Monday, September 28, 2009

Gonna shake 'em on down...

Once the initial dates were booked, the job of logistics became daunting. We had to move some twelve performers, a road manager and various pieces of equipment, from Memphis to the first date and then on to the next.

Flying the dates was out of the question as our budget was tight at best. We were not dealing with 'rock star' money but we had the same problems and requirements as a major rock tour. I decided that the best was to move the group was by chartered bus and struck a deal with Greyhound to provide equipment and drivers. Our first two tours were done in leased commercial coaches. This proved to both unwieldy and expensive. It also did not provide the 'comfort factor' needed for a prolonged stint on the road. By the third tour, we had wised-up and found a company out of Nashville who specialized in tour bus leasing and provided equipment with lounges, bunks, a galley and head. The real deal. They also provided a driver who would be with us for the duration of the tour and who became, usually by the second night, a huge fan AND a member of the family. In the 'destination window' up on the front of the bus, facing oncoming traffic, we put a sign that read "Heaven" - and we hit the road.

In addition to the expense of transportation, we had salaries, Per Diem, lodging, "incidentals" (i.e. beverages) and the like to deal with. Hotel rooms had to be booked, set orders and lengths had to be determined (and in some cases, negotiated), egos assuaged, etc. the job became more complex by the day. And it all had to be done before we played the first date - and that first date was in Chicago. Lucky for me, I had a well connected friend who eased the process considerably.

That friend, David Calvit, (he of the greens story) owned a company in Minneapolis called Corporate Travel. The company specialized in just that, corporate travel. Blues performers were about as far from his usual clientele as you could get.

Our first date was in Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University. That's Chicagoland. Trying to find reasonable lodging wasn't just a chore, it was an impossibility. Eight rooms at bargain rates were not to be found. I had resigned myself to the probability of a night in Gary, IN and the resultant hour and a half ride to and from the gig. In a causal conversation with my friend, I mentioned our plight. He listened quietly. "Furry is going to on these dates, right?" he asked. "Of course." The conversation ended.

The next day he called and told me we had the rooms we needed at the Lake Shore Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive. From trips to Chicago I knew that this was Holiday Inn's premier property in the city.

"Sounds great...but we can afford the wood." I had visions of $130 plus per night per room (in 1973, a lot of money). I was thinking more like a no-tell in Elgin or maybe the same in Gary.

"Your rate is $35.00 per night." Holyshit.

Arriving at the hotel from Memphis, the night before the show, the marquee facing Lake Shore Drive was ablaze with the words "Welcome, Memphis Blues Caravan." We checked in to find real rock-star service. A complimentary fruit basket (with a hand written note to each artist) was in each room. Furry Lewis had his own room. It was the penthouse suite, complete with panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

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