I play a game online with some friends and we have to come up with a song with the day’s word in it. Today, my Brother X brought up the Edwin Hawkins singers, and it reminded me of one of my favorite true stories.
Settle back, because I’m going to tell the long version.
As a child, I was diagnosed with Asthma and encouraged to play a wind instrument. I picked one of the lightest, the clarinet. As I grew older, I wanted to be cooler, so I switched to the saxophone.
As a teenager, I got into a Rock N Roll Band with John Karolefski and some friends from high school. They weren’t impressed with my saxophone playing, so I only got to play two songs, Summertime (and the living is easy) and Tequila. The rest of the time I banged a tambourine and sang lead.
Years later, when I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, they were looking for musicians for the boot camp band. I auditioned and wound up in a company that was made up of musicians, drill team, and other assorted entertainers. Seven of us played the saxophone and only a couple were ever needed, so I never once played with the band.
But I used it as an excuse. Whenever my company was scheduled for the obstacle course or some other disagreeable duty, I told the company commander that I had band practice. Then I would go to the band hall and goof off for an hour or two. In nine weeks of boot camp, I never once set foot on the obstacle course.
About a year later, I wound up in Adak, Alaska with nothing to do when I wasn’t on duty. So, I joined a band, a band so horrible that they let me play saxophone and be lead singer. We rarely played anyplace, but we practiced frequently.
Fast forward to another year later, and I was stationed in Todendorf, a small town in northern Germany. I was too busy having fun to form a band there, but I often spoke highly of my musical experience. Rock band as a teenager. Navy band in Boot Camp. Rock band in Alaska. Since Elvis had just finished his tour of duty in Germany, I was sarcastically referred to as his replacement, The Next Elvis.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the sleepy town of Todendorf, except drink and chase German girls, but that kept me busy. Occasionally, though, we would go on a road trip. We were only about a half hour away from the bustling city of Kiel on the North Sea, and there were plenty of discoes there.
The largest of the discoes was The Star Palast, which had a number of floors and held thousands. We knew that this would be the place to be during “Fleet Week” when numerous American ships would be docked there. So, when Fleet Week arrived, we put on our civvies and got to the Star Palast early. There were numerous bars in the place, but we all went to the main bar near the stage and dance floor, where the owner tended the bar. We took up all the seats at that bar.
My supervisor, Dave Johnston, a New York boy, was at the other end of the bar talking to the owner, and they kept looking over at me. I ignored them, and paid more attention to the hundreds of German girls dancing with about a thousand American sailors.
The sailors were spending money like drunken sailors, and everyone was having a good time. At the height of the evening, there were probably almost two thousand happy drunken people dancing to the beat. It was the party to top all parties, but then something happened.
The owner walked away from Dave and approached me. “He told me who you are,” he said to me. “Who did he say I was?” I responded. “He said you were the next Elvis.” I looked at Dave and he was practically falling off his barstool laughing. The guys around him, who were in on the joke, were laughing their asses off, too.
The owner pointed to the thousand sailors overrunning the place and asked me if I would do him the great honor of going on stage and singing one of my songs for the crowd.
Looking at all my friends, who were laughing hysterically, I tried to back out gracefully. “I would love to sing one of my songs, but I don’t have my band here. So, I can’t.”
He apologized for not thinking about that, but then said, “But since you are such a big Rock N Roll star in America, would you just go on stage and say Hello to all the Americans. I’m sure that they would all appreciate that.”
He had backed me into a corner, and all my laughing friends knew it, but I came up with an out. “Since my band’s not here, would it be okay if I got a few of these sailors to join me in a song?”
“Of course. Anything you want. Thank you. Thank you.”
I climbed onto the stage, grabbed the mike, and said that I would like to sing a song to all the Americans in the crowd, if I could just get a few of them up on stage to sing with me.
About a hundred drunken sailors climbed up, filling the massive stage. I sang a spiritual song that was currently one of the top Rock N Roll songs, Oh Happy Day. I didn’t even know the words, but I just kept singing “Oh Happy Day” and the drunken hoard behind me kept echoing the words. The place went wild.
Nobody knew me, but a thousand drunken sailors cheered on a hundred of their drunken shipmates, who were on stage in a foreign land singing “Oh Happy Day” at the top of their lungs. Before long everyone in the place was singing “Oh Happy Day” and having a great time.
Picture this, but instead of a choir, it’s a bunch of drunken sailors, singing to an even bigger bunch of drunken shipmates.
When the song was over, I said, “Thank you,” and invented the “Mike drop.” I leaped off the stage, put a big smile on my face, and went back to my barstool and my buddies. The owner scooped up all our bar tabs off the bar, and ceremoniously tore them in half. “Thank you,” he said. “You really are the next Elvis, and you and your friends will never ever have to pay for a drink in my club.”
My ruse worked, but that was the last time I ever went to the Star Palast. When you catch lightning in a bottle, you enjoy the moment, but you know better than to ever expect to be able to catch it twice.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,