America the Bountiful

When I was a mere teen-ager, one of my earliest gigs was a 4th of July party at the Bloomington, Indiana country club. It was an awful evening of loud drunks behaving badly, including an especially abrasive lady whose idea of fun consisted of lighting firecrackers and throwing them under the piano. 

Afterward I made two vows: one that I would never again play at the Bloomington Country Club, and one that I would never again play a gig on the fourth of July. 

The first vow was an easy one—I haven’t had any reason to set foot inside the country club since. I’m sure the succeeding generation was more cool and cultured than the bunch I played for, but I haven’t had any reason to find out. 

The second vow was considerably more difficult. As it has turned out, some of my best gigs have been on the fourth, and I’ll run down a few of them for you, starting with the one pictured at left: 

1976: We did the first show at the then-brand-new Aladdin Theatre of the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. It has since been imploded, but it was quite a showplace then, and our show and our audience did the joint up proud. Plus we got to watch late-night fireworks from the top of the Jockey Club, where we were staying. And there was an extra bonus: our guitarist Richard Bennett exchanged marriage vows with his wife Tina at a big wedding in our vocalist’s suite at the Aladdin. And they are still happily married, and produced another guitarist for our band, their son Nick! 

The photo includes Sarah and myself in our 1976 disguises, our kids Cathy and Tim, along with their baby sitter, Missy. Missy was hired to come with us for the weekend, but when it was time to go home, she wouldn't let us pay her, because she felt she had won so much money playing poker. "The games are a lot easier here than in Gardena," she told us. She later visited us on the road and played in the Diamondville poker game, where she cleaned out everybody at the table, causing me to be barred from bringing guests to future games. 

It seems that in between those two Diamondville visits, she had become a professional poker player. I'll always remember NY promoter Ron Delsener asking me "Who was that girl? She couldn't LOSE!"  I suspect she still can't. Hi, Melissa! But I digress.

Another fourth found us in Ireland, where our friends at Woburn Abbey made us feel at home by coming up with a gen-u-wine American-style picnic for us. Hot dogs, corn, baked beans, all served on proper English china.

On yet another fourth we were in Dublin, and our stellar catering folks at the venue prepared this setting, pictured at right, for us, not to mention the impressively multicultural prentation. 

And then there was the fourth in Boston, jamming with the Pops, and hanging with our TV host Craig Ferguson, with whom we swapped tales of Glasgow. Possibly our biggest fourth was back in 1986, when we were part of a massive event called Liberty Weekend. It was to celebrate the centennial of the opening of the Statue of Liberty, and included the statue's reopening after a massive, years-long refurbishing. It was a celebrity-packed event, and I have stories about that, but it was mainly special for me because not only was I playing "America" with Neil, but Mrs. Hensley was with me, joining in the chorus of New York studio singers who were made up the cast of a spectacular production. Here’s a video of the entire opening night concert. It’s a full meal to take in, but you'll find us in there eventually, along with a lot of people who are actually famous.

I’m happy to report that in none of the events since my first was I ever subjected to lit firecrackers being thrown under the piano. Thank you very much.