(November, 2019) I was born in St. Louis in 1952 the oldest of 5 children. At the age of 3, I starting tinkering with my mother's old upright acoustic piano. About the same time, I developed problems with my eye sight. By the time I reached 5 years old, both eyes were involved. As a result, I ended up totally blind.
By the time I was 8 years old, I could play around folks without hurting there ears. However, somewhere around this point, I got interested in the guitar and for about 4 years I neglected the piano. When I was 12, some school friends wanted to start up a 4 piece band. There was already a great guitar player in the mix so the piano was destined to be my responsibility. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I kept the guitar but started to pay more attention to the keys. We weren't really any good as a group, but we had a great time.
At the age of 17, a man who owned a corner neighborhood bar was interested in hiring me to play for him on Friday and Saturday nights. I was still in high school and working wasn't something I was considering, but my mother and girl friend talked me into taking the job. There was an old upright piano back in the corner with no microphone amplifier, no nothing. Screaming my lungs out trying to perform over the crowd. I worked there for 3 years, even celebrated my 21th birthday there.
Around July of '72 I moved to a more classy place. It had a grand piano with a piano-shape bar on top of it that would seat 8 people. I even got an amplifier with a microphone. I thought I went to heaven. I worked there for 2 and a half years and I started to feel like I can really do this to make a living.
In September of '75, I received an offer to work with a 4-piece country band. I left the piano-bar job and joined the band. The bass player was the lead vocalist and the owner of the Horseshoe lounge in South county St. Louis. They had an old spinet acoustic piano. After a couple of years with the group, I added a 73-key portable organ that I purchased at a pawnshop for $200. I worked with the group for 11 years. The lead guitar player and I became close friends and we did a lot of side jobs together. Unfortunately, the owner, the bass player, died of an heart attack 4 years after I started with the group. His wife wanted to keep the band and the responsibility of running it became mine. I think this is when I started to come into my own. I loved it and I hope to play in such a band again before I leave this world.
Of course, sooner or later all things come to an end. In '86 the owner of the Horseshoe lounge passed away and this time it was closed for good. Also, at this time, the lead guitar player, "my best friend" passed away. I was devastated over the loss of my friend, I just couldn't bring myself to find another guitar picker. I took another job playing the piano by itself in a neighborhood bar close to home working 3 nights a week. I worked at this bar for one year until it was sold.
In '87 I was offered a job at the biggest piano bar here in St. Louis, the Hideaway lounge. I couldn't believe my luck, there were 4 piano players and I would make the fifth. It had been a piano bar since 1954 and still is today. There is a huge horseshoe shaped bar that surrounded the piano that seated 12. I wonder if there is something like it somewhere else in the country. The piano went 7 nights a week and also Wednesday afternoon. I got Wednesday afternoons and Sundays. I also took another job for Thursday Friday and Saturday nights at another neighborhood bar called Claudia's Lounge. Both places were owned by the same lady. Between the two places, I was working 5 nights a week.
In '89 I went to hear a friend of mine who was performing at a local restaurant and I discovered the drum machine and the midi bass pedals. I was ecstatic, I had to have them. First, I purchased an analog drum machine and started to use it on the job. About 6 months later, I purchased my first bass pedals and the Roland U20 synthesizer. At both places, we built a special board to hold the U20 above the keys of the regular acoustic piano. I was like my own band, piano, keyboard on top, drum machine and bass pedals on the floor. I was having a ball and I loved everything about what I was doing.
I also, started doing a lot of side jobs, weddings, birthday parties, home parties, you name it. My equipment started to change and I ended up with a van full of stuff to take on the job. Then I purchased the Roland XP60, later the Roland phantom X7. Further down the line, the Yamaha arrangers came along.
In '94, Claudia sold Claudia's Lounge and moved me up to the Hideaway and gave me Friday and Saturday along with Wednesday afternoons and Sunday. In 2002, we retired the acoustic piano at the Hideaway lounge and replaced it with the Yamaha P90 digital piano. In 2005 the Yamaha Tyros3 made the scene along with the Alesis SR18 drum machine and the Roland PK5 bass pedals. By this time, I was working the Hideaway, 3 nights a week and Wednesday afternoons. Through the years, I moved up to the Tyros4, then the Tyros5. In December of 2016, the owner of the Hideaway passed away and in April of 2017 the lounge was sold to three partners. It just wasn't the same and, after performing there for 31 years, in May, 2018 I decided that it was time to retire.
I am 67 now and not doing very much on the working side of things. However, I am doing a lot of home recordings and having a great time with all the wonderful instruments that I own. As I stated earlier, I hope some day to work with a country band again. I can do the piano keyboard work and also take care of the bass. Thanks for taking the time to read about my life and music history.
stlpianoman in the Forum