Friends Letters from Sal Quebec City
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was taken at a sound check at a club in Quebec City back in 1985 for a local
The bass player is my dear friend Donny Muller of The Flying Muller Brothers, one of New Jersey's most beloved night club bands.
Donny, while striking up a noble pose for the camera, abandoning all concentration for the song we were playing, thus releasing horrendous bass notes into my ear, pulsating from his amp which was right behind me. He ends up looking like a movie star, and I end up looking like a man suffering from the onslaught of excruciating sounds. Actually, we all ended up baring resemblance to the Marx Brothers.
The piano I'm playing was a 100 year old rectangular shaped antique from Mexico. The legs on it were fat shapely staffs. We were sharing the gig with an old blues man from Chicago, by the name of Big Moose Walker.
said "Hey Moose, check out the legs on this thing."
With his southern, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker type of accent, it was easy to imagine a song out of that statement.
Big Moose, a fitting moniker. A large, heavy set black man with white hair and beard. In his day, he ran with the old Chicago Blues players, he was among the last of them. Then in his late 60's, he had found a quiet little nest up in Quebec where he could lay back and play the local circuit. In fact he seemed to love it up there. He'd say. "Why not be here, nobody to fuck with ya, and you got the most beautiful womens in the world up here."
One time Donny asked him if Willie Dixon wrote "Little Red Rooster." He turned and said, "Willie Dixon was nothin' but a bass playing thief", and that Big Mama Thorton wrote "Little Red Rooster." And that Willie Dixon stole a few of his songs too. We asked which ones, and he said, "I don't remember. That was a long time ago."
On Saturday night he would dress up in a 3 piece suit and nod out in a chair at the back of the club. We'd arrange for him to come up and play a few songs with us.
"And now Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a great privilege to have Big Moose Walker to come up and play some. Where's Big Moose at?"
Then we'd hear a loud snore coming from his direction. Someone would shake him, and he'd come sit down at the piano, and I would switch to harmonica. He'd play great and it truly was a privilege to play with the real thing.
Generally I find Blues kind of boring. I played it when I was a teenager and it's a good basic to start from but gets stale pretty quick. I like some of the pioneers like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf, because it swung and they'd really conjure up the Hoodoo.
And with all due respect to those who are honest about what they love to play, for me, personally, the following generations, for the most part, especially the white kids, beat it into the ground. That's why it was such a kick to play with Big Moose, because he came out of the original source.
And it was a bit sad because he was among the last of his kind, playing and living alone in a time where the real thing was more or less running slim. But he wasn't complaining, it could have been a lot worse.
He told me that he'd never heard anyone play the harp like that before. Possibly the highest compliment I've ever been paid, coming from a player like him. Providing it was a compliment, he may have meant "I've never heard anyone play so badly."
We had a nice time up there in Quebec. We were there for a week. At the end of the week we went to get paid and it turned out Donny's bar tab topped his salary, thinking drinks were on the house or half price, which is usually the deal.
Quebec City was a real hip town during the early 70's. It was my 1st wandering outside of the NYC area, and I immediately fell in love with the place.
The old part of town is surrounded by a fortress, left over from some battle, between the French and English. It's built on a cliff over the St. Laurence River. Old colorful French architecture and French is the main language. I agree with Big Moose about the beautiful women, big almond shaped eyes like the Mona Lisa.
But it was a bit dangerous. As in most small towns the men don't take kindly to strangers coming around messing with their womenfolk. Especially since there was a certain amount of anti-American or English speaking vibe going around.
On a few occasions when I would hook up with a girl, there would be a jealous admirer lurking in the shadows sending get out of town threats. They were always big, crazed, biker lumberjack kind of guys with missing teeth.
When I say always, I mean twice.
On one occasion, the guy tracked us down in the street. He didn't speak English so he brought along an interpreter. Some poor soul he had dragged out of a bar. As this giant maniac was madly shouting and waving his fists around, the mild mannered reporter was calmly explaining to me that, if I don't leave town by tomorrow, this crazy lunatic would break me in 2 and mail me back to the states in my guitar case.
I never yielded to any of these threats. I was having too much fun up there. And for the most part, the locals were very cool.
The town was always jumping, in the summer before the deep freeze set in. A lot of young drifters passing through, a lot of music and dancing in the streets. I would spend months. A great place for a young impressionable artist.
Astral Weeks was always being played. It seemed a perfect soundtrack for this time and place. "In the Back Streets, In the Back Streets," etc.
It was there I started writing songs, as there was an abundance of spirit and color to muse by. And for years after, no matter where I was, I would always return to that dreamscape to write.
"Theme for the Pope" was out of Quebec. In fact the original lyric was in French.
"Dans La Revr'e Du Cleo." Denise LaBrie, a Mona Lisa looking girlfriend, helped me write the words.
About 10 years later, there was a film called "The Pope of Greenwich Village." Someone who was working on the film approached Rickie about possibly working on the score. I'm not exactly sure how it came about, but she came to New York and we were kicking some ideas around. The film was about, or based, around Italians, filmed in Little Italy and the Village.
As that song had a kind of European flavor to it, we tried reworking it into a soundtrack piece, doing away with the French lyric. And making it simpler and more traditional Italian. We made a demo of it as an instrumental. The film people passed on it, opting for "Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra. If you're going to lose out, may as well lose out to the best.
In the end, it wound up on "Magazine", thus the name "Theme for the Pope."
On the early European releases of the album, lyrics were added, once again in French. This time written by Boris Bergman, who is somewhat of a celeb, here in Paris.
Donny is getting married soon, to a lovely girl named Deana. I wish them all the best and hope there are no cameras present during the cutting of the cake ritual. As he's apt to get carried away with the posing and fingers may be sacrificed.
Just after writing this story, a friend called and said he recently heard a recording of Big Moose entitled "Bold Legged Women." I'd like to think, he's still up in the Enchanted City, swinging on that Bold Legged Piano.
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