Here’s a photo of me, taken at the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles. I am shown exchanging greetings with a sculpture by artist Jeff Koons, one based on a publicity still from a 1923 Buster Keaton film called “Our Hospitality.”
The sculpture is part of what the artist called his “Banality Series,” which seems like a questionable call on his part, because Buster was far from banal. He was a comedy genius whose art is likely to endure far longer than that of Jeff Koons. But that’s for some other discussion. The reason I brought this up is because my the Diamondville Chronicles is about my most recent touring gig, but the truth is that my very first touring gig was one on which I accompanied Buster Keaton. (I usually disclose this fact in those very rare moments when I’m trying to make myself seem even older than I actually am.
Buster was one several stars featured in a state fair grandstand show which toured midwestern states in the early 1960s. Other stars included Rosemary Clooney, the Smothers Brothers, and a passel of vaudeville acts, including the flying Zacchini Family, who were shot out of a cannon to land on a trampoline; and Dockey’s Dogs, a team of dogs, specifically Boxers, who wore basketball uniforms and chased a meat-scented balloon on, around, and far beyond the stage.
Buster was doing slapstick, mostly wordless, including falls onstage, outdoors at night, despite the unavoidable fact that he seemed like the oldest person in the world to me at the time. Actually, he was younger than I am right now.
On a day off during that summer of shows, a number of us went to the movies. I’m not sure who all attended, but the film we saw was one of those compilations of silent films that were marketed with a title something like “The Golden Age of Comedy. I made it a point to get a seat rather near Buster, because I wanted to see how he would react when one of his early films would inevitably be shown.
Sure enough, I kept an eye on his when his work came on the screen. I wish I could remember which one it was, but it was a masterpiece, and watched closely to see if Buster would laugh at his own work.
He didn’t, but at one payoff moment, I saw him smile, as if to say “That one didn’t go too badly.”
I wish I had more Buster stories to share, but that was about it.
I was playing in the Tommy Dorsey band, which was by then led by trombonist Warren Covington, who told me that I would never make it in the music business unless I learned to shine up my shoes properly. I didn’t, so I guess I won’t.
I did a bit more touring after moving to Los Angeles in 1970, starting with Helen Reddy, at the very start of her career. An Australian film company made a biopic of Helen, and I could theoretically be a character in it, but won’t be. I toured with teen idol David Cassidy, and they’ll probably make a movie about him someday. I did some shows with Seals and Crofts, but I don’t think there will be a movie about them, but what do I know? The last miscellaneous gig I did before coming here was with Paul Anka. After going through four weeks in Las Vegas experiencing Mr. Anka, arriving in Diamondville seemed really sweet. I remember thinking, I may stick with this gig for a while.
And sure enough, despite Warren Covington’s prediction, I was able to hold a steady music job for forty years, despite my funky shoes and my complete inability to connect with the musical taste of the masses. One good reason for this outcome was my having hooked up in 1976 with a performer who was very much in tune with the taste of the public.
As further luck would have it, for the last 30 of those 40 years, I published a showday daily newsletter, slavishly if not seriously tracking the actions and behavior of our company during its travels. I wasn’t being paid for this effort, but I compulsively worked at it as if I was—plus I was being paid quite adequately for my musical responsibilities allthose years.
This resulted in my compiling a copious archive of tales from the tour, which I now am calling the Diamondville Chronicles.
This is the first excerpt from this journal, and there will be more to come, trust me.
My newsletter was called the Arch Angel Post-Bugle Intelligencer, or the PBI for short. The archives of that cheerful little effort provide the raw material for my Chronicles, and the cooked material as well. So check in here and have a snack straight out of our lives.