Quick Story… Y’all Know I Have Plenty: Bad Gigs…


Please allow me to begin this one by GIVING THANKS to be in somewhat of a position to where I don’t have to take every single gig (show) that is offered to me. Because *begin Slick Rick voice* once upon a time not long ago… I wasn’t giving a rat’s ass about the type of show I was involving myself in… I guess you could say in some instances that I was the Clifton Powell of live music. Getting consistent work……But not always the best work. The booking conversations usually went something like this…

Them: “Ayo, you good to do a gig on Friday”

Me: “Is there money involved?”

Them: “Yeah”

Me: “When and where?”

Seems pretty ridiculous, right?… Maaan, let me tell y’all som’n. When you’re just out there taking any and every gig thrown at you, you become highly susceptible to what I and many others love to refer to as “that bullshit”. Most of the musicians I’m close to have an extremely over-the-top sense of humor and could probably find a career in comedic writing if they chose to pursue it. Why? Because we encounter so much of….. you guessed it – “That bullshit.” You wanna test it out? Ok… Do this RIGHT NOW…..or uhhh, soon after read this. Hit up someone who you know who is a working musician and ask them to tell you about some of the worst gigs they’ve ever played. You will probably hear tales of monetary trickery that leads to violence, gigs in the middle of nowhere with very questionable crowds, or stories involving overly demanding non-singin’ ass singers OR non-rappin’ ass rappety rap dudes who request to “rock with the band”, but then tell the band to stop playing because they wanna “do this one a capello” – Yeah, you read that correctly, “A CAPELLO”. I’ve witnessed promoters get their asses whooped after shows, artists meltdown on stage, drunk folks in the crowd lose their damn minds… Maaaaan, it has been an ADVENTURE so far.

Now, there are some issues that are just completely out of anyone’s control. For example, I can remember playing a show with Stacy Epps in 2006 at Bohemian Caverns while battling food poisoning as a result of some bad Chinese food from the night before. Being on the verge of regurgitation the entire time you’re on stage isn’t exactly the greatest feeling in the world, but I managed pulled on through that one – head down on the keyboard during some parts of the night and all. Oh, and uhhh… I don’t think I touched Chinese food again for another 3 or 4 years after that either. On the other hand, there are instances where the control was placed in the hands of the ‘artist’ and they just kinda blew it. I was playing in the house band down at Bar Nun in D.C. during one of their Monday night open mic joints in 2007 and one kat came up ready to do a poem over whatever it was we were playing at the time…. But he couldn’t just do his poem, that wasn’t extra enough. Dude proceeded to reach up and unscrew the lightbulb above his head so that he could as he put it, “set the vibe”. There was NO way ANY of us could keep a straight face on our instruments after witnessing this dude damn near burn his hand off trying to handle a lightbulb that had to have been on most of the day. He turned around to us pissed off… “Y’all are fuckin’ up the vibe!! Maaaan, y’all fuckin’ up the vibe!!” To which we responded, “No… YOU’RE fuckin’ up the vibe!!” After thoroughly berating his antics in front of the crowd …He ended up exiting stage right, promptly.

But one of the most “special” gigs I’ve ever played was one I agreed to maybe a few months after I moved to Maryland back in 2006. I was told that there would be one rehearsal before the actual show and was then given a dollar amount that was low, but as explained earlier my mentality at that time was simply, “What would Clifton do?” I was sent about 30-35 songs, all covers, to learn for the next day’s rehearsal. Some of the songs were even live show performance clips recorded directly from a television speaker. Rehearsal was damn near 45 minutes away from me, as was the actual show. When I arrived to the rehearsal, I discovered that there was ANOTHER keyboard player there… Ok cool, no one told me this… BUT, it was actually to my advantage because apparently he had played with the vocalist before and knew most, if not all of the music. So I made it work by suggesting that I play synth bass instead of the keyboard parts on the show. No problem… I wasted time learning all of that music, but instead of loading my Yamaha Motif keyboard in, I was able to pack away and take my much smaller Nord Lead II board to the show. Advantage: Zo! …Or so I thought. During soundcheck for the show, the keyboardist decided that it would be a good idea to transpose his keyboard a half step UP in order to play whatever song it was we were running at the time. For those who aren’t familiar with the term “transpose”, this basically means to switch your keyboard to a totally different key WITHOUT having to play different notes. For example, if I’m playing a “C” and transpose the keyboard a half step up… that same “C” now becomes “C sharp (C#)”. It’s a very lazy way of playing. I mean, what’s wrong with simply learning the song in a different key! Anyway…. The plan was to begin the show with an opening “jam session” in F minor. We were to play, take solos, whatever… very simple, right? Well, after getting into position to play, the curtain opened up to…………………..*silence*




The drummer FROZE………………


………….. The other keyboard player was looking directly at me talkin’bout, “Should we start NOW?!!???”



…..I was pissed.


…………… I looked at the drummer and in a yell/whisper said, “Count it off!! GO!! Count. The. Song. OFF.”


…… Drummer still had not moved post-curtain opening.



………… I seriously began to debate on requesting them to close the curtain so that I could fight the drummer.



……………… FINALLY. Drummer: “One, two, three!” *snare hit*

We started to play after what seemed like 10 minutes on stage of unnecessary silence. But as we played, I could hear that something seemed, I don’t know… “off”, but I couldn’t really tell what it was as the monitors weren’t the greatest. My suspicions were soon confirmed on the next song when the keyboardist started to play some of it and realized he was playing in the wrong key. Why was he in the wrong key, you ask?! Because his keyboard was still transposed a half step up from soundcheck!! He stopped playing……….transposed his keyboard BACK to normal, and proceeded to start again.

Did I just witness what I thought I………..??!!

I don’t think you understand what I just said. He STOPPED in the middle of what he was playing, clicked around on his keyboard to bring the transpose setting back to “0” and THEN started the song again. I have never seen any shit like this before or since. At this point, I wanted to walk the hell off of the stage because, #1… Who DOES that?! and more importantly #2… THAT meant that he and I were jamming on the opening song in TWO DIFFERENT KEYS. I was in F minor…. and he was in F# minor!! No WONDER the shit sounded off. And I bet it sounded TERRIBLE in the house speakers. I just remember thinking to myself, “MAN, I wish I wore a disguise to this punk ass show.” Fortunately, the performance didn’t get any worse that night but I will NEVER forget how it started off. When it was over, I acted as if I was going to receive a monetary bonus for packing everything up in less than 2 minutes. I got my money and RACED outta that spot.

In this business, you gig and you learn verrrry quickly.

Compliments of…. Sheila E.??!

Me, Sheila E., and Sy Smith in Washington D.C. – 08.30.12

I’m a homebody. Rarely do I EVER say, “You know what? I need to get outta the house and go somewhere.” There’s always too much to do right here. But with my musical sibling, Sy Smith singing background vocals for Sheila E. and her incredible band, I wasn’t about to be caught sitting at home reading the tweets of my people who were there. I wanted to see this show for myself and make sure that I was in the house to support Sy. I took my first trip to the restored and revamped Howard Theatre (ironically the same place where Robert Townsend as Donald “Duck” Matthews took his legendary keytar solo in The Five Heartbeats in 1972….Yes, you read that correctly. In 1972. Sorry, I STILL think that’s hilarious). I walked in and parked myself in the front, stage left and observed as Sheila and her crew brought the damn house down. From the first note, her show was exactly that… a SHOW. If there was a weak link in that band, I didn’t hear it… These kats were ridiculously tight and the added bonus was watching Sy up there murdering right along with them. This musical clinic of a performance went on for almost two hours and left everyone in the spot completely satisfied. Now of course, I told Sy a couple weeks before the show, “Ayo… You’ve gotta introduce me to Sheila when y’all get here.” She saw no problem with my request. When I got to talk with Sy after the show she told me the after party was gonna be at Tap and Parlour over on 11th and U… Bet! I’m there.

I headed over to the spot and even lucked up on an 11th Street parking place only a few yards from where I needed to be. ..Rolled up into Tap and Parlour, immediately got up with Sy and started talking about how dope the show was and how hyped up we were for our then upcoming Labor Day NYC show date at the Blue Note. I then decided it was time for a quick draink (yes, dammit… “DRAINK”), so I walked on over to the bar for a rum & coke and also grabbed a water for Sy….. By the time I made it back over to the rear of the place, Sheila was already over there hanging out. I handed the water over and as soon as Sy could, she introduced the two of us… “Great to finally meet you’s” along with a hug were both exchanged. It was dope because Sy has told me on a few different occasions that she was familiar with who I am because of shows and she and I do and my affiliation with +FE Music. I made it a point to let Sheila know that she gives a helluva performance and that they thoroughly shut the Howard Theatre down without question. Now…. when giving a compliment to someone you look up to and highly respect in your professional field, you never expect for them to return your compliment with a compliment….. or two. So imagine how blown away I was when she said to me…

“You know, I’m really diggin what you and Sy are doing…”

Hold up… What?!! Our live performances?!!?? You know, I’m not exactly sure what the expression on my face did in response to what she said, but I’m sure it was kind of along these lines. In the middle of my humbly thanking her about 48 times, she then hit me with…

“Yeah, I look you guys up on YouTube all the time…”


Aaaaand from that particular moment, to about 17 or 18 minutes afterward….. You couldn’t tell me shit. I was damn near on the verge of cussing at Ms. Escovedo out of excitement on some, “Sheila E., what the hell you say to me?!!?” …….In a good way though, in a good way!! The best part about it was, her words were truly genuine as she is about as down-to-earth as they come. The worst part about it was…. Where the hell do you take a conversation after that?! I had not a clue… We did end up chatting a little more and taking a picture with Sy (see above) and after I finished my drink, I was pretty much ready to head on outta there and call it a night………… That didn’t end up being the case. Why? Because as her band began to trickle in one by one, Sheila would pull each of them to the side, “Have you met Zo?… He and Sy tour together!” Maaaaan, lookahea… Somebody get another draink because I’m gonna be here for awhile. I got up with the majority of the band, including fellow Michigan native, drummer Chris Coleman, who by the way was kiiiiillin’ on stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better night – smiles, laughs, drainks and toasts consumed the remainder of it.

Believe it or not, as many times as something like this happens…. I’ll still be in disbelief, so don’t mind me and my excitable ass storytelling. This just completely goes to show that you never know who’s listening, watching, and most of all enjoying your music. Man, I love what I do…

Quick Story… Y’all Know I Have Plenty: Playing at Fred Smoot’s Wedding Reception…

Music always has a way of landing me in some interesting and sometimes comedic situations. This one took place in September of 2009… My man Asheru knew a kat who had a direct link to a couple of the Washington Redskins players and wanted to know if he could put a band together to play at cornerback Fred Smoot’s wedding reception – No problem. Ash ended up putting a couple of calls in to members of the ELs crew, including myself on keys, Omar Hunter on bass and Chris “Biscuit” Bynum on drums. We all rolled down to Falls Church, VA to meet up at Fred Smoot’s house and knock the gig out. I arrived to the house first, loaded my equipment in through the garage and headed down into the basement where a long table was set up for guests to eat along with the catered food and drinks all set up along the wall in preparation for the reception itself. Omar, Biscuit, and Asheru rolled in not too long after I did and set their equipment up in the space next to my board. Now, before I move along any further, let’s think about this… It was already random as hell to have received the call to play at Fred Smoot’s wedding reception in the FIRST place so I had no idea what to expect. My impression of him like many other sports fans who would tune in to SportsCenter fairly regularly in the morning, was that he was a pretty solid cornerback who ran his mouth a little bit – yet he always seemed like he was having fun with it. I mean, shit… nowadays, it’s almost like, what athlete doesn’t run their mouth anymore? But then again, those same kats who are all extra and over the top on the field, usually up being the most  down-to-earth and “real” kats off of it. I was pretty interested to see if this held true for Smoot as well. Regardless, we were gonna make this joint fun because the gig was so… I don’t know…. vague and different.

We took our time setting up our equipment because the wedding (which was to take place upstairs on the main floor) had not begun yet. From the looks of things, it wasn’t close to start time either….. Or so we thought. As we were slowly plugging cords into amps and power strips while cracking jokes and figuring out the reception’s food situation, a young lady whom I assumed was the wedding coordinator came downstairs. She walked straight up to me and asked, “Excuse me… But can you play “Here Comes the Bride”, or something as the bride walks down the aisle?”

Although I was totally unprepared for that request being as though we were there to play at the RECEPTION, I was cool about it and responded, “Yeah, I can do that… Let me figure it back out for a couple of minutes to work the kinks out before I actually play it.”

Coordinator: “Oh no… She’s walking down the aisle right NOW.”

Me: *crickets*………… “OH.”

I sat down at the keyboard, turned the volume up so that those attending the wedding ceremony upstairs could hear me and proceeded to play… I’m sorry, I mean work through a slow version of “Here Comes the Bride” all while O and Biscuit were watching me….. and laughing, of course. It’s a pretty simple song, but I had the “heavy concentration face” on as I didn’t want to earn a permanent place in the Smoot Wedding memory annals as the piano player who couldn’t bring the bride down the aisle worth a shit.

I actually got through the bride’s introduction unscathed and we just kinda waited around quietly for the actual wedding ceremony to wrap up. Once it did, everyone in attendance began to filter downstairs to the basement where the reception was being held. Folks took pictures, shared small talk and we were all finally able to get up and get a plate of food. I looked around and saw a few Redskin players that I recognized and there was another kat in attendance whose face looked familiar as well, but I knew he didn’t play football. We discovered it was vocalist, Dave Hollister. Dope! We also found out that Fred wanted him to do a song with us… Well shit, even better… Let’s run it!


The song that Brotha Smoot wanted Dave Hollister to sing with us…….. At his wedding…….. was….

BlackStreet’s “Before I Let You Go.”

*mo crickets*

“Now uhhh, ok uhhh..seee uhhhh…. Lemmeh tehya som’n!!” © Charles Barkley

Pretty much any other time, this song choice would make sense. I mean, outside of “No Diggity” and “Don’t Leave Me”, “Before I Let You Go” is still one of BlackStreet’s best known jams… PLUS, Dave sang the lead on the original recording, so shit…. There it is, the perfect song choice!

*sigh*…Nah man.

I can still hear Biscuit’s response when I told he and Omar what they wanted us to play. He said, “Dogg, at a WEDDING??!” None of us wanted to hit the audience with the “break up song” 30 minutes after Mr. & Mrs. Smoot exchanged vows! I mean, ok…. let me put it to you like this. Let’s take,  Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After The Love Is Gone” for instance. As pretty sounding as that song is, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll never hear that shit as a couple’s “first dance at the wedding” choice. But hey… If folks wanna begin a clean slate of matrimony with, “Baby I’ve been thinkin’, there’s something’s goin’ wrong ‘cuz you’ve got an attitude, and you’re not in the mood…. like ya used to”, be my guest. Who am I to argue with what the groom wants played?! Maybe the joint had a deeper meaning than we all thought… I didn’t know, nor did I care to find out. So we talked it over with Dave in regards to how we would present the song format-wise, Omar and I quickly figured out the chords, changes, etc… And we pulled the song off. Now, if I remember correctly, people responded to it pretty well. I was actually bracing myself to get a puzzled response similar to the one Randy Watson received at the “Miss Black Awareness Pageant”. But all jokes aside, Fred Smoot was a good dude, definitely a lot more laid-back and humble than he used to portray himself in the media. After playing for a couple of hours, we ended up leaving that gig with some satisfied wedding attendees, full stomachs, our checks, and more helluva stories for the library…