Cigarmania II

In my other blog, the Diamondville Chronicles, I recently told the story of our band’s pre-turn of the century love affair with cigars. 

But this is my other blog, the one in which I spill the beans on non-tour-related events, so I now want to tell you the REST of the story, about when we came back from our first Australian tour, way back in 1976. 

While we were down under, we learned that we could buy Cuban cigars there. That was a big deal at the time, since they were embargoed from our country, and could only be brought home by sneaking them through customs, a hazardous and quite illegal task. 

I would never have done that sort of thing, because I’m not fond of danger. Actually, I suffer from PTSD, except in my case it’s PRE-traumatic stress disorder—I suffer from flashbacks of things that might happen eventually. 

When I got home, I hit the ground running—I had booked several days of recording sessions at A&M Studio A, on an album being produced by the great Chris Bond, a favorite producer of mine. The act was the not-yet-famous but promising duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates. 

I got more dressed up than was typical for a session day. Maybe it was because before I left for Australia, I’d done a bunch of work with Ben Benay, and Ben always was rather snappy dresser—at least, he wore a corduroy sport coat whenever he was in the studio. 

So I put on a coat I’d worn in Australia, a cool-looking number. There were great players on the dates, Scotty Edwards or Lee Sklar on bass, Ed Greene on drums…and Chris Bond, who had played guitar in their band,  guided Daryl and John to some of their best work. 

When I sat down at the piano, I put my hand in my jacket’s side pocket and discovered—OMG—there were two cigars in the pocket. Not just mere cigars, mind you, but two Romeo Y Julietas, two fine Cuban fancies. I had completely forgotten they were there when I'd packed. If I'd known, I would have been panicked going through customs.

We worked a while on the first couple of tunes, which didn’t have a lot for the piano to do, and my mind had time to drift back to my pocket. When it came time for our first break, I was ready. While we were recording, I  had noticed that Daryl Hall was off smoking a cigar someplace adjacent to the control room. I caught Daryl's eye, pulled out the two Cubans, held them in my hand, and said “Interested?” 

Daryl apparently knew a good cigar when he saw one, and motioned me into a separate empty studio, where we sat and smoked, with just a bit of chat. As we were finishing, he said, “You know, this next tune could use a little piano on it, maybe on the bridge. You want to try it?” 

Sure, I said, and we went back in to work on the next song, a peppy number with the title “Rich Girl.” On the chorus, I stuck in a couple of aggressive chords, which went over pretty well. Later, I realized how unlikely that whole scenario had been. If I had somehow set out to sneak Cuban contraband through customs to have them available a couple of days later, in order to stir up work for myself, that would have seemed really stupid. 

Rich Girl turned out to be a major hit record, and has been a long-lasting one. In those days, whenever you played on a hit, other people called you for sessions, believing that you had something to do with the last hit, and it kind of worked that way for me. One of my favorite studio pianists, Larry Knechtel, once told that for years every producer he worked for wanted him to do something like the intro for "Bridge Over Troubled Water," even if they were recording a polka.

That, by the way, was the only time I ever recorded with Hall and Oates. There was a nasty shakeup in their management, and Chris Bond was out and other, less sympathetic music biz types took over the controls. Lucky for me, since I couldn't afford Cuban cigars for a lot of sessions.

I thought Chris Bond was a certified genius—his rhythm track charts were very sweet and complete—I mean, he was notating very specific drum parts, and nobody did that. My own charts in those days were very NON specific. I remember writing out a page that had a clef sign at the top and the indication: “Guitars play something great.” 

I recently got a new use union check for “Rich Girl,” which was apparently sampled as part of the basic track for a successful hip hop recording. I don’t know its name, but that turn of events made me feel sort of au courant and of the moment, even if that moment took place 44 years ago.