When my first CD was released, during the autumn of 1988, cassettes were still the prevailing format. Yet, there I was, an unknown artist signed to a CD-only label, trying to find my way in the world.
With no promotional budget to speak of, we set about getting the CD into stores. Our first few targets were the indie stores that I frequented. Most shops were supportive enough to buy a couple copies outright, while others did so on consignment. We gave them a few posters to hang in the shop as well and, wouldn’t you know it, a few of the shops actually hung them up.
In addition to that, I was playing shows all over the Midwest, starting with crappy early-in-the-week gigs where you and a few other low-rung bands played for the door. We were hitting St. Louis, Champaign, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus, Kalamazoo and any other city in the area that would have us. Meanwhile, I was having zero luck landing gigs in Chicago.
Of course, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I called each club to which I’d sent a press kit on an almost daily basis. Sometimes the only positive thing I took away from one of those calls was a booking agent or assistant backhandedly complimenting me on my persistence. Then, out of the blue, the Joe Shanahan from the Metro (which was THE place to play in Chicago, as far as I was concerned – in fact, it STILL IS) called me. That’s right, he called me and offered up a Wednesday night gig. Sure, it was mid-week, but who cares? I was gonna play the Metro.
In preparation, the first thing I did was fire my backing band. They’d served me well, following me all over the Midwest no-questions-asked, but I felt I was moving to the next level and, thus, I needed a better band. As luck would have it, a friend of a friend knew of a band that was looking for a singer. I met up with them and after we ran through a few of my songs together, it was agreed that they would back me up for the gigs that I had scheduled, then we’d transition into “a band”. I, of course, had no intention of being in “a band”, as my name was on the goddamned CD that had just come out.
The drummer, of course, could see me coming a mile away and quickly washed his hands of the whole thing. This would have stopped most guys in their tracks, but I played drums, so he was missed for all of two minutes.
Prior to the Metro gig, we played a sports bar on Lincoln Avenue just to warm up in front of an actual audience. We played it fast and loose and, when a drunk woman on the dance floor made numerous boisterous requests for “Moondance”, we looked at one another and dove head first into a basic groove, over which I made up a complete set of absurd lyrics, culminating with the oft-repeated chorus:
“What do I do when I take off my pants?
I do a moondance, all night long”
Everyone in the place was on the dance floor by now, loving every delicious second of our impromptu version of “Moondance”. More importantly, the woman who requested the song loved it, too.
From that point on, we had the room in the palm of our hands. We blasted through another set and then left the stage to thunderous applause. Within seconds, the crowd had started chanting “Moondance! Moondance! Moondance!”
So we encored with a ten minute version of a song that we’d written on-the-fly only an hour before and still left them wanting more.
At the next rehearsal, though, none of us could remember how the doggone song went and it was never ever performed again.
At the Metro gig, we rocked through our 45-minute set to a full house of people who’d come to see the other bands on the bill. I mean, seriously, we rocked them hard and they dug us hard. A girl we’d never met came up onstage and danced for the entire set and when I suggested she take her top off, she didn’t give it a second thought. That had never happened before. The Metro crew treated us like gods, loading us in and out with great aplomb, and there was free beer and a dressing room that actually resembled a dressing room (another first). After the gig , Jim from Material Issue and Nash from Urge Overkill materialized backstage and filled my head with praise. There were women who wanted to do things with us, for us… to us.
I was in rock heaven.
A couple days later, still high on the success of my last couple gigs, I called Joe at Metro. Barely before I could finish my name, Joe was raving about the many compliments he’d received about my show and told me flat-out that my band had completely stolen the show.
“Cool, so give me another gig,” I replied.
Joe paused, then explained that only four of the 500 free tickets he’d given us to spread throughout the city to promote our show had been handed in at the door. In other words, we’d only brought in four people. Despite the fact that we rocked that crowd for all they were worth, making a shitload of new fans in the process, the fact that we brought in only four tickets made us a colossal failure in his eyes.
In my naivetÃ©, I’d failed to grasp that the tickets were the basis for whether I’d ever play Metro again and, thus, I only handed them out to a few friends. The rest sat in a box in my apartment.
I had also used one as a bookmark.
Postscript: I played the Metro again, but I learned then and there that it was up to me to promote the fuck out of every one of my shows, no matter where or when. That’s why, no matter what stage my career is at, I will always promote my shows like my next gig depends on it…because it does. It totally does.