by Ric Teller
Satchel Paige gave this advice on how to stay young: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” My advice: “Take a look, it’s gonna gain on you anyway.” For the record, I got to see him employing the Bat Dodger, the Hurry Up Ball, and other unique pitches at Duncan Field, in Hastings, Nebraska, while on a barnstorming tour.
Yes, I am that old.
In February, Murray Siegel, A2 emeritus (a word that is etymologically related to merit), and I were talking while on the way into the Grammys at Crypto.com Arena. I mentioned that it might be my last one. Don’t hold me to that, I’ve been fooled before … by myself. But dancing around moving band carts and hopping over a stage full of cables becomes more difficult year after year. Anyway, Murray reminded me that we are at a station in life, and work where “lasts” is a reality. We agreed that being aware of those situations gives us a perspective on where we have been. So, here’s to the last Grammys as a band guy, the last long wrap, the last terrible catered meal, the last 1,500-foot piece of fiber-optic cable, tangled to the point that it should be used as prop spaghetti for Godzilla if Godzilla eats spaghetti. There is no photographic evidence of that massive tangle. Keith Hall thought about taking a picture but was dissuaded. Fiber-optic technology has changed the way we make our shows and, for better or worse, has extended my career by lightening the physical workload. I suppose soon, fiber will run from a central hub to all locations on a production, linking to a magic decoder box that will provide connections to video of any flavor, audio (both directions), comms, timecode, and featuring a spigot serving a hot cuppa Joe from Eric Johnston’s Single Batch Coffee Roasters. If that was indeed my last Grammy wrap, I felt it. The next morning, I was able to get up and go to work on a Beach Boys tribute, but I’m not sure I was any help to Ray, Ozzie, Henry, and my Friend, Robyn. Don’t ask that lovely crew, they’re too kind to tell you the truth.
Pronunciation guide: Emeritus—put the accent on the second syllable. If you accent the third syllable, it sounds like an illness. It isn’t.
As I am writing this, the Oscars are approaching. That I am allowed to work with the excellent group of people that takes on that massive undertaking and that I get to be around the terrific Oscar orchestra is always a treat. Once upon a time, I was a musician. Not great, but good enough that I have a true appreciation for the amazing players that will gather at the Dolby. Some I have known for a very long time. Of my regular annual shows, only The Oscars and The Kennedy Center Honors have orchestras. I am grateful to get to work with both talented groups. The Orchestra Whisperer.
The Oscars and the Grammys employ an impressive number of our Local 695 members both on the main show and on the many red carpet shows. I’ve managed to avoid red carpet shows for many years and won’t do another, but about thirty years ago, while we were doing the Oscars at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, mixer Paul Sandweiss called the late Evan Adelman and me into his booth. If you never had the pleasure of working with Evan, you missed out. He was not only a terrific sound guy but an excellent person, missed by all who knew him. We had just finished dress rehearsal and Paul informed us that we were going to do a show on the red carpet before the Oscars began. I was the A2, and Evan mixed (that might have been the first time he mixed live on the air). I grabbed two Vega RF transmitters and receivers and two Sennheiser 416 mics. The RF’s were the main and backup hand mics for our host, Oprah Winfrey, and I lovingly tossed the 416’s up into a nearby tree to catch some of the pre-Oscar crowd noise. That was it. The whole setup. When we finished, Paul took the mixing chair for the main show, Evan ran inside to A2 with Murray, and I quickly wrapped the Oprah red carpet show and hurried inside to join them. Needless to say, the red carpet has become a bit more complicated since then.
There are a couple of reasons that these rambles are not technical in nature. The obvious one is that I’m not smart in that way. When it comes to understanding how things really work, I often don’t. Recently, I was patching a show and met with an unfamiliar issue. We ran a Tac-12 fiber cable from the Denali silver remote truck to the stage where we connected it with a Calrec Hydra, the stage box that connects with the Calrec console in the truck. Normally, when connected, there are blinking indicator lights on the Hydra that we call heartbeats. I was under the impression that when the heartbeats were blinking, the Hydra was connected. It turns out that in this case, it was true that we had heartbeats and fiber connectivity, but data was not passing. Fortunately, Matt Herchko, one of the terrific Denali engineers, showed us some persistent troubleshooting and before long, we had heartbeats and data. It took an engineer, not an A2, to figure this out which supports Joe’s Third Axiom: Once you know where the electrons go, you can’t work on the floor no more.
A couple of days ago, as Patricia and I were driving to the Valley (of no return) to meet friends for lunch, my wife asked if I had ever worked with Eric Clapton. Short answer, yes. Now, sitting at my Ashley Discount Furniture Hecho en China desk, I recall the first time. The mixer, Don Worsham, called to inquire about my availability on April 15. In 1987. He told me he couldn’t find any A2’s. Was I busy that day? Back then I was often available. He indicated that it would be a relatively easy show (we had done the Grammys about six weeks prior). I would set one band and hand out a few RF mics. I arrived early at the venue, The Ebony Showcase Theatre on Washington Boulevard. Like so many, that building is gone. I ran cables from the Greene Crowe truck. BT-1, I suppose. Who remembers? Then set up the band mics, including all guest instruments, a handful of RF’s for vocals, and some audience mics. Soon, we were ready for soundcheck and rehearsal. The day flew by. That show, B.B. King: A Blues Session, was produced and directed by Ken Ehrlich who has been involved with many of the memorable music shows in my career. The tight, eight-piece B.B. King band accompanied an all-star roster of guests. Phil Collins on drums, Dr. John on keyboards and vocals, Paul Butterfield played harp (the harmonica, not the instrument featured in Marx Bros. films), vocals were provided by B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Etta James, Chaka Khan, and Billy Ocean. And the ensemble was rounded out by a trio of guest guitarists, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eric Clapton. That was a full day. A heck-of-a-day.
I’m not big on band swag and never ask to take a photo (although I did sneak one at the Grammys a while back)
If you know, you know.
but in early February 2015, the opportunity to ask for something presented itself, and I took full advantage. The aforementioned Ken Ehrlich booked AC/DC, one of Patricia’s favorite bands, to begin The Grammys that year, performing “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell.” It was the best opening in my thirty times on that show. After the band rehearsed, I asked a guitar tech if I could take a pick for my wife. A bit later, he presented me with three, from Cliff Williams, Malcolm Young, and Angus Young. She says it is one of her favorite Valentine’s Day gifts.
My ramble in the spring issue extolled the virtues of Oboz Low Sawtooth hiking shoes, my footwear for busy shows. I regret to admit that I failed to acknowledge the friend who suggested these might be a good choice. I would like to publicly thank Patty Scripter’s husband for leading me down the path of comfort.
A few weeks back, I stopped by the Local 695 office where our president presented my 40-year pin.
Thank you, Jillian, James, and Joe (I believe your dad was at my initiation). Forty is kind of a big deal for me. Real math. Craig will think that’s funny. Contemplating retirement, forty will be my last milestone. I started working shows in the fall of ’81 but waited to be initiated by a fellow Nebraskan, Roy Brewer, who was a friend of my dad’s. For those who missed my spring ramble, there is a terrific photo of my dad with a popcorn machine at one of his theaters. Given the chance, I’m sure some of my early coworkers at KTLA would have bet the farm against me making it this far. Forty years is a long time. A long, very enjoyable adventure. It would take an entire issue to list the mentors, coworkers, teachers, and especially the friends who have made the forty so gratifying, a word that is an etymological cousin to grateful. I am. Truly.