fred Waring (36)

The next morning, Irene and I set off early for Fisherman’s Wharf where we had heard that the cracked crab was an epicurean delight that was not to be missed. Not that I was particularly looking for a seafood cuisine at that time of the day, but the bus was scheduled for departure at eleven am so it was now or never. The trip there, on the San Francisco cable car system was enticing and scenic, however, I hated the fact that every time the bell rang, my Pavlovian conditioned response was, “Rice R Roni, the San Francisco treat.” Although Irene was not feeling particularly well that morning, (nothing to do with the yard of ale followed by an energetic two-hour performance the previous evening) neither could she resist the tempting smells from the large kettles of steaming hot crustaceans. Following the examples of other seekers around us and casting all finesse aside, we laboriously dissected and devoured the enigma from the deep that was set before us. Fingers dripping with residual juices, I glanced up at Irene querulously and imploringly. Miraculously, upon completion of our feast she had remained pristine and demure  while I, on the other hand, or both other hands, was in a quandary as to what to do next. Holding my hands up for her inspection, without hesitation, she grabbed them and proceeded to suck my fingers clean. That was it! That was the moment that I knew that I was in love and that we were bonded for life.

I had certainly experienced a plethora of complexities within the previous few months. I had embarked on the tour in September with a deep sense of devotion to a romantic relationship back in New York City. However, by Christmas I knew that a new relationship was developing and that I was helplessly ensnared in a web of confusion. From remorse for a relationship that was doomed by time and space, to the dizzying thrill of a rapidly developing relationship that despite some major obstacles (including The Atlantic Ocean) our love just would not and could not be denied. Irene had her own relationship conundrum and we both needed to resolve  some serious issues during the Christmas recess. As we were departing for our respective family Christmas gatherings, Irene looked back over her shoulder and I chose that moment to be the first time that I mouthed the words, “I Love You!”

I have never been a good liar; I feel like my eyes are a gateway to the truth. The person that I was about to hurt not only didn’t deserve it, but had already had too much of it in her life. Therefore, I believed that she deserved the truth sooner rather than later. At that point, Irene and I had not physically consummated our relationship. I explained that I had become aware that I was experiencing some very strong feelings for someone on the tour. When love suddenly happens despite your best efforts to stave it off, it is not something that can be ignored…nor should it be. Lette understood. She had even predicted it. However, that didn’t make it any easier for her to accept.

When Irene and I were reunited for the second half of the tour, absence had only served to intensify our feelings for each other. We were just so happy to be together again. The universe was in sync and never a thought intruded about when the tour would finally come to an end. All that mattered was the moment at hand.

Irene Stephens-Griffin with 1969 National Tour- Fred Waring

We spent a week in Sparks Nevada at Johnny Asquaga’s Golden Nugget Casino. The musicians of the Waring organization were also required to play a twice nightly show with the resident Elephants, Bertha and her daughter Tina. Before and after the shows, Irene and I would regularly visit with them in their pens. Irene would sing to them and I would hold my trumpet up and gently blow while Bertha investigated with Bertha & Tinaher trunk. Occasionally, she would blow back at which point I would hastily remove the mouthpiece from my face for fear that I would hence forth be playing the trumpet with a new embouchure and from a different orifice. Bertha was so enamored with Irene’s singing that her trainer felt comfortable letting her pick Irene up for a triumphant pose.

1969 Fred Waring (9) - Copy

During the daytime, several of us would pile into a rented car and drive out to a horse ranch. We would saddle up and ride off into the distant mountains to enjoy the serenity of our surroundings. It made a sweet change from the hustle of our performances and the monotony of our long bus journeys.

On one occasion, just four of us guys (no misogyny intended) decided to head up into the surrounding mountains and to experience the breath-taking panorama and the quiescent wilderness of the sierra mountains. Arriving at a place where we noted trails taking off at all four points of the compass, we decided to split up and ride off on our own individual paths of discovery….We set a time at which we would meet up again at the same junction. I was eager to explore and set off in a southerly direction. The solitude was intoxicating and I had an overwhelming feeling of joie de vivre. Having read many books by Zane Grey and James Michner, I experienced an unquenchable thirst for adventure and all that I wanted was to keep riding and not turn back. The breeze was fresh and the sun was high. I came across a carcass of a steer that appeared to have been a meal for the coyotes, or wolves or whatever predators inhabited the high ground. Pondering the poor creatures final demise, I realized that I was a little hungry. Hmmm! Food! Water! There’s Sparks, NVsomething that I hadn’t considered. I guess that blows any plans I had for riding off into the sunset. Eventually, the sun was beginning to approach the rim on the other side of the intervening valleys and I decided that it was probably time to bring to an end this existential quest for the meaning of life. I met up with the others at close enough to the designated time and place. Each of us seemed to be sitting pretty tall in our saddles…almost as tall as our tales.

On another occasion, we invited the ladies to join us. We headed out in the same direction as the guys had done however, thought it best that we remain together as one group. We ascended the hills and followed the main trail. However, we made the mistake of giving the horses their head and letting them run. Well, the horses were aware that after a long day out on the range, that we were heading in the general direction of home…a good wipe down, water, feed and rest. Irene’s horse led the way and I could see that she had lost the reins and had her arms wrapped around the horses neck. She was hanging on for dear life and I gave chase, eating dust while both horses thought it was such fun racing each other. Suddenly, her horse, “Chief” made a sharp left turn and left the trail into the scrub land. Following, I could see a barbed wire fence looming1969 Fred Waring (31) menacingly ahead of us. Wondering whether Irene and I were about to experience a breathtaking leap of faith or a painful girlie-boy shriek of pain as we were about to become part of the landscape. Just as suddenly, Chief pulled up into a dead halt and my horse, Socks did the same. I jumped off and ran to Irene who was visibly shaken…but not stirred. We learned another lesson…Never give the horses their head when turning back toward home where they would be groomed, watered and fed.


1969 Fred Waring (15)Two weeks from the end of the tour, in April of 1970, The shows were becoming extremely trying. Fred seemed to be exhibiting the same behavior as our horses had in the home stretch and he needed to be groomed, watered and fed. His tirades towards the musicians were ceaseless and as a twenty four year old, I couldn’t seem to bridge the gulf between his perception of our performance and my own reality as a lead trumpet player which required that I assume all responsibility for everything that was wrong in the universe. The next evening’s performance was in Indianapolis and I was determined to have an out of body experience and to see and hear our performance with his ears. I was in a state of Zen as I intently concentrated upon not just my own performance, but that of the entire ensemble. Two hours later, with the final cutoff and the closing of the curtains, I exhaled with the knowledge and comfort that if ever there had been an absolutely perfect performance, this was it. All that was required now was for us to remain standing while Fred began his ritual analysis of the performance. First came the singers about which he pronounced nothing but praises for an excellent show. We, the musicians were looking to each other with smiles of satisfaction in anticipation of the coming compliments and praise for our absolute perfection and Doberman like focus upon his conducting. His deliberate attempts to fool us by throwing downbeats behind his back or tempo changes, tenutos and crescendo-decrescendo where none had previously existed and other such antics had not fooled us one little bit.. (The dog sat, intently watching the conductor’s baton, and thinking to himself, “Just throw the f-ing thing!”) Now, Fred turned to the musicians and his expression immediately altered. With a menacing scowl he began his tirade with, “when are you musicians going to stop handing me this crap!” Wait a minute…that can’t be right. I know that I was looking for an out of body experience but did I pass through a black hole? I must be in some other parallel universe or time warp. He must be talking to our other selves on the other side…somewhere between String Theory (C clef) and The Singularity (Fb=E). If we were perfection they must have really sucked. Maybe our nano particles got jumbled up in the return trip and the alter ego Fred Waring now appeared before us. Maybe he was speaking in Klingon (paghmo’ tIn mIS = much ado about nothing) I was shocked. I am lead trumpet player, I am fearless,  I play loud and hi and I am responsible for the well being of all of humanity. Inflated with that understanding of my station in life…let’s just say that the train left the station without me. I felt my mouth open, and words began to tumble out of it. “What Crap?” (Was that me? Did I just say that?) Immediately, his scowl lasered in on me and the cloaking device came down. His molecules had reassembled, exposing the menacing, full blown Klingon. I knew it! jolvoy’? = “What?” says he. I felt my Irish insanity takeover and a mere Klingon was no impediment for the rapid evolution of my explosive decompression. I reentered this earthly domain and my own tirade began with: “WHAT CRAP!” (There it is again! That was me!) I knew then that I was committed to a course of verbiage that would not end well for me and could only lead to a very long and lonely trip home. And so, where my words were taking me was no longer of any consequence. The little leprechaun on the wheel in my brain suddenly broke into a sprint and my words were no longer “tumbling” out of my mouth…they were spewing out like peas and carrots after a particularly vile and hideous meal…and peas and carrots weren’t even on the menu. “You have the audacity to stand there and critique us with such venom, when each and every one of these musicians is striving to give you all that they have. You talk about courtesy? You walk off the stage in a huff in the middle of a performance where tempo changes and direction are required. Then you walk back on angry because we executed it perfectly without you. Respect is a two way street. How about some respect for these guys?” There was more, but it was mostly mashed potatoes and gravy. When I had spewed the last utterance I could iterate, and the little leprechaun came to an exhausted halt, I soon realized that the train was returning to the station and this time I was getting on. He said, “are you finished?” At warp speed, my razor edged intellect quickly ascertained, “all aboooaaard! Departing!” I responded, “I AM FINISHED.” At which point, trumpet in hand, I jumped off of the platform only to hear his reply, “That’s right. You are finished!” Not to be deprived of the last word, I responded, “Too Late! I already said I’m finished.” Another lesson learned…There are none so lonely as a righteous man! Although, a few of the guys did dare to venture near to me as I was packing away my instruments, asking: “Did you rehearse that speech?” No! But I probably should have.

And so, I reiterate: To become self-actualized one must:

  • 1) Be called to the journey
  • 2) Fight the challenge
  • 3) Go into the abyss
  • 4) Emerge transformed and
  • 5) Return evolved.
1969 Fred Waring (5) - Copy

Irene & Paul with Tommy Cullen

My first call was to Clyde Sechler who had been my mentor and room mate the previous year. He insisted that I not leave and to let him talk with Fred. My next call was to Tom Cullen who was a long time Pennsylvanian and who also owned a wonderful Pub/Restaurant called The Bottom Of The Foxes back at the Delaware Water Gap. He echoed Clyde’s words saying, “don’t you dare leave.” Well, I knew that I was committed, or if I wasn’t, I needed to be, so I began packing and making my arrangements. I booked a flight and arranged for a good trumpet playing friend of mine, Tony Marinello, to pick me up at Kennedy Airport the next day. Then came the hard part…facing Irene. She was visibly upset as I tried to assure her that we’ll make it through the next two weeks and then we’ll be together again.

I had arrived at Kennedy airport and it was so good to see a friendly face. Tony drove me to my parent’s home in Dumont, NJ where we all sat as I recanted the sordid details of my previous evening’s celestial soaring incident. I noticed the beginnings of a smile on my dad’s face and by the time I finished my recitation he was looking at my mom and they smiled at each other knowingly as he admitted, “Been there! Done That!” He had quit Benny Goodman several times, but each time he was hired back at a higher salary. He had also walked out in a huff at CBS when he and a guest conductor, Irwin Kostal were not getting along. Once again, he was hired back with a raise in salary.

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be hired back any time soon. More than that, I was disappointed when I learned that I had not been paid a premium for playing lead trumpet…usually there’s hazardous duty pay associated with the position…the need for which is demonstrated by the above played-out scenario.

The truth be told, I had nothing but admiration and respect for Fred Waring and I genuinely liked him…I guess we were both anxious to get back to the barn for succor and salvation. Many years later, my dad confessed to me that he and Fred had crossed paths on several occasions and each time Fred would inquire, “how are ‘the kids’ Irene…and Paul doing?

1967-Plymouth VIP

My 1967-Plymouth VIP

The next two weeks were difficult for Irene and for me. We spoke each day on the phone but the nearest the Waring tour came to Dumont, NJ was Pittsburgh. I was out early one day, running some errands with my mother when I said to her, “I think I feel like taking a little drive.” Her response was ‘Oh…where are you thinking of going?’ I said, “Pittsburgh.” I hadn’t mentioned to my parents about how serious my relationship with Irene had become. And so, I set off in my 1967 Plymouth VIP on a three hundred and eighty one mile journey to Pittsburgh. Irene and I had decided that it would be best if none of the Waring group, (with the exception of Bill & Mary Ann) were made aware of my presence and so in the interests of stealth, I would first go to a local diner near the hotel where I would await the group’s departure for the evening’s performance. At that point, I would enter the hotel and proceed to Irene’s room where she would leave the door unlocked so that I might gain entrance without alerting any desk clerks or other.

I arrived at the diner around six pm and sat at the counter. Affecting my finest New York Italian dialect, I ordered some, “Manigott!” (Manicotti) along with a nice Chianti. (What! No Fava Beans?) Awaiting my order, I noticed the phone ringing and my waitress picked it up. Her expression seemed somewhat querulous and she turned and focused on me. “I overheard her say, “Yeh! He’s sittin’ here at the counter. OK! I’ll give him the message.” I watched as she scribbled on a pad and hung up. She carefully  folded the piece of paper, while glancing around seemingly making certain that no one else could see. She then came over to me and said, “I think this is for you.” She scampered off and I opened up the note which simply said, “Be Careful! Benny In Lobby!” I was wearing a London Fog jacket, and although the bulge in my trousers was somewhat conspicuous, it was not a gun, but my trumpet mouthpiece, which I always carried for practice when “on the road.” Benny sold programs at the performances but for some unknown reason, he was remaining at the hotel this particular evening. My meal arrived and I noticed a little tremble in her hands as she looked into my eyes and smiled very politely. Consuming my dinner at a leisurely pace, I pondered what the poor girl must be thinking about me. These days, she probably would have called homeland security.

At around seven thirty pm, when I felt comfortable in the knowledge that it would be safe to enter the hotel, I paid my bill and departed from the diner. I’m sure that my waitress breathed a sigh of relief at my receding figure.  I decided to enter by a rear door so as not to run into “Benny!” Sure enough…there he was, sitting in a comfortable chair, facing the elevators and reading a newspaper. I decided it would be necessary for me to climb eleven flights of stairs rather than to take the elevator. One might be inclined to ask, “why didn’t you just get on at the next floor?” Being young and amorous with raging hormones, my energy level was high while my brain function was somewhat lacking. I gained access to Irene’s room, but not before assuring myself that it was her belongings scattered about the premises. I watched a bit of television and at about ten thirty, I heard the sound of a key being inserted into the door. A blinding light was cast into the room and I was completely mesmerized by the apparition that appeared before me. I was uncertain whether I should go to the light, or let the light come to me. She was angelic and her radiance was stunning. We were both grinning from ear to ear and couldn’t hold back our enthusiasm to once again be together. In a frenzy of absolute abandon, we were in each other’s arms, lips were suddenly pressed firmly together while hands were exploring and fumbling for clasps, zippers, buttons, and other such impediments to our urgency. We were rapidly enveloped in a cocoon of absolute surrender. Our unfolding wings were nearing exultant flight from within the comforting chrysalis of our flaming passions. Our metamorphosis nearly complete, when the secrets of the universe would be thrust upon us in waves of omniscient glory and carrying us back to The Singularity…suddenly, a loud insistent ringing abruptly returned us to our current time-space continuum. Refusing to be ignored and seemingly mocking all inclination to do so, the telephone was becoming an ear shattering instrument of torment. Intrusive decompression plunged us into a sudden nitrogen narcosis, blood boiling, “rapture of the deep.” Summoning all of her self discipline, Irene answered with something that could have been perceived as a yawn. I knew better! Hoping to convey the impression that she was half asleep, Irene cleared her throat and made another stab at a cogent greeting. It was Chuck, the trombone player, whom I had contracted for the job. He was calling to see if he could persuade Irene to go out for some wine and cheese and he wasn’t taking “NO” for an answer. My vascular system began to re-route in an attempt to find its way to my cerebral cortex, which was sending mixed messages to the depths of my hypothalamus, where it ricocheted between my amygdala and my autonomic nervous system thus causing my Id and my Ego to be in a conflicted state. “Kill or maim?…Kill or maim?” Eventually, Irene threw enough cold water on Chuck’s unwelcome ardor such as to cool off his treacherous advances . In fact, she threw so much cold water at his ardor that it had a similar effect on mine. (A technique that she has strategically employed more than once in our Fifty-four years of marriage.) After a cooling off period, the embers of our passion flared gently and we were enveloped in a dizzying bonfire of our vanities. (At least that’s what we called it back then.)

Inevitably, the morning arrived with little fanfare (I still had my mouthpiece in my pocket) or ceremony, bringing with it the dreaded knowledge that we must once again be parted. The bus set off for parts unknown while I set off for parts recently traveled.

The next day, I received a call from the band leader at Brown’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains, wondering if I would be available to join the show band, beginning immediately. Having little idea of where the future was taking me, I felt that it would help to temporarily fill the void in my life. Amazingly, the very first act that I played for was Hal Kantor and Joanne Wheatly. They had both been on the previous year’s tour with Fred Waring. Somehow, it felt comfortable as we discussed the many facets of the tour and of Jerry Lewis Theatre Club Loch Sheldrakethe future. Joanne and Hal had been together for many years, traveling to and performing at many destinations both foreign and domestic. They expressed a compassionate wisdom about my recent confrontation with Fred Waring, (noting that they had seen it play out many times before) and about a deep and passionate love and the complexities of relationships and a career in the entertainment industry.

As the Waring tour was approaching its final venue, keeping in touch with Irene on a daily basis presented many challenges, not the least of which was acquiring pockets full of quarters for the pay as you go telephones of our recent Paleo past. There was just one week left of the tour and much of our conversations centered around the logistics of our current and future relationship. Her educational visa was due to expire shortly after the tour would end, on the rapidly approaching Saturday night, in Great Barrington, MA: I had a big show to play that night at Brown’s that wouldn’t finish until around midnight so I didn’t arrive at the Holiday Inn in Great Barrington until three in the morning. Once again, in the interests of stealth, I would not gain entrance by any normal means. No! Irene had decided that she would leave her dressing gown hanging on the balcony to her room. These tests of my tenacity were becoming decidedly more difficult. At three am, there I was, in the rear grounds of a five story Holiday Inn, looking for a balcony with a dressing gown hanging over. Sure enough! There it was on the fourth floor, fourth room from the left. And so I began my stealthy climb. I was fairly gymnastic in those days so I rather enjoyed the challenge, stealth and intrigue. I was a 007 fan and considered this to be an active MI-5 rescue mission from a sinister villain. Finally, arriving at the appropriate balcony, after acknowledging my doubts and fears, I drew back the curtains and entered the room announcing, “Pleased to meet you…Hope you’ve guessed my name.”

The morning sun found us in the very same embrace that had ushered us off to the land of peaceful and contented dreams. A new day was dawning and we felt encouraged to greet it with all of the reciprocity that such a harbinger of good omens surely must portend. We decided to meet Bill and Mary Ann for breakfast. I was still smarting from my early departure of the tour and had some concerns about how my sudden reappearance from the depths of Dante’s underworld might be perceived. To my pleasant surprise, my entry into the dining room of the Holiday Inn was greeted in a fashion that was more appropriate to the return of Lazarus from the dead. I was welcomed by one and all and my concerns of banishment were completely without merit. After bidding a final farewell to those departing on the bus for the Delaware Water Gap, Irene and I set off for The Catskills. In circumspect, I realize that our life’s commitment to each other took on a new sense of responsibility right then and there.

Spring was just beginning its welcomed return to the northern hemisphere and the drive from the Berkshires to the Catskills was filled with great anticipation. It was a new world for us and we were at the helm of our own destiny. Irene postponed her return flight reservations so that we could extend whatever time we had together; nurturing and reassuring our relationship and charting a path to the future. We recognized the inevitability of her return to Great Britain and that much would depend upon when and how she would free herself from a relationship that had been doomed long before I came on the scene..

Twin BridgesWe spent the next few days exploring the many streams, lakes, trails and vistas of the Catskill Mountains. The streams were swollen with the recent departure of winter’s wrath and the trails were a feast for all of the senses with the smell of fresh undergrowth, the sight of crocus and daffodils and the sounds of the returning robins, which are more than twice the size of the British robins. Irene was stunned with the sheer elegance of the main show room at Browns and she was especially enthralled by the quality of the shows with such performers as Sammy Davis Jr. or Jerry Lewis.  The ladies were dressed in their finest apparel while the men were also wearing the appropriate attire. Little did we know that one day she would actually be performing her own one woman show on that very stage while I would be leading the band.

Our time together was passing so quickly and we could no longer postpone Irene’s return to Oswaldtwistle. Her flight wasn’t until seven pm and so we decided to spend the afternoon at my parent’s home. We sat out on the porch overlooking the eighteenth tee at White Beeches Country Club and spoke of our plans for the future while my youngest sister, Patti (13 years old) sat on the arm of the sofa next to Irene. She was fascinated by Irene’s Lancashire dialect and asked all of the questions she could think of, just to keep Irene talking. My dad, on the other hand had a difficult time understanding her and needed for her to talk very slowly. Mom had no problems at all and seemed to instantly approve of Irene.

Despite our best efforts, we just couldn’t make time stand still and so it came time to leave for the airport. We made a short stop in the next town, Bergenfield where Irene wanted to stop for a “special” bottle of wine. She bought a miniature bottle of Mateus Rose’ which had been our favorite wine on the road after performances. Irene then said, “this wine will never be opened until we’re together again.” Finally, arriving at Kennedy airport, I waited with Irene until her flight was called. We held each other until the very last possible moment and then she disappeared through the gate. That moment was even more difficult than I had anticipated. I retrieved my car and began the lonely journey back home. I just knew that this could not be the end.

In 1970, few homes in the north of England had telephones so there was no way for me to contact Irene. The wait was all consuming and I couldn’t focus on anything else. Finally, she called me from a store owned by one of her friends with the news that she was living with her mother and that she had severed all ties that had posed any impediment to our future together. That very day I went to the county seat and applied for my passport and visa and was told that the quickest it could be done was thirty days. Irene and I spoke as often as we could in anticipation of receiving my passport. Meanwhile, I managed to continue working at Brown’s until it would become necessary for me to give my notice.


My Beautiful Sister: Eileen

1970-05 Eileens Wedding

My Beautiful Mother: Helen O’Brien Griffin

Irene had left on April twentieth and my sister, Eileen’s wedding was on May second. She had asked me to perform the Purcell Voluntary at the church, after which my dad and I would perform the Vivaldi Concerto for two trumpets in C. We both used C trumpets which caused us a little concern since my dad had never played a C trumpet before. Well, my Grandmother and step Grandfather had arrived at my parent’s home the previous afternoon with cases of champagne. The morning was filled with anticipation and excitement. I was missing Irene, but was certainly preoccupied with the day’s impending festivities. While Eileen and her bridesmaids, which included my sister Patti, were in full flutter and the photographers were setting the scene, “someone” made the decision to open the champagne and serve mimosas. What a brilliant idea. I was especially thirsty and what a refreshing drink with such a polite name to start off the day. By the time we arrived at the church, I was well fortified and prepared to do battle with the C trumpet. My moment in the sun had arrived and I stood up to engage the enemy. Suddenly, my false bravado abandoned me and I wasn’t feeling very voluntary about Purcell. My legs began to shake and finding my embouchure became a distinct challenge. My dad was sitting right behind me where he noticed my less than steady posture and that I seemed to be somewhat vertically challenged. He rendered a sharp smack to the back of my knees. Fortunately, we were up in the balcony where this all went unobserved. My anxiety evaporated just in time for my first entry and nobody was the wiser. (With the exception of my dad, who had confessed that considering all of the “live” broadcasts he had covered in his life, performing in church was still the most hazardous for him.) I’ll never again trust a drink with such an innocuous name like Mimosa. (And all of God’s children said? Amen!)

White Beeches HaworthThe reception took place at White Beeches Country Club in Haworth, NJ where my parent’s were members. (As were Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle & Whitey Ford of The New York Yankees) Before shattering the iron dome of the entertainment business, I caddied there, but never did get to caddie for my baseball heroes.

Chapter Four 

July 2014 FW Reunion The question arose as to whether we should perform or not: Irene and I share the belief that music is therapeutic and at this stage of our lives, we need all of the therapy we can get. As a group, the Pennsylvanians have a shared experience that has been meaningful throughout most of our lives. I’ve always believed in the philosophy: As long as you are not infringing on the rights of others “If it feels good…Do it! ” We are what we are. The reality is that many of us are products of the Woodstock generation…aging hippies…or not.  Certainly, we’re not as good as we once were, but we’re more like we are now than we were then. We don’t expect to sound like we once did, but we sing anyway. In the shower, in the church choir, in the car, on the highway with a sign saying, “Will sing for food.” It begins with a breath; a rumble in the chest and it erupts from the depths of our very soul. (Or was that just gas?) If others can stand to listen to us, no matter the cacophony that very well may assault any sense of musical decency; who are we to deny them the renderings from the depths of our musical depravity.

As Fred Always stated at the beginning of each show, “Music is meant to be shared”

A picture paints a thousand words, but music expresses that for which there are no words. (Words don’t come easily when you’re doing a face plant on a trumpet.)

But: That’s just my opinion.

2 thoughts on “CHAPTER THREE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.