We left Ellicott City, Maryland, in an Isuzu Rodeo, a small SUV. It was me, drummer John E Coale, and keyboardist Rick O’Rick, AKA “Cowboy Pickles.”
All three of us, our luggage and all the gear—drums, keyboards, bass amp, CDs—were crammed into the car. It was tight. You had to allow an extra 50 yards when you hit the brakes, otherwise a snare drum might smack you in the back of your cranium.
It was our first Slim Man tour – the year was 1995.
Our first gig was in Cleveland, Ohio. Hello, Cleveland! It was a club called Peabody’s Down Under. Why Down Under? Because we played in the basement. It was just us down there, us and the bathrooms. People stood around a circular balcony on the first floor, and looked down at us, playing in the basement. We had to look up to see the crowd.
Crowd? There were about 25 people there, and after the show, a large and lovely woman came up to me and said,
“You’re like Fabio…but you can sing!”
We packed up the Rodeo after the show that night and drove all the way to San Francisco. It took us a couple days. We pulled up to the Great American Music Hall for sound check. I walked up to the front door, and there was a line around the block. I asked some guy waiting in line who the line was for. He said,
Wow. I looked at the line and thought…all these people are coming to see me? It didn’t make me nervous — quite the opposite. I couldn’t wait to play. I was pumped up. Let me in, coach!
I’m rarely nervous on stage. I’m nervous the other 23 hours of the day.
We played that night to hundreds of people — it was crazy. We signed autographs afterward for what seemed like hours, and sold a ton of CDs. I hate to admit it, but it felt pretty damn good. It was OK wallowing in obscurity for all those years. But not as nice as wallowing in a brief bit of minor celebrity.
We had a sax player sit in with us in San Francisco that night. We had never played with him before. We didn’t even rehearse. We didn’t have time. He showed up at soundcheck, we introduced ourselves and then did the show.
But that’s the way we rolled on that first tour. We traveled as a trio. We had to – we couldn’t fit anybody else in the car! We would pick up a soloist whenever we got to town — a sax player, trumpeter, anybody. And the sax guy in San Francisco that night at the Great American Music Hall was pretty good.
The next night we played in San Jose at the Ajax Lounge and everyone in the audience bought a CD. Of course, there were only six people there. Really. That was it. I remember counting them – it didn’t take long. It didn’t bother me. I was just glad to be out playing and touring.
Next it was off to Monterey. We played outside on a deck, overlooking the bay. A guy named Roger Eddy played sax — like most of the soloists who joined us on the road, it was the first time we’d ever met him. The place was small, but packed.
We left Monterey and headed south. As we were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, Rick O’Rick suddenly got violently ill. Disgusting stuff was coming out of every hole in his body. I resisted the urge to throw him out of the car at 80 MPH.
We eventually made it to Viejas, a brand new Indian Casino outside of San Diego. It was so new – they were still hammering nails into the floor as we were loading in. Literally.
The concert hall must have held at least a thousand people. It was beautiful – a gorgeous stage, with a big red velvet curtain, a brand new PA, and new lights. The only problem was, Rick was so sick, we had to stay with him backstage all day, right up until showtime.
We had a percussionist sitting in named Michael Kelleher. We had not met Michael until that night, and I’m sure he was a bit apprehensive when he saw Rick O’Rick looking like The Alien might burst out of his chest at any second. When showtime came around, we got Cowboy Pickles propped up behind his keyboards.
We all waited quietly behind the red curtain.
They announced our name over the PA — “Ladies and Gentlemen, Slim Man!” The curtains slowly parted, and…
There were two people there. In a place that held a thousand. There was the promo gal from the local radio station, Janet. And there was a guy standing at the bar. That was about it. Seriously. But we played our hearts out —we always do, I’m proud to say. Both people loved the show, or at least they pretended to.
After the show, the guy at the bar introduced himself. Art Good. He asked us to play the Catalina Jazz Festival. That was one good thing that happened that night.
The other good thing was Rick O’Rick was feeling better. Thank God, because we had to drive all the way to Kansas City the next day. Fifteen hundred miles. We made it in two days. We’re going to Kansas City. Kansas City here we come!
The show was at a place called America’s Pub. We drove up, unloaded the Rodeo, did our soundcheck and went to the hotel room to shower and shave our backs.
When we walked into America’s Pub in KCMO that night, the applause was deafening. It was packed to the rafters. Sold-out. Standing room only. SRO! It was one of the most amazing responses we’ve ever had. The crowd was screaming.
I couldn’t tell exactly what it was they were screaming, but it seemed positive. We had a sax guy sit in that night, and of course, we had never heard him play before. He was really good, brought some of that saucy Kansas City style to the Slim Men.
It was the loudest crowd I’d ever heard in my life. The whole band was on cloud nine.
The next day, we drove to St. Louis—the last gig of the first Slim Tour. We pulled up to a place called Brown’s Pub and an old white guy came up to us. I have nothing against old white guys. Some of my best friends are old white guys.
This old white guy was dressed like he was getting ready to play golf – with the Three Stooges in 1955. Knickers, crazy hat, bright colors and patterns. I kinda dug it. It was certainly colorful. He said,
“My name is Chops. I’ll be your trombone player tonight.”
OK, Chops! We walked inside the club. The place only held about 75 people. A gorgeous gal introduced us to the crowd. She was a DJ from the St. Louis station, KNJZ, that was playing our music. The response from the crowd was like the applause you hear at a golf course. Polite.
Right before we started I leaned over to Chops and said,
“I’ll cue you for your solos. Don’t play over the vocals.”
John E Coale counted off the first song – and Chops played non-stop from beginning to end. His trombone playing was like Dixieland meets Bugs Bunny meets Ringling Brothers. Chops could play, the only problem was…he never stopped. We finished the song, and the crowd was looking at us funny. I leaned over to Chops and whispered,
“Chops! Don’t play while I’m singing!”
John E counted in the second song. Chops started playing from the first beat and didn’t stop until the end of the song — the man didn’t take a breath. The crowd was looking at their watches. They were checking the exits. Even though we’d only been playing about 10 minutes, I told the crowd we were taking a break.
I walked the band outside, and told Chops that it wasn’t working out, paid him in full, and he left. We went back in and continued as a trio. As we were playing, I spotted a guy in the back of the pub with a trumpet case slung over his shoulder. I called out to him, over the PA,
“Hey! Can you play that thing?”
The crowd turned around and looked at the guy. He came up and played. He was really good, had a Latin style that really fit well. I really liked his playing. And so did the crowd. The rest of the night was really cool, and that trumpeter really blew, so to speak.
I’ve always loved the trumpet. It was my first instrument. Louis Armstrong was the reason I fell in love with music. And that trumpet player in St. Louis on the last stop of the first Slim Man Tour sounded really good. We ended the tour on a high note, so to speak.
The next morning, John E, Cowboy Pickles and I packed up the Rodeo, and drove the 800 miles back to Baltimore.
The trumpet player from St. Louis sent me a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time I’d heard from him in 18 years. Alex Galvez is his name. He’s still playin’. So am I.
After a couple weeks out on the road, there’s nothing like a little broccoli to soothe the soul.
That and a bucket of whiskey!
Broccoli rapini is a slightly bitter leafy broccoli, kinda like the Italian version of collard greens. Rapini comes from the Italian word rapinare, which means to rob, which may be why people sometimes call it broccoli rob (rabe).
Some variations – If you like bacon (who doesn’t?) you can add a little chopped cooked pancetta (Italian bacon) when you add the Balsamic vinegar. Or, you can top off with some toasted pignoli (pine nuts). Or add some raisins at the end (I like golden raisins–they look mo’ better).
Broccoli rabe, stems trimmed, large leaves torn in half, about 8 cups trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
Crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Rinse the broccoli. Make sure it’s clean.
Put a large pot of water on the highest heat you got.
When it comes to a boil, add 4 tablespoons of kosher salt.
Add the broccoli rabe. Cook for 2 minutes.
While the broccoli is cooking, get a large bowl and fill it with ice water, or really cold water. Now back to the broccoli –
After 2 minutes, drain the broccoli in a colander.
Drain the cooled broccoli in a colander, remove it to a plate lined with paper towels.
Take a large pan, big enough to hold all of the broccoli rabe.
Put the heat on medium-low.
Add the olive oil.
Add the crushed red pepper.
Add the garlic, cook until pale gold about 5 minutes.
Add the broccoli, stir.
Add the balsamic vinegar, stir.
Cook for a couple of minutes.
Add salt to taste.
Dish it up! This would go great with chicken Milanese, or chicken Marsala.