The truth must finally now be revealed.
Talk about almost trading in your entire future in for some bitter sweetness. Let me tell you, when you are in this business long enough, you see everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Here’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe for disaster waiting to happen– and I should’ve seen this coming. Soon you will know why there has never been a dull moment with Kaju’s Off the Hook, and why we are truly NYCs most exciting party band!
Well, at least not in the sense you may think when it applies to the life, trials and tribulations of a great party band for hire.
Recently we performed for a dear client’s 60th birthday party, and the band was heavily praised. But believe me, it wasn’t always like this. Here’s the crazy story of the roots of that client-vendor relationship. And believe me, it wasn’t always pretty but rather messy.
Profile of a Regular Guy
So here’s the true story: We once had a substitute singer, he was a very nice guy. He often “subbed” a few times per month for our main vocalist, who was a commercial insurance salesman who often would live road cheap and would travel local as a road trip travel planner.
Needless to say the sub singer and I became friends. And he used to always tell me we were “Two brothers from different mothers!” All the ladies’ loved him, he had charm, wit, good stage presence, and he could rap. YES, he actually knew all the latest rap songs. He could rock out with the best of them and he also cleaned up nicely. I thought I knew everything about him.
What was there not to like, right?
Except there was one caveat. And I didn’t know it. He had a substance abuse problem.
Was I blind? Others would observe things that I certainly didn’t see. For instance, I knew that he “experimented” here and there, but certainly nothing serious. And frankly that was his business, I didn’t really care as long as it wasn’t happening on my watch. He only would be hired on bar gigs and club dates with us, never a private event or a wedding – but he was usually very reliable. And always sober.
So one day, one week before a major black tie swanky event we were performing at the New York Athletic Club for our client’s 50th Birthday party, at the last minute our main male vocalist had to cancel on us when he was called to go on the road for his company.
Without hesitation, I immediately called and asked my “brother from a different mother” sub male singer to cover the event, and that’s when the insanity all started.
An Uneventful Saturday morning
It was now the day of the black tie performance, and a beautiful fall Saturday morning. Gorgeous blue skies. 64 Degree Fahrenheit. Nothing out of the ordinary. Totally uneventful pre-gig routine. I went through my standard checklist of items to prepare and bring:
Review all songs. Check
Sheet music and music stand. Check.
Small PA system, speakers, cables, and accessories. Check.
Guitar, effects, and accessories. Check.
Guitar amp and accessories. Check.
Tuxedo, wardrobe, and clothing accessories. Check.
My 4:30 pm pickup time and ride, who was the bass player. Big Check!
Final phone call or text to all band members on the event. Big Check!
I noticed that our sub male singer “my brother from a different mother” did not answer the phone call, so I sent him a text reminder instead. No worries, he sometimes left his ringer off, he had done this before in the past. Everyone else in the band text confirmed me back they were already on the road.
A new drummer was on this gig who would be performing with us for the first time. Our main drummer and second string were both not available. Our bass player was doubling as the keyboardist, since our regular keyboardist was also unavailable. One of those nights. But no doubt, we will certainly get through this gig with flying colors!
The drive to the New York Athletic Club from Manhattan midtown to Westchester, New York which is about 40 miles is not so far, and could be done in approximately 45-50 minutes on average. However this could take up to 1 hour 30 minutes should there be traffic.
The singer who was driving separately from Long Island, NY had to get on the road around ½ hour earlier as the drive was slightly longer. Still the event start time was for 7:30 pm, and everyone was scheduled to arrive by 6:00pm for the equipment setup and a sound check.
I was not at all concerned.
The bass player promptly picked me up exactly on time at 4:30 pm. We proceeded to take the FDR Drive north along the East River in Manhattan, which was absolutely smooth sailing.
The gnarly part was hitting the Bronx Westchester Expressway, which often can be great when it’s moving well and cruising, but this “traffic nightmare” at its worst has also been known to be one of the most congested roads in the nation.
On this weekend late afternoon day, nothing was moving, the massive traffic congestion was like an overcrowded parking lot. Total travel time had taken 1:40 minutes.
Needless to say, I was slightly stressed out, but thank goodness we started on the road “on time.” The bass player and I arrived at 6:10pm, still with plenty of time for equipment setup and to perform a sound check. And so did all the other band members arrive on time.
With the exception of one extremely important member who was missing.
You guessed it: our male singer. But why?
So much to do in so little time. Immediately, everyone in the band started setting up their own equipment. As usual, I first setup the entire PA system, front of the house speakers, floor monitors, running all the cables, eventually working up to my guitar rig. The bass player set up his, and so did the drummer and keyboardist too.
Finally I setup all 4 front of the stage microphones, placed them all on the mic stands, and we proceeded to do a sound check. All levels checked out well, vocals sounded great. One hour and twenty minutes have now passed. Where does the time go!
Time is now 7:25 pm and the banquet manager is now hassling me that the band needs to start playing promptly in 5 minutes, as our client and his large party of seventy will soon be entering the banquet room from the adjoining cocktail room. He said, “Get ready to start playing in 5 minutes at 7:30 pm “on the dot. Got that, okay?”
Our client and his entourage have now all entered the banquet room. He is looking quite nervous, and pacing the floor back and forth. He looks at his watch. The clock strikes 7:30 pm. On the dot.
He urgently now walks over to the banquet manager, and I can see they are having a quiet serious private discussion. Neither look too happy. We haven’t play one note of music yet. Why?
There is still not a single trace of our male singer. Nor even a call. And no one else other than our female singer in the band can sing. Inside my stomach is quickly churning into knots. OMG!
Still the show must go on. Left with no choice, at 7:35pm we started playing an quasi-instrumental version of “Route 66” with the female singer only chiming in “Get your kicks on Route 66” on every chorus. Thank God for our female vocalist Pamela; she had an incredible voice, worked the crowd, and was certainly a show-stopping performer!
But we were severely limited in song material without the male vocal. We now could only perform 17 of the minimum 40 songs we were contracted to play.
Fortunately back in those days we had a good friend who was “tagging along” that night, and at the time was an NYPD police officer who also just happened to be a great impersonator of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He not only sounded exactly like him but had all of the Jagger moves!
Every so often, “Mick” would show up to our bar gigs and club dates and guest sing on a few Rolling Stones’ tunes with the band. However, this was the one and only time he ever attended one of our private events. True serendipity.
And on this night, he saved us.
Between Pamela, “Mick Jagger”, and two impromptu songs I would add on vocals unexpectedly, we were able to scratch out 18 songs for one hour of music to complete the first set.
The first set was now over (phew!), and the bass player who played the entire first set, now had to shift gears and play 20 minutes of live continuous keyboard music during our “break”.
The Phone Call
During this brief 20 minute intermission is when I received a very distressed phone call from you know who? You guessed it. It was my “brother from a different mother” (BDM) - our “missing in action” sub male singer. And he was sounding absolutely shaken.
So here is how our brief 46 second conversation during the band break that was
BDM singer: (Silence)
Kaju: “Hello?” (repeated with a harsher tone)
BDM singer: (Silence, then a pause)
“Hey brother, I am really sorry! I’m really SO sorry!!” (groggy voice shaking on the verge of tears)
Kaju: “Dude, what happened? Where are you?”
BDM singer: I’m really SO sorry bro, I’m in JAIL! They only gave me one phone call, THIS IS IT!
Kaju: What? OMG, my man! Hope you are okay. Sorry but they are calling me back now to the stage. Call me tomorrow and tell me everything. Please. Take care. I have to go now. Bye.”
I slowly walked back to the bandstand absolutely stunned.
What just happened!!? What the $%&67*/%_*? !!
Somehow in my confused state of mind, we had stretched our 20 minute break to 40 minutes!
Shaking inside and flummoxed, I didn’t know how to tell the band, so I said nothing. We began playing the second set and somehow managed to “stitch together” another 1 hour 30 minutes of music and “completed” the event.
If it weren’t for our great female vocalist Pamela, long improvised instrumental jams, and our “Mick Jagger” friend pulling 7 additional Stones songs “out of the hat”, we never would have made it through that distressful never ending evening on the bandstand. However, there was no way that we weren’t ever going to NOT deliver a complete performance for our client. NO WAY on my watch!
So we managed to get through that gig by the skin on our knuckles. Still the event was far from acceptable. The client afterward being understandably very upset and rightfully so made a direct grievance at the end of the event.
Indeed there is a moral to this story related to our client. More details on this to come later.
Feeling entirely embarrassed, exhausted, and humiliated, we broke down all the equipment, packed up the van immediately and dodged out of that event space as fast as we could. We drove and drove into the endless night. The one hour 45 minute drive seemed like it went on for many hours.
The next afternoon I received a call from our missing male singer. He was now out of prison, and his voice seemed quite more relaxed, and eager to give me the lurid details of his nightmarish experience. But I still sensed a bit of grogginess in his voice.
Are you ready for this? Are you ready?
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Recipe for Disaster
So here it goes, the meat of the background to this improbable story.
Keep this in mind: our sub singer friend was a feisty but vertically challenged individual who stood a mere 5’6” tall and weighed 145 pounds soaking wet.
Unbeknownst to any of us prior to the gig the previous night at 3:30pm in the afternoon, our missing sub “brother from a different mother” male singer was on a particular quest.
Given the delicate nature of the subject matter in question and knowing his background of dependency, I don’t think I have to tell you the quest he was on, other than the final result of his stupid quest ended our friend up in the back seat of a police van in handcuffs
By 4:30 pm he was arraigned and incarcerated inside a local prison. He was then held on bail inside a sweltering detention cell for many hours with 16 other detainees, tired, smelly, and hungry.
During this time is when he was provided an allowance by local law enforcement to make his one and only phone call, which was that 46 second phone call he made to me during our 20 minute band break of the prior night’s nearly disastrous performance.
It was now 2:30am. A total of 10 hours had passed and none of the detainees had been fed, and had only been given a few ounces of water. Seventeen (my friend included) sweaty and starved detainees were all jammed together in a small prison cell, they were all starving, exhausted, and tempers were ready to flare.
One can only imagine the incendiary 85 degree heat and high humidity inside that congested prison cell, while these burly infidels were all on the verge of imploding.
That’s when the night warden’s deputy came by the jammed cell with a large silver tray covered with a non-descript brown blanket. All the detainees, our sub singer friend included, became entirely fixated on this image of the night warden’s deputy slowly walking in slow motion forever toward the cell with this large covered tray, weary from punch drunkenness with eyes bulging with ravenous delight.
Finally, the deputy pulled the brown heavy wool fabric away from the large tray, exposing the inside contents of the tray, which revealed itself to be several very deep grape-colored blue, brown, and white square objects. The image was all too appealing, comfortable and familiar to these inmates.
Yes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!!
The night warden’s deputy then shouted aloud “It’s Dinner Time!!” while simultaneously proceeding to toss multiple peanut and jelly sandwiches in rapid-fire succession into the mock animal cage.
There was a large floor mirror outside the prison bars standing against the wall, facing the community cell where the detainees were imprisoned. From inside the prison cell, they could all see themselves directly in the mirror’s reflection.
Supply and demand. Demand Wins by a Landslide.
Well, instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the warden’s deputy might as well have been throwing “raw meat to hungry lions,” because while these ravenous beasts were diving and fighting for the scant free food provided, our 5’ 6” friend was caught in the cross-fire. OMG, what a scene this must’ve been!
However, neither man nor beast would stand in his way. Our insatiably brave yet stupid hungry 5’6” friend being of a feisty nature, would not be denied. For in a room of behemoth beasts and comparable giants, there was simply no way he was going hungry anymore!
Like a rat trapped in a cage, he sunk his teeth, wrestled, clawed, and sprung wildly at the jugular vein of the behemoth with all his might into the pile of beasts for that elusive “prize” peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
However, sadly in a hungry jungle of wild behemoths, he was simply no match.
Inside the melee, while he had his eye on the prize and was within one inch of taking it, he was clocked in the eyeball, picked up like a rag doll, and viciously body slammed to the cement prison floor. He was then stomped on the head repeatedly, his face reduced to a bloody pulp.
Unbelievably, the prison warden and deputy immediately called for backup and were quickly able to get the situation under control. Our 5’6” friend was scraped off the floor, and immediately taken by ambulance and rushed to the local hospital.
Our friend is a very lucky one. In fact, we call him miraculous. He recovered in the hospital for a mere 5 days and was sent home. While he suffered from a mild concussion and multiple lacerations requiring stitches, he did not require surgery. Nor did he suffer any permanent brain injury or loss of vision, hearing, or otherwise.
*Note: The man in his photo does not represent the person portrayed in this article, and this photo is only being used for descriptive purposes.
After 5 nights under careful watch, he eventually fully recovered and was sent home. Curiously, while recovering the first day inside the local hospital, he received his first meal.
It was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The Aftermath with Our Client
With all the harmful damage and dishonor we’d done to ourselves due to this most unfortunate situation with the band – both in the client’s eyes and my own heart irrespective that the situation was out of our control - it was time to pick up the scattered pieces.
While our sub singer friend was recovering in the hospital, it was time for me as a shamed but prideful responsible band leader to exercise some serious damage control. And to make due with our dissatisfied customer.
The following day I made that very difficult call to our client personally, and categorically apologized. Although the no-show of the male singer was something out of our control, I told our client no matter - as band leader for Off the Hook I would take full responsibility. This is my fault.
The only way to save faith, and the only right thing to do in this situation would be to refund our client part of his payment. After all, he ordered a band of 6 musicians, and he only received five. Not right.
I told our client I was refunding him the cost of one player, plus would throw in an extra $200 to compensate for the stress and bad experience he and his guests had to endure as a result of the smaller band. Using the analogy, I explained that I know if someone ordered a 7-course meal at a fine restaurant, they should be getting all 7-courses and the wine, not six courses.
By the next day, the refund check was mailed out. The client received the check two days later, very satisfied that despite an entirely unpredictable challenging circumstance, in the end WE DELIVERED what we had promised and then some.
As a result of this incredulous and sensational true story, we came out in the end smelling like roses. We delivered on all our promises by rightfully compensating the customer. That’s called goodwill.
Fast forward 10 years later, recently this SAME client hired us back as a 7-piece band for his 60th birthday party – and THIS time we, the band absolutely knocked it out of the park! It was stellar!
The end result: the client and all his guests RAVED over the band, and wrote us a 5 Star review in a local major publication and directory.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Always operate your business from the highest standard of integrity. You MUST always treat your clients the way YOU want and EXPECT to be treated.
In life and business there are NO excuses, no matter what unexpected curve ball life and business throws you. No matter how much out of your control, no matter how unpredictable, no matter the cost. As a business owner standing behind your product or service, you must take full accountability.
Please tell me if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading this long post.
All the Best,